This Memorial Day, I’ll tell you about my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, known to the family simply as “Ebner,” [ABE-ner]. He was a “prince of a guy,” my dad said often, and he was also a crack navigator on the B-17 Bomber during World War II. In one of Ebner’s letters home, he speaks forthrightly of how he coped, facing death from the carpets of FLAK surging toward him over and over and as German fighter planes buzzed the B-17 to shoot it down. I’ll finish with a tribute to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which Ebner also wrote home about.
Coping with the threat of imminent death
10th Mission: March 1945
Today I flew my 10th mission, and it was the hottest thing I have seen so far. There was more and bigger flak. We bombed an oil refinery in North Eastern Vienna and those people don’t like us to drop our presents to them.
Ebner trained for two years in the Army Air Corps, including a grueling stint in the navigator school in Hondo, Texas, where he feared he might not make it. He was in Hondo when he heard the news about D-Day, and wrote to his parents about it.
The odd coincidence was that this all-important date in starting to bring an end to German dominance in Europe also happened to be my grandfather’s 55th birthday. Ebner notes the fact in a letter home, with an understanding of D-Day’s significance. He wrote:
Wasn’t it strange how D Day came on Dad’s birthday? It won’t be long now.
But it was almost another full year before VE Day (Victory over Europe) arrived (May 8th 1945), with thousands more deaths in every service branch–a long, deadly road still to travel to reach victory. Ebner had eight more months of training, followed by twenty-five missions from January to May 1945.
This year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day is the 130th anniversary of my grandfather’s birth. Hard to fathom how the time flies away. Most of the men who stormed those beaches in France are now gone, passed into their next realm, as is my grandfather.
Thank you to those who served and still serve, and to their families. May our leaders make wise choices as to how America will risk your lives, too precious to waste on pique, balderdash, and bombasity.
I welcome your comments.
Redlined tells a first-hand story about a West Side Chicago family’s personal struggles and dreams intersecting with the racial upheavals of the 1960s.