My Life-Long Quest for my World War II Airman Father

The title "Carrying Fire" is taken from Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, in which Sheriff Ed Tom Bell talks about his own father. “I had two dreams about him after he died. I don’t remember the first one all that well. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothing. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen that he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.”

Sunday, September 3, 2017

September 3, 1917-2017

This date, September 3, 2017,  marks the 100th birthday of my father, B-17 pilot Lt. Donald R. Christensen. 

Unfortunately, he only got to live about one-quarter of those 100 years. He was killed on March 2, 1945, at age 27, when his plane was shot down over Czechoslovakia. Only the tail gunner survived, and he spent the last two months of the war in Stalag 17. My father was part of the 398th Bomb Group, 603rd Squadron based in Nuthampstead, England. He was one of over 26,000 airmen of the Eighth Air Force in England who were killed during WWII. More airmen with the Eighth Air Force in England lost their lives during the war than the entire Marine Corps, whose enrollment included 250,000 more people. He is interred at Rose Hills Cemetery, Whittier, California.

I was 2 1/2 years old when he was killed, and my brother Steve was born three months later. So we have lived for over 72 years with this loss and memory. In 1951 we received his posthumous medals at a ceremony in Long Beach, California.

Today, dozens of his descendants, covering four generations, pay honor to the service and memory of Donald R. Christensen.
Son Jeff tending grave site.

My granddaughter Nicole last Memorial Day.

People of the Czech Republic, including several friends of ours, were instrumental in erecting a beautiful memorial to him and his crew near the town of Slany, where his plane crashed. In 2010, Steve and my son Jeff and I returned to the Czech Republic and, with the aid of GPS and a metal detector, were able to find the crash site and recover several pieces of B-17 wreckage.

For another view of this historic day, check out Don Milne's blog at

On your 100th Birthday, rest easy Pops!

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