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FREQUENT FLYERS OF THE FORTIES

(A True Tale by Lt. Glenn E. Rendahl- Pilot. 514th Squadron, 376th Heavy Bomb Group)



PROLOGUE


THE BEGINNINGS


HERE'S TO ADOLPH


BLIND FLYING IN FORMATION?


WE WERE BEING WATCHED


BOOMERANG


DETOUR TO GREENGATE


PARTING CAN BE SWEET SORROW



PROLOGUE 
The Greek poet, Pindar, once wrote: "The written word will long outlive the deed!" That must be a truism, because he wrote that twenty-five hundred years ago and it has survived as viable quotation to this day. This story was written to record for history an insight into the experiences that many volunteers faced while helping to achieve the victory that ended the war in Europe in the nineteen forties. It has been well over fifty years since World War II ended and the number of surviving participants is dwindling very fast. It is hoped that this account will, at least in a small way, help younger and future generations to understand the environment and the frame of mind from which those participants were operating. It may help to answer some questions regarding the daily life led by many of those crewmen during their tours of combat duty.

This is also the author’s heartfelt tribute to a crew that loyally gave their all, and without ever having to be asked. That is what made our crew feel successful at achieving the goals we had in mind when we first volunteered to join this fight and to make certain that our forces would emerge victorious. I will be satisfied if my descendants acquire an awareness of the price paid for our freedoms by the generations that preceded them. Our mandate was to protect what our Allies, and we already had and cherished. These words were written by one of the members of a typical crew in that huge undertaking.
Being neither gifted nor trained in literary talents, I will just relate my recollections as I saw things from where I sat, in the pilot’s seat, plus all the record searching I could do. Surely many accounts of similar experiences have been written, but you can be sure that though some similarities may exist to other tales, no two tours have ever been alike. The language used in this monograph will be kept clear enough for the readers without firsthand experience or knowledge of military life to be able to follow clearly, with as little use of military acronyms and jargon as possible.

Flying the four engine propeller driven bomber known as the B-24 Liberator with a crew of ten or eleven men on massive daylight bombing raids over Germany in the forties was quite different from anything still possible in today’s world. A new style of warfare has already been proven and adopted, and has completely replaced all the equipment and methods that were available in the early forties. As the new products and electronic developments tend to strive for robotics and remote controls whenever possible, fewer humans will ever be in the warplanes or directing the weapons of the future. It is quite likely that future air battles may even be fought mostly in, or from, space. But, let’s go back in time a bit to get a feel for how things were when Hitler was trying to get most of Europe under his control in the early forties. He had to be stopped at all costs.


THE BEGINNINGS
How was a bomber crew assembled back in the forties? My personal first step began when I was still six years old, and an Army Air Service formation of Martin B-2 bombers, flying on a special occasion, flew very low over our house in early 1930. They were blue and gold fabric covered two-wing planes and the pilots in their soft helmets and goggles waved from their open cockpits to the kids on the ground. Ten or eleven years later it was test pilot Tony LeVier that was passing over our house in the new P38 out of Lockheed’s field in Burbank, CA. That really lit a fire under my desire to fly, even if he couldn’t wave a personal greeting.

It finally loomed as a dream turning possible for me a little later when military mobilization expanded dramatically following the Pearl Harbor attack. I enlisted as an Army Air Corps mechanic at first; at least it was a step closer to my goal. It was some months later before I managed to get a transfer into the Aviation Cadet training program, which took another year to earn the wings. The P-38 proved not available for a six- foot-two newcomer, so bombers became my destiny and the B-24 was then by my choice. That was mostly based upon having learned by then to favor Pratt-Whitney engines over ones that always threw oil, like those in my alternate choice.

When I got through cadet pilot training and then another ten weeks in the B-24 transition phase, all in the Middle West, it was August of 1944. Our crew was then assembled as a team at Westover Field near Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, with the collection of ten trained men of ages nineteen to twenty-five, from specialized training schools scattered about the country. The crewmen were all volunteers at their specialty, except for copilot Lt. "Bud" Reed. He was happy as a fighter pilot, but then was assigned to a job that few fighter pilots would ever volunteer for, which is an understandable disappointment. One fighter pilot that was assigned against his wishes to the right seat of a bomber was heard to say, "Anyone can land a B-24, all you have to do is fly it into the ground and control the crash!" That tends to convey the reaction that some had. Not copilot Reed, however, as he always gave every bit as much as any of the rest of us. The crew’s names, ranks, their specialty positions and their hometowns at that time, are listed on the last page of this text.

We further trained as a team at Chatham Field in Savannah, GA, and Batista Field at San Antonio, Cuba. The latter is near Havana and this was when President/Dictator Fulgencio Batista ruled Cuba, preceding Fidel Castro. We practiced navigation, bombing, air-to-air gunnery (at tow targets) and air-to-sea marker gunnery, plus I often chose to repeat exercises that familiarized me with the limitations of the aircraft, such as short field take-off and landings.
Our B-24 crew was like many others that were created to go to Europe by boat to replace another crew that had completed their required number of missions, or possibly a crew who failed to survive their tour to completion. About half of the crews on bomber tours in Europe failed to make it home at least once during a tour. When shot down, some bailed out, some crashed. Some were killed or injured in the air, but many wound up as prisoners of war in Germany or internees in neutral Switzerland. Some managed to get back without their airplane, get another one and resumed the routine of flying more bombing missions again.

At a last party before embarking, a couple of wives had come to say last good-byes for a while. We all agreed that we would aggressively volunteer to do our missions as fast as we could so we could target making it back home by the Fourth of July in 1945. We left from Newport News, VA, aboard a converted ocean liner, the U.S.S. W.P. Richardson. We made the Atlantic crossing all alone, but in a zigzag route. One time we spotted a sight suspected of being a U-boat periscope, and the gunners were turned loose with their 40 mm "pom- pom" guns to try to sink whatever they saw. All we know is that it soon disappeared.

About two hundred miles out from Gibraltar we picked up a US Navy Destroyer Escort for our defense in the more dangerous waters. Copilot Reed and I were on the bridge with the moon lighting up the Rock of Gibraltar and the coast of Africa as we squeezed through the Straits at midnight. The next morning the ships speaker system was airing "Axis Sally’s" German propaganda radio program, and she announced that they had sunk the W.P. Richardson at midnight in the Straits.

We later docked at Naples, Italy, and after a few more days we were trucked to the 514th Bomb Squadron, 376th Bomb Group (known as the Liberandos) at San Pancrazio, Italy. That is located in the heel of "the boot" of Italy near Taranto Bay. Our squadron fielded up to sixteen planes and we shared the one runway on our base with three other squadrons making up that Group. That made up the strength that the 376th Bomb Group added as our part towards the 15th Air Force strength of twenty-one such heavy bombardment groups. "Tours" here were fifty missions, and then you were entitled to return home. Of course, you could remain and fly more missions if you cared to, but they wouldn't ask.

This southernmost air base location in Italy was the result of having been the first group to move a base into Italy from North Africa as a site was made secure enough back in November of 1943.

How did a rookie crew make the transition to fit in with an experienced squadron? In the 514th, the pilot of each new crew always had to fly at least three missions as a copilot with different well seasoned crews before he was allowed to take his own crew on their first mission. Also, the six enlisted men on our initial crew, all privates or corporals, were boosted to the ranks of Staff Sergeants and Tech. Sergeants before their first mission for reasons of how they would be treated if taken prisoners of war by the Nazis. My first three copilot missions were all to Vienna targets. The sights and sounds when first introduced to a major target were real eye openers. Our formations were surprisingly tight.

Vienna was reputed to be the most heavily defended target in Hitler’s domain at that time, and the sight of the solid block (or elongated cube) of continually boiling black 88mm anti-aircraft bursts exceeded whatever we expected. That block was at least five hundred feet thick and just as wide and about twenty miles long. We had to fly into one end, and stay on a path right down the middle of it. All planes had to approach a target from the same direction to avoid tremendous traffic confusion. It didn’t look like survival would be possible. You got a bounce when the bursts were within fifty feet; within thirty-five feet they were statistically lethal. But, we could not deviate our course until completing the 8 or 10-minute level bomb run with no evasive action, which was necessary for the lead bombardier of each squadron to position his plane to the exact spot that will put his bombs on his target. At his moment of release, flares go off at the outside rear of the leader’s plane signaling the rest in his squadron to also toggle or salvo their bomb loads in unison. Toggle is one at a time in rapid order, and salvo is all at the same time. Different procedures were used for different patterns of bombing.

