I was allowed to keep the Belle because it was the first unpainted plane in
the Group. The other guys thought the "Krauts" would single it out as a
new type of plane and try to shoot it down first. That didn't bother me
because I was too new to be scared.
That first day we signed in and got settled in our tent which had just been
vacated by four officers who never made it back. I liked the location as
it was next to the officers club. I checked on the rest of the crew and
saw they were O.K. Went past operations and saw that I was scheduled to
fly co-pilot the next day to get checked out in combat. It was supposed to
be a "milk run" which meant it would be easy and conducted in Italy. It
was a "milk run" -
no enemy planes and not much flak. However, when we got back there was a
hole through the plane that just missed our butts by 2 inches.
I was now a seasoned pilot so the next day, I got my own crew. It was
another beautiful, cloudy winter day. We went to briefing at 3:30 A.M.
Weiner Neustadt was our target! The pilots groaned so I knew this was no
milk run. The briefing officer had a large map, that he uncovered, with a
bunch of string showing us the target and the compass headings we were to
take. We take off and join up with the group. We fly up the middle of the
Adriatic Sea, but veer to the right of Trieste. We fly over a little part
of Yugoslavia, where just one, but accurate, FLAK battery is located.
Puff! Puff! Puff! Puff! (They always fire 4 bursts). We fly through the
last Puff and my #3 engine loses power. The engine is still running so I
know we are hit in the supercharger. At 20,000 feet you have to have it or
it just amounts to a dead engine. By now, we are over the Alps and too far
to turn back alone. I'm full throttle and can't keep up with the
formation. I'm just about down to stall speed, but still maintaining the
altitude. My Group pulls away and I'm alone. Hot Dog! There's another
group on our tail. I have the crew watch so we won't be in their way.
As they go past us, they give us protection. But soon, they too crawl
ahead of us.
I tell Pontz, our bombardier to get rid of our bombs and to aim for any
village or settlement. I was told, "A good German is a dead German". I
said this over the intercom; it made me sound tough to the rest of the
crew, but I knew Pontz would aim for any open field he could find as he was
the leading, "Peacenik" of the crew.
With the bombs gone, it was a little better. Over to my left I could see
the first group heading for home after dropping their bombs on the target.
They are about 20 miles away. We are alone so I turn left to catch their
protection. Wow! A Me-109 flashes past. My brand new crew did not see
him coming. What a great lesson for them! Hot Dog! Two P-38's flash by
my right on the 109's ass. A minute or two later a "38" slides on my wing
and flies formation with me till I get to the homeward bound group. Talk
about friendly waves!!
Suddenly, we had ten missions. We fly almost every day. Sometimes the
weather closes in over the target and we have to land with a full load of
bombs and no credit for a mission.
Mostly the missions are eight or more hours long. Hours and hours of
boredom filled out with moments of sheer terror.
Our attrition rate is terrible with a 300% turn over in six weeks. Morale
is really low and sometimes I wish I were in the Infantry and could jump
into a foxhole.
One day, my Buddy, from Transition, Sam Houston III, showed up with his
crew. Boy! was I glad to see him. About three missions later, he was
flying off my left wing, when his plane started down in a very gentle dive
and crashed into a mountain. No chutes, no fire, no enemy action! From
then on, I didn't want to see anyone I knew or make new friends, because it
hurts so bad when you lose them. And we were losing them!
Once on the way to the target, we passed over our favorite little FLAK site
and a chunk went through my oxygen line. The flutter valve was still
fluttering, but no oxygen came through. I flew for seven more hours at
22,000 feet and didn't know the difference except a good headache when we
got back. I knew my tolerance to altitude was awfully good because of
pressure chamber test, but I didn't think it was that good. Had I known I
wasn't getting any oxygen, I probably would have collapsed in a big heap!
Another time we were dropping our bombs which happened to be little
clusters of fragmentation "buggers". The plane ahead dropped his whole
load on a B-24 under him. A blinding flash followed and all you could see
of the plane were four smoking engines falling toward the ground. I dodged
the debris, but not before I got blood on the windscreen (windshield). I
hope to Hell they court-martialled the Bastard responsible. I always had
my men check underneath before we dropped.
Another time on a milk run to Anzio, a B-24 appeared with just half a tail
and wanted to join our formation. He slid in and, with his wing, knocked
the whole double tail off another B-24 which promptly did a loop and went
straight down. No chutes! I hate to admit this but I had Marge's camera
with me in order to take pictures of the FLAK and the formation. As I
stared at the drama unfolding before me, and the tail fluttering down
beside us, The camera stayed in my lap. The plane with half a tail then
made a sweeping turn to the left and headed North. We were going South. I
have often wondered if that was a German crew in an obviously damaged U.S.
aircraft doing some very dirty work.
I've got to mention Ploesti, Rumania. The first bombing of the Ploesti oil
fields took place before I got to Italy, thank goodness, as it was a
terrible, screwed up, low level mission flown from Tripoli, North Africa.
They lost 60 B-24's out of 200.
I was on the second (actually 3rd) mission to Ploesti only we were at
altitude. I have never seen such thick FLAK.
I think you could have gotten out and walked on it. The twenty minutes it
took getting in and out of the target area were the longest minutes of my
life. Although a lot of planes went down, we didn't get a scratch. We did
have a scratch on a later Ploesti raid when a piece of FLAK hit the ball or
bottom turret and jammed it into the down position. The guys had to chop
him out with the fire axe. It bothered poor, old Max Dowdy, the gunner, to
be stuck in there for an hour. Had it been me with my claustrophobia, I
would have gone completely insane.
Around this time, I had to turn back (abort) two missions because of an
oxygen leak. I mean we lost all of it. They couldn't find the leak. The
oxygen held up fine sitting on the ground. I even took the plane up to
30,000 feet and it did not leak. When I met with the "Abort Board" someone
suggested that maybe one of the crew let out the oxygen. I got really mad
and said some things I shouldn't have because I knew that not one of my
crew members would do such a detestable thing.
