F E A T U R E
» WWII -Toughened in battle, prepared to lead
here did Jack get the vision to come up with his big idea and the chutzpah to sell it? He was probably born with some of it… and grew a little bit more along the way.
He learned how to lead men in his early 20’s, in the 527th squadron of the 379th bombardment group of the Eighth Air Force, out of Kimbolton, England, during World War II. In 1942, Jack Conroy, just months past his 21st birthday, became a 2nd Lieutenant, pilot of a B-17 and put in charge of a 9-man crew. After training in the U.S., he flew his B-17 across the North Atlantic and eventually racked up 19 missions over Germany during some of the toughest fighting of the war. B-17 duty was unglamorous and uncomfortably tough work – the planes were built to kill, not for the comfort of the crews who flew them. Because it wasn’t a pressurized aircraft but flew at altitudes averaging 26,000 feet, where the outside air temperature sometimes got down as low as -50F, oxygen masks were available – even required. But the tanks were unwieldy and often blew up during heavy combat.
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No bathrooms on board, of course. And it wasn’t uncommon for a crew member to throw up – or worse – during a mission. At the end of a typical 10-hour bomb run, the floor of a B-17 could be swimming with a rich mixture of human excrement, blood, vomit, urine, spent cartridges and engine oil. Harsh realities for young men barely out of their teens. Through the Spring, Summer and Fall of “Jack was a little, 1944, Jack and his young tough Irishman who crew white-knuckled it believed he could do in strict formation, flyanything. And he ing daylight bomb runs was right.” straight through heavy flak to targets deep in Milbrey Conroy, (wife) Germany. Then, on his 19th mission, on the last day of November, 1944, Jack’s plane, “Landa,” was shot out of the sky at 20,000 feet. He waited until the rest of the crew ejected, and then body slammed his way out of the nose door, dislocating and fracturing his shoulder in the process. He parachuted to earth, landing in a farmer’s field somewhere near Zeitz, Germany, and was captured, interrogated and eventually transported to Stalag I on the Baltic.