The Last Successful Mission
Updated: Feb 19
Explore the rest of this website about my dad's B-17 crew: www.rumboogiecrew.com
Click below to listen to the audio blog.
Consider the following statistics from Paul Hosse, an Editor on the Quora discussion site: "The 8th Air Force had a 19% death rate. If you survived being shot down, you had a 17% chance of becoming a POW. Statistics at the time showed that crew members had a 25% chance of surviving for about 12 to 14 missions. Of course, a lot depended on what you did. A tail gunner, for instance, had a life expectancy of four missions, that’s two weeks, and a ball turret gunner’s chances weren’t any better.”
Amazingly, the Rum Boogie Crew completed their 25th and final mission on September 9, 1943, less than four months after flying their first one. They suffered some injuries, but while many men they knew were shot down, injured, or killed, they all survived. Certainly, they were experts at their individual jobs, but they were also lucky.
Charles Goyette, Al Neff,
Lloyd Fickler, and Richard Postier (L to R)
96th Bomb Group Reunion in 1985
I can only imagine how deep the connections would be between crew members on a B17 - their very survival depended on each man as well as the collective whole. The men would have only known each other for a couple of years at most, but their relationships were solidified by the struggle to keep themselves and each other alive every day.
My father, the tail gunner, told the story that after they finished their 25 missions and returned to the United States, the Army Air Corps had them see a psychiatrist to determine if they were mentally ready to either go home on leave or proceed to their next duty stations, places where the crew would not be together. According to Dad, they would all get drunk each night after their sessions with the psychiatrist, and the next day, they would show up really hung over. He said that bought them more time to be together, party, and talk about the frightening idea of separating from each other and going forward alone.
Below (L to R): Lloyd Fickler, Unknown, Charles Goyette (top), Alvin Neff, Richard Postier Fickler and Neff (pointing to his spot)
In 1984, forty-one years after their last mission, Waist Gunner Dick Postier started searching for his former comrades. Through membership in the 96th Bomb Group, Dick found Lloyd Fickler and Al Neff, and, in turn, Al found Chuck Goyette, Terry Gant, and George Wyherek. Navigator Harry Miller could not be located, and it was too late for pilot Jim Sanders and Bombardier Bill Spencer: Sanders had been killed in a fiery crash as he piloted a commercial airliner out of Chicago in 1961, and Spencer had died homeless in San Francisco in 1972.
Postier's heartfelt letter to the guys about a possible reunion concluded, "God willing, we will
make this [the reunion] a successful mission." And, amazingly, in 1985, forty-three years after their final flight, four of the remaining crew attended the 96th Bomb Group reunion in Wichita, Kansas (pictures above). The timing for the reunion couldn’t have been better because only three years later, Lloyd Fickler, Chuck Goyette, and George Wyherek had all died (Lloyd and Chuck within two days of each other).
In 1989, Dick and Sheila Postier and Al Neff (on right) attended the 96th Bomb Group reunion in Minnesota (picture below) as well as spent some time together at Dick's home in Minnesota. It was time well spent since by 2002, the entire crew was gone - gone but not forgotten in the hearts and minds of those who loved them most.