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1—Early life and enlistment
My name is Ralph Hixon Cochran. Hixon is my mother’s maiden name. I was born on August 17‚ 1922‚ in Jackson County at the head of Petrea Hollow on old Route 124 about four miles out of Jackson.
I went eight years to a one room school up near the country club. It was called Poore‚ named after the man who owned the land where the school building was built. I spent my first eight years in this one room school‚ and then four years at Jackson High School. Jackson High School was located then in the same place it is now‚ only it was a much smaller building. The main part of the building is the same as it was when I went to school. I started there in 1936 and finished in 1940. Graduated in 1940.
My favorite subjects in high school were manual training and mechanical drawing. I enjoyed government and history‚ depending on the teacher. Two of the best teachers that I remember were Russell Jones‚ who taught mechanical drawing and manual arts‚ and Merrill Davis. Merrill Davis was probably tops in my mind because he was a good human being. He talked to me several times about life and what was going on‚ about choosing what to do when you get out of school‚ and that sort of thing. I could relate to him better than I did to some of the other teachers. I course I had a couple of teachers who kept telling us that if we didn’t work harder we’d be nothing but ditch diggers‚ and I always took that as a put down‚ and didn’t think that that contributed a whole hell of a lot to education.
I didn’t play sports‚ but I did a lot of tumbling in gym‚ playing in gym‚ but the organized sports... We lived on a farm and I had to work. I didn’t have any way to get into town to practice in the evening. I always wanted to do Glee Club and Band but you had to stay after school. We lived four miles from town‚ and I had work to do on the farm.
I have a brother that’s eleven years younger than I am. So it was just the two of us. And the parents. Both of my parents were living until recent years.
The four years I went to High School we had an old rattletrap bus that we rode. I had to catch it after school. If you missed the bus the only alternative was walk home. I had chores to do every night. We’d had a fruit and vegetable farm‚ and we had cows and sheep and horses and hogs and chickens‚ so there was a lot of stuff to do on this farm.
We were different from a lot of people I’ve met in later years. We never wanted for food‚ and one of the things I think the Depression did for me (and didn’t do for my brother) was in my formative years we had no access to candy and pop and stuff like that. It was stuff out of the garden. It was home raised. When my brother came along things were a little more prosperous. At that time my dad was running a little general store in connection with a road side market. So he had access to a lot of sweet foods and he had teeth problems that I didn’t have. So I think I was a healthier person because of the Depression.
That might be strange to a lot of people but we had all the fresh vegetables and all the fresh fruit we could possibly eat‚ so our diet was good. We didn’t have material things. If you got a nickel to spend and went to town‚ that was a real big deal. I guess the other thing the Depression did was create a problem in that we didn’t throw anything away because you might need it. If machinery broke down‚ why you kept the old piece because you might need it to fix something else. That ingrained habit is kind of hard to get over. This day and age you end up keeping a lot of stuff that you really should throw away. All of a sudden you have to stop and say hey I don’t really need this stuff today‚ and get rid of it.
It taught us I think to be thrifty. Taught us to be happy with not very many material things. I can enjoy life without material things. I spent a lot of time out in the woods hiking.
In school‚ we did not have things that school kids have today. We made our own playthings. We had a row of trees we played in. Some kids would find a piece of rope. Somebody found a tire‚ and we made a tire swing. We chopped poles and made a pole vault. Somebody brought a bat and somebody else found a ball. We made our own playthings.
We didn’t think about going out and buying something because we didn’t have any money. I think that carries through. Today we spend a lot of time thinking about buying something before we ever spend any money to buy it. I think that goes back to those times when we didn’t have much.
The year after I graduated I started to Ohio State University‚ and then the war started. I went a couple of quarters. It would be the Fall of ’40 and the Spring of ’41. I think it was two or three quarters‚ maybe the Spring quarter I dropped out‚ come back home to help out on the farm.
I was in horticulture. Horticulture was one branch of the Agriculture Department. The first couple of quarters I was taking chemistry‚ physical training‚ English. Very few courses on the major. Then I dropped out of school and came back home to work on the farm. I did that because my dad needed help on the farm. We had thirty acres of apple orchard. It was December of ’41. That was Pearl Harbor and a lot of young people were going into the service.
I don’t remember what I was doing in the fall of ’41 other than on the farm. In the Spring of ’42 I attempted to enlist in the Marines and my dad had to sign for me. He wouldn’t sign for me‚ so that fell through. Back then you had to be twenty-one.
Then I applied to get in the Air Force. I’m not sure of the date there. I had a cousin that lived with us for a few years. Their family broke up and a couple of cousins lived with my family. He went in the service early‚ one of the first people drafted. My reason for enlisting was this cousin was killed up in the Aleutians in combat with the Japanese‚ so I was pretty well indoctrinated with patriotism and that sort of thing. So I started work to get into the Air Force and was sworn into the Air Force in August of 1942.
I don’t remember any pressure to enlist. I don’t remember any comments or anything. What I did I did because that’s what I wanted to do.
My dad didn’t think I ought to go into Marines‚ and really it was lucky that I didn’t go in because a group of people that were inducted at the time I went in were practically all killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima. I probably wouldn’t have been here today if I had gone into the Marines.
My dad did not oppose all military service. He was in World War One and he felt everybody should do their bit‚ their part. That was part of my reason for enlisting. I looked at the Marine Corps first because it had a good air force and I was interested in flying. I guess their propaganda was probably better than anybody else’s‚ main reason. My father wanted me to wait until I was old enough to decide for myself what I wanted to do. Twenty-one years I think was the big deal. He wanted me to be able to decide what I wanted to do. I thought I knew what I wanted to do at that time. I wouldn’t do the same thing again if I had to do it over again. At that time‚ what I did‚ I did the same thing everybody does at the time. That’s what I thought I ought to do. I thought it was a good idea.
I didn’t know that I felt any fear when I went in. I guess the idea was I just wanted to do my part and by golly I was going to do it. I probably was influenced by the wave of emotion over the war. The paper was full of people that we knew that were getting killed and we didn’t know too much about what was going on in Germany. I didn’t know until after the war was over the extent to which the Germans had killed the Jewish people‚ but we knew Hitler was a bad egg. And we wanted to do something about it.
I took my physical examination in the old Post Office building in Columbus‚ Ohio. They told me to go home and they’d call me. They didn’t call me until January of 1943. I think we reported to Fort Hayes. That’s kind of fuzzy. We were put on a train‚ and went to Fort Benjamin Harrison. I don’t remember whether it was one night or several days.
Fort Benjamin Harrison was near Indianapolis. Then we were put on a troop train and shipped to Wichita Falls‚ Texas. Still in civilian clothes. It was that trip I learned a lot about the military. I had a real enjoyable trip from Fort Benjamin Harrison to Wichita Falls. I wandered around the train. That troop train had a cook car on it and they cooked with wood. Believe it or not‚ old telephone poles‚ sawed up into little short chunks. I got back into that cook car shortly after we took off from Benjamin Harrision. Was standing‚ looking out the open door.
On the troop train there were two seats facing each other‚ and there were three people for those two seats. You couldn’t get comfortable. Particuarly me with my long legs. I couldn’t get comfortable‚ so I went back into this cook car and I asked the cook if I could look out the window. There was fresh air.
After a bit he come by and he said "I’ll be coming through the cars asking for volunteers. If you want to ride back here with us‚ why you volunteer. All the guys will hoot and holler." We knew all about that volunteer stuff‚ and so he said‚ "If you want to come back here‚ just volunteer." So when he come through‚ I volunteered and spent the ride in the cook car all the way to Texas. My duty was to every once in a while to stick a stick of wood in the stove. I could lay down on the floor and stretch out and sleep.
So I learned a lesson in that when you volunteer‚ you don’t always end up on the short end of the stick. There were times to volunteer and times not to volunteer. That was an enjoyable ride. I think it took us three days and three nights. That was where I had basic training. That was where I learned that the military was not my bag of bones.
At that point in time‚ they were running people through basic training like water through a sieve. I’d say the training was good. The training I got in the Air Force was good all the way through. It was excellent training. But we were really under pressure‚ and it was from daylight until lights out at night. Practically at a dead run‚ we were either studying or in lectures. Out drilling or doing physical training.
I think that we got about the same thing everybody going into any military organization got. That was the basics of military protocol‚ military courtesies‚ the technique of marching and all the different military commands. The study of the Army regulations. What you were required to do. What you could do and what you couldn’t do. A little bit of familiarization with guns.
We fired the old Springfield rifle and we fired the Thompson submachine gun‚ which was a really nice weapon. Then we fired the gun that come out‚ was popular in the war. They called it the grease gun. It looked like a grease gun. It spewed out a lot of bullets but wasn’t very accurate. We practiced with a Colt .45‚ firing it‚ taking it apart. All of the guns we took apart and put them back together. Basic stuff.
It was a little over thirty days. Part of the time was used up getting uniforms‚ clothing‚ learning how to make beds‚ how to fold clothing and how to wash floors. Doing KP. Taking shots. They started through a whole series of shots for everything you could think of.
Best I can remember in Wichita Falls they were single story barracks. They were tarpaper shacks. We went by flights‚ squadrons and that sort of thing rather than the nomenclature used in the Army.
Hell‚ it was a big base and I don’t have any concept of the base‚ because we went into an area and we were quarantined or confined to that area. We were kept so busy that I did not get into Wichita Falls‚ which some people said wasn’t worth going into. I don’t know. It was probably the worst place I have ever been in my life in terms of climate.
This was in January and the beginning of February‚ and there’s where I learned that the Army wasn’t something I wanted to do after the war got over. In the morning when you got up it was cold. It would just be freezing cold. Somebody decided what you were to put on. If overcoats were the dress‚ then that’s what you put on. By nine or nine thirty maybe ten o’clock‚ you could run around in your shorts. It was hot. But by golly the uniform was overcoats‚ and so when you fell out after lunch somebody decided that you were to wear just a shirt and pants. By three thirty or four it began to get cold. It would freeze your ass off before you got back to the barracks if you were out drilling or doing something else.
So I found out you didn’t take care of yourself as an individual. You did what somebody else wanted you to do. That wasn’t anything I wanted to do any longer than I had to do it.
The other thing was‚ it was dusty. There was dust filtered through the windows. It was in blankets. It was in the food. You marched and drilled in the dust. There was one day when we actually had a downpour of rain. Rained real hard. The wind shifted around to the north and started to blow. The wind was carrying dust out of Oaklahoma and we were actually marching along in mud choking on dust.
Everybody had what they called dust pneumonia. You cough and your nose was running. If you went on sick call you got a dose of castor oil. The objective was to discourage people from going on sick call. You had to be pretty damn sick in order to go on sick call. Although it was a miserable period of time in terms of weather and the climate and that sort of thing‚ as I remember I thought the food was okay and I thought the training was adequate. They were serious about it and instructors were good. Some of them were a little bit oppressive at times.
The sergeants were not physically abusive. Mostly it was verbal abuse. After I once found out that that was just a standard part of training procedure‚ you didn’t pay much attention to it. I wouldn’t consider it abuse. I was never abused—anything that I could call abuse. I don’t remember any instance where somebody who was in charge physically touched someone else. Usually it was all verbal. Really chew you out kind of thing‚ but physical‚ no.
The one conflict that I had‚ and it continued during the period I was in military service‚ was my experience with the Red Cross. The first pay that we received in Wichita Falls when I went through the pay line‚ there was a desk and it said “Red Cross” on it. We weren’t getting very much money at the time. I did not desire to contribute to the Red Cross‚ so I started past the desk. There was a Lieutenant standing there and he stopped me‚ and said‚ “Soldier‚ you forgot to make your contribution to the Red Cross.” Well‚ somehow or another that rubbed me the wrong way and I learned a couple of lessons from that. I said “Sir‚ I do not recall where the Army Regulations specify that I have to contribute to the American Red Cross‚ ” so he let me pass.
I learned that that didn’t do me much good because I got a lot of shit details after that. I didn’t contribute to the Red Cross. From there on my feelings toward the Red Cross went downhill. It was just one bad experience after another and that was the beginning of that. I was a shy country boy; at least I held my ground on that issue.
I don’t have any personal bad memories of basic training‚ other than the weather and the dust.
I saw guys get hurt on the drill field and were ordered back on their feet and just keep right on going. I saw a guy fall and cut his hip with a piece of glass‚ and he wanted to quit and go get it fixed‚ and they ordered him right back in formation and kept right on moving.
That flipped something else into my memory. One thing‚ I did get the wits scared out of me on the firing range. I grew up on the farm and I don’t remember when I didn’t have access to a gun. Seems I grew up with guns‚ to hunt. One of the rules I learned as a very small child‚ was that you don’t point a gun at anyone else. You be very careful where you point a gun.
When we got out on the firing line‚ it was downright scary. Some people didn’t appear to know which end of the gun the bullet come out of. There were occasionally somebody that got shot or got hurt by taking a gun and turning it around and asking a question about it and the barrel was pointed down the line at people who were firing.
It always frightened me going out on the firing range because of people’s ignorance about guns and how to use them. That’s one of the things that taught me to believe that there ought to be some rules regarding the use of guns in this country‚ or the freedom of which people can get guns. I don’t think that the great majority of the people have any reason to have a gun‚ because they are not trained to use it. That experience probably influenced my thinking about gun control. I think there ought to be some controls on guns.
My training unit was a real mixture of people. I would guess I was in with more Texans and Southerners than I was with Midwest people‚ and I really don’t know how that come about.
I did not go in with any friends. The people that I was friends with in basic training were some of the people that I met on the troop train‚ going down. I really didn’t meet very many people on the troop train because of being in the cook car. Most of the people I met were people in basic training. I think throughout my military career it was a mixture of people from all over. Probably more southerners than people from the midwest or north.
I don’t remember that we had time for recreation in basic training. I remember once in a while there were some ball games going on. Mostly if there was any free time‚ most people took any free time to catch a few winks of sleep or rest or write letters home or something like that. They were running us through training so...my impression was that there was so much pressure to get the training done as fast as they can possibly do it and still provide some decent training. There wasn’t a lot of time for organized sports and stuff like that. We did not get any passes. At least the group that I was with didn’t get any passes.
I did not see any black people there. There was an incident on the base. I was not involved in it. All I knew was I heard about it. There was a black officer on the base. A soldier did not salute him‚ and it turned out to be a Texan. I remember the guy said‚ “You put your hat on a post over there and I’ll salute the hat‚ but I won’t salute you”. That kind of a thing. That was a long time before there was any thought of integration. A lot of the people that I was with were racist. They were racist in terms of blacks.
The other bad part of basic was that they didn’t have shoes to fit me. I had to wear my civilian shoes till they fell off my feet. I wear a size fourteen shoe and I had a pair of Florsheims that were practically new. I got chewed out every day because I didn’t have regulation shoes. My standard answer was “Sir‚ if you find me a pair of shoes‚ I’ll just be tickled shitless to wear them.”
Finally a jeep pulled up in front of the barracks one day and a great big old fat master sergeant got out and hunted me up. He said‚ “I’m going to fix you with a pair of shoes‚ boy.” So they took me off to a warehouse and I got two band–new pair of shoes that fit perfectly. This guy spent all afternoon fitting me with this pair of shoes. He said‚ “You don’t want to drill or do anything‚ ” and he said‚ “Takes a lot of time to make sure the shoes fit.” So really I got one afternoon of goofing off getting a pair of shoes. I kept those pair of shoes till I was shot down in Germany. I was told to never let loose of them because I might never get another pair of shoes that fit.
3—college training detachment
From basic training I went to Wichita‚ Kansas‚ and I spent three months in the University of Wichita in what they called a college training detachment. There we spent three months studying physics and aerodynamics and airplane engineering‚ airplane identification‚ and a bunch of subjects relating to theory about airplanes and flight and guns and bombs and this kind of stuff.
I went to Wichita probably late February or sometime in February or March. It was the University of Wichita and they had bunk beds set in the gymnasium. There was about five hundred GI’s there‚ all of them taking the college training course. That was to give us some technical knowledge that we needed to know to be in the Air Force or Air Corps. Understand the function and operation of planes and so on.
We went through a physics book--was about two and a half inches thick. We went through that in three months. So you know‚ we hit it pretty light in terms of in–depth stuff. Their emphasis was on the kind of things they thought we needed to know. Some basic understanding of the function of mechanical things‚ and all that physics encompasses.
I thought this training was worthwhile. I have always felt that any and all training and all knowledge is helpful. I feel that it is sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. You never know when a little piece will fit somewhere. I felt that all the training I had was beneficial. Some of it was something that I would never use‚ but had I needed it‚ I had it.
The Wichita training lasted about three months. It was good. The food was good. There was a major in charge of the unit and he came in unannounced. Walked up to the chow line and walked through. He demanded to be served exactly what the soldiers‚ the GI’s‚ airmen‚ were being served. God help the cooks if it wasn’t good. So we really got good food. Most places that I was in the Air Force‚ the officers ate separately and were served separate meals. They ate at a table maybe in one corner of the mess hall and they got special meals. But on that particular unit we got really good food.
It was a highly disciplined outfit. This was in a civilian area. There weren’t very many military people‚ particularly around the campus or in the area around Wichita. So we were expected not to walk down the street smoking cigarettes. We were expected to always be in uniform. Wear a tie‚ hat.
This major‚ his method of operation was real good. He told us in the very beginning that “You can do whatever you want to‚ but if you were caught smoking on the street‚ you can take a weekend. Set it up on the mantel. You’ve lost that. If you prefer to smoke on the street and give up your weekend‚ beautiful‚ go right ahead.” He had a whole list of things he expected people to do. If you wanted to go out at night without a pass‚ go ahead. If you don’t get caught‚ fine. But if you do get caught‚ you are going to lose. You can just set that up on the mantel. You know you’ve done lost it.
So the military discipline there was really good. People stood up and flew right. Everybody felt they got fair treatment‚ even though it was pretty strict discipline. It was an enjoyable experience. Every weekend we got to go into Wichita. Wichita was a dry town so there wasn’t any drinking. I shouldn’t say there wasn’t any‚ but there wasn’t as much drinking and carousing around as there were a lot of places where military people were.
Another asset‚ every week this major had arranged. There was a club or something in Wichita that had a dance band‚ a new dance band every week‚ like Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller‚ the real top dance bands of that era. Every week they would appear on the stage at the University and do a half hour radio program. Then they would do a half hour program strictly for the GIs. That was a real thrill‚ an experience to see all these name bands come. Yeah. Their half hour on the air was always very dignified and so on. The half hour that they stayed and played for us they really let their hair down. They told all kind of dirty jokes and had fun and raised all manner of hell.