On a later mission we were going to Toulon, France. We were to carry 2000
pound bombs to try to hit the German submarine pens. We were about three
quarters of the way there when gunner xxxxxxn began writhing and screaming
on the flight deck. I had a decision to make. Here I had a dying crew
member û should I take him back and save his life or go another two to
three hours and dump my bombs with the group? I took the cowards way out
and put it to a vote of the crew. They voted to turn back. So I did,
knowing full well I was going to get an "ass chewing". We prepared to
land, shot off red flares to show wounded aboard and to have an ambulance
waiting. They took xxxxxx away
I heard they couldn't find out what was wrong
with him, but they took out his appendix, just to be sure. I was right û I
got a chewing out and I deserved it. They said I should have completed the
mission, that you had to think of the Group, not the life of one man.
After I was in prison camp, I heard that xxxxxxxxx got caught letting out
the oxygen in another crews B-24. If I had been there I would have had the
Sû-of-a-bù-ch shot or he would still be in Leavenworth. Co-Pilot Ted (who
wasn't shot down) went to bat for him, much to my disgust. Got him off as
a psycho or battle fatigue. "Snail Frocky!!"
One night at the officers club, we had a USO comedian. I remember he was
not very funny and was right in the middle of a joke about how big his nose
was, when all of a sudden "Booom! Crash!" We were knocked out of our
chairs. We ran outside and saw the glow coming from the parking apron. We
ran to the runway area to see if we could help, but mostly to see what
happened. We found out the ground crew were loading ten 500 pound bombs.
Dropped one and it went off. It was defective, because you had to arm each
bomb before it was dropped. It was the bombardiers job to arm then just
before getting to the target. Man, there were pieces
of the plane and bodies all over the parking area and the runway. That was
the first time I ever saw a body burn. It was just his top half lying
there with flames coming out of his wide open mouth; just like a candle.
On an average of once every two weeks, a B-24 would crash on take-off.
With the heat of burning gas, it didn't take long to set off the bombs that
were in the plane. We would fly through the flames, but had to wait until
all the bombs exploded. I heard later they caught a spy who would hide
pencil-sized thermite bombs in the hollow landing gear struts timed to blow
while taking off.
Propwash got the idea he was going to build us a house. He took all the
extra 10 cents a pack cigarettes and traded them for cement, sandstone and
roofing tile. What a scrounger! He made several trips to Naples(?) and
surrounding towns for his supplies. He hired carpenters (for cigarettes).
Poured a cement floor and in no time, we had a big one room house with a
fireplace. It was a lot better than our tent with a gravel floor! I heard
that when Propwash was shot down (after I was) that the base commander
moved in !!!
Every night we would have poker and dice games. The Lira was given to us
instead of dollars which we treated like "funny money". I specialized in
poker. Propwash and Ted played dice or craps. A lot of the guys really
didn't know much about poker and threw their money around. I was glad to
take it. One night Prop, Ted and I won $1,000 a piece. [Al's note: Here I
have omitted a paragraph for possible inclusion at a later date.]
I was really suffering from infected wisdom teeth. They wouldn't pull them
while they were infected and when they were O.K., I didn't need them to be
pulled. One night they hurt so bad that I went to the flight surgeon. He
gave me a big handful of sleeping pills. I took two; they didn't do any
good, so I took two more; still wide awake. I must have ended taking ten
or more, when all of a sudden"pow! "I was out; way out! They tried to
wake me the next morning for a mission and couldn't so they got a
replacement pilot to fly in my place. I woke up about noon. Then I paced
the floor worrying about my crew coming back. That was no fun. I would
rather have been along. My jaws were so swollen I couldn't even get my
teeth together or talk clearly. Maybe I couldn't have anyway.
About that time I discovered Benzedrine. Loved those little white suckers.
We could get a sack full in those days. It sure didn't bother to get up
at 3:00 AM anymore. Pop a couple of pills and you were wide awake ready to
take on the whole world. If it kept you awake, just take a few sleeping
pills. Boy! Isn't medical science great or what!!
My 23rd mission. Again to Weiner Neustadt; deep into Germany. A fine
day, last part of May. We sang our usual song over the Intercom; " Casey
got hit with a bucket of s--t and the band played on. He waltzed æcross the
floor and got hit by some more and the band played on." Ted stayed on the
radio because he couldn't sing.
We were 21,000 feet over the Alps. They were so clear with a jagged beauty
unparalleled by any mountain chain in the world.
We passed over the mountains and were flying over the checkerboard farms of
Austria when at least forty German fighters hit us head on. They weren't
shooting at the Group, they were shooting at our squadron of 25 planes.
All our guns (10 fifty caliber machine guns) were making a racket you
wouldn't believe. Over the intercom, someone was crying for his mother to
help him. I was shouting for them to shut up so we could call off the
positions of the fighters.
After the bastards went through us, they were attacking our rear, picking
off the stragglers and raising hell in general. I watched a buddy, John
Lane, go down burning on my right. (This guy was amazing at the piano;
played on the black keys.) We could see no chutes. I could feel the
vibrations as we were taking hits with the German 20 millimeter cannons and
machine guns. "Boy, Lord get us out of this and I'll be a better guy!" I
still wasn't scared because I was so busy. All of a sudden we found
ourselves all alone except for one other plane. That made us stragglers.
I knew the other plane was on its' first mission so didn't think they would
give us much help.
I see a fighter flame and go down. One of my guys shouted, "I got the
bastard!" Another fighter on the right explodes. Someone shouts "Brown's
down" (the engineer). Jo-Jo, in the tail, says, "I'm hit bad and one of my
guns is blown off but I'm staying here." All the gunners were busy so I
sent Propwash to help Brown. [The Belle was "down" with a leaky gas tank so
had a brand new replacement plane on its' first (and last) mission.] I
just about bend the throttle and RPM controls forward, trying to catch up
with the rest of the Group. The new guy, in the other plane, salvoes his
bombs and pulls away from us. I'm mad; we brought the damn bombs this far
and I'm going to drop them on the target.
The Germans are still back there taking turns at making passes at our plane
but we won't go down. "Maybe the Lord IS watching out for us", I think as
I watch another fighter go down. We were credited with 5.
Propwash comes back and says that Brown is dead. Jo-Jo is really smashed
up, but is still in his rear turret. Two more of the gunners are wounded,
but still at their guns. I tell Prop to take over Brown's gun. The
fighters stopped making passes at our rear as it was getting too costly for
them. Now they are out to our side, just out of effective range of our 50
calibers and are making deflection shots at us with their 20 mm cannon. I
feel like taking after them, instead I lower the left wing so the top
gunner can get a shot at them. Like I said, I was mad. I had Ted take
over and I opened the window on my side and emptied my 45 pistol at them.
