WARTIME RECOLLECTIONS

 

Up until now I have not personalized this website, but since some people are interested in our wartime experiences, and as I have put a lot of work into this website, I have rationalized that I am entitled to misuse it to this extent.

 

In 1942 I was in college at Murray State Teachers College at Murray, Kentucky, majoring in music (violin) but also playing tuba in the big band, bass fiddle and guitar in a dance band, and having a ball.  In November, 1942, the draft began to loom large, and I did not want to live in a foxhole with a rifle, so I took the test for Aviation Cadets and surprised myself by passing with room to spare.  On February 27, 1943, I reported to Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  Soon thereafter I was on a troop train to Keesler Field, Mississippi, for boot camp.  I was approaching age 20 later in the year.

 

BOOT CAMP

 

Boot camp was an experience!  Reveille was very early.  Fortunately, I never overslept.  If one did, the barracks corporal would lift one side of his canvas cot and dump the offender on the floor.  Artie Shaw’s ”Summit Ridge Drive” played incessantly on every jukebox around.  One time we were formed up (we did not know how to march into formation) and were addressed by Sir Anthony Eden (in his usual black suit, hat and umbrella) and General Sir John Dill.  I do not remember the context, but it must have been a pep talk.  We then double-timed back to the barracks, got into athletic clothes, and double-timed to the athletics field where the same two gentlemen watched us exercise.  I always wondered whether they knew we were the same group or whether someone led them to believe that we were a different group.

 

I spent one of the most miserable days of my life at Keesler.  I was assigned to KP, which turned out to be on an island.  The weather was cloudy and cold with rain blowing horizontally through the tent which had no sides.  I was dressed for warm weather.  I peeled potatoes for about ten hours (no gloves).  I thought I would never get my fingers straightened out!  I was about ready for the foxhole and rifle at that point.

 

I had had some exercise-induced asthma (which I neglected to mention to the military) in earlier years, but I had no problem with physical training (PT).  I was delighted, because I did not want to be 4F (unfit for military service).

 

I was at Keesler for about a month, the month of March.  Then I moved on.


CTD

 

CTD stands for College Training Detachment.  Although we had classes and training, the main purpose of CTD was to keep us in a pipeline until the flying program was ready for us.  I went there in early April and stayed for about two months.  I was sent to a college whose name I would have to look up.  It was on the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors of a tall building in St. Louis, Missouri.  We were usually given passes on Saturday night and Sunday, if we did not have demerits to walk off.

 

Our building faced on a busy street whose name escapes me, but the best thing about it was that Stan Kenton was playing nightly at a place just across the street.  Stan’s band was a little far out, moving toward what became bebop, I suppose.  I preferred Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, etc., but enjoyed Stan.

 

I was pleased that my parents got to visit me once or twice from our home in western Kentucky, about 190 miles.  I also got to see a major league baseball game.  I believe it was the Browns against the Cardinals, an intra-city, pre-season game, and Musial was playing for about the first time.

 

There was a flying program in CTD, to what purpose I am not sure.  We were not taught to fly; no one soloed.  The purpose must have been to determine whether someone had a fear of flying or uncontrollable air sickness.  The airplanes were Piper Cubs.  We flew at a field north of the Missouri River.  After a spin, my instructor had to dead-stick it into a wheat field.  I think that he, on purpose, did not put the carburetor heat on so that we could do the landing.

 

I was in CTD for about two months, say April and May.

 

SAACC

 

I spent June and July in the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, what is now Lackland AFB.  It was a classification center where we were tested physically and mentally and also tested for common sense, coordination, inter-personal relations, etc.  Their main purpose was to determine whether an individual should be selected to be a pilot, bombardier, navigator, or eliminated from the program (washed out).  I was selected to be a pilot, much to my relief.

 

On August 1, we moved “across the street” to Pre-flight School.  The physical training was tough because of the hot weather.  One won’t soon forget about doing push-ups on hot blacktop.  We had to run a 2 and ½ mile course.  I had some problems at the beginning (mostly bad conditioning) but hung in there and eventually could make the run without “breaking a sweat,” figuratively speaking.

 

I enjoyed getting to go to town.  A highlight was that I went in a rotary door at the Gunter Hotel as Lucille Ball came out.  For those of you who have enjoyed the Riverwalk, you should know that the banks of the San Antonio River were patches of dirt and long grass in 1943.

 

Pre-flight lasted through August and September, approximately.

 

PRIMARY FLYING SCHOOL

 

I went to primary at Ballinger, Texas, a small town in about the center of the state.  We flew the PT-19, a low-wing monoplane with an inline, air-cooled engine.  I was very fortunate to be assigned to a real gentleman as an instructor.  His name was Duke Jimerson.  He taught me to fly without playing all the games that some instructors resorted to.  We became friends, and my wife and I visited him and his family many years later at his home in Midland, Texas.  Primary was very much devoted to learning to control the airplane, taking off and landing, doing eights on pylons and eights around pylons, doing some aerobatics, and recovering from spins.

 

Each part of our training lasted about two months.  I was in Primary during October and November.

