FERDIE LEO DUNCAN|
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
March 3, 1977
As I promised in my October 19,1996 letter, I am sending you the complete diary of Ferdie Leo Duncan, our tail gunner. He died January 24, 1992. I recently received permission from his wife Mary Jean to send it to you.
Ferdie was an Illinois farm boy who joined our crew in Boise, Idaho, on about August 1943. While we received additional training in Pocatello, he met a Mormon girl, Mary Jean, and they were married just before we were shipped out as a replacement crew in October 1943.
I believe you will discover in reading this diary it is the most unusual one you have received or ever will receive.
Each entry is in the form of a love letter to his wife. Although his mission descriptions are very complete, the tone of his letters are of an individual who is very lonesome and very much in love.
Mary Jean was pregnant so when Ferdie completed his missions General Hodge issued special orders to send Ferdie home. He arrived in time for the birth of his first daughter. Eventually, they had six more children. Officially, his first name was Ferdie, but to Mary Jean, he was always Leo. After he was discharged, Ferdie was a grain elevator operator in Danvers and LeRoy, Illinois. He and Mary Jean raised a wonderful family and all the children have been successful.
I believe this diary has historical significant which should be perpetuated.
Ivan C. Stepnich
SERVICE DIARY OF FERDIE L. DUNCAN
October 27, 1943 - May 27, 1944
October 27, 1943
Last night I went in and called up my wife. It was really swell talking to her for I love her more than anything in the world. We talked about everything last night...also talked to Walter, Iva Mae and Stub, E. J. and my folks and Wanda. I got back to camp at 5:15 and went right on K.P. We never had it so hard today. We worked in the Officer's Mess Hall.
I just finished writing my darling wife, my folks, Iva Mae and Stub, Mary Jean's mother, and her grandparents. I have to doctor my foot which I have about three different blisters on for hiking the other day. I never will forget that with our full 50-lb. packs. We have had it pretty hard here at this camp for we are preparing to go overseas. We could not get planes so we are going over by boat. This is all for today, my darling. I love you with all my heart. Leo
October 28, 1943
This is another day like all the rest of the week. It has been raining and it's another cold, drizzly day. We never had much to do today, did a little drilling. I was going in town and mail some letters tonight, but we are restricted again. I gave five letters to some of the boys to mail who were going in. I don't know when we will leave, but the sooner the better. We will get back that much sooner.
I wrote my darling wife this afternoon. I will write again tonight. I have written often, for I know she wants to hear from me as often as she can. Today, I never got any letters from my wife, so imagine I will get about two tomorrow. It is really swell to get her letters. I appreciate them a lot, darling, more than you will ever know. I wish I could call you again before I leave. I may try if I know for sure when I can get a pass. That's all for today, my darling. I love you. Leo.
October 29, 1943
There's not much news today, darling. I got your letter today which made me feel a whole lot better. Well, it looks like the weather is going to be better now. It has cleared up now this evening and looks like we will have some good weather now for a change. I am having one of the boys take your letter in tonight and mail it darling. I think I have been doing pretty well on writing don't you think? Well, why shouldn't I write? I have the best wife in the world to write to. I love you so much it just hurts to be so far away.
We are still here at this camp. Can't understand why we are not shipped over yet. I am going to send you a wire tonight to tell you I will call this Sunday night if I can get a pass. I should be able to, my darling. We didn't do much today. I went on sick call because I have a bad blister from the results of a hike the other day. Well, darling, this closes another day. One day sooner to when I can see you. So long, my darling. Leo.
October 30, 1943
Darling, there has been a lot happening since yesterday. We have been on the alert today and for the last time. Tonight we took our bags down so it won't be long now. Don't imagine though we will leave before Sunday night or Monday. How I do miss you darling. It is going to be awful crossing the water by boat. I am not scared, but just like all the other boys, just kind of jumpy.
This morning I was planning on having you come out so we could see one another, then they came in and spoiled those plans by saying we were leaving. Darling, I just hope that someday you will get this book. You will know a lot of things how much I love you and how I miss you. When I get back this time, darling, I hope it is for good. I have too much ahead in life that we can do together. Besides my darling, we have a family to raise haven't we. That is about all for today. I love you with all my heart and some day when we can be together again, we will make up for this. Love, Leo.
October 31, 1943
Well, my darling, I just finished writing you a letter after calling you. It was swell talking to you. I feel better every day after I can call you. I am glad you understand about the insurance. I think it is best that way for the folks deserve something. Nobody is going to get any insurance money for I am coming back. I have too much to live for my darling. I am going to carry all your letters right with me on the boat so I can keep reading them every day. Every letter I have got I have read at least five times. That is how much they mean to me. I wrote you three times today so that isn't so bad, is it, darling? I got a lot of mail today. Two from you, two from the folks, and one from Mabel and one from your mother. It was swell getting all those letters. Well, I am in bed, and guess I will now go to sleep. Another day nearer when I can see you my darling. I love you with all my heart. Always wait for me, my darling. So long now. Leo
November 5, 1943
Here my darling, is another day. Just the same as yesterday. The sea is pretty rough today. I haven't got sick yet, darling, but have felt a little dizzy. We have been having musters as they call them. This is a practice drill for abandoning ship. The food is getting better, but the coffee is not so good. I would really enjoy this trip, darling, if you were along. These big state rooms for a couple now made to accommodate 12 men, so you see how big they are. Well, when I get back, I am going to have one foot on dry land at least.
This really hasn't been so bad, but I just don't like the water. I wonder what you have been doing today. Whatever it is, I sure would like to help. We should be in England about next Monday or Tuesday and that won't be soon enough for me. That is about all the news today darling. I will soon have mail call and read your letter again. I do this every day, darling. So long now and be careful. I love you darling. Leo.
November 5, 1943
Well, darling, two more days and we should see something which looks like land. I had to sleep upstairs on the deck last night as we do every other night. It was really bad, darling, you see, we sleep right on the floor. Tobacco smoke and gambling and everything else going on. It isn't as rough today, darling, as it was yesterday. We just finished our drills and everything. I am getting tired of seeing nothing but water. You would never dream there could be so much water, darling. How are you, my darling, today?
