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Bert Stiles


On November 26, 1944, on the 16th mission of his second tour, Stiles' squadron was flying at 26,000 feet altitude south of Hanover, Germany, on a bomber escort mission. Stiles was flying a P-51 nicknamed Tar Heel, normally flown by Captain James R. Starnes of his squadron (P-51D- s/n 44-14113). Encountering 40-60 Luftwaffe FW-190s, Stiles engaged one in combat and shot it down (Air Force Historical Study No. 85 credits Stiles with the kill), but apparently became disoriented when the dogfight descended to low altitude. His P-51 impacted the ground almost immediately, killing him. Stiles is interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Liège, Belgium

The following are a series of excerpts from Lt Bert Stiles’ memoir, “Serenade to the Big Bird”:

The B-17

“Eighth Air Force allowed about an hour of every mission for flubbing around, getting the groups formed into wings. Every wing man circled around looking for his element leader, while he looked for his squadron leader, and the squadron leader tried to stay in sight of the group.

After a while they sent the leaders up fifteen minutes early to find themselves, and that helped a great deal, but it didn’t cut the time any.
The Boeing-17 is a good airplane, whether it’s made by Boeing or Douglas or Vega. It’s a pretty airplane too, in the air. With its wheels down, sitting on the ground, it is a lazy looking job, with none of the eager look of an A-20 or a B-26. But once the wheels are up, and a Fort is airborne, on the way to the land of doom, there isn’t a prettier airplane in the sky.

But after you’ve admired a Fort for its beauty, and for the way it has done its job in this theatre, you can stop admiring. The Flying Fortress is no fun to fly.

If you can set up the auto-pilot and coast along alone, a Fort is a dream girl. You could have a cocktail party in the nose, and a dance in the bomb bay and it would just fly on the same heading and go on til the gas ran out.

Flying formation is something else. The more formation you fly the more you dream of fighters and Cubs and gliders, anything little that flies by the touch system, anything but a big heavy monster that has to be heaved around the sky….”

“A Fort lives in the sky, from three to six miles up, and the only real things up there are the throttles and the feathering buttons, the engine gauges and the rudder pedals, an oxygen mask full of drool, and a relief can half full of relief.

The flak is real when it clarks on the wings, and knocks out your number one oil-cooler. The rest of the time it is only a nightmare of soft black puffs and yellow flashes outside the window.

The 109s are real enough when they swing in from one o’clock high and start blinking their landing lights. They’re plenty real when the top turret opens up, and the nose guns start shooting, and the 20-millimeters blow away half the tail end of the ship.”


“D-Day,” I said. “Honest to God.”
They already knew.
We were in on it. We were flying high in the big show.”
Colonel Terry (CO), got up. “…this is invasion…” were the first words he got in. There was a lot of noise. “…you are in support of ground troops…”
The excitement was a tangible thing. Everyone was leaning forward.
“Eager,” someone muttered.
That was the word, we were all eager.
The briefing officers took their turn.
“…tanks on the beach at 0725…”
“…the troops will hit the beach at 0730…”
“…there will be 11,000 aircraft in this area…”
“…you must stay on the briefed course…”
“…no abortions…”
“…you can’t go down. You can’t turn left or right…”
“…Wing says give ‘em hell…”
“…It’ll be just like the photographs…”
We were bombing by squadrons, six planes. Our squadron was hitting a wireless-telephone station, five minutes before the boys hit the beach.
I wondered if the Nazis knew it yet….”


“I started with Sharpe and passed them out, poking into the bomb bay for a look at the bombs.
Big ugly dead things. They just lay there. They only came alive long enough to kill everyone around. Two- thousand pounders. We go over four miles high, and let them go, and haven’t the faintest idea what happens when they connect. Does the earth break in half? Does the sun shatter in the sky, and do the leaves wither? I come from a land where bombs never fell. The Jerries have never slipped in at night to give us a taste of the real thing. We just don’t know anything about it.
“What a hell of a life a bomb leads,” I say to Ross.”

The Mission

“If I didn’t listen to the engine roar it was quiet up there. The sky was a soft sterile blue. Somehow we didn’t belong there.
There was death all over that sky, the threat of death, the anaesthesia of cold sunlight filled the cockpit.
The wing leader called up, “We’re starting our climb now.” We only had half an hour or so until target time.”


“One man gone, a million more to go, maybe even a billion before this is over. Maybe everyone in the world will get it this time. There are shells enough to go around. If some efficiency expert could just figure out a way, there would never have to be another war. We could wipe out the human race this time.

The senselessness of it, and the ugliness of it, drove away all other thought for a time. The despair went away, leaving only doubt and a great sadness.
In a steady endless procession, wars have swept the world, eaten away its heart, growing from stupid brawls with clubs and rocks to the mechanical perfection of a city flattened out in the night, so many bombs to the acre, so many planes for the job. Fill up the bomb bays and send them over, send in the ground troops to bayonet ones who were only stunned.

It isn’t quite that easy, yet, but soon…maybe….

I watched a Fort taxi past to its parking area, smooth and clean, slim and deadly and lovely, a million synchronised parts all working for just one thing…death.”

In Memoriam

'In Memory of Bert Stiles, 91st BG, 339th FG. As a youth Stiles' "Serenade to the Big Bird" was instrumental in my pursuing a career in aviation and learning about the bravery and sacrifice of England based American Airmen.'
Remembered by James R Martini, Grand Forks, ND.


Units served with

  • 339th Fighter Group

    339th Fighter Group

    In the years before deployment to the UK, the Group had been designated as a Bombardment Group (Dive) and trained in A-24 and A-25 dive-bombers and P-39 Airacobras. When, in April 1944, they joined the Eighth Air Force in Britain though, the pilots...

  • 91st Bomb Group The Ragged Irregulars

    91st Bomb Group The Ragged Irregulars

    The 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated at Harding Field, Louisiana on 15-April-1942 and went to MacDill Field, Florida for the first phase of training from 16-May-1942 to 25-June-1942. The Group was then assigned to 2nd Air Force at Walla...

  • 505th Fighter Squadron


  • 42-102504 Times A-Wastin'

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 9/3/44; Gr Island 31/3/44; Grenier 6/4/44; Assigned 401BS/91BG [LL-D] Bassingbourn 11/5/44; Missing in Action 107m Stendahl 8/4/45 with Peter Pastras, Co-pilot: Bob Morris, Navigator: George Latches, tog-Don Lemons, Ball turret...

  • 44-14113

    P-51 Mustang


Event Location Date
Killed in Action (KIA) Germany 26 November 1944
Died 26 November 1944


Date Contributor Update
16 February 2016 20:26:32 Anne Hughes Changes to biography

Serenade to the Big Bird - Bert Stiles

Date Contributor Update
08 February 2016 12:17:21 Anne Hughes Changes to biography

Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles

Date Contributor Update
08 February 2016 12:13:11 Anne Hughes Changes to biography

Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles

Date Contributor Update
24 December 2015 14:39:00 CRJohnstonjr Changes to biography

updated information about cause of death and crash

Date Contributor Update
24 December 2015 14:36:43 CRJohnstonjr Changes to media associations

from little friends

Date Contributor Update
24 November 2014 16:50:04 Emily Changes to service number, highest rank, memoriam, awards, events, unit associations and place associations

James R Martini, via American Air Museum Memory Book Correspondence.

Page at ABMC

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:04:33 AAM AAM ingest

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / MACR 10546 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database / Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list