 

BASIC FLYING SCHOOL

 

I went to Basic at Perrin Field near Sherman and Denison, Texas.  We flew the BT-13, affectionately known as the Vultee Vibrator, because in a spin it made so much noise that you “could not hear yourself think.”  Actually, the plane was a good one at this point.  It had a 450 hp radial engine, a two-position prop (I think), a wide, fixed landing gear, so one could not forget to put the gear down, and it did not easily ground loop.  I did not fly the single-engine advanced trainer, the AT-6, until the 1950s.  It had a 650 hp engine and a much narrower retractable gear; it would ground loop, if one were careless.

 

Although the BT had a fixed gear, I believe that we were introduced to simple checklists at about this point.  The first, which one normally completed on the downwind leg, was the GUMP check.  G was for Gas—to make sure you were not on a tank that was about to go empty; U was for undercarriage--to verify that your wheels were down and locked; M was for Mixture—to return your fuel mixture to RICH, if you had been cruising on a leaner mixture; and P was for prop—to return the blade angle to low so that you could develop high rpm and power in case you had to abort the landing and go around. 

 

My instructor in Basic may have been a gentleman, but he was one of the most difficult persons I ever had to deal with.  In the airplane I was so intimidated that I would literally jump when he spoke.  At the time, of course, I disliked him intensely, but later I came to think that perhaps the experience was good for me, toughening me for combat, etc.  I know his name but won’t mention it.  We never had contact later.

 

I will describe how his technique was different, to say the least.  The students were seemingly all soloing after 6 or 7 hours of dual instruction.  I did not.  I had 8, 9, 10, 11, finally soloed at 12 hours, the last to solo, I think.  Of course, I thought that I was on the verge of washing out.  Surprise!  The day after I soloed I was put up for my 20-hour check, did it and passed.  So I went from being the last to solo to being the first to pass the 20-hour check.  Then my instructor told me that he would not solo a student who could not pass the 20-hour check.  Great, except it would have helped a lot, if he had told me.

 

Another example was formation flying.  The first day of formation training we took off on the leader’s right wing in a three ship element.  It was a dismal, cloudy day, and I thought that we were about to enter the clouds.  In the middle of the first turn, which was toward us, my instructor growled, “You’ve got it.  Three stars every time you get out of position.”  He must have been both incredibly brave and confident that he could handle any situation.  I don’t know how I managed not to hit the lead airplane.

 

I spent one of my loneliest Christmases there.  Many cadets, who lived reasonably close, went home.  Others had established a serious relationship with a young lady in Texas and went to visit in her home.  There were only a relative few of us who stayed around.  There was no flying or ground school, and there was about six inches of snow on the ground.  We played a lot of cards (I think that I learned Pinochle) and went to the movie at night.  It was about the only time that I had a bout of homesickness.

 

At some point, probably sometime in basic, we had to express a preference for going to either single-engine or multi-engine advanced flying school.  For some reason, I had become enamored of the Martin B-26, so I asked for multi-engine.  I have often wondered what would have ensued had I asked for fighters.  Since I came through combat without injury, I suppose that I should not wonder.

 

ADVANCED FLYING SCHOOL

 

Ellington Field, near Houston, Texas, was the location of my advanced flying school.  Ellington had a double set of runways, and we shared the field with some outfit flying Lockheed Vegas (I forget the military designation).  My instructor was okay, but I have forgotten his name.  There is a group picture of the instructors in our class book, but they are not named.

 

The worst thing about Ellington was the scud (low clouds) that blew in from the Gulf about sundown each day.  It was only 200 or 300 feet above the ground, and it complicated our training, as we were not yet equipped to handle it.  We lost one plane and two cadets to it.

 

A second thing that I did not like was having to fly with other students, some of whom seemed marginal to me.  Very hairy at times!

 

I had to make another of those life-changing decisions here.  I did well in instrument training.  My instrument instructor wanted to nominate me to stay there as an instrument instructor, and he said that I would certainly be accepted.  I declined, and as I am here, the decision worked out, but I have always wondered about how the other course would have changed my life.  I would have become a skilled instrument pilot with quite a few flying hours, which might have led to my becoming an airline pilot.  Overall, I would have had more time at home and would have made more money, but my retirement plan might not have been as good as my military retirement.

 

One of my father’s brother’s elder daughter, Evelyn Gibson, and her family lived in Houston.  They were very good to me, having me to their home and taking me out to dinner more than once.  They had two daughters who I have lost track of.  Their father died quite young, and I also lost track of Evelyn when her parents died.  She and her family came to graduation which I much appreciated.

 

We flew the AT-10; it was not the infamous “bamboo bomber,” the UC 78, but I think it was made of plywood.  The airplane would ground loop rather easily, but I managed to avoid that.  Here we learned another memorized checklist, the CIGFTPR check, which one performed before takeoff.  C stood for CONTROLS—one manipulated them to insure that external control locks had been removed; I was for Instrument Functioning; G was for GAS--to make sure that the fuel indicators showed full (or sufficient) and that the mixture control was set to the proper RICH mixture for takeoff; F was for FLAPS—to make sure that the flaps were set for takeoff; T was for TRIM—it can be very difficult to maintain control, if the trim is set badly; P was for PROP, to verify low pitch; and R was for RUNUP, to make sure that the power for takeoff could be attained and that the rpm drop upon switching to one magneto was not excessive.

