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S/Sgt. Robert N. Terry
720th Squadron

September 1945

October 2003

My time in service was very different than some others. I tried to enlist in the Air Force in the pilot cadet program. I took the written test then came the physical part and I found out that I have a slight color problem that I was not aware of. I then tried to get in the C.A.P. pilot program. Before I was called up for that, the draft board called me up. September 4, 1943, was the day that I had to report to Fort Harrison and begin my military service. I was asked if I objected to going into the Army Air Force and I said that would be great. After a few days there a group was called together and told to get ready to ship out. The troop train took us to St. Petersburg, Florida and there we took several written test. Then we were shipped by truck to Clearwater, Florida. We were housed in the Fort Harrison Hotel and that was as close to being in jail as I can imagine. There was a drug store on the ground floor but we were not allowed to leave our floor in the hotel. My room was 616 and I was not allowed to ride the elevator and there were about 8 or 9 times a day that we had to climb and descend those stairs. There we did close order drill in one of two vacant lots. In a few days we were called in and offered jobs according to how we did on those tests we took in St. Petersburg. I was told that I could go to Glider Pilot training, Airplane Mechanic, Armor or Radio school. I elected to go to Glider Pilot program. I could wait or make another selection. At that time I elected to go to Airplane Mechanic School. In a couple of days I was on a troop train for Kessler Field. The Air Plane mechanic school went 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I was very lucky because I received the day shift and my day off was Friday. Our day was very busy with 8 hours of school 1 hour drill 1 hour calisthenics and study hall until 8:30 P.M. Then lights were out at 9:00. This gave little time to write letters or do anything that you wanted to do. On March 16, 1943, everyone that was in our school was made Private First Class. Now we received $54.00 a month. On April the 1st, I was on a troop train to the B-24 school at Willow Run and was told every one was now a Corporal and now our pay was $66.00 a month. This school was run by civilians and was very good. On graduation I was assigned to a B-24-H and was to fly with it to its final destination to a squadron some place. The plane went to St. Paul, Minnesota for some other work that a lasted for about 1 month. More work needed to be down at San Antonio, Texas. After that the plane was flown to Alamogordo, New Mexico and assigned to the 392nd
Bomb Group that was about ready to depart for their overseas station I was in that group for a very short time. They needed the B-24-H airplane but not the mechanics so I was transferred out.

After a short time the people that were the foundation of the 450th arrived on the base and I was transferred into the new group. We trained on B-24-E and they flew them almost 24/7. There were only 3 B-24-E's in the group and as soon as one crew landed we would check the plane over gas it up and another crew would take off. The first 100 hour inspection that we did took 24 hours to complete. After we understood how to do things it took a lot less time. Another problem is several men would be doing the same job. After some time we received our new B-24-H's. The crews flew them for a short time and then flew them away and we boarded a train that took the ground crew to Fort Patrick Henry in Virginia. We boarded a Liberty ship with about 500 other men and we were on our way. The ship departed at Richmond, Virginia on December 3, 1943. This was a 100 ship convoy and it traveled at 6 knots about (7 miles per hour). The ship arrived in Bari, Italy on December 29, 1943. The Germans had really bombed the harbor on December 16 or 17 and they really did a lot of damage. There were burnt and sunk ships all over the place. I was real glad to get off of that ship. One of our cooks came down the stairs on the side of the ship with a roll of toilet paper. Everyone laughed and had a lot to say to him. But the next day we all wished that we had done the same thing because toilet paper was just not to be had anyplace. The ground people were taken by truck to the air base at Manduria and we were told to find a friend and put our pup tents up. The man that I teamed up with was a man by the name of Haffier from armament that was a little heavy. We found some lumber that we put on the ground and pitched a pup tent over it.

Operations started some time in January. The 98th Bomb Group had part of their group on this base. The 98th Bomb Group led our group on their first couple of missions. As I understand these were easy missions to show our group how things were done. There was a B-24 in the service squadron hanger for a major overhaul. Some of the mechanics from our group looked in and saw a ball turret that the gunner had been killed in. It was said that a 20 MM bullet went through and there was blood splattered all around inside.

