Charles Hamlin grew up in Rockland and entered the U.S. Army in 1942 at the age of 15 after working for a while at the Todd-Bath Shipyard in South Portland.

He was eventually assigned to the 385th Bomb Group, based in Great Ashfield, England, and assigned to the Eighth Air Force. He became a ball turret gunner, located in a Plexiglas sphere under the belly of the bomber with two 50-caliber machine guns, trying to fight off attacking German fighters.

The 385th flew the B-17 Flying Fortress, one of the major pieces of equipment for attacking the German war machine. The bomber was unpressurized and unheated, so the crews dressed as warmly as they could to withstand the subzero temperatures while flying through flak five miles above the earth on bombing raids.

Hamlin spent 20 years in the Air Force before retiring, and recently published “Fear No Evil: True Stories of the Mighty Eighth,” about what it was like to fly those missions. He wrote the introduction and several other parts of the book, but a major section is “Hardlife Stories,” in which other members of the Mighty Eighth tell their stories.

“Fear No Evil” (152 pages, $16.95) is published by His Publishing Group, and is available online at charleshamlin.com and Amazon.com

Q: How did you get in touch with all of the contributors for the “Hardlife Stories” section?

A: Through various groups and newsletters, and by talking with some of the vets that I know. I go to the reunions. We have a reunion of the 385th Bomb Group every year.  

Q: And they were all willing to tell their stories?

A: They were all very happy to tell. That is a mistake made about veterans. A lot of the young people, children of the veterans, say, “Father never talked about the war.” I have always found that the fathers and grandfathers were dying to talk about the war, but nobody wanted to listen. 

Q: Ronnie Kramer (one of the characters in the book) was a ball-turret gunner from Rockland. Charles Hamlin was a ball-turret gunner from Rockland. One survived; one didn’t. Is he a real person, or is he your creation of what could have easily happened?

A: That is a true incident. There were more than one of those incidents. The part where he describes his surroundings and what he was thinking, those were my imagination. We couldn’t know that, because he died on landing.

Ronnie Kramer is not a real name, but all of the rest of the people in the book are 100 percent real. 

Q: Sometime before 1957, my older brother and I built a Revell model of a B-17 that was in my room for a lot of years, so I feel an attachment to that plane. It really was the war horse of the U.S. Air Force, wasn’t it?

A: The B-17 dropped one-third of the bombs dropped in the war. There were, like, 2,000 of them active at one time. There were 15,000 built, and 6,000 lost in the war. The next was the B-24, and there were only one or two groups of them and 40 groups of B-17s.

The plane was first built in 1935, and it hadn’t changed. There wasn’t anything like pressurized cabins or anything to deal with the freezing weather. It was grim hardship all the way for the big bombers. 

Q: You mention how crews had to fly 25 missions, but you flew 35, and I think the number of required missions jumped at various times. That brought to mind “Catch-22.” Different front, but did (author Joseph) Heller get a lot of the stuff right?

A: The limit jumped from 25 to 30 and then to 35 and then to unlimited. It was getting a little easier then, because the German Air Force had been decimated, but you still had to deal with the flak. In my case, it went from 25 to 30 to 35, but when I reached 35, the officers in my group put a stop to it. They said anyone who had done 35 missions was done. 

Q: But did “Catch-22” convey the mood of the bomber groups?

A: I have not read the book, but I have seen a lot of stuff about it, and I think it was pretty accurate. 

Q: The average crew member finished 27 percent of his missions. I think you said somewhere what percentage of people finished their missions, but I couldn’t find it again. But I know it wasn’t high. How did people deal with the likelihood of death?

A: In general, the crews were pretty uptight all the time. A lot of time when we were hanging around the barracks, we’d see two or three beds empty, and we’d know they had been lost. One time, we lost a whole squadron.

It was pretty hard to deal with. We didn’t have anything like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder like they do now. We’d just have another drink. It was hard to deal with, but we had no other choice. 

Q: At the end of the book, you wonder if America could fight another war like World War II. And probably it couldn’t, but I read something in the Christian Science Monitor about how progressively fewer people are dying in wars now. More than 400,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in Vietnam and just 6,200 in the War on Terror (Iraq and Afghanistan combined). So that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

A: Yeah. They don’t ask as much of the people now. They get to go in larger groups and are better armed. In World War II, we weren’t ready for that war. We were going up against an enemy that was maniacal and much better prepared. They have planes that fly 700 mph at 40,000 feet. Now they can send in drones, but when one bomber crashed, 10 guys were killed. 

Q: What did you do after World War II?

A: I spent 20 years in the Air Force, almost all of it in different embassies, NATO and things like that.

I ended up in Houston, because my wife developed the first artificial fingernail in 1971. We had a shop in Dallas and then went to Houston, and started one there, and then she sold them but we stayed in Houston. I came back to Maine for a while too, for three years in the 1990s, but then the economy got into a bad condition, and we came back here. 

I still have a big family in Maine, about 200 people in Rockland, Union and Appleton. I certainly hope I can set up some kind of promotion for the book later this year.  

Q: How can people buy the book?

A: They can go to my website, charlesdhamlin.com/, and I have sold a lot of them to different museums, like the Smithsonian and the 8th Air Force Museum, and also on Amazon and all the online sites. But people should go to the website, because I have a lot of pictures there of different crews. If you or anyone you knew flew bombers in World War II, you might find them there. 

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who lives in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]