 

I should point out that these memorized checklists were used only in training; there were two reasons—the airplanes were simpler, and students needed to learn to keep their “head out of the cockpit.”  Written checklists were required for the more complicated airplanes, but by then the pilots were more capable of multi-tasking or there were two pilots to share the work in bombers and cargo planes.  I think that I can safely assure you, however, that the GUMP check saved many people’s bacon, when they came back from a hectic mission with airplane problems and wounded aboard.

 

I was graduated on April 15, 1944.  Getting the silver wings was great, something that has always been special, and I did get the B-26.  The only bit of disappointment was that I was to go directly to Replacement Training Unit (RTU) as a co-pilot rather than to Transition School for first pilot training.  After a two-week leave at home, I went to RTU at Barksdale Field, Shreveport, Louisiana.

 

I am not at all sure how the first pilot/co-pilot determination is made.  I suspect that my instrument instructor did not bother to emphasize my good showing, after I turned down his offer.  I think that my regular instructor and I were on good terms, and I was not aware of any flying incident or deficiency that affected me adversely.  In discussing the matter later with other co-pilots, many believed that some administrative person went down the list and assigned blocks of people to this job or that unless an individual was outstandingly good or outstandingly bad.  World War II preceded computers and even card sorters, so many important decisions were made by corporals.  After my recall to active duty during Korea and at the end of my active flying, I had amassed 3600 hours of flying time with far more than half as first pilot in a large variety of airplanes and without any accident or incident of my making.

 

REPLACEMENT TRAINING UNIT

 

RTU is where crews are put together and where they undergo training as a crew.  Our crew consisted of the following:

 

            Henry J. Kelley                 Pilot                                                  Connecticut

            Myself                               Co-pilot                                            Kentucky

            Leroy Q. Gresham            Bombardier/Navigator                     Mississippi

            Daniel T. Towery              Flight Engineer, Turret Gunner        Arkansas

            Lawrence J. Stoerkel         Radio Operator, Waist Gunner        New Mexico

            Linus F. German               Armorer, Tail Gunner                       North Dakota

 

We were all lucky in that Kelley had been an Instructor Pilot in RTU for a year and a half.  We got to go on to more advanced training.   I was particularly lucky in that Kelley let me fly as first pilot on all but practice bombing missions on which the pilot and bombardier were scored.  These were called PDI missions (Pilot’s Directional Indicator).  The PDI deflected as the bombardier was working the Norden bombsight, and the pilot tried to keep it centered.  Kelley said several times that the better I was trained, the better his chances were of getting back, if he was wounded, and I had to fly the plane.

 

We meshed well as a team.  Leroy was obviously talented and knowledgeable.  Towery was head and shoulders above most Flight Engineers, knew the airplane inside out, and was experienced.  He had been on B-26's since early 1942, had been at McDill Field in the days of "A Plane a Day in Tampa Bay," and was one of the few engineers trained at the Martin Plant.  Larry Stoerkel had already flown a tour in B-26’s in the Mediterranean and had shot down two fighters.  German was quiet but all business; he had grown up on a farm, which was a plus with me.

 

After slightly more than two months, I headed home on 7 July for my final leave before going overseas.  My family did not belong to the Country Club, but we soldiers and sailors were allowed to play golf.  It was at this time that I got the golf bug.  I played nearly every day, badly, of course.  I reported back to Barksdale on 22 July, and after a week of doing nothing, boarded a troop train on 29 July for Hunter Field at Savannah, Georgia.  I had to say good-bye to my pals, Vern Hurst and Harry Matthews, for the first time since the first day we were in the Army.

 

HUNTER FIELD

 

We arrived at Hunter Field on 31 July.  We picked up our new B-26G and ran tests and calibrations for four days.  I saw my first aircraft accident there.  We were at the flight line around our airplane and watched a B-26 take off, seemingly normally, but at about 100 feet it did a half roll and went in.  Of course, with full fuel, there was an immediate, huge fireball.  An unusual incident occurred.  A fire truck parked nearby started up and slowly passed in front of our airplane.  A young man hanging on was laughing (I think, perhaps, that he had not see the crash), but Towery assumed that he had, and Towery pulled him off of the truck, intending to do him harm.  We were able to bring the proceedings to a halt, but the crash was a very emotional thing for all of us, and Towery’s action was understandable on the face of it.

 

FLYING OVERSEAS BY THE NORTHERN ROUTE

 

We took off on Saturday, 5 August, for Dow Field, Bangor, Maine, some 1100+ miles.  The weather was CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited).  We saw Washington, New York (and the Statue of Liberty), and circled Kelley’s home in Hartford, Connecticut.

