A BIG DATA HISTORY OF THE 44TH BOMB GROUP
A NEW HISTORY OF THE 44TH BG IN WWII TOLD WITH BIG DATA
AN INTERACTIVE DATA DASHBOARD. DRAWN FROM 1.5 MILLION DATA POINTS. TELLING THE SINGULAR STORY AND COLLECTIVE IMPACT OF 5,000 AIRMEN WHO FLEW B-24s INTO FORTRESS EUROPE. BEGIN EXPLORING BELOW....
THE STORY BEHIND THE DASHBOARD
Before the dashboard materialized, many months were spent behind the scenes creating the data model. Automating the data collection process using a web scraper was the first major task. Writing code, I automated the extraction of a million pieces of data from the original 44th BG database and the NARA digitized enlistment records. Combat loss data from historian Will Lundy's Roll of Honor was entered by hand to document all combat casualties over 29 months of combat.
More months were spent cleaning and aggregating this 75-year-old data set that swelled to include more than 1.5 million data points.
Finally came time to build the dashboard. In the spring of 2019 during a four-month sabbatical from my day job in management consulting, the dashboard came to fruition.
I am connected to the 44th Bomb Group because of my grandfather, who was a gunner on the esteemed Burns crew.
After a year piecing together the fragments of Wally's war that he took to the grave, I stumbled upon a profound illustration of his great sacrifice thanks to the story the data told. Quantitative data has the capacity to tell deeply human stories in the context of the bigger picture. In my case, the data illuminated Wally's war and the 42 missions he flew. However, it wasn't until I zoomed out to look at the context of his service that I found he'd flown more missions than 99.5% of the 5,000 men in his group. That one insight re-framed Wally's service profoundly and set in motion this dashboard.
My grandfather, Wallace B. Truslow, flew 42 missions with the 44th Bomb Group. He never spoke of his service, and he passed away 20 years ago. Two years ago, I started looking for traces of his war. After an arduous journey to locate his missions, I was shocked by the horrors detailed in operational reports about his missions. Only months later did I determine he'd flown more missions than 99.5% of the group. This single insight demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that his survival was against all odds and his sacrifice was profound.