restricted access 3. Talismans and Mascots
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CHAPTER THREE TALISMANS AND MASCOTS The veneration of objects with sacred associations has long been a feature of organized religion, notably within the Catholic Church. In the context of the perilous air war, various personal items would take on added importance as individual protective devices both among those who looked to the Pope for spiritual guidance and among those who did not. A wide variety of other material things, meanwhile, inanimate and occasionally animate, were invested with supernatural significance. Medals portraying the patron saint of travelers were fairly common among Allied fliers. Ian Gleed, for example, flying Hurricanes with 87 Squadron in 1940, always wore one on a chain around his neck.1 They were the most popular talisman among crews of the 303rd Bomb Group in 1944, according to B-17 radioman Ben Smith.2 By no means did all of these men happen to be Roman Catholic themselves. “Around my neck I always wore a medal of St. Christopher that a Catholic friend had given me,” recalled Canadian bomber pilot Sydney Smith of 115 Squadron.3 “As a ‘just in case’ my Roman Catholic cousin in Philadelphia had impressed upon me a St. Christopher medal that had a special place in my wallet,” wrote B-24 pilot Keith Schuyler of the 44th Bomb Group.4 Other objects of religious significance might be carried aloft, including crucifixes, sacred heart medals, and even vials of holy water.5 Rosary beads, of course, were popular among the devout and might also serve the needs of non-Catholics. Recalling his tour as a B-17 navigator with the 490th Bomb Group late in the war, E. J. Johnson noted that, when things got really rough in the air for his plane and crew, his pilot, Ray Hann, would call up radio operator Michael Quagliano over the intercom : “Mike, we’re in trouble—better get your beads and get us some help from above!”6 talismans and mascots : 29 Short written tracts or homilies of one sort or another could also take on talismanic significance. Sidney Munns, a Whitley navigator with 77 Squadron in the early war years, was sent a Prayer to the Holy Cross by a friend of his mother with a cover note explaining that it “will protect you from many dangers.”7 Toward the end of the war pilot Jack Pitts of the 371st Fighter Group was sent a page containing a favorite hymn by his mother and pastor, and he always took it when climbing into the cockpit of his P-47 in 1944–1945.8 Religious mementos dating from the previous war might be kept about the person. At least two Australians in 44 Squadron had inherited pocket Bibles used by their father or grandfather in the trenches during World War I, while Bill Jackson, a Canadian rear gunner flying aboard Stirlings with 218 Squadron in the middle war years, stowed in one of his tunic pockets a small prayer book that his father had carried during the Great War: “I was determined to carry it through this war also.”9 A B-17 gunner was overheard explaining around the same time that “I carry this bible with me every time, damn right I do,” adding: “My Dad, he carried it all the way through the Argonne in the last war and he came out okay.”10 It was in the USAAF, in fact, that testaments most often seem to have taken on quasimagical protective properties. “I wouldn’t be without it,” B-29 pilot Van Parker of the 19th Bomb Group wrote to his family in early April 1945 of the metal-plated New Testament they had given him, which he had carried in his pocket through his first thirteen missions.11 There were plenty of them about: in addition to the innumerable personal Bibles carried overseas, the Americans printed and distributed 11 million Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish versions to the armed forces.12 Often encased in stainless steel and engraved with the legend “MAY THIS KEEP YOU SAFE FROM HARM,” these items seemed to offer a combination of spiritual and physical protection. Stories circulated of fliers’ lives being saved through carrying them, such as that of B-17 navigator Albert Simon of the 303rd Bomb Group, hit in the lower abdomen by a flak fragment that penetrated his armored vest and flying clothing but miraculously left only a bruise rather than severing a main artery.13 To help generate “good luck...