I don’t remember many girls there. There were lots of females in town‚ but I don’t remember a student population. I don’t remember whether that was because we were pretty restricted to a specific area. We weren’t mixed with any student population or any civilians. We were in a little area and we were confined to that area. Except when we got a pass to go to town. There was supposed to be five hundred of us. We were in a great big gym and we were rammed in there in double deck bunks‚ one against the other. I don’t remember people coming in and going out. There was a whole group of us.
There was one incident that I want to tell you about. We took flight training when we were at Wichita in a Piper Cub. I had heard stories about this‚ but I actually saw a plane land backward!
One of the things that I did not like about Wichita was the wind blew almost constantly there. Coming from hill country I wasn’t used to steady wind. I was used to gusty wind. But you could literally go out and throw your hat up against a building and it would stay there. The wind just blew steady.
Well‚ they had a storm‚ through the Midwest and they were flying some planes in there from Texas. There was a Piper Cub come in and circled the field‚ and throttled back. It was blowing hard enough that he actually backed the plane onto the ground. There was about twenty of us went out and grabbed the wings and the tail and held it down until he shut the engine off and he could get it over and tie it to the ground. That was the last plane that landed that day.
It was a real thrill to see that happen. The wind was blowing hard enough and the steady gusts‚ that he just throttled it back and let it settle down on the ground. That was all that was talked about. Probably never ever see anything like that again in their lives. We all agreed that if we told it nobody would believe us.
I think while I was there I had somewhere between six and ten hours of instruction in a Piper Cub. Little two–seater job. This was to give us some feel for an airplane. Basic idea about flying‚ the fundamentals of a plane. We were studying aerodynamics and all this stuff that’s involved. Things that have gone foggy in my mind. I’d have to read up to talk with any familiarity. A lot of that stuff.
It was a selection process really. And the selection process started from the time you went into basic training. There were a lot of people got sifted out somewhere in basic training. What happened to those people I don’t know. Each step along the way there was people that went in different directions. After the college training detachment there were people went into navigation‚ people that went to bombardier school‚ cadet training for pilot. People went to radio school‚ gunnery school‚ armament school.
All the time in the Air Force you were taking tests‚ and sometimes you didn’t know what the heck the tests were all about. But you were taking tests and being evaluated. If you were a person who had six thumbs on each hand when it come to taking guns apart and putting them back together and that was part of the way you were wired up‚ why you would not get channeled into some area where you had to use manual dexterity. You’d get channeled somewhere else.
The Air Force was reasonably successful at this. When we were finally put together as a crew (and I never really thought about this before)‚ the guys on our crew‚ with one exception‚ were good at their jobs. We had one of the best pilots in the Air Force. Our engineer‚ he was one of these guys like‚ we’ve got a few around Jackson County‚ that can fix anything. They haven’t got a great school background but they can look at a piece of machinery and they just know what’s wrong with it‚ and they just seem to identify with engines. They understand engines. That’s the way with our engineer.
The radio operator could send and take code and there was times I would have the headphones on and I couldn’t hear anything except a God awful mess of static and noise‚ and he’d be writing a message out of all that crap. He was really good. We had one exception on our crew. We had a kid from New York who would only do what he wanted to do.
When there was a check on the crew to see how everybody was when we were in the air‚ he just wouldn’t bother to answer. So when we started overseas‚ we told the pilots we weren’t going to fly a mission with him. He was taken off the crew and another man put on. Couldn’t depend on him. You didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. He seemed to know his job and so on‚ but he just wasn’t cooperative.
No‚ he wasn’t one of the team. He didn’t fit in‚ but from that experience‚ I’d say at least in the little bitty area where I got involved in and knew about‚ it seemed to work. People got put into slots where they fit.
We had a guy who was a cook‚ never went through basic training‚ was a cook on our airbase in England. They needed a gunner and they said "Tony‚ you’re the gunner." They put him on crew. He flew a couple of missions with us. He was a good guy. He said "I don’t know a damn thing about anything‚ but they tell me I’m a gunner." So he was real cooperative and other people kept him propped up to do whatever he needed to do. But he never had any gunnery training. He never had any basic training in the Army. He went in as a cook.
There’s one bit about training that I would like to relate to you. I was impressed with the military’s technique of training. I think that a lot of training operations go on that could have learned a lot from the military’s way of teaching. It wouldn’t work on everything‚ but it would work on many things. Basically‚ whatever we were studying‚ you had somebody explain what it was all about to you and if it was possible‚ showed you pictures. They showed you what to do. Then you did it. Then you talked about what you did. Then they gave you materials to study.
Particularly with things like guns and bombs and airplanes and so on‚ we learned skills in a matter of days that would take months and even years in civilian life to learn‚ because you really got soaked in it‚ in effect. Somebody told you about it‚ and they showed you‚ and they had you do it.
The medics‚ for example‚ they taught people to do things as medics in the service in a matter of a few weeks that only doctors do now in civilian life. They told you all about it. They showed you how it was done‚ and then you practiced on an orange or you practiced on something. Then you talked about what you did‚ and then you practiced on each other. You learned damn fast‚ because if you screwed up with the guy you were shooting a needle into‚ he had the next turn on you. If you screwed up on him‚ you got back double if you were a medic.
With guns‚ in a matter of hours‚ you reached the point where you could take them apart and put them back together blindfolded. It was the same thing about flying airplanes‚ bombardiers or navigators. They studied about it; they saw it; they did it and then they talked about what they did. Then they kept doing it over and over and talking about it and going back and seeing it again. It’s a technique of training that was really effective. It could be used a lot more of that kind of technique to teach things. It’s used sometimes.
I graduated from Wichita about in May‚ maybe. Then I went to San Antonio for cadet training. I passed a test in Basic. We had tests in Basic and that was a first step. The college training detachment. Then from there I went to cadet training in San Antonio and I washed out of cadet training. Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of what happened.
Cadet training meant we were being trained to be either a pilot‚ bombardier‚ or navigator. It was an officer training program‚ and here again people went in all directions. Some of the people all in a class went on to pilot training‚ which was what most of the people wanted to do. A bunch of them went to bombardier school. Some of them went to navigator school. A lot of them like me went to various other jobs. Either gunnery school‚ armament school‚ mechanics school‚ radio school. A good percentage of the people I met who were radio operators and engineers had been in some phase of cadet training.
Cadet training was more intense. We got into a lot more serious flying strictly to fly. We got into things like what happens when you go up to altitude and the oxygen in the air decreases. After you reach a certain height‚ you pass out. We were all given an opportunity to experience what happens. We were taken into pressure chambers and got to watch other people. What their symptoms‚ what the heck do you call it‚ anoxia‚ it that right? It’s a good way to go. You feel euphoric. You feel great.
But a shot of oxygen and you’re back okay. I passed out one time on the gangway in the bomb bay in a bomber. The engineer was watching me and grabbed the oxygen mask and shoved it on my face. If you’re without oxygen for a long enough period of time‚ why you just don’t wake up anymore.
All those things that happen to you physically‚ we got training on. There was a lot of theory about planes and how they flew and so on‚ and there was a hell of a lot of physical training. As I remember‚ almost half of every day was devoted to physical training and drill‚ marching. We had a dress parade almost every day‚ and we had a couple of hours of physical training.
We did a lot of pushups and jumping jacks and running‚ and they had what they called an obstacle course and then there was another thing where we ran over a long distance. We had physical training and then we had to go in and shower and put on dress uniform and fall in and get everybody organized and lined up and then passing review kind of thing. Involved a good bit of time and it probably seemed a lot longer than it was.
Some of the crazy things that happened. One day when we were having dress parade there was a guy from St. Louis by the name of King Fishman and he was a tall guy same as I am. We were usually in the front row together. He had a buddy standing that was between us and his buddy whispered to both of us‚ and I don’t remember his name. He says‚ “I’m gonna faint‚ pass out‚ and you guys carry me off the field.” This was shortly after we’d gotten to San Antonio. So he keeled over and King got one arm and I got the other and we helped him off the field. Went around the barracks and got a drink of water and set on the steps enjoying ourselves while the rest of these guys were passing in review. It was about a hundred and two in the shade down there.
After the people were dismissed‚ after the dress parade‚ the lieutenant in charge of our group come around the barracks. He said‚ “All right‚ you sons of bitches got away with it today‚ but if you ever do that again‚ I’ll crucify you.” We never did that again. He said‚ “If somebody passes out you leave them lay. If you have to step on them you walk right over them.” He said‚ “You don’t bend over and pick anybody up when you’re in dress parade. If they pass out that’s their problem.” We felt we were lucky we didn’t get penalized a little bit more for doing something which we knew was illegal.
He had faked it. But everyday there was guys all over the place passing out from the heat. Apparently one of the things that would happen‚ people would come in from PT. It was hot down there in the summer‚ late spring‚ summer. It was really hot in the middle of the day in San Antonio. Guys would come in hot‚ and go in and take a cold shower and then drink some ice water and then put on a dress uniform and go out on the drill field. They used to tell us not to lock our knees. I never knew why they did that‚ but they said that cut off the circulation. That was the only explanation I ever heard.
That doesn’t sound to me like enough to make you pass out‚ but they said not to. You stood at attention‚ but you stayed loose. Anyway‚ a lot of guys would pass out from the heat‚ and just keel over. They let you lay there until they dismissed the troops. You just stepped around the guy in front of you if he fell over. If he didn’t come out of it‚ why after a while the medics come along and pick him up and cart him off. But I never had any trouble with that. I never took a cold shower. I always took a hot shower and didn’t drink cold water‚ and I never had any trouble with the heat.
The course at cadet school was twelve weeks‚ but I’m not sure about that. They had classes every day to learn Morse code. I could never pass the test‚ and I thought I was just stupid or something in terms of getting it. I’d gotten everything else all right. Finally they sent me to another air base and I went and had an auditory examination. There was a whole range of tones that I don’t hear. Like this telephone over here. I don’t hear it‚ and the doctors told me‚ “There’s no point in you trying to do Morse code. You could do it visually‚ but you’ll never do it‚ because you do not hear to distinguish between dits and the dashes.” So that was the end of that.
I washed out of cadet training because I’m tone deaf. I could not take code‚ and that was one of the basic requirements. That you be able to take Morse code. I couldn’t distinguish two dits from three dits or four dits. There’s a whole range of tones that I don’t hear. I didn’t find that out or didn’t know that until I got into cadet training.
When I washed out of cadet school‚ as I remember they asked‚ “What do you want to do? You got some choices here. You want to go to armament school?” “Sure. That’s a good place to go.” I had requested to go to gunnery school. They said that there was no point in going to gunnery school. You can’t. You’re overweight and you’re too tall. Back at that time they were thinking about gunners flying the ball turrets in B-17’s and B-24’s. There was very little room in those turrets and I think that was one of the reasons for the height and weight restrictions. If you were too tall and couldn’t fit in that thing‚ that limited the choices they had to assign you. By the time I got overseas in the Liberator bombers‚ they weren’t using the ball turrets. They were taken out of the airplanes. They weren’t using them so it didn’t make any difference anyway.
I still wanted to fly‚ but they told me I was too tall and too heavy. I weighed too much. The limit was six feet and one hundred eighty pounds‚ and I was six one and a half and one hundred and ninety. So they sent me to Denver‚ Colorado‚ to armament school. There I studied‚ learned all about turrets‚ gun turrets‚ and machine guns‚ caliber .50 machine guns‚ and bombs and bomb releases and electronics on bombers and everything that had to do with the armament‚ and that part of the bombers. I still wanted to fly. They wanted me to become permanent party and become one of the instructors. I didn’t want to do that.
Lowry Air Force base in Denver‚ Colorado for armament school. That was a twelve week school. That was for in–depth training on all of the things on the airplane that have to do with armament. As I remember‚ the bombers that I was familiar with all used caliber .50 machine guns. The bomb racks—the brackets that held the bombs—and a lot of the stuff was common. We also took a look at different individual airplanes and the differences between the armament on the different airplanes.
As a result of my training‚ I could have gone into B–24’s‚ Liberators‚ which I did‚ or B–17’s or B–26’s or A–26’s. Whatever bombers they were using at that time. One of the things that tickled me about Lowry‚ there was real high security on the Norden bomb sight. It was kept in a vault and there was all kind of restrictions on the material they handed out.
One day we went in town on an afternoon pass‚ picked up a Popular Mechanics magazine‚ and it had a better detailed drawing and description of the Norden bomb sight than we had on the air base. That was kind of interesting to me that the military would have restrictions on it and yet in the popular press they would have the details. I think the military was a little bit behind. At that point in time that bomb sight was not that big of a secret.
Anyway‚ I enjoyed the classes there. They got into the electrical functioning of the bomb release mechanisms‚ that sort of thing. It was good training. They had good instructors. This training was more intensive than the previous training. Looking back on it‚ and I never really thought about it‚ intensive is the wrong word. It was more in–depth‚ I think. Since you caused me to think about it‚ there was two processes that went on during the training that I had in the Air Force. One was that as the training progressed it got more in–depth. It couldn’t have been more intensive. It was intensive from the time I was inducted until I got back from overseas‚ but it was more in–depth.
There was also the selection process going on continually‚ in terms of sorting people out‚ making an attempt to get them into the slot where they fit insofar as possible‚ where they wanted to be. Of course during wartime in the military it is not possible for everybody to do what they want to do‚ and it’s also not unusual that a square peg got in a round hole. But‚ for most part I think the whole process was amazingly successful.
Lowry was just a big air base. A lot of barracks. There was a runway there‚ but it really wasn’t used as an airfield anymore. It was a big training installation. They had a big women’s army unit there‚ training. I don’t know what else. The part I was involved with was all armament.
It was a nice place to be in terms of climate. Back at that time we were about thirty miles from the mountains. You could get up in the morning and go out on the barracks. At Lowry the barracks were double-deck barracks. You could go out on the porch and you could look off and see the mountains‚ in the morning. It looked like you could walk over there to the mountains before breakfast‚ but the mountains were actually about thirty miles away.
The air was real clear. I think you could go to Denver now and you probably can’t do that. There is some smog‚ I understand‚ around Denver‚ but I loved the climate out there. I felt good there‚ humidity was low. It would be cold in the morning‚ but it warmed up during the day.
I liked the people around Denver. They were friendly people. It was quite a change from Jackson County. It always seemed to me that if you were a newcomer and moved in this part of the country‚ that you had to live here awhile and get acquainted before people really accepted you. It seemed that the people in the west...people I met in Denver and out in the country around Denver‚ ranchers and so on...they accepted you at face value. If you turned out not to be a real good person‚ they would reject you‚ but they tended to accept people on face value. I really enjoyed my time in Denver. It’s one of my favorite places when I was in the service.
As the best I can remember‚ we would spend the mornings in classroom and maybe some of the afternoon‚ but a good part of the afternoon would be devoted to physical training and drill. Then in the evening‚ as I recall‚ we spent a lot of time studying books and so on.
We weren’t as restricted there as we were in a lot of other places. Once a week we got a pass for a half a day. Go to town at noon‚ be back by midnight. The pressure wasn’t quite as heavy in armament school as it had been in basic training and some of the other training we had.
Today I was trying to figure out the date I graduated from armament school. It was a twelve weeks’school‚ and I did find the date that I arrived in Denver. October 21st. Of ’43. It would have been twelve weeks‚ so that was probably around February that I left Lowry‚ and went to gunnery school in Laredo‚ Texas.
I got sick‚ and the doctors called it bronchitis. I had a real bad cold‚ congestion in the lungs. And was in the hospital for a period of time and I lost a lot of weight as a result. The hospital was over at a different air base called Buckley and when I got back to Lowry‚ I immediately went down and asked for a recheck on my physical. I lost a little over ten pounds‚ so I went back and said that I wanted to retake the physical to go to gunnery school. When I went in for the recheck‚ the doctor said‚ “You really want to go to gunnery school?” I said “Yeah‚” and he said‚ “Well‚ hell‚ you’re not a hundred and ninety pounds. You look like you’re just about a hundred and seventy–nine.” “You can’t be over six feet”‚ so he changed the figures on the paper and I ended up going to Laredo‚ Texas to gunnery school. That’s when I got passed for gunnery school.
When you graduated from armament school‚ you could be a ground crew member working on the ground. In my case‚ I went from there to gunnery school. There were one‚ two‚ three‚ four gunners on the bomber‚ but I was the gunner in charge of the armament‚ because I had had specialized training in handling the bombs. There was a tail turret gunner. There was a waist gunner. I usually flew as one of the waist gunners. There was another waist gunner‚ and there was a nose turret gunner. The engineer flew the top turret.
In gunnery school we spent several weeks shooting at clay pigeons. They had a circular track and you get in the back of a pickup truck and ride along. The clay pigeon would come from someplace. It might come straight at you. It might be going straight away from you. It might be going at an angle‚ all different angles. So we shot up thousands of rounds of shotgun shells shooting at clay pigeons from different angles to get the idea of tracking a moving object.
We flew out over the desert in AT–6’s and strafed targets on the ground with caliber thirty machine guns. One of those rides was almost my last ride. I went out on a strafing run and was standing up shooting over the side at a target. Whether the pilot maneuvered the plane or whether he hit an air bump or what the heck happened‚ the plane made a quick dip on one side and whipped back the other.
The gun butt caught my chute chord. I had on a seat pack‚ and it pulled the rip chord. I looked down and there was white silk coming out between my legs. The thought occurred to me that I was strapped to the bottom of that plane. There was a strap anchored to the bottom of the plane and hooked around my chute harness. The thoughts of that chute getting out in the airstream—so I let loose of the gun and sat down as quick as I could and started poking silk back under me.
The pilot was raising hell because I wasn’t finishing the strafing. The mike between his cockpit and mine didn’t work‚ so he finally give up and went back to the base. When we landed he jumped out and started cussing and said‚ “What in the hell is the matter with you?” He looked over in the cockpit and saw all the parachute laying out on the floor‚ and he said‚ “I see.” He helped me out and I slid off of the wing and slid down on the ground. My legs give way. I did all right as long as I was in the airplane‚ but when I got out it scared the hell out of me. That was the last strafing run I went on. Other than that‚ gunnery school was a lot of fun‚ but after a while it got old‚ shooting every day.
The gunnery school was in Laredo‚ Texas‚ down on the border between Texas and Mexico. The Mexican town across the border was called Nuevo Laredo. It was desert country there. Real hot‚ sandy desert kind of country.
