HEROES: How to Wait for It

In the formation of combat-bound Flying Fortresses, over northwest Europe at 13,500 feet, there was only a moment of confusion. But it was enough. There was a collision, and one of the B-17s, with its tail cut off, spilled crazily forward. The heavy forepart plunged with its pilots, gunners and navigator. Only one bailed out. As the formation bored on, its air crews saw the tail of the mangled ship sailing erratically, like a piece of paper dropped from a skyscraper window.

In the tail was a 19-year-old gunner. When he heard the crash he made for the escape hatch....