I have written four volumes on my career in the US Army Air Force. The following stories and account of one combat mission with the 8th AF were taken from these volumes.|
ARRIVAL IN THE ETO MARCH, 1944
After having flown the South Atlantic route from the United States (ZO1), we landed March 7,1944 in Wales. Within 48 hours we were transferred to Qulanto in Northern Ireland, South of Belfast. This was a pre-combat orientation, theater indoctrination and combat assignment training base. Our stay was six weeks of duration before going on to England. All officers were warned to guard their .45 pistol with their lives or we would be court martialed if we let one of the IRA members steal it. I attended navigation class and was trained to use the Gee Box which was a short range Loran but very very accurate in locating ones position anywhere in the British Isles. This navigational aid used computations based on the time lag in signals received from two widely spaced transmitting stations to give an exact position. Later when I became a lead navigator and squadron navigator, our Plane "Lily Marlene" was especially equipped for my navigation with the Gee Box.
One day we were told we could expect an inspection by none other than General James Doolittle, himself. The same General who lead the famous B-25 raid over Tokyo in 1942. We were told to be at our training area and to act as if we did not expect an inspection. I was at my Gee Box training desk, about every 10 minutes and then 5 minutes, then 2 minutes and finally a minute, someone would stick his head in the door to announce where the General was and when to expect him. Of course, we all looked like hard working trainees when General Doolittle did arrive. He stepped in the door, our instructor bellowed out, "Attention". The General walked slowly around the room, asking a question or two concerning our training. Finally he reached my position, he stopped with his face not 12 inches from mine, looked me right in the eyes but never said a work. Need I say we got very little training in that day.
The base was on the south side of a large lake, Belfast was on the north side. The Irish people liked to sail on the lake. One of our boyish tricks was to fly our B-54 bomber low over the water and buzz the sail boats. We thought it was great sport to blow the boats over with our prop wash. I suspect the Irish boaters thought otherwise. Anyway they looked mad.
Most of the orientation lectures draw a blank in my memory, they were generally on what to expect when we joined our Combat Group or how to keep good relations with our English hosts. One lecture was on the evils of V.D. This was a Flight Surgeon giving the talk who said flat out, avoid all sex. He paused, then said, "Now after you've done it, here is how to use your profolactics".
The lecture that stands out was the one concerning the number of combat missions required to complete one's tour of combat duty. Some fool stood up and asked what were the odds. The lecturer responded thusly, "On an verage, mission after mission flying against the Nazi fortress of Europe, the 8th Air Force lost four out of every hundred planes, ie.4%. Of course some would be "milk runs" with no loss but others would be a disaster due to very aggressive enemy action". He reasoned, a crew that flies 25 missions has a 100% chance of being shot down on their last mission. A great quiet fell over the room. For many including myself, this was the first time it had dawned on us we were not playing for marbles. Someone could get hurt. Up to now, we were just big boys playing with expensive toys, not a care in the world nor a thought of danger. This was a sobering thought, how can anyone expect to survive such odds? Our speaker quickly added that in reality many would go on to complete their tour due to the laws of probability. I estimated later that one third would. Our crew kept a record of the 18 crews that trained together and came overseas together. Sure enough, six of us completed the tour which was raised to 30 missions by them.
We lived in Nissen huts which held about 16 officers each. The front door was inset so a bunk would just fit between the door inset and the rounded walls. I slept in one of these bunks. There was a pot belly stove in the center of the building. On our way over the South Atlantic, our bombadier, John Warga, bought a 5 gallon wooden barrel of whisky while we were in Fortalaga, Brazil. Warga and our belly gunner, C. J. Alexander ( who we all called Swoose after the popular song of the day "Alexander the Swoose") were the whiskey drinkers in our crew but even they could not drink the Brazilian rot gut as it was too strong. The only thing it was fit for was to start the coal fire in the stove, it must have been 500 proof as it was as effective as gasoline.
