St. John’s Baptist Church

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December 19, 2020: A Fighter Pilot’s Christmas

December 19, 2020

A Fighter Pilot’s Christmas

The Longest Four Hours of My Life

By Robert L. Benton, submitted by Ken Benton

It was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans had broken through our defensive lines and surrounded our troops in Bastogne. It was to be Germany’s last desperate move of the war. My fighter squadron flew a two-hour mission to Bastogne early that afternoon to dive-bomb and strafe the enemy. Returning from this mission, word came down from headquarters that the Germans were within 20 miles of our airfield, and they were planning a parachute attack on our field this Christmas Eve. The squadron was put on alert. I was “selected” along with one other pilot to be the interceptor planes in case the attack occurred. We taxied our P-47 Thunderbolts onto the runway at sixteen hundred hours. I can’t begin to tell you what it is like to sit alone in the cockpit of a plane for four hours on a snow-covered runway, with complete radio silence and darkness drawing near. You scan the clouds and pray that the enemy could not mount the attack. For my fellow pilot and myself, it would be suicide to get our planes in the air in time to intercept the enemy. A hundred thoughts ran through my mind during those long, lonesome hours. “Why me, God? But why not me? I am single, with no wife or children back in the states. It’s Christmas Eve. Wars shouldn’t be fought on His birthday.” Suddenly, a soothing peace came over me. I imagined I could see the star of Christmas shining through those snowy clouds, and I knew then that He was with me and I would never be alone again.