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There's a Mission Today

Staff Sergeant Edward A. Greenlaw

Staff Sergeant Edward A. Greenlaw of Tacoma, Washington, wrote the poem “There’s a Mission Today.” Greenlaw was shot down and became a POW. These two pilots fared much better, limping back to base in their crippled B-26 Marauder.

There's a Mission Today

There's a mission today-you're scheduled to fly.
So you wait by the ship and look at the sky.
It's cloudy up there and the wind starts to blow.
But the mission ain't scrubbed-get in and go.
Your nerves are on edge, you cuss and you sweat
If this damned ship flies you lose your bet.
But the ship takes off and you settle down
And cast a longing glance at that lovely ground.
The ship will fly while the engines run.
So you take your post at your trusty gun
And check to see if it's working right
If the round ain't short nor the head space tight.
You check your chute and try your phone.
It doesn't work and you have a groan.
You struggle and test with the blasted thing.
And it's finally fixed for you, hear it sing.

You call the pilot and tell him you're set.
And the radioman breaks in on the net.
The rest of the crew all check in turn
Except the nose, they'll never learn.
You've joined your squadron and joined your group.
The vapor trails are as thick as soup.
Your breath comes short and you check your hose.
And cuss like hell 'cause the damn thing's froze.
You clear the ice and you breathe again.
It's the life for birds-but not for man.
Your face is cold and your mask's too tight.
So you pull it off and fix it right.

You're climbing fast as you look behind
To see if the squadron's all in line.
Formation looks good and is staying tight
So you figure everything's going all right.

The hours pass slow till you're nearly there.
Your eyes smart and burn from the ceaseless glare
Of a sun that's cold as a chunk of ice
For the temperature is far from nice.
You've never seen it so damned cold.
It tightens you up with a square hold.
Your fingers freeze to the grips of your guns.
You wonder who said that flying is fun.

But you stick it out and stay at your post.
If you leave your gun the reports read "lost."
If heaven's this cold you'd choose to dwell
In the hottest furnace they've got in H*ll.

The pilot calls that you're getting close.
Recheck your guns and oxygen hose.
You pull your helmet and flak suit tight
And pray to God that all goes right.

Navigator calls you're on the I.P.
But your eyes are froze and cannot see.
So you pull out the ice and frozen lash
And you see a fighter come in like a flash.

You grab your gun and fire a burst.
The b*stard's gone down but he's raised a thirst
That burns in your throat and your mouth goes dry
As you spot another way off in the sky.

You line him up in the ring of your sight
And get all set for a d*mn good fight.
He's coming in and doesn't stop
Till you hear the upper start to pop.

Then there's a puff and a burst of flame
And you add that fighter to your engineer's claim.
Now you're rid of two but you call in more.
You cuss and pray that their aim is poor.

It makes you mad and you feel mean.
But you think of home and places you've been.
It's just a thought and it passes fast.
And you fire like H*ll as a Jerry dives past.

You never know if you knocked him down.
No time to watch him, keep looking around.
They're swarming now like angry bees.
A "twenty" comes through and you feel its breeze.
They make their attacks in a steady pass
And you're willing to bet they've got your *ss.
But you track 'em in and get their range.
You're enjoying yourself tho that sounds strange.

It's fifty below but you're wringing wet.
And your forehead's covered with frozen sweat.
With a final pass the Jerries drop back.
Then you know d*mn well you're heading for flak.

It's coming up now and bursting fast.
And coming so close you feel its blast.
So you make yourself small and try to pray
And hope that this is your lucky day.

Your bombardier calls, you're on the run.
You wait to hear that the job is done.
The "bombs away" comes over the wire.
But you're watching a ship go down on fire.

The stuff is still bursting thick and black
And you cuss the guy that invented flak.
It pounds on the ship like an angry surf.
You're scared to h*ll, but you keep your nerve.
You're skipper is wise, he's dodging the stuff.
But there in the tail the riding is rough.
The ship is hit 'cause you feel the lurch.
Your guns swing free as you lose your perch.
You feel her lurch and start to drop
And over the phone comes "Feather the prop!"
Smoke streams back from Number Two
But your pilot is quick and pulls her through.
Now she's under control and flying level.
That skipper of yours is a cool-headed devil.
You're out of the flak and the ship still flies.
And you look behind at the smoky skies.

The group behind is in flak now
And catching H*ll from stern to bow.
You watch two ships go falling down.
They both blow up when they hit the ground.

But you're feeling good 'cause you've got your hide.
You've beaten the flak, no fighters in sight.
There's still three engines running good.
You're heading for home and think of food.
The pilot calls at twelve thousand feet
Pull off your mask and turn down the heat.
You strike a match and light a fag.
Inhale deep that first sweet drag.
Soon you're over the field and circling round
Then into the pattern and on the ground.
Then take her up to the parking place.
You've made it again with the good Lord's grace.

Clear your gun and raise up its cover
Then scramble out to look her over.
The ground crews there with a silly grin.
They ask, "Where in H*ll have you been?"
She's full of holes from nose to tail
But she went and came and didn't fail.
Just above where your head has been
You could drive a truck thru the vertical fin.

But it's time to brief so you grab a truck.
And you realize you've had good luck.
Talk the mission over on the trip to group
Where S-2 briefs and gets your "poop."
Your job is done so down to the tent
Then head for chow like a man h*ll bent.
Those empty seats sort of spoil the meal.
You've lost some pals, but it doesn't seem real.
You wait awhile and watch the door.
But they don't come back like they've done before.
So you try to forget it and think of tomorrow.
You've paid for the flight but not the sorrow.

It's cloudy tonight and looks like rain.
But the bulletin board reads "O.P." again.
The target tomorrow? It's hard to say.
Sweat it out again in the usual way.
This story goes on, it has no end.
You lose a ship and you lose a friend.
Maybe someday you won't come back
And they'll chalk you up to "fighters and flak."
It's a hell of a life and you feel the strain
But you'd do the whole thing over again.
Still you pray for the day when there'll be no war
So you can see what in h*ll you've been fighting for.
You're doing your job. You're winning the fight
Doing your best to make things right.
Just hope you'll live thru it and someday see
That "lasting peace in a world that's free."

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