- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - World War II looms large in 93-year-old Phil McGuire’s everyday life.

Pictures from his days in the service fill the walls of his room at Traceway Retirement Community’s Mitchell Center in Tupelo.

There are photos of B-17s, a map of the European theater and a detailed drawing of a ball turret. Plaques and certificates proclaim McGuire an alumnus of the Eighth Air Force.

A poster-sized black and white photo on one wall captures McGuire as a striking young man of about 20 years old.

“All the women who come in here, I think they take a look at that and they say, ‘Man, I wish I’d run into him when he was that age,’” McGuire said from his reclining chair.

On the same wall are photos of Julius Eugene “Bill” McClintick of Cedar, Minnesota.

“His nickname was Bill, and he never said where the Bill came from,” said McGuire, a West Point native. “I’ll never forget him. No, siree.”

The two young men met in Miami Beach, Florida, where both were sent for basic training, then they were shipped to Sioux City, Iowa.

“We were the best of friends. We did everything together,” McGuire said. “I went to see the house he was going to build for his girlfriend. He would’ve been out in a couple of months when he died, but that’s how it is. It was not his time to live.”

At first, the Air Force wanted McGuire to be an instructor, but he wasn’t interested in staying stateside.

“I was young and eager - surely you’ve seen boys like that,” he said. “I knew my mother and daddy never accomplished much, and I wanted to be a big-time war hero.”

He accepted the chance to be a belly gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. The ball turret was on the bottom of the plane. It was a tight space, but McGuire entered WWII weighing 130 pounds. Inside, he commanded two 50-caliber guns with his thumbs.

“I fired those things a lot of times. I don’t know if I ever shot anything down,” he said. “That was my job, to shoot them down if I could.”

He was stationed at a base in England, and he and crew were assigned to “Patty Jo.”

“We never did know who named her Patty Jo, but she had ‘Patty Jo’ written on the plane’s nose,” he said.

At the morning briefing, his superiors said his team’s initial mission would be easy, and that’s the way it seemed at first.

“We flew, golly, at least three or four hours before we encountered enemy fire. I began to think, What is this? This is not war.

This is flying,” he said. “They wanted to give us an idea of what it was going to be like. I said, ‘If this is a milk run, we’ve got it made,’ but I changed my mind when they started throwing up the flak.

“The first plane I saw go down had its entire wing sheared off. I don’t know if those boys lived or not. I doubt if they did. I doubt if they did.”

That first experience changed the way he saw the war and his part in it.

“That idea I had that I was going to be a great hero?” he said. “Turned out I was a great scaredy cat because I got so scared at times. So scared at times.”

McGuire’s nearest miss came when German bullets hit Patty Jo and took out his oxygen supply.

“You don’t live very long at 20,000 or 25,000 feet without oxygen,” he said.

He knows what happened even though he doesn’t remember. He passed out and the waist gunner told him the details later.

“He said we had gone through the flak and every gunner was shooting except me,” McGuire said. “He was my New York buddy.

He realized I wasn’t doing my job, and he came to find me. He thought I’d been hit when he found me. Then he realized what happened, that I didn’t have any oxygen.”

He was given oxygen from a supplemental supply and lived to fight another day.

Patty Jo’s crew usually bombed factories that manufactured military equipment. They also attacked air bases and other targets when ordered.

“We hit Berlin twice. That wasn’t much fun because they had so many guns,” he said. “I can’t remember how many guns they had, but, boy, they put it up there so thick. You couldn’t see the other planes.”

Crews were expected to fly 25 missions. McGuire did that, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. He considered flying another five missions to reach 50, but his commanding officer disabused him of that notion.

“He cussed me out, boy,” McGuire said. “He said I was the dumbest fellow he’d ever known.”

He felt sorry for the men who were still in the thick of the fight when he was shipped home. He also mourned his good friend “Bill” McClintick.

“I hope he was killed instantly,” McGuire said. “I hate to think he went down in the North Sea and had to get by the best he could. I don’t know the details. I just know he went down.”

He’s not sure what happened to Patty Jo, either.

“As far as I know, she survived the war,” he said. “They probably brought her back and sold her for $25. It’s a strange world.”

These days, McGuire has his recliner, a television, a mini-fridge and a steady supply of Boost and Gatorade.

There are photos of McGuire’s late wife, Virginia, as well as their children and friends, but most of the room is dedicated to the 1940s, when a kid from West Point learned courage and fear went together.

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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