Generations at War: 100-year-old vet, wartime navigator shares relics from WWII

When the B-17 flying fortresses took to the skies over Germany in World War II, they carried bellies full of bombs and a 10-person crew. WWII veteran Joseph Innes served as a navigator on those bombers. He was 23-years-old.

The B-17 dropped more bombs than any United States aircraft at the time. If enemy fire shot them down, they had escape maps. “This is special silk,” said Innes, pointing to the map, “that will withstand hot and cold temperature and water.” Being silk, the maps were easier to conceal while being more durable than paper. “You could be exposed to rain for days or nights and this would have survived,” he said.

Documentation from the war. (Credit WINK News)
Documentation from the war. (Credit WINK News)

The British and Americans made several hundred thousand of the silk maps for combat troops. Thankfully, Innes never had to use it. “We were shot out of the formation 17 times,” Innes said. “I got them back. Nobody was injured. The plane was damaged.”

As a 1st Lieutenant with the 388 bombardment group in the 8th Air Force, Innes used an astrocompass, which relied on the stars to guide him. “I knew literally every minute where we were,” he said. Innes successfully navigated 35 combat missions over Germany. A document includes stamps and dates of all his missions, including Dresden, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg and many more. All dangerous places, Innes said.

Equipment used in the war. (Credit: WINK News)
Equipment used in the war. (Credit: WINK News)

The primary objective was to carry 500-lb. bombs in their B-17 and drop them on targets. Amazingly, Innes still has all his original mission maps that show various bomb locations, such as railroads, where supplies might be sent to fortify the German frontlines. Innes also kept a diary with highlights. When WINK News read a few lines to him, it appeared to take him back in time.

Reporter Teri Evans read to Innes, “Flak was heavy … Target was visual.”

Nodding and looking solemn, Innes replied, “Very few men came back. The Air Force took a beating.”

Innes said he understood early on the importance of service and sacrifice. He had an “occupational deferment,” which would have kept him out of the war. At the time, Ford was building B-24 bombers. Innes was an engineer at Ford, working in automation and then product design. But he did not want a free pass because of his job, so he gave it up to serve his country.

Innes ultimately went back to Ford as an engineer and inventor, designing brakes systems and much more after the war.

“I was lucky,” he said.

Now, a Naples resident, Innes recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

Writer:Michael Mora
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