The following is a true story about some
of us, too many, that never came home. It was told by one of our
young friends in 1999. Along with us, we hope you will always remember.
The Fry Crew
They died fifteen years
before I was born. They are not related to me and should really not have
any impact on me at all except for the fact that they have been a part
of my life now for almost seven years. Their photographs look back at me
from behind my computer as I type this. For some reason, tonight they have
decided to invade my thoughts.
Who are they? They are
the pilot and Co-pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber that was shot down over
Vienna on Valentines Day 1945. Captain Richard E. Fry, the pilot, is on
the left, and Lieutenant Alvin S. Brody, the Co-pilot, is on the right.
The flak shell that exploded in the cockpit of their bomber killed them
instantly, changing forever the lives of their families and now after all
these years they have changed mine.
It was all a fluke really.
A chance meeting in the bomb bay of a restored B-24 with Don Brody, the
brother of the Co-pilot opened the door into the lives of the men of this
bomber crew as well as their families. Don and his wife had come out to
the airshow to see the restored B24 so Don could get an idea of what his
brother had flown during the war. I was at the airshow with my son. I'm
a longtime World War 2 aviation fanatic, and the chances to see a B24 and
the B17 that accompanied it don't happen very often. Even now I wonder
why I went to the B-24 first, when I've always liked B17s better. For whatever
reason I went right instead of left and found myself in the bomb bay of
Inside I saw a man looking
up towards the cockpit of the big plane. He looked pained and almost in
tears. My first thought was that maybe he was a former B-24 crewman. I
remember asking if he had flown in B-24s. Don had replied that he hadn't,
but that his big brother had been killed in one during the war. I then
asked Don if he knew what had happened and his response was that his family
had never really known the details and that his brother Al was still considered
Missing in Action. (as of this date in 1992)
I'm not sure why I did
it, but I then asked if Don would mind if I tried to find out what had
happened to his brother so that he could know. When the reply came in the
affirmative I was on my way into something that would open my eyes to the
true cost of wars and bring both Al Brody, and his pilot Richard Fry into
Over time I found the information
on the bomber crew. The details came to light telling of the flak over
Vienna on that February day that brought down the bomber and ended so many
of the crew's lives. I found Harold Fry, the older brother of the pilot
Richard Fry and got a chance to spend time with him and learn more about
his little brother.
I had never understood,
despite years of reading and talking to veterans, how painful the memories
could be, and how strong the impact was on the families of those who lost
loved ones in the war. The past seven years and the time spent with Don
Brody and Harold Fry opened my eyes to that pain.
For Don Brody there was
the pain of not getting to grow up with his big brother, someone he had
looked up to as a kid. There was also the pressure of having to live up
to someone who could no longer do anything wrong. This came both from his
family and from himself as he struggled to try and walk in the footsteps
of someone he really didn't know. Over time Don became successful in business
married and had a family. While he never resented his brother, the memory
of Al, hung over Don as an irreplaceable loss, and as a reminder of his
own failings. When I met Don in 1992, he could barely speak his brother's
name without breaking down.
For Harold Fry it was the
guilt of having survived the war, despite three years of combat in the
Pacific as an Infantry Officer. Harold believed he had lived his life and
that his little brother never got the chance. I've heard Harold say that
he would happily have traded places with Richard, and wish it had been
him to die instead. Harold had come home, ignored his own wartime experience
while raising a family, taking care of his parents and becoming a successful
business man, yet the memory of his little brother hung over him to the
point it was difficult to talk about Richard without breaking into tears.
So who were these two young
men who despite their deaths over fifty years ago, are still locked into
the hearts of their surviving brothers?
Richard Fry was from Ohio,
and had attended a military school as a kid just like his big brother.
A bit of a hell raiser, he liked to drive cars fast, and had hunted and
trapped in Canada and Alaska like his brother. He went to Ohio State University
before joining the Army Air Corps. From his letters it is clear he saw
himself as a bit of a ladies man, yet he also was very loyal to his parents,
and looked up to his big brother, Harold. He felt a great deal of responsibility
to the crew of his B24, and according to the two surviving crewmembers,
Richard was a very good pilot. So good in fact that the crew had been given
the job of flying as a lead crew with specially modified planes that had
extra radar and crewmen that allowed for more precise bombing.
Once he entered combat
his letters home tried to reassure his parents and brother that he was
fine, yet within them you can see the pressure he was under, as he describes
missions where they were hit by flak, had engines fail, and endured forced
landings. Through it all he seemed to keep his cool and provided the leadership
his crew depended on. His letters looked to the future and what life would
hold when he returned home.
Al Brody was from Minnesota.
He had been a basketball player in High School and had been editor of the
school paper. He had gone off to the University of Minnesota with hopes
of being a journalist. He too had joined the Army Air Corps and had hoped
to become a fighter pilot flying a P-38 Lightning.
Instead Al had ending up
in B24s as a Co-pilot He didn't fly the initial missions once the crew
got into combat. An experienced pilot had gone along with Richard Fry and
the rest of the crew to make sure they know how things worked in combat.
Once Al flew his first missions he did his job well despite on one occasion
being hit in the arm by flak. His family had never known about this until
one of the surviving crewmembers mentioned it to me. Al's letters home
did not survive, although Don remembers vividly how one letter ended with
Al wishing that Don would never have to be in uniform. Clearly the war
had taken its toll on Al.
It's hard for me to imagine
what these young men had to endure. From a distance it seems almost to
have been too much to expect them to fly a bomber, lead their crew, endure
the flak, the cold, and the fighters along with all the other dangers involved
in flying combat. In talking to the two surviving crewmembers, it was apparent
that the stress and tension of flying combat had taken its toll on everyone.
One of the men even mentioning that being shot down probably saved him
from cracking up from the strain.
So here I sit, with the
Richard Fry and Al Brody looking at me, Richard dead at the age of 22 and
Al dead at age 21. Neither of them had the chance to get married, have
a family or even finish school. Whatever hopes and dreams they held for
the future was shattered in the blast of a flak shell. Their families left
with nothing but their memories, as their remains were never found.
I think about how at age
39 I've done so much more then Richard and Al and how I have so much more
to do. My kids are growing up quickly in a life that offers them so much
opportunity. My wife and I have enjoyed almost 17 years of marriage while
we continue to plan for the future. Our own opportunities are limited only
It's hard not to feel a
little guilty for all I have when I look up at the photos of Richard and
Al. From what I've learned of them, I think I would have enjoyed their
company. I wish I could have had the chance to meet them, shake their hands
and thank them for what they did.
So while you are enjoying
the Memorial Day weekend, please take time to reflect on the sacrifice
of all those people like Richard and Al, who gave their lives, in all our
wars, to preserve our freedom and allow us the opportunities that they
never had. It is the least we can do.
The Fry Crew