Infection may have saved Corydon man’s life
I was looking at Paul Melcom’s scrapbook diaries that show an 85-year history of life from his Crawford County beginnings to his life in Corydon. One minute I was looking at pictures of an older, devout fisherman holding up strings of catfish and bluegill on a calm Patoka Lake. The next I was hearing about walking a foot-wide metal catwalk above an open bomb bay in a B-17 bomber at 25,000 feet over Germany in World War II. When you are only 22 years old!
It does make a person sit back in their chair and wonder how does this happen.
Melcom was the head mechanic for Parks Chevrolet in Corydon for most of his life while he and his wife reared their two daughters off Mulberry Street. He had a variety of jobs leading up to the service where he was trained to oversee the mechanics of the B-17 as its head flight engineer. He trained with a 10-man crew from all different states who, Paul said, ‘became just as close as your brothers or any family would be.’
They flew missions over Germany and Poland with a variety of targets. All this was in the dead of an English winter which is a cold, damp experience in the best of times. Melcom got a head infection that stopped up his ears to the point of deafness, so he went in the hospital to clear it all up. While in the hospital, his crew went on their eighth run and were shot down by a German fighter who ‘rode their contrail and lobbed a rocket ahead in a blind try to hit something.’ They were all killed. When Melcom went back to his barracks, there were only two servicemen left out of the usual 15 or so. He flew 30 missions altogether as he became a free agent for other planes.
When thinking back about all this, Melcom is still incredulous about the immensity of all he was involved in. Sometimes the sky was solid white from the contrails. So many planes were flying over at times, it looked like a thick sprinkling of pepper. And when he considers the amount of high-octane fuel it took to fly these numbers day after day, it is almost inconceivable.
From his soft, English leather flying gloves which he has saved (sadly, the bomber jacket is gone) and the headgear too, you realize that these are stories that are not in the latest novel or movie but come out spontaneously from the man or woman next door. You can feel and touch them from the source.
It was a great privilege for me.
Leah Porter is at the Harrison County Public Library in Corydon the first and third Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m.