‘don’t call me a hero, real heroes never came home’ – Excelsior California

‘don’t call me a hero, real heroes never came home’ – Excelsior California
‘don’t call me a hero, real heroes never came home’ – Excelsior California

Irvin Poff, 105, a World War II B-17 bomber pilot, shared his story with a room full of local veterans. He was honored with a certificate of recognition from Wings Over Wendy’s. (Photo courtesy of Ed Reynolds)

I’ve been writing Memorial Day columns for more than 40 years. I’ve heard hundreds of combat veterans who served in World War II and Korea tell their stories with just one request.

Please don’t call me a hero. The real heroes never returned home.

You can’t interview them. The closest you can get is Irvin Poff, 105, of Ojai, who sat in his wheelchair last week with a handheld microphone near his lips, holding a room full of local veterans decades his junior. him, in the palm of his hand.

If you want your children and grandchildren to really understand why they don’t have to go to school on Monday, let Irvin Poff tell them. He only has one request.

“I don’t consider myself a hero by any means, and I don’t mean to brag,” said the World War II B-17 bomber pilot. “I’m just telling you what he was like. I was very scared”.

You are flying at 25,000 feet with the lives of your 10-man crew and the freedom of the world on your shoulders. You’re shivering because it’s zero degrees up there in the skies of southern Italy, where your job is to bomb well-defended oil fields that supply the bad guys.

Not even the sheepskin you wear protects you from the scorching cold.

“I looked down and there were icicles on the bottom of my legs from my sweat. In front of me were puffs of smoke, shrapnel from more than 200 anti-aircraft guns pointed at us from the ground. The sky was dark with that.”

Suddenly, your number three engine shuts down. You have been reached. You fight with all your might to stay in tight formation with the other bombers because if you stray you know what’s going to happen.

“The chances of coming home alone are pretty slim,” Irv said. “A single plane is a primary target.”

You activate emergency power, drop your bombs on the target, and fly home with three engines and over 200 bullet holes under your B-17, without breaking formation.

Mission accomplished. No enemy planes and tanks trying to kill our infantrymen on the ground will fill up on gasoline from those oil refineries ever again.

That doesn’t make you a hero, but it comes pretty close.

Irv was born on a farm in Missouri in 1919. The doctor who brought him into the world arrived in a horse-drawn carriage. Model T Fords couldn’t make it through the muddy dirt roads after a bad storm.

“I went to a one-room school with one teacher for eight grades,” he said. “For two years, I was the only student in my grade. When the teacher asked the class a question, he knew who had to answer it.”

There were a total of 43 students in his high school. In his senior year, he was the valedictorian speaker for his class.

“I’m not bragging,” Irv said. “Being the valedictory speaker gave me a Sears Roebuck scholarship of $15 a month for nine months, my first year in the agriculture department at the University of Missouri.”

He paid for two meals a day in the school cafeteria where Irv would fill up on stew for 25 cents a bowl.

“It wasn’t that watery stew you eat with a spoon today,” he said. “You used a fork for this stew.”

After college, he volunteered for pilot training and was accepted on December 7, 1942, into the Army Air Force, exactly one year after Pearl Harbor.

Forty-five crews were in training when five of them were pulled out for immediate deployment. Irv’s crew was one of them.

He never put a picture of a beautiful woman on the side of his B-17, like in the movies, because he boarded a different cabin almost every morning.

“The squadron I was assigned to had lost half of their 24 aircraft the day before I arrived,” he said. “They needed new pilots and we flew whatever plane was fit to fly that day.”

Within three months, he had completed half of the 50 missions he would fly destroying enemy railroad lines and refineries, saving Allied lives on the ground.

“After flying half the missions, the pilots and crews had a week off for rest and recovery,” Irv said. “We rejected it and kept flying. I finished my 50 combat missions 10 days before I was six months old.

“I’ve been told it’s a record, but I don’t know for sure.”

From combat, he flew for peace. He and his crew were assigned to fly seven chaplains for a tour of the holy lands.

He finished World War II stationed at Love Field in Dallas and went to work for the USDA Soil Conservation Service. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force reserve.

And now, at 105, he’s one of the last of his generation of combat veterans who went out and saved the world.

Just don’t call them heroes.


Original story in Los Angeles Daily News

Memorial Day request from combat veterans, ‘don’t call me a hero, the real heroes never made it home’

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