Anywhere over the greater Vienna area, Intelligence told us, the enemy could put a minimum of 189 of their 88mm guns on any airplane, as they always moved in many anti-aircraft guns on flat cars whenever we planned a raid on them. The Nazis always knew what our target would be, in spite of our many secrecy precautions. There had to be spies in our midst, but how they notified the Nazis so fast remains a mystery to me.

Vienna became extra important to the Germans from late 1944 only because it was their major remaining source of oil. In the Vienna area were the Schwechat, the Florisdorf and Moosbierbaum oil refineries. I believe my first six missions were to Vienna (we just called it "Big V"), as were about half of our eventual total missions. Incidentally, the Army Air Force (the Air Corps title no longer existed) told us: "There is no Austria anymore. It is all considered part of Germany now." We soon learned that this group had to cope with mileage hardships, as targets became more distant. As new bases had been established north of ours, before long some were up to two hundred miles north of us. Those northern-based crews even claimed that fuel depletion was occasionally a problem, and we were covering up to four hundred miles more per round trip when we were assigned the same targets. Many of our missions, when we joined them, took us eight to ten hours of flying, and it was fairly common that some planes had to land and refuel at a northern base in order to make it back to our home base at the bottom of the boot. We had to learn special economy power settings and practices, in addition to the very careful grooming of squadron leaders to lead the formations with the most fuel-efficient practices possible.

When we first came into the squadron we were told that Eddie Rickenbacker originally headed it, before it became the 514th. He was supposed to have lead a group of B-24’s to reach Asia with the intent of coordinating a bombing assault on Japan from land at the same time Doolittle was striking them from the carrier "Hornet" in the Pacific. The land group was stranded for need of spare parts while still in Egypt and never made the Doolittle schedule. Doolittle took off on his Tokyo raid on 18 April 1942 (that’s how the military records dates). Our stranded squadron flew a first mission on 12 June 1942, and that was the first Ploesti, Romania, raid. They lost five planes at the target on that first mission, plus four more crash-landed in Syria (nine out of thirteen). That was just the first of the eventual twenty-four raids on that same target by the 15th Air Force. The squadron was constituted as the 514th Heavy Bombardment Squadron on 31 Oct. 1942. That was one day before the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group was constituted, and the 514th became a part of that group.

They then flew missions against the Axis from bases in Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia and Libya before moving up to Italy on 24 Nov. 1943. Our 514th Squadron leather insignia that we all sewed on our A2 flight jackets had the Star of Bethlehem and an Egyptian pyramid. Later in life, when I became a volunteer worker at the March Field Museum, Riverside, CA, I did some research to authenticate data with Air Force records. I learned that no mention is made of Eddie Rickenbacker, but one named Colonel Halverson had the distinction of leading our Group at its inception. Also, the 514th Squadron patch I described was never an officially approved design, so it is not in the official insignia record books. I have come to the personal conclusion that some men in our squadron concocted tales motivated to embellish an image to create high morale among its members. It did just that, but the delusions, if I can call it that, were neither by the Squadron leadership nor top brass. We all knew we had the best squadron in Italy, and we would trade places with no other. The strategy, even if just by rumors, did work to our advantage. It eliminates griping, for one big advantage, and prevents or dispels any underlying fears in newcomers that may be so inclined.

The 376th Bomb Group’s war record of 451 sorties (or day's raids by the group) is accurate. General Ira Eaker once responded to a remark one day that the implied his airborne soldiers had a softer life than the ground war soldiers. He had a terse answer. He said, "The 15th Air Force, while in his command, had a combat strength of 20,000 men, and in one year, under his command, it lost 22,500 men. That was a loss of 114 percent of their strength in a single year." That is not soft living. The 15th Air Force alone has reported a total of 6,872 bomber crews failed to make it back between our Group’s first mission and the Armistice. Only 172 of those crews were from the 376th Bomb Group, the oldest one. Much later, and maybe it was because of this performance, as well as being the farthest south of all groups in Italy, this Group was ordered to be the first to go home, leaving by ship twenty-one days before the 10 May 1945 Armistice, which ended the War in Europe. The details on that will be explained in more depth, later. How did our crew perform when turned loose to operate with our own complete team? Following is a condensed account of just five of our memorable but non-heroic missions, not necessarily in chronological order, plus a trip home, when the fight was over, that was a "nail-biter."


HERE'S TO ADOLPH
On one mission to Wiener-Neustadt, just south of Vienna, all squadrons in our group were ordered to bomb visually and not to drop bombs if clouds obscured the target area at all. There was a hospital marked with a red cross very near the railroad marshaling yards that was our target, and we had to be positive that we did not hit the hospital. The whole Group was unable to drop, so they circled for another try until it totaled three dry runs over the target with bomb doors open and at minus sixty five degrees Fahrenheit. They then decided it was time to head back home with our bombs. The 514th leader had other ideas, though. He preferred selecting a target of opportunity on which to drop our load, rather than take live bombs out of Nazi territory. His alternate plan took only our twelve planes out of the group and we went (even dropping lower down) to hit Berchtesgarten where Adolph Hitler had his personal mountain retreat in the foothills of the Tyrollian Alps. This never had value as a military target, but we were more than eager to blast "der Fuhrers" little hideaway. Banking left when leaving our new target, and being down closer to the target than usual, I noticed the flashes of flame from the target area and started to remark to Reed that this was the first time I had actually seen our own bombs exploding. A second or two later I realized how wrong I was. It was not bombs; it was their anti-aircraft fire flashing, as it suddenly got very loud and smoky around there. There must have been a good size crew of anti-aircraft gunners defending that site for at least four years, and our visit was the only action they ever saw. I think they were caught napping, at first. The records show no other bombing mission ever targeting that site.

When we were finally headed homeward, Holcomb came up to me and reported the news that our dry runs over the first intended target had frozen one of our bomb shackles, leaving us one of our 500 pound bombs, a top one of five in that bay. It had not released. He had been unable to force it to release, so he de-fused it of both the nose and tail fuses. I had the choice: Leave the bomb doors open so it could fall free if and when it thawed, or close them for better mileage, but run the risk of it releasing and tearing off our "roll-up" door. It would not explode in our plane. The doors worked like a roll-top desk, if you invert the concept. Getting home on the gas supply was of more concern than a door, so I closed them. I notified the leader of the situation, since we could lose the bomb as we touched the runway. When we were within 30 miles of our base, the leader told us to go straight in as an emergency landing, and the rest would do the usual 1,000 ft. overhead approach and a 360 degree spiral down to land. We headed in, but we were still where the terrain was quite a bit higher than the elevation of our base until we would pass the cliffs where they quarried the "tufi" blocks. That was a fairly soft stone, which the poorer Italians used for building blocks. Therefore, we were nearer the ground than usual, less than 200 feet, when suddenly the once frozen bomb shackle did let go. Let me assure you, a de-fused bomb can still explode. All it takes is the right frequency of sound waves caused by the impact. You can get at least what is called a "low order detonation." That is like just a part of the bomb explodes and that sets off another part, and keeps repeating. The explosion was not in the airplane, of course, but as it impacted the Italian terra firma. The explosion drew out a little longer than the usual 500- pound bomb, but it lifted our plane higher than just a five hundred pounds loss of weight would, since that would hardly even be distinguishable, by it’s self.
Our flight engineer tried to wire up the damaged door that dangled three or four feet below the belly of the plane in the few minutes we had, but we only had coat hanger wires. That’s a dangerous feat, as Ron got a good part of his body outside of the plane to fish in the door edge. The moment we touched the runway, though, the repairs tore loose and metal scraped and sparks flew until we stopped dead. We understood that the Italian farmer, whose planted field suffered the bomb blast, received some compensation from the AAF, but I was never even contacted about the incident at all. Some teasers posed the question: "Can a medal be awarded for a successful single bomber, low level raid when it’s only on a friendly Paisano?"


