Kent R. West never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on March 2, 1918 in Alabama. His parents George and Lesta were also both born in Alabama. His father worked as a coal mine engineer and later a coal mine pipe man. Kent had two older brothers, an older sister, two younger brothers (one served in the navy during the war) and two younger sisters.
He was drafted into the army on February 10, 1942. He volunteered for the Army Air Forces and became a sergeant and gunner in the 414th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force which was equipped with B-17 Flying Fortresses. This was the first US heavy bomb group to fly a combat mission from England. On August 17, 1942 Sgt. West was part of that mission to bomb the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen, France. During this mission, in the B-17 Birmingham Blitzkrieg, he shot down a German plane as a rear gunner, becoming the first US aerial gunner in the war to do so.
In October, Sgt. West's unit was transferred to the 12th Air Force to support the invasion of North Africa. On December 26, 1942 Birmingham Blitzkrieg was on a mission to Biskra, Tunisia. It was hit by flak and exploded in mid-air. All ten men onboard were lost, including ball turret gunner Sgt. West, and they are still listed as missing in action.
UPDATED AUG 14, 2018:
I got this message from Shari Whitaker Dobbs via the 8th Air Force Operations in WWII Facebook page:
"Don, I just followed your link and found the memory for Kent West. Kent and my dad, Sgt. James Buford Whitaker, were best friends in WW II. They were both from small southern towns and both ball turret gunners in the 97th BG. My dad became sick and had to be hospitalized. Kent willingly took his place on that ill fated flight over Tunisia. This picture of Kent was always proudly displayed in our home. Thank you so much for memorializing these men, all true American heroes!"
His cenotaph grave is at Mount Carmel Cemetery, West Blocton, Alabama.
Last year on this date I profiled Bushmaster Lloyd Reiman. You can read about Lloyd and a tie-in to the I Love Lucy TV show here.
On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!
I created this video to explain why I started this project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXt8QA481lY.
Please consider joining the public Facebook group to increase the exposure of this project. Go to: WW2 Fallen 100