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The View From the Bottom Up: Growing Up Fast in World War II

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The View From the Bottom Up: Growing Up Fast in World War II
  • by Robert Gilbert, S/Sgt., U.S. Eighth Air Force
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Memoir Series
      • First Edition 2012
      • 232 6x9 inch pages
      • 27 photos, illustrations and documents
Bob Gilbert was a ball turret gunner in a B-17 with the 533rd Bomb Squadron, 381st Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, Ridgewell, England.
      Out of the harshness of the Great Depression were produced the people who would fight World War Two in the factories and on the battlefields. Though very human in their failings, they were a generation or so of people who were not particularly self-absorbed or frivolous. As history has shown, they were able to face with fierce dedication the terrible forces of the Axis Powers and beat them. This story observes one of these young persons as he grows rapidly to adulthood, along with his peers, experiencing love, fear and having deep feelings of dedication to protect his country...and is told at times with some humor.
      This memoir is the story of a young aerial machine gunner, on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, who had to grow up fast. He participated as a teenaged enlisted man in the World War II Big League of air war...the ETO. In his turret hanging under that storied bomber, he was positioned to defend his bomber from the Luftwaffe's deadly fighter aircraft. This compelling story presents his perspective of the committed life he and his peers brought to manned bomber warfare, which is The View From The Bottom Up... literally and figuratively.

  • Prologue
  • Author's Notes and Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: The Boy Awakens
  • Chapter 2: From Long Beach to Tampa
  • Chapter 3: E Pluribus Unum
  • Chapter 4: Bon Voyage
  • Chapter 5: And So It Begins
  • Chapter 6: Return to Schweinfurt
  • Chapter 7: London
  • Chapter 8: Of Shots and Chaff
  • Chapter 9: The City Girl
  • Chapter 10: Hamburg to Buzz Bombs
  • Chapter 11: The Dog Fight
  • Chapter 12: The Battle of the Bulge
  • Chapter 13: At The Palace Hotel
  • Chapter 14: Big B and Valentine's Day
  • Chapter 15: The Combat Tour Closes
  • Chapter 16: Goodbye
  • Chapter 17: VE Day in the Dark
  • Chapter 18: The Final Challenge
  • Epilogue
  • Afterword
  • Addenda 1: Combat Missions
  • Addenda 2: Medals Awarded to S/Sgt. Robert Gilbert
  • Addenda 3: Fortieth Year Reunion, Seattle
  • References

I finished reading the book last night. I found it to be informative as well as enjoyable. Through his skillful use of what I consider benign language, the author successfully conveys the wide-eyed point of view of an innocent forced to grow up in a most dangerous time and place.
     As I read, I couldn't help comparing his memories of the military experience with that of my own. Although the conflicts differ, WWII versus Vietnam, many elements are the same. In addition to the obvious appeal it will hold for military veterans, I believe the story will be of poignant interest to most readers.
—Blue Chip

This Is a very good first person account book, Mr Gilbert makes you feel as if you are walking right beside him during his adventures and in the ball turett on his missons, definate must-read for air war fanatics, like myself.
—Tom Powell

I bought this book for my father-in-law, a World War II veteran who flew in Rotherhithe's Revenge. He really enjoyed reading this. He thinks that Mr. Gilbert was a member of the crew that replaced his crew on this plane. It would have been hard to find a better gift for him. Mr. Gilbert, thank you for taking the time to write this.

Very interesting read. My father went on a very similar path to the author, from training in Colorado to flying out of Ridgewell in southern England during WWII.
—Stephen Mosley, Sr.

