Homeland resident Joe Bowers relives WWII service in B-17


Joe Bowers stand by the Aluminum Overcast, a B-17 like the one in which he flew as a bombardier. Above is the Plexiglass nose he would sit in while guiding the plan over its target.

As World War II raged on, Joe Bowers was serving as an Army 2nd lieutenant platoon leader. His feet were on the ground, but his hopes were in the sky, with the B-17 “Flying Fortress’’ bombers winging overhead.

“I’d see these beautiful things flying around, and I think, ‘I’d like to get in there,’” he says today. ”Somehow or other, I got lucky.”

Bowers, a Homeland Center resident, served as a bombardier on U.S. Army Air Force B-17s as a 1st lieutenant for 26 months with the 305th Bomb Group, 366th Squadron. From January 7, 1945, to April 17, 1945, he flew in 35 missions over German cities including Karlsruhe, Munich, and Dresden. During that time he flew various B-17s bearing colorful nose-art and names like “What’s Crackin’ Doc,” “Miss Yvonne,” and “Fancy Pantz.”

On a rainy Saturday in September 2014, the 94-year-old Bowers relived his bombardier days when the Experimental Aircraft Association brought a restored B-17 to Capital City Airport in New Cumberland. Coincidentally, the airport is only a few blocks from the home where Bowers was born and raised.

The B-17s Joe Bowers flew in featured nose art, but nothing like the blonde pinup on the Overcast, he said with a laugh.

Seeing the plane parked on the tarmac – the B-17G-VE Aluminum Overcast — brought back memories for Bowers. The hefty B-17s, flying from England deep into Germany, flew in tight formation with nimble escort fighters that protected the bombers from air and ground attacks.

“Thank heavens they did their job,” Bowers said as he sat near the Aluminum Overcast. “We didn’t lose anybody in our crew. We all came through. We got shot at a lot of times, but nothing took us down.”

The formations were so tight, Bowers recalled, that “some wiseguy said, ‘Hell, I can jump from one wing to another.’”

As bombardier, Bowers sat in the plane’s clear Plexiglas nose. When the pilot ordered “bombs away,” Bowers would get control of the plane, with the critical job of maneuvering the ship into position and using the top-secret Norden bombsight to align the target and release the bombs, clustered as tightly as possible.

“All of a sudden, somebody would say go,” he said. “We kept our fingers crossed and away it went. Sometimes we were able to see it when it hit the ground. Not too often, because we were gone.”

Joe Bowers sits at the B-17’s radio controls.

To this day, Bowers wears a gold bombardier’s ring he bought long ago.

“I’ve always been proud of that ring, so I keep it around,” he said. “It’s a part of me, I guess.”

At war’s end, Bowers came home. He worked in a dental laboratory and at the Mechanicsburg Navy Depot until he retired. In retirement, he volunteered as a bus driver around the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Until 2013, he and his late wife Pat, who had lived with him at Homeland, would attend every Hershey Bears hockey game.

“I was always a nutty fan for the Bears,” he said.

As he walked closer to the B-17 at the Capital City Airport, visitors lining up for a tour took photos and thanked him for his service. Asked whether his ships also had paintings on their sides, like the pinup blonde in a bathing suit on the Aluminum Overcast’s nose, Bowers turned to look at the artwork.

The Aluminum Overcast in flight (used by permission)

“Not like that,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

Though he uses a walker, Bowers eagerly climbed the steps to the side hatch and stepped inside the plane. He didn’t hesitate to maneuver across the ledge circling the ball turret and into the radio room. From there, he could see into a narrow catwalk and the bays holding the bombs. He smiled from ear to ear and laughed out loud.

Bowers remembers being frightened “more than a couple of times.”

“When you’re riding up front and all this stuff is going on, I got scared,” he said. “But we still had a job to do, and that’s what we did.”

Homeland residents color their world through art


Barb Warfel takes in the lush landscape that Maxine is painting before offering a suggestion.

Barbara Passeri-Warfel demonstrates shading techniques for a Homeland resident painting a California landscape.

“OK, Max, let’s get a little bit of light blue on top of that,” she says. “Let’s get a smaller brush because those are small areas, just to get it a little bit lighter.”

Warfel is leading her students at Homeland Center’s twice-monthly art classes. Sitting in Homeland’s cheery Ted Lick Room, residents first learn the basics of drawing and then graduate to painting. Eventually, they have a portfolio of still lifes and scenes in pencil and tempura paint.

The classes are just one way that Homeland residents express themselves and broaden their horizons through art. Homeland’s Florida Room is a gallery for rotating exhibits by guest artists arranged by the Art Association of Harrisburg, providing such high-quality works as watercolors, landscapes, portraits and nature scenes for residents to enjoy. A “paint and sip” activity allows residents to get in on the nationwide craze of painting while enjoying a favorite beverage.

Warfel is an experienced teacher who has worked with older individuals for 15 years. Her students start by drawing lines, then crossing them on the page until shapes emerge. In one early lesson, they draw three pears in pencil to learn the intricacies of shading from light to dark. In another, they experiment with the interplay of colors by coloring butterflies in their own imaginative combinations and designs.

A Homeland resident picked a scene of flowers and birds to paint, saying she liked the vibrant shades of red in the picture.

Painting gives residents “a whole new perspective on seeing,” Warfel says.

“They’re seeing differently because they’ve learned to see beyond ‘that’s a chair,’ ” she explains. “They’ll see past that. They’ll see variations in color. They’ll see how the light and the shadows change things.’’

Art is also “good mental exercise,” Warfel says. “They’re making choices and making decisions. It gets them concentrating and focused.”

On a day when sunlight streams in through the Lick Room windows, two of Warfel’s students recalled that they had done little painting before starting classes with Warfel five years ago. Warfel shows a painting by Betty of peeled oranges, and you can almost smell the citrus. The shades of orange are dynamic. The peels have texture.

Betty jokes that, “If you stand back far away, it looks good.” But she adds that some people don’t pursue art because they think they have to be good at it the first time they put brush to paper.

“Everybody else said they couldn’t do it,” Betty says. “We couldn’t do it, either. You can learn something at any age.”

Facing Betty from the other side of the table, Maxine says that she used to “paint things at home,” such as kitchen glassware. What does she like about painting?

“It keeps me out of trouble,” she jokes.

Homeland art students learn to work in different media. Each compiles a portfolio of work that decorates their rooms or are given as gifts appreciated by family and friends.

After Warfel explains how to create depth by using three shades of each color, Maxine says that she “started out drawing and ended up painting.”

Betty compliments Warfel’s methodical approach. “She starts from the very beginning, because she is a teacher,” Betty says.

The students enjoy giving their works to friends, family and Homeland staff. Betty’s daughter finds matted frames at yard sales and replaces the pictures with her mother’s works. One of Betty’s lovely paintings, framed by her daughter, is a copy of a simple but powerful Van Gogh still life of a forsythia branch in a glass of water.

Betty views her works – all rich with precision and depth – with self-effacing humor. She likes the red flowers she’s painting on this day because “you can make a lot of mistakes, and then when it dries, it looks pretty good.”

Warfel assures Betty that her work is lovely. She tries to maintain a lighthearted tone, and her artists respond.

“This is very carefree, and no-stress,” Warfel says. “I want to make it fun.”