I went to bed early one evening as we had a navigational training flight out over the North Atlantic in the morning at day break. I needed rest as did Charles Peritti, our pilot, for the lond, difficult and dangerous flight. I had just gotten to sheep when bombardier Warga and some of his drinking buddies came into the hut after a night out on the town. Needless to say, they were loaded and noisy. Those of us trying to sleep asked them to leave so we could rest. Instead Warga broke out his keg of Brazilian whiskey and they all started drinking it. Before long, the lot of them had literally gone wild. I got out of bed and tried to reason with them. Getting back in bed I yelled at them to shut up and let us get some rest. This was a big mistake on my part as all reason had left them. One of the guys picked up the keg of whiskey and held it over my head. I pulled the covers over my face and he said if I opened my mouth once more he would pour the whiskey on me and set it afire. I believed him as the whole lot were crazy. Not another word did they hear from me, I was really scared.
Finally, Warga and his buddies left to go to the adjacent hut. They were making a terrible noise by this time. The men in the next hut were not as kind to this wild bunch as we had been. A fight broke out and Warga, who was as strong as an ox, picked upa steel cot and threw it the whole length of the Nissen hut. They forced every one out but Warga who kept pressing against the door as they pushed him out. Some how his head became wedged between the door and the frame with several men pushing against the door. One of the guys picked up a baseball bat and began to beat him senseless.
The MP's came and arrested the rowdy lot. Warga was unconscious so they took him to the hospital. We did fly the mission the next day. The date was April 6th in a B-214 H, but I had never been so tired. When we got back, we went to the hospital to visit Warga. He was a mess. We could not recognize him as his head was all bandaged and his face swollen and distorted out of shape, especially his eyes. He spent several days in the hospital and informed me he would be court-martialed. Everytime we visited him, I would ask if he wanted another drink of Brazilian whiskey. Just the mention of the stuff would make him shudder. Not only had he been hurt physically but he had gotten deathly ill from the consumption of that devilish brew.
Warga was never court-martialed. We received orders to proceed to England for combat duty. Since we were leaving soon, the base commander felt Warga had suffered enough for his indiscretion, all charges were dismissed. We took the keg of Brazilian whiskey to England with us and continued to use it to light fires. It sat on a shelf in full view of Warga but never again did he think of touching a drop. Needless to say, we never let him forget the event as long as the whiskey lasted.
While in Northern Ireland, the crew went to Belfast twice. We rode the train and also a double decker bus. On one trip I left my Kodak box camera on the bus seat when we got off. When I realized what I had done, I ran to the next stop and retrieved my camera. I was the only member of the crew with any way to record our experiences in photo form and I took many, many pictures later at our combat base that nothing else could have duplicated.
In Belfast, we had our first experience at a British dance hall. The floor was very large with several hundred couples dancing. Where as Americans dance in a small area of the floor, maybe getting around the whole floor once to a dance number, the British move fast, almost run, with the whole floor of couples moving like a wheel. They did not seem to like to talk much or carry on a conversation like American couples. However, they will all burst out in song if a catchy tune gets their attention. This was our first experience of a mixed group singing a song that to us seemed a little off color in mixed company. The title was "Roll Me Over in the Clover." It went thusly:
Now this is number one
and the fun has just begun
Roll me over, lay me down
and do it again
Roll me over, in the clover
Roll me over, lay me down
and do it again
The second verse started out, "Now this is number two, what ever shall I do" etc. Same with numbers three and four and five and infinitum with some of the verses being very risque.
INCIDENT BETWEEN MISSION NO. 1 AND NO.3 APRIL 23, 1944
There were four mess halls at Shipdham Air Base, home for the 44th Bomb Group. A combat officers and enlisted mens mess and non-combat officers and enlisted mens mess. No combat mission was flown on April 23rd as we had ground training exercises. That evening we went to supper, I along with other combat officers ate at our "Combat Officers Mess". We had not been back in the squadron area long before I began to fell faint. I was th first to become sick so I got a lot of attention. Medics were called in as I was violently ill. They rushed me to the base hospital and I was one of the first to be admitted. I can remember being placed on a hospital bed and at least three or four doctors and orderlies helping me. The special attention did not last long as the hospital quickly filled to overflow capacity. Dozens of flying officers began to arrive and soon ther was no place to put them except on the floor. They were all as sick as myself and complete bedlam and pandemonium broke loose. Needless to say, there was a "mess" everywhere. I did not know at the time we had contacted Ptomaine poisoning from a certain pie served for dessert.
A new patient was carried in and placed on the floor next to me. I looked and could not believe my eyes. The victim was none other than our Group Commander, Colonel John H. Gibson. I know it sounds strange to anyone who has not experienced it but in war time respect for rank and authority is absolute. I could not imagine the hospital staff placing Colonel Gibson on the floor while I, a junior officer, lay on a bed. I spoke up and requested they put him on the bed and let me go on the floor. Colonel Gibson would have no part of it, he said to me, "You were here first and you stay on the bed". Fortunately, I got well enough to vacate my bed as I was first in and first out. I got a case of the "GI's" two other times during the war and in each case, I was first to become sick and first to recover but neither of these illnesses was as severe as this ptomaine poisoning.
As a result of so many combat officers being stricken and the severity of the illness, the missions of the 24th and 25th were scrubbed. The group did fly to Germany on April 26th and I flew my second mission to Chalons-Sur-Marne on the afternoon of the 27th.
Forty years after this event, I was talking to General Gibson and his wife, Ruth. The occassion was the "44th Heritage Memorial Group Reunion" in May 1984 at Dayton, Ohio. I told the General and Mrs. Gibson my version ofthe event and when I came to the part where the then Colonel Gibson would not let me give him the bed she said, "It sounds just like John". I was also surprised to find out that General Gibson is only 12 years older than myself. I was 21 years old in April 1944 which means Colonel Gibson was only 33. All these years since the war I had imagined him to be much older because at the time in 1944, Colonel Gibson was in my minds eye like "The All Mighty".
MISSION NO.3 TO BERLIN - APRIL 29, 1944
Today was to be my third combat mission. It was Saturday, April 29, 1944. The first two were not too rough and we were a little too complacent. At this time, I was not a lead navigator,therefore, not privileged to advance reports as to what the days mission was to be for the 8th Air Force's heavy bombers.
After stumbling through the blackout to the breakfast that morning, the usual question was on everyone's lips, "Where are we going today"? Was it going to be a "milk run" over the coast of France or a deep penetration to the heart of Germany? As we filed into the large Nissen hut used for briefing, the men gathered together, as crews, sitting facing a stage with a huge map of western Europe above it. Suddenly the command, "Attention", was sounded. In unison, all snapped to their feet and in walked the Commanding Officer, Col. John H. Gibson, and his staff. The briefing officer stepped forward with a long pointer and the map curtains were quickly drawn open. At this movement, we all knew what our target was for the day, the ribbons pinned to the map led straight to the heart of Hitler's Germany, the "Big B" Berlin. The howl and commotion could have been heard a block away.
Finally, everyone settled down and the briefing officers proceeded to detail our objectives. The predicted weather, the expected fighter opposition and flak concentrations were outlined. The various pilots were assigned positions in each section of each squadron of the group. Some were to lead, others were to be wing men, some were assigned high and others low positions in the formation. And, of course, someone had to fly coffin corner, low left rear with the least protection from the guns of the fellow planes in the formation.
The pilots, bombardiers, navigator, flight engineers, radio men and gunners all went to their own briefing for further details and instructions pretaining to their specific duties. The pilot was in command of the ship but the success of every mission depended on close teamwork. No one man, crew, flight squadron, group or Division did it all. In toto, we were a powerful Air Force out to do battle with a determined enemy. Our objective was to do maximum damage to today's target. Theirs was to prevent us from reaching the target or to inflict such painful punishment that we would cease trying. The stage was set, the battle would soon begin. Hundreds of men would be either killed, wounded, or missing this day but nothing could stop the mission once it had been set in motion.
Briefing over, we gathered as crews to be taken by truck out to our planes. At this time, our crew flew whatever plane was assigned. (Later after we became a lead crew and I a lead navigator, we were assigned a special plane with special navigation equipment, 260 P "Lili Marlene") Now became an extremely tense period before each mission. We would busy ourselves preparing for flight, each man checking what pertained to him. At the same time, we kept an eye on the tower. The reason being that if the mission for the day was aborted, a certain colored flare would be sent aloft but if it were "Go", a differnt flare color was used, I think it was red but it may have been white as my memory fails me after 40 years. Today, the mission was go, the engines were started and we mounted the plane. The moment of truth was at hand, there was no option but to go and only God knew who would return.
