Remembering Jack McGraw
During the summer of 1941 the attack on Pearl Harbor was still several months away. While Americans from all over the Country threw themselves into the war effort after December 7, 1941, many American men had already joined the military before that attack. My grandfather, Marvin "Jack" McGraw enlisted in the U.S. Army July 12, 1941. Jack had always been the adventurous, if not ornery, type. As a young child he, on more than one occasion, would jump trains and actually once made his way from West Virginia to the Pacific North West where he visited family. When he enlisted in the Army he was initially assigned to the Quartermaster Corps and after basic training was sent to Milwaukee, WI for training to be a vehicle mechanic. The training he received was actually through a program run by Harley Davidson. While in Milwaukee he had the good fortune of meeting a young woman named Lois Witteman. Lois and Jack began a relationship and would later be married, but not before Jack was deployed overseas and volunteered for service that would take him on thirty missions in the air over the Europe. The U.S. Army Air Corp, the predeceasor to the U.S. Air Force, reformed and expanded dramatically during World War II. The army asked its ranks for volunteers for this service. In June of 1942 Jack volunteered for that service. He was discharged from the Army and subsequently re-enlisted into the Air Corps. Within only a few weeks of joining the Air Corp., he was in the air.
The McGraw family is not known for its height, so it is little surprise the position that Jack would serve during his time in the air corp. Jack became a tail gunner on a B-17F flying fortress. The tail gunner sat in very rear of the plane in a small and cramped area under the tail fin and observed the rear of the plane through small glass windows while armed with two .50 caliber machine guns. The tail gunner served as both an observer and in a defense position for the plane and other planes in the flying formation. The B-17
is one of the more romanticized bombers from the American military. The famous "Memphis Belle" was a B-17 and no doubt many of seen the movie
based on and dedicated to that plane. The "Memphis Belle" was part of the 8th Air Force's 91st Bombing Group
based out of Bassingbourn England. The 91st
Bombing Group was made up of 50-60 bombers and 2000 personnel. My grandfather was also a part of that bombing group. He served on a variety of different planes and flew 30 missions on several different B-17s. In comparison, the "Memphis Belle" flew 25 missions before it was taken out of service and placed into service at home for the war bond efforts. Among the planes that Jack flew on include the "Shoo Shoo Baby", "Skunk Face", "Chief Sly II" and "Hell's Halo." While after the war many of the surviving planes were sold, stored and/or scrapped, the "Shoo Shoo Baby", now named the "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" is actually still in existence and is currently preserved on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The plane itself
has an interesting history after one of its crews was forced to make a crash landing in Sweden in May of 1944. The famous and original "Memphis Belle" is also located at the Air Force Museum near Dayton and currently under restoration.
About 6,000 B-17's were lost during operations during World War II and many thousands of crew were killed and/or made prisoners of war. My grandfather was lucky. In 1943 on a mission to Bremen Germany, the plane that he was serving on suffered nearly disabling damage. The tail fin directly above my grandfather's head took flak tearing a large hole in the fin. The pictures attached to this blog were taken upon the crew's return to base. That is my grandfather standing in the open hole in the fin. My brother, Scott McGraw, was able to locate these photographs, which also appeared in a London newspaper, from the National Archives. Several years later, Scott was in a book store and picked up a book titled "B-17 Combat Missions" by Marin Bowman. Low and behold on page 130 of the book is one of the pictures of my grandfather standing on his damaged plan. The crew was very lucky to survive. In 1943 the 8th
Air Force average a loss rate of 8% per mission. Given that the number of missions necessary to complete a tour of increased and the war went on, it was statistically impossible to complete a full tour of duty. Many thousands of air men gave their lives not only in combat but also in training missions. Jack was one of the lucky ones who got to return home. He came back to the States in the summer of 1944 and ultimately returned to Milwaukee where he would marry Lois. My father, Michael John McGraw, was
born in Wisconsin in 1947 and the family traveled back and forth between Wisconsin and Southern West Virginia before finally settling back in my grandfather's home community in Wyoming County, WV.
I am very proud of my grandfather's service and the story that ultimately led to me being here. Had Jack not enlisted and been sent to Milwaukee he and Lois likely never meet. Had that piece of flak hit his plane only a few more inches over or lower, the plane may not have been able to return to base. Nearly all of us look back on the Word War II veterans with reverence and respect, and rightfully so. Somewhere along the line, though, it sometimes seems that we lost some of that respect for veterans of other wars. Whether you agree or disagree with a war effort or the politicians who approved the efforts, we can all agree that the men and women who actually serve on the front lines of those efforts deserve our respect. They and their families sacrifice a lot and many never get the chance to see their families grow. We at Bordas & Bordas are very proud of our servicemen and women, past and present, including our own Geoff Brown, a 1994 West Point Graduate who served in Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Ryan McQuaid who served two deployments in Iraq. As we near the upcoming Memorial Day, please continue to remember those individuals and families that have sacrificed so much for us.