My experiences in World War II|
Robert E. McGee
Aerial Gunnery School
In the United States
I took Aerial Gunnery at the Harlingen Army Air Force Base located at Harlingen, Texas. I was a private and I noticed that flying officers were also taking the Gunnery School but not in the same groups. Whether the officers of our crew attended this school is not known by me.
When I started through the school I was amazed at the variety of ranges we used. I can't recall the exact order they were in but I will try and put them in a logical one.
The base had three sections. The main base at which no combat guns were fired the range located several miles away and the flying range out over the Laguna Madre in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Main Base
One of the first indoor ranges we used was a BB machine gun, mounted on a post and we fired at paper silhouettes of planes traveling up and down to show us how the bullets would have to be fired ahead of the plane to hit. This was followed by a turret-mounted BB gun so we could learn the controls, which moved the turret and aimed the machine gun.
We often were scheduled for skeet and trap ranges using a 12-gauge shotgun. We had an instructor that could break over 20 out of 25 birds shooting from the hip. All the shotguns were semi-auto.
One of the most surprising indoor ranges was the Waller Trainer. It had turrets for four gunners and didn't fire anything that could be seen. You sighted incoming enemy fighters on a curved screen that used several projectors for a realistic effect. The sound track made a noise like a machine gun and the machinery would calculate your hits. There were four of these air-conditioned buildings each having two trainers. I heard that each building cost $250,000, for a total of one million dollars. That was a lot of bucks in W.W.II.
We had classes on aircraft identification also, learning how the .50 cal. machine gun operated and how to arrange the gun to permit the belt of bullets to feed in from the opposite side. In a turret one gun had a right hand feed and the other a left feed. You can see the need to have one type of gun that could have the feed reversed. The waist guns one on each side of the plane were hand held.
We had to be able to take the gun all apart, reverse the feed, and reassemble it while blindfolded. We had 1/2 hour to do it but most of us were done in 15 minutes.
We were given the "64" Medical Examination. I don't know if it was named after 64 questions or what. I had several of those "64s" before this base. I was amused when asked about the childhood diseases. The man wrote "normal childhood diseases." Then he asked if I had asthma arthritis, broken any bones and a lot of things to which I replied "N." He then wrote "Denies all medical history." We also got the usual "shots."
We had several classes in the high altitude pressure chamber, which was a long cylindrical, tank about 7 feet in diameter with seats along the sides. At one end was a small chamber with a Couple seats and a door at each end. This had a separate set of valves so a few men could return to ground level air pressure. Some men had tooth fillings, which had air pockets, and the lighter air pressure made the tooth ache. They got the privilege of a trip to the dentist. The chamber also had a door at the opposite end for safety reasons. Two instructors were with us so that one could take men down in the small chamber if necessary. The air was pumped out with big vacuum pumps to equal the pressure at about 30,000 feet. The instructor had one man remove his oxygen mask to show us the effects of the lack of oxygen till he started to get dizzy. About that time a Texas cockroach went running down the aisle apparently not affected by the light atmosphere.
The Firing Range
We first fired .30 cal. machine guns mounted on a post, then .50 cal. ones. After we got used to those, we had .50 cal. machine guns turret mounted, and fired at a 6x6 foot target held up by two 4x4" posts which were mounted on a jeep. The jeep was 1/4 mile away and run on an oval track protected by an earthen embankment. When they wanted to stop the jeep, a lever was moved and the jeep stopped on the next round. The target was removed, the new one installed and the jeep was pushed to get it going as it always operated in high gear. This range taught you to lead the target and once in a while a gunner would cut off a wooden post. Each turret fired bullets dipped in different colored dye. When the target was returned, five men with black circular marking daubers would count the hits.
In combat each of us would be issued a colt .45 cal. semi-automatic pistol so we were taught how to take care of it. We also fired it for score and I made sharpshooter. At the pistol range, the instructor said not to sell the gun short as it could fire a long ways and pointed out a 4x4 foot hole in the cliff about 300 feet away. He just missed it by a few feet. Although the guns were referred to as colts, there were several companies manufacturing them under their own names.
One of the ranges I enjoyed most was the turret-shotgun range. There were five turrets in a row, each had a semi-auto 12 gauge so the action would remain open when empty. A man sitting behind the turret would load one shell at a time for the gunner. 150 feet away was a 100-foot tower that had a manually operated skeet trap. Three Men manned the tower. One would open the boxes of clay pigeons and remove the bundles, the second man would open the bundles and pile the pigeons where the third man, operating the trap, would load, one at a time, onto it. The instructor safely behind the row of turrets, would call out the number of the turret to shoot at the next pigeon. The gunner would aim and fire and it was surprising how many hits you could get after you got used to it. Later I took my turn at the skeet trap and my job was to cock the trap, load on a pigeon, pull the trigger and the pigeon would sail forth to the firing line. When the pigeon was placed in position on the trap I noticed there was a shiny spot about in above the pigeon.