On both take off and landing, I vacated my forward navigation compartment to stand behind the pilot. I would hold on to a steel protection plate at his back. This gave me an excellent view of take off and landing. If a crash situation were to develop, I was to sit on the floor with my back to the steel plate, my knees pulled up and my hands behind my head which I would brace also against the steel bulkhead. (Fortunately I only had need for this once when coming back from Berlin on my 21st mission, our hydraulic system to the nose wheel was shot out and we skidded nose first down the runway badly damaging the bomb sight and navigation compartment).
The 44th sent 21 planes up this day with no aborts. Now came one of the most frightening parts of every sortie. As I stood behind the pilot, Lt. Peritti, he would work our way down a long cue of bombers until it was our turn to take off. He would go through his check list and he and co-pilot Lt. Palmer would shove all four throttles full forward. Ever so slowly, we would accelerate but at the same time eating up runway. The plane would be loaded with 2700 gallons of hi-octane gasoline and 6 to 8000 pounds of high explosives and incendiaries. At lift off speed Peritti would pull back on the stick and we would be airborne but just barely. Still just off the ground and gaining altitude slowly, I could see the trees at the end of the runway getting closer and closer. At no time did I ever learn not to be apprehensive and actually frightened. Somehow we always made it by inches over the trees, I believe by defying all laws of physics and gravity.
Assembly was an exacting and demanding task both in piloting and navigation. First by two and threes and finally by squadrons, all the planes came together to form a group of approximately 21 to 36 planes. The lead navigators job was to have us over a designated spot at a specific zero time headed in the right direction. In this manner we formed squadrons into groups, groups into wings, wings into Air Divisions and Air Divisions into the Mighty Eighth Air Force. From beginning to end, we would extend over 100 miles in a straight line through the sky. With the contrails forming at the wing tip of hundreds of planes, the beauty of the sight would have to be seen to be comprehended.
It was 0730 hours and we were off to Berlin. According to "Stars and Stripes", our ETO Newspaper, this was the heaviest daylight assault in history on any one target. The Force was made up of 600 four motor bombers carrying almost l500 tons of explosives and incendaries. We were escorted by another 814 fighters, P-5l Mustangs, P-47 Thunderbolts and P-38 Lightnings. But the Germans were ready with some of the heaviest opposition encountered to date on daylight operations. One wing alone reported being attacked by at least 200 Nazi fighters. The Germans used ME 109's and FW 190's as their principle fighters, sometimes ME 210's.
The resisance met by the various elements of the massive bomber fleet varied widely. Fortunately the 44th Bomb Group was well known by the Luftwaffe pilots as being a seasoned combat outfit and best let alone as long as there were less experienced groups that would be an easier target. A number of German intercepters did test us however, approximately 30 on the way to Berlin and 40 to 50 on the way out. My most vivid memory of the war was burned on my mind when we were approximtely halfway to Berlin. I can still close my eyes and after forty years see it again and will until death takes the last light from my sight.
What I am about to record sounds so incredible that I blame no one who wishes to disbelieve. As God is my witness, I tell the truth. Over my ear phones came the voice of Paul Corlew, our engineer and top turret gunner, "Fighters high at One O'Clock". I looked out of my astro-dome and saw three German fighters circling. One could almost hear the lead Nazi pilot say, "Watch me boys, I'll show you how it is done". He peeled off into a wide arc so he was at an altitude headed straight for our formation. At this, I switched positions so I could look out of my right bubble window which afforded and excellent view forward, down and to the whole right of our line of flight. As the interceptor flew towards us, be began to slow roll. I became very fearful as I was looking down his two 20mm wing cannons and with each burst, I saw the orange-red flash of the guns. He appeared to be aimed directly at me and I could not help but wonder where the shells were going. I fully expected the next one to explode in my navigation compartment. I was extremently fearful and yet spellbound at the same time.
But what followed the next second or so really put fear into me. As the scoundrel slow rolled towards us, closing at rapid speed, I really became upset. It appeared to me that he was going to crash into our plane with a head on collision. I was petrified with fear. Then suddenly the pilot lifted his wings in a vertical position so he could slice between our right wing tip, he just missed it by inches.