All of the enlisted men are in this cabin with me. The officers have their own sleeping quarters. We have been having more stuff taken since we have been on board ship. I, myself, haven't missed anything but a lot of the boys have. Well, darling, there hasn't been much news. Practically the same thing every day but hope some day you will like to read this. I am feeling fine, darling, and hope you are the same. So long, my darling. All my love. Leo.
November 6, 1943
Hello, darling. Good old Saturday night again. I mean they used to be good nights to remember. I suppose you are going into Farmer City again tonight. Well, darling, I would sure like to go along with you, but I can't very well do it and me about over here to England. This has been another swell day. The sun was shining the ocean was still. We never have had any rough weather. The sea has always been calm. I got to sleep on deck tonight. I can't sleep very well for I want to walk on the good old earth again.
We are having inspections of our staterooms every day now and are they some mess darling. All of our equipment is just thrown together. Well, darling, hope everything is coming along fine there at home. I am about rid of my cold since we left New York. I am okay, only I want to see some land. Well, my darling, another day about gone. I love you my darling with all my heart. Take good care of yourself as I will. All my love, my darling. Your loving husband, Leo.
November 7, 1943
Here it is again, another week gone by. A week ago tonight about this time, I was talking to you, wasn't I darling. I am afraid I can't though tonight, but how I would like to. We never had any church service today. I suppose you went. How do you like the church there at home, darling? I would appreciate it now more than ever. I have been reading most of the day. I had me a good western I was reading. Well, darling, anyway, it passes the time away.
The boys are still doing a lot of gambling. James lost most all of his. I am about ready for bed, darling, what we call bed. We sleep on canvas beds. Not very comfortable, but that is the best we get. We are still on the ship and will be until Tuesday. We had some good meals today, darling. Well had better close tonight my darling. I love you and more than you will ever know. Be careful darling and God bless you and take care of yourself. All my love. Leo.
December 6, 1943
I have not written darling, for quite a while because I am afraid to say some things. We arrived in Scotland, England on November 9th. Here we went by train down to Stone, England and arrived there on November 10. Here we never did much but waited to get sent on to school. Here we joined the 8th Bomber Command or Air Force. We left here and arrived in Chettington, England on November 15. Here we went to school for about ten days, darling. I learned some helpful things here but we did not do any flying.
Ever since we got to England the food has been poor. We have had bad toilets and poor places for shaving. Well, darling, we left here on December 4 and arrived here in Arlebridge, England near Norwich. Here we are going to school and get some flying. The pilot got checked out today. We will get some flying here in the next couple of days. We will be here, I guess, until after Christmas.
Well, my darling will write every once in awhile to let you know how everything is. This camp is by far the worst we have yet been in. I forgot to tell you, darling that I was in the hospital at Chettington with my cold. I was really sick for awhile with a 104 temperature. I was in here about a week. Darling, when we start our missions, will write and describe each one the best I can. We have 25 hard ones to do before we leave and we hope for the U.S. We may have to stay over here three months after we get them done and do some instructing. We hope not, darling. We have never gotten any mail or none of our baggage has reached us. Darling, I love you, oh so terribly much. I have never left camp since I have been here. So long, darling. Leo.
December 25, 1943
(Christmas) - Darling, we left Arlebridge around December 12. We all thought we would get assigned there, but they decided to send us back to Chettington as all the groups are full. So this is where I am writing this from darling. I got three letters up at Arlebridge and we expected we would get no letters down here. I have really been lucky, my darling, for I have gotten 31 letters already from you and about ten from our folks and relatives. So I have done very well, don't you think? By the way, I started getting my first letter on December 10. I was hoping I would get the Christmas present from you, but it hasn't come yet. This wasn't a very good Christmas for me.
We had to fly this morning and I didn't feel very good anyway. The dinner was swell. Last year, darling, I spent Christmas night down at Miami Beach doing guard duty. So there is quite a difference don't you think? We are assigned to the 44th Bomb Squadron and should leave for there around the first of the week. It doesn't look like it will be long before we start missions. I received five letters from you, darling, all dated around the first of November. They were good ones, my darling. You said you had gained nine pounds. Well that's well, darling, for you should be heavier anyway. Don't ever worry about me not living you. Always, with all my heart. I am so happy, my darling, that we are going to have our baby just like you. I want so much to get back before that time. We will really have to go through a lot before that time. You would be a lot happier if you knew I was safe and well, writing this tonight, wouldn't you? As long as we trust in God, he will see that I come back to you safe. I will, too, my darling. Will close my dear. Your ever-loving husband. Leo.
December 30, 1943
We arrived here, darling, on the 27th of December. This is our permanent base where we will be doing all our combat missions. This seems to be a good place at least I hope so for we will be here a long while. These missions though, darling, are really going to be rough. Last week, six men from this barracks went down. That is why we came into an empty barracks. They went out on a mission today. I don't know how the losses were. It will be at least ten days, yet, before we will do any missions. I only hope I can get through these, my darling, and get back to you and the baby. If we don't we will probably be POW or Prisoners of War. Well, darling, that's all for today, but soon, as we make missions, will write all about them. All my love. Leo.
January 13, 1944
My darling wife: There are no words tonight to really tell you how I feel. Today, ten men were killed - real close friends of the crews. It happened right here on the field. We had known them ever since back at Pocatello. They were all such swell boys and have been flying with us for so long. Darling, you must have said an extra ;prayer today for me. I was going to go up with these boys to get some flying time in. I don't know why, but I decided at the last moment not to fly this afternoon. I wouldn't be writing if I had. How lucky we both are. This makes two times now we had close calls.
Last Saturday, we were coming in for a landing, with only three engines. We hit the runway so hard and bounced so high that we were able to get enough altitude and go around again. How lucky we were that time. I only hope my luck keeps running as well. A person doesn't know what to think about this flying. You know about how I felt tonight when that happened.
Darling, sometime when you get my letters you can tell about how I feel. I will always love you darling - forever and I want to come back to you and our baby. Every night, after mission, someone doesn't come back that you know the stories of flak and of fighters. You can see, darling, why we are always worried so much. You will never know, I guess, what this really is over here, until I come back to you again. Darling, keep praying for me each day. It does mean a lot to our Lord. I ask every night practically the same things as you darling. Well, that's all for this time. I love you darling with all my heart and soul. All my love, your loving husband. Leo.
