My Longest Mission
written October 1996 by A.W. Kenyon
My 30th bombing mission was my longest, one year
and five days. Damn, what an exciting flight that was! Target, Varese Aircraft
Factory, Milk Run. "No fighters, no flak. Just drop your bombs and fly home."
Of course I knew they were joking. Take off time, 25 April 1944, "Pilot to crew", is
what I heard. "We're going to take a ride in this big ass bird." So,
we're cruisina along about I80 mph at I8,000 feet. About an hour from target I
lowered the ball turret and climbed in. That's when everything went to hell. I
heard the pilot scream "Fighters I2 o'clock!". Then we were hit real
bad. Sounded like someone hit us with about a I00 feet of heavy chain. I looked
out to my left and saw someone sail by my turret. I thought to myself, I sure
hope I don't know who that was. (I did know... it was the co-pilot with his
leg shot off below the right knee)
I got out of the turret and opened the door to the bomb bay.
Looking toward the flight desk through a red mist, I saw the bombardier sitting
on the catwalk ready to jump. The red mist came from all the blood that was
leaking out of him. One of his arms was all shot up and I thought I saw some
holes in him. Made me real nervous as I knew that bullet holes allow the soul
to escape. I went back to the waist and told the waist gunners to open the
camera hatch and get out. I put on my chest chute and headed for the camera
hatch that's on the floor in the back.
tail gunner was almost to the hatch facing me, when that big ass bird went up
on it's right wing in a hard right turn, throwing me to the floor on my face. I
was Stuck by centrifugal force- couldn't even get on my knees. The tail gunner
fll on his back and I could hear him screaming. He was stuck as bad as I was. I
thought, this is it. I'm going down with this damned thing.
really stretching I managed to get a couple of fingers hooked to the lip of the
hatch and slid out. I was off oxygen too long and woke up tumbling backwards
and I didn't remember to pull my rip cord to open my chute. I was all curled up
and my mind told me that I was stuck up
there. I glanced down and saw
this shiny thing on my chest then I remembered that's what opened the
chute. I yanked on it and the chute opened. With a 28 foot chute and being
pretty light, I didn't know if I was going up or down having nothing to judge
movement by. I really thought I'd be up there for the rest of the day.
Looking down, I could see three trucks coming along a
road full of men. When they stopped some of them jumped out and started to
shoot at me. I could hear the bullets buzzing by me. Poor shots- lucky for me.
I was on a hillside about a mile above them.
I buried my chute with one dog tag, then took off up
the hill and headed for some brush and trees hoping to hide out until dark.
didn't get dark and it wasn't long before a guy came up to where I was hiding
and put an automatic rifle to my head. Geez, this is the end for good old AWK!
I don't know who was shaking the most, him or me. He probably thought I was
armed, I wasn't. More men showed up and slapped me around some then dragged me
down the hill. Don't know why they were so upset, we weren't going to bomb
them. I guess they were sore at us for bombing their factories, air fields and
little later they turned us over to the Germans. Ended up at Verona and was put
in solitaire for three to four days and interrogated. After a long train ride I
ended up at Stalag Luft III and became Kriegsgefangenen 42I3.
I realize now I should have told about the train ride
to Luft III.
arrived at Forli, a small town in Italy, by way of parachute. When we were
turned over to the Germans they took us by car to a railway station. The train
took us first to Florence, then on to Bologna, then Verona where I was
interrogated. Next stop, Vienna. My first look at what our bombs had done a
couple of weeks before. Broken glass, broken buildings, broken people
everywhere. The people were a little upset when they found out that we were the
American gangsters that dropped the bombs. In fact, they were down right
belligerent. I think they would have had us for dinner if the German soldiers
hadn't kept them away. Back on the train. Next stop Stalag Luft III.
was put in the West Compound. It had just been opened, most of the other
compounds were full. My luck was still with me as this was an officer's prison
camp. The Germans thought the American army was like the British army, who
allowed orderlies. The American officers took advantage of this and took in as
many crew members as they could, knowing that being under the control of the
Luftwaffe they had a much better chance of staying alive. The only work we had
to do was sweep out the barracks and pick up the rations... if there were any.
