I actually have a few hero's in my family; but, since it is Veterans Day, I think it is so important to share the stories of the members of the military in my family. The first, would be my father-in-law, Elroy J. Gierach.
Elroy was an 18 year old "kid" who dreamt of flying. He saw the pilots training to be sent over to Europe for World War ll. After being evaluated by his C.O. (commanding officer), it was decided that Elroy would serve his country best from the left seat of a B-17. He worked so hard to excel at everything that was asked of him. I can't even imagine a 19 year old "teenager" piloting a huge B-17, but, alas, he did.
Elroy came from a large family and had been raised on a farm. I can't think of anything in his upbringing that would have prepared him for flying, Europe, Piloting a B-17, killing, and understanding that he was responsible for the well being of his crew. Elroy was one of 9 children. Plowed the fields, cared for the animals, helped with younger siblings as well as grandparents living on the farm with his family. I have two boys and I don't think either one of them could have or would have been able to do what Elroy did at the tender age of 19.
B-17 crews were expected to complete 25 missions (if possible) before they could be transferred back to the states to a state side base. Elroy was based in England; he flew out of his english base and was expected to return to that same base.
On his 23rd mission, he and his crew were expected to fly to Schweinburg, Germany to be part of a mission to destroy the ammunition depots in the area. They were to drop all the bombs on board their plane and returns immediately after the drop. Only a portion of the bombs on board were released when surface to air bombs (flack) destroyed part of the the right wing, and a portion of the planes tail. Elroy gave the order to put on parachutes and get out of the plane; his entire crew made it out, he saw the parachutes make it to the ground, but beyond that he knew nothing of the crews well being. Elroy stayed with his plane as long as possible and then he also had to get out. Elroy was immediately found by the underground and taken to a safe house. He was passed along from town to town and farmhouse to farmhouse. It took three weeks for Elroy to make it back to his base in England, however, none of his crew had made it back. After his de-briefing he was rotated back to the States and stayed stateside until he was released from the service, at the ripe old age of 26!
Elroy and so many thousands of other sons, fathers, brothers, uncles and a few grandfathers were part of history that felt a strong need to protect and defend our country, our constitution, our way of life and everything that this country has stood for since 1776. Sadly, that kind of patriotic fervor is rare these days. There is a sadness to this heroic tale, Elroy spent the rest of his life, to the ripe old age of 77 feeling responsible for the deaths of his crew members. I regret that the research done was not done before he died in 1999, because we could have told him that they all made it back to their base in England and home to the states to their wives, mothers, fathers, children, etc. My heart tells me that had Elroy known that he made it possible for his entire crew to make it back I would llike to think he would have been able to let go of his burden.
Elroy never thought of himself or anyone he served with, as hero's, but in my eyes Elroy was bigger then life.