I know it won't do any good, but it sure made me feel better
We were slowly catching up to the Group. The fighters were just about gone
because the FLAK was coming up from over the target area. I had just
caught up to them when it was time to drop our bombs. Ted said the bomb
bay doors wouldn't open. That meant all our hydraulics were out. I
grabbed the emergency handle and dropped them through the doors.
The FLAK was heavy but I couldn't tell if we were hit with any of it,
because we already had 1500 holes in the aircraft including every blade of
the four propellers (12 blades total). [Al's note: I don't think the boys
actively counted these *during* the flight!] Boy! Am I flying a mess; the
bomb bay doors hanging down; streamers of aluminum and fabric; smoky
engines; but no fire. The self sealing gas tanks must have worked because
we are not losing gas.
We turn South for home and start to assess the damage. Hydraulics are out
which means heavy controls, no brakes, no flaps. I start to worry how I'll
get the "Beast" stopped when I land. I have a tricycle plane so I think
the best bet is to put everyone in the rear end. I will drag the tail on
the runway so we can use that as a brake.
Now if this thing will hang together for another hour, we'll make it.
Golly! It sure makes you feel better when you know you've had it and all of
a sudden you see there's half a chance of living another day. There was no
chance of bailing out, too many wounded guys who couldn't pull the rip cord.
We are almost there. I drop out of formation and take the short cut to the
airfield. The radio is out so I have Roven, top turret, stand by with a
bunch of red flares. O.K. I'll have to keep the speed at least 160 MPH
because I have all the weight in the back.
I make a long, slow approach; now I'm a mile from the runway. Speed 160
MPH; O.K.; everybody clear back.
I'm over the runway and feel the plane start to stall; pull back on the
wheel û need Ted to help me pull. The wheels touch we're just a hair too
fast, but O.K. We bounce about a foot, then settle for good. Ted turns
off all the engines and power switches in case of a crash. I hear a very
satisfying grind as the emergency tail skid tears itself up on the
steel-matted runway. By George! We're going to make it! The plane slows
down and coasts right off the end of the runway. I can even guide it to
the side so we're out of the way of landing planes.
Ted and I shake hands and just sit there for a little while. Here come the
Medics, ambulances and a crowd of curious people. I'm dying for a
cigarette. The bomb bay is awash with blood. I can't make myself go back
there. I go away from the plane, light a cigarette, sit down and shed a
few tears as they unloaded the wounded guys. Damn! I was proud of them.
I was certainly glad that xxxxxxxxxxx was still in the hospital. He would
have ruined something, somehow.
I didn't want to see Brown, so after they took him out, I went over to the
ambulances and told the guys how proud I was of them.
At debriefing they heard our story and turned it over to the P.R. man who
put the whole crew in for the Silver Star which is the third highest award
for bravery. In our case, there was a lot of skill and a lot of luck to
survive the mission. We lost most of our squadron.
The next day, the guys who could, got in a jeep to look at Brown in his
coffin. I just couldn't make myself go, so I stayed home and tried to get
drunk. I would take a strong drink and then run outside and throw up. I
kept trying to get drunk until the guys got back. I found out that I was
more affected than I thought, mentally that is.
The Group leaders thought it was time for us who were not in the hospital
to have a weeks R&R; it was called rest camp. The next day we got in a
truck and went to a resort area around Bari on the Adriatic Sea. It was a
beautiful place for southern Italy. You could look across the water and
see Albania. We were to get a lot of steak and real eggs. The only
problem was the cooks were Italian and they fried everything in rancid
olive oil. But, "what the hay?" It was a lot better than combat. A whole
week longer to live!!
Man! Did that week pass quickly! Back to the base and new assignments. I
was put to checking out new crews. Ted got his own crew. Propwash joined
another crew. Pontz quit flying; there wasn't much need for a bombardier
anyhow as every plane dropped their bombs when the lead man did. Jo-Jo was
too badly hurt to return to combat. I really don't know what happened to
the rest. I wasn't there very much longer.
I went to see Jo-Jo and the other guys in the hospital quite often. Man!
Did Jo-Jo ever have a good looking nurse!
My first assignment of checking out new crews was with a fellow named Ray
Frick and his crew. He had to ride as co-pilot; quite a pair; Smick and
Frick. Ray was a really nice guy and quite famous on the East Coast
because he was an All American football player at Penn State. He was
about 6'5" tall and had a great build. His only problem was that he was
ugly. His nose had been broken about five times and each time leaving it a
little flatter and wider. He truly looked like a "Luft Gangster" that the
Germans called us. But like I said, he was a great fellow.
We flew two missions together. The guys were coming along and things were
looking up. On our third mission together (this was my 26th) I was given
the job of Box Leader. I was happy that they finally recognized my
talents. But maybe it was because I was getting to be one of the "old
timers". The next step up would be Squadron Commander and a promotion to
Captain. On 9 June, 1944, I got up, strapped my knife to my leg; popped
my pills; had the usual powdered eggs and raw bacon; and went to
briefing. I groaned when I saw the target; it was Munich, Germany. I
checked out my survival kit, parachute and FLAK vest, jumped on a truck and
headed to the flight line. Oh no!! The Liberty Belle is still down and we
have drawn one of the oldest planes on the field. The name painted on the
side was "Tung Hoy" which means Tough Shit in Chinese.
A jeep drives up and a photographer gets out. He's the guy who takes
pictures of bomb strikes. He said he was on his last mission and because I
had the reputation of always getting back, he chose me.
I find out another bad thing. We are the last group in the whole wing
which means the German Anti Aircraft will really be sighted in when our
Group passes over. The only good thing is that it's a beautiful, perfect
day. Bright and clear and not a breath of wind.
We stand around talking until it's time to "fire up". We start engine #
one on the left, # 2, # 3. Something' s wrong with # 4. It's turning over
but just won't fire. We try and try. I call the tower and tell them my
engine won't start. They send two or three mechanics who decide we need a
new carburetor. Meanwhile all of the group have taken off. We try again
and nothing happens. Then they decide to change the plugs. The Group has
formed and are long gone. I fully expect the Colonel to have us stand down
(abort). We try the engine one more time and it catches. I wait for
orders. Somebody from the tower says to take off and catch your Group. I
tell them that I don't think that's a very good idea as they have been gone
too long.. The tower says to give it a try. Man! That means we are going
to be alone an awful long time. I taxi out, pour on the coal and make an
uneventful take-off. I know that the only way to catch the Group is to go
all out "full bore". This is going to take a lot of gas in the old dude.
