Manly Poems – The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

This is a five-line poem by the poet Randall Jarrell, a poet and author who flew fighter planes for the United States Air Force during the Second World War. The poem describes, as the title suggest, the death of a ball turret gunner. A Sperry ball turret was a gun which hung from the bottom of a bomber plane, from which a gunner would fire shells at enemy aircraft. This is what they looked like:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Jarrell also provided the following explanatory note to go along with the poem: “A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upsidedown in his little sphere. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose.”

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