Tom Wiley flew over 50 missions as a B-17 pilot in the 15th Air Force in Italy during World War II. He never wanted to be a pilot. He wanted to be a Marine, like his WWI veteran father. But, as an ROTC cadet at Ohio State, he was ordered to remain in the Army after Pearl Harbor and thought the Air Corps would be the most interesting branch.
On his first mission, flying co-pilot over a lightly defended target, Tom saw an anti-aircraft shell explode outside the cockpit window. “Ohhh,” he thought, “that’s what this is all about.” He realized at that moment there was no way he would ever survive the war. It was only later that a remarkable spiritual experience convinced him that he would survive. Some miraculous close calls only affirmed that belief.
One day while walking across his air base at Foggia, Tom picked up a bolt he spotted on the ground and slipped it into his pocket. That bolt remained with him through subsequent missions, a good luck charm. After his final mission, Tom went to the edge of the field and threw the bolt as far as he could. “That bolt had power over me. And I wanted to break free of that power to go on with my life.”
On January 27, 2012, the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh transmedia oral history project invited Thomas Wiley to speak about his WW II experiences as a B-17 bomber pilot in the United States Army Air Corps. Mr. Wiley’s interview was conducted by historian Todd DePastino, and it was recorded in both audio and video formats at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.
In My Own Words
Listen to Tom Wiley’s complete audio interview with Todd DePastino.
Thomas Wiley of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was a B-17 pilot in Europe during WWII. He is officially credited with fifty-seven missions, including one mysterious flight that he can’t explain to this day. Listen as Tom recalls the strange circumstances and providence that saved his life that day.