Experimenting, I found that the pigeon would go to the left when placed at the top of the shiny spot and to the right when at the bottom. In the middle it went to the middle of the row of turrets. I also noticed the wind was such that the pigeon would go behind the line if the gunner missed it. As I mentioned the instructor was there. If the gunner missed, I could make the instructor dodge the Pigeon. He would then walk to the other end of the row and I would wait a few minutes before putting the pigeons near him again. After three or four boxes were used up, the spring of the trap broke, so I opened the side door of the trap house and waved the white flag. The Instructor wasn't in too good a mood for some reason. He asked what was the matter. I told him, and we went back to the line. He told us that every time the gunner missed, he had to duck and if he thought we could aim the trap, we would get a Court-Marshall. I said, "How can you aim a machine that's bolted down?" He said he didn't know but he had to do a lot of dodging. I did have a problem keeping a straight face.
Another range had an oval shaped road. A pickup truck was equipped with a handrail. Three gunners with an instructor would ride around the road, which was about 1/2 mile around. Each gunner had a 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun. When the truck got to a certain place, a skeet house would send out a clay pigeon. I don't remember how many skeet houses were around the track or how many trucks were involved but we enjoyed the shooting. I took a turn in one of the houses and found out there was a sight that when the truck got in the sight, you released the trap. This range taught you about shooting from a moving vehicle at a moving object.
The Flying Range
I fired a .30 cal. machine gun from the rear seat of an AT-6 training plane out over the Laguna Madre. Targets were anchored in the water and the pilot would occasionally point out a small fishing boat that I was not to shoot at, as it was not supposed to be there. Since that was a restricted area, the fishing was better due to fewer fishermen. On one of the flights, the machine gun would only shoot one round at a time. The pilot was mad at me, thinking I was doing it on purpose. He chewed me out over the intercom and we went back to the main base landing field. He said that if there wasn't anything wrong with the gun, I would be in hot water. I never heard anything more about it. I guess he didn't know that I liked to shoot guns.
I heard the story of some officers that when they were learning to disassemble the. 50 cal. machine gun, discovered one on the floor under the 8' x 8' table and decided to "borrow" it. Each time they were in that room they removed more of it. One rainy day they took the two biggest pieces out under their raincoats. They assembled it in their room in the upstairs of their barracks with the nose showing out the window, and made no attempt to hide it. The base was worried about it and after it was there about a week, finally found it. I guess they got a lecture about it and the base learned about the lack of security. Officers didn't have the room inspections that the enlisted men had.
When I graduated I was promoted to private first class. I was supposed to get a furlough then but didn't.
We went by train to Lincoln, Nebraska, which was a staging area for air crews. After a week there we were en route to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to a B-24 Liberator Bomber Crew Training Base. I don't know how many crews were on board. The officers were in one end of the train and the enlisted men in the other. The pilot had a list and started through the cars looking for his crew. I met the rest of the crew on the train.
Crew Training in the United States Prior to Leaving for Combat
The crew consisted of: 2nd Lt. Julian H. Dayball, pilot; Flight Officer Robert L. Phillips, co-pilot: 2nd Lt. Richard H. Davis, Navigator; 2nd Lt. Calvin Reinecki, bombardier; Cpl. Ivan W. Fink, Engineer; Cpl. Edward P. Sicard, radio operator: Cpl. Malcom R. Smith, armorer; Pfc. John J. Shea, tail turret: Pfc. Wilbert L. Couvillion, waist gunner; and me, Pfc. Robert E. Mcgee, waist gunner.
We went to Peterson Army Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado, which was a B-24 liberator four-engine bomber school.
The base was located in the valley near Pikes Peak. The weather man had a rough time predicting the weather, which would come down a valley, and hit Pikes Peak. If it went one way, it was over the Base. He didn't really know till the peak was reached what weather we would have. When there was a group of B-245 trying to head back to base with the tops of the mountains in clouds, there was a Problem. B-24s won't turn on a dime.
Some of our training was night bombing. We would have a mission and in place of bombs, we would have a camera mounted so that it would photograph the lights of a city or an intersection when the "bombs" were dropped. From the position of the lights, they could figure out the accuracy.
We had a strafing run and the machine guns were used to fire at ground targets. We had a special pilot who showed us where to fly. Before we took off, a little dog acted like he wanted to go along. The bombardier put him in back with us waist gunners and he was okay till we started the guns going. Then he wanted out. We grabbed him as he was squeezing out the gap between the tail turret and the plane. We took him up front to the bombardier-navigator's compartment and he looked out the long, sloping window for the rest of the trip. The nose turret was above the bombardier-navigator's compartment. When we landed. The dog ran off, having decided that flying was not for him.
