The Last Dam Buster
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One day in the late spring of 1955 my Dad showed up at the school I attended. I was in the British equivalent of fifth grade.

It was highly unusual for Dad to show up at my school. I think that was the only time it ever happened. Why was he there? To take me to the movies.

That was astronomically unusual. Dad very rarely took me to the movies, and only at weekends. What was going on?

What was going on was The Dam Busters, a 1955 British movie about the RAF bombing raids on German dams in 1943.

German industry depended heavily on hydroelectric power, so the idea was to deprive them of that while also flooding out factories and mines.

The raids, carried out by a unit called 617 Squadron, were a moderate success, but aircrew casualties were heavy.

Nineteen fifty-five Britain was still in the afterglow of victory, with much particular pride in the wartime exploits of the RAF. The Dam Busters was the highest-grossing movie in Britain that year. My Dad wanted to see it, and he wanted me to see it.

Why am I recalling this? Because John Richard Bell, the last surviving member of 617 Squadron, just died.

Bell didn’t actually fly on the Dam Buster raids. He joined 617 Squadron a few months after the raids. He had a distinguished military career, though, and could fairly be called a war hero.

John Richard Bell died on March 18th, seven days short of his 101st birthday. Rest in peace, Sir.

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