Every two years for the past 20 years, Cold War veterans who flew or maintained the B-47 Stratojet bomber have gathered for a reunion, among them, Angel Corral of Eagle Rock, who was the crew chief on B-47s from 1953 to 1956.
The reunion this year will be the last – the “last flight,” so to speak – because time has dwindled the number of B-47 alumni. Mr. Corral, who shows virtually no signs of the aging that has caught up with his fellow ‘Cold Warriors,’ has ordered special neckties to present to the event organizers – an American eagle and the Stars and Stripes on a background of Air Force blue, a patriotic flourish to mark the end of an era.
The B-47, the first jet designed to carry nuclear weapons, was a six-engine bomber that flew with a crew of four. In active duty from 1951 to 1969, it was the foundation of the nuclear deterrence strategy of the U.S. Strategic Air Command. Mr. Corral remembers practicing over and over in case the call ever came for a “One-Day War” – a plan to deploy 400 B-47s in an all-out response to a nuclear threat from the Soviet Union. To this day, he says he feels relief that the call never came.
Mr. Corral also remembers daily details of the B-47. He recently recounted how small and uncomfortable the crew chief’s seating space was and how he knew he would not have stood much of a chance if the crew ever had to bail out.
How did he ever develop what it took to be a B-47 crew chief? It was “nature and nurture,” he said. He is a great nephew of Pancho Villa, (Señora Doña Maria Luz Corral de Villa was his grandfather’s sister), so toughness seems to run in the family. He also credits the toughness of the Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights neighborhoods where he grew up during the Great Depression with honing his survival instincts.
But it wasn’t all about being tough. He has lifelong friends from Lincoln High School. (He is Class of 1951.) His active duty on the B-47 reinforced his already strong sense of loyalty. Flight crew members “would give their lives for each other,” he said.
In fact, many B-47 crews did give their lives in the Cold War. Of the 2,400 B-47s that were manufactured, 203 crashed, with 464 deaths, said Dick Purdum, the Membership Chairman of the B-47 Stratojet Association. That level of casualties would be unacceptable today, he said, but was the unfortunate result of the big and dangerous change from propeller technology to “swept wing” design.
Mr. Corral and Della Corral, his wife of 62 years, will join Mr. Purdum and other B-47 warriors at the final reunion of the B-47 Stratojet Association from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20 at the Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. A plaque commemorating the B-47 Association will be presented at the reunion to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, where it will remain on permanent public display.