BLIND FLYING IN FORMATION?
Another memorable mission to Vienna was one where we were flying #2 position, which means slightly behind the leaders right wing and just above his prop wash. It was a day of broken clouds, though many were very large and black. Our normal procedure was to keep radio silence until you were in the target area and already being shot at by it’s defenders, then our presence and goals are known by all. When our squadron leader was well over 10,000 feet he was heading towards a large black cloud ahead. I could see that he was trying to climb fast enough to clear the top of the cloud ahead of us so he would not have to spiral the formation a full circle. Anticipating his dilemma, I gave him a little more space and was ready to react to either a sudden left or right sharp turn, since there would be no radios used. When he saw that he could not get over it, he banked steeply left. I stayed with him, rolling into a steep left turn. But as I looked up (relative to my seated position) I saw that the plane on his left wing was making no attempt to roll left and we were just about to fly into the right side of his airplane with the topside of our airplane. My only move was to roll right as fast as I could, and as we did, our left wing tip slipped into and back out of Lt. Connors open waist window, but touched nothing. As we were just about back to level flight, everything went black. We were in the black cloud. I tried to stay a little right of our previous heading, because when I last saw it, the other plane was still beside and only slightly above us. But then I felt a shudder, indicating a high-speed stall. My violent maneuver had robbed us of some speed and lift, as we were still very heavily loaded. I started a slight descent to hasten the increase of our airspeed, and to further reduce chances of colliding with the Connors plane in the darkness. It would have been handy to radio him, but that was not an option.

It took a long while to break out into clearer skies north of that cloud and when we did we knew there was no chance of ever locating our Squadron. They surely kept climbing and we had descended some. All but the two of us surely stayed with the leader as they had much more time to react. We never did see the Connors plane again.

We had to tag on to the rear of a random B-24 formation that we snuggled up to later, even if their formation was sloppy and loose, and we became their "tail-end Charlie." This is the first time we ever had flown deeper in a formation than #4. At first, it was some comfort to just have company as added defense, but then we noticed something was wrong. Every airplane in this formation had their window guns and turrets trained on us. It had been known to have Germans join a formation in a captured or repaired US bomber, but not for friendly reasons. We were then challenged by a hand held blinker light to give the code word from the "flimsy" of that morning’s briefing. Back in ground school we had been taught Morse code in both audio and visual, but this is my first time ever to use visual. It was slow procedure, but we finally satisfied them. It turned out that this Squadron was also hitting the same target in the Vienna area, and aside from the heavy ground fire, losing one engine to a severed oil line and picking up a few holes in our sheet metal; we had no further problems of any consequence.

Back at home base we only learned that the Connors crew had not returned nor had they been accounted for, anywhere. He was the only pilot in the 514th that I had schooled with back in cadet training, though briefly. He was from Burbank, CA. We feared their plane dropped into the Adriatic Sea, because that’s what was beneath us when the near collision took place. He could have stalled as we did, but with worse consequences, I can only speculate, I don’t know. All I ever learned later about the outcome is that his name was not recorded in Air Force records as a "missing in action" crew. The only logical outcome I can imagine was that he either managed to get down somewhere in friendly territory and disabled his aircraft plus met unexplained delays, or that the records wouldn’t show Connors name if he was flying as a co-pilot that day. Lost crews are reported by the pilot’s name. He had not reported to our base up to the time we were last with the 514th. The end of this part of the story is still not known by me, I’m sorry to say.

We had a T/Sgt aerial photographer randomly assigned to fly that mission with us, and at de-briefing that late afternoon he told the intelligence officer of his view of the "near collision" and of seeing our wing tip in the other airplane. He also said he wanted to quit this job. They told him the only way he could do that is if he was willing to take a rifle and join a front line Army outfit in a foxhole. We thought his words were just a rare case of "griping", but he not only said he would do it, he had made up his mind and stuck to it. Actually, we didn’t regard it as that rough of a mission. Not for "Big V."

WE WERE BEING WATCHED
On a mission one February day, all went rather routinely until we got up to an altitude of about twelve or thirteen thousand feet on our way to clear the Alps. We were still over the northern Adriatic Sea when we started to have "run-away turbo" problems. Three of our four turbo- amplifiers were not allowing us control of our turbo charge boost as we got into the higher altitudes. When a turbo "ran away", the cure was to move a good amplifier, after locking in it’s setting, from the slot for that engine into a slot in need of boost, and then set and lock the desired setting there. An amplifier was the size of a small VCR, but with vacuum tubes. Solid state had not been invented yet. By the time we got four slots set and locked with our one remaining good amplifier, we had not only lost our formation by a few miles, but by probably 4,000 or 5,000 feet of altitude (out of sight). We could never catch them, so we would just have to look for and join with another loose formation again. Just as we were getting enough power back to resume our climb, I took a look back over my left shoulder just like you would before you pull a car out of a parking place. Oops! There were two German ME-262 jet fighters with the black swastikas on their sides sweeping in from our left to trail us, and I saw the tracer bullets already coming into our plane. That’s like rubbing salt in a wound; when you solve one problem then immediately replace it with a bigger one.

The Nazi fighter pilot’s favorite strategy was to catch stragglers (planes alone because of difficulties of any sort), and it was often an easy "kill" for their cause. I called to the crew on intercom: "Jerry’s at seven o’clock level, when are you guys going to start shooting back?" The upper turret gunner, Sgt. Sample, said "Hold your fire, here comes three of our P-47 escorts from high overhead." The crew reported that not only did the Germans turn and run, they dove for the ground of Northern Yugoslavia just east of us. Our three P-47 escorts stayed right on their tails, until they all went out of sight. We then chased down and joined another formation and added our bombing strength to their mission in what we would regard a very useful contribution. If we had not had an escort trio watching us from above, and timely enough to be there quite soon after the shooting started, we would have surely been subdued by two of the Nazi’s latest twin jet fighters doing what they specialized in. Without the intervention of our escorts and their willingness to risk their lives for those of us whom they had never met, in my opinion we would have been most fortunate to end up in the Adriatic Sea below us. Or we might have stretched it to Trieste, which was then a German occupied part of Italy, close to Yugoslavia. Most likely, some of our crew would be lost either way. It was a fact that B- 24?s could not usually be ditched safely, as their roll-type bomb bay doors usually ripped off easily when hitting water and they sunk very quickly. Incidentally, the AAF warned that Northern Adriatic waters in winter were so cold you had only a twenty minute life expectancy floating in a "Mae West" life vest, even if you had on fleece lined leather high altitude outer clothing. They offered no additional protection for you in cold water. Our escorts were not always visible when we were not in trouble, as they liked to watch over the formations from about another five thousand feet above. When you needed them they came, and with a "full head of steam." This was the 99th Fighter Squadron.

The combat performance of these "Tuskegee Airmen" in Italy was exemplary and I, for one, feel that their vigilant watch over us saved ten of us from a probable tragedy that day. We, plus all our families, will forever be grateful to them. The important thing that others could learn from this experience is that when our Nation goes to war, real patriotism has only one race. You are either American or you are not. There are those who want to kill you, and then there are those who want to save your life. It is that simple, and undeniable. Yet these Tuskegee Airmen, all of African-American heritage, had to meet tougher requirements than I did to get the same rating. They all had to have college, I understand. I did complete my twelve years of public school, but I never even got a high school diploma, due to the lack of passing a music requirement. I never had any further schooling except the Aviation Cadet training in the form of a ten-week Pre-flight (ground school) and the Primary, Basic and Advanced flying schools. Later on, to enforce a two years of college requirement for cadets, the Army created a College Training Detachment. A mandatory step, which was supposed to be the equivalent of two years of college, though condensed to three months by concentrating on mathematics, physics and sciences that were specifically applicable to aviation. We must have preceded that policy.

BOOMERANG
As I inferred earlier, high morale was the 514th’s greatest asset. When two red flares (mission canceled) were fired from the tower as we were lined up for take-off at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, crews would go back to the sack. This happened once in a while, as P-38 photo- reconnaissance planes flew into the target area to check the latest conditions just before each mission. They didn’t tip off our intended targets, as they would pass over a dozen potential sites just to throw the enemy off. If weather conditions or other surprises required it, the mission would be canceled by having the tower fire the flares. On those occasions, the 514th still took off with our full bomb loads to practice TIGHT formations, then flew over other bases at the tower operators eye level, and our leader radioed them: "You Hoi Polloi outfits, here’s what a REAL tight formation is supposed to look like!" Each echelon center man had a plane on each side with their wing tips much closer to his fuselage than his own. The center man would have his nose just below and behind the tail turret in front of him. Ever since those days, I am forever aware that every photo I have ever seen of bomber formations appears to me to be so dangerously casual and loose, I can’t believe they were not taught to close it up. I guess the 514th Squadron never had anyone take their pictures while flying their tight formations for a comparison of the drastic differences. I am not saying we were like the "Thunderbirds" acrobatic team, but we flew as close to that kind of performance as a cumbersome four-engine airplane could maintain. I am aware that we were always in one of the first four positions in our formations, and that is where the positions can be held the tightest, as variations magnify when you are deeper in a formation.

