Kenneth Bender (In His Own Words):
U.S. Army Air Corps -World War Two
Senior Fire Control NCO, B-29 'Superfortress'
I was born 95 years ago on September 7, 1925 in Cape Girardeau, Mo. located on the Mississippi river about halfway between St. Louis and Memphis. I have lived here all my life except for time I spent in the service during WWII.
My father was a banker and when I was eight years old in 1933, in the heart of the great depression, the bank in which he worked became bankrupt. Except for odd jobs, such as working in the collector’s office during tax season or helping out in another bank during vacations, he was unemployed for about three years. We were poor, but so were most of my friends, and I really did not realize what my parents were going through to provide for my three older siblings, me and themselves. When I was nine I got a job selling magazines on Tuesdays after school, making about twenty cents each week. It was spending money for a kid. When I was 11, I got a job delivering papers after school making sixty cents a week. After several months, the new social security law came into effect and you had to be at least twelve years old to get a social security card. I was laid off until my twelfth birthday. I got a better route and in time I finally worked up to $2.70 a week. I kept this job until I was in high school when I got a job setting pins in a bowling alley. This was in the day before automatic pin setters. On an average night working from about 6:00 pm to 9:00 or 10:00 pm I would make anywhere from sixty cents to a $1.20. I was rich. Somewhere about my junior or senior year I got a job working in a hardware store after school and on Saturday making thirty-five cents an hour.
In the middle of all this on December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This was a Sunday and in the early afternoon our family was getting ready to take a short drive around town. My Mother would not let me go along because I had not written a paper for school that was due the next day.
As they were getting ready to leave my uncle called and told my dad to turn on the radio. THE JAPANESE HAD BOMBED OUR NAVAL BASE AT PEARL HARBOR IN HWAII. We were all glued to the radio for the rest of the day. The next day, Monday, at school our principal brought his big floor model radio from home. He set it on a table in the cafeteria and let anyone who had a drop hour come in and listen to President Roosevelt address a joint session of congress asking them to declare that a state of war had existed since the bombing began the day before. I was lucky enough to be in the room and hear this historic address.
When I was seventeen years old and a senior in high school I knew that when I was eighteen I would be eligible for the draft, so a buddy of mine and I (with the principal’s approval) skipped a day of school and drove to the town of Sikeston, Mo. Which was about 30 miles away and had a small army air corps training base. We spent all day taking tests and when we were told that we had passed we were sworn in to the Army Air Corps Reserves under a program in which we would not be called to active duty until after we were 18 years old. We had chosen our branch of service and felt good about it.
A few months after my 18th birthday I was called to active duty and after a period of schooling I became as Central Fire Control gunner on a B-29 Superfortress. The largest and longest- range aero plane that had entered the war. I was sent from Lowery Field in Denver, (a great place to be assigned) to the air base at the tiny dusty town of Clovis, New Mexico. In a large gymnasium, men were assembled in groups according to their job. All pilots in one bunch, navigators in another, CFC gunners, etc. A pilots name was called and he stepped to the center of the room, a co-pilot, a navigator, etc. until a crew of 11 men (boys mostly) had been assembled. We introduced ourselves to each other and the next day began flying together. We started in a B-17 because there were not enough B-29s available. Our pilot had been trained on a B-17 and flew it well. After a few weeks we got to move up to a B-29 which was a whole new world for our pilot and co-pilot.