 

We left Dow Field on the 6th for Goose Bay, Labrador.  Most of our time there was in being briefed about the approach up the fjord in Greenland to Bluie West One.  BW1 is 52 miles up a fjord and the entry must be done correctly.  There are numerous dead-end offshoots to be avoided.  There is usually an overcast below the tops of the sides of the fjord which prevents climbing out of trouble.  We watched a movie taken from the nose of a plane covering the entire fjord.  We studied a topographical map at great length, and we were briefed for some hours by pilots who regularly flew the route.  We took off on the 8th but were called back after about 20 minutes.  Finally, the next day we made it.  There were many beautiful icebergs in the Davis Strait.

 

Elsewhere in the website, I describe the flight into Bluie West One.  The weather was warmer than Labrador; I went fishing in the fjord.  I asked about one building surrounded by a high chain link fence topped with barbed wire; it was where the nurses and other women personnel lived!

 

On Friday the 11th, we took off for Meeks Field, Reykjavik, Iceland.  The Greenland icecap, which we crossed at 12000 feet, was awesome.  We had one minor flap crossing the cap.  Our right engine cowl flaps froze full open (they had been full open for the climb), and our cylinder head temperature was on or below the minimum, but the ocean came into view before too long, and we began a descent into warmer temperatures.  Each crew member slept in the airplane one night during our flight over; it was my turn at Meeks Field.

 

We left Iceland on Saturday, the 12th, for the long flight to Nuts Corner, Northern Ireland.  At some point, I believe that our destination was changed to Prestwick, but Prestwick was socked in, and we ended up going to Toome in Northern Ireland.  I think that we were pretty low on fuel when we got there.

 

The last leg of our flight was to Stansted, England, on the 13th, where we delivered our aircraft to be modified for combat and assigned to one of the eight B-26 groups.

 

IN THE PIPELINE

 

After spending the night in Bishop’s Stortford, we rode GI trucks to the Replacement Depot at Stone, England.  We departed on 17 August by train for Warrington, where we spent the night.  The next day we flew from Burtonwood in the back of a B-17 to Toome where the 9th Air Force had a Combat School.  We did a lot of flying, mostly formation flying, for several weeks.  I had a couple of flights in the old short-wing B-26.  On Tuesday, 12 September, we went from Belfast to Liverpool on the SS Borinquin, a Cuban ship.

 

I think that we might have spent the night at Stone, then went by train overnight, arriving in London in the morning on the 14th.  I saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Square from our bus.  We proceeded to Matching Green where I was assigned to the 391st Bomb Group, 572nd Squadron.

 

I flew two missions from Matching, which I will describe, and then we moved to France on 1 October, so I did not get to enjoy the English stay as I would have liked.

 

My first mission was to Duren on 23 September; we did not drop because of bad weather.  Flak was light.

 

The second mission, on 29 September, was a tough one.  It was a long one to Saarbrucken.  Again, we did not drop, ground fog.  There was lot of flak, and my note says that I thought I had had it.  We had to refuel in Brussels.

 

By the way, I have included a direct link to a list of my missions.

 

There was a terrible incident on 24 September.  Six ships went on a ferry mission to our new base in France.  Fortunately, there were not full crews aboard.  A number of the participants had finished their missions and wanted just to be able to say that they had been to France.  The weather was beyond stinko.  The senior pilot of the group practically begged Col. Williams (according to the scuttlebutt) to let them RON (remain overnight), but he refused.  Three of the six crashed upon return with all aboard killed.

 

Williams was lucky that General LeMay wasn’t running the 9th Air Force.  LeMay would have relieved him before midnight.  In the event, Williams was not relieved, but in some circles, feeling about him ran pretty high.  I digress to mention what later happened to Col. Williams.  He did not make general, and in 1947 he was being assigned to one of the South American countries as Air Attache.  He and his wife were killed when the C-47 in which they were riding crashed into one of the Andes peaks.

 

The Group moved to France on October 1st.  The squadrons were separated geographically and had different facilities.  The 572nd officers were housed a couple of miles north of the main base in what had been a German hospital.  Except for the few persons who were an overflow and lived in tents, we had it pretty good.  Each room had a little stove which burned coke and had no trouble keeping the room warm, providing there was plenty of coke.  There were two double-decker bunks in each room.  Kelley, Gresham and I had the end room on the wing to the south, on the west side of the hall.  I don’t remember who our 4th was.  We had central latrines with hot showers and plenty of lavatories and toilets.

 

In his wonderful book about his time in the 391st, “W.W. II:  We Flew on Bombers’ Wings”, Homer Buerlein, 573rd, mentions a jerry-rigged shower and eating out of mess kits.  We in the 572nd had none of that.  The 572nd lucked out.

 

The bad sides of our situation were that we were a couple of miles away from the mess hall, the field, the briefing room, and everything else.  We had to ride in the back end of a 6 by 6; soon there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground which stayed for the winter.  I don’t know why I did not make an effort to get a bicycle so that I could be mobile on my schedule.

 

I flew my third mission on 2 October.  Fortunately, it was milk run.