On the day of a mission the mechanics would get up about 2 hours before engine start time. Go to the chow hall get our powdered eggs and bacon and coffee. Walk out to the line uncover the airplane. Pull the props through 16 blades for each engine. Then start the engines and check the airplane over to see that every thing was OK. After a short time the air crews would start to arrive. Some times some of the crew would check the plane over but not usually. The crews were usually a happy bunch unless the target was Ploesti. Ploesti was not a milk run. Milk run was a easy mission. After take off the ground crew could return to their sleeping place or just goof off. Our feet were wet all day long until we took off our shoes. It was said that this was the wettest year in a long time. After about 6 or 8 months pronominal tents arrived and things were a lot better. I made a bed out of some lumber and we had 3 or 4 wool army blankest but it was still kink of cool nights.

We were allowed 1 day off a week and I usually went to Taranto (this city is at the top of the arch of the boot) and talked to two Italians and one sailor that was from England. Enea Capilla and his brother Duleo were the Italians that rented a room from an Italian lady. Here husband had been taken north to work in some factory. But between her and her husband was the Germans and any Allied person could not cross the line where the fighting was going on. As I understand, it was not possible to send letters or communicate in any way.

At one time the ground crew was changing an engine on a B-24, there were several mechanics working on this plane. Another mechanic was working on the upper part of the engine and the crew chief asked this mechanic to help him with something. Corporal Jack Corell was his name and he asked me to finish the job that he was doing. He said to get the rag out. I thought he was telling me to hurry and I gave him some lip. The job that he was doing was installing the air elbow on top of the carburetor. If I would have had that elbow there the rag would have all ready been removed. Well about 12:30 or 1:00 the engine was ready. The crew chief got into the cockpit and tried to start the engine. The engine would fire and spin a few times and stop. No one cold figure out the problem. A call was made to the Engineering officer and it was decided the new engine was bad and that we could replace that engine the next day. I did not arrive out on the line until about 8:00 and Jack got hold of me and asked why I hadn't removed the rag from the air duct. I informed him that I thought he was telling me to hurry up. He and I were not that popular for a short time. I don't know what they had him doing but they put me and another mechanic to take care of the oxygen systems. After the mission returned we would check the planes for broken lines and other oxygen systems trouble. We would put in new lines that had been cut by flak or bullets. After repairing we would fill the planes with oxygen that were to fly the next mission. After a short time I was taken off this and returned to being a mechanic and was assigned to a B-24 that was called Dotty Darling and her call number was 599. I never worked on a B-24 that did not return, except one time. That time they didn't have the main gear down and locked and on a long mission the pilot was low on gas and landed at another field. As I understand the pilot was taxiing a little fast and turned a corner and one of the main landing gear gave way. We never got the plane back and I never found out how bad the plane was torn up.

Just before Germany surrendered there were no more targets for us to bomb and at that time we were put on guard duty. All during the war there were no guards around the base but now I think it was thought we had nothing to do so the base must be guarded. Late one night a shot rang out. Guess what a combat crew that was on guard duty was trying to do? A cowboy fast draw and shot himself in the leg. I wonder if he received a Purple Heart? I had to stand guard duty also and when the man I was relieving handed me the 45 pistol I took the bullets out. Then I checked to see if there was a round in the pistol. After I was sure there were no bullets in the gun, I put the lock on and then put the magazine back into the gun.

At one time as I was going to the chow hall a shot rang out. There were some birds around and they flew into the air. It was later leaned that a soldier in the 721st Squadron had received two bad letters. One was from his girl that sent a Dear John letter telling him that she was no longer his girl. At the same time he received a letter telling him that his mother had just died. That is the only person that I know of that killed himself in all of the time we were there.

Then one Sunday I ask for and received a pass and I went to Taranto to see my Italian friends, as I found out later for the last time. I returned kind of early and to my surprise there were no men about. I found out why as they had been flown out earlier that day in a group of B-17's. The move was quite sudden and the motor pool had to turn in their trucks. An officer in a jeep came by and asked if I was Sergeant Terry, and I said that I was. He said get in the jeep and he drove to the flight line where there was a B-17 waiting. I along with the drivers from the motor pool flew to Napoli. We were not given passes there and in a couple of days on May 15, 1945, we boarded the ship West Point and left for the Good Old U.S.A. Arriving back at Patrick Henry in 8 days. We were treated a lot better this time than when we were going over. Our first meal was one to write home about. We had a great steak, real mashed potatoes, green beans, real milk and they would cut a head of lettuce in 4 parts and put a big gob of mayonnaise on top of it. All of these things we had not had for a long time. After a few days we were sent home on a 30 day furlough. On returning we were to reform and train on B-32's and be sent to fight the Japs. On my return our group was to get together at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While there it was decided that there was no need for us over there. I was sent to Deeming, New Mexico and we were working on a B-26 tow target squadron. Then Japan surrendered and they counted my point and I was sent to Camp Atterbury for discharge. I believe it was September 14, 1945 when I was discharged.