This book talks about my dad in WWII. But I'm not much of a reader, I only liked it because my dad was mentioned in it several times as the pilot of the plane.
—Bonnie M. Golden

This book is a good read. It's written by a "Regular Joe" who tells of doing a tough job under tough circumstances. Good insights into the day-to-day life of members of a World War II air crew. RECOMMENDED.
—Mayless Calendar

Both my wife and I enjoyed this book. S/Sgt. Robert Gilbert was one of what Tom Brokaw commemorated as "our greatest generation." His account of his experiences flying 35 missions over Germany and German occupied territories as a Ball Turret Gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress is a compelling story. It is well written and makes for an easy read. You will experience nostalgia, frequent chuckles, and many hearty belly laughs.
     It is a very personal story, unfolding as he experienced it, with a quick acknowledgment of his roots in depression era Southern California. He describes the outrage he and his acquaintances felt over the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the Germans. He doesn't waste time on political correctness and makes it clear that he views the fascist leadership of Japan and Germany as the perpetrators of the horror that most of the World endured. He also reports with fondness the kind treatment that G.I.s received by people across the United States during his training and in England during his time as a Combat Crew Member.
     It is a close up story that gives you a clear picture of the people he flew with in the Army Air Corps' 8th Air Force. Adrenaline junkies won't find lurid scenes of flaming airplanes blowing up in his face. They are there, but he reports it as he lived it, lonely, apprehensive, but resolute to do his part as his fellow crewmen did. True to the 8th Air Force tradition, they never wavered in the face of opposition. They took the worst that Germans could throw at them and pressed on to complete their missions. This book helps you to experience it as they did.
     There are many clear descriptions of what aerial warfare was like in 1944 & 45. The book includes his mission log. The verbiage recounts each of those missions as he flew them. Amongst those, he graphically describes his awe at the seeming unending stream of bombers headed to and from Berlin, as he witnessed it from his Ball Turret under the belly of a B-17 on the historic American bombing of the epicenter of German power. It was the ultimate demonstration of American power and resolve. Any American with a sense of history will take pride in that historic moment.
     He provides an understanding of the B-17 and what the crewmen did and experienced. You come to understand the discipline that their training built into them and the clear ethics that the 8th Air Force employed in carrying out their grim task.
     This book is set against the backdrop of the turning point of World history from someone who was there and allows you to live it with him. It tells the story of World War II London with real people, not movie actors. As the subtitle promises, you will see a teenage boy, eager to get in the mix, trained to be an effective cog in a deadly machine. He grows from there to become an effective and resourceful American fighting man at the end, old for his years at the age of 19. Unbloodied and unbroken, but not unshaken.
     If you have read this review this far, this book is one you will enjoy.

S/Sgt Robert Gilbert has a gift for writing. Reading his account of his great adventure in World War II is much like having him sitting across the living room in a comfortable chair speaking to the reader. He tells of the journey of a young man going to war with humor and candor. Through his eyes we see the fear, the horror and the humor. He takes us on leave to London and introduces us to his girlfriend. And, he brings us home again.
It's not blatantly a story of courage and daring-do. But, after reading the book, listening to the story from across the room, there is no doubt that we're looking into the eyes of a brave man. He may not agree but from my armchair the story told is more than "what I did in the war"; it's a lot more. It's the story of a brave young man doing what he had to do and living to tell us about it.
     Spend a few hours with Sgt. Gilbert telling you about his war. I think you'll be glad you met him.
—Hugh T. Harrington

As a collector of WWII Militaria and particularly USAAF 8th Air Force items, to me this was a fantastic addition to my book collection. Bob writes about his time spent in the UK during the Second World War with every emotion you can think of. It is very well written, a fascinating story and a real insight into the mind of a young man travelling to take part in a war hundreds of miles away from his loving family. It made me cry, it made me laugh but most of all it made me think about what a huge sacrifice these brave young men made to ensure we live in the country we know now. Without their extreme bravery and sacrifice our lives here could have been so different.
     I thoroughly recommend this book and it's already been purchased several times now for Christmas presents for friends. The most amazing thing about it is that on reading it you can tell that the author does not think of himself as a hero or a particularly brave man, but without a doubt he is.
     Buy this book. You won't be disappointed
—L.C. Rushby

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