On Veterans Day, Recalling The Navigator

Even Six Decades Later, Aviator Still Knew How To Get Home

Comrades in Arms: Lt. Philip Weiner, center, with members of the British Expeditionary Force in Rome in 1945.
courtesy of rex weiner
Comrades in Arms: Lt. Philip Weiner, center, with members of the British Expeditionary Force in Rome in 1945.

By Rex Weiner

Published November 11, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

My 84-year-old dad has gone around the corner to get a newspaper and hasn’t come back. Two hours he’s missing now, my mom is telling me over the phone, and she’s worried. Her voice comes in wheezing gulps, the Flatbush accent deepening as it does at times when she’s anxious.

He’s wandering the flat grid of the Fairfax District under the haze of the late Los Angeles afternoon, a long way from the Brooklyn streets where he once played stickball and ringolevio. He can’t see very well, his hearing is shot, and he walks painfully with the aid of a cane. He ventures out on these mysterious missions and gets angry if asked where he’s going. I tried once, but my father clammed up, staring into space, confronting me with the same tense distance I used to feel as a boy.

“He’s forgetting things,” says mom. The doctors prescribed medication that he’s taking, he’s gotten MRI scans, and he wears dog tags around his neck providing emergency information. But she can’t watch him every minute and it seems that each time he slips away he’s gone on longer and longer runs. Now he’s taken off again and my mom is upset. She’s afraid he’s lost.

Philip Weiner
courtesy of rex weiner
Philip Weiner

In fact, he first took off more than sixty years ago on a spring day in 1945, in a B-25 Mitchell from a base in Ghisonnacia. With the rocky coast of Corsica falling behind, the pilot lifted the aircraft into the sky and the bombardier sat with his finger on the trigger while the 25-year-old navigator from Brooklyn plotted the course north on his instruments.

The squadron flew in a tight formation, five bombers over the Gulf of Genoa, just a short blue stretch before skimming the high top of Italy’s boot, where the Allies had the Nazis on the run. Shore defenses raked the big plane’s silver belly with flak as soon as the planes were caught in their sights. Yet, the squadron escaped harm, soaring untouched over the peaks and valleys of the Apennines.

The navigator watched it all from 10,000 feet, peering down through the clouds, working his slide rule, keeping an eye on his compass and the map coordinates as they descended into the green Po River valley. There was a flash below, smoke vomiting skyward and the radio crackled. One of the other planes had dropped its payload. The navigator heard the bombardier announce he was readying the bomb bay doors. Eight 500-pounders lay stacked in the hold to deliver a killing blow.

Philip Weiner, later in life
courtesy of rex weiner
Philip Weiner, later in life

But something wasn’t right. The navigator looked at his compass, worked his slide rule, checked the map, re-checked their orders – he told the bombardier to hold on. They had not reached their target yet.

Now flak rattled like angry bees against the plane’s skin as they flew perilously lower. The bombardier cursed, bending over his Norden bombsite, and said he was going to drop the load and let’s get the hell out of here. The navigator told him no – their mission was to hit a bridge over the Po River where the retreating Nazis were dug in and holding off pursuing Allies troops. Damn it, they were going to hit that bridge. The bombardier with an itchy trigger finger commented loudly about the Brooklyn boy not knowing where in the hell he was.

Pipe down, the pilot ordered. The navigator says keep going, we keep going on. The pilot radioed the rest of the squadron to follow him. Everyone in the cabin fell silent. Only the prop roar, hammering flak and young men’s sweat filled the air. The navigator watched and waited and soon the curve of the river below hove into view, the streets of a small village and the toy-like shape of a bridge. He gave the signal. Deadly puffs of smoke billowed from anti-aircraft guns on the ground as the bombardier hollered, “Bombs away!”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.