Willis "Willy" L. Brainard
323rd BG, 453rd BS
Willy was born in Bozeman, Montana and went to school in Chinook, graduating in the spring of 1941. He decided to join the Army Air Force just a few days before Thanksgiving of that year. He was to report for duty in January 1942, but after Pearl Harbor he was called in immediately. He went to basic training at Shepherd Field in Wichita, Texas, and then went to MacDill, Field, Florida, where he trained as a flight engineer. Then he volunteered for gunnery school, trained at Tyndall Field, Florida, and returned to MacDill as an engineer/gunner in the 323rd BG, 453rd BS. Even though he was an engineer he preferred to fly in the tail gunner position. He flew over the southern route to the ETO with Captain Travis in the spring of 1943 and began to fly missions in July in plane #41-34687, called "Pub13", piloted by 1st Lt. M. A. Sprague. Later, the crew was transferred to a plane known as #41-31983 VT-D "Truman's Folly."
Willy became interested in photography, and befriended the photography staff, who sometimes loaned him a camera to take amateur photos while in flight. In the early spring of '44, Willy was checking the hydraulics and accumulator pressure before a mission, when a bomb fell off the rack in the bomb bay and hit him on his upper back. He was paralyzed for several days, but after a month in the hospital he recovered and resumed flying missions. He came home on a 30-day furlough in May 1944. Returning to duty, he continued to fly until November, having flown 68 missions. Back in the states, he volunteered for service as a B29 gunner in the Pacific Theater and went to Tyndall Field again to learn the new type of gunnery system - but he was demobilized before getting into action. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters.