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2nd Lt. Warren S.Follett
722nd Squadron

Letters To His Grandson

 

To:- Patrick C. Follett From: -Warren S. Follett..

Date:-February 28, 1995

 

The successful completion of Advanced Flight Training School at Blythesville, Arkansas was a very positive time for me. First, I was no longer confined to base; Second, my army pay was to be reinstated, and Third, I was going home for a couple of weeks leave.

 

The orders I received directed that I would have two weeks before reporting to Westover Army Air Field to meet my B-24 crew and to proceed then to Maxwell Army Airfield to commence flight training along with an entire crew of ten in B-24 bombers. Assignment to B-24s did not thrill me, but after my recent court martial, I was glad to still be flying. I also rationalized that if I could acquire enough total hours of multi-engine flight time, it should go a long way toward my single goal - to become an air line pilot at war's end. My dad's "connections" as an employee of Northeast Airlines (presently Delta) would also help me get my start. I figured that there was nothing wrong in using this kind of help, since if you do not perform, nothing will keep you in a position. So, you accept gentle pushes in the right direction realizing that all it buys you is an introduction - - the rest you have to do yourself.

 

It was sure nice to be home with mom, sis, Phyllis and friends. Brother Ben was stationed Westover, and I called his sergeant and got permission to bring Ben home for a weekend "pass" and then return him as per orders late Sunday night; it was the last time I would have an opportunity to see Ben for some time.

My pal Gipson had seen a picture of sister Josephine, and thought it might be nice to meet her, so I invited him to come to Rhode Island. He took me up on it and they hit it off real well. Predictably, the leave time just flew by and it was time to get to Westover, meet my crewmates, and head for Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama.

 

You will recall that earlier my pre-flight training had been there. One section of the field was still being used for preflight school, and the rest of the field was for B-24 ground school and flight training. The four officers were billeted together in a single room:-

 

First Pilot, Robert Schoeffler, had already received some B-24 flight training

Co-pilot, yours truly, took over the right hand seat.

Navigator, Ernest Schull

Bombadier, Ben Picone

 

 

The enlisted men had their own barracks

 

(Names are left to right in photo)

 

Jim Riley, Ball turret gunner (retractable belly turret)

John Harris, Radioman and top turret gunner

Al Borges, Engineer(top turret gunner)

Jim Hoar, right waist window gunner and armorer.

Dan Hanson, tail gunner

John Sartori, L. waist gunner

 

Each day the crew had ground school classes in their respective M.O.S. (Military Operating Specialty). In addition, we were scheduled to fly most days, take physical training, etc. There were many such crews in training at Maxwell, and we got to know one other crew real well. John Schwab was first pilot; co-pilot was John Fred from somewhere in the south not too far from Montgomery, and Victor Jarmolovitch, Navigator from Connecticut. On a few occasions we went into town to bowl or see a movie, etc. John Fred was in a rage about being in B-24s instead of P-51s. Fred was most notable by his carrot-red hair and freckles on his freckles (more on this in a minute). He had his own car, and was the primary source of our transportation.

 

Fred always drove, and on one occasion while we were zipping along a black top road barely wide enough for two cars to pass, a brown and white cow which had been standing just off the road, suddenly decided that she wanted to be on the other side of the road, and John Fred wasn't quick enough to avoid contact. The front left fender caught the front right quarter of the animal, and spun it around so fast that the rear end of the cow pushed in the rear left fender allover the wheel while simultaneously plastering the car with enough manure to start the world's largest worm farm. The animal trotted off apparently not seriously damaged; however, the car wasn't going anywhere until we scrounged up a couple of 2 X 4 d s and pried the fender off the tire enough so that it would turn. On the trip back to base, Fred took a razzing about what open season was for stray cows, choice of weapons, etc. He was concerned about straightening out the small dent in the front fender, and the big' mess in the rear.

 

I had done some body work and spray painting on aircraft parts while at Wiggins in Boston on rainy days and had done a super job on the front left fender of my Washington-blue 1936 ford a couple of years earlier. Fred purchased a couple of steel "dollies" and a metal worker's hammer that I had described to him. The dolly is a steel object something about the size of a half an orange, but with a continuously variable curvature rather than a hemisphere, allowing one to hit with the part of the device where the curvature most closely matched the curve of the fender at the point of impact, and, with enough of a knob underneath to hold on to. One also could hold the dolly still against the inside of the fender while tapping the outside with the hammer in the final smoothing process before filing and painting.

 

We started with the front fender; it was the easiest and would be good practice and I left for some reason, and when I returned Fred had the small dent in the front fender ready for filing, and had washed off the cow dung as soon as he could while it was still damp. What neither of us had realized, however, was that in the manufacture of cars at that time, a strip of plasticized fabric was placed between all sheet metal parts where they came in contact with one another. This "welting" as it is called, would hide any irregularities in a seam, while reducing squeaks and keeping out rust causing saltwater.

 

Well, Fred had the rear left jacked up and the wheel off, was sitting on a stool and hitting the inside of the fender with the dolly. He had on a shop coat and looked rather professional. But, each time he belted the fender with the dolly, he would stop and wipe his eyes with his sleeve. He was too involved and too close to his work to fully appreciate what was happening; however, from my vantage point it was quite clear that each time that the dolly struck the metal, Fred acquired a whole new set of freckles. When that cow made her deposit, some of same was forced into the welted seam where the body metal was fastened to the fender, and with each blow of the dolly, that cow was getting a bit more even with John Fred.

 

Meanwhile, the practicing of landings, formation flying, cross country trips, "downed plane" searches, and high altitude (20,000 feet) bombing was going well.

The B-24 was rugged enough to withstand a rough landing, but it rattled, and shook like a bucket of bolts - - I was flying it, but I was not having fun doing so. It was just so much work.

 

The weather toward the seventh week at Maxwell was poor, visibility-wise, and we were falling behind schedule in one most important aspect of our training - high altitude bombing.

 

So, to get up to speed, we were ordered to Baptista Field, Havana, Cuba to complete our bombing schedule. The weather there was balmy (at ground level) and our bombing practice was all done in daylight hours, so we were able to go into the city of Havana on one weekend and a couple of evenings.

 

On the last scheduled bombing practice flight, we had six 100 pound bombs (bomb casings were filled with wet sand and weighed in at something more than the nominal lOO pounds). Each bomb had a pair of rings welded to it and each bomb was hung using these rings, to individual bomb shackles. The shackles, and bombs hung on either side of the catwalk, which was a narrow walkway connecting the forward compartment (pilots, navigator, bombardier, radioman and nose and top turrets), and the aft section(ball, and tail turrets, and waist window gun positions) With the bombay doors rolled up, the entire bombay is a hurricane of blowing air, while looking down from the catwalk the earth seems to be slowly moving backward 20,000 feet below. In bombing practice everyone stays at his station; moving away from one's station requires unplugging ones oxygen line from the built in system, and connecting your lifeline to a portable oxygen bottle and carrying same about with you. At 20,00Q feet, the temperature is below freezing even in balmy Havana, so that navigating the catwalk with wind howling, temperature freezing, and carrying a portable oxygen bottle is not encouraged. In practice bombing, one bomb is dropped on each bombing run, and each run is effected using a different compass heading. An electrical switch, when actuated, sends an electrical voltage to each of the two electrical solenoids; this retracts the solenoid extensions (magnets) from the two bomb-attached rings and the bomb falls free. If the bombardier took everything into consideration in adjusting his bombsight in the aircraft nose, the missile should land reasonably close to the white cross target at the bombing range center.

 

On both of the first two runs, the solenoids failed to release; we assumed that they had acquired some moisture at ground level, and were frozen at bombing altitude. Bombardier Ben Picone came into our cabin and said that he knew how to "handle it".

 

On the next run we heard Ben's voice on the intercom shouting "bombs away" During subsequent runs Ben gave his usual instructions such as "a little left", or "just a couple of degrees right", etc.

 

At one point during about the fifth run, another B-24 came up close aside, and we acknowledged his presence with a wave, assuming that he needed a little close formation flying practice. Shortly thereafter he left us, and after a final "bombs Away" from Ben, we began our slow decent back to Baptista Field. As we neared the end of our landing roll, a jeep with a large striped sign on it which read "FOLLOW ME" on it pulled along side of us and one of the two M.P.s (Military Police) signaled us to follow them until we were parked next to the field commander's headquarters building. A flattened hand drawn across the throat was our signal to cut the engines.

 

Upon securing the craft, we were advised that the G.O. (commanding Officer) wanted to see officers Schoeffler and Picone "IMMEDIATELY"~ About an hour later the rest of were advised by Bob Schoeffler in our quarters what the meeting was all about.

 

It seems that Ben Picone was so afraid that he would miss an evening in Havana if we didn't get our bombs dropped, that he single handedly, and with portable oxygen bottle trailing, walked along the catwalk with doors open at 20,000 feet, had reached around, removed a bomb from its shackle, carried it aft to the left waist window, and using an arms length thumb sighting, direct us toward the target, and rolled the bomb out the window with a verbal "bombs away". The other plane had observed this behavior first at a distance, then, along side had confirmed what Ben was doing and reported same to the Base C.O. Ben Picone was grounded, re-assigned as orderly to the c.o. and SPENT THE REST OF THE WAR FOLLOWING THE C.O. AROUND MAKING NOTES ON HIS CLIPBOARD. We never saw him again.

You may be assured, however, that he spent more time in Havana than the rest of us did.

 

We were assigned a spare bombardier the following day to complete our training, and using more conventional means for aiming our missiles. Then it was back to Maxwell Field where we all had new orders awaiting us:- "Leave Maxwell Field for a thirty day leave (home) and expect to receive further orders!"

 

The month at home flew by! Nothing was scheduled. No bugle telling you when to get up or when td go to bed. I was convinced further that the structured military life was not for me. A little order in one's life is fine, but I had already had enough G.I. (Government Issue) regulations. I would simply have to accept my fate at the military hands until the war's end. Spent pleasant times with mom, sis, Phyllis and other friends. Drove Phil to Barre, Mass to visit my dad, and before I knew it the month was about gone. Our training had been completed in about a year, and the leave was sort of a bonus for having satisfactorily completed the training phase of my military career, and this vacation was a time to pause and realize that the time was at hand to put all of the training to use. To engage in the intimidating prospect of dropping real bombs - - - - and stay alive.

 

A send-off party was planned by mom when I received my orders to report to Mitchell Army Air Field on Long Island, New York. So, we drove to New York for dinner, floor show, and cocktails at the Leon & Eddy's nightclub/restaurant.

(Picture enclosed, left to right:- G.Meyers, a family friend who drove; sister Josephine: cousin Lillian; aunt Lillian, mom's sister, mother Sibyl, yours truly; Phyllis; dad's wife Letty; my dad). Emotions were mixed. I was on my way much too distant, and with an unpleasant occupation. We had received information that Gip and his entire crew had hit a mountain in Pennsylvania in bad weather. I was leaving almost everyone who was important in my life - - for an indefinite period - - - and was going on a real life adventure.

 

Most went back to Rhode Island by train and I reported to the B.O.Q. (Batchelor's' Quarters) at Mitchell Field.

 

Next letter we head for the E.T.O. (European Theatre of Operation) - - A rather maturing, if bumpy, ride.

 

In the meantime, with much love,

 

Your grandpa Follett

 



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