However, when we would visit the local town we often heard the reactions of fliers from other groups: "You guys are in that Squadron that has more guts than brains!" That "gutsy" morale was always there, and Nazi fighters could not make a diving pass at our formations and slip through an open space between airplanes. We were especially proud of one particular airplane that held the record for the most sorties accomplished, and that was one named "Boomerang" (it always came back). Completing the mission without leaving the formation before completion was the goal here, but it did have one turn back on it’s record when on it’s 35th mission an oxygen leak had caused the one and only turn back. I didn’t learn of that one until recently, when searching the records. The word sortie is used because it is a single mission, whereas targets north of the 47th parallel were deep enough into Germany to earn crews a two mission credit towards their fifty.

Boomerang’s sorties were one each, no matter how deep into Germany. They were not counted the same as our missions. One day our Operations officer, Capt. Ed Reno, told us at briefing: "You get Boomerang on this mission, and in #3 position. She holds the record, and this will be her 131st sortie, so don’t turn back as long as you can breathe."

Well, I appreciated the trust shown in me at first, but later I wished I had not been trusted this way. My navigator went to the nose wheel opening when we were boarding the plane and threw his chest pack parachute into his work area, then climbed into the back for take- off. When we rolled down the runway and passed the tower at half the way down our take-off run, a tower voice said "Number 67, it looks like something fell out of your nose wheel-well as you went by, better check later, you may have lost a parachute." When the squadron was gathered into formation, Reno called me from his B-25 "heckle ship" to ask me about the lost object. He had heard the call. A heckle ship would ride herd on the squadron until safely assembled into their formation and met all other rendezvous points, then he would return to base. Let me explain that my duties on a day when not flying on the mission included working with Capt. Reno, first as his heckle ship co-pilot in the B-25 that morning. That started when we first met, because he recognized my name and asked if I had a brother, Paul, whom he knew as an Engineering Officer back at Victorville Army Airfield in California. Being true, I found myself immediately appointed as his Squadron Engineering Officer. After the "heckle ship" flights, I would fly the repaired planes to test for proof of all flaws clear for flight status. Then I would "slow-time" all new engine installations by taking off on three engines and then gradually increasing power on the new, tight engine over a four-hour flight. This closeness with Reno allowed me to feel that a little white lie, for good cause, would be forgivable. My reply to his call was: "It was a chute, all right, but I’m pretty sure we have another in our spare bag." The truth was, I knew we were left one parachute short. I told the navigator he could have mine, so he wouldn’t worry. I didn’t want to be known as the guy that "turned Boomerang back" after so many sacrifices had been made by so many, and one parachute short would surely have caused a direct order to return to base. You readily do things like that, when only twenty-one and invincible.

That was not our only possible cause for a mandatory turn back. When we got over 10,000 ft. we all started smelling gasoline. The flight engineer worked feverishly to find the source before we got exposed to anti-aircraft fire, as we all know how flak burst can ignite any gas vapor. I was fully aware of the fact that I would not enjoy being blown out of an airplane and not have a ripcord to pull, but we kept going. That is how J.F.K.’s brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., died (in a B-24 explosion), though his service was out of a base in England. We finally concluded it was possibly the "Southwind" (gasoline fired cabin heater). If they worked at all, they quit when over 20,000 feet, anyhow. That’s why we usually read cabin temperatures of 65 below zero when at 23,000 ft. or over. We all just set our oxygen from "auto-mix" (half from the metal bottles) to "pure oxygen," and kept on going and breathing. Our target was a minor one (less important than oil, that is) in Germany, and just our own Bomb Group was involved. The bomb run was only 2 to 3 minutes of straight and level flight while the enemy tried to inundate our immediate area with their 88mm sound effects. As we dropped our load and peeled off, Boomerang lost #3 engine. No apparent reason, as the engine had not suffered a flak hit as far as we knew. Okay, we just feathered #3 prop and stayed right up with the formation with no difficulty at all. When we got back down south and near the area of our home field, the leader told me to go straight on in first as an emergency landing, anyhow. When I nudged the throttles for more power, Boomerang just took off forward like she had all four engines and left the others behind. I think that airplane flew as good on three as it did on four engines. Later, a ground check revealed that we had a few flak hits, which was normal on most missions, but flak had never hit the #3 engine. The last we heard about "Boomerang" was that she was retired after one more mission after ours that day, making the record go to one hundred and thirty-two successful missions. That stands as the record at the war’s end for the most sorties by any Heavy Bomber in the Fifteenth Air Force, and only once was it unable to complete an intended mission. As I think about it, we never did fail to complete, or bomb some target, on every mission we ever attempted. We did occasionally hear of, or see, planes turn back for various reasons, mostly unavoidable ones. The only bomb we ever tried to bring home, we dropped on the Italian farmer, but the major part of that load had been very well spent. We never landed with a full bomb load except on the occasions after two red flares and the ensuing practice sessions for tight formation flying.
It turns out that several other Bomb Squadrons, in England as well as Italy, also named one of their airplanes "Boomerang," whether B-24?s or B-17?s, but none had ever equaled the record of #67 of the 514th Bomb Squadron. They have a great many patches in their aluminum skins by the time they go on 132 sorties, especially when so many were over Ploesti, Romania, and Vienna. To me, this record also is proof of the dedication of the 514th?s maintenance crews. They would work all night to get a plane safe to fly again by morning, and often under rough conditions, even in snow. These men were sensitive to having an airplane fail to return. They wanted to be sure it was never due to the quality of their work, or to any failure to do all that was needed, and also to be sure they thoroughly double-checked every detail.


DETOUR TO GREENGATE
On 31 March, 1945, our crew was assigned a #2 position (leaders right wing) in our full 16 plane Squadron which was picked to lead the whole 15th Air Force in a raid on Linz, (on the Danube, near where Germany, pre-war Austria and Czechoslovakia touched borders). The mission was to demolish the Hermann Goering Tank Works and the railroad marshaling yards there. Our Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. R.K.Taylor, was the lead pilot that day, and Capt. Ed Reno, our Operations Officer, was his co-pilot (he made Major following this mission). The defense was fierce, and that is definitely understated. We never before had seen round silver balls or balloons (3 or 4 ft. diameter) floating at near our altitudes and have never learned what they were, but they must have had something to do with the uncanny accuracy of the anti-aircraft firepower that we experienced that day. We also had never before seen projectiles spiral up into us leaving a corkscrew trail of smoke (an early form of missile?) Early on the bomb run, we had an engine blown apart. Later, ensuing hits ripped open two gas tanks beyond self-sealing capability. We had feathered #3 prop right away, but now we radioed the leader that if we did not run out of gas first, we would try to stay with them until they dropped their load, but then we would have to break out and "head for Greengate." That was the 31 March briefing code word for the Russian lines to the east. We were really much closer to a safe haven in Switzerland, but we had received clear orders not to seek haven there unless we could prove that we had no other alternative. Too many had been interned there. The Swiss would feed and lodge crews nicely for the duration, but Uncle Sam would get a huge bill when the war was over. The Swiss protected their neutrality by not releasing any internees until the war ended. I have since learned that Hitler had ordered that every one of his pilots and crewmen who sought haven in Switzerland were to be shot dead upon their return. Fortunately, Hitler could not find a safe haven for himself. We surely wished that he had been in Berchtesgarten the day we dropped in, but he wasn’t home that day, or we just might have shortened the war by a significant amount. That viewpoint shows how my personal sentiments of that time still affect my hindsight today.

