A Mighty Force

By Kimberly Blankenstein

July 2015

Years ago I saw the film "The Memphis Belle" and became fascinated with the history of the Mighty 8th Air Force and its role in World War II. After hours spent in bookstores, perusing relevant memoirs in the military history section, I met "Little Joe" Noyes in a group photograph of over 40 Army Air Corps officers assigned to the 95th Bomb Group in 1943. I was 14, and in the photo Joe really didn't look much older -- so I felt I might be able to relate to him, despite the lengthy passage of time. At that moment I decided to research his life, and in doing so I made his story a part of my own.

I remember logging into my parent's dial-up Internet service, and searching the Web for veterans who served with Joe. I interviewed aging heroes who couldn't believe a teenager wanted to hear their experiences, and as they transported me back in time, I immersed myself in the 1940s.

Information poured in quickly. Following the publication of an article about my research, I received a letter from a high school classmate of Joe's, who attached a photocopy of his yearbook picture. When Joe graduated from Seattle's Queen Anne High School in 1940, his ambition was recorded in his class yearbook as: "Go to Boeing School of Aeronautics in California, or get into United States Army Air Corps." After enlisting in the Army National Guard at Fort Lewis, Joe was given the life-defining opportunity to transfer into the Army Air Corps. Accepting this assignment, he was promoted to the new rank of Flight Officer, and trained as a co-pilot for the mighty Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

Through the veterans of the 95th Bomb Group, I sadly discovered that Joe was killed at the age of 22, shortly after taking over as an aircraft commander. While talking to Joe's fiancée, I learned that she kept a pair of his shoes to remember him by. After corresponding with the men who called Joe their friend, I familiarized myself with Joe's humor and engaging personality the best I could.

In 2002 I was warmly invited to visit Joe's brother Bob, a Boeing retiree living north of Seattle. He let me read all the letters Joe wrote home from the war, and gave me the honor of holding the Purple Heart that Joe was posthumously awarded.

"Little Joe" Noyes' body was the only one recovered, and the other nine men on his crew are still missing in action today. Knowing this, I wanted to help ensure that they would never be forgotten, so I created a simple website, and started learning basic HTML to customize it. The Internet quickly became the easiest avenue through which I could share Joe's story, and programming became my second hobby.

The story of "Little Joe" Noyes from Seattle is a part of our 100-year history at The Boeing Company, because Joe and his crew took to the skies in one of our incredible planes, and dedicated their lives to aviation, as we do now. I am currently writing a book about my research, and I continue sharing Joe's story online and in person, with anyone who will listen.