Will I have enough to get to the target and back? I'll worry about that
As we get more altitude, the nose gunner and bombardier called and said the
nose wheel doors were blowing open and they were freezing to death. I told
them to find some wire and wire the damn thing shut. Of course, that meant
that they could not use it as their bail out hatch. They would have to
come up and use ours which was the bomb bay. We are half way up the
Adriatic when I see some tiny little dots ahead. Now if I can only get
some speed out of this old dog, maybe I can catch up with the Group. I'm
still full throttle, the gas is really being gulped down and the engines
overworked, but we are gaining.
We get to the top of the Adriatic without being caught by fighters and the
Group is only ten miles ahead. We will catch them over the Alps somewhere.
I'm finally caught up with the group and will slip into formation and will
get to slow down. Over the intercom came, "Waist to pilot. You better
check # 4 engine, it's got an oil leak you wouldn't believe"! I get up and
go to the window and watch the oil stream back. Holy Cow, I'm really in it
now! I'm losing an engine in Germany! If I lose too much oil, I won't be
able to feather the prop. I can't slide back to a new Group, becuse we are
the last one. Talk about the rock and the hard place!!
I break radio silence and call Major "Stinky" Davis, the Group Leader and
tell him I can't keep up, that I'm losing an engine. He said, "You will
either have to turn back or go to Switzerland". Switzerland was a pretty
attractive destination as it was only 50 miles away and a guy could sit out
the war in safety in a neutral country drawing per diem and chasing women.
I quickly put that out of my mind. Why, they wouldn't let me come back to
St. John if I did that!
We abort for home and again I'm full throttle. Down the line, the
photographer calls on the intercom and begs me to hit some target so he
will get credit for the mission. I ask the crew what they think. They
think it's a good idea. I think that maybe we could slip over to Trieste
and lay a string of bombs in their harbor. I also think that all the
fighters would be after the main stream of planes.
I was wrong again. I had just turned when, "POW!", four 109's hit us from
all sides. I don't think anyone saw the suckers coming out of the sun and
did they do a job on us!!
I had read somewhere that if you slowed down, crossed controls, then sped
up and veer to the other side, it would be hard for a fighter to sight in
on you. I was trying everything I ever heard of.
By this time we are right over the center of the Bay of Trieste., large
sections of the left wing are peeling off. Lord, I can't control the plane
anymore. "Bail out!, bail out", I shout over the Intercom. It's strangely
silent; intercom must be shot out. Frick rushes by me and out the bomb
bay. The left wing is slowly dipping down. I have maximum trim to
compensate. I ring the bailout button, but it could be shot out, too. "
Lord, get me out of this one", I pray. I reach out and flick on
auto-pilot. Maybe this will give me more time to bail out.
From the corner of my eye, I see the wing start to tear off. I jump off
the deck. Whoa! I see the top turret gunner is still there. I grab his
feet and pull. He stares down at me and I see that he's either dead or
frozen into immobility. I'm still pulling on him when the plane goes
upside down and enters into a spin. The centrifugal force tears him from
me and I end up on the deck looking out the bomb bay. It looks good even
if we are up 20,000 feet. I crawl on out. I hear the roar of the wind. I
stay in my pre-natal position with my eyes tightly closed, hoping to get
clear of the plane. God, I wish they had taught us something about bailing
out except count to ten and then pull the rip cord. My body is really
spinning. I pull the rip cord. Wham! I'm pulled up short. Lord, it
hurts! My chest pack chute doesn't fit and I'm bent backwards with a long
fall ahead and besides that I'm still spinning. I would wind up until the
chute was real little then spin the other way. Boy, am I glad I have
altitude, because when the chute is small, I'm really falling fast.
After about 10,000 feet, I got the spinning stopped by grabbing the shroud
lines when they had reached neutral. I could hear shots along the shore
line. Then I got it straight in my mind. I would hear a hiss or a whiz
and then the booms on the ground. THOSE ROTTEN BASTARDS WERE SHOOTING AT
ME!!!! Thank God they were missing me but they were sure hitting the
chute. I guess they didn't lead me enough as I was falling through the air
at 15 MPH. I see that I'm going to land pretty far from shore on the
Yugoslavian side. It's time to prepare for my landing. You are supposed
to have everything unbuckled and drop the last five feet into the water.
The sea is calm and glassy with no wind at all. It is completely
impossible to tell how high you are. Besides I'm still bent backwards and
my hands aren't working very good. I do manage to unbuckle a leg strap. I
would guess I was about 200 feet high when Splash! I hit the water.
The parachute very gracefully settles over the top of me and I found myself
completely surrounded by shroud lines and the chute. I tried to unbuckle
my chute but I wasn't strong enough. I panicked because I couldn't breathe
very well. I pulled one side of my Mae West (flotation vest) which was
powered by a CO2 cartridge. Of course that made my buckle tighter still.
I'm lucky that I don't have a cartridge for the other side. I would have
pulled it, too. I'm still fighting the chute, swallowing water and kicking
off my $40.00 Natal boots.
I finally got out from under the chute, but the shroud lines are tangled
around my body. I reach for the knife strapped to my leg û it's gone.
It's the only thing I lost when I bailed out, and of course, the most
needed. I finally got the lines off my body and start working on that damn
buckle. Why won't my hands work? The water is crystal clear and I see the
chute slowly opening under water. My God! It's pulling me under! I fight
feebly to the top. I get a breath of air only to be pulled under again.
Help, Lord, get me out of this one. I'm under water a long time but make
it to the top again for what I think is my last time. I go under again
thinking what a rotten way to die after getting out of the plane alive and
escaping the bullets on the way down.
I've swallowed most of the Adriatic so now it's time to start inhaling it.
I remember thinking that drowning isn't as bad as I thought. Everything is
getting black and darkness is closing in. I stopped my struggling and kind
of relaxed. I felt at peace with the world. Felt bad for the folks and
Marge, but let go. My last thought was , " and you thought you were so
strong, can't even get a little buckle undone." I'm completely
unconscious. I hate to wake up but there's a bright light in my face. THE
SUN. I'm free of the chute. What happened? I didn't do it. Thank you,
I blow up the other side of my Mae West by lung power. I'm really
floating. I'm really glad to be alive and breathing fresh air.