An awesome sight caught my attention. At the base of the wing of the adjacent plane, right at the inboard motor and fuselage, a large ball of orange flame exploded before my eyes. The whole left wing peeled off and to me, it seemed like an eternity that the plane stood there as if it were flying. I knew it could have only been a few micro-seconds but the vision is burned in my memory like a still photograph. Then in a flash the plane flipped over on its back as the right wing was still flying. It wasa violent motion that skewered the whole axis of flight. At this point, I hesitate to record what I saw next as it is too bizzare to be believable. Try to accept my version as the truth. Believe what you will but I'll tell it exactly as I remember what I saw.
As the plane flipped, the force of the action catapulted the waist gunner on the right side out of the gun opening and towards our plane. The arc of his flight thru the air put him towards our right wing and he fell between where I was standing at my bubble window and our right inboard motor. He did have a parachute. He wore only a harness with two nipples. (I also had the same type chest pac parachute harness. My parachute was on the floor by my feet. We had been instructed that if for some reason you did not have time to snap the chest pac on the nipples of the harness, then just grab your chute, jump out with it in your hand and snap it on as you fall through the air).
Needless to say, this unfortunate waist gunner had no such opportunity to grab his parachute before he was thrown through the window. As he passed me, at most only a few feet away, he was kicking both feet and grabbing the air with his hands in desperation. Maybe he thought he could grasp our plane in some way to hold on. I watched him plummet towards the ground until my attention went to the wreck of the one winged B-24 Liberator falling through the sky. It was cart wheeling nose over tail over the one wing in a huge windmill spinning motion. All of the other nine men were trapped due to centrifugal force in the plane with no hope whatsoever I thought. Will Lundy reports the plane was A/C #42-29471X piloted by 2nd Lt. G. H. Sweigart and that three men did survive to become POW's. My eyes were glued to this action as I watched the wreck tumble end over end forat least 10,000 feet.
I had lost all track of time or anything else that was going on around me when I heard on my helmet earphones, "Second fighter coming in". I looked up and saw a second aircraft repeating what his leader had done.
At this point, my mind goes blank, I cannot remember anything about the second or third fighters as they attacked the formation. I suspect I was too absorbed in my own thoughts and fears.
At some point in time, I again came back to reality as I remember our approach to the City of Berlin. The flak was intense. The Nazi defenders had 520 anti-aircraft guns trained in a 20 mile arc on us. The sky was one huge black cloud of explording metal. The guns fired in batteries of four or so it seemed to me. When it was bursting at some altitude other than our own, we had little to fear but as soon as they zeroed in, trouble was at hand. I never did get over the fright of seeing a flak burst right in front of us, then a second a little closer and a third even closer yet. With each burst, the plane would almost instantly fly through the black cloud. One could easily sense the cordite smell. At this point, you knew the next burst would be directly behind the tail.
You note, I said "With Gods Help". This mission was the first time I can remember praying out loud for God to let me live through the battle. I asked him to let me survive the day. I promised I'd do anything he asked of me if only he would spare me. Here I am forty years later and I must admit I have a bit of a guilty conscience when I think back on my promises. Like all men, the flesh is weak when the danger is past. Yet, somehow, I feel I hve been a better person for having experienced these strong emotions.
Many planes went down, I can especially remember one of our planes sliding off to the side in a rather steep dive. I heard later it was because they had lost their oxygen supply and had flown low level back to base. We did survive the flak barrage somehow and headed back to England but our troubles were not over by a long shot. We turned into a 100 knot headwind. Our indicated air speed was about 165 mph. and at 25,000 feet and as cold as it was (60 degrees below zero our true air speed was over 200 mph. However with a headwind, our ground speed was something just over 100 mph. Talk about etrnity, this was it, we had 600 miles to go and it would take hours at the ground speed we were flying. Our fighter escort had turned back due to fuel consumption.
