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M/Sgt. John S. Jamilkowski
720th Squadron

John Jamilkowski

Chatam Field, Georgia

In Manduria

John (left) and friend


To the best of my knowledge when the war started I had graduated from high school. I got a job at the Winchester Gun Factory in New Haven, Connecticut. I had been working on the rifles our soldiers were using. My job was assistant machine adjuster. I worked on the rifle part where the bullets were inserted into the gun, which is called the receiver.

Around September 1943 the rumor around the shop was that any person under 24 years old, with no children would be drafted. The rumor was that the regular army or navy was taking these persons. I did not want the regular army because I was afraid of the jungles and I did not want the navy because of the ocean being cold.

On October 6th of the year 1943 I joined the United States Air Corp. I was sent to Fort Devens for basic training and a physical examination. I was there for about three weeks when a captain asked me to sit down because he wanted to talk to me. I sat down and we talked. He said I passed all the tests except for one. I was disappointed because the rumor going around was that any person flunking any tests was not going to fly, but could become a cook. The Captain stated I could not fly at high altitudes because I had a broken nose. He stated that I could not fly at 30,000 feet or above because of my nose. At one time one of my brothers and I had a fight and he punched me in the nose and broke it.

I waited about a week when I got orders to go to Laredo, Texas to gunnery school. I kept records of my plane flights for about month. My records showed that I flew eight times and I passed as a gunner.

I received orders to go to Westover Air Force in Springfield, MA. When I arrived I was introduced to my first squad and I was assigned to be a tail gunner on a B24. We got orders to take a plane and drill as a crew to go into the war. In four weeks we practiced and were ready. We flew twelve times and visited Batiste, Cuba in our practice runs. We flew the northern route. We hit Michael Field, Goose Bay, Labrador, Blue West Iceland then England and landed at Burguswood, England. I was the tail gunner on a B-17 in England. For the first time I was stretched out in the tail of the plane on the floor. In the B-24 I would be in a sitting position.

It seemed that at every airport where we stayed a few days a dentist would work on my teeth. I think it was so they could get experience. After a couple of weeks our pilot received a letter from Doolittle, who was in command, stating that the Italian Air Force of America needed men. The order was to take a man off the crew and send him to Italy. Tail gunner, ball gunner and two waist gunners drew cards. Since I drew a 2, I was taken off the crew. The day this happened the rest of the crew went on a mission into Germany. When they came back, four of them were taken to the hospital.

My orders were to go to Manchester, England to go on a ship with about 500 Americans and Canadian Air force personnel. I cannot recall how long it took us to get to Naples, Italy where we disembarked. I received orders to report to Manduria, Italy. When I arrived in Manduria I was told that I was classed as a spare gunner, which meant that I would fill the spot of any crew whose tail gunner was unable to do his job.

It happened that my first five trips were with the commander of 450, squadron 720, and I was his eyes in the back. I sat in the tail turret facing the opposite direction of the pilot. My assignment was to keep my eyes on the ten planes in the squadron and inform the pilot if any plane was having any trouble with engines or when a plane was flying away from his position. I was also to report any sightings of German planes. Before we went to our plane we went to a briefing room. In this room we were told and shown where we would be going, our target, and the German planes that we might encounter.

I don't remember how I found out the Polish Army was stationed with the British Army near us. Every Friday was PX day. Any soldier at Manduria could buy a small box of goodies. The goodies were 2 packs of cigarettes at 10 cents a pack, chewing tobacco, shaving cream, after shave lotion, razor blades, smoking tobacco, lighter fluid, and other items. We paid $2.00 for the box and were very happy. The Polish commanding officer spoke with me about the goodies. (Because I had gone to Polish parochial school, St. Stanislaus, in New Haven, CT, I could understand most of what he said.) Once I met the Polish Staff Sergeant, I began buying bigger boxes of goodies that our boys didn't want. They were then distributed to the boys in the Polish Army.

On one of our expeditions, I don't remember the target, I radioed the pilot that I saw a German squadron coming at us. We always flew with an escort squadron. On this day a Negro squadron that was considered the best was escorting us. The squadron successfully fought off the Germans and we were able to proceed with our bombing mission.

My 36th mission was to Yugoslavia. During the briefing we were told that we probably would not encounter any German planes and thus we would not have our Negro escort. A general was flying in our plane, we were plane number one, for this mission which was completed successfully. As a result the general got a Purple Heart and each officer received another bar up. Everyone else just got credit for the trip. In total I have 42 mission credits. Most of the missions were carried out at night. We would get up around 10 PM, eat a little and be in the air by 11 PM.

My 50th plane trip was a night mission to Binyamin, Poland. We were successful, but we were in the plane for about 8 hours. On this mission we encountered flack and our plane was injured. The pilot called us all together and asked us if we wonted to try to land safely or go down in the Adriatic Sea where we would only last about 5 minutes because it was cold. We were also told that Sea Bees were in boats going up and down the coast, so we did have a chance of rescue. We voted to keep going and attempt to land at the landing field. As we attempted our landing in this British controlled airfield, an injured British plane was landing on the same runway. The two planes were headed right for one another. The British plane was smaller than us. The pilot of our plane was able to pull up enough that they were able to fly under us. We made it, but I came back with wet and soiled pants.

On November 4, 1944 we went to bomb Munich, November 6 we went to bomb Brenner Pass, Nov. 16 we went to bomb Munich, Feb. 28 we went to bomb Brenner Pass in northern Italy, March 12, 1945 we went to Vienna, Austria, March 22 we went to bomb Vienna, Austria. I have an air medal, president's citation, two battle stars, and four ETO ribbons. When the Germans gave up we were notified that the war with Germany was over, At this time I waited for my orders to go to the Pacific front since I needed 8 more missions to be ending my active duty. The day that we were notified that the war with Germany was over I was a staff Sergeant and we had our own bar.

When the Germans were defeated the Clubs were opened up all day for anyone from corporal to master sergeant. For the first time I became so drunk that I couldn't even walk. I crawled with help back to my cabin. I was sick for two days, while I continued to wait for my orders. Lucky for me the Japs also surrendered.

I was sent back to the states, and was assigned to Chatam Field in Savanna, Georgia where I was in charge of all perishables such as meat, eggs, and bread. These items were kept in the icehouse, a building that was about 10 ft by 20 ft. I was responsible for keeping track of everything including the amount of ice used. It was warm, and the building was filled with holes. When I told the commanding officer, who was quite mean, that we had been through 250 pounds of ice I caught holy hell. From that point on any person who came for ice signed papers for double the amount to cover myself for the melted ice. I was stationed here for about 35 days before being discharged on October 20, 1945. The first sergeant told me if I stayed he would protect me from the major, but by this time I had met my first wife and wanted to get out of the service.

I met my first wife in Springfield, MA at a Polish dance and I wanted to get married. She was under 18 at the time so we went and were married in New Haven, CT, where I had a political friend who knew her age.

Information courtesy of John and Doris Jamilkowski

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