Now, what do I do? There are no fishing boats around. Guess I'll swim for
Yugoslavia and hope the Partisans pick me up and return me to Italy. I
swim for three hours towards shore û another hour should do it. Lord, am I
tired. I sure could use some of those pep pills. I see some figures on
shore watching me flounder. I think, "Hot dog, I'll bet they are Partisans
just waiting for me to get to them
I'm now about 200 yards from shore and I see one of the guys shed his
clothes and jump in (the water). He swims out to me to help. I say, "
American û are you Partisan?" He says, "Nein, Ich bin Deutch". I said,
I was helped out of the water. Now my legs wouldn't work. They carried me
to a truck and drove me to their encampment. I had swum for four hours
just to get into the middle of a German Anti Aircraft Battery!
These soldiers were fine to me. They treated me with respect due an
officer. It wasn't so great when they took me to their head man, a little
top sergeant or feldwebel. He slapped me around to show the others what a
big shot he was. He yanked my dog tags off. He returned one and the
They led me outside to a lawn where I saw four of the (my) crew. They had
been picked up by fishing boats. The Germans said they saw eight chutes.
After much thought, I decided the two in the nose did not make it, because
of wiring the nose doors shut. One gunner was trapped in the tail section.
The other three got tangled in their chutes and drowned. That was easy to
do, as I found out!
I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open and the last thing I saw before
falling asleep were all the planes, that were on the mission going home.
Next thing I knew someone was shaking me to wake up. There are two
officers. One was a doctor. They examine me and take some 20mm speckles
out of my butt and another out of my leg which promptly becomes infected.
As I am the senior officer, I get in the back seat of their Beetle
Volkwagen and we start for Trieste. On the way, something strange
happened. They stopped at a little roadside inn and I guess went in for
coffee. I could see through the crack of the two front seats they had left
a machine gun. I know it's my duty to try to escape, but how in the world
do you operate a machine gun? Even if it's loaded, where is the safety?
Am I supposed to escape or are they setting me up? The door to the Inn is
only thirty feet away. I try to see if anyone is peeking out at me..
Lord!, I wish I could speak German and someone could tell me what was going
on. I know I can't run as my legs aren't working very good yet and I'm
barefoot besides. I think about it and decide that there is no way I could
make it in the shape that I'm in.
The Germans finally come out of the inn. In about an hour, I'm deposited
in the city jail of Trieste. This overlooks the harbor that we were going
to bomb. The other crew members were already here. They had come by truck.
Man! Am I sick at my stomach. I'm sure it was from all the water I
swallowed. We were given some black bread and a little water. At dawn the
next morning we were "entertained" by a firing squad in the courtyard
below. It sounds like three were executed. Boy!, do we hope they don't
come for us. So this is what war is all about. I wish the bastards that
started it were here instead of me.
The next day I had a raging fever and thirst and I don't feel like going
anywhere but we are put on a train with the destination being Verona Italy,
an interrogation center. I think that when we were about half way there,
the train had to stop because the railroad marshaling yards of Udine. Italy
had just been bombed. We had to get out and walk to a train on the other
side of town. The five of us had four German guards with machine guns.
We were about halfway through the town when I noticed about twenty people
following us. The farther we walked the bigger the crowd became. You
could hear their voices turning into a rumble. Lord!, there must be three
hundred of them now and they were surrounding us. The guards look about as
frightened as we are and start leveling their guns at the crowd. A little
old lady breaks through and spits and on us. That is the signal for every
body to start hawking up spit and let fly. Man!, we are covered with it.
Oh Lord, here comes a loud mouthed son-of-a-bitch shouting "strangulary"
which means hang the bastards. He is really stirring up the crowd and they
are getting braver. Two men get really brave and jump upon big ugly Ray
from behind, grabbing him by his flight jacket. He shrugs out of the
jacket and they run off with their prize. I notice some of them are
looking at my 43C class ring which is gold. I quickly slip it off and into
Now they are hitting us with boards and steel rods. The bastard with the
rope is screaming now and the crowd is closing in, spitting and hitting.
Come on you dumb guards û shoot in the air or something! Suddenly an air
raid siren starts its' ear splitting screech. The bastard with the rope
takes off along with his cohorts. By George! I think we'll make it again.
About 20,000 feet up I see the contrails of a P-38 on a mission to
photograph the damage to the marshaling yards. I'm still barefooted and
are my feet a mess walking over the broken concrete and glass. We finally
get to the other train and I'm so thirsty I would kill for a drink of
water. As we were taken to our compartment an Italian gave me a drink of
dirty-looking water out of a bottle. I have never tasted anything so good
in my life! Later, an SS officer brought us some soda or some kind of
imitation pop and that was great. The guards let us lean out of the window
and catch rain water running off the roof of the train.
The guards gave us some more black bread and bologna, but I'm too sick to
eat. We are so crowded I have to crawl under the seat to lie down.
We finally get to Verona and were promptly put into solitary confinement.
I haven't the slightest idea how many days I stared at that single, dim
light bulb hanging from the ceiling. I counted every one of the nails in
the ceiling. The bed was a plywood board. Of course there is no way to
tell night from day. I got so I really looked forward to when the guard
came with the bread and water or took away the slop bucket.
After what seemed like a month, I was taken in for interrogation. Here is
a nice looking Luftwaffe Captain who spoke American English and had a full
pack of Camel cigarettes. He very graciously offered me one and said I
might as well tell him everything they wanted to know, because they already
knew all about me. He just wanted to compare it with what he had. I told
him that all I could give him were my name, rank and serial number. I
didn't want to leave him and this kindly atmosphere. I wanted to talk, but
the best thing was his cigarettes. He said, "well, I'll tell you then."
He started by things like when I graduated from High School, when I joined
the Army Air Corps, when I was married and to whom. He even mentioned
Janet and when she was born. I know most all of what he knew could be
gotten out of newspapers, but how in the hell could they have gotten all
the newspaper information? Could it be we even had spies in St. John,
Colfax or Endicott?
When he asked me how many planes in the squadron and group I could honestly
say I didn't know. I made it a point never to know how many operational
planes we had. I prolonged my visit as long as I could before he asked me
to leave. Lord! I was glad to get out of "solitary" and leave Verona.