When we had a day off, we usually went to Colorado Springs or Manitou Springs. We were there in June and the road up Pikes Peak wasn't cleared yet so we didn't get to see the view off it.
As an enlisted man, it was advisable to get off the base when you weren't on duty. If you didn't you were subject to "volunteering if some extra help was needed to work on something that had nothing to do with air crew training.
Bill Couvillion and I went together, usually to Manitou springs. We stayed at the Cliff House, which was a big hotel at the base of a cliff. The hotel had tours of the area available and we visited the garden of the gods, balanced rock, cave of the winds and other places. As gas rationing was on, the hotel had several horse drawn carriages, which would hold about 7 passengers. We stopped quite often to look at the view. The hotel was glad for the air crews and
soldiers since gas rationing cut down on tourists.
The enlisted men lived in a separate area from the officers. Since the crews flew at different times of day, the mess halls were open 24 hours a day. The one we used was a small one and I was surprised to see the lieutenant in charge, with his sleeves rolled up, washing dishes when they were very busy.
One noon I was coming back from the mess hall and met the rest of the gunners. They asked what there was to eat and I said mutton. "Was it any good?" I replied that it tasted like sheepskin. Malcom Smith said, "Everyone knows mutton comes from goats." We called him "mutton head" for awhile.
The B-24 school was moved to Mountain Home Army Force Base about 40 miles south of Boise, Idaho. The base was built for B-295 and had two 10,000 foot runways with an 8,700 foot diagonal runway. The hard shoulders were 250 feet wide. There wasn't a problem with mountains being close to the base.
Before we left Peterson Field with all our belongings, we were standing around the plane and I noticed a bald spot on the right tire. I told the pilot that it would blow, but he didn't think so. Sure enough, it blew on landing and we ended up on the edge of the hard shoulder of the runway. We stood around waiting for a truck to take us to the orderly room and soon a truck arrived. No, not for us, it was the base engineer looking to see if we damaged his runway. It had the name of Mountain Home but it was out in the middle of a desert. It had sagebrush and little dust devils blowing around. The dust devils were about 20 feet high and maybe four feet at the top but coming to a point at the bottom. You could easily side step them.
We took several long runs to get used to hours of flying. One of the crews liked to sleep and on one of the trips, everyone was asleep. The engineer woke up and as no one answered on the intercom, he went forward and found that he was the only one awake. The pilot was asleep in the back of the plane and the co-pilot was asleep in his seat with the plane running on auto-pilot. When we had a day off, we usually went to Boise. Bill Couvillion's two sisters entertained us with a feast at one of the hotels. Ivan Fink thought Bill's younger sister was very nice.
I heard the story of a crew that was training in Florida and was flying over the Gulf of Mexico. Something went wrong with the plane and the pilot decided they should bail out. A ship was nearby and picked them up. The plane was on autopilot. Later they had a hard time explaining to a board of inquiry how the plane flew 1,000 miles by itself and crashed in the mountains of Mexico.
We finished our crew training at Mountain Home and went to Topeka Army Air Force Base, Topeka, Kansas, by train.
Combat in the European Theater of Operations
We had picked up a new B-24 at Topeka Army Air Force Base to deliver in England. Some of the crews thought the plane was for their use and named and had pictures painted on it. We thought otherwise and we were right. We never saw the plane again. One plane had a $150.00 paint job on the front of it.
We left the states July 28th, 1944 from Manchester, NH, after staying over night, then over night at Labrador, Greenland, and Iceland and left the plane at Shannon Airport, Ireland. When we were flying across the Atlantic, we had four big hampers in the bomb bay and three were loaded with "K" ration boxes. One had heavy rubberized engine covers in it in case we had to stay awhile at one of the stops. We were flying about 6,000 feet as there wasn't oxygen on board. There wasn't much to do and most of us slept. I hunted around for a comfortable place and it seems that they were taken. I finally decided that the hamper with the engine covers looked good. I burrowed down in them and soon was fast asleep. Sometime later I was awakened by Ivan Fink and he said, "So that's where you are, we searched the plane and couldn't find you." The crew thought I had jumped out!'.
We were assigned to the 8th Air Force, 44th Heavy Bombardment Group, 68th Squadron, on August 20th, after a refresher course in North Ireland. We were at the Shipdham Airfield Station #115. The B-24 squadrons at this airbase were the 66th, 67th, 68th, and the 506th. Many of the buildings and barracks were Quonset huts.
