Jonathan Andrew Sheen (leviathan0999) wrote,
Jonathan Andrew Sheen

Veteran's Day

During World War II, Lewis Burleigh Sheen, Jr, seen second from left in the thumbnail picture below, flew a B-26 Martin Marauder bomber -- named the "Secksma Sheen" -- out of an American Airbase in Chipping Ongar, England, and later, in 1944, another Air Base near St. Quentin, France.

It was when he was flying out of Chipping Ongar, however, that this story happened.

His flight was getting close to their target when Major Sheen -- known to his friends as "Mike," after his boyhood collie, Micky -- hit the switches to open the bomb bay doors then lower the bomb rack, preparing for the bombing run. The doors opened just fine, but when the rack (which could carry a bomb load of either four 1,000-pound bombs, two 2,000-pound bombs, six 600-pounders, twelve 300-pounders, or thirty 100-pounders, although I don't know which configuration was in use here) started to move, Mike Sheen heard a horrible metallic SCREEEEECH!!!!!! A quick visual check by a crewman told him that the rack had come partway out of its moorings and was hanging askew, unable to be lowered far enough to drop the bombs, nor retracted so the doors could be closed.

Mike radioed back to Chipping Ongar, outlined the situation, and asked for instructions. He was told to "orbit" over the English Channel while the situation was considered.

The Secksma Sheen circled, and waited, and the fuel gauge dropped, and they circled, and waited, and eventually Sheen radioed back and told his commanders, "Look, if you want us to ditch, we'll ditch. If you want us to land, we'll do that. But if you're going to make a decision, you have to do it _now_, because the fuel gauge is about to make it for you!"

Reluctantly, through clenched teeth, they told him to come back to Chipping Ongar and land.

As the Secksma Sheen approached the runway, Mike Sheen could see the runway lined with all manner of emergency vehicles. He lined up for his landing.

Now, the Marauder was not a particularly easy plane to fly. It was known as "The Widowmaker" because it was _so_ aerodynamic that it was particularly difficult to take off or land without the lift on the wings and tail flipping the plane on its nose. One consequence of this was that there were no soft, smooth, "airline-style" landings in a B-26. You had to plant that thing firmly on the runway, with an authoritative slam.

And that's what Mike Sheen did that day, lining up the tricycle landing gear, pulling back the throttle, firmly controlling the stick, and after that hard slam of wheels against pavement, he heard another sound, an even longer, louder, tearing-metal SHRIIIIEEEEEKKKKK!!!!!!!

Then, for an instant, silence.

Then, a series of clanking thuds, rapidly diminishing, as the control tower began yammering loudly into his ear.

His rear-view mirrors showed the amazing sight: The bomb-rack, still loaded with a full complement of bombs, tumbling end-over-end down the runway behind the plane, as, in his headphones, he heard the Tower Chief screaming, "Goddammit, Sheen, bad enough we've got the Nazis after us, now YOU'RE trying to blow us up as well????"

The Secksma Sheen came to a successful, safe stop, as did her bomb rack far behind, without a single bomb going off. No-one, that day, on that crew, was killed or injured. The plane was repaired and saw more service, being destroyed in an accident on Dec 26, 1944.

My dad, Mike Sheen, didn't tell many stories about his days flying the Secksma Sheen. When he did speak about it, in his later years, he spoke with horror of the men he'd killed. I don't think he ever saw the war as any kind of grand adventure. I heard this story, not from Dad, but from my older brother, at Dad's funeral in 1990.

But it's one of the stories I prefer to remember, when I remember and honor his service.

You can learn more about my Dad's military service, and see some pictures of him, his friends, and The Secksma Sheen, at the link below:

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