The train ride through Germany took a few days. We went through some of
the cities we had bombed. When we got to historic old Vienna (which we
also bombed) they put us in a dungeon of an old but beautiful castle right
next to the city park. All of the sewage systems had been destroyed and we
used one of the lower rooms as a urinal. I could tell that it was two or
three feet deep!
The next morning they took us to a park for bowel evacuation. I was
squatting there doing my business when a German lady joined me. Talk about
embarrassment. I soon got over things like that. War is a rotten, funny
We went on to Stalag Luft III the next day. We got out of the train and
into a charcoal burning Ford truck. I should say a wood-burning truck with
a big upright tank on the side that converted the wood to charcoal, to a
gas that was burned instead of gasoline.
They took us for a special search of our clothes while we had showers.
They took my rings, watch and leather jacket. We were given receipts. (I
got my gold class ring back a year or so later, because it had my name
inside. When we were through I stole my A-2 leather jacket as we filed
out of the bath house. I sure did need it later. We marched through the
front gate into a crowd of POW's all wanting to get more news about the
invasion on June 6, 1944. Since I was shot down on the 9th, I didn't have
much to tell them.
I looked around and the first guy I saw that I knew was John Lane û the
black key piano player that I mentioned earlier. This is the guy I saw go
down and we saw no chutes. I said, "Man, I think you're dead and don't
know it!" He had a pretty good hole in his left arm and his fingers didn't
work very good, but otherwise was in great shape. He had fought all the
way down to get out of the plane and made it at the last moment.
Lane said there was one bunk left in his room. I would make the twelfth.
I checked out my bunk. It had wood slats, two very thin wool type
blankets, a sack half full of wood shavings for a mattress, a Red Cross
toothbrush and razor along with a glass bowl and tablespoon. There was a
Red Cross parcel, that was to last for a week, along with some German food.
I then met all my room mates.
June 9 - '44
Turned back on 25th mission - Munich.Reason: #2 "turbo" bad, oil pressure on #1 dropping.Two generators out.Tried to find suitable target at Trieste, Italy when jumped by 4 or more 109s.First pass they shot out large section of left wing.2nd pass, shot out controls.Put ship on A5 and ordered crew to bail out.Two fires in bomb bay and left wing.Lowered wheels and again ordered crew to bail out.Ship was stalling and dropped off on left wing.Flight deck was clear of men except top turret gunner.I grabbed his feet and told him to jump when the action of the plane, in spin, threw me out and down through the bomb bay.Plane evidently exploded as soon as I left.Counted 5 chutes.I landed in water approx. 3 mi. from shore.Could not free myself from chute but finally succeeded after having been drawn under water.Taken prisoner by approx. 150 German soldiers on shore -- questioned and stood in sun for rest of day.Taken to Trieste at night and locked in old castle -- one blanket, no food or water.I was quite sick from salt water and 20mm wounds in leg.
June 10 - '44
Was on train all day until approx. (1700).Then watched as town and railroad yards were bombed in front of us.Had to walk approx. 10 miles through the city in bare feet.Population of city tried to hang us but were held off by German guards.Crowd getting out of hand.I was spit on quite a bit.Noticed some Italians giving the V for Victory sign.Finally made it to another train.Had about a cup of filthy, crawling water.The first in about 48 hours.Best I have ever tasted.I had a little fever so am quite hazy as to what happened after that.
June 11 -- '44
Taken to Verona, Italy for interrogation.Put in solitaire.I don't know how long as there were no lights.Had plenty of water and some black bread.Was taken and questioned.All rings, money etc. were taken.More fever.
Spent night in beautiful, historic old Vienna in a flea infested dungeon.The urinal was evidently out of order as the whole room was about 6 inches deep so the procedure was to stand at the door and use it.Another 3 inches and they will have to find another room.Needless to say the smell was awful.Also the fleas were very bad.
Arrived at Offlag Luft III (Officers [flying] Prisoner of War Camp.)Was deloused, given bedding and some shoes - also a shirt, pants, size 36 shorts, socks, towel, some cigarettes and personal or toilet articles furnished by the Red Cross.Moved into a 12 man room which is rather crowded.The thing that gets you the most is the way the guys can make stuff out of nothing -- pots, pans, grinders, etc. are all made out of tin.The tin is literally pulled apart, flattened out and made into the various assorted articles that are needed.
Can't get over the Red Cross.They give us a box of canned food every week.This is what keeps us from starving.We get black bread, barley soup and potatoes from "Jerry".When combined with American food it isn't so bad.
Am still slightly sick from the ocean I tried to drink.Four Me 109s put on a dog fight for us.They are good flyers but their planes are not as good as ours.The planes are fairly thick but most of them are very old transports or training planes.Can't see how they still hold out.
Cold today, had to wear my new G.I. overcoat.News looks good even if it is German.
About 300 U.S. planes came over.We were all herded in the barracks with windows closed but got a good look at them -- very good for the morale.
The crabs and lice are really getting bad.The guys with lice have to shave all their hair off.Bald pates really look funny.I hope I don't get them.
"Jerry" gave me back my dog tags, insignia and crash bracelet and a receipt for two rings and $45.00.The only thing missing is a pair of pinks [Army Officer pants] and a comb.
The last day of the Mo. (pay day) but that don't mean a thing as I haven't seen a cent or will see any money until I get home.Saw a 27 ship formation go over today.I think they were HE 177s.Morale low.
Saw a show yesterday afternoon - "Orchestra Wives."It was old but I don't know when I've ever enjoyed a movie more.Today we chopped firewood for our stove.I've got the blisters to prove it.Just finished reading "Penrod."Really got a kick out of it.I remember the first time Mom read it to us kids at CottonwoodSchool.Wish I was back there now.
Very nice day today.Was entertained to the utmost all day.Boxing matches, volley ball and other entertainment.It was ended by a very good program made up of impersonators, soloists and a very hot jive orchestra.The instruments coming from the YMCA through the R. C.
Had an Air Raid today but didn't see any of our planes.I get a kick out of the German news when they say they repressed everything but gave way a little to shorten their lines.Would give anything to hear from home.
I should, I know, keep a more accurate account of what's going on but the last few days are so damn boring.The same old routine of getting up in the morning, eating what you can and trying to find a way to amuse yourself until it's time to go to bed is really getting my nerves.I find that I'm about as short tempered as I can get.It takes all the self control a guy has to keep from "blowing your top".Not much has happened except we now have calisthenics along with morning "Apel" [roll call].It might be better for us but I can't see burning up extra energy and that really gets important around here as the food isn't so great in quantity that a guy can do that and also play a game of baseball or volley ball without cutting out one or the other.The news is better every day for us but it seems as though it certainly is taking an awful long time.
