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Cpt. Julian D. Fleming
721st Squadron



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

AWOL

Since there has been so much in the papers and on TV recently about the soldier who deserted his post in Afganistan during a war and what, if anything, should be done about it, I have decided to mention an incident during World War II that I have never before discussed with anyone.

I was the navigator on a B-24 heavy bomber, which carries a crew of 10 men. Our tail gunner, Glenn Painter, was such an excellent gunner that he shot down 3 German fighter planes on our first 5 missions. The other men on the crew were happy and proud and knew we would be well protected from any fighter that tried to sneak up behind us during our remaining 45 missions.

Our happiness was short-lived since the Air Force in its vast intelligence decided to take Glenn away from us and return him to the States as an instructor. Good for Glenn but bad for us! Then instead of assigning us a new tail gunner, the powers that be decided to give us an unnamed different gunner for each mission. We would never know who it was going to be or whether he would be capable or not.

During this period of "now you have a tail gunner, now you haven't" we were assigned a very long and very dangerous mission and guess what? We piled into the plane and started engines. The tail gunner assigned to us for that mission never showed up! I jumped out of the plane and ran over to the barracks where the gunners lived and found several who were not scheduled to fly that day. They were extremely glad not to be going to that particular target. But we still had to have a tail gunner.

I had no authority at all to order anyone to fly with us, and of course those who had the day off all knew that. So I began to try to persuade them as best I could. Finally (it must have been minutes but seemed like hours) I was able to persuade one gunner "Louie" to come with me.

It was a long mission, over 10 hours, and when we reached the target it was completely socked in, so foggy that even the enemy fighters could not get off the ground. The flak guns were silent, not wanting us to bomb through the clouds in trying to locate the target, so all we could do was turn around and head for home. The bombs were all dropped into the Adriatic Sea, since it was too dangerous to try to land with a full bomb load. And nobody got credit for flying a mission!

Louie, I'm sorry. You risked your life for nothing. The AWOL gunner assigned to us was never reported nor prosecuted. (He could have faced a firing squad). But I had to tell the story and apologize again to Louie.

Obituary for Julian Fleming

 

Julian (Jim) Davis Fleming was born on July 16, 1922 in Athens Georgia to the late Julian Davis Fleming, Sr. and Annie Lois Fleming. He passed away peacefully on April 13, 2022 at the age of 99, in Ellijay, Georgia. He spent the last ten years of his life enjoying the love and care of his daughter, Terry Hackney, and the frequent visits of his daughter, Valerie Bennett. "Big Jim", as his grandchildren called him, was loving, intelligent, and characterized by a quick wit that kept those around him laughing. He held a deep faith that got him through many losses of family and friends.

He married the love of his life, Wynette, in 1946. They were married 68 years. He is survived by their three children: Valerie, Terry, and Roger, six grandchildren, two great-grandsons, several devoted nieces and a nephew.

He was a WWII navigator on a B24 and flew 52 combat missions over Germany, North Africa, Italy, France, and other countries, and was once forced to bail out of his plane over Wales at an altitude of only 300 feet. Thirty-five years later, he returned to the site of that crash, and was honored by the mayor and people of the town. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in October, 1945 as a captain. Later in life, he published a book, With Wings as Eagles detailing many of his wartime exploits. He was the last remaining member of his flight crew.

He was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 9 oakleaf clusters, and a Presidential Unit Citation. In March of 2015, at the Atlanta capitol, he was personally awarded the French Legion Medal of Honor by the president of France.

He was a member of the Royal Airforce Club in London, England, the American Legion (the "Allen R. Fleming" Post, named for his grandfather), a charter member of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta, a Mensa member, and the "Cottontails" (the 450th bombardment group, 721st squadron). He attended North Georgia College and also earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. He spent his career in advertising.



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