January 14, 1944
First mission (Ecalles-Sur-Buchy, Les Petit Bois Robert, France). I am writing this, darling, on the 15th, as I never had time to write it up last night. I sent you a paper home in the Yank about the write-up. Yesterday morning we were to fly a high altitude training flight but as we were about to take off it had been scrubbed. We knew something was up then. We came back and took out our heated flying suit equipment and went to the briefing room. About 11 o'clock we went to chow and came back and went to the ship.
I was supposed to fly with one pilot, but his gunner showed up so the fellows here in the barracks had no tail gunner. They told me to go out there and fly with them. I got out there kind of late and time I had put my guns in the tail turret we were ready to take off.
I guess it was about one o'clock when we left the runway. We kind of wobbled when we got in the air because of the heavy bomb load, but came out of it okay. We circled around the field for about an hour gaining our altitude and forming our group. This was only up about 14,000 feet. They never flew near as high as they usually fly. The missions to France are not, as a rule, very rough.
Well, we flew over London in formation and went out to the Channel. We maybe wouldn't have had to put our masks on but we wore them anyway. When we left the English Coast and got about half way across the Channel, we opened our bomb bays. France is a lot better looking country from the air than England is.
Flying along the Coast of France we were on the lookout for fighters. We were not bothered any or even saw any until we got over the target. I was a little jumpy when they called over the intercom there were fighters out at three o'clock. Being my first mission and everything, something like that would make one a little nervous. We were glad to see that they were P-38s as they were our escorts.
We flew over the target and trained our bombs around 3:15. We saw some puffs of flak but none of it got very close to us. There was a plane right on top of us that gave us a scare. I guess he didn't realize he was over us and you know how we felt looking up at the bomb bay and the fused bombs. They, luckily for us, never dropped their bombs. We soon got out of the way. Our P-38s and P-47s were circling over us eager for a chance to take on some of the Foche-Wulfes.
Coming back, the sun was shining in the tail turret and I could hardly see anything. The Germans usually attack from the sun where they are difficult to see. Here, in France, we are not allowed to drop our bombs only on the target for we have lots of friendly people below who some day might help us. It seems like it takes lots longer to cross the Channel coming back. Anyway, we got back here in England safe and sound and landed about 4:30 last night. Time we were interrogated about the mission and got the guns out and cleaned it was about 8:30 when I got back here to the hut.
Some of the planes that went over the target after we did had some trouble with fighters. We lost one bomber for sure and maybe two. I was scheduled again to fly today but was taken off late last night. Glad too, for it would have been plenty rough we know. Arvon and Rodgers flew with another pilot. None of the other fellows have flown missions yet. That's about all to say about this mission, only they feed coffee and sandwiches after each mission. They all won't be nearly as easy as the one today. All my love, darling. Leo.
January 21, 1944
Lt. Rodgers went down with Lt. Spelts.
There was a mission today again, but I never went. Arvon, our engineer was supposed to go with Lt. Spelts, also Rodgers. Arvon was lucky as their engineer showed up at the last minute. Our bombardier, Lt. Rodgers went down over the target today in France. That just leaves nine of us left. From what we can get from other crewmembers they went into a dive, then a spin. They would have to be lucky to have gotten out.
Darling you know how we feel about it. Lt. Rodgers was a good boy and the Germans are going to pay, and pay dearly. We all thought a lot of him but now that this has happened, when we go up they will pay for it. He is the last we ever expected to go down.
This waiting and sweating them out, not knowing from one day to another lots of things. I am coming back to you, my darling. All my love. Leo.
February 2, 1944
2nd Mission - Watten, France.
Well, darling, I finally got another mission in today. For the last three days we had to get up early but they were always scrubbed. Today, we got up at 4 a.m. and it was raining. We thought it would be called off again. We felt quite a bit easier when we found out we were going to France, as the last two that were scrubbed were in deep Germany.
We took off at 11:15 in a fog and rain, carrying eight tons of bombs. With such a bomb load we never climbed very far and it took us a long time to get our bomb altitude of 20,000 feet.
Darling, I was really worried for we were flying through thick clouds most of the time while forming. There were several close shaves as the bomber, at times, really gave us a scare. We left the England Coast around one o'clock and went over the target around 2:15. We couldn't see the target but dropped them by instruments.
There were P-47s, our escorts, flying above us. When we made the first bomb run, the flak was getting very heavy. I thought at times I could have put my hand outside the turret and touch it. Several times I thought we were hit as it burst practically right near the planes. They even shot up rockets from the ground and one came up and went over the tail. When I looked and saw the smoke, I thought one of our engines had been hit. It was quite a relief when we made the second bomb run. It wasn't quite so bad the second time, but was quite a relief to let go the four, 2,000 pounds.
After leaving the target, we hit some more fog and had it most of the way down. All of the ships separated and we were way out over the North Sea. Darling, I just can't see how we were as lucky as we were. That fog was really bad. We came in here and landed around four o'clock. The pilot I was flying with really did a swell job - Lt. Summers. He used the right evasive action over the target dodging the flak. We were very happy that we never met any enemy fighters. The flak and fog made it bad enough.
Well, that's about all tonight darling. Our whole crew is flying tomorrow together. Well, this ends the second one, leaving 23 left. I love you my darling. Your loving husband. Leo.
February 3, 1944
Darling, I am going to write in here tonight a few lines. I have been up every day now for five days straight and only going on one mission yesterday. That is why you will notice in my letters why I have been tired so much this week. You see, darling, we have to get up every morning around four o'clock. Today we thought for sure we were off. We were to go to Germany and left the England Coast and started out over the North Sea. We got about half way across and up about 24,000 feet. Darling, it was really cold, around 35 below zero. We were called back and we were really disgusted for it isn't counted as a mission. We were only about an hour distance from the target.
Coming back to England, we got lost and flew for about two hours hunting for the field. The pilot made a good landing though, but I was really worried. We were carrying 12 500-lb. bombs. We flew for about six hours - two of them on oxygen. All my love. Leo.
