573 Magazine Nov 2016 - Page 46

Before the fight I was introduced to a real WWII B-17 tail gunner.  At 91 you could still see the pride he had for the Flying Fortress.  We chatted a bit and walked to the rear of the aircraft.  It was at that point you could see that he was overwhelmed by his emotions obviously thinking of the brothers he lost in England when his B-17 crashed, taking the lives of all but himself.  Meet Sgt. Clifford Heinrich. It was December 1944. The Mission was in support of ground troops engaged in the Battle of the Bulge.  On that day a crew of nine men boarded the B-17, known as 812.  After they completed the mission they returned to a foggy evening and were forced to divert to Great Rollright, a small town in the county of Oxfordshire in South East England.  The next day, in an attempt to return to their home base, the aircraft began to lose altitude and began to start clipping the tree tops.  Sgt. Clifford Heinrich of Cape Girardeau was the tail gunner and managed to make it to the center of the plane just as it crashed. All on board were killed except Clifford.  His injuries were so severe that he was not expected to survive.  But at 18 years of age, Clifford was not ready for his life to end.  He fought.  He spent time in two hospitals in England and then two in the United States.  The war was well over before Clifford could even walk again.  After years of recovery, Clifford became a salesman and later moved into management for a large automotive parts distributor.  He currently lives in Cape Girardeau.