I was there at least a couple or three weeks waiting to get into a class. They ran people through the school. It wasn’t that long. It seems to me it was only about a month‚ but I had to wait several weeks before I got into a class. I did find some of my flight records. I was in Casper‚ Wyoming‚ for phase training‚ that is‚ training as a crew‚ in May. Probably about the latter part of April.
I don’t know whether you are interested in crazy things or not. By that time I had begun to learn a little bit about Army life. We were in holding squadrons waiting to go to class. Every school that I went to‚ you got into this holding process. Where you were waiting to go into a class‚ and they wouldn’t give you a furlough home. Why‚ I’ve never understood.
Sometimes it would be several weeks‚ and so they made up work details and made work. When I was in San Antonio‚ one of the worst examples was that they called us out one day and we were required to go over the squadron area and break off the grass two inches high with our fingers on our hands and knees. Then when we’d covered the squadron area they brought a truck load of lawn mowers and made us run the lawn mowers over the grass we’d already broken off. Which was broken off below where the lawn mowers cut‚ but we had to run the lawn mowers over it.
I experienced that kind of stuff in San Antonio. I found that I didn’t like to do that so there were one story barracks‚ and I found it interesting to crawl under the barracks. The barracks was about two feet off the ground‚ up on blocks‚ and I spent a lot of time watching the ant lions making little cones in the sand. The different insects under the barracks. I found that more pleasurable than breaking off grass or picking up nonexistant cigarette butts.
What I was going to tell you about Laredo. I think it was maybe the second day we were there‚ we fell out and they picked people for details and they picked me to plant grass outside the squadron headquarters. It was obvious‚ looking at the ground‚ that there had been many attempts to try to plant grass. It was pure sand and there wasn’t anything that would grow in it‚ because they didn’t have water to irrigate it.
I was detailed to plant grass outside. The lieutenant took me out and said to plant the grass. It was over a hundred in the shade there. He had a nice office with an air conditioner in it. He said if I had any questions to ask him. So I waited until he got back into the air–conditioned office. I went in and said‚ “Sir‚ I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do out here.” He came out and he explained it to me and he went back in. I waited about five or ten minutes and I went back in and I said‚ “Would you come out and see if I’m doing it right?”
Well‚ he come out. I had taken this Bermuda grass and I planted it upside down so the roots were sticking out. He looked at that and he said “You are the one dumbest goddamn soldier I’ve ever seen. Get the hell out of here and I don’t want to ever see you again!” That was what I was waiting for‚ and so I went back to the barracks.
The next day when we fell out for detail‚ this lieutenant come down the line assigning people for different jobs and when he come to me he just went around me as though I didn’t exist and went on down the line. I spent the rest of the time while I was at Laredo in the library. I found that on a military base the library was the last place in the world anybody’d look for people goofing off. The librarians were so tickled to have somebody come and look at their books that they never said anything. From the time I found that out‚ anytime we were in holding squadron‚ why the library was one of my favorite places.
I found also that if I got in a formation‚ usually being the tallest person in a group‚ I was always the first man in the line. When we were marching down the road‚ invariably the sergeant that was in charge of the column would yell‚ “Column right”‚ and turn around and watch the tail end of the column. Well‚ I found that if I just kept going straight ahead‚ that the fellow behind me would step up in my spot and the whole column would do a column right and go on. Then I would go straight on down to the library. I never did get caught. I always figured that if they caught me I would pretend I didn’t hear or understand.
I found out another thing. On most military installations if you went around with a clipboard and pencil‚ most people would leave you alone because they didn’t know what you were checking up on or what you were investigating.
Walk around and look like you know what you were doing. I never did meet anybody else that liked to go to the library. I loved to read and very rarely would there be anybody else in the library. You could get away from them without getting caught. There were so many people going through that they never got familiar with your face or your name. You’re just another soldier.
Gunnery school‚ we specialized on shooting. I think I mentioned the other day‚ we shot thousands of rounds of shotgun shells practicing shooting at moving objects from different angles. So we’d instinctively know how far to lead the object‚ either over‚ under‚ or in front of it. Practice with individual shotguns‚ then practice with shotguns mounted in turrets on the trucks.
We were in a regular turret just like in a bomber. Have two shotguns mounted where the machine guns were. When you were looking in a gun sight‚ and the controls were down here‚ and so you were moving that thing around tracking clay pigeons. Then there was strafing from the back cockpit of an AT–6‚ shooting at targets on the ground.
There were a few instances where the pickup truck was moving. Most of the back of the pickup truck stuff was where you were standing in the back of the pickup truck. There would be four or five guys in the back of a pickup truck and you’d have shotguns‚ and it would go around the circular track. I don’t remember how fast. It wasn’t very fast. But there would be clay pigeon houses located in different places along the track and at some of them the clay pigeon would come out and the clay pigeon would come straight toward you from a distance. So the clay target was coming towards you and it was also rising as it come towards you‚ and then when it reached a certain point it began to drop. Then there would be one come out to the left‚ to your left‚ facing it and the truck was going in the same direction as the target‚ so you were shooting at a target that was moving in the same direction as you were. The next one would be a target going to the right—you were going in one direction and the target was going in the other direction. So you had to double your lead. Then maybe the next one you’d come to would be one going straight away‚ and that situation‚ you were moving in one direction and the target was moving in the other direction and going up as it moved. So you really learned how to shoot.
In the beginning I hit the clay bird very rarely. After you practiced enough‚ and the instructors told you what to do‚ how you were to lead in one of those situations‚ it was amazing how many birds we broke. As I remember‚ in the turrets‚ most of that was standing still. The turrets were mounted on‚ like about a ton and a half trucks. They were bigger trucks‚ because they had a big turret mounted on it‚ and the electrical stuff to operate the turret.
We also had a lot of aircraft identification classes. We really got into guns‚ particularly the caliber .50 machine gun. Taking the thing apart and putting it back together‚ and studying all the different possible things that could go wrong with it. What you did‚ or how to recognize what happened‚ and then how to fix it. Here again‚ that was good training. All through the training‚ I took the training seriously. I think for me that was an important thing‚ and it saved my life. I did take training seriously.
After gunnery school‚ I was assigned to a crew and went on to what they called phase training. The objective was to take a group of people and put them together and make a crew out of them. So they cooperate and get to know each other and that sort of thing.
In the Liberator bomber‚ it was typical for one of the gunners to be responsible for the armament. Whenever we flew‚ it was my job to go out to the airplane‚ and check all the turrets to see that they operated. Check all the guns to see that they operated‚ and to check the bombs to see that they were properly loaded and that the pins were in them to secure the arming mechanisms‚ so that they wouldn’t arm during takeoff or in flight until they were over the target.
I have a record of flying‚ my time in the air during the service. Military record of it. In May I was in Casper‚ Wyoming. We left Laredo‚ Texas. We were assigned to a crew‚ and traveled together then as a crew. It was Lincoln‚ Nebraska‚ where we were assigned a crew. Sent then to Casper‚ Wyoming.
We were told we were trained as a crew‚ and we were also assigned to a Liberator bomber. B–24. In Casper‚ Wyoming‚ that was putting it all together then as a crew. Actually hands on flying. We flew almost every day. For the pilot and the copilot it was practicing take–offs and landings. For the navigator it was practice charting a course and plotting where we were. The radio operator was taking messages and instructions. The rest of us were checking out the guns. Before we took off‚ we’d go through the whole routine‚ just like we were going on a bombing mission. Check out our guns and our turrets and armament and so on.
Part of the objective was for each one of us to get more familiar with the job we’d actually be doing‚ and the other part of it was learning to function as a team. Learning each other’s personalities‚ how we were wired together‚ put together‚ whether or not there were any real conflicts‚ people that couldn’t get along together.
I was the armorer/gunner. As far as I know‚ they had at least one armorer/gunner in each bomber.
We were in an Air Force base just outside of Casper‚ Wyoming‚ and we got to go in town. It was a small western town and people were friendly. The food was good on the airbase. They had a twenty–four hour mess hall on the airbase for flight crews. We flew at all times of the day and night. You never knew when you were going to be flying. They had a twenty–four hour mess hall. You could go in and eat anytime you wanted to eat‚ and the food was good.
The climate was good there. It was just routine operations. We had a chance to go in town and go up in the mountains—see some of the country around Casper. Go horseback riding. I think maybe once a week we could get off the airbase for a day. I don’t remember any bad experiences there.
I got along fine with the crew. During the process we had the one guy I told you about the other day. He was a gunner‚ and he just wasn’t very cooperative. He was a nice guy‚ but he just didn’t care about...on the crew‚ you not only had to take care of yourself‚ but you had to look around. Suppose when you’re flying at altitude if somebody’s oxygen mask‚ or something happened to an oxygen system‚ the hose pulled loose. Their life depended on other people around constantly taking a look to see where everybody else was‚ at their position‚ if they were OK. He just didn’t seem to bother with this kind of stuff. So he was the guy that when we left Casper‚ we said we’re not going to fly in combat with you‚ cause you’d get us all killed. Apparently the pilot requested that he be taken off the crew. We had another person then assigned to the crew.
Pilot‚ co–pilot‚ navigator and bombardier are your basic crew. That all changed after we got overseas and flying missions‚ but that was later. On the basic crew‚ we had four officers and then we had a nose turret operator‚ gunner who was the nose turret operator‚ and the engineer flew the top turret‚ and then there were two waist gunners and a tail gunner. At the time we were in training‚ they had stopped using the ball turrets at the bottom of the plane. We didn’t have a ball turret operator.
I got along fine with the officers. They were not the typical Army officers. They were interested in people doing their job. They didn’t care much about military courtesies. We used to line up‚ the enlisted men would line up‚ really come to attention and salute the pilot when he came out‚ and he’d grin and say “Aw‚ knock it off‚ you guys.” We responded to each other as people on a team. They weren’t interested in the military courtesies kind of stuff‚ as long as everybody did their job.
The crew socialized off the plane. We did not socialize a great deal with the officers‚ because they had an officers’ club and lived in different quarters‚ but the crew‚ we buddied together. It was a part of cementing the crew together. We all went to town together and some of the people had different interests and they would go after their own interests‚ but then we’d get back together as a crew. During a good part of the time‚ both going and coming on passes‚ we traveled together.
Frequently in a military town there were all kinds of people around that were looking for an easy way to make a buck off the soldiers. It was our habit‚ or developed the habit‚ if we went to town and went in a bar there would probably be a couple of us go up to the bar and sit at the bar. A couple of guys would go over in a corner and sit someplace‚ and once in a while keep an eye on each other.
I remember one incident where‚ I think it was after we left Casper‚ we went into a bar one night. This was after we got over to England. There was two of us‚ the radio operator and the engineer were sitting up at the bar having an English beer. A couple–three of the rest of us were over at a table. This old gal walked up‚ put her arms around the engineer and the radio operator and talking and she rubbing her hand on their sides. And she dropped her hand down and rubbed it across their rear and flipped the button on their...and so two of us got up and walked over to the bar. They got real upset because we rooted this gal out. “What’s the matter with you guys? We were having a good time.” Then after we got her away from them we explained what was happening. One of them had had a little bit too much to drink. He was all for getting up and going after her and kicking the shit out of her.
Another time we went into a bar‚ we had a tail gunner who was a little bitty fellow. He was at the bar drinking‚ and there was some great big lout come in and started an argument with him‚ and was going to haul off and hit him. The radio operator was bigger than I am‚ but he wasn’t quite as tall‚ and the two of us got up and walked over to the tail gunner and said “Les‚ are you having any problems?” That guy took a look at both of us and turned around and walked away. We had that same sort of thing going when we were on the plane and when we were off the plane. Going to town or other places.
I don’t know‚ maybe it was because‚ I think maybe our average age was a little bit higher than some of the crews‚ but we had one of the best crews. I have more than just my opinion for that. After we got to England and flew– a few missions our pilot was picked to be a lead pilot. That not only reflected on his ability as a pilot‚ but on the rest of the crew as well.
8—bombing from england over germany
We went from Casper‚ Wyoming‚ to Topeka‚ Kansas. There we were told that we would be assigned a bomber and that we were leaving immediately to go overseas and that we would not get a furlough home. There was I think three of us on the crew in the same situation that had been in the service since the time we were inducted. Up to that point we had never had a furlough. The most time we’d had off was the one day pass. They also told us‚ that if any one of us went AWOL that the whole crew would be sent over in an infantry boat. They made a great point of telling us how infantry soldiers did not like the Air Force. That it would be a very unpleasant experience‚ so none of us went AWOL‚ but we were all pissed off.
From January of 1943 until mid–July of 1944‚ I’d been in service all that time‚ and was sent overseas without a chance to come home on a furlough. I was really pissed off at the United States government. Closest I got to Ohio was going over Cleveland in a B–24 bomber. So we ended up getting on the bomber with a case of whiskey‚ and we stayed pretty well lubricated on the way‚ except the pilot‚ co–pilot and the navigator. They didn’t drink while they were flying. But the rest of us did. We didn’t have anything to do other than ride.
We flew the B–24 bomber to Manchester‚ New Hampshire. Stayed overnight in Manchester‚ New Hampshire. The next day we flew to Goose Bay‚ Labrador. We landed at Goose Bay and stayed there a couple of days. Then we took off and flew to Reykjavik in Iceland and we stayed overnight one night there‚ and we flew from Reykjavik to Valley‚ Wales. And in Valley‚ Wales‚ we were separated.
They took the bomber away from us. It was sent to‚ I’ve forgotten the airbase in England‚ near Manchester. They modified them over there. One of the things they did‚ the bombers come out of the factory and they had a pee tube in the bomb bay. You could go over there and take a leak in this contraption and it had a hose and run the pee outside of the airplane. Well‚ what happened was‚ when anybody peed in the darn thing‚ it went under the plane and come up over the tail and splattered the window on the tail turret. So if somebody peed in the airplane‚ the tail gunner couldn’t see out. Apparently they had known this for a hell of a long time‚ but they still put those things in the airplanes. Well‚ first thing they did when they got them overseas was to jerk those things out. You had an ammunition can or something else to pee in if you had to go to the restroom. Some of our missions‚ the longest one I was on was nine hours‚ and so it was not unusual that you’d have to take a leak or go in the air. It was in an ammunition box. You didn’t pee outside or run it outside the airplane.
All we were doing was ferrying the craft over. I don’t remember that we ever saw that airplane again. No‚ we went in going individually. We flew individually. The navigator had to be on the ball. Fortunately‚ we had a good navigator. He was right on the mark all the time. All we know was that we had orders cut for England. We knew we were taking the bomber and that we were going to England.
I don’t know that there was any big deal about it. It was understood on our crew that the pilot expected each one of us to do our job and he didn’t want to screw around with us. All he wanted to know was that each person was doing what they were supposed to do and that was it. He didn’t make a big deal about it. I don’t think he said very much. He was just the kind of a guy‚ that he was a perfectionist in his job and he had the kind of the attitude. He just expected everybody else to do everything the way they were supposed to do and I don’t remember that they gave us any pep talk.
I never felt a whole lot of flag waving made that much difference to me. So there may have been some that I wasn’t aware of‚ but the emphasis was on doing a good job. The emphasis was on knowing what to do and when to do it. A lot of training from people who had been in combat‚ explaining in detail what would happen under different circumstances. What happened‚ what to do when you bailed out‚ and that training saved my life. They covered just about everything that was possible to happen to you‚ and what to do and how to do it. There were instructions on how to conduct yourself if you were taken prisoner‚ and all that kind of stuff. But it was just training for the job that we were going to do‚ and I don’t remember that there was a lot of rah rah about it.
You know‚ like for football teams and basketball‚ I understand in some units in the military there was a lot of that. To give you an instance of our pilot’s attitude. We had different people flying with us at different times‚ and we had a bombardier that we’d never seen before flying with us on one of our training flights. I don’t remember how he come to be on the airplane. Our bombardier wasn’t on the plane that day‚ something happened.
Anyhow‚ he was a second lieutenant‚ and he was up in the compartment where the engineer and the radio operator were‚ his back to the pilot and co-pilot. There was a message coming over the radio and there was a lot of static and the radio operator was really concentrating. This lieutenant decided he wanted to ask the radio operator a question. So he spoke to him and the radio operator paid no attention to him. He went ahead writing down the message. and so this lieutenant reached over and grabbed him by the arm. The radio operator took his hand and smacked it away. Really hit him. Well‚ when we got down on the ground‚ this bombardier went over to the pilot and told him what had happened‚ that the radio operator had hit him. The pilot said‚ “Look‚ you better leave him alone or he’ll kick the shit out of you‚” and turned around and walked off. So that kind of gives you some kind of clue as to what kind of a person the pilot was. He was interested in people doing their job.
From Wales we were separated. The pilot and the co–pilot and the navigator and the bombardier went off. Our understanding was that they got some specialized training about flying in England and Europe. I never did know‚ never did talk to them about what kind of training they went through. But the gunners got shipped over Ireland to Newcastle. We spent a couple of weeks over there in a gunnery school. I don’t recall that we did any shooting to amount to anything‚ but we spent a lot of time in terms of what to expect in the European Theater‚ in terms of flying missions over Germany‚ what to expect as to our duties as gunners on bombers. It was after that then we were rejoined with the crew‚ and we were assigned to a base called Hethel.
As far as I know we were under the Eighth Air Force. We were assigned to the 389th Bomb Group. The 566th Squadron. We were stationed at a base called Hethel‚ which is near Wyndham. It’s not on the map. It was just an airbase near Wyndham. Wyndham was about eight miles southwest of Norwich. That whole East Anglia area was covered with bomber bases. B–17’s and B–24’s. We rejoined the rest of our crew on the airbase at Hethel. The best I can remember‚ we did not know where the hell we were going until we got there. We were identified as a crew‚ I’m sure of that. But we weren’t told. I don’t know whether the pilot or the officers knew where they were going. But we didn’t know where we were even when we got there.
I was a staff sergeant. Most gunners were staff sergeants. I was trying to think about it today. I think there were three squadrons on the base‚ but I can’t be sure. I’d have to go dig it out. I don’t recall exactly when I got to Hethel. It was probably either the latter part of July or around the first of August. We flew our first mission in August of ’44.
We had single story tar paper shacks there‚ with a little pot–bellied stove‚ couple of pot–bellied stoves‚ and it was typical English countryside. The officers would be in the officers quarters. When we got there‚ there was all kind of harassment. People sat and watched us get off the trucks and they were yelling “fresh meat” and all kind of horror stories and so on. I guess it happened to every new crew that come on‚ that sort of thing.
