Joseph V. Corcoran was a waist gunner on Carl Rinker's crew.
by Joe Corcoran Jan 27, 1996
Jeanne and I have had seven children. We have watched them grow and develop from infancy to adulthood. We have seen them through all kinds of holidays. Without a doubt the warmest recollections of holidays with those kids are associated with Christmas. I think that is because we saw them through that period of their lives when they were most innocent, most spiritual and so dependent on us for all internal and external needs. They believed us virtually blindly and with a certain purity born of unchallenged faith.Their response to everything about Christmas provided us with a palpable sense of warmth, a real aura of comfort, a justification for our lives and efforts. In retrospect we were like characters in a Norman Rockwell painting. Why then would I wander off to another picture of Christmas? Why would Christmas in 1944 be so indelibly etched in my memory? I will try to explain.The year 1944 was a most unusual time for all. A big war was being waged all over the world. Many young and heretofore sheltered not quite men were being exposed to all sorts of experiences they could not even anticipate. My Thanksgiving dinner, comprised of less than the traditional menu, was consumed aboard a ship off the coast of North Africa. Until then that was only a vague place on a map in a high school geography class. Next we were in Naples harbor looking at some distance up to Mt. Vesuvius, another geography note. Next it was to the heel of the Italian boot and a little town called San Pancrazio. Flying out of Italy was certainly different. People shot at you over these targets.It was winter and quickly Christmas was upon us, On the eve of Christmas our bomber crew with the exception of our one Jewish member who would not join us all decided to go to midnight mass in the cathedral at nearby Lecce, This motley group of eight, five Protestants and three Catholics, made the journey in a borrowed truck to the largest church I had ever seen. No pews, very little light and much cold but a pleasant religious experience was the reward for our trip.We went back to our base and pyramidal tent under a shroud of melancholy and home sickness. When we entered our tent the depression evaporated. There on an unfamiliar table was the most beautiful Christmas tree I have ever seen though not quite like any I had ever seen. Hanging from the branches were gifts for all, simple gifts but gifts. Each gift was wrapped and inscribed with the name of one of us. We all received a gift from Santa Claus, our own Jewish Santa Claus.