February 4, 1944
Well, darling, we did the same thing again today as yesterday. We got all ready to go into Germany and were called back. It was really a lucky thing for us because we lost No. 2 engine. Besides that, the superchargers on NO. 1 and 4 were smoking. We brought our bombs back and made a good landing with the bombs. It was the same bomb load as yesterday.
Darling, this is getting old getting up around four o'clock every day and then having to turn back on missions. I should have four now, while I only have two. We were up about five hours and on oxygen for two hours. The reason for turning back was because of a strong head wind we would have had to face all the way back. If we had gone and now knowing about our engines, we would probably be walking somewhere in Germany tonight or the fighters would have got us. Will close for tonight, darling. All my love. Leo.
February 5, 1944
Third mission - Tours, France - rough-middle of France
After three days of trying, darling, we finally got this third one in. This morning they got Joyner and I up at 3:30 to eat and go to briefing. After this we went out and put the guns in and took off at 7:45 with 12 500-pound bombs. We knew this would be kind of a rough one as it was down deep in France.
About ten o'clock we left the England Coast at 17,500 feet which was our bombing altitude. We were all on oxygen at this time, and then test fired our guns out in the Channel.
There was no flak on the French Coast as there usually was, but we immediately were attacked by Mess. 109E, the German Fighters. We were lucky, as we never saw them until they were on top of us. The pilot used some evasive action and they missed us. One of the boys we were flying with shot one of them down. Also a bomber went down there that I saw. It went into kind of a shallow dive then a spin. Three men got out before it exploded in the air.
That was an awful sight, darling. We had P-47 and P-38 escorts, but they weren't with us all the time. We reached our target, which was an airfield and bombed. I believe we did a good job for there were plenty of fires down there.
Coming back to the Coast, we ran into some flak, but not bad, although we did lose some more bombers. There were plenty of bombers in the sky, most everywhere and every direction. We met some fighters coming back, but our group was not hard hit. I had trouble with my oxygen mask freezing up but managed to get by until we got down to about 12,000 feet when we took them off. My heated suit wasn't working all the time so it got cold, around 30 below. We landed here around three o'clock, went to interrogation, cleaned our guns and got ready for the mission tomorrow.
This ends that mission which leaves me 22 left. That is plenty. Will close for tonight darling, with all my love. Will write your letter now. Leo.
February 6, 1944
Fourth Mission - Siracourt, France (Northern France)
Today, darling, we had what we call a milk run. We never even saw any enemy fighters and very little flak. This morning we got up around four o'clock and went to breakfast, then to briefing. Then to the armament building to check our guns. We got our guns put in the ship and took off around 8:15. This was just a short mission and our bombing altitude was only 12,000 feet so we never had to have our oxygen mask on.
After gaining our altitude, we circled the field in formation and started out. We left the English Coast around 10:20 this morning and were due over the target around 11:10. There were spitfires there to escort us over the target and back. That makes a person feel a lot safer knowing that you have escorts.
Over the target there was some flak but not accurate at all. The target was covered with clouds so there were not many bombs dropped. In France, you are not supposed to drop bombs if you can't see the target because 90% of the people are for us.
The English Coast looked good again as it always does after crossing the Channel. Going out and coming in after going to France, we usually always cross the White Cliffs of Dover. We arrived back here at the base around 12:30, then went to interrogation and finished up the day cleaning out guns. All of my missions so far have been to France, but there will be those to Germany. They couldn't be any rougher than that one yesterday. It was not so cold today, around 9 below, which is a lot different than 35 or 40 below.
I am up again tomorrow with our crew. The most any one of them has is two missions. Arvon and Keigan are still grounded with ear trouble. Well, darling, that about covers everything in the fourth mission. All my love, darling. Leo.
February 8, 1944
Fifth Mission - Watten, France (Northern France)
This morning they got us up around four o'clock in preparation for our mission. The same old story of going to briefing, checking our guns and installing them in the ship. I had a hard tail turret and so I got around early to be sure my guns were okay. We took off this morning at 7:15. I don't believe I said in my missions, just as we take off I have to flash a colored lamp the letter that corresponds to our elements. I either flash a letter "a" or a letter "p" in code. Our temperature was 32 below at the altitude we were to make our bomb run. We were to bomb at 22,000 feet. After leaving the English Coast, we always test-fire our guns either over the
Channel or the North Sea. Soon as we hit the French Coast, we hit heavy flak. Somebody on the way over gave away the information of our altitude and time over the target. When I stop and think about it, I don't see how we made it though. It was a heavy concentrated flak. Some of the planes were hit pretty hard and started straggling. Our plane had three big flak holes but no one was hurt. We didn't have an escort today as we were not going very deep and were very lucky that our group was not hit by enemy fighters. They did attack the stragglers - haven't heard whether they all got back or not. I know some crews crash landed down in South England.
We never dropped our bombs - were carrying four two-ton bombs each. Lt. Stepnich made a perfect landing here coming home with our full bomb load at around 12:30. This fifth mission entitles me to the Air Medal, which I will get in about the next two weeks.
Darling, I am flying as bombardier tomorrow with another crew. They are putting mostly all tail gunners as bombardiers now. Our crew isn't scheduled. Lt. Redmond is also flying with another crew. I hope it won't be nearly as bad as today. It was rough, darling. All my love. Leo
February 11, 1944
Sixth Mission - Siracourt, France
I was listed to fly yesterday, darling, with another crew, but we were called back because of the weather. I was glad, too, for it was deep in Germany. Today, we went to France to bomb some invasion targets. We got up at 2:45 - about the earliest yet. Now you will understand why we can't get enough sleep.
I never thought we would take off this morning because it was raining. Take-off was at 7:00 and we were back at 12:30 so it wasn't such a long mission. It was still pretty rough. The flak was especially bad, seemed to bust all around us. I had the flak suit on in the tail turret but was rather crowded. Once I about got out of the turret as I looked up and saw smoke going by. It happened to be another ship though. One waist gunner from another ship was killed instantly by the flak. We had very little fighter support - saw some enemy planes, but they attacked another group as we were in the lead.
They were Foche-Wulfe's 190s. Our bomb altitude was 15,000 feet and we were on oxygen for about an hour. It was not so cold this time - around 25 below. I haven't heard how many ships we lost yet. We are up tomorrow again, hope we get an easy one again, but am afraid it will be Germany and they are throwing everything at us now.
