In mid October I was contacted by the nephew of Norman L. Keepers. Norman’s journey to the 417th started at age 16 when he enlisted by lying about his age. He was an Armorer and Arial gunner on B-25s in the Pacific Theatre, B-29s stateside before being sent home and honourably discharged because they found out he was underage. He was out for about 60 days, then re-enlisted on his 18th birthday. He went to Germany with the Occupation Army and ended up at Fitzlar Army Air Base as a P-61 Gunner. On a training mission on a gunnery range, there was an apparent timing mix-up and a P-47 from the 366th Fighter Group (also flying out of Fritzlar) accidentally shot the wing off Norman’s P-61 which was right down on the deck. He and the radar operator bailed out so low that they they got one swing in their parachutes before hitting the ground. The pilot went in with the ship. Norman smashed into a tree and shattered his pelvis. He spend months in the hospital before returning to Chicago. Norman’s talents didn’t end with the war as he eventually became a world-renowned Harley-Davidson mechanic. How cool is that?
Norman’s nephew completed an on-camera interview of him at age 95 and I hope to soon have a link to that interview to post on this website. Until then, here is a photo of Norman with his P-61,