There was a low level of military discipline. The whole attitude or their main concern was that people did a good job. Most of the time they didn’t screw around harassing you about your uniform or military saluting. Most of the time if you saluted the officers on a crew‚ they didn’t like it. They would prefer you didn’t. They didn’t screw around with that kind of stuff. Once in a while somebody would arrive from the states in an administrative position and they would try and shape everybody up‚ but that didn’t last too long. Apparantly in some branches of the service they felt that that was an absolute must‚ that the military couldn’t function without it.
I don’t know whether this existed throughout the Air Force. My impression that it did. The emphasis on military discipline as such was not as big a concern to people in the Air Force as it was to the other branches of the service. The emphasis was on doing what you were supposed to do and doing a good job. I personally was‚ looking back on it‚ a whole lot happier in the Air Force than I would have been in any other branch of the service‚ because I don’t have the same feeling about military discipline. I understand the importance of discipline‚ but some of that stuff was what I always termed chickenshit. Just symbolic and didn’t amount to that much.
Our first mission‚ on August 18‚ 1944‚ was to Metz‚ France‚ an airfield. We got up real early‚ probably four–thirty or five. Part of it was depending on where the mission was going. Normally‚ we would get up‚ it would be in the wee hours of the morning. I remember most of the time it was dark when we went out to the airplane. We’d get up and stagger off to the mess hall and get something to eat. We went to the mess hall to eat‚ and then go to briefing and then go out and get the airplane ready to take off. You go draw your parachute and your equipment on the way to the aircraft.
At briefing they would show you the target and they had a great big picture on the wall of the actual target. They had a map of Germany‚ and here was the line of flight‚ and they would plot the line of flight to the target in a way so as to fly far away from known installations of flak batteries‚ guns on the ground. In other words‚ you wouldn’t fly close to any big cities that have a lot of guns around them. You fly where you would get the least flak damage. I think maybe some of the planning of the flight route also had to do with confusing the Germans where they were headed. Then you got to a place they called the IP.
You turned on the IP‚ and the bombardier took over the bomb sight‚ and from there on you flew straight and level. Up until that point you could take evasive action if someone was shooting at you‚ but when you turned on the bomb run‚ why then you gritted your teeth and stayed right on the route‚ until the bombs were dropped. Then when the bombs left the bomb bay it was‚ “The hell with Uncle Sam— we’re goin’ home!” From there on take evasive action‚ the objective was to get out of there as quick as possible.
The first mission we flew‚ as I remember‚ there was no action to speak of. It was an air field the Germans were using in France. It was one of the shorter missions. My records show seven hours and fifty minutes.
I think we had some chewing gum‚ maybe some candy. I don’t remember taking sandwiches. Maybe we did have sandwiches. I don’t remember that.
One of the tough parts of flying a mission‚ sometimes the worst part of the mission was taking off. Frequently in England when we took off there was heavy cloud. I think one time there were fifteen hundred bombers over Germany in one day. There were all these bombers forming over East Anglia. When you took off there was a flight pattern that the pilot was to fly‚ but for several minutes you were going through solid fog‚ and there were clouds. Everybody was staring out the window with a thumb on the mike switch looking for other planes‚ somebody being off course or something happening—a traumatic experience until we got above the clouds. Because the planes were all flying around up there until they got into formation.
It was only after they were all formed up then‚ did the whole bomber string start for Europe. Occasionally there was a collision in the air. Planes run into each other. Occasionally a bomber would explode on the way over the Channel. Couple of times I saw a bomber explode. It was probably somebody lit a cigarette without checking for gas fumes. You could smoke in the airplanes when you were at low altitudes‚ but you didn’t dare light a cigarette until the engineer had checked the airplane to see if there were any fuel fumes. We always figured that some idiot had lit a cigarette or attempted to light a cigarette and that ignited the fumes. We were setting there looking out—all of a sudden there was a “poof”—a big flash in the sky and there was pieces‚ circling‚ falling down.
But the tedious part of flying was the part of taking off‚ and then over the target area‚ then coming back home. Sometimes when you come back home you had to land in fog and clouds. Sometimes it would be solid cover and the only thing you could do was divert somewhere or go somewhere else where there wasn’t clouds.
One time we came back and our base was fogged in. There were bombers scattered all over‚ directed to go to all different places. We flew north‚ and when we got to the airbase we were supposed to land at—it was a RAF airbase. When we got there there was a bomber cracked up on one runway‚ and it was clouded over‚ clouds drifting over the airbase. We were practically out of gas. We circled the airbase several times. All of a sudden there was a little opening come in the clouds. Our pilot stood the plane practically on its side‚ he dropped it several hundred feet just snap‚ and got it on the ground. Had he missed that opportunity we would have ended up crashing‚ because a few minutes after we landed it clouded over in solid clouds.
When we got out of the airplane‚ he had on coveralls and he was just sopping wet from head to foot‚ sweating. It was cold—this was in the winter time when that happened—and the rest of us were freezing. We had a lot of laughing‚ talking about him being wet with sweat. He had the responsibility of the whole crew of people in getting that bomber on the ground‚ and one runway with a wrecked aircraft on it. We really felt good about having that man as our pilot. He seemed to be a fellow who became a part of the airplane when he flew it. That made the difference.
It was a thrill to see all that many airplanes in the sky. It was also a marvelous miracle that they could get that many airplanes off the ground in the air and formed and fly over Germany. I’ve often thought it must have been a terrifying sight to the Germans to see all those bombers coming across. It was a thrill to see that many bombers.
We could usually see all of our own planes. We could see a group in front of us and group behind us. Then you could see specks off in the distance. Groups. But the bomber stream would be out of sight. There was in our B–24 bombers there was one‚ two‚ three‚ four‚ five‚ six...there were fourteen Bomber Groups of B–24s. There was fourteen Bomber Groups in the Second Air Division which I was a part of. Each squadron was twelve B–24’s. There were three squadrons in a group.
There was only one mission that I saw enemy fighters. They went through a Bomb Group behind us. There were a bunch of bombers went down after the enemy fighters went through the Group. That was the only instance where I saw enemy planes. At the time I arrived‚ the Eighth Air Force was to a great extent taking command in the air. There was five Fighter Groups attached to the same bomber command that I was in. There was pretty good fighter cover all the way over and all the way back.
They had long–distance fighters then. They could cover us pretty well all the way. Most of the enemy action that we got was due to flak. There were several times that we got holes in the ship. One time we had an engine knocked out. Had to land in Paris. We were in Paris for three days. The engineer was able to fix the engine. There was a piece of flak went through the engine. It didn’t hurt any of the main working parts. It cut some wires‚ and he was able to patch the wires together and get the engine going again. So we were able to get out of Paris.
Flak looked just like a black puff of smoke. You look out the window and you could see these puffs of smoke all over the sky. One of my jobs was to when we got over the target and begin to get flak was to throw out chaff. They had a little chute in the side of the airplane‚ and they had a little box‚ it just looked like Christmas tree icicles. Every so many seconds I would drop a box of that in the chute and it would go out. What happened when it hit the turbulence in the air from the props‚ it would spread out. The enemy radar would pick that up as a bomber.
If there was heavy cloud cover‚ and they couldn’t see visually‚ they were shooting by radar. They couldn’t tell whether they were shooting at the bomber or shooting at a cloud of chaff. Sometimes you would see a lot of flak bursts back of us. What they were shooting at was these little clouds of aluminum foil‚ which recorded on their radar as an airplane. Many of the missions that I flew on were ten–tenths solid cloud cover.
Later on in my missions‚ our pilot was picked to be a lead pilot‚ and we flew in a plane with electronic gear. The bomb bay was full of electronic gear‚ and all we carried were smoke bombs. The bombardier dropped‚ based on electronic‚ radar or instruments I didn’t know anything about. When he dropped the smoke bombs out‚ then all the rest of the planes dropped at the same time. It resulted in what they called pattern bombing. Only the lead ships in each squadron and the deputies carried a bomb sight. The rest of the people didn’t have bomb sights. They just triggered the bombs out when the smoke bombs from the lead plane went out. In other words‚ there was a whole great big area then on the ground that was just covered with bombs. The last third of the missions that I went on we didn’t carry bombs. We had smoke bombs. The plane was filled with electronic gear and we had two extra navigators on the plane.
When flak went off it broke into fragments. I was in the tail turret on one mission‚ and there was a piece went through the back part of the tail turret about an inch square. It was still in the airplane. If a small piece hit the right thing in the airplane‚ hit the right place‚ it could conceivably cause the airplane to go down. So if it was close enough that fragments hit the airplane it was possible to damage the airplane. To be really sure of taking it down‚ it would need to be practicaly against the airplane. Close to a wing or close to the body. The last mission I was on‚ we got a direct hit in a fuel cell‚ right in the center of the plane.
The flak was scary stuff. Stand there and see these puffs all around and knowing at any time one of them might be close enough to either kill you or knock the plane down. When you were on the bomb run‚ there was a big field of flak up there. The pilot sat right there‚ everybody sat right there and we went right through it. That was kind of hairy.
I saw a lot of airplanes go down. Every time we went on a mission there was usually some airplanes that went down. There was fourteen hundred and fifty-eight B–24s that were lost in operations against the enemy in World War Two. Almost fifteen hundred bombers. And let’s see‚ that wasn’t too bad‚ out of a total of almost ninety–six thousand sorties that would have been ninety–six thousand planes‚ and four hundred and ninety–three operational missions. This was in the Second Air Division. That doesn’t cover the whole Air Force. That was only in the Second Division.
I never shot my guns at any enemy aircraft. The only shooting I did was to test the guns when you flew over the Channel. You test fired your guns. I never shot at any enemy airplanes. Our Bomb Group was never attacked by enemy aircraft during the missions that I was on. I flew on twenty-nine missions.
It was to be our last mission. Our last mission and then we would come home. The requirement at that time was thirty missions‚ but our pilot had flown on a mission‚ or he got credit on a mission that the rest of us wasn’t involved in. They did their counting based on the pilot apparently‚ and the twenty–ninth was to be the last one. For the crew‚ we were to come home.
The last mission we had a lieutenant flying in the nose turret who was a visual navigator. In case there wasn’t cloud cover‚ he navigated from visual things on the ground. There was the bombardier‚ and then the pilot and flying in the copilot’s seat was the command pilot. The last mission we flew on he was a lieutenant colonel. He was in charge of the mission.
On the flight deck‚ there was our regular navigator‚ and then there was the radar navigator. The top turret operator. In that plane they had taken the radio off of the flight deck and installed the radio over the wing‚ over the bomb bay in the back part of the plane. They made a place back there for the radio operator. Then we had the two waist gunners and the tail gunner. The regular copilot then was flying baggage. He was flying in the waist. In case somebody got wounded or hurt or took out of commission from whatever reason‚ he was a spare person.
That was Munster‚ Germany. We were right over the target. We dropped our bombs. We dropped our smoke bombs. We got a direct flak hit from an eighty–eight millimeter right in the fuel cell. The plane burst into flames. It burst into flame and dropped—started falling. I was trying to climb out the right waist window. It was spinning in the other direction‚ and the centrifugal force was—I was straining every muscle to try to get out the window. I couldn’t.
The next thing knew I was out in the air. I didn’t know what happened for sure‚ until I got back to the States and talked to the guy who was flying on our wing. He said we dropped about two thousand feet and the plane exploded.
I took my training seriously‚ and I credit that for saving my life. I always put my parachute on when we got over enemy territory. I always knew where my chute was. I always had my chute harness.
I was out in the air tumbling over and over. In training we were told if that happened you spread your arms and your legs. I did and I stopped spinning. My oxygen mask was flapping me in the face. I jerked it off so I could see.
I had sheepskin flying boots‚ had a pair of electrical long underwear‚ with shoes and gloves that were wired up like an electric blanket. You plugged it into the side of the airplane‚ and set the rheostat so you were comfortable‚ warm. I had that on‚ and I had sheepskin flying boots over that. My flying boots‚ the zippers were worn out on them. Because of my big feet‚ I couldn’t get another pair‚ so I had the things tied with a rawhide string around my ankles. The tops of them bloused out‚ so I was falling head first because of the drag on these big sheepskin flying boots.
It really didn’t make that much difference‚ because I was trying to see. I’d been told in training over and over again‚ that when you bail out over enemy territory‚ or you’re out over enemy territory‚ don’t open your chute at altitude. Well‚ we were right at twenty-four thousand feet‚ which is the maximum altitude for a B–24 bomber.
I knew it was a long way to the ground‚ and we were told to don’t open your chute until you can recognize tree limbs and individual things on the ground. Then you’ll be down to a couple thousand feet‚ and there’s where you’ll open your chute. People will shoot at you from the ground‚ enemy aircraft will come along and shoot at you from the air‚ and you don’t open your chute until you get close to the ground. That’s what I did‚ and it worked. When I could see the ground‚ I jerked the rip cord and the chute popped. It seemed like two seconds later‚ I hit the ground with a thud.
Well‚ I got up to run‚ and it looked like the whole German Army coming across the cultivated field toward me‚ so I just sat down. The two guys who got to me first were two German soldiers‚ and they kept the civilians away from me‚ which probably saved my life. The civilians were really angry‚ and you couldn’t blame them‚ because we just dropped bombs on their houses‚ and they weren’t too damn happy. Some people got really beat up badly by the German civilians‚ but these guys turned their backs to me and kept the civilians away from me.
They first checked me out to see that I didn’t have a gun. I landed right in the area where the main body of the plane was across the road and burning. There was a wheel and part of a wing‚ next to where I landed in a field. At one point‚ I tried to go over where the plane was‚ but they wouldn’t let me do that.
I was taken from there to an anti–aircraft battery‚ and these guys were really having a ball. They kept laughing and pointing up in the air‚ and going "Kaaa–pow"‚ and so on. I don’t know whether it was that outfit or not‚ but what I could understand of their gestures and so on‚ they thought it was their doing that shot us down.
Another lucky bit that I didn’t open my chute. I could take my hand like that‚ and both arms‚ and the nylon covering on my flight jacket was charred. I was burned around both wrists. Hair grows funny right on both wrists where I was burned. The gap between my gloves and my sleeves. I was burned around the eyes here where the gap between the helmet and the mask that went around my face. I was burned across‚ around there.
The fellow‚ that was flying on our wing...two of the people who went out of the plane‚ their chutes burned. They opened their chutes. Whether it was accidentally or why they opened their chutes the minute they went out the plane...apparently their chute was soaked with gasoline. What they called a flamer. Their chutes burned. So I was fortunate I didn’t open my chute‚ because it probably would have burned. Because my clothes were charred when I got to the ground.
It was a terrifying experience. I still have trouble around an enclosed space and there’s fire. In those few seconds after the plane was hit and it dropped‚ I tried to hold my breath‚ but I did have to take a breath. I couldn’t hold it any longer. In seconds before the plane exploded‚ it was just like swallowing liquid fire‚ taking in a breath. Then in the next instant the thing apparently exploded.
The bad memories I have about that whole incident has to do with some basic philosophy. Couple of the crew members were people who believed that when your number was up‚ you get it‚ and if your number wasn’t up‚ why then it was okay. In thinking about it‚ down through the years‚ I think people have a right to believe whatever they want to believe. But they have no right to handle their beliefs in a way that jeopardizes the lives of other people.
I feel that there were at least three people on that plane that lost their lives because of two individuals’ belief that when their number was up they would get it. One of the individuals walked to the plane with the parachute harness‚ and threw it up in the plane. He never put it on or tried it. Well‚ the guy who had the chute harness before the last mission might have been a guy who was five–foot five or it might have been a guy who was six feet tall. It might have been a big guy or it might have been a little guy. He got the chute harness‚ it wasn’t your chute harness. It was just the next chute harness in pile. You had to put it on and fit it to your own body. This guy walked out and threw his chute in the plane. I’m satisfied that he took another fellow with him‚ because the other guy was trying to help him get his chute harness on.
The other incident happened. There was a sleeping bag in the waist of the airplane. The guy who was flying baggage was in the sleeping bag. When the plane started to drop‚ I looked to see where the other gunner was. He was over the hatch in the waist ready to go out. He had his chute on ready to go out‚ and I saw something go past‚ and I think it was that goddamned sleeping bag. It took the other waist gunner and the tail turret operator down with the plane.
Philosophically‚ I’ve struggled with that for years. Because of somebody’s belief‚ that they jeopardize someone else. It all come back today. I was in town and happened to pick up a Dispatch and here was this story about this guy who was real patriotic because he carried the American flag with him. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor‚ and he was telling about how he even carried the flag with him in combat. Other people criticized him because the enemy‚ when they saw that flag‚ they would know troops were there and that would draw fire. Well‚ he believed that carrying this flag was patriotic. That’s belief‚ and he was jeopardizing the lives of everybody around him‚ carrying that flag. And that I feel real strong about. I felt these two people‚ because of their belief systems took some other people with them. If they want to believe whatever they want to believe‚ that’s okay‚ but they don’t jeopardize other people. I think this is one of the major problems on the planet Earth today. Is that there’s too damn many people trying to impose their beliefs on other people. When they are beliefs—they’re not reality.
The reality of the situation was‚ in an airplane in combat‚ you didn’t have time to think about anything or reason it out. You operated instinctively‚ and that was the purpose of the training‚ of doing stuff over and over and over until you didn’t have to think about it. You did it automatically‚ when it happened. The reality was‚ you didn’t have time to sort things out. The reality was that if you didn’t take care of yourself‚ if you didn’t have your chute harness on‚ you didn’t have time to put in on. You didn’t have time. I wouldn’t have had time to put a parachute on. As it happened‚ snap and that was it. If you weren’t ready‚ there was no chance to get out. Ever since that day‚ I have had real strong feelings about it‚ that these people were good at their jobs except in that one area. I get hung up‚ I have some real strong feelings about it.
The other thing about that incident is that the Vietnam veterans talk about flashbacks‚ and I talked to the guy I was in PW camp with. We buddied together. He lived in Salem‚ North Carolina. He’s now a retired school principal. The same thing has happened to him. There has rarely been a day goes by that there isn’t something that will cause a memory to float through our minds about that little short incident that happened to us. We have a flashback to that. We had viewed this as something normal‚ that would happen to anybody who experienced a terrifying event or traumatic event. That it’s normal to have that flashback in your memory. So it’s something that although only occupied only a short period of time in our lives‚ it’s something that you never really get away from.
My bias toward training‚ taking things serious‚ was reinforced by that. I see myself as a survivor‚ and I read something the other day that I thought fit. It was a person who had studied a bunch of Korea veterans‚ after they’d come home from the war. He was trying to figure out why those people survived and other people didn’t. He said that it seemed as though these guys all had a personal radar that was always on scan.