We were to get a pass soon, but they said we would fly regular for about two weeks then get one. I think I'm about ready for the rest home. I have been up so much. That covers this mission, darling. All my love. Leo
February 13, 1944
Seventh Mission - Petit-bois Tillen Court Raye Sur Authie, France
Yesterday morning we thought we were safe when we didn't have to get up. Darling, didn't have time to write about this one last night so will today. We were not alerted until 10:30 and we really had to put our guns in, in a hurry for we took off at 11:30. We never even had time to check out a heated suit and I about froze.
Our target, I found out later, were gun installations in France. Our bombing altitude was only 17,000 feet but still it was about 23 below. The flak was very bad and close as we got one big hole in the fuselage, among other small ones. One engine went out on us but we made it back okay and landed about five o'clock. There were some fighters but they didn't bother us. We were supposed to have gone again today, but it was scrubbed because of the weather. That is about all for this mission. Hope the flak doesn't get any closer. All my love. Leo
February 20, 1944
Eighth Mission - Diepholz, Germany (rough)
Well, darling, today I went on my first mission to Germany. The target was an airfield near Munster, Germany. This day will never be forgotten, as it has been my roughest day. It's the first time I have ever gone into enemy territory with my tail guns not working.
We took off rather late, around 9:00. Our bombing altitude was 21,000 feet. We never picked up our escorts until we about reached the target. They were P47s. When we were about across the North Sea, I charged my guns to test fire them. They wouldn't go into battery as the belt feed slide lever was stiff. There was nothing I could do but tell the pilot. I was flying with 1st Lt. Ugarte, pilot of the boys here in the barracks with me. He told me to stay in the turret and operate my turret and make them think that it worked.
We crossed Amsterdam and the Zider Sea on the way into Germany. The next thing that went wrong, a fuse burned out in my heating system. I about froze, as it was 30 below. I had to keep pounding my feet and hands to keep them from freezing. With all the trouble I had, it was not much encouragement to be behind two guns that were not working. We were lucky, though, that fighters didn't attack our group.
I think we went over the target and dropped 52 100-pound bombs. Here more trouble broke loose. The radio operator said seven bombs had not released from the racks. At the same time there was a land explosion right beneath the bomb bay. I thought we had had it, thinking those bombs were going off. It happened to be a rocket, which hit our left wheel and blew out the tire. There was a large hole just back of No. 2 engine where it had gone through.
When I first heard the explosion, I was out of the turret preparing to bail out. They got the pins put back in the bombs, and we felt a little safer. Just as we were feeling a little easier the seven bombs released, going through and taking off half of the bomb bay. We hit more flak out of Amsterdam but it was not too close. The North Sea looked pretty welcome but not nearly as the English Coast looked.
The next thing to sweat out was the landing. The pilot really made a nice landing although we did go off the runway into the grass. We landed about 4:45 p.m. and was on oxygen around five hours.
That about covers this mission - it was plenty rough. I fixed me up a seat pack parachute that I can have on in the tail. I had a flak suit sewed on the back to be protected. A person feels safer anyway. We also carry our shoes with us on our mission in case we bail out, also money for whatever country we go to. Will close with all my love, darling. Leo
February 21, 1944
Ninth Mission - Gotha, Germany (central-rough)
Today was another rough mission about like the one yesterday.
We took off today at nine o'clock. I thought sure it would be scrubbed because we flew in clouds for a long while when we were forming. We entered around the Dutch Coast and were immediately hit by Mess. 109 and Foche-Wulfe's 190. I only had one gun working as my solenoid and sight bulb burned out. On their first attack they knocked down a bomber just back of us. We never saw anyone bail out and it crashed down in a river. They were with us for around an hour until the P-47s ran them off. One escort was not so good as there wasn't too many.
I had a leak in my oxygen system and was really thankful that we didn't go down over the target. We turned back after we had gone deep in Phar Valley where the flak was so bad. What made me mad was not even dropping the bombs until we were out over the North Sea. We were carrying 12 500-pound bombs and four of them were delayed action bombs. You have to be especially careful of them.
When I went off of oxygen, I had 25 pounds left. That would have lasted me about 20 more minutes. At our altitude it was 33 below - plenty cold. This was the worst day for fighters, the 20 millimeters bursting all around you really made you stop and think. I don't know how many bombers we lost, but it was enough. We saw two go down. That's about all for tonight, darling. Lots of love. Leo.
February 24, 1944
Tenth Mission - Gotha, Germany
Today was another rough mission, darling. I believe the worst yet. They got us up at 6:00 and took off at 9:00. I flew as bombardier and nose gunner today. I flew with 1st Lt. Milliner. We were carrying incendiary bombs today. Our bombing altitude was 20,000 feet.
We hit the Dutch Coast around 11 o'clock and were soon hit by Foche-Wulfe's 190. Our fight escorts of P-47, P-51, and P-38s hadn't shown up yet. There were two bombers that went down, one B-17 and one B-24. On the way to the target, two more B-24s went down under fire of enemy fighters. They were attacking the group in front of us and they did make about three passes at us. They were about out of range but our tracer bullets scared them away. Several enemy fighters were shot down both by our bombers and escorts. We hit the target around 1:30. There was some flak and more enemy fighters.
Just as I dropped the bombs another B-24 went down in front of us. We really wiped off that town. Our target was parts for Messerschmitt repairs and Foche-Wulfe planes. We will not have to go back there after doing such a good job. After leaving the target, we lost a crew that came over with us from the states. Fighters shot out their No. 1 and 4 engines. They went down in flames but we saw six chutes come out. They had a good chance as it was under control. Some of the planes blew up, went down in spins, and tails came off. Everything just happens.
We got back to England and landed at 4:45. This was a very long day. Still, we are going up again tomorrow. We were on oxygen for about five hours. This concludes my tenth mission and whatever I write will never express the things that happened today. We were lucky. All my love. Leo.
February 25, 1944
11th Mission - Furth, Southern Germany (Purple Heart Mission)
I never had this book until today, which is March 6, so will write up this mission. I could write up this one a year from now and remember every little detail.
