“Heavy Date over Germany: The Life and Times of B-17 Tail Gunner Ray Perry” edited by Jewellee Jordan Kuenstler, State House Press, 2019, 230 pages, $29.95
Ray Perry was a farm boy from Haskell, Texas. When World War II began, he was a student in high school. Upon graduation, he joined the Army Air Corps, hoping to become a pilot.
Instead, he became an aerial gunner. Before World War II ended, he had flown 35 missions over Germany as a tail gunner on a B-17 named “Heavy Date.”
“Heavy Date over Germany: The Life and Times of B-17 Tail Gunner Ray Perry,” edited by Jewellee Jordan Kuenstler, tells Perry’s story.
Kuenstler re-creates Perry’s wartime experiences through letters written by Perry, memorabilia saved by Perry’s family during World War II, and interviews of Perry about his war experiences conducted shortly before his death in 2017. The result is a remarkably full picture of Perry at war.
The book covers Perry’s service from enlistment to discharge. It tells of a man from a rural background thrust suddenly into a world larger and more varied than he had previously known.
A prolific letter writer, Perry describes his experiences in unpolished English, eloquent in simplicity and understatement. Age 18 when he enlisted in 1943, he is a typical teenager. He enjoys his new experiences while expressing homesickness at being separated from familiar surroundings and family.
Readers experience his training, disappointment at being passed over for pilot training and pride at mastering the skills of an air gunner. Asked to become a gunnery instructor, he opted to serve overseas.
Readers also follow him through 35 missions over Germany. His war started in September 1944 and ended in April 1945, just before the war in Europe ended. Although the Allies had gained air superiority, it was still dangerous. One member of Perry’s crew died in combat. Several friends were injured or captured.
Perry’s story was not unusual. Millions of Americans served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. Well over a third actually saw combat. Yet the story is being increasingly forgotten as the last of the World War II veterans depart. “Heavy Date over Germany” reminds readers what these men went through as teenagers and men in their early 20s.