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Pfc. Leroy J. Hardman
722nd Squadron



Above information courtesy of 450th Bomb Group (H) The "Cottontails" of WWII and Turner Publishing Company



MY TIME WITH THE 450TH

After the war I brought back home a few pictures, never giving any thoughts about the 450th Bomb Group. But in 1986, when Mom and myself attended the reunion things changed. When people at first use to say, why start attending the reunion it brought back some past events, which were sad, to say the least, and some good ones. So I started my #1 scrapbook with what few pictures I brought home and what some different fellows sent to me.

Now that my life span (who knows how long is left) I think the 450th Bomb Group was the best in all respects, I ever was in.

The 450th Bombardment Group was activated on May 1, 1943, at A.A.B. Gowen Field. The latter part of June 1943, the air personnel and ground personnel started reporting in from all parts of the country. At the present time the base has changed its name to Holland A.F.B.

When the ground echelon left the base to catch our train in Alamogordo, it was pouring down rain. We watched the train go a short distance in one direction, and then stopped to do the same thing in the opposite direction. This was to be kept up for a long time, 1 hours or longer I guess. The troops were pretty well watered down when it stopped the last time.

Once we got on the train our ride lasted about 10 days the best that I can recall. At different intervals that train would stop for a short while. One of the train stops was Cincinnati, Ohio. Our 1st sergeant said, "Leroy, don't get any ideas about calling home," Even if I had a chance to use the phone, I didn't have the money. The sergeant also got off of the train for some fresh air. The train moved around in different directions, I guess this was so that no one could figure out our destination. Now, that in the end, made us late upon arrival for our ship.

When we finally arrived at Newport News we went to Camp Patrick Henry. We heard that our convoy had already left for Italy. The date we embarked for our trip was on December 4, 1943.

We were permitted to go to the PX, but that was in the other location, we had to be back within a given time. I don't remember how a long of time but it wasn't long. There were a few of us that bought a box of candy bars. Looking back, that was one of the things that a few of us done right.

There was a liberty ship named Bret Hart, which was loaded and was going in the next convoy to Italy. So, they decided to put us on it and then catch up with our convoy. They ran the ship at full speed up to the mechanical limitations. Then drop back down to a slower speed. They kept this up back and forth until we reached the convoy two days and one night later. Each time the ship shifted speed, it sounded like the liberty ship was falling apart. For myself I was sure glad to see the convoy. I was told just one torpedo at the mid-section within 5 minutes she would be gone.

This ship, Bret Hart, sure was loaded as on fantail armored was tied down. The one hatch or hole in front of the bridge was full and sealed. This left only one open hatch. Where they brought back PW. They put us in this hole to make the trip, said if you felt like getting seasick, lay on the covered hole looking up at the sky. Then just a small deck area, left, before the Navy armed guard gun mounting, on the bow area.

There wasn't enough time to bring extra supplies for us as we found out. We got a canteen cup full of what they called soup a day, could count a few things that were in there. Now for myself and the other men that was with me at the PX, our candy bars came in handy for the 1st week out to sea.

We were out to sea about a week and the Navy Arm Guard took target practice. I happened to be standing right next to the ladder that was used to get out of the hole. After the first shot was fired, the hole was a madhouse, that's for sure. As there was one ladder at each end and that was it, just wide enough for one at a time to climb up. After that day, they would put out on the PA system when they would take practice.

The ships kitchen help would bring out scraps from the ships crew and the Navy Arm Guard. It was like feeding a bunch of dogs. After the second week those who didn't have candy bars, now they were getting real hungry, that's for sure. The last time he came out with the scraps, the men rushed for the tray, it went up in the air, and he was helped back inside. Needless to say, that was the last time any leftovers were brought out.

The convoy split in half our half stopped at Bizzerte, North Africa, Christmas Eve, 1943. It was still daylight when we stopped and dropped anchor. To celebrate Christmas Eve "43" they put out on the PA system that the men could have all of the coffee they could drink.

Now on Christmas Day, we found out later that the refrigeration system, which had some meat in it, was bad. They figured by that time, the men haven't had a dinner or supper for over two weeks. They would be full for awhile or so. They then would be up on the decks feeding the fish. You know they were right some less than hour. The next morning, after that someone let out, that we would be only a day or so to where we were going. Then the next morning there wasn't one box of life rations on any of the rafts.