Furth was a long target down near the Alps Mountains. We barely had enough gas to make the trip let alone having any trouble, but were to land at the Coast of England and fill up before coming on to our base. They got us up at four a.m. that morning with briefing at 5:30. After briefing, we were all pretty jittery because of the trip being so long. We took off at 9:00 as we were already delayed 30 minutes, and were carrying incendiary bombs. It was a bright sunshiny day and there would be no chance of turning back.
Out over the Channel, we test-fired our guns. I had trouble with my tail guns as they kept running, and one stopped altogether and I never did get it going again. The trigger bar was bent because of the solenoid being out of adjustment. The ball turret was out but later Joiner got it to work, also the left waist gun was out. The pilot said we were going anyway.
It was a long way over that country. We were in enemy territory for over three hours. After leaving the Coast of France, we were hit by flak inland about 30 miles. It was very heavy. We did get some holes, but no damage and no one was hurt, yet. The flak was light there compared to what later hit us. We went all the way to the target without seeing anymore excitement. Those bombs hitting on the target were a beautiful sight. I really had a good view out the tail end. There was black smoke about 10,000 feet high. This was a Messerschmitt factory and airfield. Fragmentation bombs were dropped later onto the fields destroying the planes on the ground.
We left the target where there was very little flak, and then everything broke loose all at once. They seemed to be waiting for us to come out. We flew right over an innocent-looking town, and then we really saw flak. We turned right into it and our ship was hit all over all at once. It seemed to burst right outside the tail turret. Something told me I was going to get hit. The next instant, I felt a pain in my shoulder like someone put a red-hot poker there. It hit with such force that it just knocked me up at the side of my turret. I stayed there for a minute and the pilot said we were going down. Later, I learned the control system to the tail had been shot away.
The top turret man, Erskin, was injured and also the pilot was hit in the ankle. A burst of flak hit right back of the nose turret putting it out and the gunner flying in it was trapped. Flak took the navigator's log fight out of his hands. He got the nose gunner out after quite a time. On top of all of this, the hydraulic system was shot out and a tire had been blown out. I grabbed my shoes in my left hand and ran to the escape hatch. It was rather useless, for I would have lost it, because I never had any grip. I needed my right hand to pull the ripcord on my chute.
The ship made two big dips in a row and I thought sure we were going down in a spin. The pilot never did ring the bell. They were going to try to bring us home with most of our guns out from Southern Germany. We were all alone down around 10,000 feet making our way back. Two fighters made a pass at the nose with guns blazing but the pilot used evasive action and they missed us. It took both the pilot and copilot to fly the ship because of the flak damage. No. 3 engine was running away but we could feather it, and No. 4 engine was smoking. If No. 4 had ever gone out on us, we would have gone into a spin with them being on the same side.
Darling, we all were praying that we would make it to the French Coast where we would have a better chance getting away on the ground. From the time we were hit, it was a 45-minute ride to France, then an extra hour over France. Darling, the French Coast looked wonderful and we were still running. Our navigator was taking us around the flak country and really did a good job. We were all back at our positions making them think we had guns. We were sweating. Our No. 3 tank was hit, so Jack transferred the gas out into other tanks. The next thing that looked good was the Channel. We were certain we were going to make it now. Finally, came dear old England, which looked just wonderful. We found an Air-Sea rescue base and landed.
The wheels had to be cranked down because of the hydraulic system being shot away. The pilot made a good landing and our ship rolled off the runway and stopped. How thankful we all were. I walked out and so did the rest of us. The ambulance was waiting on us. I forgot to add there was hydraulic oil all over my tail glass and I couldn't even see out. We were close enough to Switzerland to see the Alps. We saw two B-27s peel off and head for Switzerland.
The next day I read where they were interred for the duration. We couldn't have made it for we were losing altitude all the time. Erskin, Stepnich, and myself were taken to the hospital. They both just got scratches. They said the flak had gone through my shoulder. They dressed the injuries and we went to an R.A.F. base where we were for three days. My shoulder was getting awful sore and they were dressing it every day still believing the flak was out. Finally they came after us.
I went to the hospital five days later and they took out the flak. So here I am in the hospital still, but coming along okay. Darling, I am sure that I will finish and come home to you and our family. Our prayers were answered on this mission. Goodnight my darling.
March 15, 1944
T./Sgt. Ernest Arbon went down flying with Lt. Talbot. This makes two of our crew gone down. We are certain he is safe, for all ten parachutes were seen coming out of the plane. He is probably a prisoner of war or working his way back through France. I hope he wasn't captured and had that chance. They were hit by fighters and one engine was on fire when they bailed out. We all felt bad about it because Arbon was really close to us. Sleeping and eating with us every day. I know how you would feel, darling, if that happened to me and I know how it will hurt his wife. He may be better off than we for there are so many times when you go down that you don't have a chance.
March 22, 1944
Twelfth Mission - Basdorf (Berlin), Germany
Well, this was my first mission after getting hit nearly a month ago. This was a rough mission, but there were no enemy fighters. We were delayed in take-off this morning as something went wrong with one of the engines. But finally, we took off at 8:30. After forming, we went there by crossing the North Sea and to the north of Berlin and down to the target there. There was not very much flak until we hit Berlin, then I believe it was thick enough to get out and walk home.
Our trouble started at the target. We were carrying incendiary bombs and they wouldn't release. Finally, Ohlstein got those out in the front part of the bomb bay, but the back part still wouldn't release. Then we couldn't get the bomb bay doors closed. We came all the way from Berlin to England with the doors open with those incendiaries. Flak was bursting all about us and if there had been a hit in the bomb bay we would have blown up. So you see why we were so worried.
The formations were bad and ships were over us with their doors open. That's an awful feeling looking up at those bombs thinking they might let them go. We barely had enough gas to get back because of our bringing the bombs back. So you see, darling, there was plenty to worry about, even though the fighters didn't bother us. The flak really scared me today, I guess because of getting hit before. We had P-47, p-51, and P-38s for fighter escorts and they really looked nice.
This morning we got up at four o'clock and will again in the morning for we are up for another mission tomorrow. Our mission today was about an eight-hour trip, for it's at least 500 miles there and that much back. Well, I have seen the capital of Berlin. But I hope I don't get the pleasure again. But we know we will have to. Darling, our prayers were heard again today. Good night my darling. All my love. Leo.
