On March 6, 1944, The Eighth Air Force bombed Berlin. Nearly nine hundred American bombers took part, including the B-17G named Little Willie from the 388th Bomb Group stationed in Knettishall, England. Over Berlin, flak knocked out two engines and sent Little Willie into a deadly dive.
Lt. Bernard M. Dopko, Little Willie’s pilot, struggled to regain control as the plane dove towards the suburbs of Berlin. He finally managed to pull just before the bomber crashed. Flying below fifty feet, Bombardier William Kelly warned, “Look out, Dop, you’re going to run into the curb!”
For the return flight over Germany, with only two of their four engines operating, Little Willie could not climb above 100 feet or go faster than 115 miles per hour. At one point, Dopko had to bank the craft between two church spires, because he could not fly over them.
With its radio shot out, the Lieutenant was unable to make contact for nine hours, and he, his crew, and Little Willie were listed as missing in action. Finally, with Little Willie flying only ten feet over the English Channel, Dopko coaxed a third engine back to life long enough to climb to 5,000 feet, which was exactly what he needed to make it home.
Nine and one-half hours after the mission began; Lieutenant Dopko landed Little Willie back at Knettishall.
Today it is estimated that there are 700,000 independent authors plying their trade. We live in every city, town, and hamlet, on the face of the planet. Every day we write, blog, tweet, Facebook, and finally send our books on missions into the unknown, where they are shot at and often hit.
Powerless and without communication, they often go into a fatal dive, while their authors struggle to save them. Some manage to recover from the dive and began the agonizingly slow journey home. Most do not. They are all listed as missing in action.
Are you and your book(s) MIA? Are you struggling to survive your writing mission? Are you going to reach deep and find the strength and resolve to complete the mission? Luck didn’t bring Lieutenant Bernard M. Dopko home; his resolve, dedication, and total commitment did. To make it, a writer has to have the same commitment and willingness to stick with it that Dopko relied on to bring Little Willie home.
I first heard the story of Little Willie over twenty years ago when I saw one of the original prints at a gallery in Memphis, Tennessee. Later, I read Bomber Missions: Aviation Art of World War II by G.E. Patrick Murray. Keith Ferris is the artist who painted the illustration I used for this post. I own a copy of the book and one day I’ll own one of the long ago sold out prints because Little Willie has become part of me.