Iparana Studio





Pictures With A Message



The place was a Flying Fortress airfield about twenty miles from the city of Tunis on the north African coast. The time was about 4am on August 4th. 1943. It was another day of World War II, a day that for any of us could be our last.

I was a radio operator and aerial gunner on a four-engine heavy bomber named "Little Tannie" after the girl-friend of our pilot. This August morning I was unable to locate my light flight-jacket, the one to which the straps of my parachute were adjusted. Believing it had been left in the plane, I put on my heavy wool-lined jacket.

As we left our tent for the quarter-mile walk to the mess hall, I felt both my breast pockets to make certain my wife’s picture was in one and the New Testament given by the "Gideons" she had sent me in the other.

I didn’t believe this Bible was the Word of God; in fact, I wasn’t even sure of God. I had not rejected Christ as my Saviour; I simply had never been brought to a place where I understood that it was possible or necessary to have a personal experience of the Living Christ. Some time after I went overseas, my wife had become a Christian. She had tried to explain the plan of salvation in her letters but at that time it conveyed no meaning to me. I carried the New Testamant at her request, with a feeling that it might bring me good luck, like the piece of flak I always took along on missions. We walked on. Glows from cigarettes and intermittent flares from matches were the only light in the blackness. Periodically the muffled undertones of men talking quietly would be broken by someone’s loud laughter. After eating, we walked on to the briefing room and we learned that our target for the day was the railroad yards of Naples, Italy. We then boarded the truck which drove us to the tarmac where "Little Tannie" was waiting. My flight jacket wasn’t on the plane!

Soon our formation was winging its way over the mediterranean, flying close to the water to avoid enemy radar. My thoughts drifted to Ethel, my wife, and what she had written in her last letter:

"I want your life spared, but more important I want you to be a Christian. All of us here in the church are praying for you and the crew"

We were now climbing to our bombing altitude of 23,000 feet. As we approached the Italian mainland, I left my position and checked over the 50-calibre machine gun mounted in the hatch above the radio room.

"Go on oxygen and check in", Chris, our pilot ordered. Each position checked in. I tried to strap on my parachute, but the heavy jacket made it impossible to buckle the harness. It didn’t concern me, so I laid the parachute on the chair. This was our 23rd. mission. I had not needed it before and wouldn’t this time.

Enemy fighters were spotted in large numbers. When the battle was over, two of them had burst into flames and another had. plunged into the sea. The Fortresses continued on their flight with no apparent damage. As we reached land, the Nazi fighters broke off their attack and anti-aircraft fire came at us with black blossoms exploding all around. All we could do was wait and hope. I even tried to pray: "If there is a God, help us to get back safely today". "Bombs away!" sounded out the bombardier. The plane made a sharp bank and we were headed for home. As we flew back over the water, the fighters again, renewed their attack. I was firing at the enemy when I realised someone was trying to get into the radio room. I turned and saw our engineer, Sandy, grabbing his chest chute. It seemed he had inadvertently left in my radio room. "We’re on fire! Bail out!" he shouted. My intercom plug had been pulled out and I hadn’t heard the order to abandon ship. Sandy quickly buckled on his chest chute and asked,

"You all right Mac?" - "Yeah, I’ll be right behind you!" He stepped out to the bomb bay and jumped. I grabbed my chute, wrapped the harness about me and then remembered that it couldn’t be buckled over my heavy jacket!

Suddenly I felt fear. I rushed into the waist section for help. Everyone had bailed out from there! I took off my life preserver so that I could secure the chest buckle, but still could not fasten the two leg straps. Enemy fighters continued to blaze away at "Little Tannie".

"Mac!" I looked up. Chris was at the radio room door, followed, by Bob, the co-pilot. With their help, one buckle was fastened. There wasn’t time to readjust the straps, as the plane could blow to bits any second. As it was, flames were now in the radio room and our own ammunition was exploding, yet nothing hit us. To take off the jacket would make the harness dangerously loose. "Jump!" Chris ordered.