Again, we all had to switch to pure oxygen in order to stop breathing gasoline. Ron, our flight engineer, tried desperately to stop the gas flow from pouring into the bomb bays, but to no avail. Since our leaking tanks had not yet gone dry, we stayed in formation until "bombs away," then we broke ranks and headed east. Miraculously, none of the additional flak bursts ignited our leaking fuel, still flowing steadily. Ron had scrambled around in leaking gas at 65 below zero, for dangerously long times without oxygen connection or electric heated suit connection while we were over 23,000 ft. It’s a wonder he lasted through it at all. He did suffer frostbite, plus I think that twenty year old became thirty that day. No one could have tried harder to accomplish the impossible. Did you know that at 65 below zero your bare fingers would freeze in 12 seconds? If you leave on the rayon gloves we wore under our wool mittens, you could increase it to 20 seconds. We covered both of those with fleece lined leather (a third layer) to stay warm, but often needed to remove some of the fabrics for finger dexterity when making fine adjustments, and the like. Also, the chill would freeze the drippings of breath condensation from our oxygen masks into long icicles. We just broke them off every once in a while and just tossed them onto the floor. They would be gone before landing. We never walked about in our cockpit.

My reason for a snap decision to head east was that we could never return over the Alps with a likelihood of running out of fuel, for obvious reasons. No place to land, and a "bail out" would be an icy suicide in the Alps. My reason for not ordering a "bail out" over Linz may not be so obvious. While I was still approaching the target, with two or three minutes to go before release, I was aware that right behind us were probably twelve hundred bombers heading for the same target. There is no way that we wanted to be hanging under a parachute beneath all of the falling bombs yet to be dropped, to say nothing of all the shells coming up into the "block" of flak bursts through which we were flying. I had to assume that every member of the crew felt the same way, and there’s no time for taking a vote while "Hellza-poppin." A little later I learned that we also had an electrical fire on the half-deck above the bomb bay since the time the fuel tanks were hit. It was caused by flak into our dynamotors that shorted electrical wiring circuits. The smoke was from the burning wire insulation. Later on, when the returning squadron was de-briefed, they all reported to the intelligence officers about seeing us leaking gasoline like a waterfall from the open bomb doors and black smoke billowing out the waist windows. That usually means a huge explosion is imminent. When we peeled right as the others went left, we were, in the minds of those viewing us, doomed to die if we didn’t bail out. We stopped considering "bailing" as we noticed the burning insulation started to lessen soon after we were heading east by ourselves.

We are listed in the big 613 page book "The Liberandos" (which drew on all official Air Force records for authentication) as being not only one of the two 514th Squadron planes lost that day, but that our plane that day, "Double-Shot Sam," is listed as "Crashed near target." I guess that statistic was drawn from "presumptions" consistently reported to intelligence at de-briefing, which included the statements of our CO and our Operations Officer. However, I am glad to say we stretched our glide about a hundred miles and then landed on an abandoned German fighter strip. It turned out to be only a 2600-ft. gravel strip, and it even had a slope to it. It was ironic; I landed heading east, which turned out to be the downhill slope. You could not tell from the air. Usually, B-24;s needed a 5,000-ft. strip. I recalled that instructor (Oliver Jeter, back in Kansas), who chewed me out for applying brakes aggressively one time before fully compressing the nose gear strut (with forward stick) before braking. I compressed the strut it's entire amount of compression first, but we still could not stop in this short distance, so I just got off the right brake, let the plane do a ground loop to the left and our right main gear almost dipped into the boundary ditch.
We all walked away from it. In fact, a couple crewmen jumped out before I looped left because our brakes were burning and smoke filled the rear half of the airplane again. That plane was full of flak holes and was never to fly again. Morris said he started to count holes when he got out, but gave up after two hundred and some, and that was just the open bomb door on the right side of the plane. He said, "It’s hard to tell what’s a hole, it all looks more like Shredded Wheat!" Besides, we were in a hurry to leave there. The Russians were in control of the first town east of this point, which is where we headed. The town was Pecs, Hungary, (pronounced like Paytch) south and slightly east of Lake Balaton. The Army Air Force later deemed we had technically "evaded capture in enemy territory," because we were in "No man’s land," between the German and the Russian front lines, and they were fighting each other from both sides of us. Later on, another B-24 tried to land on that same fighter strip and it caused a near somersault when his nose gear collapsed (Jeter was right!). It made the fuselage break at the upper turret and the tail half folded forward like a scorpion’s tail. The upper turret then dropped and crushed their navigator as he was sitting at the radio operator’s usual station. We had a funeral Pecs the next day, with more than a little help from the Russian military and some Hungarian civilians who were in that business. The Russians brought in Lena from the front lines, a lady sniper who spoke English, to be the translator needed to make reports regarding transporting our gathering of Americans. We had grown to three bomber crews and two fighter pilots, all from the Linz raid, but they had chosen various landing spots.
After a one-week delay the Russians got word back from Moscow to send the thirty-two of us by rail to Kiev, Ukraine, then to Odessa on the Black Sea, and put us on a boat for Cairo, Egypt. We refused an offered luxury side trip (brainwashing) to Moscow. In Cairo we would be able to contact an U.S. Embassy. We were told it would take 60 days to get back to Italy. I carried the orders. The train trip started out in an antique chair car. The upholstery was oak, or some other hardwood, but after the first few hours, travel was never even that nice again. Our mode became riding boxcars on stop- and-go freight trains. The Germans kept coming over and bombing the rail lines ahead of us, so we spent much time waiting for lines to be repaired. We had to scrounge for food, but it was not too difficult. We had sold a silk parachute to a tailor in Pecs for thirty thousand Pengos, which was about $100 (U.S.) worth of local currency at that time. We split it equally between all in our own crew. It was to help sustain us while in Hungary. We could offer to buy eggs or potatoes from farmers, although they never would take money. They were all either sincerely friendly or scared of us, depending upon if they recognized the American flags on the left shoulder of our flight jackets or not. We quickly learned to tell them we were American, in their own language. That pleased them much, and some went so far as to try to kiss our feet, hoping we might be there to occupy their country. Most of them said the German occupation was awful, but the Russians were worse than the Germans.

Outside of villages, what we traveled through was mostly farmland that had just recently been used for battlefields. There were scores of abandoned Sherman tanks (US lend-lease to Russia) and occasionally a dead horse or two. We got pretty good at cooking out over a quick campfire, ever ready to grab and run fast if our train started moving. Only on about three occasions did the Russians provide a meal for us when we came into a town where they had a military Commandant, or some sort of facility. Once, in a small town in Romania, I think it was, when the Russians ordered some citizens to cook us a meal, I saw them butcher the horse they were to serve us. I didn’t tell others what they were eating, in case it mattered. Actually, it was a treat compared to some previous days. We never once could get any milk or coffee, though, and missed it most. Yes, we even missed that G.I. coffee that we had always called "battery acid."

One day we noticed three senior lady refugees traveling on our same stalled train and one of them was obviously starving. We had to avoid openly tempting the displaced people by displaying food we had gathered for our own needs, so we invited the three ladies into our boxcar and tried to share our food with them. The severely ailing one could not swallow food because her throat had swollen in her advanced stage of starvation. With no medical aid available within miles of our remote site, she died that day. There was a nearby village, but too small for any aid. The death was not a rarity in these unstable times.
Our trip included a nighttime freight train wreck that was a horrible catastrophe. A steam locomotive ran into our boxcar (the last car on our train), as we were parked in the dark and asleep in it. It knocked us a long way down the track. It blew the steam boiler and jack knifed and toppled many cars that were behind the moving engine, and those cars had refugees, liberated prisoners and soldiers hanging on the tank cars and freight cars. We got a very hard jolt, abrasions and bruises, but no serious injuries, and good thing, because we supplied the only first aid that many injured had until daylight the next morning. There were also fatalities. A couple of us tended one Russian soldier who lost his leg above the knee. He was happy to get a leather belt tourniquet on his stump, an American smoke and a shot of morphine. He wasn’t happy when a Bulgarian ex-soldier brought him his boot with the leg still in it that he had found about fifty feet away. The Russian tossed it aside. Luckily, we had kept the first aid kits containing the only emergency supplies. They had been on our parachute harnesses and that’s the only parts we all saved when we decided to shed unneeded gear.

We had a quartet of British soldiers join our group while riding the rails. They had been in German prisons since the Battle of Dunkirk, 1939. They told us that the Russians had just liberated the POW camp outside of Vienna where they had been held for six years. But then the Reds decided to detain the British for some reason, and they put them back into the same prison in which the Germans had kept them. The British were so irate with their "liberators," that they planned and executed an escape, and we were now aiding and abetting their flight. Our thirty-two head-count had now become thirty-six. The addition was not too noticeable. We felt sure we were doing what was right, although the British, Americans and Russians were supposed to be allies, joining efforts together, and not splitting two against one. Since those times, I have reasoned that the British might have misunderstood the Reds due to the language barriers. Under Russian red tape, they could never do anything without orders coming out of Moscow, and that always took a week to get a response. That prison may have been the only temporary lodging available for them. These British had just shed the yoke of six years of prison life and it was not easy for them to adjust to freedom quickly, or to understand why we Yanks were quite nonchalant about events as they happened. Of course, these men had been prisoners for six long years.