At one time I was asked if I would like to be a crew chief of a B-24. I told the line chief that I didn't think that I had enough experience to do that job. I didn't want the lives of 10 men in my hands. But looking back, I had had as much training as anyone there. I really should have taken the job. I was never good at telling other people how to do their jobs. My army serial number was 35369827. I made Sergeant about September in 1943. I think I will always remember that number because you were asked it all the time. They sent me to Camp Atterbury in Indiana to be discharged. On checking out I was informed I could stay in and keep my Sergeants stripes. I really wanted to have my Army carrier behind me. Our group was awarded 10 Battle Stars. There would be a notice put up on the bulletin board informing every one to sop by the office and get another bronze star for our ETO ribbon. Most men did not know what they were. We found out at the end of the war as each one was worth 5 points toward getting out.

I was on the ground crew and I didn't fly. After one of the 450th missions a member of a combat crew told me about something that happened on their last mission. This crew member told about a B-24 that lost power on at least 2 of their engines. The pilot lowered the landing gear (as I understand the national sign of surrender). Some German fighters surrounded this B-24 to escort it tot heir field for surrender. B-24's do not stay in the air with out a lot of power. The pilot got one of the bad engines started and put the landing gear handle into the raised position and said over the intercom, "Start shooting because we are going home". The crew shot at some or all of the escorting fighters. Some may have been shot down. The next day Colonel Mills (our group commanding officer) had a formation. He said that last night Axis Sally had said on the radio that the 450th Bomb Group had better get on the boat and return to the United States because they were going to shoot that group out of the sky. By this time the U. S. Army Air Forces had a lot of fighters around. The Germans fighters were not as large a problem as they had been. I have talked with combat crews that were on missions with out group and were attacked by Germans fighters. I was told that the German fighters would leave their group and attack the 450th. Like I said at this time German fighters were not seen on most missions. It seemed like there always was a lot of flak. This was fired at everyone.

At one time a lot of our new B-24's were having a lot of trouble with the fuel cells getting holes from the inside. Changing a fuel cell was a lot of work. The fuel cells were in the wing behind a long panel with a lot of aluminum Phillips head screws. If you did not push real hard the screw driver would strip out the head of the screw. The rumor going around was that there was a 19-year-old man of German descent that was working in the factory at Willow Run. And he was drilling a small hole in the fuel cell. The fuel cells were self sealing and the presents of gas would make the side swell up ands so you could run out of fuel because the bubble would have replaced a lot of the space that was for fuel. In the tent that I was in was a crew chief whose name was Roadawall and he did not return to the line to work on his B-24, after it was found that his plane had one of the planes with the bad cells. He was picked up and I understood spend the rest of the war in the nut ward of the army hospital.

Another rumor that I heard was about there being several B-24's that were blowing up right after they took off on a mission. Every morning each airplane was inspected by a man that checked the mechanics work. He would have a flashlight and would check the hole in the wing that the main landing gear would retract into, also around the nose gear. I heard that there was a crew chief in a bomb group around Foggia, Italy, that was putting a bomb in the plane. As the landing gear was raised it would set off the bomb that had been placed there. I heard he received $1000 per plane and $200 per man. It was said he was found out one morning early. The trial was held and he was shot by 2:30 that afternoon. Other men in our group have told me that this did not happen but I do know that about 6 months after we started operations every airplane was inspected every morning before a mission.

I was at Alamogordo before the early base crews arrived from Clovis, New Mexico. Just a very few men arrived at first. Then all of the men that were needed were assigned there. At first each squadron received 3 B-24-E's that were used for all of the training. That was both the air and ground crews. These planes were in the air most of the time. When one crew would complete their assignment another crew would take over. This was around the clock. At first the ground crew was on 12 hou4rs and then off 24 hours. That way worked one time on the day shift. Then you had the night shift. You could get 1 pass a week and that had to be taken on your 24 hour off time. Then the Engineering Officer said, "The picnic was over and we had to work 12 hours on then 12 hours off". We then began to receive brand new B-24-H's and B-24-J's. The H's came from Ford in Ypsilanti and the J's came form Consolidated. The big difference was in the nose turret. Another think I noticed was a large number that was painted on the rudder. The 720th had number up to 25, 721st had numbers 25 to 50, 722nd had numbers to 75 and 723rd had numbers over 75.

Military Record

Information courtesy of Robert Terry

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