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According to one newspaper, “he clung to his
bombsight for seven agonizing minutes before he
collapsed, but by then the bombs were away.”
With quick thinking, Lt. Bethea made an
emergency descent to a lower altitude where the
crew could tend to McKenzie without needing
supplemental oxygen. Then he turned the badly
damaged aircraft toward home, arriving in time for
McKenzie to be treated for his wounds.
Days later Lt. Bethea either removed himself or was
removed from flying status and returned to the States.
The records offer no explanation for his early and abrupt
departure, but Harry Junior suspected his
father suffered battle fatigue, or what we
know today as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The situation was not an uncommon one,
considering the men flew day after day deep into
enemy territory against Me-109 and Focke-Wulf
190 fighters and in the crosshairs of German
anti-aircraft artillery, or flak, that could turn the
Harry also searched the internet for surviving members of his father’s crew. He located
Sgt. Garnet Symington, the crew’s ball turret gunner, and Sgt. Edward Skapin, one of
the waist gunners. Neither was willing to discuss the circumstances of the July 1944
flight but instead spoke of their former pilot as a skilled aviator and leader.
At first, Harry was disappointed not to learn more, but as time passed, he realized
his father’s crew, his “band of brothers,” had done more to honor his service and
memory by their silence. Each year on Memorial Day, Harry remembers his father’s
service and sacrifice. The holiday is set aside to remember and honor American
military personnel who gave their lives while serving in the military. In Lt. Harry
Bethea’s case, his life, too, was given in service to his country. His death simply took
time to occur.
Bethea’s story —
one that is shared
other men who
risked their lives
in the war—is
the subject of
the book A
Men, written by
and released by
Koehler Books in
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