Metro-East News

Belleville veteran writes wartime letter. 73 years later, it’s sold on eBay.

B-17 Tail Gunner talks about flight

WWII B-17 tail gunner Charles Woodford, 90, of Belleville, Illinois took a flight on the Experimental Aircraft Association's B-17G-VE Aluminum Overcast. The plane flew out of St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia.
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WWII B-17 tail gunner Charles Woodford, 90, of Belleville, Illinois took a flight on the Experimental Aircraft Association's B-17G-VE Aluminum Overcast. The plane flew out of St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia.

Charles Woodford, of Belleville, got a big surprise when a letter he wrote clear back in World War II suddenly became a collector’s item recently.

A piece of mail he sent to a cousin back in 1944 showed up for sale on the Internet and a collector in Holland purchased it. The collector then wrote to Woodford’s relatives seeking information about the writer of the letter.

Woodford said he was a tail gunner on a B-17 during the war and his plane was shot up, either by an aircraft or exploding flak, during a U.S. air raid over Bremen, Germany in January 1944. He was wounded and recovering in a hospital in England when he received a letter from a cousin, Ruth Cunningham, who lived in Iowa.

He answered her and never thought much more about it. He went on with his life, including the recent honor of having the football field at Belleville East High School named for him for his outstanding volunteer service.

He was amazed when the letter resurfaced and that anyone would ever care about it. It was the kind of chatty letter that thousands of World War II soldiers wrote home, full of observations about not doing much and being cooped up while getting well.

“That was 70 some years ago,” Woodford said. “How that letter ever ended up on eBay I have no idea.”

Woodford said that when his cousin died, he was involved in settling her estate but never came upon any letters or similar items.

In his message to Woodford’s family, the Dutch man said he became interested in the 388th Bomb Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, Woodford’s outfit, because one of its planes crashed during the war near where he grew up. So he searches for anything related to the group. When he saw the letter from someone who had served in the same group, he bought it. He wanted to know if the letter writer was still alive.

The football field at Belleville East was named Friday in honor of Charlie Woodford, 95. Woodford was the founding president of the Lancers booster club and a two-time recipient of the Purple Heart during his service in World War II. (Note: Audio

At age 95, Woodford is quite alive and active, too. He is getting ready to correspond with the letter’s new owner. Among other things, he is curious about how much the guy paid for it.

“Maybe I could get half of it or something,” he said, laughing.

It makes him wonder if any of the other mail he ever wrote is worth anything. He said he has the letters he sent home from the war to his folks which his mother saved.

If they include some of his observations from the incredibly dangerous time he spent flying bombing , they would be worthwhile.

Woodford said he thought being tail gunner was the best place to be on the plane because by the time he saw the hated flak, the plane was already past it. It was worse for the pilots who had to see it exploding as they approached, he said.

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