By Bill Rawlinson

It was the summer of 1943 and war raged in Europe and the Pacific. Civilians were encouraged to support the troops in any way possible: buy War Bonds, coastal residents needed to install black-out curtains, save scrap metal go without luxuries. But what could an 11-year-old boy do? I was hoping the war would last until I would be old enough to become a B-17 bomber pilot flying out of England. Weird kid!

I was living on Martha’s vineyard, the island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and one clear beautiful June morning I decided to ride my bicycle out of Oak Bluffs northward up to the cliff area called East Chop, one of two land projections that jutted into Nantucket Sound…an azure, placid bod of water where the scenery was always spectacular!

But something had changed! In the middle of the open field stood a very small, unpainted, two-story building, seemingly built of scrap lumber. The bottom floor was windowless but the upstairs had large windows on all four sides. “Who had done this?” I fumed to myself. I vigorously knocked on the door and asked the man who answered, “What is going on here?” He replied, “This is a spotter’s post. We’re the Ground Observer Corps and we look for enemy planes or German subs.” I immediately responded! “I want to join!” He directed me to a nearby mansion on the adjacent land. “The lady who runs this operation lives over there.” I immediately raced across the field and pounded on the side of the door which led to the kitchen. A middle-aged woman answered. She appeared elegant! “Yes, young man, what can I do for you?” I blurted, “I want to be an aircraft spotter.” She sweetly invited me in for milk and cookies and gently told me: “One has to know an awful lot about airplanes.” I sat down at the kitchen table and with jutting chin responded, “I know more about airplanes than you do!” In a quiet voice she answered, “Oh really, well let’s find out how much you really know about aircraft.”


Top view of a B-26 marauder

Within a few minutes she had placed before me a school’s Final Exam: a booklet containing 25 photos and silhouettes of various nations flying and fighting in the war: German, British, Japanese, American, ect. I was on the firing line! With a number 2 pencil I slowly marked the answer sheet as I flipped through the pictures. I was comfortable although one photo stymied me. I guessed and handed her the answer sheet. She smiled because she knew that I was about to be humiliated. Slowly she worked her way through my answer sheet as her brows tightened. She rechecked my answers and looked at me, staring. “You only missed one out of 25!”

I gulped the milk as I beamed! I was trying to be humble, but the smirk on my face betrayed me. “Yeah, that one photo of a bomber taken from above got me!” It was a B-26.

“Well,” she said, “I really do not know what to do about this! I shall call Fighter Command Headquarters in Boston and find out what to do next. Come back in about three days.”

The days could not pass fast enough. Then came the news! “First Fighter Command” approved, but I was still required to go through the one-week school!

Soon I got my posting…mornings: 10:00-12:00. Perfect! But humiliation waited in the wings! Since I was only 11 years old I would have to work my shift with a baby sitter! A grandmotherly type woman came each morning with her knitting. “Now Billy, you let me know if you need anything,” she would whisper as she slowly knitted. Very deep under my breath I growled, “Lady, I don’t need anything from a woman who doesn’t know her airplanes. Besides I’m in charge of his post, not you; and I control all the phones.” At age 11 my life was ecstasy.

I was officially part of the military establishment and I didn’t even go to boot camp!

The days flew by, the weather cooled, and the calendar read September. The tourists packed their bags and trudged down to the Oak Bluffs ferry for the ride back to the mainland. The streets of Martha’s Vineyard were quiet again. It was time for me to return to the boring ABCs of school. I didn’t want it to end! I had played a minor role in the war, but I wanted more. Maybe I really could fly B-17s in a few more years.war aircraft spotter

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  • Bill Getz says:

    Bill Rawlinson, Colonel USAF (Ret) is a neighbor, friend and a real gentleman. He was mystified as to how “A War To Be Won” obtained a copy of his article from our small retirement communities pamphlet for residents to publish personal experiences and is distributed only to residents. Today’s mystery.

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