 

I did not fly again for nearly two weeks for a reason that, even today, seems unreal.  According to my erstwhile diary, on 12 October Kelley went out for the evening.  Another of the pilots, Joe Grow, was in the group, but left and returned to base before the following incident.  The military did not give me anything like an official report of what happened.  The story, as I got it, was that on the way back from Amiens, about 30 miles away, they were stopped at a roadblock manned by the FFI.  We were told earlier that the FFI were communists and disliked us almost as much as the Germans.  For whatever reason, Kelley was shot with a high-powered rifle.  I can describe his wound, as I received his clothes.  He lived for six days in the Army Hospital in Rheims, some 60 miles away, but passed away on 18 October.  Kelley was unarmed, so what transpired was murder.

 

I don’t know whether the Army ever made an issue of the matter.  I was a 2nd Lieutenant in a new situation, somewhat intimidated by officers of high rank, and it never occurred to me to demand a full account.  I suspect that no one in the FFI even had his hand slapped.

 

The bullet went through Kelley’s left wrist; the sleeves of his trench coat, blouse and shirt were frayed at the end.  There was a bullet hole in the skirt each of the blouse and shirt, but there was not a bullet hole in the skirt of the trench coat.  There was a bullet hole in his pants and in his shirttail.  This arrangement meant that Kelley had his left hand in his pants pocket with the skirt of his trench coat behind his hand and arm.  I cannot believe that they thought he was going for a gun.  Of course, the bullet penetrated his intestines a number of times.

 

I thought for sure that I would be promoted to first pilot, because I assumed that Kelley had indicated how much training as first pilot he had given me.  I think that I would have been given the crew but for an unusual circumstance.  An older captain with 2500 hours in BT-13’s had just arrived.  His name was Jack Crumal.  He was given our crew.  He had 100 hours in a B-25 and 20 hours in a B-26.  We had some hairy times.  It was clear that the Colonel wanted Crumal to lead as soon as possible, probably because of his rank.  If I seem critical of him at times, please know that he and I became lifelong friends.  He was thrown in over his head and did a credible job.

 

I flew my 4th mission with Capt Schleicher on Friday the 13th.  I flew again on the 14th, my 5th mission, but I don’t know with whom I flew.

 

On the 22nd, I went with a group on a 48-hour pass to Paris.  Leroy was with me, and my notes say that we saw all the sights on Monday the 23rd, including going to the Lido Club.  Here is an exact quote from my diary, “Boy, what a floor show and what women.”  After shopping, we were home again on the evening of the 24th.

 

My 6th mission was on 2 November with Capt Crumal flying his first mission.  We flew Number 2 position which requires the pilot to do most of the formation flying.  I noted that Crumal did fine.  I suppose that our crew’s unusual situation made it somewhat awkward to schedule us.  In any event, I was given another pass to Paris for the 14th, 15th, and 16th of November.  On this trip I bought a guitar and a Luger, this from a Major who said that he took it off of a German officer who he had killed.

 

I had been playing guitar since age 9.  It turned out that Dick Penneman, one of the first pilots, knew the words to all of the old pop and swing tunes of the 20’s, 30,s and early 40’s.  We had a lot of fun entertaining in our wing.  I found out that I could sing harmony, so we were not too bad.  I remember that we composed a song about our situation.  I don’t remember it all, but it was in a blues format and began, “Been looking at the black puffs for thirty-odd missions or more”.

 

I flew my 7th mission on 19 November with Joe Phalon, a very good pilot and a wonderful guy.  Lots of flak, and Mikochik was wounded in the leg.

 

Somebody pulled out all of the stops for our Thanksgiving dinner.  It was a terrific turkey dinner.

 

My 8th mission was a milk run, fortunately, because a bad situation developed.  This was Crumal’s second mission.  We flew the slot, Number 4 position.  Jack kept getting up in Number 1’s propwash, causing us to rock around and making things very difficult for our wingmen.  I told Jack repeatedly that he needed to put the airplane down out of the propwash, but he seemed to be unable to do it.  I think that he was being brought along too fast.  Finally, after this had gone on for a long time, I took the controls and flew the rest of the formation time.

 

He landed, of course, and when we cut the mag switches, he turned to me and said, “Lieutenant, if you ever take an airplane away from me again, I will have you court martialed.”  Needless to say, our relationship was strained for quite some time, and also needless to say, I never took the airplane away from him again.

 

Jack later became the Squadron Operations Officer, and although he let me check out in the A-26, he did not keep me with the 391st.  I think that my taking the airplane was a factor.  We were stationed together at Wright-Patterson AFB during Korea and got together socially with our families.  I visited him at his home in Northridge years later, and we corresponded.  We became good friends, but that was years later.

 

I still feel that I did what I had to do.  And I know that the wingmen appreciated it.  Despite my assertiveness in this instance, I think that Crumal perceived me as usually not assertive enough.

 

On his third mission, Crumal led a flight and on every mission thereafter he flew lead of a flight, a box or the group.  Therefore, I became a co-pilot in a lead plane.  The duties are different from those on the wing.  I had to do most of the radio work, check navigation, watch for enemy fighters, watch for uncharted flak, and keep an eye on the weather.  When Crumal had to do radio, check navigation, etc., I flew the plane.

 

A lead bombardier had to be able to get good bombing results in a run of no more than a minute.  Leroy Gresham was able to do this and so stayed with Crumal.  Crews much preferred to fly on missions that were led by a team like Schleicher and Johnson.  They were tops in bombing accuracy and took less than a half minute on the bomb run.