When we landed at Naples the first place we were sent to is the de-licing station for showers and clean clothes. When you figure 10 days on a train, and 20 days or more on the Bret Hart, we were a sorry looking bunch at first, that's for sure. When you took off your pants, they almost stood up by themselves.

Myself and another fellow were lucky as we were the first two to show up at the battle scarred University of Naples. They sent us over to the field bakery unit. Our truck had bread and butter on it, needless to say, as we pulled out, we saw a spot where there were some bushes and as we passed it, we threw off a loaf of bread and a pound of butter for us to get later on.

The last place we stopped at was a free French unit. A fellow who could speak English said he was short two pounds of butter and two loafs of bread. We said they must have miss counted back where the truck was loaded, as he could see there was nothing left in the truck.

After we got back with the truck and was let go our goodies was still there in the bushes. I laugh now, but back then it was no laughing matter, we were hungry. We sat down and pealed the paper off the butter took a bit of butter then a bit of the bread. There was a couple of times when a man from the quartermasters bunch started to stop in front of us, but when we waved our carbines across our legs, that was good enough they moved on at a faster speed than before they stopped.

On New Year's Eve sometime in the evening hours, we heard a lot of noise. So we all got our rifles out and started shooting in the air, us green troops from the States thought they were greeting in the New Year. In the morning we came to find out that it was a combination of AA fire and German bombs, the Germans had raided the outer edge of Naples Port.

Once they got all necessary trucks needed to move the ground echelon so many men and duffel bags per truck. We started for our field which none of us knew where we were going. One thing for sure the trucks were heading south. On our trip we spent day on the wrong road. Then the trucks pulled in to the olive trees. They said this is it boys. We immediately called the place the Manduria Lake. The water was running between the trees like rivers. The first winter these I guess we drank enough vino to keep us healthy. That first three months of wet or damp socks was something else. In 1991, when we went back for the Dedication of the Plaques for our dead and missing, I found out why we didn't have any supplies. The Germans had sunk all the ships that were carrying the 450th supplies.

After these a short time the craziest thing that happened to me, they said you and your go help the engineers today. They needed extra personnel to quicken the change in making the lake into a good useable runway. When we first arrived the mud and water too show where the runway was suppose to be . So, I went over where the dump trucks were parked. I looked to what I figured would be the last truck, I was wrong, it was the first one as I just got done looking on the dash to see how to shift gears, than a engineer Sergeant hopped into the cab and said, son let's go. When we pulled in the area where they were digging out the material for our runway, he got out. The first trip sure was something, for believe it or not, here you have a person that had never drove a car or truck in his life. When it was my turn they had me loaded up and I didn't know about what they called, dog gear. I started up and within a short distance at a 45 degree climb. The front of the truck came up and the engineer yelled put it in dog gear. I said, what the hell is dog gear? He yelled at me, "You dumb PFC push the clutch in!" He reached in the cab and put it in dog gear. Then the front of the truck came down on all wheels. So, before it was time to pick up another load, I looked on the dash to see where it was at.

One of the wet weather months, another bomber group whose field was flooded out, came and filled in the dispersal area between our planes. One night the Germans flew over our field, was sure glad the British AA crew didn't fire at them. Later on the word was they bombed Bari again, one bomb here and the whole place would have gone up. I was on guard duty that night, and I thought that I was the first one in the slit trench by the planes, but I was wrong, some other fellow was. When the last one hit the slit trench he was almost even with the ground.

For a while when we first got there, we ate as you would say open air mess, tables were the empty 50 gallon drums. They stood on end as a table. When they finally built a mess hall, then a short time in operation we heard a terrific explosion. Just like Will Evans stated in his diary. Those who were in the mess hall went out to look and so what happened needless to say what little I had eaten almost came up. To this day I can close my eyes and see the hands and fingers sticking up. The arm had just enough room that the watch was still on it. From that day when anything happened and if you're close enough to hear the explosion you got that sick feeling. Just as I turned away from it, some fellow said don't feel bad as I almost stepped on a finger to your right.