One evening when the sun was setting as we sat still in our boxcar, a couple of our guys standing at the open door started singing a song together. Pretty soon, a couple of others recognized their talent and felt they had something to add. Soon four talented singers were joined in a semi-circle and harmonizing the song "Down in the Valley." It was very professional like, and the quartet happily did it again. I noticed that the British were totally entranced and quietly crying crocodile tears. I realized that they had been with no laughter, music or entertainment pleasures since I was still a junior in high school, and their uncontrolled reaction was quite touching. When the harmony was over one of the Britts came up beside me, his face still wet with tears, put his arm on my shoulder and said: "You know, we English speaking people of the world will have to stick together. We are the only ones that really understand each other, and besides, I’m sure we will have to fight these Bloody Russians before it’s over."
They left us a few days later when the Russians assigned an "escort" to travel with us for the rest of the trip to Kiev. Our "escort" had a 72 round (drum type) machine gun on each shoulder, worn so they "criss-crossed." We resented having an armed guard on us, and never let him become our "boss." We kept arms, too. All our officers had forty-five automatics, and the enlisted men had all picked up Hungarian rifles from the battlefields or Thompson sub- machine guns from abandoned Sherman tanks. We got the distinct impression that a cool hostility was evident between the USSR and Western allies. The Red soldier broke the news to us on 12 April 1945 that Roosevelt was reportedly "kaput," or "muerte" (dead). When he asked who would be our new president, he had never heard of Truman. He then said Roosevelt had been "dobre" (good), but he already had the opinion that the man he never knew was "nyet dobre" (no good). Russians rarely knew any English, once we left Lena back in Pecs. We solved most language barriers using little bits of Spanish, French, German, even Italian on some occasions, or our own crude signs, much like you would play the game of Charades. When our little group finally came into Kiev, we decided unanimously to ditch the Russian guard who had traveled with us on the last part of our trip, and hop a freight train back to the front. We wanted to reach Budapest because we learned it had been taken and that an Allied Mission was scheduled to open with military representatives of America, Britain and France, to each handle their own citizens, whether refugees, escapees, liberated prisoners, evadees or whatever.

Luckily, we were camped on their doorstep when it was opened for the first time, so the rumor proved true. A Brigadier General greeted us, dispersed a partial payment of our back pay (in Gold Seal US dollars), and put us up in the Hotel Nader. That would have been a nice place if shell shots had not blown a pretty good part of it away, as we still had no incoming water nor outgoing drainage for plumbing, and we had to eat out all week at our own expense. But, that wasn’t half bad considering the circumstances. We had beds instead of boxcars. The city had much damage; bridges out; ravaged buildings, etc. Their inflated Pengo made the US dollar valuable, so prices were very low to us. We could get a pretty decent meal for as little as ten cents, American, including beer or wine drinks. The pre-war exchange rate had been five Pengos and sixty Fillers (coppers) to the dollar, but we could get 280 Pengos for a buck. The Fillers were not used anymore, as they were valueless. Four months later, back in the US, I read in the financial page that the rate went to 600,000 Pengos to the dollar. (Now the Pengos were valueless). That’s an example of the ruinous "runaway inflation" that can befall the losers in warfare! The Russian occupation was quite heartless. If a Russian curfew sentry hollered "Stoy" (halt), and a person on the street after dark did not freeze immediately, he was shot without a second chance, even if in the back. That is the way the local citizens told it, anyhow.

Our first view of the "Blue Danube" was made less than pleasant by the body of a dead German soldier floating by. It was muddy water, but it must have been "Blue" once upon a time. A week after arriving in Budapest, a C-47 was sent to pick us up and transport us to Bari, Italy. The first thing they did was de-louse us, and issue new G.I. clothes, since we had worn the same clothes the whole detour (a month). All were most anxious to let our families know we were okay instead of "Missing In Action", as all of our next of kin had been notified by the War Dept. Since my brother had known Captain Ed Reno before I did, he had written to Ed and asked about our chances after whatever circumstances caused the MIA telegram. Reno wrote him back advising him not to really hold hope that we could have survived; in fact that it looked very serious. We learned later that the two bombers from our Squadron shot down on that Linz raid were the last two planes the 376th Bomb Group ever lost to the Nazi’s in that war. The Air Force records state that four more planes in our little Squadron were badly damaged that day, but they were still able to make it back to the home base. Our 376th Group had been sent back to the States while we were away, but they did first issue orders bestowing the Air Medal on each of us while MIA. Those crews with nearly completed tours were transferred to other groups in Italy. They were going to retrain the crews with the fewest missions in B-24?s, to learn B-29 Super-Fortresses. The 376th Heavy Bomb Group became re-classified as a Very Heavy Bomb Group and went to a new stateside base at Harvard Army Air Field in Nebraska. The intent was to retrain them and send them to Saipan to help finish off Japan, but that never happened. The Japanese surrender occurred before the training was completed.

After a short R & R on the Isle of Capri, we were assigned to a new base, the 756th Bomb Squadron, 459th Bomb Group, at Cerignola, not far from Foggia, Italy. We didn’t find the morale (nor tight formations) even close to resembling the standards of the 514th Bomb Squadron. We resumed flying for several more missions before the May 8th cease- fire, and then the Armistice was signed on May 10th. I recommended to this Squadron that Ronald Morris be awarded the Silver Star medal for his valiant efforts to save our plane and crew during our hectic troubles over Linz. Apparently they had little interest in their latest members, as they never processed the petition nor did they keep it alive for later. A copy of the original Russian travel orders for the foregoing Pecs to Kiev troop movement is inserted into this monograph. The turn of events caused those Russian orders to remain in my possession when we ditched the Red Guard and hopped on a freight train out of Kiev and went back to the front.

PARTING CAN BE SWEET SORROW
What were the air crewmen’s reactions when Germany surrendered and that part of the war was over? Absolute elation! Most first thoughts were of home and family. This was the day we had all worked and waited for. I noticed a common tendency to loosen up from the usual strict obedience of rules. We had always toed the line because to do otherwise was help to the enemy. Now we felt a release of tension like it was years overdue. We had to fly some armament and food supplies (a couple of five ton loads a day, each) to Aviano, Italy for the British. They were preparing to fight over the city of Trieste if Yugoslavia tried to keep it from Italy in postwar border settlements. The British had Indian Ghurkas unload our bomb bays while we kept the engines running, then we would run back for another load. I think all of our planes were buzzing Venice and other places on their return flights down the Adriatic coast. We flew through Venice so low we had to look up to see it. General Upthegrove (then 15th AF commander) put out a terse bulletin condemning such actions and threatening penalties, but no one was disciplined for it. He was saying it for the record, I believe.

Not long after the Armistice, though, (it was mid-June) our 11-man crew was fortunate enough to be selected in the very first flight of 37 crews to start the hordes of flights of homeward bound crews from Italy that would follow. We were assigned a nice new silver B-24M bomber to fly home. It had never even been flown on a single combat mission. In fact, we had never seen one just like it before. It was a specially outfitted radar plane that had a small bi-wing, really only an airfoil housing the radar antenna, low on the body beneath our primary wing. We referred to it as our bi-plane.

As we moved to new locations in the departure procedure, our navigator twice faked ailments in order to be admitted into hospitals. We could tell that he wasn’t really physically sick and he knew it. The effect of this was that we could not keep our airplane and this scheduled flight home unless we remained a complete crew, so we would get him kicked out of the hospital. When Holcomb and I proposed to the mentally bothered navigator that we, with Reed, would do radio navigation and keep the log between us and that he could ride as a sand bag in the back, he was then perfectly happy to go with us. This man suffered emotional shock on the day that we had been shot down and just never recovered some things. He had lost his ability to function (including voice) on that day so Holcomb substituted as navigator for our map reading. We learned that navigating the Atlantic was too heavy of a responsibility for the navigator to cope with at this time. He had been the best of the class in ground schools, but had always proved fragile under the stress of working in flight. I tried to have him replaced back in Georgia, but the powers said it could only be done if he was to be discharged on a section 8 (mental inadequacies). I had declined steps to become a lead crew because we knew this flaw amounted to a weakness not tolerable in a lead crew. Before we left, I was assigned the task to give each first pilot in this group of crews check rides to certify his proficiency at instrument flying and night landings if he had not logged both in the past 6 months, as required by regulations. I had always heard that instructors and check pilots had dangerous work, and this experience proved it to me. Also, each crew had to do their own mechanical servicing and certify in writing that their aircraft was known to be mechanically air-worthy for transoceanic flight.