 

There was one special hazard to flying lead.  Panzer Divisions were generally not plotted.  You usually became aware of them when accurate flak came at you unexpectedly.  They always went after the lead aircraft, and they had considerable success.

 

You will notice that we flew 836, McCarty’s Party, a lot.  Mac had gone home, and we inherited it.  It treated us well.  We were very lucky.  None of our crew was wounded.  We never lost a major system, an engine, propeller, tire, or hydraulic system, etc.  Many times, however, we had many holes in the aircraft.

 

I won’t talk about individual missions for the most part.  Winter weather restricted our operations a great deal.  There were months when one flew only two or three times.

 

Most people who have studied the air war know about the 391st’s Ahrweiler mission on 23 December when we lost 16 out of 30 airplanes.  The 572nd was “off ops” and so lost no people or planes on this mission.  We were immediately put on ops, and I flew one mission on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day.

 

I lost one of my best friends on the Ahrweiler mission.  I had met Clayton Abraham in RTU, and we became fast friends.  After we got to France, I saw little of him, because we were in different squadrons at a considerable distance from each other.  Today, I think of him often, still regretting that he could not have a full life.

 

1945 was not a piece of cake.  The Germans must have brought their guns back into the homeland with them, as it seemed to me that flak became more intense. The missions became longer, as we flew to the south edge of the Ruhr many times.  The route was not a straight line because of flak concentrations; it was eastward south of Trier, north across the Mozelle, east across the Mozelle again and then across the Rhine south of Coblentz, and then north to the Ruhr, returning via the same route.  The missions were 4 to 5 hours.

 

An interesting historical footnote has to do with the Remagen Bridge.  Our government maintains, even today, that finding the bridge intact was pure luck.  I question that, because on one of the missions in January or February, 1945, Gresham came out of the pilots’ and bombardiers’ briefing and told me that our target was only about a half mile from the Remagen Bridge and that Col Williams said that any bombardier who hit the Remagen Bridge would be court-martialed.  To me, that means that there was a definite plan not to damage the bridge.

 

With considerable trepidation, we flew a special mission on 22 February 1945.  It was mission number 233 and was named Operation Clarion.  Generals Vandenberg and Anderson came and gave us a special briefing or pep talk about Clarion.  The purpose of the mission was to disrupt German rail traffic by actual attack and by persuading the workers to stay away.  Our understanding was that leaflets had been dropped telling the workers to stay away.  We were not clear about whether a specific date had been mentioned, but we had a feeling that the enemy had been warned and would be expecting us.  We also had reservations about the mission plan.  It called for us to bomb (marshalling yards) from an altitude of 8000 feet instead of the usual 12000 feet.  Then we were to do a descending teardrop, coming back at ground level to strafe the rail yard.  The actual event went rather well.  I do not remember that the defenses were all that strong.

 

Perhaps I should digress again to say something about fear.  Surprisingly, some people ask about one’s reaction.  Yes, I felt fear, and I will try to describe it, but I must emphasize that I do not consider myself an expert on the subject.  One reason is that we did not have battle injuries or death on our crew.  From watching TV shows I can imagine that one’s fear level or pattern could change drastically after a horrible experience.  First of all, it is no fun to be awakened at 0400 on a cold winter morning for any reason, but one gets off on the wrong foot, if the reason is to go get shot at.  My first sensation was an extreme tightness in the upper abdomen; this sensation became worse or better based upon the anticipated difficulty of the mission.  It also went away when the mission got underway.  In light to medium flak there was a tendency to become tense, but one cannot fly tight formation and be tense, so one just has to suck it up and do what has to be done.  In heavy flak I seemed to have a feeling of resignation; what can you do?  Accept it!  There were several times when I thought that there was no way that we could survive, but I was wrong, which was encouraging for future reference.  I think that we may have had one or two cases where fear was incapacitating to an individual or crew, but I do not know of any specifics.  There were several instances of crews being transferred to non-combat assignments, some of which were probably more dangerous than combat, such as flying regularly into Bluie West One.  I avoided the special war-ending fear (not wanting to get killed in the last month, the last week, the last day), because I was transferred, as I describe below.

 

I flew my last mission with the 391st on 9 April 1945.  I was then sent on a week’s R&R to England, to the town of Southport on the Irish Sea.  We stayed in the Palace Hotel, which I believe is no longer in existence.  We were told that there was a championship golf course nearby and that we could play it.  It turned out to be Birkdale, one of the courses on which the British Open is played (it became Royal Birkdale in 1951, I believe).  Still a beginner, I played and spent the day out in the dunes, shooting 130 or thereabouts.  Birkdale is not a course for beginners, but it contributed to my getting the “golf bug.”  In 1978, while touring England and Scotland with my wife on our own, I stopped by Royal Birkdale, explained that I had played the course during the war, and asked whether I might be allowed to play. The Pro, Robert Halsall, who I knew to have been a wartime tank commander, told me that the members had the course until 3:00 pm but that if I came back then, I could play.  I have ever since been grateful to him and the members for their kindness in allowing me to play; he even sent an assistant out to play with me.  I did somewhat better than in 1945, shooting 84 on a typically windy day, but from the member tees, not the tips.

