A Tribute to Joe Alwood

Pilot 603rd Squadron, 398th Bomb Group

By Lew Burke
From the Co-Pilot’s seat, 603rd Squadron

The following is the text of remembrances by Lew Burke at his good friend Joe Alwood’s memorial service that took place in July 2005. There will be more of these kinds of words said in the future. They will be given by 398th comrades about their fellow crewmembers and other pals, as they go on up to 30,000 feet. Lew was a Pilot in the 603rd Squadron of the 398th BG. I believe Lew’s message will help us all give some thought to such things.

Wally Blackwell
398th Bomb Group Memorial Association


A Tribute to Joe Alwood

My name is Lew Burke. I have been asked by Wally Blackwell, President of Joe’s and my WWII Bomb Group Memorial Association to say that the Group is sadden at the loss of any and every member. The members of what some refer to, as the “greatest generation” will probably never be equaled again. We grew up in a bad economical time known as the great depression. We fought in a war that took us to many and sometimes far flung parts of the world. We knew we were in a fight between good and evil. We knew the freedom to exist and have a say in our government was at stake. I’m not sure we were “the greatest generation” but we did stand out and we feel a special bond to others who served with us. Those generations who have followed us have been tested too, but I don’t believe the tests were as severe. We in the 398th Bomb Group Association are saying good-by to Joe, but if there is a Heaven, and I believe there is, Joe will be there to open the gate for those who follow.

I first met Joe Alwood one day in November 1944. It was on a U.S. Army Airfield in England. It was probably raining. Joe was a B-17 first pilot who needed a Co-Pilot to round out his new crew. I was a newly commissioned, green 2nd Lieutenant who had never seen a B-17 until arriving as a replacement Co-Pilot straight out of flying school. (The U.S. was building new bombers faster than they were replacing the flying personnel for them). If Joe had any trepidations about flying combat missions with a Co-Pilot with my lack of experience he was probably too flabbergasted to bring it up.

I flew most of my 29 combat missions with Joe. When you served on a combat crew in WWII you got to know your fellow crewmates in ways that are unique. I found Joe to be a superb individual.

Stories you may have heard about the morals, or lack thereof, of WWII combat pilots were probably not exaggerated. In a combat unit, high morale was oft time associated in proportion with less than high morals. Many of us were what my generation called “rounders” but this did not fit Joe. He was loyal and helpful to his friends. He was scrupulously faithful to his wife, Bonnie. Temptations faced all of us but Joe did not succumb. As I have said, he was unique.

I have enjoyed many post war visits with Joe and Bonnie. Prior to the passing of our Navigator, Jim Bankert we could and did tell tall tales in the late evening hours with the best of them. I will miss Ol’ Joe as we always called him. But you know God needs new Angels from time to time. I’m sure He has just called Joe to be one of his new Angels.


See also:

  1. Why I Should have been Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Lew Burke, Co-Pilot, 603rd


Personal History Information
  1. Veteran: Joe Alwood
  2. Pilot, 603rd Squadron
  3. Date of Personal History: August 2005
  4. Author: Lew Burke
  5. Transcribed by: Wally Blackwell, Pilot 601st
  6. Submitted to 398th Web Pages by: Lew Burke, Co-Pilot 603rd and Wally Blackwell, Pilot 601st