day starts by being counted. The Goons (Germans) frown on anyone leaving in the
middle of the night, or any time. They get real upset. I know there were a
couple of tunnels being dug but didn't know where. Very few involved, less
chance of detection. Two weeks before I got to camp is when The Great Escape
took place. Everyone was still nervous because the Goons had killed about fifty
prisoners as they came out of their escape tunnel. There were a few escapes
that succeeded and a few that failed. One I thought was real funny. It was
snowing with about three inches of snow on the ground. One of the (Kriegies)
prisoners wrapped a bunch of white cloth around himself and crawled towards the
fence to escape. One of the tower guards put a light on him and just let him
lay there in the snow until morning. He was alive but spent what you might call
a cool night.
had a fire pond that froze over that we skated on when the YMCA got some
sent in. We would borrow someone's belt and, using our own, would strap them on
and fall down a lot. That all came to an end when someone made a pair of shears
out of a set to cut the barb wire. No big deal, they were all size eleven and
didn't fit anyway.
had no value so a lot of swapping went on. A pack of American cigs was worth twenty
packs of English cigs. A D bar was worth plenty. We would receive a Red Cross parcel
every two or three weeks that contained a variety of food. Along with the Goon ration
of potatoes, blood sausage, cabbage and bread (a loaf of bread weighed 4
got along OK at Luft III. The Red Cross sent special labels to the families to
send to the tobacco companies. They would send a package of six cartons to the
prisoner free. The long day ends and we are counted again, then locked up for
arrives, snow is falling. We won't be liberated this year. Well, maybe next
year... We could hear and see the gun flashes of the Russian army coming about
twenty kilometers East of us. Ah, we are going to be rescued... No, you say the
Goons have given orders to move out in 30 minutes? There's six inches of snow out
there. It's ten below and I'm cold already. This does not, I repeat, does not
look like a very pleasant hike to me. I really can't get excited about
wandering around in the middle of the night in six inches of snow. So, we grab
all our clothes (which isn't much), take all our food (which is less) and out
the gate we go.
leaving camp we had to run for a mile or so to keep from getting run over by
the men behind us. I don't know how far we went that night. I do remember
seeing a few bodies lying along side the road. It got so bad that we were
helping the old guards along and had to carry their guns. Escape? I guess we
could have run off into the woods and froze to death. Dumb move. We just kept
going hour after hour. A couple of us staggered into a small barn and nearly
froze. I saw a pile of cow manure, made a hole underneath and went in feet
first with just my head sticking out. A little smelly but I slept warm until
morning. I don't know how many days and nights we hiked but we ended up at
Spremberg. We were put on a train with forty by eight box cars. "Forty by
eight" meant forty men or eight horses. We ended up with fifty to sixty
men in each car. Not everyone could sit down at the same time so some sat and
some stood, then we'd switch. We were on that thing for three days and nights
with very little to eat or drink. Arrived at Nurnberg, our new camp Stalag
VIIA. What a rat hole... lice, bugs, filth, poor sanitation. The food was
terrible. Pea soup, with a bug in each pea. That provided us with meat. Then we
had dehydrated cabbage soup that we called the Green Death.
this in your mind... Right around midnight we were all about half asleep in our
bunks when we heard what sounded like a big bumble bee off in the distance. It
got louder and louder and we recognized it as a Wimpy (Wellington bomber). We
knew that they were capable of carrying a blockbuster six ton bomb. We all
wondered where he was going. He was over us now. Oh: shit! His engines are
racing. He's dropped the damned thing! We hear it coming. Terror. Panic. Where
to run, where to hide? Too late. BOOM. This is the end.
I'm still alive... That was the loudest explosion I ever heard. Blew the wall
of the barracks out about six inches and put a lot of holes in the building.
Scared the hell out of everyone. It landed six hundred meters from camp. One
bomb like that is enough to last a life time.
was bad enough to be almost killed by a bomb but now the entire camp is in big
trouble. We ran out of toilet paper. In fact, there isn't a piece of paper of
any kind to be found. Ah well, I'll just use a piece of my pants cuff. Next day
another piece. If the war lasts much longer I won't have any pants.
hundreds of bombers came. Day and night. At night a pathfinder plane would drop
red and green flares. Do not drop until past the red flares. The wind was
blowing the damned flares towards camp. Fifteen more minutes of the bomb run
and they'll be dropping on us. But, it was over. It was spectacular. Of course,
all the artillery that was fired at the planes had to come down along with
broken and burning bombers, fighters and people.
last the Yanks are coming. We can hear the guns. We're going to be saved.
What's that I hear? I don't believe it... we're moving. I don't want to go. I
like it right here. But, they insist I go.
lot less to pack this time. The sun is out, warm with no rain. I've had enough
of this hiking bit with no food. I think I'm running out of gas. Whenever we
would come to a village we would steal everything we could to eat. Pickings
were slim as so many prisoners were ahead of us. I arrived at Moosburg where we
were put behind wire again. This camp was the worst. It had been built to hold
fourteen thousand prisoners. In the end it confined one hundred thirty thousand
of all nationalities and ranks.
We were finally liberated by Patton's Third Army on April
29, I945. (Glory Day)
three missions. Fifty five percent or 18,418 planes were lost in action; 30,099
killed; 13,360 wounded; 51,106 were missing in action, POW and Internees. Did
you ever feel fear? Panic? Scared to death? I DID.
When do we go home? No one seems to be in a hurry but us.
I'm still hungry. All anyone thinks about is a giant hamburger or maybe just a
hunk of bread. Patton's army outran their supply lines and had just enough food
to keep going so they couldn't help us any. In fact. some of his tanks were out of gas.
After a couple of days we were told to hike up to a German airfield to be flown out to LeHavre, France, where we would board a
ship home. Hot dog, we're on our way! Well, almost...
Where in hell are all those big black clouds
coming from? Why is it raining so hard? There's not going to be any planes
flying today and I'm still hungry. Well, I'm not going to sit around here and
My buddy and I decided to take a hike cross
country, maybe steal a chicken or rabbit or something. We hadn't gone far before we stumbled on a Russian prison camp.
(The USA had no control over the Russians and they could do whatever they wanted to do.)
They were sure a rough lot. I don't think there was a bottle of wine left in
any town within twenty miles. Ah, they had food. Great big oatmeal cookies in the shape of animals. (animal cookies) They
gave us a gunny sack full of them.
Just outside the tent there was a guy lying
in the rain. I thought he was drunk and sleeping it off. The next day we went back for more cookies and he was still there, but his shoes were gone. I
knew then that he was asleep forever. His own brother lived in the same tent
and hadn't gotten around to burying him. The next day all his clothes were
gone. That afternoon his brother and a couple of guys threw him in the river.
We stood on the bank and watched the body tumble down the stream. The afternoon
sun flashed on a wet leg, then on an arm. We watched until he was out of sight
and his brother didn't even wave goodbye.
The next day we were flown to LeHavre. After a couple days of physical exams and, given new
uniforms, we were put aboard a ship bound for Boston. Seven day later we were
back in the good old USA. Next, we were on a fast train headed for Sacramento.
We really rode in style. Compartment cars. Four of us in each room. We ate a
lot, drank a lot of whiskey and played poker all the way to CaIifornia. (Each
of us was given $180 to get home on).
After two days of
poker one guy had it all. He confessed and told us he was a professional card
player, gave us all our money back and told us never to play with strangers.
Hitch hiked from Sacramento to San Francisco. Called my wife as soon as I hit town and told her what time to meet me on the corner. I told the guy sitting
next to me on the bus that I had just got out of prison camp and would
meet my wife in a couple of blocks. Of course, he had to tell everyone on the bus
what was going to happen.
And, there she was on the corner. My
beautiful wife. I jumped off and gave her a bug hug and a long kiss. Everyone
on the bus clapped and shouted and the bus waited until we headed for home
before pulling out.