 

Immediately upon my return to France, I was transferred.

 

 

LEAVING THE 391st

 

I have already mentioned that I did not stay after the conversion to A-26’s.  Per SO-104, 9th Bomb Division, dated 15 April 1944, I was transferred to the 323rd Bomb Group.  Theoretically, Thelbert Thomas and I were to “share” a crew.  In addition to myself, the personnel were:

 

            Thelbert Thomas         1Lt                  Bill White’s co-pilot

            James A. Burgess        TSgt                Not in Garnham’s nor my database

            Lawrence Stoerkel      TSgt                R/G on my original crew

            Cameron H. Lowe      SSgt                FE on Jack Steven’s crew

 

The orders do not list a bombardier.  The 323rd was stationed at Valenciennes, France.  As you might expect, we were about as welcome as the proverbial skunk at a garden party.  We were not known to them; our skills were not known.  None of us transfers was put on a real mission.  I remember flying one practice mission.  Everyone knew that the war was ending, yet they were having real problems from the ME-262’s.  An interesting sidelight was that one of their first pilots was alleged to be only 17 years old and was considered to be a top notch pilot.  I can believe the age part, as he looked like he was only 14 years old. 

 

Hq 323rd BG Memo, 27 April 1944, transferred me from the 453rd Sqdn to the 454th.  Shortly after this, I was selected to go to Germany to a base the 323rd was supposed to move to.  I think that I went as an individual in a sizable group, rather than as a crew, but I am not sure.  We were to be part of the advance party, to make whatever preparations were needed.  I only remember a few details.  The base was west of the Rhine, somewhere south of Aachen.  The runway was PSP (pierced steel plank), my only experience with that.  It left a lot to be desired.  I could not believe that they could not find a better field to pick for a permanent move.

 

The war ended on 8 May 1945, and I cannot remember whether the following trip happened before or after that date.  I was sent with a small party in a jeep to verify what had happened to one of the 323rd aircraft that had gone down in the area some months before.  We went through many small villages; the same thing happened every time.  Heads would appear in the windows, and when they saw that we were Americans, the shutters would slam closed.  We finally arrived at our destination and found the Catholic priest.  He took us to the crash site, and we verified the aircraft tail number.  Then he took us to the cemetery and showed us where he had supervised the burial of the crew.  He had dog tags and personal effects.

 

As a result of the war ending, the move to Germany was called off, and we returned to France.  I cannot find any documentation, but we were transferred to the 322nd in Belgium but only for a short time.  The personnel situation was very fluid; people were going home on a point system.  Thomas went home sometime along about this time.  Again I remember very little.  I do remember that I was sent as first pilot on a flight to Orly Field, near Paris, for what purpose, I do not remember. 

 

A strange occurrence was that we were taken to a school for handicapped children for a day; I don’t remember why.  I think, perhaps, it was so they could see the people who had saved them from the Germans, and so they could thank us.  They showed us much love, and my heart was really touched.

 

I was then assigned to the 387th BG, 557th Sqdn, by their SO-52, dated 8 June 1944.  We were stationed at the field northwest of Roye, where the Australians or New Zealanders in their Mosquitoes had been stationed during the war.  I spent the entire summer here, until I finally got to head home in late August.  We lived in tents, and the weather was hot at times.  There was a lot of flying.  It must have been the policy of the higher ups for us to intimidate the Germans.  We flew almost daily and were instructed to fly on the deck--legal buzzing.  We loved it.  Usually we were in three-ship elements; sometimes I led, sometimes I was on the wing.  I remember flying by the Cologne cathedral and looking up, way up, at the spires (the area around the cathedral was mainly rubble).

 

I mentioned that our crew never had an emergency from enemy action during combat.  I don’t know how close one of those pieces of shrapnel came to me.  During the summer of 1945 I had two very close brushes with death.  One night I left a poker game, $300 ahead, because I was scheduled to fly.  An hour or so into the flight, as I was in a shallow climbing turn to the right, I saw the lights of another plane in a shallow descent heading for us, perhaps a mile away.  I pushed the nose down, beginning a descent, and continued turning to the right.  A turn to the left would have been wrong, as I would have been turning into him and would have lost sight of him behind the co-pilot.  The other plane had several easy options.  He could simply have leveled off or could have begun a shallow turn to the right or both.  Instead, he continued descending and turned left into me.  I racked the plane into a steep right dive, just in time to see his lights pass within about ten or 15 feet of us.  When I got back to the poker game, I must have thrown caution to the wind, as I quickly lost the $300 plus a couple of hundred more.

 

The second incident came out of nowhere, as most accidents do, I suppose.  The field had been a German fighter base with small hangars back in the woods.  We parked on the concrete taxiways, headed out.  This time I had been up for an hour or two and came back in about 0830 (8:30 am).  I swung out to the right in the usual manner, hit the left brake, gunned the right engine to swing around onto the taxiway.  Evidently, I was down-grain (to use a golfing expression) on the long grass, and it was covered with dew.  Instead of turning, the airplane began “crow-hopping” at a 45 degree angle.  I chopped everything and braked as fast as I could, and the plane stopped with the nose 6 inches from the tank of a fuel truck.  Another six inches, and we would have been “toast.”  I still get the willies when I think about it.  One would never imagine such a happening.  A flying school would never have such an item in its curriculum.  One obvious conclusion was that the fuel trucks should be another hundred yards or so away.

