The Unpublished Love Letters of a World War II B-17 Bomber Pilot, the Flying Fortress, to His Wife

Approximately 115 letters from the front line pilot to his new wife, awaiting the birth of their child, touching on life in camp, missions he flew, his hoped for survival, and their love

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Purchase $7,800

Including his photo of her he kept while he flew, along with a dollar bill, separated at the start of his missions, half given to a friend, united only on their mutual survival


He flew 35 missions from the Bury St. Edmunds camp in England, to all over Germany



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The Unpublished Love Letters of a World War II B-17 Bomber Pilot, the Flying Fortress, to His Wife

Approximately 115 letters from the front line pilot to his new wife, awaiting the birth of their child, touching on life in camp, missions he flew, his hoped for survival, and their love

Including his photo of her he kept while he flew, along with a dollar bill, separated at the start of his missions, half given to a friend, united only on their mutual survival


He flew 35 missions from the Bury St. Edmunds camp in England, to all over Germany


World War II remains the most momentous war in history, with over 50 million people dying in a struggle that, in Europe and the Pacific, lasted over a decade. The warring nations threw everything and everyone they had into the conflict, and it so absorbed the young adults in the United States, who fought and brought victory, that those who were in their 20s and 30s then are known as the Greatest Generation.

J. Andrew Smith, Jr. was a young pilot from Goldsboro, NC. With the outbreak of the war, he entered pilot training and was assigned to the 94th Bomb Group, which flew the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress as part of the Eighth Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign and served chiefly as a strategic bombardment organization throughout the war. This unit was primarily based out of Bury St. Edmunds. Among the units composing the 94th was the 331st corp. Prior to D-Day in Jun 1944, it helped to neutralize weapon sites, airdromes, and other military installations along the coast of France. On June 6, it bombed enemy positions in the battle area to support the invasion of Normandy, and struck troops and gun batteries to aid the advance of the Allies at St Lo in July and at Brest in August. It covered the airborne attack on Holland in September and hit marshalling yards, airfields, and strong points near the combat area during the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945. It bombed transportation, communications, and oil targets in the final push over the Rhine and across Germany.

Smith arrived in the UK in the summer of 1944 and began flying missions in October. He flew 35 missions, all over Germany, as the pilot of his B-17 crew. He and his crew named their bomber ‘Roll me over’. His was dangerous work.

Prior to heading to the UK, he married his sweetheart, Hilda. When he left for the UK, she was pregnant with what would be their first child, a girl.

From mid 1944 to his return in April 1945, he carried on a near daily communication with his wife in loving, tender correspondence that spoke to their relationship, their yet-to-be-born child, and daily life at camp in Bury St. Edmunds. They also spoke of the war and the dangers he faced. Many in his position did not return. At the start, he split a dollar bill for a fellow pilot, and they promised to be put it back together should they both survive. That, his prayer card and a photograph of his beloved wife were kept in his pocket as he flew and are all part of this archive.

The archive

Photocopy of a manuscript map (original not surviving) of the military arrangement at Bury St. Edmunds, Station 468;

His military identification card, signed by him;

Official list of his “Operational Missions” – all over Germany – from October 1944 till April 7 1945. This speaks to the dangers he encountered flying in distant and perilous airspace.

A handful of telegrams, including his announcement to his wife of the end of his tour, dated April 9, 1945. “Job completed – Am very thankful”

His social security card

Materials kept on his during his bombing tours: Two photographs of Hilda, his wife, including at last one carried on him during this flight; Prayer sheet; Dollar bill torn in half and shared with a friend to be united upon their joint survival in the war.

The letters

A handful of letters from 1942 and 1943. Including:

June 18, 1943 – “I think we will ship out the first of next week so if there is a break in my letters to you you will know that I’m on shipment… It’s no telling what we will step into when we get to pre-flight. Only about 80 of us have gotten our classification, out of those are 5 bombardiers and 4 navigators. The seat pilot.”

July 1, 1943 – “Before the war everybody was happy, because life was peaceful, no boomtowns, or army camps or war war industries to hamper normal life. But now look at this country – lovers separated, people leaving their homes to go work in war industries…”

80 letters from 1944. The letters begin with him in training (Blytheville, AR), encouraging his wife to buy wedding bands for their marriage. He discusses his training.

– February 28: “I’m so sorry that you had to go through so much unhappiness before your Mother agreed to the marriage… We were always meant to be man and wife and the day is so near now.”

– March 1: “We graduate in 11 days. We have lots of flying to do yet… We go on a cross country tonight down to Little Rock Ark. over to Batesville Miss and back here…” This mission would be eventful. On March 2, he writes that his plane malfunctions and goes into details about how and what reports he made to his superiors. He considers himself lucky to be alive.

The letters skip to September, where he finds himself in Rapid City. Much discussion of camp life and bomber training. He discusses who he wants in his bomber and in which position.

He gets a plane

September 23 – “I was assigned a nice new B-17 to be my little airplane for a while so you see your old man got a fine airplane…. We can stay happy and love each other so much. You can have our baby and stay healthy and strong and I can help fight this damn war for you and junior and come back to you and never let you leave me again.”

In late Sept, he leaves the states for England. On October 2, he writes from Iceland. On October 6, he arrives in England. “I might go into town tonight but I don’t know yet if I can get a pass. All they have got is places they call pubs where they sell nothing but hot beer. Can you imagine that?”

There is near daily discussion of camp life, censoring letters of his soldiers and other events.

October 14 – “Some day when our kid grows up to be a man or woman, I pray to God that he will never have to go through what we are going through now…. It’s going to be rough as hell darling I know but I’m not afraid, I’m scared as hell but who wouldn’t be but I’m not afraid, I have faith in God that He will take care of me.”

