What makes a member of a Flying Fort crew suddenly leap upon a flier -- identified as a fighter pilot -- and embrace the fellow, even though they're strangers?
And, what leads the Fort gang to throw parties for the fighter men, such as the affair held recently at an Eighth Air Force Bomber station, and to idolize them as THEIR heroes in this war?
1/Lt. Warren Bacon, of Portland, Ore., who has completed his 25th ride over Germany, will tell you why the bomber gang goes overboard for the fighters.
"They're the most welcomed sight in the world -- over Germany, France and Norway," Bacon started out. "They make you feel 100 per cent better, and much more at ease.
"You stand a better chance of completing the job, as it should be done, because with the fighter protection you can concentrate on precision bombing. Before we had the fighter escorts we faced a double job -- fighting and bombing.
"Today, if one of our ships is damaged by flak and drops out of formation, no longer does the crew sweat the trip home by itself. In fact, in pre-fighter days, if you became a straggler, your chances of getting home were thinner than some women."
Lt. Bacon pointed out that during the first half of his missions the German fighters produced the biggest headaches for the bombers. Now, flak does. German fighters have ceased to be any appreciable cause of worry and trouble.
"The Messerschmitts rarely ever smashed through one of our formations," the Lieutenant continued. "They'd wait for a straggler, then 15 or 20 of them would jump the ship forced to fall behind. Even with all the guns a Fort has, the odds of winning that fight were small.
"Now, our stragglers have protection from the fighters. The Germans hesitate attacking a B17 moving off its regular course. They don't appear to relish a Fort's guns and those of our fighters. If we must abort, it's the same thing. We can breathe easier."
Lt. Bacon pointed to a chart showing the raids made by his group since arriving in England. Significant, indeed, are the figures which reveal that until mid-August, 1943, the number of German fighters shot down by Americans in one raid was as great as the figure now bagged in half a dozen, if not more.
"That's not because our shooting eyes have failed us suddenly," Lt. Bacon added, "Nor have those German fellows learned to dodge us. The reason is simple: with the increase in the number of our fighters, the German fighters have decreased.
"It's evident to us, the German fighters banked on the flak to bump us out of line and for clear sailing to complete the 'kill.' The flak still is there, but the clear sailing isn't, which blows up the Nazi plans and makes their work less and less effective."
The chart, incidentally, showed that on the particular group's first raid of Emden in May, they knocked down 15 MEs. Shortly afterward they flagged 18 in a trip to Paris. More recent visits to the same spots by Forts resulted in the erasure of no German craft. There wasn't any around to buck the Forts and the fighters.
Lt. Bacon's brother B17 members joined in the praise of their "fighting" guests.
"It's a shame they can't go deeper into Germany," Lt. Archie J. Old Jr., of Atlanta, Ga., a Wing Operations officer, said.
According to 1/Lt. Clarence Kiesler, of Taylor, Tex., a lead navigator, the new pilots invading German territory have no idea "what we used to go through."
"Raids today are 'milk runs' compared to those of three months ago -- thanks to the fighter escorts," Lt. Kiesler explained
Major Jack W. Hayes, of San Diego, Cal., told of his experience returning from Bremen the day before.
"We had trouble, and had to turn around. Immediately two fighters picked us up and we coasted merrily home without the slightest bit of trouble, without a gun crackling. In July, minus our fighters, well -- I'd hate to think of what might have happened to us. We probably wouldn't be here to toast those fellows."
Lt. Col. Stanley I. Hand, meantime, had a confession to make to the pursuit ship operators.
"There was a time when we didn't think we needed fighter protection," Lt. Col. Hand said, "We know differently today. Many of us owe our lives to the Fighters, and together we'll knock Hell out of the Hun."