Edward Avena

Military

Object Number - UPL 31147 - SSGT Edward Avena

17 missions May 1944 through September 1944; he was most proud of being part of lead group flying mission over Normandy beachhead on D-Day.

Air Medal w/ 2Oak Leaf Cluster; American Theater Medal; European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal w/ 3 Battle Stars; Good Conduct Medal

Two Fliers Survived Air Wars
On D-day's 60th, Parallels To Iraq
June 06, 2004|By JESSE HAMILTON; Hartford Courant Staff Writer

Sixty years ago today, Ed Avena was in the sky over Normandy, looking down on a sea bristling with an invasion fleet.

On D-Day morning, he was 20 and the flight engineer for a B-24 bomber in the first squadron to soar over the beaches in France. He was one among thousands risking everything to take Europe back from Hitler's armies.

Six decades separate Avena's experience from the new war in Iraq. But the young Staff Sgt. Ed Avena, who grew up in Waterford and returned there to live, and the young Lt. Col. Denny Yount, who lives in Simsbury when he's not flying A-10s for the Connecticut Air National Guard, are not so different. Both Connecticut airmen exchanged their fears for wings and horsepower, and trusted that there was justice in the devastation they dealt.

As a child, Avena built model airplanes, so when he joined the Army his hobby brought him to the new Army Air Forces, the predecessor of the Air Force. He was assigned to the 10-man crew of one of America's brand-new heavy bombers, the B-24 Liberator.

From the 446th Bomber Group's field in England, his crew would soar over Europe turning targets into craters and praying that anti-aircraft fire wouldn't tear through the B-24's thin aluminum skin. The men would watch as other planes in the wing-to-wing formations fell from the sky with friends inside. Avena was an in-flight mechanic; in combat, he became a machine gunner.

The B-24 was a no-frills craft designed to go far on four Pratt & Whitney engines and then drop 1,000-pound bombs. It was called Liberator for a reason. On D-Day, the plane started living up to the name.

Avena's crew had just been broken up to fill positions in other units. On the night of June 5, he and his assigned crew, like all the other crews, were told to spend the night in their aircraft.

In the early hours of the next day, there was the order of the day from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower about a ``Great Crusade,'' and how the home front had ``given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!''

The B-24s climbed through the night sky over Britain, up through thousands of aircraft dispatched from fields all over the island country. They turned east to fly over the English Channel, where they saw the true scale of the invasion steaming across the water.

In the sky, to the left and right of Avena's plane and for miles behind were buzzing propellers. But straight ahead there was only open sky because the bombers in Avena's squadron were leading the 6 a.m. attack to help clear the way for the ground assault.

They dropped bombs through thick cloud cover, unsure whether they were doing any good. That night, they sat in their barracks and hoped the invasion force was pushing past the lethal beaches.

More than half a century later, Yount pulled on a flight suit and climbed into an aircraft to take his Connecticut squadron into another war in another place. He and the other Connecticut fliers had hopes of liberation, too.

On the eve of war, in March 2003, President George W. Bush promised the people of Iraq: ``The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.''

Yount and the more than 24 pilots he commanded wanted to make that day happen. The 118th Fighter Squadron of the 103rd Fighter Wing flies A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter jets, known as ``Warthogs.'' Although the jets are the product of thousands of advances since the B-24, their purpose isn't much different. Basically, they attack things on the ground.

As with Avena and the others on D-Day, first in the minds of those in the 118th was knocking out threats to ground troops.

Yount, known by his call sign, ``Gator,'' could use his A-10 to flatten a whole military compound, much like a B-24 could. But he could also, with sophisticated computers and weaponry, focus destruction on a single man. His squadron hit Scud missile sites and provided firepower to special operations troops on the ground. One week, ``24 hours a day, every day,'' they defended troops that were guarding a dam, ``beating back wave after wave of Iraqis trying to kick them off.''

There were anti-aircraft guns and missiles. If they saw a gun, they could ``put a laser-guided bomb right down the throat.''

March 20, the Iraq war's own day of invasion, brought the first of many missions for Yount. He thought, ``Let's go get this done.'' He also thought, ``Don't let me screw this up.''

The thoughts could easily have been the same as Avena's on June 6, 1944.

World War II and the war in Iraq are of widely different scales, but for the individuals in each, Yount said, ``whether you're flying over Normandy on D-Day ... or you have to go to the outskirts of Baghdad because our Army guys are moving up that way and you are trying to clear a path for them, it's kind of all the same.''

For Yount, 41, the memories are fresh and still part of his daily life as a full-timer with the National Guard: ``Thoughts of Sept. 11. Protecting your own family. Freeing a people. They all get rolled into the set of emotions that you have,'' he said.

For Avena, though 60 years have passed, his feelings about that time are close to the surface. He's pained to recall other men from his split-up crew flying in a B-24 near his and how, in an instant, the bomber turned into fire and dropped away. He feels as strongly for the men he never met who ran through the surf and up the beaches at Normandy. Ten years ago, he was in France on the invasion's 50th anniversary.

``I just stood on Utah beach, leaned against the cliff and cried.''

Nothing obvious links Avena and Yount, just a fraternity of nerve and sacrifice, a set of traits that made them climb into aircraft they knew might not come back at the end of the day.

``It scares me more now than it did back then,'' Avena said. But at the time, there was little question about why they fought.

``There was a purpose to the war we started,'' he said. And history has shown the importance of D-Day, when the Allies changed the course of the future.

Yount hopes the time he spent in Iraq proves as meaningful, but as a fighting man, he knows it's not his place to justify wars. He just wants to do his part right so in another 60 years, the guys from his squad who are still alive can recall their efforts with satisfaction.

``Whatever the end result is, they will always look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment for what they did,'' Yount said. ``We protected a lot of guys and saved a lot of lives.''

But if Avena had his way, he'd like to see tomorrow's service people spared from anniversaries like today's. He said, ``I don't want to see them going to war.''

Connections

See how this entry relates to other items in the archive by exploring the connections below.

Units served with

A flight of B-24 Liberators of the 446th Bomb Group fly in formation above the clouds.
  • Unit Hierarchy: Group
  • Air Force: Eighth Air Force
  • Type Category: Bombardment

People

  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 446th Bomb Group
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 446th Bomb Group
  • Service Numbers: 20925681 / O-817838
  • Highest Rank: Captain
  • Role/Job: Pilot
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 446th Bomb Group 704th Bomb Squadron
  • Service Numbers: 16081131 / O-709409
  • Highest Rank: Second Lieutenant
  • Role/Job: Navigator
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 446th Bomb Group
  • Service Numbers: O-693876

Events

Event Location Date Description

Born

New London, Connecticut 1924-01-04

Buried

Died

2007-01-05

Revisions

Date17 Jan 2018 15:02:29
Sources

Associated people records.

Date3 Jan 2018 15:14:37
ContributorMojalajab
Sources

June 06, 2004|By JESSE HAMILTON; Hartford Courant Staff Writer

Date27 Sep 2014 18:08:10
ContributorAAM
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / self; Robert Avena (son)--20 Orchard Farms Road, Colchester, CT 06415; (860) 235-0060

Edward Avena: Gallery (2 items)