October 15 – “I would give a million to just be able to hold you in my arms for a minute. I need you sweet more than I can say but I’ll be ok after a while.”

October 16 – “I got on 2 missions as co-pilot on an old crew then I take my own boys out.”

October 17 – “I heard a good story on 24’s today. They go on such short missions that they tail gunner never gets credit for a mission. You see you have to get over enemy territory before you get credit for a mission…. you should see our hut. There are pin ups all over the damn thing starting at the floor and all around the ceiling.”

November 4 – “I’ll probably have a hard day tomorrow so I guess I had better have some sleep. It’s getting pretty rough up there now but I’m not worrying. I have the most wonderful wife in the world to fight for and pray for so I stay happy and keep working just for you my darling because you and our baby are all in the world that I’m doing this for. Your letters have been so wonderful to me. They are all I look forward to honey every day. They keep me going because each word is your thought and it brings you so close to me.”

November 5 – “Today was a hell of a way to spend a Sunday but I guess the war must go on. I’ll be glad to get these damn missions in. I’ve really learned how to pray baby. It’s wonderful to have so much faith in God and faith in my wife and baby… I know that I’m the happiest and luckiest man alive to have you, my darling, as my wife, to love and pray for always. I dream of you every night and think of your smiling face,… I need to feel you so soft and close to me, and so warm and tender and loving…. I mailed you your Christmas present yesterday…. Don’t open it darling, I want you to do that Christmas morning as if I walked in and I gave it to you and said ‘here is a small gift to the sweetest and most wonderful wife and mom on earth.”

November 8 – “I’ll never let you go. I’m going to kiss you and hold you close to me for hours and hours and just cry and laugh and be happy…”

November 9 – “Only about 30 [missions] to go honey so keep your pretty little chin up and your ole man will be home to you before you know it. I’ve got my own airplane now. I’m getting some bullet proof glass put in the cockpit so that will build up our morale a lot. Anything to help keep the flak out.”

November 12 – “This war is a terrible thing as I’ve seen a lot in so short a time darling but I never fear the fate that I’ve seen lots of our boys come to. I guess I have so much faith in God and you that I know nothing will happen.”

November 14 – “This afternoon we got up a touch football game and boy am I sore now…. I’ve had a new man on my crew the last two weeks and he’s a really sweet guy. He’s a jogger lear, in other words, he drops the bombs on the lead ships instead of wasting a bombardier in a wing ship. Hart is flying lead and is doing fine on another crew…. All I got to say is damn those bombs they scare the hell out of me”

November 18 – “We blasted the hell out of them anyway. I’m an air medal kid now, tish tish.”

Discusses a visit to London and Westminister Abbey, London Bridge, the Tower, Castle built by William the Conqueror, Picadilly Circus, prostitutes.

November 22 – I worship you, your whole self and everything I do or ever do accomplish will only be because I have you to love and cherish all my life.”

November 26 – “God was with us yesterday honey I really believe that. I’ve been scared in my life so far but that took the cake…. I went to church this morning and I found the whole crew there and I don’t blame them at all… I never dreamed that I could ever love you and miss you so much as I do right this minute.”

November 28 – “Don’t worry darling I’m saving your letters. I wouldn’t know what to do without them. I always keep your latest letter in my shirt pocket so I can read it whenever I need no matter where I am or what I’m doing and I’ve needed those sweet words more than once when the cards were down and I always come through okay…. We finally decided today after fighting for 2 months that we are going to name the ship ‘Roll me over’ after the song ‘Roll me over in the clover.”

December 2 – “God was with us again the other day, I know that but boy was it rough for a while there”

December 17 – “You are my whole world darling, a world that is sweet and beautiful and not a world of war and hell. It’s so different over here darling and I hope to God that America will never see or feel the hell of war as so many countries here have and are getting now. It seems so foolish this war, but yet what has got to be cleaned up must be done. I pray every night that this war might be over but darling it’s going to be so long.”

December 31 – “I know I haven’t written you a decent letter in 2 weeks but honey I just can’t do it. I see so much and go through so much I cant think right when it comes to talking to you. You are another world, a world that is sweet and beautiful, not what I am living in now.”

31 letters from 1945

January 11 – “It’s getting bad now, we can’t even find any coal at all and the only wood we can get is the King’s forest and he doesn’t like that so our stove has been cold for a week.”

January 24 – “I haven’t been doing much, waiting for the Russians to get to Berlin and going to Ground school this week.”

February 6 – “Well we have had a time today, the General [Hap Arnold] is coming tomorrow to give us an inspection and we have been washing windows…. We have to form here at the huts and march about 4 hours until the General inspects each man. Boy who ever heard of such a mess in a combat zone, what a war. What a place. Go out one day and risk your tail and come back and have inspection to see if all your buttons are buttoned.”

February 7 – “I’ll surely be glad when this war is over. Damn won’t it be wonderful nothing to worry about except the rent and of course keeping the baby from crying at night. I just want to tell you over and over again that I love you so much.”

February 14 – “I need you so much Hilda so terribly much and I love you more than anything else in the world. Always remember that. I know that your baby is going to be the most wonderful baby there is, its bound to be Pug, just look who is the Mama, damn I wish I could be with you but I’ve got to help finish up the Reich with the rest of the boys and then we’ll get home for a while before we go and blast Japan off the map.”

He sends her this day a poem “One of the boys just got this from his wife. Lament of a wife. ‘I’m getting mighty tired off living like a saint, and I’m thinking very seriously of making a complaint.”

Purchase $7,800

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