the Army Air Forces, or AAF,* there were 52,651 stateside aircraft accidents over the course of the war, killing 14,903 personnel. Though some of these personnel were probably on coastal patrol and other duties, it can be presumed that the vast majority were trainees, killed without ever seeing a combat theater. In the three months in which Phil’s men trained as a crew, 3,041 AAF planes—more than 33 per day—met with accidents stateside, killing nine men per day. In subsequent months, death tallies exceeding 500 were common. In August 1943, 590 airmen would die stateside, 19 per day.
In 1943 in the Pacific Ocean Areas theater in which Phil’s crew served, for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents. Over time, combat took a greater toll, but combat losses never overtook noncombat losses.
Only the laundry knew how scared I was.”
There were fates even worse than this. In February 1942, a wooden raft was found drifting near Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. Upon it was the body of a man, lying in a makeshift coffin that appeared to have been built on the raft. The man’s boilersuit had been in the sun for so long that its blue fabric had been bleached white. A shoe that didn’t belong to the man lay beside him. No one ever determined who he was, or where he had come from.