MOSES LAKE — The opening reception for a new exhibit showcasing the lives of a group of young men – very young men – fighting World War II is scheduled for Friday at 5 p.m. at the Moses Lake Museum & Art Center. “Bomber Boys: Portraits from the Front” will be on display through Aug. 23.
The exhibit chronicles the military service of B-25 pilots and crews in the last years of the war, based on the pictures, letters and 1945 diary of Keith Lile. Lile survived the war, came home and raised a family and pretty much put the war behind him, his daughter Stephanie said. Keith Lile was a tail gunner; the 445th Bombardment Squadron's target most of the time was the rail line through northern Italy, Austria and Yugoslavia.
His children found the memorabilia in the barn while they were cleaning out the place after Lile died, Stephanie Lile said. She is the show's curator. She spent more than a decade researching the pictures and letters, and is hoping the exhibit can produce more information.
“He (Keith Lile) never talked about the war,” Stephanie Lile said. He did tell his kids he was a tail gunner, and flew 59 missions. (By that time, a full tour was 60 missions.) His kids didn't even know he had kept the pictures and letters, Lile said. “It's amazing,” she said.
She wrote a young adult book, “The Tail Gunner,” using Keith Lile's collection as inspiration. Lile is the director of the Harbor History Museum and lectures in museum studies at the University of Washington-Tacoma. She thought the story contained in the pictures and letters would make a good museum exhibit, she said, and she wanted to give her students some real-world experience.
Her students researched the men of the 445th. “There are some incredible stories,” Lile said. The information they gathered was used as the basis for the exhibit.
Lile said she's hoping that as the exhibit travels, people who see it can identify some of the Bomber Boys. “A handful of men were identified by notes in the original prints, but many were not,” she wrote.
Lile will be the speaker during the opening reception, talking about the 445th. Its personnel included a young man named Joseph Heller (in a different unit from her dad), who used his experiences as the basis of his novel “Catch-22.” Lile's discussion of “Operation Bingo and the Real Story of the Men Behind Catch-22” will be at 7 p.m.
The opening reception usually includes a craft project for adults, known as the Adult Swim. For Friday's reception it will be a fabric flower.
Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at email@example.com.