I never knew that so many flight engineers did not know how to change plugs and filters on their airplanes, but I was thankful that Sgt. Morris did and that I had at least been a mechanic and crew chief on AT-11’s before I started pilot training. Together, we also helped a number of other crews accomplish their servicing chores. We were asked to take home a full load of extra-crated cargo in our bomb bays that was high priority radar equipment now urgently needed in the Pacific, plus two passengers with gear, the radar specialists who had just come to Italy with that airplane. The cases contained the latest "state-of- the-art" radar equipment to update many airplanes in any combat zone. We now had thirteen passengers. We didn’t know until later that we also ended up more than 2,000 pounds over the maximum allowable gross weight when full of fuel. This never happened before, even when we had a full load of blockbusters (2,000 pound bombs). We could have refused, since it was clearly unsafe, but refusing a chance to go home early after a war ends just seemed unthinkable. The message was clear, as well as obvious, that this load definitely goes with this airplane. We got our first inkling of what a detriment this extra weight could be when we left Italy from Gioia Airdrome. We had a difficult time at take- off because the terrain raised slightly from where we took off heading northwest and we could not climb fast enough to increase our ground clearance. I had to leave gear and flaps down until I could get high enough to quit clipping the tops of the olive trees, so I maintained take-off power settings far longer than time limits allowed. I knew the safety margins built into limits, but I had surpassed that. Finally, I did a slow, flat turn until I made a complete 180-degree turn without banking and headed back toward the field we had just taken off from. Then the ground clearance slowly improved so we could raise the gear, milk up the flaps and finally reduce the full throttle settings. A full gasoline load accounts for about 21,000 pounds, and we sure felt it. We were starting this trip dangerously over weight, but there was absolutely nothing that we could do without or throw out the window except maybe the olive tree twigs that got caught up in our landing gear.

Because of bad weather in the North Atlantic, they told us the Iceland-Greenland-Newfoundland route home was a no-no. We were scheduled to land first at Marrakech, French Morocco, and then go to Dakar, South Africa, then to Natal, Brazil, to make our Atlantic crossing. But, by the time we arrived at Marrakech, weather reports said a huge storm would hit Natal before we would. We were suddenly diverted to the "no-no" Northern route, but now from West Africa. Then, the powers in control of this thirty-seven plane caravan decided that we could short-cut the usual northern route by refueling at the Azore Islands, eight hundred miles off Portugal, then stretch the next hop all the way to Gander, Newfoundland (1626 miles). Maybe the powers arranging this didn’t know one of us was grossly overloaded, but neither did I tell them. I wouldn’t care to stay in Marrakech waiting for our load to get lighter, or allow red tape to eradicate our trip home. We decided we would "make do" with the cards that were dealt us, even if it did sound like accepting a sentence!

The manuals on early B-24’s said that normal fuel consumption should be 166 gallons per hour when economy cruising (low, slow and light). The early models had fewer turrets, too. In our latest, newest model, with much added equipment and the overload, with strictest economy measures we could only expect 240-250 GPH, and then only if we were trouble free. We also had to be 100% sure to navigate the shortest possible route, without a navigator. We left the Azores among the first few to take off; early on a very dark and stormy morning, loaded with 2706 gallons of fuel, and was assigned to fly at 10,500 ft. The Azores had a two miles long runway and it faced the sea, so taking off was a snap. Once we climbed into the low cloud ceiling, we never saw water below us again, or any glow of daylight for the whole dark trip.

All departures (37 planes) were separated by a few minutes, so we weren’t likely be close to one another. My first problem was that I could not climb much higher than 1,500 ft. without icing up my wings until I could no longer climb. Bomb groups in Italy always stripped off the de-icing boots from any new B-24 they received. They may be sorely needed in ocean crossings, but in combat, formations never intend to fly into clouds, and mileage is better without them. I decided to settle for 1,500 feet altitude with no intent to climb higher. Legally, I should have stuck with even thousands plus 500 ft., like the 10,500 ft. assigned, but I couldn’t get to 2,500 ft., and just 500 ft. was too low for comfort in the zero visibility. On a long flight, barometric pressure can change a lot, causing altimeter error, until you can get an updated barometer setting from your destination.

We flew through thunderstorms, lightning and had St. Elmo’s Fire dancing on the wing leading edges and around the prop tips. Having experienced that an automatic radio compass (follow the needle) will lead you into a thunderhead if it’s electrical energy is a stronger signal than the station you are tuned to, I would use nothing but the aural null (manual cranking system) for the same loop antenna. Thus, by continually monitoring the Gander range station signal, I did hear a call much earlier than most others from the Gander radio to all airplanes headed there. I was surely aware of the instructor I had back in Liberal, Kansas, (that guy, Jeter, who was also a 'Green Card' instrument expert), because all the things he drilled his students for were happening to us again.

When we were still about four or five hundred miles out, they warned that their field was now closed due to impossible weather, and all planes headed for there are diverted to Harmon Field at Stephenville, on the far West end of their Island. I immediately altered our course for the shortest route, but this news added 195 more miles to this leg of our flight. That increased the day’s flight to 1821 miles. You can see that if we felt stretched to get to Gander, we now are adding at least an additional hour of flight onto the task. Normally, we should always save in reserve enough fuel to reach our destination, plus a second field plus 45 minutes. We now have to skimp so the reserve lasts long enough to reach what will hopefully be our final destination. As our fuel load continued losing weight, I kept cutting back a hair more on the power settings to increase our mileage. I ran limited RPM with increased turbo boost, based on experience. I began listening attentively to the Harmon Field range station’s beeping Morse code signals early on, because as we pass over the transmitting station, our only clue would be a "cone of silence" to indicate to us the source is immediately below us. That is easily missed if you fail to concentrate on reception. The instrument let down by radio range beam could take another ten or twelve minutes.

Before our expected time of arrival was due to run out, my flight engineer was trying hard, but unsuccessfully, to choke back tears when he reported he had equally leveled the four gas tanks, and they’re all under fifty gallons of fuel. Ron knew we needed most of that just to do our instrument letdown in this blind weather, but we were not there yet, nor was our ETA close at hand. We didn’t get to drop a 10,000-lb. load at the halfway point, like on a bombing mission.

Seeing Ron’s tears reminded me of the time when I met his mother one morning in late 1944, shortly before we shipped out, as Ron was putting her on a train in Pennsylvania Station, New York City, sending her back home to Elizabeth, PA. She begged me to take care that her son gets back safely. I assured her I would, but only later learned this lady had already lost one son in a B-24 that crashed into a snow capped mountain in Norway while on a mission to supply the underground Freedom Fighters there. Also, another son lost his leg in a B-24 crash in Turkey. Turkey was on a common route when flying from Egypt to the Ploesti oil fields in Romania, and was frequently used by the 15th Air Force Groups before we had bases in Italy. Other routes had greater danger from the Nazi occupied lands that had become armed with anti- aircraft guns and fighter defenses. We had maintained fifteen hundred feet altitude all day and now it was definitely into night hours, as we were reaching eleven hours in the air. If we had been equipped with the de-icing boots and had flown at the altitude assigned, we would have been out of fuel long before now. This is when an event in my life happened that I should never be able to forget. We were still waiting to hear if and when we would reach our range station, and I was honestly expecting our engines to start sputtering when we suddenly entered a hole in the dark clouds just beneath my left window only. Nothing cleared up above us, but a "round hole" in the clouds had just parted the darkness from my left side down. At the bottom of this round hole I could see only a white cross on the ground, fifteen hundred feet down. This sight was of two concrete runways crossing, and everything else was still lost in dark clouds.

