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Click To Play Music

"We Remember"
by Dwayne O'Brien

T/Sgt. James N. Conner
721st Squadron
Radio Interview - 4 May 1945

NEWSCM:

Many unusual stories have come out of this war and many more will be revealed as time goes by...Tonight, "The Home Patrol" presents a different story...He is Tech Sergeant James Conner, of Madison, Georgia, who is stat­ioned at Boca Raton Army Air Field, a technical school of the AAF Training Command. Sergeant Conner, you were based in Italy with the 15th Air Force, weren't you?

CONNER:

That's right, Jack....I was a radio operator on a B-24... Flew 31 missions, seven of them over Ploesti.

NEWSCM:

You really-saw action then...some of the hottest targets of this war were at Ploesti...but tell me, what is your job at Boca Raton Field now?

CONNER:

I am assistant non-com in charge of shipping graduates from the field after they have completed their training. They're sort of anxious to know what they will run into overseas and are always asking a lot of questions... I tell them what I can.

NEWSCM:

With all your overseas experience I'd say they have placed you in the correct job...You certainly are in a position to tell men going overseas what they can expect on the other side...But let's get on with your story...You say you flew 31 missions...It took 50 to complete a tour of duty in that theater didn't it?

CONNER:

Yes it did, but I was shot down on my 31st mission...It was on one of those Ploesti raids I told you about... and what a hot mission...We were hit by flak over the target...Three engines were shot out...The ship was shaking like the devil I was standing by the camera hatch when the order came to bail out. We were scrambling out of every piece of extra equipment...the tail gunner came up behind me and started ripping off my flak suit and than I rolled out the hatch...

NEWSCM:

That really called for action...how high were you when you bailed out?

CONNER:

We were up 23,000 feet...I didn't wait long before I pulled the ripcord on my chest chute. I was kind of anxious to see if it was going to open---and boy, when it did...I had fallen about 3,000 feet and it felt good to know that much of the trip was over...It was so quiet hanging up there in the air...So much had happened all at once...Then all of a sudden I heard

s-w-i-s-h as something went hurtling past me...Looking down about

3,000 feet below I saw a parachute open...it was the tail gunner.

NEWSCM:

I'll bet that gave you a scare...what happened then?

CONNER:

Well, it wasn't long before I hit the ground... and a Rumanian reception committee was waiting for  me...They seemed quite friendly although I knew I was their prisoner. They gave me a short beer, some eggs and milk and did it taste good...The milk was hot, but it helped a lot. I had sprained my ankle when I landed and it was aching pretty badly.

NEWSCM:

So what did they do with you then?

CONNER:

They took me off to a prison camp in Bucharest...but the Russian Balkan offensive was closing in on the Germans so we were released 22 days later and flown back to our base

in Italy.

NEWSCM:

You were a prisoner of war only a short time then...But no doubt it was the most exciting experience of your combat.

CONNER:

Well, it was exciting Jack….but to tell you the truth, for thrills I had another experience I'll never forget….if you don't mind I'd like to tell you about that….There were four of us of our crew that took part in the operation. Lt. Vernon Mikkelson, our pilot from Garske, N. Dakota: Lt. George Nosal, co-pilot, a West Virginian, Tech. Sergeant Edward Rogers, our engineer, from Chicago and myself….it all started when our group C.O. was having a conference in his headquarters….

(FADE OUT - SHORT MUSIC – FADE IN – COLONELS OFFICE)

COLONEL:

… make it all the way back...too many engines gone. Some of them bailed out and some of them rode the ship in a belly lending. They came down in this clearing and skidded right through it.…and ended up well into the trees. The plane is a total loss, but, fortunately, the men seem to be all right except for a severe shaking up...Now, here's the problem. They are so close to the front lines that if they stay there overnight there is a good chance that Gerry patrols will pick them up. Another thing....this clearing is in the center of a heavily-wooded area that is nothing but a swamp to all intents and purpose. There isn't a road within twenty miles. It's going to take several days for any ground transport to reach them. The men have no food or water….and there is also a good chance that some of them might be hurt worse than we think, so we will have to forget about reaching them by any ground conveyance. They will have to be brought out by air somehow. The best way would be by using Cubs….the artillery spotters. I've tried to get some of them but they are so far away that they wouldn't be able to get into that field until tomorrow. I hate to leave those men there until then….but it looks as though there is no hope for it.

MIKKELSON:

Pardon me, Colonel, but why don't we get them out in one of our own B-24's?

COLONEL:

I've thought of that, Mikkelson.. .that's the first thing that occurred to me, but that's out of the question. We sent some fighters up there to look things over and their report is pretty discouraging. This clearing is nothing but a wheat field. It's fairly wide, but is just a little better than 3,000 feet long. High trees are solid on both ends of the strip...if you can call it that. The ground is sure to be soft...that might help on a landing...but it would certainly make a takeoff plenty difficult. We know that Cubs can get it...our fighters pilots reported that they saw wheel marks where they had landed...but I'm afraid that they're the only planes that can make it...

MIKKELSON:

I'm sorry, Sir………………..but I think you are being a little conservative. You probably don't want to risk any of our necks... but I think that any pilot who was worth a nickel could pull it off.

COLONEL:

That's a pretty strong statement, Lieutenant. . .and I think a little impulsive. Don't let the fact that you have just been made Flight Leader and are supposed to be a hot-rock pilot ..... go to your head.

MIKKELSON:

I'm not, Sir.... I just think that it can be done in a B-24

COLONEL:

Well. . .if you are so sure Mikkelson . . . . would you like to try it?

MIKKELSON:

It's okay by me, sir.

COLONEL:

Better think it over... I'll let you back out.

MIKKELSON:

I'll get a B-24 in and out.

