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Staff Sergeant William A. Carney

B-17 Tail Gunner

511th Bomb Squadron, 351st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force


     This group of items belonged to Staff Sergeant William A. Carney, a tail gunner aboard a B-17 in the 511th Bomb Squadron of the 351st Bomb Group who completed his 26-mission tour during the Normandy Campaign. The fifth fastest tour of the entire Eighth Air Force, the story of Carney and his crew is intimately detailed and documented through his personal diary kept during the summer and fall of 1944. Rather than writing a full-length article about Carney, I believe his story is best told through his own words. I have provided a brief summary of his service below, but deeply encourage the reader to see the war through his eyes. His diary is written in a near stream-of-cosciousness format, covering an incredible range of topics including the horrors of aerial combat, interpersonal crew relationship, post-traumatic stress disorder, flak houses, replacements, emotional response to airman life, living in England, his developing sexuality, and much more. It is a novel piece of firsthand scholarship which sheds a unique light into the air war over Europe. 

     William A. Carney was born on December 31, 1922 in Florence, Alabama. His first few years were spent in Birmingham before the family moved to Rock Island Illinois, where Carney graduated high school in 1941. He returned to the south to start college at the University of Missouri but, with the breakout of war, enlisted in the U.S. Army on November 18, 1942. He became an aviation cadet and trained an as aerial gunner before going overseas in the spring of 1944.

     In the prewar years Carney became aware of his homosexuality, but, being raised in a southern home, repressed his urges as a personal “perversion.” Throughout the diary, the battle with his sexuality becomes apparent as he interacts with fellow soldiers and sailors amidst an extremely taxing tour of duty which brought him to his physical, emotional, and mental breaking point.

     Also present in the diary is the powerful story of Carney’s crew. Carney joined them as a replacement gunner in June 1944. A rather academically minded, judgmental, and introspective young man, Carney struggled with the more “vapid” personalities of his “childish” and boisterous blue-collar crewmates. As each mission over occupied Europe brought new dangers and brushes with death, however, Carney and his crew began to form an intimate bond. With only each other to rely upon 26,000 feet in the air, the group of men gradually come to live, fight, thrive, love, fear, and survive together as a cohesive and emotionally-connected combat unit. 

     By the end of his tour, Carney had completed 26 combat missions, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals, shot down an FW-190 fighter over Berlin, saved the life of a man he first hated, and come to love deeply the men beside him who similarly perserved to do their duty. 

     Upon return from his tour in October of 1944, Carney was given extended leave before being reassigned to the 3035th Army Air Forces Base Unit stationed at Victorville Field in California. Here he helped to train other air crews and operate the facility as B-24s arrived in preperation for combat service. In February of 1945 Carney volunteered for another tour of duty in Europe, however, before he could go and see further action, the war ended and he was grounded for good.


     After the war, Carney went on to graduate with a bachelor’s from the Missouri School of Journalism. He spent some years in New York as a transport and editorial assistant for a scientific journal but split the rest of his life between Paris and California. He obtained a master’s in French Literature from the University of California, Berkeley and taught in the University of California school system as a French professor. His true passion, however, was for writing. Composing dozens of manuscripts throughout his life, Carney’s coup de grâce came in his trio of Homosexual erotic fiction published from 1968 to 1983. His seminal piece, The Real Thing, became an iconic piece of literature for the early gay BDSM “leather men” movement and merged his intellectual, sexual, and literary interests in a rather unique fashion.[1] Publishing in a rather unpopular era for public homosexual sentiment, he did not receive prominent popularity in his time. In years following, however, he has since been acclaimed as a prominent founding author of homosexual literature.

This is his story.

     The diary and following galleries are possible through the archives located at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon his passing Carney donated all of his life's work in paper to the university where it has remained mostly untouched for decades. There are many other diaries in the colleciton, however, this one focused upon his combat career. Also in the collection was a wartime photo album which has been reproduced as follows. 

Tour of Duty

Return from Overseas

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