One night as I have said before when we had the other planes on our field one caught fire. Anyone who was there will never forget that, that's for sure. The men boarding a plane next to it yelled fire. We were loading the plane next to them. There was two mechanics who were there and tried to move the plane next to it away. They had no luck as the plane on fire blew up and some of its bombs. The explosion killed all the firemen and one of the two mechanics. It also destroyed the fire truck. So, rest of our time there we didn't have a fire truck or firemen. Another soldier and myself took in 2 loads of weapons carrier of injured man into first aid station. I went back out where the planes were, as we had to finish getting the planes ready for their morning mission. I had to go through where the one blew up and I tripped over some wreckage. Getting up there was enough light you should have seen my filed jacket it was cut from shoulder to shoulder like a Venetian blind. So self preservation took over I was patting myself as to see if I was hit. Some Lieutenant that knew my name said, "Hardman, what happened"? For a few minutes my mouth was moving by nothing was coming out. Then in manner of stuttering speech, I told him what happened. He asked me did I want a cigarette, I said no, but you got any gum? After that night, anyone who called out fire you ran like hell a short distance then hit the ground.

Only one time I did different for some reason. One morning another soldier and myself was walking through the 722nd Squadron area. You could hear that a plane was in trouble. By the sound you knew that it was coming in through the trees. When it stopped we started to run toward it then we heard that odd sound they make a minute or so before they blow up. We hit the ground it didn't blow up so we got back up and started toward the plane again. We heard that sound again and just before I hit the ground I could see the pilot or co-pilot's face and arm banging on the window. She blew up this time. What a sad way to be killed, knowing the next second or so you will be blown to pieces. I guess it's the roll of the dice how things are going for your. Another time a plane came in when the landing gear gives away. The plane broke in half, there wasn't a fire and none of the bombs went off.

On May 25th, 1945, a ship names USS Wakefield docked at Boston, along with many wounded. The 450th was sent by train to Camp Mile Standish and got a 30 day leave. While at home I thought of asking Rebecca to get married. At that time she was only 17, but looked older but I put in on hold till I came home to stay. After my 30 day leave, I reported in at Harvard Arm Air Field, 20 miles east of Hastings, Nebraska. This unit had our name, number and B-29 planes. While at Hastings you could look down the row of blouses hanging, and you could see gold bars from 3 to 5 each and only one PFC, you were lucky if you ever so often a corporal. Each gold bar meant 6 months out of the states. Some place like the Pacific, Europe, or the Mediterranean. I was there a week and one day a fellow said, "Hardman, they want to see you in the orderly room." Well, I figured this is it as I never put a tuck in on foot of my bed, so the CQ could wake you up for KP. To my surprise some Lieutenant said according to records you was with this outfit in Italy. Then he proceeded to ask me how many battle stars were we awarded? I said I'm sorry that I couldn't help him. All that I knew was that I was in Italy for 18 months and came home a PFC in rank. For some reason I don't know why, that was the only thing I was asked about, never asked to do anything other than that orderly room trip.

Soon after this happened the commanding officer of the B-29 unit called a mass meeting in front of the hanger. He said anyone who was with the unit in Italy could put in for a discharge. The next morning I happened to come out of the barracks and our old S/Sgt who got a field commission in Italy to 2nd Lieutenant was right there in front of me. I said, "Bill, that bar has gotten polished, it's a silver one now." Just then some Staff Sergeant came by and started to give me hell for calling the Lieutenant by his first name. Bill said that's all right I'll take care of this now. So, he shut up and walked away. Soon as he was out of hearing range, Bill laughed and said, "Leroy, when I reported in here there were orders that promoted me to 1st Lieutenant."

I don't remember exactly how many days after this run in with the S/Sgt, but I ran across him again, except this time I had a field day. I said, "Old buddy, you go right ahead and earn your S/Sgt stripes, this PFC is going home, and you're going some place out of the States." He got red in the face, but there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
As I walked away I was singing, "Over there, over there, the yanks are coming"......

Submitted by Leroy Hardman



Left to Right: Redick Cartwright, Roger Flemmens, Leroy Hardman and Leonard Montante



Wendal Gash (left) & Leroy Hardman (right)



Around Camp - 15 November 1944



Around Camp - 15 November 1944



Around Camp - 15 November 1944



Leroy Hardman - 15 November 1944



Leroy (Left) and Roger Flemmens (Rigiht)



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