Many planes were damaged and just would have made it home under the best of conditions but with the delay caused by this strong head wind, somejust could notmake it. I don't know how many planes I saw go down that day on the way to target, over the city and on the way home! I know it was a great many. I saw some explode, others trailing smoke, others with wings on fire and many many parachutes open as the crews bailed out. But one sight stands out above all others on the wayhome. As we crossed the North Sea, I began to see planesditching in the water, it was like watching a motion picture. I was so detached from the action! Some of the planes would glide to the most gentle stop and the men would climb onto the wings but others would hit a swell in the water and seem to divenose first in a crumpled heap. It was obvious that almost no one could survive the shock. British PT boats were on hand to pick up survivors.
This was one of the worst days ever for the Eighth Air Force as we had lost 63 four engine bombers and 13 fighters on this mision to "Big B" as we often called Berlin. When we reached base and landed at 1730 hours (5:30 p.m.) I actually bent over and kissed the ground I was so pleased to be back. I had been in the air 8 hours and 15 minutes. This was my third mission, now I knew why we were told that if we flew 25 misions at an average of 4% loss per mission, that we had a 100% chance of being shot down. (They raised it to 30 missions before I completed my tour just to be sure none of us made it and then I volunteered for a 31st against all current wisdom to never volunteer for anything). I did survive the 31 missions and "GOD WAS WITH ME!
After my experience of seeing the man come out of the pane without a parachute, I had immediately reached down and snapped on my chest pac even though it was considerably in my way to work at my desk.
When I turned in my parachute after the mission I asked to be issued a back-pac chute. The orderly behind the desk asked what position I flew. When I responded that I was a navigator, he said that navigators wore chest pacs. I had news for him and I cannot remember what or how I said it, but he issued me a back-pac without an argument. Never again did I ever take off without my parachute on my back. I even would flip up the corners to be sure the nylon was in place as rumor had it that some men had bailed out only to find an army blanket stuffed in the nylon's place. The story had it that some guys found it would influence their girl friends if they gave them some nylon. I don't know how much truth was in the rumor but you can be sure I was not going to take the chance.
According to the "Mighty Eight War Diary" by Roger A Freeman, a day to day operational record of the 8th AF, 679 B-17's and B-24's were dispatched of which 618 were effective. We dropped 1498 tons of bombs. 63 bombers were MIA, three from the 44th Bomb Group, 2 interned, 432 damaged, 18 men were KIA, 38 WIA and 606 MIA. (of 814 fighters dispactched, 13 were MIA).
This amounts to over 10% of the bomber-fleet, and over 77% ofall the effective bombers lost or damaged on this onemission. I for one shall never forget that day and like every mission I ever had in combat, I flew it twice. Once in reality and again that night in my dreams. I relived in vivid detail every event and emotion that I had experienced. One of our enlisted men actually "bailed out" of his top bunk several times while dreaming.
ADDENDUM TO MISSION #3 TO BERLIN APRIL 29, 1954.
New information has come to light concerning this mission. Will Lundy (without whose support this book could never have been written) wrote in a letter to me dated 1/21/86, Quote "I spent a couple of evenings lately going back through your missions to see if I could "borrow" some of your observations and experiences when we lost other planes. With this casualty memorial that I am putting together I could use the words of observors tohelp put things into perspective along with the stories of the men who went down with their plane - but survived".
I was especially interested in your book about your mission when you saw the string of bombs exploding below one of our planes as well as the one where you saw the German e/a hit a plane next to your in your formation - 29 April 44. But when I went to my file for my casualty memorial and tried to identify which plane it was, I ran into considerable problems as none of the stories told to me jibbed with your view. No, I don't doubt for a minute that your story is true, but there is plenty of work to be done to identify that aircract, as it appears not to have been a 44th plane! But I cannot identify which B-24 it was, but it was not a 44BG plane. We lost two ships on the 29th - and crews, Glenn Sweigart and Keith Schuyler's - and Hruby ditched off the English coast. Sweigart ells me that his ship had an engine (#3) lose oil pressure, then the prop ran away. They lost altitude down to 9500 feet and were barely making it against the strong wind and skidding because of the windmilling prop. Later, they were jumped by fighters and eventually were shot down. So he couldn't have been in formation with you. I think that this ship is the one that you thought was rammed by that FW. The other plane lost was Keith Schuyler's. The navigator tells me that his ship was badly hit by flak and was unable to keep formation either. They were jumped by fighters and they dove for cover in clouds at about 5,000 feet. So this could not have been that plane either.