Propwash, my old Navigator, came yesterday.Was I glad to see him -- he gave me a lot of news of everybody.He was shot down the 24th of June.Had an Air Raid yesterday and today.The Allies are really going to town so the old morale is really up.It certainly can't last much longer.
Have one heck of a cold.Wish I could clear it up as it makes life very miserable.Nothing of interest except I just won 6 packs of cigs from Major Brown on a bet.Made a $50 bet with Prop that the war would last until October 14th.I hope he wins.I would be very glad to lose the $50.
Big diphtheria scare around here.Guess they have it pretty well checked.This is a perfect place for a contagious disease.Also have to worry about food poisoning as Jerry pokes holes in all the cans of food and sometimes food goes bad before we can eat it all.Cold is a lot better today.I guess I better write some of my month's letters as today is the deadline for this month.Very hard to think up enough to write.
One guy down from the "plague" in our room.The rest of us are confined to the room.Hoping to heck I don't get it.
Had our throats swabbed today and they will send the slides to Breslau -- it will take about 5 days.The room gets smaller all the time and it's hard to hold onto the old temper at times.The war should be over very soon so I guess we won't have to sweat out the winter.If, per chance, we would, I'm afraid that just about one half of the camp would still be alive in the spring due to the crowded living conditions, etc.
Supposed to get out of this damn quarantine today but something went wrong so we have to stay in another day.Had an Air Raid today but didn't see any of our planes.The old urge to fly is really getting strong.We spend most of the time telling of the good times with wives, etc.I think the unmarried guys are slightly jealous.I wonder what it's like to eat all you can hold or enough, anyway, so that you're not always hungry.I can't help remembering the good food that Mom used to give us.Also the beautiful plates Marjorie used to make when we had places to cook.I now have a very nice case of"Athletes foot".
One year ago today Janet Lee was born -- a long time ago.I wish I was home to see her.I imagine she can talk by now.The inevitable has finally happened.Three planes, FW 190s, went over and one caught fire and crashed.The pilot didn't get out.Yesterday a guy in a FW 190 was showing off.The guy was trying to do a vertical snap.He stalled out and just recovered before he spun in.It was really close and it gave us quite a laugh.He really got out of here fast.The Pursuits have really been giving us the "Buzz" jobs lately.They certainly have an appreciative audience as we all would give anything to be "in the blue" again.I guess I will write letters tonight.
Well, it's been a month since I last wrote.The war is still going strong.The troops are around Aachen but the "Jerry" is still holding out.We are now on half rations and I am damn near ready to starve.The reason for half rations is because the Red Cross can't get enough food to us.I met a kid named Harvey who went to St. JohnHigh School for two years.We had a lot of talk about old times.We have been having an Air Raid at least once a day or night.Saw some of our planes the other day.The room is getting worse.I personally have just about come to blows and will, probably, some day.It's impossible to live in here and not get mad at somebody.The war will be over by the first week or two of Nov.I'm sure of it.If it isn't, I will give up all hope of it being over this year.I hate to think of spending a winter in this place.
There's a hell of a lot of activity going on some place.There is sort of a tenseness in the air.Whether that is due to an increase of rumors, I don't know.Still on half rations and the hunger hurts.Should get some mail and cigarettes soon -- I hope.Incidentally, there has been a noticeable decrease of the Luftwaffe around here.That's another reason for the wave of optimism.
Red letter day yesterday and I do mean letter -- 26 of them.Boy, do they build up the morale.It was such a relief to hear that everyone was O.K.Won my bet from Propwash, damn it.However my date of Nov. 11 looks good.I will make a prediction -- "something big will happen in the next two weeks and the war will be over definitely by the last of Nov."Well now, I've committed myself.I have to be pretty careful of my notes as the Germans are searching for this sort of thing.We have been on half rations for about a month now.What a feeling it is to go around hungry all the time.I think about food most of the time and kick myself everytime I think of something I didn't like and wouldn't eat back in the U.S.
It finally happened -- we got three more men in the room today making a total of 15.Boy, is it crowded.Still on half rations and can really feel it.We are hungry all of the time and all of us have lost about all the weight we can afford.I only hope that the personal food parcels get here from home.The Red Cross is not quite doing its duty.I guess they are telling people at home that life is a little bit too easy and as a result the boys are getting ski wax, tennis balls, golf clubs, toilet paper, soap and other stuff instead of the food they need so badly.The new men think that the war won't be over for at least 6 months.Well, I still have hopes of the last of Nov.After that I'll prepare for the long, cold winter.
Just about over an attack of flu.What a place to be sick.The treatment is to hit the sack and take aspirins.The room hasn't been any warmer than about 32 for the past week.The food situation is worse as we lose two days rations this week.Also, the war doesn't look so hot.It could be over this year but I doubt it.If we only had some more food and a little heat it wouldn't be so bad.Well, here's hoping!(What the hell for?)
Well, here it is the end of Nov.All my predictions have gone to hell.Incidentally, this is Thanksgiving Day.I guess the only thing to be thankful for is just being alive which isn't too much.Sometimes I think it would have been better to have "spun" on in.I guess it would have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble.I received my first food parcel a week ago but was so damn hungry I ate it up in two days.I guess my powers of resistance have diminished somewhat.Well, I for one, hope this is the last hungry T.G. day I ever spend.
I take this opportunity to say this is one of the best Xmas days I have ever spent.At present I'm lying in my sack so full that I can't move.In fact my stomach hurts.All this was made possible by extra special Xmas parcels that had Turkey, sausage, candy and nuts in it.This full feeling is the best ever.On top of all this, a new rumor has just come in that the German offensive was the greatest mistake of the war and General Ike promised a speedy end.Really a shot in the arm.P.S. We also had a fire all day.What a change from the bitter cold and I do mean BITTER COLD.
Dec. 31 - Jan. 1st, 1945
Happy New Year!My God, who would have thought that I'd have been here this long.My full stomach lasted approx. one day after Xmas and here we are - hungry as hell.What a way to welcome a new year.I just hope and pray that I won't be here next year, although I wouldn't bet on it.Just won another $50.00 bet.
