Why I volunteer
I am one of the 16 million men and women who served in WW2. I am also one of the 1% or about 160,000 who are still living.
Now “approaching” old age at 97 I feel it is my duty to speak at the Museum to keep the memories alive for those who gave their all.
I am a volunteer at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Houston, Texas. I flew 25 missions as a top turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber with the 450th Bomb group, 720th bomb squadron, 15th Army Air Corp based in Manduria, Italy.
A bomb group is made up of 28 aircraft with a crew of 10 men each. So a total of 280 men were involved in every mission.
To keep a 28 plane group in the air requires over 2000 men and women on the ground. Nurses, Doctors, mechanics, cooks, armorers, maintenance. That is almost 90 per each plane.
The 450th lost 1505 men killed or missing in action, Over 700 wounded, and 520 prisoners of war. We lost 198 aircraft due to enemy anti-aircraft fire and 114 to enemy fighter aircraft.
Not all were shot down but those returning with casualties were declared unrepairable and scrapped. By the end of 1944 the 8th air force based in England and the 15th in Italy comprised together a total of 61 bomb groups.
This meant we could, on any given day, fly over 1700 bombers into Germany, weather permitting.
The early days of 1942-43 were extremely costly. The British gave up daylight bombing as loses were so great. They reverted to night bombing.
The Germans completely controlled the air over Europe. They occupied Europe, were in Africa and were marching across Russia.
German subs were a problem for shipping. There was no way we could think of invading Europe.
A tour of duty for a B-24crew was 25 missions. However, average life, of a crew was 8-12 missions. It was almost a death certificate to be assigned to a bomber crew in 1942 and 1943.
The main problem was we had no fighter aircraft that could escort the planes to the targets. We even gave thought to canceling daylight bombing as replacing planes and crew's was becoming difficult.
A little discussed fact is that over 15,000 Pilots and crews were killed in training before ever going over- seas. That is almost 3 times the lives lost on the Normandy landing.
Another 11,000 were killed overseas in non- combat encounters, training, aborted missions etc. The U.S. Army Air Corp lost more men than the Marine Corp and Navy combined.
The arrival of the P-51 fighter changed all this. It could escort bombers all the way to targets into deep Germany.
Finally the tide turned in the week of February 20th to 25th 1944. A combined effort with the 8th, 15th and RAF with raids night and day on aircraft, aircraft engine, and ball bearing factories It became known as the “Big Week”.
The Air Corp dropped more than 10,000 tons of bombs on targets. The lose's were high; over 358 bombers were lost with over 3,600 casualties. It was anticipated that loses might reach 80%of available aircraft.
The Luftwaffe lost 1/3 of their available aircraft. More importantly, a fifth of their veteran pilots. From that day on till Normandy we began to control the air over Europe.
Now we could consider invading Europe.
We out produced both Germany and Japan combined. The ability to produce goods was the deciding factor in the war. Women left their homes to work in factories. Example the production of B-24's (5-plants were producing them). Ford's factory at Willow Run, Michigan. 42,000 workers, 2- 9 hour shifts, 7-days per week. Even built housing for many thousands. This produced 1-B-24 per hour, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Production started with the B-24E. Then the H, J, L and M. It ended with the B-24N which was a single tailed model which never saw combat as the war ended.. An order for 5100 more N's was cancelled.
It was said that the war was won by machine shops and machine guns.
I also am involved in talks about the Tuskegee Airman and the 15th A.F. They were air cover for the 450th. No records were kept on which missions.