However, Keith Scuyler in his "Elusive Horizons" states, "A B-24 that had been lagging at seven o'clock drew in close at five o'clock just as a German (e/a) came through. The fighter smashed headon into the big one right at the nose turret (could have been the left wing?) and both planes explosed in a ball of flame. Then it was over, just like that. But back through the formations behind us the Germans barreled with reckless abandon. Airplanes were going down in every direction, the cripples staggering out of formation, clinging to life - then blowing up or fluttering down out of sight".
So possibly this plane that moved into the formation was not a 44 BG plane at all. In fact, it couldn't have been or we'd have lost three planes instead of two. I tried to buy one of Keith's books but he is all sold out" End of quote.
I replied in a letter dated 1/16/86. Quote: "Dear Will, thank you for your very informative letter of 1/21/86. No one can deny your first hand reports by Glenn Sweigart and Keith Schuyler as they were on board the only two planes of the 44th who were shot down over Germany. Roger A. Freeman's book "The mighty Eight War Diary" also states on page 232 that the 44th only lost two planes that day in addition to one ditched.
The first hand evidence you have of men who were aboard these two pllanes, gives me reason to believe that you were correct in saying the plane I saw go down was not a 44th. What I saw was exactly as I wrote in my diary of that day. It was only our 3rd mission and we were far back in the formation, where I do not know. It had never dawned on me to suspect that the plane was not part of our formation. It was not rammed by the by the German fighter as I saw the wing explode before or at the instant the fighter passed me. I looked the German pilot in the face as he just missed our wing tip. He did not touch the Liberator with his plane. The B-24 wing came off from an explosion in the wing tanks.
It's likely that Keith Schuyler and I saw the same thing but at different prospectives and he thought the fighter had hit the B-24. It appears to me that the plane I saw go down must have been the one he saw pull up at five o'clock. We were on the right side of the formation, I was so engrossed in watching the fighter come at us, I could have easily missed a B-24 pulling up next to us. I did not notice the plane at all until I jerked my head to watch the fighter go by, then I saw the wing explode. I was looking directly at it.
I know no will believe that a man flew through the air and just missed by bubble window but it is the truth. I saw it with my own eyes, I'll never forget.
Thank you for this new propective you have put on this episode of my life." End of Quote.
I'm sure more information will come to light as others read this. I will pass it along as it does.
I flew 31 missions from April to October 1944. Volume two of my four books describe in great detail my experiences while in combat.
JOHN W. McCLANE, Jr.
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
January 20, 1988
Dear Will and Irene:
What can I say. Your new book 44th BG Roll of Honor is without an equal. I can't imagine anyone who ever served in the 44th not wanting a copy.
Your account on pages 336 and 337 of the crash of Lili Marlene made me ashamed for what I wrote in my account - "31 missions for a navigator's viewpoint." I bemoaned the loss of this great aircraft because I and the rest of the Peretti Crew had such attachment for it, but I did not give credit to the ten brave men who died. But for the grace of God, it could have been the Peretti Crew.
I wish I had known when we went to the American Cemetery at Cambridge in 1985 that these four men, no five men, were buried there. I would've paid my respects. Thank you for making me feel more humble and more thankful to God that he did not ask the ultimate sacrifice like the hundreds of heroes that you and Irene paid honor to.
God Bless you both,
P.S. Your tape of Ground Support and Administrative Form is in the post. Be on the lookout for it, but do not try to pay me. I owe you much more.
P.S.S. As editor of the 44th logbook, I salute you. It is wonderfully done. Thank you for the kind words about my videotapes. We did get one over on David, didn't we? No one could get the Krueger tape from me.
JOHN W. McCLANE, JR.
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
120 N. Wolfe St.
Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034
22 August 1984
I received your letters of 6 June 1984 and 13 June 1984. Please accept my apology for being so tardy to reply. I have moved my residence twice and still in a state of confusion. I can never tell you how much I appreciate what you did for me in sending a copy of my plane in flight. I will treasure it forever. I'm tempted to return the $1.00 you included, but I'm afraid it would insult you. I would have given many more to have this wonderful photo.
