The Book

WWII—captured in the words of Ralph Lee Minker, a B-17 pilot, his parents and teenage sisters. His letters describe every step of Army Air Corp training: the Piper Cub, the Stearman, the BT-17, the AT-17, and the Flying Fortress. Minker takes command of a B-17 crew at age 20, flying 37 missions over Germany, writing his family about war-torn London and the exhaustion from flying day after day during the Battle of the Bulge.

The family letters are full of news of life on the home front: the fearsome progress of the war, friends lost in combat, bond drives, blackouts, rationing, the strife of race riots and coal strikes, and pride in their son and brother. Taken together, the letters and the historical context provided by the editors are an intimate portrait of living in America during the most important years of the 20th century.


March 19, 1945

Dear Dad,

Perhaps you would like to know about a typical mission day with the 8th United States Air Force. … An actual mission is one continuous surge between tense eager expectancy and weary monotony – the thrill as power surges to lift the great silver bird in flight, the jockeying to form in squadron – group — wing — division and airforce formation by 1200 planes, England — a cloud covered hearsay – a gilt of sunlit fields and towns – A symphony in early morning shades of blue, the cold grey channel, Germany, cold, a stick of Wrigleys Spearmint Gum, oxygen, fascinating flac, escorting Mustang and Thunderbolt fighters, unidentified contrails, more flac – close and black – the plane staggers from the concussion, peaceful smoking target, prop wash rocking the formation, # 1 prop surging and running away, I'm tired, the channel and England again, low altitude, off oxygen at last, wolf down a Hershey bar.



Mission # 12               Blue Hen Chick             Sun Dec 24 1944

Target –Airfield at Babenhausen
"This was the mission to end all missions. The groups were instructed to put up everything that would fly." First clear day since the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 16.
Log of the Blue Hen Chick: Mission lasted 7.00 hours. This was biggest single mission. Hell [to] try to stop German counter-attack. {Saw} ship in our formation go down in flames. Hit in right wing by flak. Had to crank up bomb bay doors. German Fighters in the area.

Awarded the 2010 Silver Medal for biography by the American Military Writers Association

Reader Reviews

A deeply absorbing tribute to The Greatest Generation and the families who supported them.

— Military Writers Society of America

This book combines the powerful with the intimately human. I laughed, I cried, and mostly, I savored the experience. Well worth the read.

— Fred G.

For me, the best part of the book was the view it gave me of those who were waiting at home.  Thank you again for writing such a great book!

— Navy Veteran
Related links

Minker Study at Dickinson College

"Lucky Bastards Club" Podcast from Army Heritage Center

Podcast from Pritzker Military Library