By LANCE CRANMER email@example.com
WAVERLY, Ohio – During World War II in the early 1940s, Harold “Hal” Tripp and George Earll were stationed about 40 miles apart as members of the United States Army Air Corps in Italy.
George, a native of Elmhurst, Illinois, was a B-24 bomber crew radio operator and right wing gunner.
Hal, from Spokane, Washington, was a crew member on a B-17 bomber.
Seventy years ago, Hal and George never crossed paths.
Today, they share a neighborhood at National Church Residences Bristol Village.
“We were only 40 miles apart in Italy,” laughed Hal. “I don’t think either of us realized that.”
A few weeks back, National Church Residences organized a get-together designed to let the veterans in the community meet and share their stories.
Little did they know, George and Hal had a lot in common.
George joined the Army in February 1943 and got the call that he was headed overseas in November 1944.
As part of a B-24 crew, George was sent on bombing missions over Nazi occupied areas in Europe. It wasn’t long before he and his crew drew the assignment that would stick with them for a lifetime.
“On the third mission we were over a town in Austria,” he said. “We bombed and we (were hit by enemy fire). We knew we were damaged but we were able to get back over Yugoslavia.”
As the crew began to assess the damage, they discovered it was worse than originally thought.
“We discovered the plan was damaged so badly that we had to bail out over Yugoslavia,” George said. “We were about 8,000 feet in the air. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon.”
George’s crew leapt from the disabled aircraft ready to parachute to the ground.
“The next thrill after telling us we had to bail out was that my chute didn’t open,” George said, changing from a serious look to a wry smile. “End of story!”
Though it definitely could have been George’s final chapter, he fought hard to make sure it wasn’t.
“Fortunately it was a chest chute,” he said. “I was able to finally get the chute out. But when I landed, I broke my ankle.”
The crew regrouped on the ground and found its way to a British mission.
“There was a hospital there, but they had no x-ray or medical equipment,” George said. “It took a month’s time, but they were eventually able to get a plane in to pick us all up.”
Once back to his base, George got the medical treatment needed for his ankle. And then went back to work.
“After I healed – and was treated for hepatitis – I got to fly another 22 missions,” George said. “Nothing quite as thrilling happened on the other 22 trips. It was always a little scary. A B-24 is a difficult plane to ride in. It’s not too reliable.”
In October 1945, just shy of one year after heading overseas, George was sent back to the United States.
He initially thought he would be sent to Japan, but the war had ended in August, so George was discharged.
What George did not know, however, was that back home in Illinois, his wife Patty had just received a letter in the mail.
“My wife got notified that I was missing in action just before Christmas,” he said. “It was tough on her, but she said that deep down, somehow, she knew that I was all right. She said she always knew I was out there somewhere. And I have believed in mental telepathy ever since!”
After retiring first to Wisconsin, the Earlls came to Bristol Village in 1993. Sadly, Patty passed away in 2008.
Harold Herbert Tripp, aka “Hal”
At 91 years old, Hal could probably still tell you details from each of the 50 missions his B-17 few over Europe in World War II. But it is Mission No. 1 that stands out.
“It was our first mission,” Hal said. “We took a direct hit and had to bring back a crippled plane.”
To make sure the B-17 safely made it back to the base in Italy, a fighter jet was sent to escort the crew home.
“We had never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen until after the war, but we all figured out that they were flying the escort that came back with us and got us back to Italy,” Hal said. “They came on the radio and said they were gonna take us home. You heard hear in their voices that those guys were from Mississippi. Boy they were good.”
Hal’s plane took a direct hit in the tail, but held together just long enough to get the crew safely back to base.
“If you want to know about Boeings and B-17s being indestructible,” Hal said, “It was a tough airplane.”
Hal few 49 more missions before getting sent back home, but what he learned on the first one stuck with him throughout the others.
“There were a couple missions that were probably more difficult,” he said. “But being your first one, so many things run through your mind. Should we jump out? Or fight it out on the ground? Or I give up?”
Hal has been a Bristol Village resident since 1991.