Jan. 16, '45
Nothing has happened of importance.Have had no mail since Xmas.Food situation still fairly critical although it's being told around that we MIGHT go on full parcels but I doubt. It.Had one death - the first one.Can't understand it --I thought at least half of us would be dead by now.I guess I underestimated the physical condition of the U.S. soldier.
I might say that more has happened in the few days than has happened all the time I've been here.First - the camp is going on full parcels.Why, I don't know, but have the idea that they think we might need extra energy because the Russians are approx. 115 miles from here and probably a lot closer now.The war could end for us in a matter of hours but everyone made such fools of themselves during the push through France that optimism is being held down.
"Hell is popping" -- the Russians are 52 miles east of here.We are on full parcels.Also, I'm cooking this week.We are marching 10 miles a day which hits us pretty hard, although it's a good idea to get us in shape to be marched either by the Germans or Russians.Here's hoping it’s the Russians.
Jan. 27 (Sat.) - Feb. 5
What I am about to relate is a little different from the usual run of patter.I might also say that the things I write about were a lot worse.I couldn't begin to describe the misery and pain.Sat. night about the Germans said we were going to march.To be ready in an hour.We ripped up sheets, shirts, etc. and made hasty packs, throwing in all the food, etc. that we could carry.We were then given a Red Cross parcel and told to "keep up or else".We started out at the end of the line.The West Camp had to run to catch up.As a result, most of the food was lost.The first night and all the next day was march, march!Then we had a 3 hour rest at a German town where we threw away everything not necessary.Then back to marching.This night was bitter cold.I imagine about 20 degrees.Guys were freezing and dropping by the side.It was so cold you couldn't stand still a minute.My feet were bleeding and frozen so I had to give it up at 4 in the morning.I was put in a barn with about 300 guys a lot worse off than I was, I guess.We lost 4 Americans that night.Also two German guards.We took off next morning in a blinding snow storm and at about Wed. morning we were taken to a factory.Waited for an hour.Told to move.Brought back after about 5 hours of standing in the streets.Finally allowed to rest for a day.Next day marched to town of Muskow where, after a long wait, we were put in another factory.From then on it was an old story of walking and sleeping in barns, etc.Pain and misery at every step.We finally reached Spremburg where we (52 men) were crowded into box cars.The European box car is about 1/3 the size of an American box car.Were given 4/5 of a Red Cross parcel with 1/2 loaf of bread.It was impossible to sleep so we didn't.I'm writing now from my sack at Nurnberg.The first I've seen since I left Stalag Luft III.I was one of the few to get one.This place gets bombed very often.In fact there is an Air Raid now and we are close to the railroad yards so I'm still uncertain!I forgot to mention that on the second day out we or the head of the column thought they were being strafed so the whole compound hit the ditch.The guards thought it was a break and started shooting at us.It took quite awhile to get straightened out and I found out what it feels like to get shot at on the ground.A few were hit.This account is very inaccurate but my physical and mental condition does and will not warrant a very good account.I don't know whether this camp is permanent or not.I know that the food situation is critical and hope we come out O.K.My impression of the march is, to my mind, comparable to the March of Batan.
Happy birthday to my darling wife.
Happy Birthday.Good God, this situation is sad and I remember how I used to bitch at Sagan.Our living conditions are as follows:Food - 30 tablespoons of water they call soup, per day.1/6 of a loaf of bread/day - 6 or 7 spuds/day which has been cut in half.The camp is in one hell of a shape.Everyone is so weak and exhausted from actual starving that it's pitiful.My quarters consist of tiers or catacombs crowded together where we (the lucky ones) have boards to sleep on.The rest sleep on the floor.The lights are off most of the time which makes life more miserable.No medical supplies available.I have, I think, frozen lungs.They hurt quite a bit.Also my kidneys have been affected.My feet are just starting to heal.The worst thing of all is that we have been bombed 5 times now.Last night was the worst raid by the R.A.F.One bomb landed so close that our windows were blown out and dishes (or the one bowl per 3 men) were shattered.The daylight raids are just as bad but not so terrifying.Our food situation must improve or we have had it.Also, if the Germans don't move us soon we will be blown to hell by our own men.
Fleas, starvation, dirt, Air Raids.Situation improved somewhat by R.C. parcels hauled in by our own trucks.Air Raid last night blew the hell out of Nurnberg but missed us.That slit trench outside the window really felt good.Fleas are driving me slightly batty.I'm so damn skinny that sleeping on the boards is impossible.I guess I weigh a good 140 lbs.German rations have been cut again.1/7 of a loaf of bread.No salt or sugar.Potatoes have been cut to almost nothing.Hope we make it.
Alert!Looks like Ike is coming.All packed sweating out what the Germans will do with us. (I love you, Marjorie)
Left the 3rd of April on a very enjoyable trip to Moosburg.My feet gave out about half way and I've just been letting nature and the Germans take their course.Iride afew kilos and then "shack up" in a barn with other guys in my same position.I say the trip is enjoyable because the weather has been warm except for some rain.And the civilians have been so nice to us.I was taken into many a home and fed, etc,It's very nice to get away from the "wire".The Red Cross trucks have kept us fairly well supplied with food and we can get potatoes in abundance.I've even had eggs and milk.I'm now about 20 kilometers from Moosburg in an old barn.My stomach is full and I'm satisfied.The war news from what I've heard is good.There was a rumor that F.D.R. died and that Germany has been cut in two.
Arrived here at Moosburg the 18th after a most enjoyable trip.The food here is good and living conditions are, of course, a lot better than Nurnberg.I've met a lot of old friends."Goons" rations are fairly good also but, of course, the "Goons" will march us out again.In fact, there is talk of moving tonite.I would personally like to sweat the war our right here.It is such a relief not to be hungry and not having to go through the Air Raids.Hear today that the U.S. has crossed the Danube and are headed in this general direction again.I imagine we will be going South again but I must say they better hurry up and move us or we might be liberated.I often wonder what it would feel like to be "Free".I wonder what my baby looks like.I've even forgotten what Marjorie looks like.I only remember that I love her very much.I guess people that have loved like we two never forget.
I don't know yet but I think we are "LIBERATED".This morning we dodged a few bullets and shells.But what the hell, it was worth it.I just saw "Old Glory" waving over Moosburg.What a thrill!!Now to get out of here and go home.