Thursday, September 29, 2011

WW II memories: A Yank in the Royal Air Force

A Supermarine Spitfire
Did you know that American men fought in World War II long before Pearl Harbor? Although a sentiment of pacifism and "America First" had kept the U.S. from getting involved directly, some Americans launched out on their own, volunteering to fight Nazi Germany in other ways.

Because Roger Greene, the star of my current novel-in-progress, sailed to England to fly fighter planes for the Royal Air Force, I especially enjoyed coming across memories of a real-life American who mirrors the exact same spirit as my fictional character. At age 19, James Goodson was positive that America would eventually jump into the battle against Nazism. He decided not to wait. He packed his bag and set sail for England. On the Atlantic, Goodson's ship was torpedoed and sunk. He arrived in England with just the clothes he was wearing. Here's what happened next:

I found a RAF recruiting station and immediately asked if any American could join. No one seemed to know at first if I could but later was told I could but would probably lose my American citizenship when I swore allegiance to the King of England. I told the recruiters that if the king needed my allegiance, he had it. The question of pay arose and I think the fellow said it was seven shillings and six pence a day (less than $2.00). I was heartbroken. I said, "I've lost everything I have. I don't think I can afford it." The fellow said, "No, no, no. We pay you seven and six." I remember thinking, "These lovable fools. They could have had me for nothing." To be able to fly a Spitfire and be paid for it was just beyond my wildest dreams.*

Goodson flew with the 43rd Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Later, he became a pilot in the Eagle Squadron [composed of Yanks who flew in the RAF before America entered the war]. He never lost the thrill of flying.

Have you ever known someone who served during the world's biggest conflict? Did he or she share any memories that stick with you to this day?

*Source: Astor, Gerald. The Mighty Eighth, New York: Dell Publishing, 1997. pp. 20-21.

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