By Senior Master Sgt. Gary Rihn
In July of 1943, straight after high school, a young Harry Grimm boarded a train to head off to Army basic training, and thought that he would be an infantryman. Through a fortunate stroke of luck, or fate, Harry inadvertently boarded the wrong train. When he stepped off at the other end, he was told that he was going to be an aerial gunner in the Army Air Corps, and to forget about the infantry.
After months of training at armorer school, gunner school, and transition training, he boarded a merchant ship out of Fort Dix, NJ, bound for Liverpool, England. There, he reported to the 351st Bomb Group, and within a week, was flying his first combat mission as a tail gunner aboard a B-17. Over the next nine months, Harry flew a total of 35 missions, mainly targeting oil refineries and production facilities in Germany. He remembered “flying through flak so thick that you could hardly see the sun”, in an area known as Flak Alley. He said that he would rather face enemy fighters rather than flak, because he could at least see the fighters and shoot back. He also quickly learned to take his middle name off his dog tags, due to having the German middle name of Frazier. Harry recalled that they knew they were going on a combat mission if they were served a fresh egg, the only time that they would get them.
Harry said a few missions stood out in his mind. On one mission, flak hit their fuel tank, leaving a hole big enough to stick your head in, yet didn’t explode. Fortunately, none of them knew it until after they landed. On another mission, flak hit his clothing bag, curling a coin that was in his pocket. He also remembered the German fighter that flew vertically up through the middle of their formation. Harry shot the Luftwaffe aircraft in the belly as it passed, before another gunner scored hits on the cockpit. On his very last mission, they developed engine trouble, and barely made it back while spewing oil. He was luckier than his brother, also an aerial gunner, who was shot down, though he managed to jump successfully after crossing the English Channel. Through all of this, Harry said that he never thought of dying or retirement, only of doing his job on that mission.
Harry regretted that most of his pictures had been lost over the years, joking that “they got away from me, just like most of the girls”. He says that he keeps in touch with other surviving crew members through the 351st Bomb Group Association, though there are few left.
During his 27 months in the military, Harry reached the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6), while earning three Bronze Battle Stars, and the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters. Following his discharge, he returned to his home in western PA, where he still lives an active life, near his family.