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Aerial Gunner

Aerial Gunner(1943)

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In 1942, wounded lieutenant John Davis returns from a South Pacific bombing mission over Japanese territory, and from his hospital bed, reports to his commanding officer that his entire crew has been killed, except for himself and mechanic Pvt. "Gadget" Blaine. In attempting to explain how his gunner, Foxy Pattis, met with his death, John relates the following story: John and his troubled friend Foxy, who grew up together in a small East Coast town, where John's father was the school principal and Foxy's father was in a penitentiary. Foxy and John become estranged when Foxy's father commits suicide after John, a district attorney, brings him in for questioning during a routine check. The last time John sees Foxy before the war, Foxy blames John for his father's death and vows revenge. John enlists in the Army, and after completing his flight training at Kelly Field, is assigned to Harlingen Gunnery School in Texas. To his surprise, Foxy is his instructor, and although John attempts to make peace, Foxy vows to do everything he can to prevent John from graduating. True to his word, Foxy continually crosses John and even purposely misscores his tests. Only then does John take issue with him, but when they are called before the commanding officer for engaging in a fistfight, John accepts full responsibility. Young recruit Sanford "Sandy" Lunt befriends both John and Foxy, and in an attempt to heal the rift between the men, invites them to his family's ranch for their twenty-four hour leave. Instead of becoming friends, John and Foxy become rivals for the affection of Sandy's older sister Peggy. The gunners soon finish their training and begin their final tests. Intent on ensuring John's failure, Foxy rigs the target car for the target trials, but is knocked unconscious as he increases the car's speed. John grabs a jeep and races around the circular track until he catches up with the car, jumps aboard and stops it, thereby saving Foxy's life. Foxy recovers and Peggy accepts his marriage proposal. The next tests are the airborne gunnery trials, which are completed over a course of two days. On the first day, each soldier goes up with a plane to fire at an airborne target. John successfully shoots at his target, but when Sandy's turn comes up, he becomes paralyzed by fear and insists that the plane be returned to the ground. Foxy angrily demands that Sandy complete the test the next day, but later that night, he finds Sandy in the chapel praying for courage. Sandy confides that his father died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and that he has since vowed that he will avenge his death by bombing Japan himself. Foxy gently urges Sandy to give up his quest and seek an Army job more appropriate for him, but Sandy is adamant. The next day during the test, the swinging machine gun in Sandy's plane begins firing out of control. Sandy is unable to control the gun, and the bullets tear through the tail of the plane. The pilot parachutes to safety, but Sandy's parachute belt gets caught in the gun, and he goes down with the plane, which crashes in the ocean. Foxy comforts Sandy in the hospital, and before he dies, Sandy bestows his father's military tags on Foxy. Unaware that Foxy gave Sandy the opportunity to back out of the test, Peggy blames him for her brother's death and breaks off their engagement. After Sandy is honored posthumously at the graduation ceremonies, John is assigned a commission in the South Pacific. Foxy is then posted to his crew, and now has to take orders from John. Gadget, Sleeper and others from the training school are also on the crew, but they shun Foxy because of Sandy's death. Interrupting a fight between Foxy and the men, John encourages them to come together as a team, as their lives depend on each other. When he then refrains from reprimanding them, Foxy thanks his rival for the first time. The bomber squadron is sent on a mission to drop bombs over some Japanese island outposts, and although the bombing is successful, the planes are attacked by Japanese Zero fighter planes. Having received orders not to engage in combat because the planes are too valuable, John sends two bombers home after they successfully complete their mission. John's objective is the enemy barracks, and despite the fact that he is injured and his co-pilot, Sarnoff, bombardier, Trask, and turret gunner, Sleeper, are killed during aerial combat, he and Foxy successfully complete the mission. The plane is debilitated by enemy fire, however, and they are forced to land on the island. While Gadget hastily tries to fix the plane, Foxy and John hold off encroaching Japanese troops with a machine gun. John and Foxy finally restore their friendship, and Foxy gives John a letter from Peggy, in which she clears Foxy of all blame for Sandy's death, but states that she is in love with John. Gadget gets the plane running, but Foxy, injured, refuses to leave, and fights off the Japanese until he is killed by a grenade blast. Foxy dies clutching the medal Sandy gave him, but his tenacity has allowed John and Gadget to take off safely and return the valuable plane to the Army.