I ordered some snap shots from Mason W. Johnson, Jr., of Va. Beach, VA, one of which shows the "Lilli Marlene" (P-260) and the "Lemon Drop" (N-699) together. I flew most of my combat missions in the Lilli Marlene and spent many hours in the "Lemon Drop" as navigator assembling the formations. As a matter of fact, I had a terrible fright in the "Lemon Drop" one day. I went up with a "hot shot" pilot and when the assembly was over, he asked me which way to the field. I told him it was right below us. The nut pulled the plane over in a very steep dive. We were almost spiraling down. The air speed indicator red lined and the metal plates where the bomb sight should be were buckling. I screamed for him to level out and somehow he did. Needless to say, I was so mad I called him some names I will not print. I told operations later that I would never fly with this pilot again and I guess they believed me or they never asked it again.
The worse we were shot up in the "Lilli Marlene" that I can recall was 25 July 1944 at St. Lo. We were the lead plane and caught flak so bad we had hundreds and hundreds of holes in us when we landed. Major Johnson wrote of the back of his picture that the plane crashed killing Lt. Bledsoe and his entire crew. You put the date of 28 December 1944. I flew my last mission in October 1944.
Maybe I'll make Palm Springs as I have to go to California to see a very sick brother, but I don't think so. Thanks for the information on 2nd Air Division.
I'm pleased and disappointed with my videotape. I reviewed it again a few nights ago. I got some wonderful shots at the motel and dedication of the Air Museum. My copy of the documentary on the 44th was not too bad, but the sound has to be turned up full volume as I had no way to get a good pick up. However, I can see the whole production and follow it well. Eleanor Reardon sent me a VHS tape to get a copy. I do all my work in Beta but I can borrow a VHS machine and will do so now that I'm settling down.
Thank you again. I shall never forget you.
10 January 1986
I'm so poor about writing letters that I stay embarrassed in the long delays to get around to it. The slide you sent is very, very good. You are right. I didn't get many of us together. Thank you so much. Enclosed are a few snaps I took of you all. I included the "Ghost" pictures as I thought you might enjoy it.
We really did enjoy our trip to Europe and especially the reunion at Shipdham. I got some really nice shots of the old field. Where we parked the bus in front of the tower is the spot that we pulled our plane up to after the 25 July mission to St. Lo and the spot I got the scare of my life when Col. Gibson demanded that we follow him as told in my book I gave you.
I'm sorry the book had so many typos and misspellings. I found 129 and if you wish, I'll send you one corrected for all the errors. The stories will not change, however. I still say I did not exaggerate nor tell any un-truth at any time. Thank you for believing my story of taking over the lead from the 67th Squadron on that same St. Lo mission.
After we left the reunion, Doris and I had seven more days in London, Bath and Stafford-on-Avon. We saw two play on the London stage.
6 March 1987
How can I ever thank you for all you have done to help me get my stories straight. Your records are so complete and my memory (and even access to information at the time) is so different.
I had no idea what plane or what pilot I flew with on that 1st D-Day mission. I will write Ted Weaver in Salt Lake City and send a copy of my story of that morning. He will remember if he was the pilot of the plane as the British Bomber gave us a fright.
Also, got a letter from Ms. Jackie Stuart, Norwich, England, copy enclosed. I'm not sure how much I can help her out but I'll send copies of the stories I think she wants, or maybe the whole book.
Give my love to Irene.
18 November 1987
Under separate cover, I'm sending copies of Bob Krueger's movies and the 1984 Dayton, Ohio reunion which includes the David Klaus' The History of the Fighting 44th's. Remember you are getting a third-hand copy as I videotaped it off the screen, made my master copy in Beta and made a copy for you in VHS. Still, I believe you all will enjoy it plus the shots of the people at the reunion.
Also, enclosed will be the photos of my crew and "Lili Marlene." Please look at the back of the pictures for information.
The information on "Touch of Venus" is also enclosed. We flew this plane from Mitchell Field, NY to England, but it was taken away when we arrived so we could get more training in North Ireland. This plane never served the 44th BG. I don't believe.
As ever yours,
P.S. I called Bob Krueger. He was pleased for me to make this copy for you.