story & photo
by Roger Zotti
When Travis L. Ayres writes, he has two things in mind. “First, I want to tell a good story. If it’s not a good story, people really won’t read history,” he said. “And second, I want it to be true. What I tried to do, in ‘The Bomber Boys: Heroes who Flew B-17s in World War II’ (NAL Caliber), was put the reader in the shoes of these 18, 19, and 20 year old B-17 airmen – the generation Tom Brokaw called the greatest generation.” Travis, a U.S. Navy and Vietnam War veteran, added that he’s amazed “how these guys could fly mission after mission over Germany – basically almost suicide missions. I could understand how they could do it once. [To] do it for 25, 30, or 35 missions” is beyond courageous.
Written in a fluid narrative style that reads like compelling fiction, “The Bomber Boys” is about courage, perseverance, and survival – it’s a perfect example of truth transcending fiction. Travis Ayres is a terrific researcher and storyteller and has written a remarkable book about remarkable individuals, whose names are Anthony Teta, 366th Bomb Squadron, Peter Seniawsky, 547th Bomb Squadron, Art Frechette, 419th Bomb Squadron, George Ahern, 509th Bomb Squadron, and Bob Valliere, 550th Bomb Squadron.
The idea for the book came about a few years ago. Travis and his wife rented a house in CT’s Totoket Valley. His landlord was Anthony Teta. “In a casual conversation with him, I found out he had flown with the 8th Air Force,” Travis said. “When I asked him about it, he said he was a navigator on a B-17 but didn’t remember too much and didn’t do that much. He told me the guys who didn’t come back were the real heroes over there.” As Travis writes in his Introduction, “…here, living right next door, was a living example of the kind of men who helped win America’s other great war.” Because these WWII veterans are dying “at a fast rate,” Travis added, “I knew their stories needed to be preserved. So I wanted to save a few of them.” Contacts were made and “I was able to save five very compelling stories.”
While writing “The Bomber Boys,” Travis learned about the B-17s and the men who flew them. But, he admits, “I still can’t put my finger on what’s so special about these guys. I learned what wonderful people they are, but in truth they’re really in a category I can’t put a label to.” Travis added that having his book published was rewarding, but the real reward, along with the biggest thing that changed him, “was becoming friends with these guys and getting them to trust me over the three years we did the interviews.” That the men trusted Travis “was special because they don’t tell their stories to just anybody.”