I thought‚ “That’s it. He’s captured it in a nutshell.” The people who survived are people who are ready for whatever happens‚ and they’re cognizant of everything that’s going on around them. They’re ready when the situation happens. In other words‚ they don’t go around with their head up their ass. That’s another way to put it.
There was four of us‚ got out of it. The lieutenant colonel who was command pilot got out. Our regular navigator‚ that we went through training with‚ got out. The radar navigator‚ one of the fellows I had never met before. When we were on lead crew‚ and particuarly on that mission‚ the radar navigator only flew on those planes on which there was a need for a radar navigator. He wasn’t assigned to a regular crew. The lieutenant colonel‚ I’d never seen before. So there were only two of us on the original crew that got out of it. There was the pilotage navigator and the bombardier‚ and then there was the lieutenant colonel and the pilot‚ and there was a radar navigator and the regular navigator‚ and the top turret operator‚ and the radio operator‚ and two waist gunners‚ and the tail turret operator and the copilot. How many is that‚ thirteen?
There was thirteen of us on it‚ and four of us got out of it. Two people‚ and no one knows who those two people were‚ bailed out‚ but their chutes burned. The rest apparently went down with the plane. There was two bodies located‚ a long long time after‚ I don’t know‚ four‚ five years after the war was over.
The fellow who was bombardier‚ was located in a grave in some little suburb of Munster‚ apparently. I did not know where the location was. His wife come to visit us. She came right after I got home from the service to find out about her husband. Then in later years‚ she told me that it was a long time after the war was over‚ the War Department returned a moldy billfold that they said was interred with his body. Why in the hell they sent the stinking billfold back to her‚ I don’t know.
Anyway‚ what happened with the folks that happened after that‚ I don’t know. I was taken then to an air force base and we were put in what was the equivalent to a guard house on an American airbase.
10—prisoner of war
Before we get into that let me clarify one thing. I want to be sure. I was kind of emotional the other day when you were here. I want to be sure you understood about the guy I was telling you about and the American flag. This fellow had apparantly carried the flag on the battlefield with him‚ and had been criticized by his buddies for doing that‚ and for raising the flag on the battlefield. I view that as the same as being on the battlefield at night and lighting a cigarette or lighting a match. It would call down the enemy fire on you.
In training one time‚ we had a night meeting‚ and there was probably a thousand people in an amphitheater out in the boondocks. They turned all the lights out and lit a match and it looked like a bon fire in total darkness‚ to illustrate what would happen in a case like that. That was the kind of the thing I got up tight about. People on our own crew jeopardizing other peoples’ lives.
I was thinking why I felt so strong about it and I guess one of the reasons it caused me to start thinking about it was that I lost all my buddies. The people who survived were not my buddies. Only one of them that I really knew was the navigator‚ and I really didn’t know him because we weren’t buddies. But all of the enlisted men were my buddies‚ were the people that lost their lives. I felt that some of them lost their lives because of other people’s actions. I don’t know‚ maybe that’s one of the reasons I felt so strong about it‚ or feel so strong about it.
I was shot down on the twenty–third of March‚ 1945‚ over Munster. We were flying at the maximum altitude for a B–24‚ which is around 24‚ 000 feet. They begin to get mushy when they get up high altitudes. The B–17’s could go higher than the B–24’s.
I think we talked about hitting the ground. After I was captured‚ I was taken to a gun site‚ eighty–eight millimeter guns. They were jubulant over the fact that they shot down a bomber. Stayed there for a short period of time‚ and the other people that had survived on the crew were brought up.
Then all of us were loaded on a truck and taken to a German airfield and put in something akin to a guard house. We were there overnight‚ and the next day we were taken into Munster and put down in the basement of a prison that housed German prisoners who were laborers. Most of the ones we saw were Russian soldiers that were being used as laborers by the Germans. As far as I know‚ they were prisoners of war. They had Russian uniforms on. We were put in a big room‚ and had no contact with anybody else in the prison. That night there was a whole bunch of Canadians brought in. They were on a night mission to Munster‚ and they dropped thousand–pound bombs on Munster.
One kid‚ young fellow‚ came in and said that he had landed in a German woman’s back yard‚ and she ran out of the house and started beating him over the head with a washboard. He was afraid to do anything about it‚ because he figured that the civilians would kill him if he touched her. A policeman came along and stopped her. The policeman had a bicycle and he made this Canadian push his bicycle. Every time one of these thousand–pound bombs would go off‚ this Canadian would start to laugh‚ and this German soldier would hit him. He said that he couldn’t stop himself. Every time one of those big bombs would go off‚ he’d start to laugh and this soldier would haul off and hit him. He was quite jovial about it. Even though he’d got beaten‚ he would still laugh.
A lot of the bombs had delayed action fuses on them. When they would go off it would shake the whole building. This building had great big thick stone walls in the basement part where we were. It was a pretty solid building. It would still vibrate when one of those bombs went off. That prison was called Six–F‚ but it was not an Allied prison.
When they brought us in‚ they ran a Russian soldier out of the room that we were in‚ and ran him down the hall and was sort of like running the gauntlet. They hit him with gun butts as he ran down the hall. The treatment that the Russians got was a lot different from the treatment they gave the Americans and the British and the Canadians. I can understand why at the end of the war‚ the Russians really hated the Germans with a passion. I can understand why they did‚ because they weren’t treated the same as we were.
We left that prison on March 28‚ and we were put in a boxcar. Woven wire was nailed over the door. We spent the next four days in that boxcar. That was about as miserable a four days as I have ever spent. We were nailed in the car‚ and there wasn’t room enough to lay down. Some people could lay down‚ but if people lay down‚ why somebody else had to stand up or sit down. It was always some people always standing or sitting. There was no facilities in the car. There was just straw on the floor.
A time or two German soldiers would go get...one time we stopped and a soldier went somewhere‚ and came back with a bucket of beer. We had very little to eat or drink during that four days. We went through Osnabruck and saw what the Allied bombers had done to the railroad yards in Osnabruck‚ and it was a real mess. It wasn’t very far from Munster to Hannover. Our final destination was a place called Fallingbostel‚ which is just north of Hannover. There they had an Allied prisoner of war camp.
It was prison camp Eleven–B. That was March 28 when we arrived there‚ and that was a regular Allied prisoner of war camp. We were only there a few days. On April 7 the Germans marched us out of that prisoner of war camp. We were on the road‚ marching away from the advancing Allied lines.
In the prison camp‚ we were there long enough just to get a glimpse‚ really‚ of what went on in a prison camp. There were double–decked bunks with slats and straw for bedding. The straw was filled with fleas and lice. One of the things I’m firmly convinced of is that everybody ought to have body lice at least once‚ because you can’t know how nice it is not to have them unless you’ve had them. It’s really an experience.
We got soup‚ thin soup‚ synthetic coffee‚ and we got a slice of bread everyday. It looked and tasted about like sawdust. It was real heavy‚ hard bread. I don’t know how they made it. Apparently it was nutritious stuff. But we didn’t get very much to eat there. On the 7th of April‚ when they marched us out of there‚ we were being marched through a woods.
The Germans stopped the tail end of the column‚ where I was‚ and a bunch of us were marched down a little road or a little lane into a woods. We all thought we were going to be shot. The Germans had executed GI’s in the winter. We knew about the Germans marching soldiers out and shooting them. We thought we were going to be shot. We were all scared shitless‚ and there wasn’t anything you could do. There were Germans with guns‚ and they lined us up.
Unfortunately‚ there was no one there in the group of soldiers‚ Americans and British‚ that could speak German‚ and there was no Germans that could speak English in that particular group‚ which was unusual. Usually‚ a lot more Germans could speak English than Americans who could speak German. They lined us up and made motions for us to lay whatever we had in our hands down on the ground. There was a lot of screaming in German going on. The German soldiers‚ when we didn’t react‚ the Germans dropped their guns down and pointed them at us‚ and we thought‚ "Uh–oh. This it it."
About that time‚ some German came along who could speak English‚ and told us that what they wanted us to do was to lay our stuff down and go down over the hill on a cobble stone road. There was a wagon loaded with supplies and a horse had metal shoes on and the horse couldn’t pull it up the hill. They wanted us to go down and help the horse pull it up the hill. Well‚ you never seen a bunch of guys push a wagon so goddamn hard in your life. We really pushed the wagon up. Then they marched us off down the road and we finally caught up with the other column.
The time on the road was the ultimate in misery. We all had body lice and most everybody had diarrhea. We slept either on the ground outside or usually they’d halt the column at night near a set of farm buildings. Some people would be able to get in shelter underneath a farm building or something.
We were going northeast. We were going away from the advancing Allied lines. We were going from Fallingbostel northeast towards Lauenburg and Luneburg‚ towards the Elbe River. I was particularly miserable because the Germans had taken my flight jacket‚ and all I had was a pair of wool OD pants and a wool shirt on. And a pair of sheepskin flying boots.
There was four of us that was captured at the same time that buddied together. Most of the people we were with‚ or a high percentage of the people‚ had been prisoners for a long time. The four of us were newcomers‚ and so we really were outsiders in that group of prisoners. We had one blanket between the four of us and the four of us slept in formation. Two would sleep on the inside like tonight and the guys that slept on the outside tonight would sleep on the inside tomorrow night. We really didn’t get much sleep because we were all four cold‚ and we all had lice‚ and we were all scratching lice. Frequently we would try to get into a barn or somewhere where it was dry. There were some times we slept outside on the ground‚ wherever we could lay down.
The food was intermittent. Frequently the Germans would get potatoes from the farmers. One time they got some meat‚ and by the time they chopped it up and passed it around there was just a bite for each person. There was a couple of times we got Red Cross parcels. We did a lot of scrounging.
The Germans buried potatoes‚ and I frequently was able to find some potatoes. The Germans buried their stock of eating potatoes out in a field. Sometimes guys could find the potato cache and there was no guards around‚ get your potatoes out of the field. I usually looked around the barn. I found that the Germans would keep their seed potatoes under the hay. I would scrounge around the barn looking for seed potatoes underneath the hay‚ and would frequently find some potatoes. During that time I dug potatoes and stuff out of garbage heaps. Anything that I could eat. I wasn’t backward about it.
Sometimes we would trade cigarettes. Some worker around the farm wanted cigarettes. We’d trade cigarettes for potatoes‚ a piece of fruit or an egg or something. A lot of different experiences in the short period of time we were out on the road.
One day there was a woman that came out with a bucket of milk and was giving out drinks of milk to the guys. A German soldier come up and hit her with a gun butt and run her off. There was another time we stopped in a little village‚ and a window of a house come up about two or three inches‚ and there was a hand come out with a slice of bread on it. It kept coming out with slices of bread‚ until a whole loaf was passed out the window.
There were times when there was German soldiers who were our guards‚ that shared some of their food with us when they didn’t have enough to eat. We also run onto the other kind‚ particuarly the young ones‚ the Hitler Youth. That would spit on us or show evidence of hatred. But most of the German soldiers that I met felt like most of us felt. They didn’t want to fight anybody. All they wanted to do was get home and get on with their lives.
One incident‚ we were camped in a barnyard one night. Some of the guys were trying to catch a chicken‚ and the German captain that was in charge of the group come out of the farm house and saw these guys chasing the chicken and started screaming something in German. Well‚ the German guard dropped his gun down and aimed at the fellows and threatened in German to shoot them. Well‚ they quit chasing the chicken‚ and the captain went back into the house. After the captain disappeared this guard said to the fellows who was chasing the chicken. He said‚ “Don’t you sonsabitches know better than to chase a chicken when the captain’s around?” They all looked at him.
After a bit he was walking past where I and my three buddies were squatted. We had built a little fire and were trying to heat some water in a coffee can. I said to this guard‚ “Where did you learn to speak English?” “Oh‚” he said‚ “I was raised in Pittsburgh. I’ve got a brother that lives in Pittsburgh now. I was born in Germany‚ and grew up as a teenager in Pittsburgh. I was in Germany when the war started‚ and I ended up in the German army.” I thought that was interesting‚ that here was a guy that had grown up in Pittsburgh and had a brother in Pittsburgh‚ and yet was in the German Army. He did not evidence any hatred toward the Americans‚ or want to fight the war.
There were some of the German guards that were sadistic. One of them was the guy that was in charge of the guard dogs. I mentioned that a lot of us had diarrhea. The column would march‚ I don’t know‚ probably forty minutes or so‚ and then stop and rest along side the road for maybe ten or fifteen minutes‚ and then start marching again. Well‚ every time the column stopped‚ there was a mass migration toward the side of the road and the fields for guys pulling their pants down. Had to go. The German guards would sic these big German police dogs on us. They had muzzles on them‚ but they just scared the hell out of you. A great big dog jumping on you‚ even though you knew he had a muzzle on and couldn’t bite. I still see an adult German Shepard dog‚ it makes the hair on the back of my head stand up. The guards had a great deal of fun doing that‚ hassling the guys with the dogs.
I thought of something else. One of the four of us was a fellow by the name of Frank Morgan from Winston–Salem‚ North Carolina. We’ve been real close buddies ever since World War Two. He was not in the same outfit I was in. He was in a different Liberator bomb group. He was in the group behind us and got shot down. But he was sick and feeling bad. I had the diarrhea‚ and my feet were bad and I had a open place on my back‚ like a great big infected boil‚ and the back of my shirt was wet with stuff from that. Both of us were sick.
We’d start out at the head of the column when they started out. By break time we’d be back at the tail end of the column. We just kept walking most of the time‚ because the Germans had a reputation for shooting people who couldn’t keep up. So we had a hell of a time keeping up with the line of march. We both figured that it was hassling each other that we were able to keep each other walking. Frank tells his kids that I saved his life. I have to say‚ well‚ I think Frank saved my life.
There was another fellow with us from Sioux City‚ Iowa. I haven’t seen him since the war‚ but we’ve exchanged Christmas cards every year. I see Frank about once a year‚ down in Winston–Salem. He was a school principal and is now retired. The other fellow‚ we lost contact with. He was a man by the name of Rubin Hartchie. He was from somewhere out in Minnesota. He was a Norweigan‚ I think.
He could speak German and he used to take cigarettes when we got a Red Cross parcel or some coffee or something that we figured we could do without and dicker with some of the German people for something more substantial.
There was several things happened on that trip that have bothered me ever since. When we were captured‚ we were with mostly British and Canadian and New Zealanders. We stayed with those fellows in a British unit as long as we could. After we got out on the road‚ after the first two or three days‚ we found that we got what little food there was a heck of a lot quicker with the British than we did with the Americans. The British had it all organized. When the German captain came out to give food to the group‚ he wanted to give it to a small group of people. The British had maybe six people designated to go get the food and bring it back. Then they divided it up amongst another group‚ and then that group divided it up so that it was only a matter of a few minutes after they handed out potatoes or something that they had it all divided up.
When they came out to give it to the Americans‚ the whole bunch would rush up to wherever they were giving out the food‚ and all start arguing over who was going to get it. The German would just go back in the house till they settled and decided who was going to get the food.
I don’t know why that happened. I never really understood it. The Germans wouldn’t deal with the whole formation. They would only deal with the leaders. I never understood why there was disorganization at that particular time. I know at other times that it didn’t exist. I never was able to figure out why it was so disorganized. After the Germans found out that we were Americans after a few days‚ they pulled us out of the British group and made us go with the American group.
As time went on they got it sorted out. There was another incident that was really funny at the time. We were marching along one day and the guards were what they called Home Guards. They were older fellows that were guarding the prisoners. There was one fellow that had a club foot. One afternoon he was just about give out. He had a pack on his back and a big old heavy rifle. Some GI walked over to him and said‚ “Give me your gun. I’ll carry it for you.” So he give the GI his gun. Somebody else took his pack and they were walking along beside him.
Here was this GI with a German rifle. A German captain come along and spotted it and he just like to had a hemorrhage and just raised holy hell. It tickled everybody to see this GI walking along carrying a German rifle to relieve the guard. But the poor old fellow could hardly make it. The German officers were really rough on the enlisted people. The German captain chewed this guard out something unmerciful. It give us something to laugh about‚ talk about.
One night we camped in a farm yard on the edge of an airfield. There was English Spitfires came over and strafed the German planes. One of the German planes took off and got five hundred feet or a thousand feet in the air. The Spitfire shot him down and the pilot bailed out. The German fighter hit the ground‚ blew up. We saw all that happen.
There were several times when we were on the road that we saw fighters come over and strafe German convoys on the road. Strafe the trucks. There was a barn a bunch of guys were in and it was strafed. I never did know whether there were any Americans killed. They strafed the barn‚ but I never knew what happened.
We crossed the Elbe River on a ferry on April 17th. I’d written that down. I’m trying to remember dates. And in the little diary that I kept I wrote down on May 1st I felt very sick and we marched thirty kilometers that day. I’m not sure what date it was. It was a day or two before that‚ we’d been marching towards the northeast. One morning they turned us around and we headed back and practically ran for two‚ I think it was two days. I think it was May 1st and the Germans told us that night‚ the night of May 1st‚ that we would be freed the next morning.
As far as I know‚ all of these prisoners were enlisted personnel. And there was a whole Duke’s mixture of people. When we were put in with the group at Follingbostel‚ there was a whole bunch of people that had been in an armored division. There was all different nationalities. There was‚ I remember‚ a Polish guy and some French people and some Indian Gurkhas‚ the people with the big turbans. There was a real mixture of nationalities and different branches of service. There was British and Canadians and New Zealanders. A lot of Canadians and Australians.
The Gurkhas were tough. People didn’t mess around with them. Most any German that had any brains knew that the war was about over. So their attitude and their treatment toward us was probably considerably different than it was earlier in the war. Some of the POW’s I’ve met were treated horribly by the Germans. They were bayonetted and beaten and all kinds of stuff. I didn’t experience any of that.
My misery was mostly being hungry and cold. It was ages before I ever felt really warm after I got back to the States. It must have been months before I really felt warm again. And so my miserable treatment was due to that‚ not being abused by the enemy. But it was normal for them to separate the enlisted people from the officers.
There was a lot of switching of POW’s from one place to another. There were people taken out of POW camp in eastern Germany and moved into Follingbostel or taken out of Follingbostel and moved somewhere else. So there was transients going through Follingbostel‚ and so it was kind of an end of the war confusion.
Also‚ and I don’t know whether this is true‚ we were told that Hitler had ordered the prisoners executed and that the German generals refused to carry out the order. I don’t know that that’s true. That’s one of the things there toward the end of the war. Hitler had ordered a lot of things done that didn’t get done because the generals just didn’t do it.
