Conclusion
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CONCLUSION In light of widespread references to charms, rituals, and other forms of magical thinking in memoirs, diaries, and interviews, it is all too easy to assume that superstition among wartime fliers was pretty much universal.1 However, assessing the relative extent and degree of superstitious thought and action among combat aviators is problematic . On the one hand, those susceptible to magical thinking tended to argue in retrospect that it was ubiquitous and powerful. On the other, there were plenty of former fliers for whom it apparently mattered little and who thought it of limited importance overall. These contradictory generalizations need to be viewed with care. Some veterans thought they were far from alone carrying talismans and engaging in other forms of magical thinking. “All aircrew tended to be highly superstitious,” wrote one senior pilot in RAF Bomber Command , echoing almost word for word the sentiments of others in British and Commonwealth squadrons.2 It was the same in the USAAF. “When you flew combat,” stated B-17 radio operator Alvin Kotler of the 99th Bomb Group, “you were either religious, or you were superstitious.”3 This kind of observation was by no means unique to bomber crews or always ex post facto. P-47 pilot Quentin Aanenson, for instance, wrote in a letter to his wife in July 1944 that virtually “every pilot I know over here has some sort of good luck charm, or ritual he goes through before a mission.”4 Yet this was not a universal opinion. “You hear about people wearing the same underwear or the same hat,” commented former B-17 radioman John Smith as a prelude to emphasizing that “I didn’t know anyone who did that.”5 At the time, canny war correspondent Ernie Pyle noticed that he only occasionally encountered magical thinking while staying with various USAAF units: “Superstition was rare even among the pilots.”6 92 : conclusion There is evidence to support this observation—for instance, “I didn’t feel at all superstitious about this being the 13th mission,” B-17 flight engineer Andy Anzanos of the 390th Bomb Group noted in his diary after landing—and not just for the army air forces.7 “I was never a superstitious person,” asserted F6F pilot John Galvin of VF-8, and therefore he did not consider it “portentous” to be flying on April Fool’s Day, even though that was the date he was shot down.8 “Not being superstitious,” Kenneth Walsh, an F4U pilot with VMF-124 explained, he had no problem regularly assuming the thirteenth slot in bomber-escort formations.9 Indeed, there are a goodly number of detailed and revealing first-person accounts in which the issue of superstition does not appear even tangentially .10 Furthermore, when asked in interviews on both sides of the Atlantic if they had carried lucky charms or engaged in rituals, plenty of veterans replied firmly in the negative.11 Like air gunner Arthur Batten , who flew Stirlings with 190 Squadron, many of them seem to have thought that “having your bloody bunny rabbit with you would make no bloody difference” as to whether you lived or died.12 Moreover, there were instances of both individuals and entire crews who consciously chose to challenge what they regarded as illogical and possibly dangerous beliefs. “I always figured that war wasn’t really God’s business,” B-17 tail gunner Arnold Willis explained of his decision not to pray for divine intercession on his behalf.13 Robert Brown, flying Mustangs with 268 Squadron, also assumed that the Almighty was not out to protect him personally more than any other pilot.14 After all, as B-17 flight engineer John Comer heard himself thinking, “German pilots rising up to meet you are asking the same thing.”15 When he discovered that the tail gunner was praying rather than watching for fighters during missions, a B-17 captain in the 390th Bomb Group who did not believe in the power of prayer threatened to kick him and anyone else off the crew who was not fully attending to their duties.16 John Matthews, an observer (navigator/bomb aimer) on Wellingtons with 57 Squadron, along with the two gunners, refused point-blank to fly with a particular pilot because they were convinced his tendency to rely on the power of prayer made him a menace to all: I didn’t tell the wingco [wing commander] this but the pilot we objected to was a Geordie whose father was...