 

The group commander, whose name I do not remember, required us to have a full dress parade every Saturday morning.  When it was over, we played bridge for the rest of the day and again on Sunday.

 

SO-85, Hq 9th Air Division, 7 August 1945, sent me on leave from 11-19 August.  I went to London which I saw brightly lit for the first time.  The War in the Pacific ended while I was there.  I was one of about 200,000 people out in front of Buckingham Palace that night.  I suppose there were a few sober ones somewhere in the crowd.  I was disappointed in that I got there just after the Royal Family had been out on the balcony for the last time that evening (around 12:30 am).  There were people all over the fountain.

 

Apparently, I had been selected for return to the ZI (Zone of the Interior—continental US) before going on leave.  SO-89, Hq 387th BG, 3 August 1944, selected me for return.  I am pretty sure that I did not fly again after returning from leave.  I don’t remember dates, but the drill was something like this.  We were flown back to England, went to our familiar replacement depot at Stone, then went by train to Southampton, where I boarded the captured German liner, the Europa, then the third largest ocean liner, behind the two Queens.  The ship was still manned by its German crew.  Because of the possibility of sabotage, we were accompanied across the Atlantic by the cruiser Philadelphia.

 

The first night out we went through a big storm with 50-foot waves (I would guess because they broke way over the bow of this huge ship).  I don’t know how I kept from getting seasick, but I was okay.  The remainder of the trip was smooth.  By the way, the ship was given later to the French who renamed it the Liberte’.  When we arrived in New York harbor, I saw my first helicopter.  There were several, zooming here, there, and everywhere.  I was really impressed!

 

I ended up in Camp Atterbury, Indiana.  We had heard that we could go home for 45 days and then come back and decide whether to stay in or get out.  Not true.  One day I got in a long line, and when I got to the front, a 1st Lt. told me that I could go home for 45 days and come back to stay or get out right then.  I had about 10 seconds to make up my mind.  I elected to get out.

 

When the Korean War came along, I had gotten an engineering degree from Purdue University and was working as a civilian engineer at Wright Field.  I was recalled to active duty, put on my uniform, and went to same desk, doing the same job.

 

I decided to stay in, had a very interesting career, and retired as a Colonel.  I would not have made Colonel had I not learned to be assertive when I needed to be.

 

I had a number of interesting and unusual assignments.  In 1952 and 53, I was on TDY (temporary duty) from Wright Field at the Nevada Test Site with a large number of airplanes, studying the effects of nuclear weapons on parked aircraft.  Next I had two academic years at the California Institute of Technology and received two advanced degrees in Aeronautical engineering.

 

In 1958 I went on TDY from Wright Field to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands on a project to study H-Bomb effects on a flying B-52.  I was not the pilot; I was the one who decided which exposures we wanted; a Boeing team did the detailed calculations.  Later that year I was assigned to the Air Force Academy as an instructor in Astronautics, teaching subjects that I had never studied in school; sometimes I was only a week or two ahead of the cadets.  We wrote the texts, and ours was the first undergraduate program in Astronautics.  The cadets then were getting navigation training, and I supported that program very much, getting about 1000 hours in the T-29 in 2 and 1/2 years.

 

Because of supporting the program so much, I was rewarded with a student assignment to the Jet Qualification Course at Randolph AFB, where I learned to fly the T-33.  I had an unusual incident on my first solo.  I hit two birds who knocked off my pitot tube, leaving me without an airspeed indicator.  My instructor came up and got on my wing, and I made it back in okay with his help.

 

In 1962 I was assigned as a student in the Air Command and Staff School, a nine-month school.  Then I spent two years on an Air University Briefing Team, a non-technical job that I managed to get out of early.  In 1965 I got a gem of an assignment to the Satellite Test Center in Sunnyvale, California.  We supervised a worldwide network of remote tracking stations and commanded and controlled the military satellites.  I was the Commander when I retired in 1974.  I had spent 8 of my last 9 years on active duty there (I had spent one year in the middle on a remote tour at Osan AB, Korea, running the control center in the forward operating location for an F-4 wing).

 

Regarding our crew in the postwar era, I have mentioned my contact with Crumal.  I spent a whole day in Bellaire, TX, which I mistakenly thought was Gresham’s hometown and later searched the internet but was never able to find him.  I recently was contacted by his daughter who told me that he is deceased.  I have been in frequent contact with Towery and see him at our reunions.  Stoerkel does not attend the reunions, but we were stationed together for a while at Wright-Patterson AFB.  I located German just before he passed away but was unable to talk to him as Parkinson’s disease had garbled his speech.  I did talk with his wife.  Theirs was an interesting love story, as probably was true for all of us, but that is a story for another time and place.

 

Our crew was a good group!  The best!