COLONEL:

Okay. . . .go ahead. It's your show. . .go figure it out.

(FADE OUT - SHORT MUSIC – FADE IN – MIKKELSON'S VOICE)

MIKKELSON:

..... And that's the story, men....I'll never learn to keep my big mouth shut. I've got to have that ship as light as possible so I've just picked you three to go along. Anyone of you can back out if you want to... and I'll try to get somebody to take your place from another crew. How about it, Nosal? I've got to have a co-pilot.

NOSAL:

I'll go Mike.

MIKKELSON:

Got to have an engineer ..... What do you say, Rogers?

ROGERS:

If you think you can make it sir, that's enough for me.

CONNER:

That goes for me too sir.

MIKKELSON:

Thanks, Conner....Let's get going....We aren't going to be able to lighten the ship much....we haven't time enough. We've got 200 miles to go and we'll have to get in and out before dark. Throw out what you can while we are warming her up….Let's go.

(FADE OUT - SHORT MUSIC BREAK – FADE IN - SOUND OF ENGINES RUNNING IN BACKGROUND)

MIKKELSON:

Conner....Call the base and tell them that we have sighted

the clearing.......................

CONNER:

Yes, Sir............................. I see the men......See them, Lieutenant...

over there at the side of the strip............................................... they're waving something.

MIKKELSON:

I got it... .How many are there... .can you make them out.

NOSAL:

There's nine, Mike.....Where's the tenth?

MIKKELSON:

That's all there are....they went out short one man on the mission....Are you sending all this information back?

CONNER:

Yes, Sir....they want to know if you think you can make it.

MIKKELSON:

It's going to be tight....but will do....Nosal, give me those flaps when I say the word....I've got to stall this baby in...........................................

NOSAL:

Got it, Mike.

MIKKELSON:

Start praying....everybody....Here we go....

(SOUND - SPEED UP ENGINES - THEN SOFTEN)

MIKKELSON:

Wheels down.

ROGERS:

Gear down and locked.

NOSAL:

Gear handle neutral….light on.

MIKKELSON:

10 degrees flap

NOSAL:

10 degrees flap.

MIKKELSON:

20 degrees flap.

NOSAL:

20 degrees.

MIKKELSON:

Full flaps.

NOSAL:

Full flaps….Here we go….

(SOUND – CUT ENGINES TO IRREGULAR BEAT – THEN SOUND INDICATING ROUGH LANDING – SLOW ENGINES IN BACKGROUND)

NOSAL:

Swell job, Mike….we're in….but, man….you sure rode those brakes at the end.

MIKKELSON:

Had to….we haven't much room….Rogers….Open that bomb bay and let those men aboard….get as many as you can on the flight deck and the rest on the bomb bay catwalk….we've got to have as good a balance as we can.

ROGERS:

Yes, sir.

(SOUND – BOMB BAY DOORS OPENING….SOUND OF VOICES IN EXCITEMENT OF OPENING)

VOICES:

Thanks....we were getting pretty hungry and tired.....Can you get off with this load?

MIKKELSON:

Sure....Conners - Call base and tell 'em that we've got 'em all and preparing for takeoff.

CONNER:

H-I-G-E-T

MIKKELSON:

Everybody set, Rogers.

ROGERS:

As good as we'll ever be, Lieutenant.

MIKKELSON:

Call off air speeds to me on this takeoff....good and strong, too....so I can hear 'em.

ROGERS:

Okay, sir.

MIKKELSON:

Nosal....This is going to be tight....I want Full Power Setting and Full RPM....Also..20 degrees flap...and be plenty quick in getting that gear up when I call for it.

NOSAL:

Don't worry Mike....20 degrees flap it is. Here we go back there....Hang on. Full Power Setting and Full RPM. Full Power Setting and Full RPM.

(SOUND - ENGINE SWELLS TO ROAR - SOUND - AS THOUGH BRAKES  WERE RELEASED)

ROGERS:

40…..45…..50…..55…..60…..65 ….70….75….80….Those trees

are close…...85….

MIKKELSON:

Wheels up.

(SOUND  - ROAR OF ENGINES  -  THE SOUND OF EXCITED  VOICES IN BACKGROUND - SOUND  - REDUCE  BEAT - NOISE  OF ENGINES)

NOSAL:

We made it….we made it.

CONNER:

those trees must be following us. Oh Boy, that was close. Beautiful, Mike........................................ Beautiful.

(FADE OUT – SHORT MUSIC BREAK)

CONNER:

Well....That was it, Jack.... I didn't think we had a chance....we were right on top of those trees.............. Do you .know that when Lt. Nosal pulled those wheels up on that takeoff we were still on the ground     . That plane actually settled and didn't start flying until about a foot off the ground... .Lt. Mikkelson was really a pilot.

NEWSCM:

I'll say he was, Conner.... Any more trouble getting back?

CONNER:

None at all........................ Mikkelson made a sweet landing and reported

in.....The men he picked up thanked him plenty, though.... I don't blame them........................................ they were in a tough spot.

NEWSCM:

But you got them out--.... Thanks, Conner ....but I see our

time is up. Ladies and Gentlemen, the dramatic story you have heard tonight was an actual experience of  Tech.Sergeant James Conner. The script was prepared by the Public Relations Section of Boca Raton Army Air- Field, a technical school of the AAF Training Command, and supporting roles were played by Lt. Copulos, and all from Boca Raton Field. Lt.Copulos directed its production. The program was made possible through the courtesy of Colonel Leonard H. Rodieck,Commanding Officer, Boca Raton Field.  "The Home Patrol" wishes to thank all of you for appearing here tonight.



Information courtesy of John Johnson, nephew of James Conner

Link To Crew Information
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