‘We had a job to do:’ Shelton veteran talks survival as B-17 gunner in WWII

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Frank Boyle poses in his home in Shelton, Conn. Dec. 16, 2021. Boyle, a World War II veteran, has also recently honored for his career in radio broadcasting. Boyle is seen here with vintage broadcast microphone from WIBX, in Utica, New York and a painting of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Boyle served as a ball turret gunner, flying in B-17 bombers over Europe in the second world war.

Frank Boyle poses in his home in Shelton, Conn. Dec. 16, 2021. Boyle, a World War II veteran, has also recently honored for his career in radio broadcasting. Boyle is seen here with vintage broadcast microphone from WIBX, in Utica, New York and a painting of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Boyle served as a ball turret gunner, flying in B-17 bombers over Europe in the second world war.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Frank Boyle, Jr., has never shied away from a challenge.

Boyle, a Nashua, N.H., native, was in his 20s when he joined his fellow Army Air Force crew on board a B-17 for 35 bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe during the second World War. His job? A ball turret gunner on the belly of the Flying Fortress.

“It was terrifying … it really was, but you had to let that go,” Boyle recalled. “After that first mission, I came to realize, if it (death) is going to happen, I hope it is fast.”

Boyle, now 96 and living in Shelton with a memory as sharp as ever, remembers all too well his role in 1944 — stuck in a 4-foot Plexiglass sphere in the bottom of a plane, his knees against his chest with two heavy machine guns used to shoot down planes coming at the B-17 from below.

“We were told, you’re going home after 25 missions,” said Boyle. “Then 25 became 30, 30 became 35. I felt I could get through it. We all had a job to do.”

Boyle enlisted in the American Army Air Corps with dreams of being a pilot, but his short stature, 5’6”, made him a perfect fit for ball turret gunner on the B-17. Training complete, he began his missions — some six to eight hours in length — with his crew mates in 1944.

“In 12, 13 of the 35 missions, we had ships next to us blown in half,” recalled Boyle, a staff sergeant, about his missions, held at a time in the war when most bombers never made it past 12 missions before being shot down. “We knew the crews in those planes.”

He remembers finally coming home to Nashua two weeks into January 1945, with his mother, Alice, seeing him and grabbing and hugging him tightly.

“I was thinking I was one of the lucky ones … and I don’t know why,” Boyle said. “I would kid with my fellow crew members, saying I was spared because I had been altar boy when I was 8 … and I always went to Mass.

“I remember when I got to England, after I was told where I was going, I met a padre. He said we’re going to win because God is on our side. But let’s face facts, back in Berlin, a priest is saying the same thing to German fighter plane pilots. I don’t know how I made it; just lucky I guess.”

Boyle’s military heroics — which culminated in six U.S. Army air medals — has since been immortalized in Steve Knowles’s novel “35 Missions: The Frank Boyle Story,” first published in 2018, becoming a No. 1 best seller on day one.

But Boyle’s story did not end with the close of World War II. He would soon earn his degree from Michigan State University in 1950 and go on to become a true giant in the radio industry.

Fearless by nature, Boyle became known for his boisterous nature as he rose through the ranks from a Detroit manager to chairman of the national radio representative firm Eastman Radio, where he spent more than a quarter century, 1959 to 1985, mastering the art of salesmanship.

“Bob Eastman (president of Robert Eastman & Co.) told me you need enthusiasm ... show business has to be in your blood to succeed in this business,” said Boyle, who worked at Rockefeller Plaza and lived in Greenwich for many years before making the move to Shelton several years ago.

And he took that to heart, bringing his gregarious attitude to every radio station he visited across some 127 cities across the country. He was also known to put on spectacles at conferences, including once wearing a suit of armor to garner attention, and a few laughs.

“I loved to excite people, to upset people, whatever I could to get people to see,” Boyle recalled. “I wanted people to say we need to be at the dinner tonight, Frank is going to speak. Let’s see if people will throw tomatoes at me tonight. That’s how I went about it.”

Boyle then moved into the sales of radio and television stations with his own brokerage firm, Frank Boyle & Co., which he has operated since 1986. In all, Boyle owned all or part of nine radio stations, including three in New York, two in New Hampshire, and one each in Florida and California.

In the end, he became one of the most influential figures in the AM radio business.

His influence was recognized yet again last month when he was tapped as one of the Giants of Broadcasting by the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation. Boyle was honored alongside Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Bob Costas, Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts, Emmy and Golden Globes nominated actress and Happy Days alum Marion Ross, and Hearst Communications Senior Vice President and Hearst Television President Jordan Wertlieb, among others.

Boyle is now one of only two individuals to earn the Giants of Broadcasting honor as well as the Broadcast Industry Award, which he was granted in 2003. But his desire to reach the public continues to this day as he has two books in the works, the first being “When Radio Was Fun, 1955-1975.”

“I was stunned but thrilled,” Boyle said about his Giants honor. “I really look at my life and realize how lucky I am … I made it through World War II, all those missions, then came home and kept pushing myself. I am eternally grateful.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com