100th SFS hosts son of WWII waist gunner on 100th BG B-17 to visit father’s heritage jet, ‘Miss Irish’

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

As a New York native from Dobbs Ferry, Staff Sgt. Myron “Ty” Ettus had just turned 18 when the news hit that Pearl Harbor had been attacked Dec. 7, 1941. His interest in aviation grew because of the tragic event, leading him to join the U.S. Army Air Force. He took and passed the aviation cadet entrance exam and physical, completed flight training, and was eventually reassigned and undertook aerial gunnery training courses in the summer of 1943.

A waist gunner on the B-17 Flying Fortress known as “Miss Irish,” Ty was assigned to the 350th Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, Thorpe Abbotts, England, during World War II, arriving in January 1944.

Eighty years later, Ty’s son, U.S. Navy Capt. (retired) Doug Ettus, visited RAF Mildenhall to see the modern-day “Miss Irish,” one of the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s heritage fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, all of which boast updated versions of World War II nose art originally displayed on the 100th BG B-17s, along with the “Square D” on the tails.

Doug, along with his wife, Patti, visited England to see for himself where his dad was stationed, learn more about the vital role his father played in the war, and to see how the legacy of the aircraft and those stationed at Thorpe Abbotts is still honored today.

“I always wanted to go to Thorpe Abbotts to see his airfield,” said Doug. “Matt Mabe [100th Bomb Group Foundation historian] had taken a trip last year to Thorpe Abbotts and here, and all of a sudden it started to gel and I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be a great trip to do, to visit my dad’s former base along with the 100th Air Refueling Wing and Miss Irish. It just seemed a natural progression and kind of completes the circle, from 80 years ago up to today.

“If my dad was around to know I was coming here, in all honesty I think he’d be happy and very interested, but I don’t think he’d get much gushier than that,” remarked Doug. “Although he did talk about the war in his later days, and really did open up [about his experience]; he was not overly nostalgic and did not talk about the past. He liked to live in the future.”

Miss Irish joined the 100th Bomb Group Feb. 2, 1944, and flew her final combat sortie March 19, 1944, during a bombing mission over France.

What turned out to be her final mission was supposed to be a “milk run” – a routine, uneventful sortie completed without incident. However, the B-17 was hit by an 88 mm flack shell, which blew a 7-foot by 12-foot hole in the floor, roof and side of the aircraft. Despite the damage, the aircrew ensured Miss Irish went on to complete the mission, and the pilot, Capt. John P. Gibbons, managed to emergency land the plane at RAF Raydon, Suffolk.

The retired Navy captain said he was completely overwhelmed when visiting Thorpe Abbotts and seeing where his father had been stationed during the war.

“It was extremely and surprisingly emotional,” he said, his eyes glistening with tears. “It’s hard to explain, but you can’t argue with the effect it has. Ron Batley, [100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum curator] was just fantastic; he put us in his car, and we just took off around the taxiway. Carol [Batley, Ron’s wife and also 100th BG Memorial Museum curator] had figured out that [the original B-17] Miss Irish had been on Hardstand 31, and he took us to where he believed that hardstand was. We walked around hoping to find some concrete that would have been left over from the demolition 30 or 40 years ago, before Ron took us to the 350th Bomb Squadron living area, so we were able to see the orderly building is still standing.”

Doug recalled that when they stood at Hardstand 31, they could see the route Miss Irish would have taken away from the hardstand, down the taxiway and over to the main runway.

“We were there for six hours, went into and up the control tower, sat and talked with the volunteers and just had a wonderful time there. They were all absolutely fantastic!”

Ty passed away in 2019 at the age of 95. During his time stationed at Thorpe Abbotts during World War II, he flew 32 combat missions.

The opportunity to visit the modern-day heritage KC-135 Stratotanker with the Miss Irish nose art, brought everything full circle for Doug and Patti.

They spent time with the 100th Security Forces Squadron, who have “adopted” Miss Irish, were shown around the aircraft and had the opportunity to meet some Airmen from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron, who fly the aircraft, as well as spend time in the boom simulator, seeing just a snapshot of what it takes to refuel many different types of aircraft.

“It’s been kind of overwhelming, but definitely a good overwhelming, and the support from RAF Mildenhall and Thorpe Abbotts has greatly been appreciated!” remarked Doug.

The 100th SFS shared that they were honored to host Capt. (retired) Ettus and his wife when they visited RAF Mildenhall.

“Our efforts couldn’t measure up to the legacy of his family, but we were humbled to have an opportunity to show our appreciation,” said Master Sgt. David Dansby, 100th SFS flight chief. “It was emotional for us as well, knowing a family member of the original 100th Bomb Group’s B-17 ‘Miss Irish’ crew was coming to visit. Our squadron has adopted the KC-135 heritage jet of the same name, and Capt. Ettus’s visit gave us a chance to integrate him into the wing and our squadron. During his interview, I saw just how much this visit meant to him and Patti. This was historic and I’m thankful to be part of an awesome team that made it possible.”

Staff Sgt. Brandon Cummings, 100th SFS flight sergeant, was also part of the team organizing the visit, and recalled that while spending time with Doug and Patti, he knew that this visit was going to be special.

“Even though I’ve been stationed here for more than five years, I hadn’t fully grasped the historical significance of this installation until Doug shared stories about his father,” said Cummings. “Hearing the stories and seeing the emotion he shared, left me with a sense of great appreciation for the sacrifices and heroism that laid the foundation for us to be here today.

“The ‘Miss Irish’ nose art was adopted by our squadron and gives a sense of identity for us,” he remarked. “It’s extremely important for us to understand and honor the past and ensure the sacrifices made by those who came before us are not forgotten.”


Editor’s note: Historical photos and additional information provided by 100th Bomb Group Foundation website and Matt Mabe, 100th BGF historian)