On that march‚ I would guess it was probably maybe eight o’clock in the morning by the time they’d get people formed and going. But here again I’m guessing at the times. We marched until late in the afternoon. Four o’clock I suppose‚ four or five o’clock. We took a break at noon‚ and a lot of guys had little gadgets that they could make a fire with. They could get some water and heat it in a coffee can. Some of the people had been in a POW camp for a long period of time. It was ingenious some of the things they’d made.
They’d taken some coffee cans and cut ’em up and made little blowers‚ and they could stop and in a matter of a few minutes have a cup of hot coffee. They’d put a few twigs‚ and then with their little blower‚ little fan‚ produce some super heat there for just a few minutes and they’d have a little coffee tin for of water setting on it. They’d have hot water in just a few minutes.
There would be literally hundreds of people marching down the road‚ but I don’t have any feel for how many people there were. I was so miserable that by the time we got out on the road that I didn’t really observe or see or remember a lot of stuff that I probably would have remembered under normal circumstances. I was concentrating on putting one foot after the other. I learned‚ Frank and I both agreed we learned‚ that you never give up‚ and you can always take one more step. That’s what we did while we were marching most of the time.
Now one thing I observed was that the veneer of civilization can slough off awful quick. We saw people steal off of their own sick. The Germans had a wagon and people that were so sick that they couldn’t walk rode on the wagon. The Germans‚ whenever they issued food‚ they gave them a separate issue of food. I saw guys that wasn’t incapacitated‚ slip over and steal food away from sick people. We hadn’t been in prison long enough...we may have done the same thing if we’d been there long enough. But I concluded afterwards in thinking back about it‚ that it doesn’t take long for the veneer of civilization to slough off.
You stop thinking about...I remember one time there was some real good looking well–dressed women walked by and there was hardly anybody looked at them. You know that’s rare for a bunch of young GI’s. When you get real hungry you don’t think of much else‚ but that you’re hungry and where can you get something to eat. If you’re cold you don’t think about much else except figuring out how to try to stay warm.
The one day we marched thirty kilometers. Usually we marched ten or fifteen miles because a column moved slow. People had diarrhea and were running off the road to shit. Once they stopped a column for a break‚ then it took a good while to get the column started again. There was a lot of screaming and shouting going on. So I don’t suppose we really moved that far.
There were a lot of guards‚ but I couldn’t relate how many guards there were. The guards all walked and I don’t remember seeing vehicles. By the time we got out on the road‚ things were pretty disorganized in Germany. I don’t know whether the German captain—we didn’t see him very often. He may have rode in a vehicle ahead of the column and let his enlisted men run the column.
I never saw anybody get shot. I heard‚ the day we were liberated‚ that morning‚ there was shots. I don’t know what actually happened. Some of the guys said that it was the dogmaster and somebody else said naw‚ it wasn’t the dogmaster. Somebody shot the dog. There was rumors went around‚ but what actually happened I don’t know. Except that the guards all disappeared and then the dogs disappeared and we never saw the dogs after that. But most of the guys hated the dogs and the dogmaster with a passion because most everybody had been at one time of another charged by the dogs. That was a scary‚ scary experience.
Some of the guys who had been in prison camp talked about how the guards’ attitude had changed. They were a lot friendlier and they were a lot less abusive. Some of the guys had really experienced some terrible treatment at the hands of the Germans. We had Germans tell us that in the next war it would be the Germans with the Americans against the Russians. The Germans hated the Russians with a passion‚ and apparently from the experience they had in the war with Russia‚ they had reason to hate each other.
But a good many of the German soldiers that I talked to or had any conversation with were older fellows and most of them were in the Home Guard‚ what they called the Home Guard. They didn’t want to do anything except go home. I think that there were a lot of Germans who did what most people would do. They did what they had to to survive. Under Hitler if you didn’t go along‚ they can just haul off and shoot you. If you knew that if you didn’t do what you were told you could be shot‚ it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to get yourself shot for no benefit.
I’m sure that a lot of Germans simply went along with the Nazi regime because they really didn’t have any choice. I think there was also a lot of people in Germany who enjoyed the authority and the power they had‚ and they were quite willing to use it. I don’t think the German people are any different than the people in this country. I think if the conditions were right‚ the same thing could exist in any culture. There’s always a bunch of people who love power and don’t mind abusing other people if they get away with it. We see little bits and examples of that here.
There’s some people that wouldn’t agree with me on that‚ but I’m convinced. Because some of my ancestors‚ my dad had always insisted that we were Scotch–Irish and English‚ but in doing genealogy work I found that some of my ancestors were German–Swiss. I found one that was a German–Swiss ancestor and in their family they only spoke German. I think there was both good and bad in the German population.
I found out that the Germans‚ they thought God was on their side. The people who believed in God in our side thought God was on their side. We both believed our government propaganda. I guess you do that when you’re young. You believe what the government puts out‚ its propaganda‚ as truth‚ when in fact a lot of it was propaganda.
The Red Cross parcel was a package of food and it had some powdered milk in it. It would probably have some candy. It would have some coffee. It would have some cigarettes. Just basic staple food. It’s a little package‚ probably‚ oh‚ eighteen inches square‚ eighteen by a foot by maybe four or five inches. Small package. It had American Red Cross all over it. I understand a lot of those‚ the shipments went to Switzerland and then from Switzerland over into Germany. The Germans did hand them out.
My understanding was the United States government paid for those parcels and they were simply shipped under the Red Cross name. I was told that the Red Cross did not buy those and ship them over. Our government had them put together and paid for them and paid for shipping them over there with the Red Cross name on it.
I think while I was there in the forty–one days‚ we probably had three of four Red Cross parcels or part of a parcel. Sometimes there wasn’t enough to go around. Then we’d split ’em up. There was good food‚ but it didn’t last very long. We did things like roast potatoes in the fire and then take the potato out and cut it and put powdered milk on it as a way to have a delicacy. We’d do all kinds of things with what little food there was in the Red Cross parcel.
The four guys I was with‚ we frequently took the coffee and the cigarettes and dickered for some more potatoes or bread or something else with the German farmers. The farmers really liked to get some good‚ real coffee. Apparently there was a real shortage of good coffee in Germany‚ particularly toward the end of the war.
The German farmers all seemed to be fat and well fed. About all of them had cages of rabbits somewhere around the farm‚ and they of course had chickens and the food they raised on the farm‚ so they didn’t go hungry. Some of the city people didn’t appear to be quite so well off toward the end of the war. My experiences were pretty limited when I think about it. We only got to see just a little piece of what was really going on. Frank and I have talked about it. We were just a mighty small cog in a pretty big wheel.
It’s interesting when we get together because what I remember is quite different than a lot of things that Frank remembers and vice versa. We remember out of our own background and perceptions and what impressed him was not necessarily the same thing that impressed me. I also belong to a POW organization and they send out a monthly magazine. There’s stories in there by POW’s.
There was a Canadian that was in charge of the British group‚ and apparently Frank talked to him quite a bit. He remembers the guy’s name and a lot of things that he said and did. I remember that there was this guy‚ but I don’t remember that much about him.
Some of the things we saw along the road Frank didn’t see and he saw‚ you know‚ Germans being like the handing out of the bread or the woman with the milk. Some of those things I saw; some of them he saw the same thing; some of the things he saw were a little bit different. He was in the group along with me that got marched down the road and we thought we were going to be shot. He remembers that very vividly.
I think some of the Europeans seemed to move more freely amongst the different groups of people. It seemed to me the Americans stuck pretty close to Americans. That was kind of an impression. They seemed to be a little bit more worldly than some of the Americans. You know they could speak more languages.
There were several people that I ran into that could speak maybe three or more languages. They floated around the Germans. They socialized or they talked to the Germans and they talked to other people. Two people could speak French and so they talked to each other. Most Americans can only speak some brand of English‚ and I think that was a big difference. If you could speak several languages then you felt more comfortable talking to other people that didn’t speak English‚ maybe.
One of the things I seemed to notice‚ that Americans seemed to have more feeling for the Germans than they did for the English or for any other nationality. The Americans seemed to be able to relate better to the Germans in some way.
I think the thing that impressed me about the British was that they seemed to be more disciplined than most Americans. They were also culturally more rigid in some ways. It was customary along in the afternoon to have tea‚ and come hell or high water‚ they stopped and had their tea. They seemed as a group to be more dedicated about their personal appearance in terms of shaving and keeping their uniforms clean and looking sharp than the Americans did as a group. That may just have been the set of conditions that we were in at that time.
One of the big things that I began to recognize was that people from other countries didn’t have horns and that they were not much different than we are in many ways. They hurt the same as we did. They got cold the same as we did. They got hungry and thirsty the same as we did. We did have a lot in common. A lot of the stuff that we’d been indoctrinated with in school and in the Army was just so much propaganda. Not everybody in the world wanted to come to the United States. Most people that I ran into wanted to go to their own particular home where they grew up.
Under military procedure whoever was the highest rank was the person in charge of the group. I don’t remember that there was a lot of rank involved. I think there was a master sergeant that was the highest ranking person in our group. I think maybe one of the problems was that there was such a Duke’s mixture of people from different branches of service. Air Force people were not noted for their discipline and their respect for rank and that sort of thing. So that may have contributed to some of the...and it would have been a different situation if we were in a camp in a stable setup. But where there were people out on the road marching and people from oh different groups that got thrown together‚ it was a mixed up mess.
I don’t remember that there was any throwing rank around. I know there was a lot of guys that were yelling about how “Hey‚ let’s get this thing together. Let’s get it organized so we don’t have to stand around and wait. So that we get things done.” The three guys I was with‚ we didn’t really feel a part of anything because we were so new. We didn’t know any of the other people. We hadn’t been with them long enough to establish any rapport. We were sort of outcasts really‚ in a way. As newcomers.
11—liberation and back home
The next morning‚ when it got daylight‚ the German guards were all gone. That was on May 2nd‚ and at seven o’clock that morning the British Eighth Army rolled through. That was near a place called Luztow‚ Germany. It was northeast of the Elbe River. It’s a little village.
The British threw off food packets and tobacco and candy‚ stuff for us to eat. That was the first good food we’d had since we were captured. I was only a prisoner for forty–one days‚ but that was enough to convince me that I never ever wanted to be in prison. The British told us that they were advancing.
The Germans were scared to death of the Russians. And we were too. The Russians had a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. So we did not want to be liberated by the Russians. We wanted to be liberated by either the British or the Americans. Anyway‚ the British told us to find our own way back.
There was a collection center for POWs and some guys that had been in the tank corps went out and commandeered a truck. As many of us got on that truck as could get on it‚ and we drove back to the collection center. The British took all our clothes away‚ and give us a hair cut and a bath. And a new uniform. A British uniform.
Then they made each one of us go through a line and we were soaked from head to foot with DDT. They had a blower and they stuck it on top of our head and run it all through our hair and they stuck it down the back of our neck. It looked like flour coming out of each sleeve and down the pants. It got rid of the lice. I never had any lice after that.
The fellow that was navigator on our ship‚ he was liberated quite a few days before‚ they went to an officer’s camp. They were liberated quite a few days before we were. He was flown back to the states and didn’t go through a delousing station. Didn’t know he had lice until he got back to the states and he met his wife in Washington‚ and flew out to his home in Nebraska. It wasn’t until he got to Nebraska that he discovered that he had lice. He’d spread lice from Washington to Nebraska. The civilians couldn’t get DDT back then. He told me afterward‚ I got home and contacted him‚ that they had one hell of a time getting rid of the lice. So I was glad that...I didn’t like it at the time‚ but it sure did get rid of the lice.
The British flew us on a DC–3 back to Brussels. They gave us the equivalent of twenty dollars and we stayed a couple of days in Brussels under British control. We got to go around and look at the beautiful city of Brussels. Then we were put on a troop train‚ and down at a place called Namur in Belgium. We returned back under U.S. control.
I immediately got pissed off. The Red Cross people came through with cigarettes and candy‚ but I couldn’t get any‚ because I didn’t have money to buy it. I didn’t understand that. The Salvation Army gave us a toilet kit when we were in Brussels. I never understood why the Red Cross was selling stuff on that train.
We went to a camp near Le Havre in France‚ called Camp Lucky Strike. We were in the process of being shipped back to the states. Well‚ we were quarantined there‚ and they fed us powdered eggs‚ powdered potatoes. We couldn’t get any candy‚ and I had a real sweet tooth. I was very unhappy with the situation. I think it was about the third day we was there‚ there was a lieutenant come in and he said‚ “Any of you people Air Force in here?” I stuck my hand up‚ and he said‚ “Would you like to go back to England?” He said if you would come over to a certain tent‚ and sign up.
I think I was the second guy in line and the next day we got on a B–17 and flew back to England. We went back to Norwich near were my air base was. By that time they’d packed up and gone back home. I had about a week before I was to report to London to be shipped back home. I had a rail pass‚ so I went to where Olive was stationed. She’d moved‚ and they were still under wartime conditions‚ and they wouldn’t tell me where she’d moved. So I went all the way from Yarmouth back to London‚ and then north to Olive’s home in Blackpool to find out where she was. Then all the way from Blackpool back to London‚ and then back up to Yarmouth. She’d moved to Lowestoft‚ which is south of Yarmouth‚ just a few miles down the coast. We spent a couple of days together‚ and by that time I’d run out of all my money I had. She had run out of all the money she had‚ so I had to go back to London.
Went to the Red Cross in London‚ to get some money. They said sorry but you’re not assigned to any unit‚ and we can only give money to people who are assigned to a unit. By that time I was ready to go tell the Red Cross to go screw itself. We had a place to go‚ a military installation to stay in. There was plenty of good food to eat. But I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t go anyplace.
A few days later‚ I went down to Southampton‚ and got a hospital ship coming back to the states. I guess that’s about the end of it.
You might be interested in...Olive was in the British women’s army. She was a radar operator‚ and I had met her at a dance. They were stationed not too far from our base. We had dances occasionally at the air base. The way I tell it‚ she says it was a little bit different. I was at the bar having a drink. Somebody shoved her‚ and I stuck my arm out to keep her from falling‚ and she just sort of stayed there. She says that wasn’t exactly the way it happened. I say it sounds better the way I tell it.
I said to her‚ “The moving finger writes and having writ moves on.” And she said‚ “Nor all thy wit nor piety...would erase a line of it.” I thought‚ “Hey‚ this is no common Limey. She knows something from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” So that perked up an interest in her‚ and we dated from there on.
After I came back to the States‚ the following year she came over for a couple of months and decided it was too hot and too many bugs over here to live in the States. She went back home. The following year she decided she would come back and she did‚ and she’s been here ever since. So one of the good things that come out of the war was I met Olive.
I got back to Norfolk‚ Virginia and they gave us sixty days’ leave for rest and recuperation to come home‚ and that’s the first furlough I’d had since I went into the service. I was pretty bitter about them sending me overseas without giving me a chance to have a furlough and come home. I got back to Norfolk probably in July.
After the furlough home‚ I reported back to Miami‚ Florida and was there for a short period of time‚ and then I was sent to San Antonio and discharged and sent home. That was the end of it. I was discharged from the service on October 31st‚ 1945.
I came back to Jackson County. I got off the bus and walked down the street and said to myself‚ “When I get home I’m taking this uniform off and it’s going take an Act of Congress to ever get me back in the military service.” I went back to school at OSU. When I came out of the service I went into the Veterans Hospital over in Dayton and was in the hospital for a couple of months. I had an infection‚ a fistula that was operated on over there. I went back to school for a couple of quarters‚ and I got sick and dropped out and come back home and worked on the farm with Dad.
Then Olive came over and we were married. That was in 1948‚ and I have a heck of a time remembering the exact dates and so on. Anyway‚ shortly Vernon Barnes come out here one day. We were living here at this place‚ and he said they were setting up a veterans’ class in Jackson‚ a veterans’ institutional On The Farm class and another class. They had a couple of classes going in there. He wanted to know if I would be interested in teaching a veterans’ On The Farm program‚ a vocational program.
I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher‚ but I needed money‚ and he said that I had had some university training and so I would be qualified to do it. I ended up teaching veterans’ vocational agriculture On The Farm training program for four years. After I got started in that I really enjoyed it. We had class twice a week for a couple hours in the high school. Then I was required to make a visit to each farm each week. We had small group meetings.
Basically what we did‚ we studied the problem solving process. What is it you’re trying to do? What is it you need to do? What do you need to know to do it? Where do you get the information to do it? It was a process involving their farming operation. They were required to keep farm account books. It was also a process that they could use in their daily lives‚ from everything from buying a car‚ buying furniture or anything else. It was a problem–solving process. On how do you logically and rationally make decisions about what you’re trying to do.
Although most of those veterans ended up going into something else other than farming‚ that was probably a major accomplishment—to get them off the farm‚ really. Because farms in this county were slowly going out of existence. It helped them arrive at a decision what to do with their lives. We got into all kinds of things like health and tidying the place up as well as the technical side of dairy farming and beef farming and corn and wheat and soybeans and that sort of thing.
Now I figured I learned a lot more than the veterans did‚ because I was born and raised on the farm and knew a lot about horticultural crops‚ fruits and vegetables‚ but my experience had been sort of limited‚ particularly with dairy cattle‚ and with grain farming type enterprises. I had to do a lot of studying and reading to keep up with the veterans.
I think it was a worthwhile program. Some of those fellows were going into town and paying $25.00 to have somebody fill out their income tax form and they didn’t make enough money to pay income tax. Well‚ that was part of the training. We had farm account books and we worked on how to fill out simple income tax forms and that sort of thing.
After the veterans’ On The Farm training program ended‚ I farmed here on this place. I helped Dad on the fruit farm‚ and then in 1955‚ the winter‚ that fall we spent a lot of time figuring. On the cold days when you couldn’t work outside‚ I set by the stove and figured and figured and figured and I come up with the figures that there was no way I could really make a living on this farm. I had an offer of a job in Columbus working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a conservation specialist. I didn’t think I wanted to work for the government‚ but I needed money‚ and so the kind of job wasn’t the most important thing. A job was important. So I took that job and found that I had some talent for the work.
I also found that I didn’t know as much as I needed to know to do the kind of job I wanted to do‚ and so I started going back to school and taking courses in the evening at Ohio State University. I ultimately worked out a degree in rural sociology and economics and continued in that organization and advanced through the organization. Worked on most of the farm programs that were administered by what’s called the ASC‚ Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.
My last job was the state executive director in charge of that agency operation in the state of Ohio. I retired then in 1981 from that.