March 23, 1944
13th Mission - Bromache, France airfield near Brunswick, Germany
If you will notice in my last night's letter to you, darling, I said something about getting up early. Well, this morning I got up at 2 a.m. My crew didn't go today. They got me up to fly with another crew. I flew with Lt. Yoder as nose gunner and bombardier. Darling, I hate to fly as bombardier for it's too hard to get out in case you have to in a hurry. We had briefing and took off at 6 a.m. carrying 500-pound fragmentation bombs.
This was not such a bad trip, although the flak was awfully bad. We picked up some hits in our plane over the target. There were very few fighters and they never bothered us. We landed here quite early, around 12:30. Our group never lost any planes today. From the paper we got today we really did a swell job on Berlin yesterday.
Darling, we are up again tomorrow to fly as a crew. Hope it is not a long one. Good night darling. All my love. Leo
March 24, 1944
14th Mission - St. Dizier, France (airfield in central France)
This morning they got us up in the middle of the night. Anyway, two o'clock in the morning so you see we never got much sleep. We took off at 6 a.m. carrying 500-pound fragmentation bombs. It was still dark when we took off. We took off in fog and flew a long while in it until we got up at 5,000 feet. There were no enemy fighters and the flak was not so bad although we did get some hits on our plane.
Just as we got to the target, around 10 o'clock, it was heavily cloud covered so we dropped down through it and bombed at 15,000 feet. We did a wonderful job, nothing left now. The only scare we had was another ship's bombs just missed us when they were dropped from a ship above us. I watched those bombs coming down wondering if they would hit or miss. Something like that worries a person. We had swell escorts of P-38s and P-47s. They were flying right by the side of us and came up every once in a while asking us if we were happy. We landed at 2:00. All my love. Leo
April 1, 1944
15th Mission - Ludwigshaven, Germany. We bombed Switzerland by mistake due to bad weather.
They got us up at two this morning and we knew we had a long day ahead of us. Briefing was at 3:30 and we took off at 6:00 carrying incendiary bombs. The weather was bad and we practically flew through fog all the way there and back. The navigator got lost and we couldn't bomb our target. We thought we were in Germany so we bombed a town we thought was German. We all felt pretty bad about it later as it was a Swiss town. Guess we did about the biggest blunder of the war for the Air Force. We have lots of interned American flyers there in Switzerland.
We had a strong head wind coming back. It seemed forever before we saw England again. The weather threw quite a scare into us and we were low on gasoline. We were on oxygen about six hours. I hate to think this mission has to be included in my tour. Wasn't bothered much with fighters, but the flak was bad. Love. Leo.
April 8, 1944
16th Mission - Brunswick, Germany
Darling, I don't think this mission could have been any worse and still have me back here to write about it.
We left this morning at 8 and got back at 4:30. The mission went along swell until we got near the target. There, our fighter escort was not so good. I would say at least 100 fighters hit at the 44th Group. We were leading the 8th Air Force. They all line up Foche-Wulfe 190s and Messerschmitt 109s and started at the nose. Our pilot used some good evasive action, which kept us from going down. There were 20 millimeters bursting everywhere. They cut down over my tail and practically wiped out six bombers behind us. One blew up directly behind us there and went down in spins and on fire. I don't think any men got out of there. The other two had engines hit and fell down a ways. We had been hit but not bad.
When the fighters hit the bombers behind us, I couldn't shoot them for fear of hitting them. I might have gotten a fighter after that, but we couldn't watch in one place long enough. After that one attack, our fighters came in and then it wasn't so bad. All of our guns were shooting and we shot a lot of ammunition. Then flak hit us and put No. 3 engine out. We managed to get home and made a good landing with no brakes as our hydraulic system was shot out. The wheels had to be cranked down. The crew chief said we stopped eight 20-millimeter shells. They will have to repair the hydraulic system, putting on a new left wing and four new motors. That was the first mission for that bomber.
Our group was hit pretty bad - we lost 11 bombers. The new crew here in our barracks was on their first mission and they went down. There was not a ship in the group that was not damaged. I hope I never see another day like this. Our prayers, darling, were answered making it possible for me to write so you can some day read all of this. All my love, dearest. Leo
April 11, 1944
17th Mission - Bernberg, Germany (near Brunswick)
They got us up this morning at 2:45 as briefing was at four o'clock. Our target was an airfield and we were carrying a bunch of fragmentation bombs. We took off at 6:30 and got back at around 2:15 p.m. The flak was pretty accurate at the Dutch Coast going in. It came close enough to hear it and that's too close. I saw today, just before the target, one of the most pitiful sights I have ever seen.
A plane off of our right wing caught fire in the bomb bay. The flames were going and burning clear back to the tail. One man jumped out with his chute burning. Another didn't even have a chute on. The plane soon exploded and some more bodies came out. One chute we saw that was open must have been the navigator jumping out of the nose. I knew all of those boys. They were in my barracks here at Arlebridge in England. This was their 25th mission and they were about done.
The target had quite a few planes on the ground. Just at bombs away, we were hit by Messerschmitt 109 fighters. Twenty millimeters were bursting everywhere. They happened to miss our ship this time. Redmond used good evasive action. Those fighters really start you to worrying. My last two missions we have been hard hit by fighters.
After seeing that plane burn and those boys on their 25th mission, a person just doesn't know what to think. Sometimes it seems impossible. Oh, darling, if only I can, there will be so much to be thankful for. Dear God, I do want to finish and go home to my wife and baby. Darling, our prayers have been heard in the past, if only they will be in the future. We did a good job on the target. All my love, dearest. Leo
April 18, 1944
18th Mission - Brandenburg, Germany
We didn't get up very early this morning and we thought it must be a short one. We were fooled when we went to briefing and found out our target was 20 miles northwest of Berlin. The bomb load was incendiaries.