I dove into the hole, so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity, and so Reed would be able to see this it, too. I spiraled tightly down it, dropping full flaps and lowering the landing gear as we went. I asked Reed to call the tower and tell them we are landing on whichever runway we can position for first, I wouldn’t have time to give the numerical ID to inform them of my choice. When we broke out under the cloud ceiling of about 150 feet it was still very dark, but there were area lights on the grounds. The nearest runway end I could see had an ocean approach, so we circled out over the water to come in and land on the first yard of concrete, which was also sea wall. When at the end of the landing roll and when the weight was down on the nose gear, the engines did not all respond to the throttles to help us taxi. We were running out of fuel. Needless to say, this landing was a huge feeling of relief for everyone on the plane. The heaviest part of this experience for all aboard was that everyone had to trust me to get them through this, and there was nothing anyone could possibly do to help, and I had nothing more I could do. Looking back, I am surprised no one spoke out regarding doubts about our safety. The truth of it is that I didn’t get them through it at all. Someone on that plane had the angel on his shoulder that caused a hole to part the sky between us and the ground below before we had even reached the radio range transmitter, and we couldn’t have gone another three minutes. I got the impression that this played out like the parting of the Red Sea, and it took place before the eyes of thirteen weary, grateful soldiers.

No one else I could find at Harmon had found this field through a hole in the clouds. They did the instrument let down, just as I had intended to try, but I truly believe we could not have completed it. I can’t help but think of a particular mother who surely deserved to be spared the misery of having a third one of her four sons all meet tragedies in a B-24 accident, at three different sites on the map and all during the same war. I regarded this flight home after the war a much closer brush with the grim reaper than was getting shot down, fire, gas leaks, train wreck, being jumped by German jet fighters, crash landing, near mid-air collisions, clipping treetops, etc. Maybe this impression was because this strain lasted a long, dark, eleven hours.

Of the 37 airplanes on this flight, we learned that nine went on into "closed" Gander against orders, four showed up at a small dirt practice field half way to Harmon Field from Gander, but before dark of night, and twenty one made it to Harmon. Almost all, except us, had gone to Gander first, or to a fairly close proximity to it. The other three planes and crews were never heard from, and were presumed to have gone down in the North Atlantic. I suspect they ran out of fuel, which could happen by only doing things just as taught. They could have followed the radio compass into a thunderhead, and be pulled far off course. They never taught desperate economy measures in our flight schools. I guess that had to just come from the "school of hard knocks."
We were the last plane to land at Harmon, though we were among the first five or six to take off that morning. It was for sure that we flew slower than the others did, (we averaged 166 mph), but I know we kept on the shortest possible route. Luckily, we had little, if any cross winds to harass our navigation with additional problems. From talking to other pilots at Harmon with lighter loads, I learned that all had been concerned about fuel, but none of them ran low enough to think they needed to worry about running out, as long as Harmon did not close. With our load, we only managed 246 gallons per hour mileage. If we had followed the needle (radio compass) to Gander to learn of the diversion to Harmon, we could never have made it. I can’t say about the dirt field, since I never learned of the facilities after dark. I was only able to talk to those who made it to Harmon. Dirt practice fields usually are never equipped with lights to make it possible to use after dark at all, except on a bright moonlit night, which it was certainly not. We shall never know the problems of those three crews (probably 30 men) who, after surviving a shooting war, were denied the reward of going home afterwards. You may have to experience the intensity of the "going home" feeling after a war to a fighting man (or woman), to feel the sadness felt for ones deprived of it like this.
The families of those lost that day have no idea of the circumstances involved, but it could not make them feel any better knowing the assigned task and still not know what went wrong. I'm not sure but what all the crews who made it to Newfoundland that day have their own tales to tell, but likely all would agree that we never "paid a price" nor are we due anything special in return for our efforts in the war. We volunteered to fly into the war in the skies over Germany to defend our country and our allies, and that’s exactly what we did. Those who failed to make it home are the ones who paid the price for all of us. We know very well that we were just lucky or we would not continue surviving the existing odds. We still respect, even revere, the B-24 aircraft, created by Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft. Over 18,000 (counting all variations) were built, many by "Rosie the Riveter," (women in defense work) at plants in San Diego, CA, Fort Worth, TX and Ford’s huge Willow Run plant in Michigan. At the latter, they built over 8,000, at a rate of one every 52 minutes. They still often enabled us to return in spite of difficulties so that we could be here among the survivors. Who could criticize that?

We resumed our trip home the next day, landing at Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts, and then went by trains to Army bases near our homes. I had to part with my crewmates and then, strangely routed through Canada, steamed by chair car to Camp Beale, Marysville, CA, in a seven-day jaunt. Yes, steam engines had not been taken over by diesel power, yet. Though it was uncomfortable with no bed for a week, it was much better than the freight train, and I was glad that I was not missing this trip.

From Marysville, I bused home via Greyhound, arriving in North Hollywood at exactly 12:00 noon, July 4th, 1945. That’s the target date we set back in 1944, isn’t it? Pure coincidence! Some of our crew joined up again, briefly, at a California base after our short furloughs, and most of us were then discharged before the Japanese armistice, due to the point system. That often did not work so well for many others who deserved it every bit as much as we did, if not more.

How does one feel now about those experiences we had back then, when we are looking back fifty some years later? Proud to have been Patriotic! Some how, those words meant a lot more to about everyone through W.W.II than it does today. Did you know that after Pearl Harbor, patriotism blossomed like weeds? The entire starting line-up of the New York Yankees became uniformed members of some branch of the armed forces, to join the fight. In contrast, by the mid-sixties a large percentage of the college age generation was finding it unfashionable to have true feelings of patriotism any more. There were some unpopular wars. A big difference between then and now was the discipline in our lives then, plus the times pushed most of us right into work when leaving high school to help the family meet expenses. College was quite a luxury.

After the war, and back home, I later donated my artifacts, documents and photos to the March Field Museum and also became a life member of the non-profit foundation that took the reins to perpetuate the museum after the active Air Force vacated the field in 1996. For a number of recent years, the historical March Field had been the headquarters of the 15th Air Force, as well as a key base of the Strategic Air Command. Now it is a training base for Air Force Reserves and the California Air National Guard, plus our museum with its own forty acres across the runway from the military area. March Field history dates back to WW I, a period that was still the infancy of aviation.

I have flown my flag every July 4th since 1945 as the symbol of the freedom we fought to protect, and to show my pride in having lent a hand. That’s satisfies me, but always reminds me of those that didn’t have the lucky breaks that we did, so that they might be here, too. Maybe, in combat, some just had to be victims of an enemy’s moment of good luck?
Thomas Jefferson once said, "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." We didn’t work hard enough to claim that for our lucky breaks that brought us home. We all put forth a 100% effort, but only when it was absolutely necessary. If it all happened again, I would surely volunteer for the same again, but hopefully while under twenty-five or so, and not aware of the odds. We never felt that we were "flirting with death" as we were in combat at that young age, but our exposure surely was with risk at times. However, in my years since leaving the service, we still face "close calls" of a serious nature, and we do it over and over. My wife and I were victims of a head-on auto crash in 1961 that totaled both cars and injured everyone. We were on the epicenter of the Newhall, CA, earthquake in 1971 (6.4 Richter scale) that took four lives in our apartment complex.

In our travels we have been in small towns on at least three separate occasions as tornadoes were touching down in them. In 1960, on a car trip from Mexico City to Acapulco, we drove past a high, steep cliff that let drop a boulder as big as the engine of our car that just missed our back bumper and indented the pavement. It could have crushed five of us if we were one second slower clearing that spot. But, as long as you and yours are not hurt, you shouldn’t let those things bother you after the initial reaction subsides and a reasonable tranquility has returned. It’s a fact that life has its gambles no matter how safe you think you may be, even with extra safety precautions, or no matter what careers you choose to undertake in life. In a war you just don’t have the luxury of making choices of your own, you just do what has to be done, even if it looks like a mission of no return. My philosophy is: You may pursue a career with risks as long as you give serious thought to and draw your own line where acting "without fear" stops short of being foolish. But then, don’t let yourself worry about the remote "What if-?" elements of danger. To harbor fears of very unlikely possibilities is to let a seed start that may become an obstacle to achieving your goals. Fate controls the long shots, and avoiding them is with the long odds in our favor. The majority of us will survive with little or no scratches until something we never anticipated happens. That, very likely, will just be the ever more popular ending called "dying of old age." G. R.
THE END

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