12—questions and conclusions
Q: The first thing I want to ask you is what kind of reception did you receive when you came home from the war?
Very little. I came back from England on a hospital ship and arrived in Norfolk‚ Virginia‚ and went out to a big military base there‚ somewhere out in the country around Norfolk. From there got a sixty-day leave home for rest and recuperation. I don’t recall that there was any celebration. We pulled into a Navy base and were unloaded and got on transportation and went to a housing barracks.
Q: What about when you came home to Jackson County?
There was no celebration of any kind. I arrived home with one individual. I think I must have gotten off in Hamden on the train. My folks met me. Of course relatives and everybody else that I knew was tickled to death to see me‚ and I was tickled to death to get home. But as far as any public display‚ I don’t recall any of that.
Q: Did your family treat you like you were fragile?
No‚ they just treated me like normal. I think people were hesitant‚ wanting to know. They didn’t want to pry about things that they thought maybe I might not want to talk about. But they did ask questions‚ and I did not detect that anybody treated me any different than they normally would‚ other than express that they were happy that I’d made it home and wanted to know what happened and what I was willing to talk about.
There was a little negative stuff by the time I got home. Veterans were beginning to be a problem in terms of jobs and being reintegrated in the society. There was stuff in the newspapers‚ but personally I never experienced any of that.
Q: One aspect of the military experience that I’ve heard come up time and time again is the role of alcohol in the military. How would you characterize the role of alcohol?
In the group that I was with‚ we all used alcohol as a means of dealing with stress. Whenever we got off the base‚ one of the things we usually did was drink‚ probably a lot more than was good for us. Some of the people that I buddied with‚ when we went to town we’d do some shopping and look around. This was both in the States and when we were in England. We would do some shopping and looking around and go to parks or zoos or things like that and then end up in a bar and spend the rest of our time socializing and drinking in the bar.
Most of the guys I was with were not interested in raising hell and chasing women and doing the things that a lot of people did. One of the ways to relax was to have a few drinks. On the base in England you never knew what the next day was going to bring‚ and each day the stress got a little bit higher. You keep seeing crews that would not return from missions‚ and you begin to wonder is this one going to be the one that I won’t come back from? You know‚ statistically‚ what’s my chances? So rather than spend a lot of time trying to think about that we spent a lot of time trying to not think about that. One of the ways was to drink.
I think alcohol’s never been a problem for me. I’ve enjoyed drinking‚ but it may go for months and I never have a drink. But during the time I was in the service I drank pretty regularly‚ and most of the guys I was with. When we flew on missions we used alcohol...alcohol’s a depressant. We used it as a way to relax.
As soon as you got back on the base from a mission you went into debriefing. First thing you got was a big shot of Johnny Walker’s‚ and sat down with the briefing officer and debriefed. They wanted to know where you’d hit heavy flak‚ and what all you’d seen on the mission and so on. Anything to report...if you saw a crew go down‚ what plane was it and were there any survivors and any information that you could give. After the debriefing we’d go to the mess hall and have a hot meal and go to the barracks. By the time you got to the barracks you were wound down. We were glad to be back home and all in one piece.
I think the alcohol was very beneficial. It was given to us by the medical profession‚ and there was occasionally somebody who didn’t drink and wouldn’t take theirs. We had one man on our crew who would not. He didn’t take his shot of Johnny Walker’s‚ and there was always somebody else on the crew ready to take it. And use it. So‚ alcohol for me was positive during the war.
Q: Did the Air Force take care that you were sober when you went up? Did you have enough notice of the next flight?
Not always. One time we had a real problem. We had had a twenty–four hour pass and went to London. We got back from the twenty–four hour pass about midnight and we’d brought a bottle with us on the train coming back from London. All of us—I should say the enlisted crew—were feeling pretty good when we got back to the barracks.
It must have been four o’clock in the morning. They rolled us out for a mission. We went to the mess hall and drank large quantities of coffee and we got the ship ready to go. In the briefing room we all sat against each other so that we looked pretty sober. We really weren’t. When we got on the airplane‚ all of us went on oxygen. The pilot and the co-pilot‚ the officers on the crew‚ as far as I know had not been drinking‚ at least to the extent we had. Certainly the pilot hadn’t. By the time we were airborne we were sober.
That turned out to be one of the longest missions that we were on. We were a little over ten hours‚ and we had an engine shot out and had to land in Paris and stay in Paris a couple of days till we got one of the engines fixed so we could come on home.
Most of the time you were informed the night before that you were going to fly‚ so that you could go to bed early and get plenty of rest. I think that the reason we were called out was that our pilot had been trained in the use of radar‚ the electronic business that they use for bombing through clouds‚ and they needed him to fly that mission. That was the reason. Normally you did not get called out on a mission the next day after a pass. I don’t know of any other experience where alcohol might have interfered with the actions of the people on the plane.
Q: Was that kind of inner–directed discipline‚ or discipline imposed from the officers?
It was inner–directed discipline. The officers on the crew I was on‚ I don’t recall of ’em giving orders or doing anything that you could call discipline. They just expected each person to do their job‚ and if they had a comment it was usually made in terms of a suggestion or a question kind of thing. The discipline‚ I think your term would be a good one. It was inner–imposed discipline. Each person took pride in doing a good job‚ and all of us on the crew were interested in surviving. We knew that our co–operation and doing a good job was important.
One of the things that people sometimes bring up is drugs. I never heard of a drug problem in World War II. I did not know anybody‚ and drugs were something that I didn’t hear about until in the Vietnam War.
Q: What was the role of blacks in the military in World War Two?
We had almost no contact with blacks. The only one incident that I can remember happened in basic training in Shepherd Field. A southerner refused to salute a black officer in uniform‚ and I don’t know what that was all about. I don’t know what the black was doing there. There was no blacks in the units that I was in. There was a couple of blacks in the prisoner of war outfit. There was a couple of pilots‚ black‚ that I saw in passing‚ and I don’t know what kind of units they were in.
Q: Did you see any women in the military?
Very few. In gunnery school there were women pilots that flew B–26’s pulling tow targets. Those gals were really‚ well‚ the term was hot. They flew those planes like they were a part of their body‚ and they were really good. They were excellent pilots. We didn’t have any contact with them except shooting at tow targets‚ but we saw them land and take off‚ and they were really good.
There were WACS in the hospital in a couple of different bases that I was on and was in the hospital. I had food poisoning twice in San Antonio and was in the hospital and there was Women’s Army people on part of the staff in the hospital. They were doing a good job.
Once or twice there was an American Women’s Army Corps unit that participated in a dance on our base in England. I had more contact with women in the British Women’s Army and the British Women’s Navy and the British Women’s Air Force than we had with American women.
Q: The British women were doing administrative kinds of things?
My wife was in the British Women’s Army‚ and she was a radar operator on the coast. They were on active duty. They were shooting at buzz bombs and German planes that flew over England. It’d be my opinion‚ and I don’t have any facts to base it on‚ but the British women were far more active in the military than were American women. I think that was probably true of the French and the European countries‚ that the women were more active in the military. There again‚ I don’t have enough data to go into detail.
Q: That’s an impression you have.
That’s an impression I have.
Q: How important was music in the military? Not necessarily martial music‚ but swing music‚ big band‚ that sort of thing?
I think it had a lot to do with morale. Everybody loved music. When we were in Wichita‚ and I told you about this‚ some of the name bands played on the campus. That was great. When we were in Europe we used to listen to some of the German music. We enjoyed that as much or more as we did some of the British and American stations. We used to tune in the woman that broadcast from Germany‚ and the guys would set around and laugh about the propaganda that she spouted. But we enjoyed the music so we listened to that.
Q: Axis Sally?
Yeah. We listened to that quite often. I think music had a lot to do with helping people’s morale and keeping folks cheerful.
Q: While you were in England‚ did you have anybody from the States come over on entertainment tours?
I don’t recall on our base. When I was in the tent city at LeHavre waiting to come home‚ Bob Hope entertained the troops.
Q: Were you in the audience?
Yeah. That was really important. Extremely important. I think for most everybody that I knew‚ Bob was a little bit of home. His comedy was really high–class comedy‚ and he always brought a bunch of good looking actresses and singers or staff with him. That was good.
There’s another one I’d forgotten. When I was in San Antonio‚ there was a program put on. I do not know what it was all about. The only thing I can remember is that I sat on the edge of the stand where the performers appeared. There were a number of actresses and actors. Two that I can remember was Spencer Tracy and Dorothy Lamour. I was real shocked that they weren’t as beautiful in person as they were on the screen. I sat there flabbergasted to be within ten or twelve feet of these people and see that they just looked like ordinary people and that they aren’t nearly as beautiful as they were on the screen.
Q: What a nice story!
There were probably some other occasions that have faded out of my memory‚ but those are the ones that come up when you raise the question.
Q: That’s good. How important was the military newspaper Stars and Stripes?
I don’t know how to rate it in terms of importance. It was interesting. One of the things that interested me was what was reported in the newspaper versus what actually happened. Last night Olive and I watched “Good Morning Vietnam”. What’s the actor’s name?
Q: The star was Robin Williams?
Robin Williams. That recalled what happened and what was reported. We would go on a mission‚ and one mission I remember there was at least twelve bombers that I saw go down during the mission. When we got back the next day‚ the newspapers had reported that the American Air Force had carried out a successful raid against Germany and there was only a couple of planes lost. The German radio was reporting that they’d shot down a couple of dozen. So we used to laugh about that and say if you take what the Germans say and what the Americans say and added ’em together and divide in half‚ you’ll get about what actually happened.
One of the experiences that carried over from the war was the fact that governments lie and governments put out enormous amounts of propaganda. Anything that the government puts out‚ I think reasonable people need to‚ or at least I try to when there’s anything put out by the government‚ our government or any other government‚ I always try to think, “Well‚ how much sense does this make and where can I get some information that would tend to verify or indicate the true situation?”
I sometimes resent the enormous amount of propaganda that I was fed about the German people. I found the German people were just like people any place else on earth. There were some of them that were not very good human beings‚ and there were a lot of good human beings‚ too. The propaganda that we were fed. I’m not sure that that’s necessary. Some people think that people have to be pumped up and fed a lot of propaganda in order to get them to do what they need to do‚ but I don’t really agree with that. I’m not sure that all the propaganda and all the lying really accomplishes what some people think that it does.
I would say that what the Stars and Stripes reported was what they were given by the military to publish. I didn’t feel that that was their role as a propaganda agent. My impression is that they put out the propaganda they were given. As much as they were permitted‚ they published. Now my impression is that we got more factual information from the Stars and Stripes than we got out of the general public newspapers. That could be wrong. It’s just an impression.
There were a lot of facts. When the Stars and Stripes said that there were fourteen hundred bombers over Europe‚ that I knew to be a fact. We knew how many bombers were out that day. So don’t‚ under any circumstances‚ quote me as saying that the Stars and Stripes was a major propaganda organ for the government. I don’t remember it that way.
Q: Okay‚ well that’s good. The reason I asked the question and I pressed you a little bit on it‚ was that another comment I’d gotten from somebody else who was a infantryman and didn’t have any access to any other news‚ was that wild rumors swept the troops. Hitler was going to hole up in the Bavarian Alps and all sorts of just wild rumors. He said Stars and Stripes was invaluable because it was the only source that they were fairly confident didn’t contain the wild rumors.
It didn’t have crazy stuff in it. I’d agree with that. That makes good sense.
Q: How did you evaluate the weapons you were given? By that I mean the bomber and the bombs and the bombsights and the machine guns and so on. How well did they work‚ do you think?
I’d say excellent. I never had any difficulty with any of the guns that I used. That would include the Colt .45 automatic pistols that we used. In training we used the Thompson submachine gun which was a really good weapon‚ a quality weapon. Then we used something we called a grease gun which sort of looked like a grease gun. It was a machine gun manufactured just to spray a lot of bullets. I don’t think it was intended to be real accurate. The only rifle that I used was the old Springfield rifle. That weapon‚ the ones that I used‚ were good ones.
The caliber .30 and caliber .50 machine guns we used were good guns. All the weapons that were on our B–24 bombers were good weapons. I don’t recall of having a malfunction on a gun on the airplane. We had no problems with bomb racks‚ guns or fuses in the bombs or any of that.
We had no particular problem with the bombers. One of the surprising things to me was that bombers had personalities. There was one bomber that we all hated to fly because we referred to it as being soggy‚ mushy. It just didn’t respond as quickly as other airplanes.
Q: Wasn’t each crew assigned a particular bomber?
I can’t say about other crews and other Bomb Groups. We were not.
Q: I always see the pictures with the particularized name and particularized logo.
At the time we got over to England‚ our pilot‚ as I told you earlier‚ was given special training to fly high altitude missions with a lot of electronic gear that we didn’t know very much about. So we didn’t fly the same plane all the time. When we started flying‚ we had a plane we called “Miss America” and we flew it.
Q: Did it have the painting of a girl on the side of it?
It had the painting on the front of it. I think probably earlier in the war that people were assigned one airplane and flew it‚ flew the same plane. But I was not concerned enough about the organization and the structure and all that kind of stuff to pay that much attention.
All of the planes that I flew in were good airplanes. I think there was probably no better mechanics anywhere on the face of this earth than the mechanics that worked on those airplanes. Because when you went out to the airplane‚ and the pilot asked the mechanic if it was ready to go and the mechanic said‚ "She’s okay‚ all the fans are turning"‚ why you could count on it. That was the way it was.
Now sometimes when they got airborne there’d be something go wrong. Sometimes a crew would have to abort the mission because the engine had lost oil pressure or something happened to it‚ but that was normal. I would have to say that the equipment all the way through was good‚ and no problems with it.
Q: Were you glad you were on a B–24 instead of a 17 or would you rather have been on a 17?
I don’t know. I’d not had any experience on a 17. I’d ridden on a 17‚ but not flown enough to have any impression about it. The Liberator‚ the B–24 Liberator bomber we liked because we could get back from the mission quicker than the B–17’s.
Q: Meaning it flew faster?
A little higher speed. I’m not sure about the altitude.
Q: I thought the 17’s could go higher.
I don’t know that about the 17’s. It got much above 20‚ 000 feet then they began to have difficulty holding them up there. But my understanding was we flew faster. We’d get back from a mission before they did. Here again that’s an impression.
Q: Have you ever reflected on bombing targeting policy?
There were two or three times when we flew missions that were obviously not that great military targets. I did not as an individual like the idea of bombing civilians. But in general the targets we flew were military targets. We flew a lot of missions against railroad marshalling yards and against ball–bearing and roller bearing factories.
When we first arrived in August‚ in the summer of ’44‚ there was a lot of missions flown to blow up the buzz bomb V–2 sites over in France along the coast. Most of our missions were against either marshalling yards or a factory that made some vital war material.
Q: You say there were two or three missions when you bombed civilian targets?
I can remember two missions that we bombed civilian targets.
Q: Was there any justification for that given in briefing?
The one I can remember‚ one was a mission that we were assigned. We flew a mission to Berlin‚ and the picture on the wall what we were to bomb‚ the briefing officer said there are two streetcar tracks across here‚ and there wasn’t very much said about it. We weren’t told very much about it‚ but you could see on the aerial photograph on the wall that there didn’t appear to be any military target there. The other case I’m thinking about where the groups ahead of us destroyed the target‚ and we went on to drop bombs on a civilian area. I don’t know whether that was somebody’s personal initiative or what‚ except that I didn’t like the idea when it was done.
Q: Was there any sense that this was retaliation for buzz bombs?
Q: Did you have any impression during World War Two that there was a military–industrial complex developing?
No‚ I never thought about that until after the war. Eisenhower was the first one to cause me to think about it after the war. I thought a lot of Eisenhower. When we were in the tent city at LeHavre‚ Eisenhower flew in and talked to us. I was in the group that he talked to‚ and I was impressed with him‚ seeing him in person. I was impressed with him as a political figure after the war. He had some strong comments about the military taking over‚ becoming too strong an influence in the country.
Q: This may have happened.
It’s my impression it has happened. We’re in the clutches of a military complex.
Q: That’s exactly what Eisenhower was warning us against.
Yeah‚ but during the war I was oblivious to any of that. My impression was that everybody was busting a gut to provide everything possible so that we could win the war and get it over with. I certainly didn’t think much about what was going to happen afterwards. But the military–industrial complex that exists today is a little bit frightening to me.
Q: And to me. What did you think when Korea came along—here we go again‚ or what did you think?
Really‚ I don’t have any feeling about Korea‚ and I don’t know why. I just don’t have any memories about it. I do have some memories about the Vietnam War‚ but I don’t remember thinking very much about the Korean conflict‚ except‚ now I’ll back up and have to say except I identified with MacArthur that we either fight the damn war or get out of it or quit. My feeling is that it’s not fair to human beings to go into a war with one hand tied behind your back. If we get into a fighting war with somebody‚ it seems to me we ought to go in to win it and to get it over with as quick as possible‚ which is what we did or attempted to do in World War Two.
When they stopped MacArthur I felt that that was wrong. I think MacArthur was an egotistical s.b.‚ but he was a good soldier‚ and I had a lot of respect for MacArthur. I thought what they did back there was wrong. Other than that‚ I don’t remember thinking much about the Korean conflict.
Q: Do you have any recollection‚ during the war or afterward‚ about the Jewish problems in Germany? The Holocaust?
I had no idea the extent of what Hitler did to the Jews until after the war. I do know what happened in prison camps‚ and I saw people in prison camp or in the prison in Hannover when we were there‚ the short period of time. People with skin and bones‚ I saw. I think I mentioned I saw them abuse a Russian soldier.
I talked to people who saw what happened in Auschwitz and some of the extermination camps. It was after the war that I became aware how many people the Germans had exterminated‚ the Jewish population. I think it’s utterly ridiculous that there are people trying to say that the Holocaust was all propaganda. I think there’s enough evidence that you have to be a real ignoramus to say that it didn’t happen.
Q: Did that justify the founding of the state of Israel in the late ’40’s‚ early ’50’s?
I don’t know. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Israel and that whole mess over there. I’ve not studied that or thought enough about it to have any real strong feelings other than I think right now the Israelis are way off base in some of the stuff they do.
Q: They’re making some serious mistakes‚ aren’t they?
They’re making some real serious mistakes. The Arabs are people the same as the Israelis‚ and the Israelis have used their influence in this country to get a lot of advantages and a lot of things that really is questionable. I think they are mistreating the Arabs‚ but I have not studied that whole situation over there to have any real strong feelings about them establishing their country and running the Arabs off.
