She flew to India and China and Burma, too, but home for her was red, white and blue.
The 24 year-old Italian-American–black-haired and sly-smiled, playing with pin-ups on B-24 bombers during WWII, that’s my pop. Now, 70 years later, his hair is silver but still full, and he’s still got that sly smile. Pop, a.k.a. Anthony Natelli, lit up when talking about his war days, “I was a gunner! I hung out of the plane!” The teasing pin-ups on the B-24 Liberators are remembered as “somebody’s sweetheart.” Pop, a sergeant, did me and Inked the honor of telling the stories behind these glamorous girls that graced the WWII aircraft as well as some stories from his service in the United States Air Force.
Pop, why were pin-up girls painted onto the airplanes?
All the crews had an emblem. We had the girls. They were our good luck charm. We nicknamed one of them “The Cactus Kid.” She was somebody’s sweetheart.
What about the girl was good luck?
We always patted her on the can for good luck before we entered the plane. Yeah, we used to have a lot of fun. We took her around the world!
I know you’ve told me this a million times, but what was it again that you did?
I flew in B-24 bombers. It was the Liberator. And we had the B-17’s too, they called it the Flying Fortress. I was a ball turret gunner. Do you know that I hung out of a plane and circled around almost 360º? I didn’t go the full 360º. If I did, I could have shot off our own tails!
How were you not scared?
Scared? (chuckle) I loved it. I saw those foreign planes from every angle. The reason I had to circle was because the other gunners could only see out from where they were standing.
Did you ever shoot any down?
We did shoot at them, but they didn’t come too close because they were afraid. We had fighters alongside our plane. The foreigners didn’t come the distance but we did shoot. But don’t forget we were bombing bridges, highways, railroads. There was plenty of bombing.
Was there ever any problems with your planes?
Not in my plane, no. But we were flying over mountains that were 30,000 ft high, we lost a lot of planes hitting into that mountain. Those Himalayas. There were monsoons, times when the weather was terrible – planes had no control. If we were too high, like more than 10,000 ft we would have to wear oxygen masks. Sometimes we were flying over to bring gas to China and other places.
You flew to China, where else?
Oh I traveled the world! We were in India and China. And uh, Burma (now known as Myanmar) too. Ya know, we would prepare for missions when we were on the ground. Physical training and stuff like that. Several times we went hunting in India. Oh boy, that’s a whole another story.
What the heck were you hunting?
The English were in charge of that area, in India, ya know. Let me put it like this way here. We had spotlights in the forest and at night we would go hunting. If eyes appeared… bang! Knock ‘em dead. It’s not like here. Over there they have leopards and tigers and cobra rattlesnakes in the forests. My bud shot and killed and 10-foot long cobra rattlesnake one time. And they had these people that you could bring the animal to and they’d clean it and stuff it and send it home for us.
Did you guys ever get any leopards or tigers?
One night we shot an animal and we saw blood but we couldn’t find the animal. Son of a bitch got away. We had to report it to the English because we didn’t catch it and they had to find it the next day.
Alright Pop, I think that’s—
Now I don’t want you to make me out to be some hero or nothing. Make sure you get the facts straight.