We went way out over the North Sea and went down and came back the same way. Just before we got to the target, we passed through a bad fog. We nearly collided with another bomber. We thought the target would be covered over and would have to bomb the railroad center of Berlin. We bombed the target and did a swell job, fires were burning all over. There was some very close flak but not as bad as Berlin, as they have at least 500 guns. The fighters never bothered us today. We landed at 6:30 and were flying for over eight hours. This mission was not nearly as rough as we expected. We are up to fly tomorrow also. All my love, darling. Leo
April 19, 1944
19th Mission - Gutersloh, Germany (airfield)
They came and got us out of bed this morning at 2:30. We felt sure we would get hit by fighters because the target was in the Brunswick area noted for its fighters. Takeoff was at 7:45 a.m. The bomb load was 12 500-pound bombs. The flak was not bad and we never saw any fighters but our own. Our fighters were so thick the Germans probably never wanted to go up.
The bombing was not as good as yesterday, but we still did a pretty good job. After bombing, we went down and around the Rohr Valley and came back through France. This Rohr Valley we always avoid for the flak there is so thick it is just a black cloud. Coming out over the Coast of France, we passed right over Dunkirk. The Germans have it all flooded to try to stop the invasion when it comes off. We didn't lose many bombers today. All my love, darling. Leo
April 21, 1944
We are moving to the 67th Bomb Squadron here on the base. They are turning this squadron in a P.F.F. squadron. We dropped on these boys when we have to bomb through clouds.
April 22, 1944
20th Mission - Hamm Marshaling Yards, Railroad Center of Germany
We never took off until 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. The bomb loads were incendiaries and demolition bombs. We left the English Coast at 5:30 with the sun starting to set. It was very difficult to look into the sun searching for fighters.
When we entered Germany itself, flak began to come up. There was lots of it and it was accurate. Some planes went down due to flak and enemy fighters. We never dropped our bombs on the first run, as the target was all covered with smoke. The flak was worse on the second run, but this time we got our bombs away. We really did a good job. There was smoke everywhere. Some planes went down on the way back. As we left the enemy coast, it was pretty dark and about 9:30. They were shooting flak, tracers, and 20-millimeters up at us.
When we got to the base, the Germans were over here shooting at the planes coming in to land. I heard today they shot down ten bombers, some of them on their final approach to the field. We were the last to land as we never had any wing lights. We landed at 11:20 p.m. By the time we ate and went to the barracks it was one o'clock. They woke us up this morning at 3:30 for briefing. We had about an hour and a half sleep. Thank heavens it was scrubbed. I am writing this on Sunday afternoon as it was too late last night. The Germans come over about every clear night, just a few. They dropped bombs pretty close last Friday night and tried to strafe some of our planes.
Darling, I guess there are plenty of good reasons why I never got you written last night. Will write you enough after supper to make up for it. All my love, darling. Leo
April 24, 1944
I thought I would write a few things in here tonight that I had forgotten. On April 21, we had a pretty close call. As we were taking off for a mission, a fire started just beneath the flight deck. I don't know what caused us from blowing up for there was gasoline all over the floor. They got it put out okay. After climbing into the air we ran into fog and went through it from 2,000 feet to around 17,000 feet. The wings and tails iced over pretty bad. We were called back though after all.
There was a report back at the base here that Stepnich and crew had crashed and all of the crew was dead. This was supposed to have happened over at Arlebridge. Everyone couldn't believe it when they saw us. The time we crash-landed in Southern England a report here on the base said two men were killed and I had my arm shot off. This was on my Purple Heart mission. Three planes were lost though on April 21. They ran together in the fog. All my love, Leo.
April 26, 1944
21st Mission - Gutersloh, Germany
This morning they got us up at 1:15 so you see darling, we never got much sleep. In fact, I never even got to sleep. Briefing was at 3:30 and take-off was 5:45. We carried 12 500-g.p. We climbed through some clouds but not so very bad going across the Zyder Sea and through Holland we never even saw flak.
Over Germany, it was completely covered over with clouds. We never dropped our bombs over the target for that reason as we never had a pathfinder ship. There was some more flak coming back but it was not bad. We brought our bombs back and landed around 11 o'clock. We never saw any enemy fighters today. Wish they could all be like this mission. We are up again tomorrow. All my love. Leo
April 27, 1944
22nd Mission - Chalons, France (60 miles east of Paris)
We never went out this morning but they flew two missions so we flew this afternoon. This is the first day they have ever flown two in one day. We took off at 3:00 p.m. Our fighter escort was real good and there were no enemy fighters.
The flak really worried us for we had it constantly all the time. The pilot and copilot had a piece come right between them and they never got hit. We saw two B-17s blow up from being hit by flak and the same thing happened to a crew from this squadron. He had 25 missions in so that proves you are never safe. The reason we caught so much flak was because we came back over the Rohr Valley and they really throw it up.
We landed at 9:05 p.m. Hope we don't have to fly tomorrow. All my love, darling. Leo
ADDITIONAL MISSION INFORMATION IS CONTAINED IN THE DIARY BUT COULD NOT BE INCLUDED AT THIS TIME DUE TO CONSTRAINTS OF THE SOFTWARE PROGRAN. BALANCE OF THE DIARY IS CONTAINED IN A MICROSOFT WORD FILE AND WILL BE ADDED IN THE NEXT VERSION OF THE DATABASE.
After my 29th mission, I talked to Col. Hodges personally to see if I could get home soon after my 30th mission, as my wife was expecting our first child in a few days. He told me to be sure and go on my 30th mission the next day and talk to him after interrogation as this would take a special consideration by Gen. Doolittle who was over the 8th Air Force. So after interrogation (after my mission), I went over to talk to Col. Hodges again. He told me to go pack my bags for I was going home, which was unbelievable! I went to our hut and told my crew and started packing. They didn't believe me. It was not long before this news traveled all over the 44th Bomb Group. It sounded like every man in the squadron had a pregnant wife at home.
The next day General Johnson had to call a special session in his office to award me the Distinguished Flying Cross. We were to leave the next day, but fog set in so we couldn't. The third day we woke up to a bright, sunny day and I knew we were finally going. The following crewmembers went with me to London: Ivan Stepnich (pilot), Glen Redmond (copilot), George Henriet (navigator), Seymour Ohlstein (radio-operator) and Jack Erskine (engineer).
Just before we took off in our B-24 bomber, we went to the control tower where Col. Hodges and Col. Gibson were. I promised them that I would get in touch with their wives and let them know what missions they were on and other information that they wanted me to tell them.