I think it’s a pretty difficult situation to come up with any black or white solutions. I can identify with Arabs who have lived on the land for generations‚ and the Israelis come along and kick them off. Why‚ that is about like what we did to the Indians here in this country. Somehow or another that doesn’t seem to be the right thing to do. I’d rather not to get into that cause I don’t know enough to talk about it.
Q: You just talked about it for a while and you did fine. After the Second World War did you join the American Legion?
No. When I got out of the service‚ I disliked the military. My dad was an American Legion member‚ and I used to be as a kid with the Sons of the American Legion. Belonged to it. But I had a strong dislike of anything military when I got out of the service‚ and I had no desire to go belly up to the bar and drink with people who claimed to have won the war. I didn’t have any desire to swap war stories with people. I just really wasn’t interested.
I did join the D.A.V. because of the disability‚ and in later years. I’m a life member of the D.A.V. and a life member of the American ex-POW organization. But I’m not active in either one of them. I think the veterans’organizations are important. I felt I could afford to join two of them‚ and those were the two that I felt closest to. The D.A.V. and the POW organization. That doesn’t say anything against either the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion.
I think all the organizations are important because I don’t think the veterans would have gotten any of the considerations that they’ve gotten if it hadn’t been for the pressure of the veterans’organizations. I think it doesn’t say very much for the government who whips up enthusiasm to go defend the country‚ and then wants to cut out hospital beds and deny veterans any benefit or limit the benefits to veterans.
My first contact with the Veterans Administration was disappointing. I found that they took the adversarial role. You had to have documented proof of everything‚ ironclad. I have real strong feelings now when I see our elected representatives wrapping themselves in the American flag and waving it all over the place. I would prefer to see them doing a little more for the veterans that fought for this country and fought for what the flag stands for. I would rather see them advocating things that the flag stands for rather than placing their major emphasis on waving the flag. That stirs up a lot of bitterness with me.
Q: What about the political views of the American Legion‚ American-Legion types? I remember my father was a member of the American Legion. I remember the name Joe McCarthy tossed around the household when I was a youngster‚ and I guesss I associate the two ideas.
I don’t remember the relationship between McCarthy and the...
Q: Well‚ he was called Tailgunner Joe...
I think McCarthy was a horrible individual. One of the things that I think was detrimental to this country was using Communism as a whipping boy. I don’t know how to express this‚ but I think some of our leaders have used anti–Communism as a way to keep people stirred up in the country.
Q: The foreign devil?
The foreign devil technique‚ yeah. I think they’ve done a real good job of using it‚ and I think McCarthy hurt an awful lot of people. He hurt people who tried to do what the flag supposedly stands for‚ and that is freedom of speech. One of the things that I have trouble with some of the veterans’organizations‚ that if you say anything critical of the country‚ the “love it or leave it” kind of attitude. I don’t buy that. One of the things that makes this country great is that people have the right to think what they want to think and they have a right to say what they want to say. I view that as what I went to the service for‚ was the right to think what I want to think and the right to say what I want to say. I don’t feel that I’ve always been able to say what I want to say without being penalized.
I also value the other freedom‚ the ability to do whatever I want to do as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of other people. When you say the political views of the veterans’organizations‚ I think sometimes they go too far in wanting to limit somebody’s right to protest. I don’t agree with the veterans who are all uptight now about the flag. I don’t approve of burning the flag‚ but on the other hand‚ I think that when the symbol becomes more important than that which it stands for‚ then we’ve lost something.
I would prefer people to raise the question‚ when somebody feels strong enough to desecrate the flag‚ then there’s something wrong. Those people are going about as far out as you can go to express their dissatisfaction with something. Maybe we ought to listen to what they’re saying rather than going after them to crucify them for burning the flag. That’s my thinking on it.
Really‚ as far as the veterans’organizations‚ I think politics is not really what they’re supposed to be all about. They’re supposed to be looking after the interests of the veterans. Although I don’t follow what’s going on in their organizations that close to have any knowledgeable comment about their current politics or anything.
Q: The next question is you went through a lot being shot down and going through prison and having flashbacks when you sleep. When you’re awake anyway‚ do you feel any heightened sense or courage or self-confidence since the war?
The thing that I feel good about‚ I feel that I’m a survivor. I feel good that I’ve done the kinds of things that’s enabled me to survive. One of the things that I don’t think I mentioned to you that was a big problem for me when I came back from the service was guilt feelings. I had a real struggle with that for a long period of time‚ and it still creeps up once in a while.
There were thirteen guys on the airplane and four of us got out of it‚ you know. I always think was there something we missed or something that could have been done different. Why did four of us survive and the rest didn’t survive? Of course‚ there’s a lot of different speculations and different answers to that. I suspect that a great many people who came back from World War Two who survived‚ and some of their good friends and buddies didn’t survive‚ experience some feelings that could be called guilt feelings. They’re not guilt feelings in the same sense maybe that you feel as a civilian in terms of guilt.
I get guilt feelings...feelings about what you did. You know you dropped bombs on peoples’ houses and saw a lot of crude uncivilized things happen or heard about ’em. That plays mental tricks with you at times.
I don’t feel any sense of having done something out of the ordinary. I don’t feel brave or courageous or any of those kinds of things. Sometimes I feel that I was pretty stupid to have volunteered and to have went out of my way to get into combat. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t just bloody stupid.
But I feel that I did what I thought I had to do at the time I did it. I wouldn’t want to go through it again. But sometimes I think that I’ve benefited a lot from it because it’s caused me to do an awful lot of thinking.
Q: I was about to get into that. You’ve said while you were at the air base and while you were going through this‚ you took steps (and all your buddies did‚ too) to avoid thinking about it. After the war do you just go ahead and think about it or do you avoid thinking about it?
I think you got two different kinds of situations. When you were facing unpleasant experiences every day‚ or possible unpleasant experiences every day‚ the next day you didn’t know what was going to hold for you. You didn’t know whether you were going to survive or what. There was I think a natural tendency to live for the moment. You didn’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about tomorrow‚ other than thinking about what you needed to do to take care of yourself to the best of your ability. So you just didn’t speculate on what was coming tomorrow.
After the war I think there was a long period of time when I just avoided thinking about it. I didn’t talk to anybody very much about it‚ avoided talking about it except to my friend that lives in Winston–Salem‚ North Carolina. We got together occasionally and hashed it over‚ but other than him and other than my wife‚ I probably talked very little to people.
It’s only just in recent years that I come to the conclusion that I ought to talk a little bit more about my experiences because some of the younger people have no comprehension about what went on then. Now I think about grandchildren especially. With the violence on TV and all this kind of stuff‚ war comes through as kind of romantic kind of thing‚ and there’s nothing romantic about it. So I think it would be great if more veterans talked more about their actual experiences.
After coming back from the war I wondered about the feelings I had. I wondered about my feelings about not wanting to talk about. I wondered about why I wasn’t interested in the American Legion or going to socialize with other ex–soldiers. I did a lot of thinking about it. You know—why am I this way?
All of those feelings that I came home with were the things that caused me to try to sort out where those feelings were coming from and what was causing them‚ and how could I deal with them. Being an introverted person‚ and by introverted I mean‚ it has nothing to do with liking people. It has to do with being a person that likes space and likes time to think and quiet time. I did a lot of thinking on my own rather than to seek out other people and talk about it.
Q: The obvious next question is whether the kinds of experiences you had‚ thinking about it and confronting your questions‚ relate to some of the difficulties that some of the Vietnam veterans have had in not being able apparently to confront their feelings and coming up with stress syndromes and all that sort of thing. I’m wondering whether it’s healthy to confront these feelings in your conscious mind.
Well‚ that’s one of the ways of being able to manage them. When you talk about the Vietnam situation‚ you can’t compare it really with World War II experiences.
Q: I’ve heard a lot of vets say that‚ and I’m not convinced of it yet‚ so I’m listening.
Okay. There’s a whole bunch of things that apply. One of the things is that although there was no band playing or no flag waving when I came home‚ I did not come home to a negative situation. Nobody spat on me. Nobody said anything negative to me. The things that were said to me when I came home were positive. The things that were said going into World War Two were positive kinds of things. You were doing your duty for your country‚ and so when come back‚ even though there wasn’t a band playing‚ you had served your country. In some respects you were sort of a hero because you had served your country with honor.
In the Vietnam situation people went over there. There was disagreement over it. They fought a war with their hands tied behind their backs. In Germany we knew who the enemy was. The enemy wore a uniform and you could see the enemy. We knew where the enemy was. There was no problem of determining who was the enemy and where the enemy was located. I don’t mean on a specific battlefield‚ but the German territory was well marked out.
In Vietnam‚ people lived right among people who were both their enemy and their friend. They didn’t know which one was which. Sometimes during the daytime the people who were friendly turned in to be the Viet Cong at night.
Another problem I see is that most World War Two veterans went through a process. We came back to a tent city in LeHavre. I came back to the States on a hospital ship and went to Patrick Henry in Norfolk‚ Virginia. Was there for a few days. I went to Miami‚ Florida‚ for a few weeks and I went to San Antone. There was a process going on‚ step by step‚ before I re–entered civilian life. My understanding is that there were guys in combat in Vietnam and two days or three days later they were civilians on the street in San Francisco. There was no adjustment period for that person.
Going back and thinking about my own experience‚ if I had been flung back from Europe and dumped out on the street‚ I would probably have had one hell of a time adjusting to what I was stepping into as a civilian. It was only a little less than three years‚ but there was a real cultural adjustment‚ to switch from civilian or military life‚ particularly somebody that had been in combat to civilian life. Back into a civilian situation where the civilians were critical of what you’d‚ the horror that you...as a Vietnam veteran you’ve gone through hell over there and you come back and these people are criticizing you for what you as a person in Vietnam...I’m over here defending my country or that’s what I thought I’m supposed to be over here fighting for my country. I come home and get criticized for it. So they had a lot of stuff to deal with that we didn’t have to deal with.
They also come back to a Veterans’ Administration who even though having had a lot of experience with World War II were ignorant as hell about the trauma and the experience that combat people go through and what that does to them. There didn’t seem to be a connection between people who go through a hurricane and a tornado or some other terrible event. When you read about those natural disasters‚ read about mental health people‚ social workers and so on stepping in to help people‚ bridge the gap for us. When there’s a suicide in the family some social organizations are available to help.
Well‚ there wasn’t that in general for World War Two veterans. World War Two veterans worked their way back into society. The veterans’ hospitals are filled with guys that still—World War Two hasn’t ended for them. There’s a lot of guys in veterans’ hospitals that the war will not end for them until they die. With some of them it was that they were never able to make the adjustment.
Then you can get down to individual cases. If a veteran comes home and moves into or comes back to a supportive situation‚ where there’s a family that cares about him and they show that they care about him‚ and he’s got friends that give him support‚ the adjustment into civilian life is a hell of a lot easier. A person who comes home and has no family situation for whatever reason‚ does not have a good support group to step into‚ the person who doesn’t talk about the experience (and this would apply to whether it’s a veteran or whether it’s a civilian that’s in a traumatic experience)...talking about it is one of the major helps in getting over it‚ is to talk about it. The person who can’t talk about it and buries it usually has a lot more trouble than those people who are willing to talk about it or who won’t think about it and buries it.
I think one of the things that helped me was I was willing to do an awful lot of thinking about it as well as have a couple of people that I could talk about it to. I understand now that they do have support groups going for Vietnam veterans that seem to have been real helpful.
I know some Vietnam veterans that have been through hell and high water and have come home and have not had any particular problem. Not everybody that was in the Vietnam situation has problems.
Q: Change the subject. Entirely different. If you were in command‚ have you ever reflected‚ if you were in command then of a bomber force‚ would you have done anything differently? Do you have any particular criticisms of the way things were run over there?
Probably not. I thought we had pretty good commanders‚ from my limited viewpoint. I really didn’t have that much contact‚ and I don’t remember hearing criticism from anybody about the upper echelon.
Q: You don’t remember being on a mission and thinking this whole thing is really stupid?
No‚ no. My impression is they did a pretty good job of routing us through Germany to avoid flak concentrations. I’m not aware of any real bungled situations in the Air Force‚ other than individual kinds of things. Every once in a while somebody would make a mistake and shoot into a ship‚ airplane‚ and testfire their guns and accidentally shoot into another ship. Or somebody would shoot a machine gun off on the ground. Accidents‚ that kind of thing‚ but I don’t remember of any real bungled kinds of things.
I remember setting on the floor leaning against the wall in the waist of the airplane listening to Jimmy Stewart when he was command pilot on several missions that we went on. We could hear his voice on‚ we could switch over on command and...
Q: I’ve heard that Jimmy Stewart was a command pilot‚ but I never dreamed that you were on those missions.
Q: What was that like? Tell us about it.
Well‚ it wasn’t any different than any other mission other than...
Q: He wasn’t in your aircraft?
He was on another aircraft. No‚ I never saw Jimmy Stewart‚ but I’d hear his voice‚ you know.
Q: You heard his voice in command?
The pilot would say "Hey‚ you guys‚ you want to listen and hear Jimmy Stewart?" and he’d switch over to the position on the radio and you could hear him. And we’d hear his soft voice coming over the ...
Q: Had he been a major movie star before then or was his career after...
I think so. Time is kind of fuzzy with me there‚ but he was a popular movie star because every time he was the command pilot we always got on the radio to hear him. There wasn’t very much said on the radio‚ but when there was something said‚ why you could hear his voice and recognize it. To the best of my knowledge he was very well thought of as a pilot and as a command pilot. He was apparently a real good pilot and knew what he was doing.
I talked to a navigator‚ B–24‚ Second Division‚ and he thought Jimmy Stewart was the cat’s whiskers. He said that Jimmy Stewart came down to briefing one time to give all the navigators a pep talk‚ and boy‚ that was just something. And he’s followed that man’s career ever since.
Well‚ there was a politician that we flew alongside of‚ and that was George McGovern. He was a bomber pilot‚ a damn good bomber pilot. Old George McGovern has been tops in my book ever since World War Two.
Q: Did you know him?
I didn’t know him personally. I knew who he was‚ knew that he was a B–24 pilot. I didn’t know that he was going to be a real hot–shot politician‚ but knew who he was.
Q: Did you take advantage of the GI Bill?
I went back to OSU for a period of time. I think I put in a year or so on the GI Bill at OSU. I started to OSU in 1941 and I got a degree in 1961‚ so probably two thirds of it I paid for myself. I had a little bit of help through the GI Bill. I also got a house loan one time under the GI Bill. I guess the GI Bill helped me in another way. I taught a veterans’ vocational agriculture class here in Jackson County for almost four years‚ and that was paid for through the Veterans’ Administration‚ but it was a part of the GI Bill to provide on–farm training for farmers. I got the benefit from it by being an instructor in a class.
Q: I’m about run out of questions. Do you have any concluding remarks you would offer?
Yeah‚ there’s one that’s going on right now. My feelings result from my experience during World War Two‚ and that’s the National Rifle Association. I just listened to the news tonight‚ and they’re all upset about a ban against import of assault weapons. I grew up with guns. From the time I was a little guy I grew up with guns. Guns were important to us on the farm back during the Depression—it put meat on the table. I used to hunt squirrels practically the year round. So guns did have a lot to do with my life.
The National Rifle Association...they talk about rights under the Constitution‚ and I think if you dug right down to brass facts‚ you would find that the Constitution is probably bottom on their list. What’s top on their list is money‚ and that comes from the manufacture and sale of guns. I personally don’t think anybody in this country‚ civilians‚ got any business with an assault rifle or a Saturday night special. I don’t think gun laws that have been proposed really get at the problem.
I would rather see something done at the manufacturing level that production of Saturday night specials be prohibited. These real cheap handguns that are fit for only one thing and that’s to shoot people. They’re not good for target shooting or hunting. We don’t allow everybody to have dynamite. We don’t allow people to have firecrackers‚ and yet we’re bloody stupid about allowing civilians who don’t know anything about guns‚ and part of this comes from my experience in basic training‚ of seeing people out of the general population handling guns‚ that were ignorant about using and handling guns. It’s downright dangerous.
I think the National Rifle Association is really a detrimental organization in this country‚ other than for people who deal in arms making lots of money. I think people who want to have guns for target shooting or for hunting ought to have them. It seems to me that the laws that they’ve been proposing to have people go through a waiting period is a bunch of nonsense. I have questions about how good that is. I don’t like the idea of creating a bureaucratic organization to look after guns. But I don’t think the average person has any business with an assault rifle.
I got my belly full of guns while I was in the service‚ and I’ve not been able to do any hunting. In fact I don’t own a gun now. I don’t have any desire to shoot.
Q: Ed Clark made the comment that most of the fellows that do all this rah rah on guns business never had one shot at them.
I don’t like the idea of walking down the streets of Columbus or any place else‚ and have that feeling of wondering whether or not somebody is going to take a shot at me. I went through that during the war wondering when you were going to get it the next minute‚ you know. I just think it’s ridiculous that kids are able to go out.
They say that guns don’t kill people‚ people kill people. I agree with that‚ but I think there would be a lot less people killed with guns if Saturday night specials‚ real cheap guns‚ weren’t readily available. There’s so many other substances and things in our society that are prohibited‚ or there’s some limit stuck on them.
You know back when I was growing up on the farm‚ we went into the hardware and bought dynamite. We cleared a lot of land with dynamite. Well‚ you can’t go buy dynamite today. Anybody just can’t walk up and buy dynamite. I’m not sure what the controls are or how it’s regulated‚ but you just can’t everybody go buy it. There are tariffs to get ahold of explosives but explosives aren’t available to the general run of the people. It seems to me if fireworks are illegal‚ that there certainly ought to be some kind of control on guns.
It scares me. It scares me in Columbus when I know that neighbors up and down the streets have got guns‚ because I know that some of the people who have got guns don’t really know how to use guns. There’s always somebody getting shot. Kid a couple years ago was hunting nightcrawlers and somebody walked out and thought he was a robber and shot him in the yard. Stuff like that. Kids get a hold of guns and just here recently in Florida some little kid playing with a gun shot his‚ I don’t know if it was his brother or sister‚ killed him. That kind of thing. It’s something that I think because of my experience in the military has caused me to have some strong feelings about it.
liberators over europe—a video
“More Liberators Over Europe” is a video produced by the United States Army‚ embedded from YouTube. It shows a B–24 force in the air over Europe. You may click “full screen” at the lower right of the video after you start it.
Many of the photographs in this oral history are family photos graciously lent by Wendy Cochran, Ralph's daughter. Other photos are taken from the public domain. Google Maps images are gratefully acknowledged.