Bob leaped from the plane, but I remained, looking out the doorway trying to gain enough courage to jump with one buckle unfastened. Chris waited a moment, then pushed me out. I pulled the ripcord cIosed my eyes and waited - nothing happened! The thought of an unopened chute is terrifying. When finally I opened my eyes, I saw above me that beautiful white umbrella, gently taking me down.

My body had been in just the right position when it opened so I was not yanked upright We had been warned that the enemy shot at parachutists. Now several of the Messerschmitts were close by. They circled me a few times, tipped their wings and flew on. As I came closer to the water I made futile attempts to unbuckle my harness. Unless I could free myself before striking the water, my chute might drag me under or fall over me. I was still working at it when I struck the water.

The parachute fell harmlessly to the side and I was able to free myself. I discarded my heavy flying boots and jacket so that I could swim, but land was not in sight.

My life preserver had been left on the plane. Chris had set the automatic pilot on before he jumped, the Fortress should have flown straight on until she blew up or crashed into the sea. Instead, she banked and entered the water close by me.

As "Little Tannie" went under, the two Life rafts stored in the upper portion fuselage were released by the impact. Both were ripped, but one was inflated on one side. I swam to it, and Chris soon joined me. A few minutes later we heard a yell, "Help!" Sharks!" We located the paddles stored in the raft and paddled in the direction of what were now screams. We finally reached Bob. His arm had a chunk bitten out below the elbow. We laid him across our laps. It was 3.30 in the afternoon. Chocolate bars and cans of water were found. We decided to save them until later. We had no idea how long we would be floating. The sharks stayed close by, seeming to sense that in time they would have a prey. We were unable to sleep for fear of falling into the water and being at the shark’s mercy.

Chris and I paddled continuosly, using the stars to set our course toward Italy. At dawn we saw land. It passed away in about half and hour - it was a mirage.

Later that morning we saw a butterfly? How far can a butterfly, fly? About noon were heard plane engines and soon three fighters came into view. Our joy and waving turned to fear - they were Nazis. They spotted us and dived toward our raft. They buzzed us, did a roll and were soon lost from sight. Now it was certain we would soon be picked up as prisoners of war we stopped paddling.

My New Testament and picture of Ethel were slightly wet. I looked at the picture and wondered if I would ever see her again. I began reading the New Testament. There must be a God! Yet why hadn’t somebody come out to pick us up? Our forces must have known approximatly where we were. As another night approached we wondered how much longer we could go on without sleep. Early next morning, Chris exclaimed, "Look! Porpoises!" It was true. The "enemy" of sharks had arrived and now were protecting us, I found myself thanking God! Me, thanking God!

We talked very little, ate chocolate and drank water sparingly. I took out my New Testament again and turned to the back cover. Salvation was explained in simple to understand sequences. God promised to accept me, no matter how bad I was, if I believed that Jesus Christ had died for my sins. I could become a son of God I could receive forgiveness, as my wife had been trying to explain to me. There on that raft faith entered my heart. Why? How? I don’t know or understand. But it happened.

Just before sunset we heard plane engines again. This time it was one of our own medium bombers. He saw us, circled several times, then for some reason unknown to us dropped a large package about two miles away from us. Certainly within two or three hours, it seemed, we would be rescued - but we weren’t. That night seemed endless.

When morning came, we saw something on the horizon and paddled towards it. We were overjoyed to find three more members of our crew. The package the plane had dropped was a raft for them. As we were tying the rafts together, we heard more planes. They were five P-38 fighters and a PBY flying boat. We were being rescued!

God saved my life as well as my soul. Is this another war story of one who had grasped at a last straw when death seemed near, only to forget about faith once we were rescued?......it is not.

Twenty six years later Jesus Christ, his salvation and his keeping power are just as much a part of my life as it was in that summer of 1943. I still pray to him and he still answers.

Wells A. MaCoy, testimony - 1969


Iparana Studio

March 30th 2003



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Peter N Millward
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