Shipdham was a small village about 3 miles west of the airbase and East Dereham, about 5 miles north of the base. Norwich was about 16 miles east of the base and about 95 miles northeast of London.
The ball turret had been removed from the B-24s, due to its weight and the fact that it didn't get much action. As we had a 10-man crew, with a 9-man liberator, a gunner missed each mission. The armorer would have been the ball turret gunner so he flew every mission when we carried bombs. For some reason, no one wanted his job of pulling the cotter pin on each bomb to arm the bombs in flight. The cotter pin permitted a tiny propeller to spin and when it went 120 revolutions, the bomb was armed.
The first mission our crew went on was to Karlsruhe, Germany, Sept. 5th, in B-24 #H-101 "Corky." We had 12-500# bombs. We went in over France, looped up to the city, which had a RR yard and a woods beside the yards. I understand that we blew up the woods, probably due to a little wind. We usually flew at about 25,000 feet. Someone remarked later that the woods may have been full of supplies. I had made the mistake of having some grapefruit juice (nickname "battery acid") at breakfast and after up-chucking it, I was ok and never before or since was I airsick.
Sept. 12th, Lehrte, Germany, rail junction, (briefed for Misburg), A/C #Z-001 "T.S. Tessie."
Sept. 18th, Best, Holland, low-level supply flight A/C #A-725, the mission was to drop supplies to the air-born invasion. C-475 were ahead of us with paratroops and gliders. The cover where the ball turret had been, was removed and supplies with static line parachutes were stacked around the opening. We had a jumpmaster on board who was to put out the supplies.
The bomb racks had supplies instead of bombs. I was operating a hand held Fairchild camera taking pictures through the floor opening of whatever I could see of military interest and windmills when we heard a ripping sound. The place where I usually stood at the waist window got some holes from a German soldier who didn't like us. The camera saved my life. Our #2 engine was feathered as an oil line was shot off. The drift meter mirror was missing. We were flying probably 500 feet or less so the parachutes wouldn't drift too much.
Going back over the North Sea, we saw a B-24 (probably from the 93rd Bomb Group) in the water, some of the crew stepping out on rubber rafts, a plane circling, and a rescue boat arriving. I could have had a picture but was told that if anything happened to the camera I would pay for it. It was back in its case as soon as we left the continent.
Sept. 26Th, Hamm, Germany, RR marshalling yards, A/C #X-711.
Sept. 28th, Kassel, Germany, Kassel tank factory (secondary Target), A/C #B-618 "Chief Wapello." Bombed on PFF.* It was a 30 aircraft mission. The plane had gotten a lot of anti-aircraft flak and they headed for the Antwerp, Belgium airport. The pilot, Lt. Dayball, said that anyone could bail out if they wanted to as he didn't know if the landing would be a good one. One engine was out and two were losing oil. I know Bill Couvillion was one who bailed out and I Think John Shea was the other. Bill told me he landed in a tree and when he started down, a man was there talking in French. Bill was From Louisiana and could also speak French. Bill met John at a Crossroad. The plane landed ok. Lt. Dayball was a good pilot. Bill said the stores had many flavors of ice cream and there were lots of expensive cameras for sale. They left the plane there and came back to our base by ATC (Air Transport Command).
On one mission we saw a lot of AA flak smoke ahead and thought we would be hit. We weren't and later we found out we were in a 1,000 plane mission with about 72 miles of bombers ahead of us. I guess the AA guns ran out of shells.
Oct. 2nd, Hamm, Germany, RR marshalling yards again, A/C #R-582.
Oct. 12th, two targets, achmer and Osnabruck, formation split, A/C # H-101 "Corky."
When we were not scheduled for a mission and didn't have any other duties, we could go off base. At 5 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. each squadron of each group would send a truck to Norwich for the evening. At 11 p.m. and at midnight each group's trucks would return. If you wanted, you could go in at 5 p.m. and return at midnight. The trucks were parked in rows for each group and each truck had the group and squadron number on the bumpers. The roads back to the group had many jogs and if the lead truck missed one, the trucks would end up in a farmer's yard. You can imagine the confusion of maybe nine trucks turning around, racing their engines, causing backfires (on purpose), and trying to get going again. The poor farmer was wondering if an invasion was coming off. I would try to get a seat at the outer end of the truck so as to grab a gunner if he had to lean over the tailgate to lose his milds and bitters. We didn't want him to fall in front of the following truck.
Bill Couvillion and I would take rides around Norwich in a horse drawn four-passenger carriage, and go to the cinema. There was a movie and usually a vaudeville act. One time when we were leaving the cinema, like many of the other people who were walking out in the narrow street. we heard the clomp, clomp of horses, saw two dim lights and got off the street. No, it wasn't a carriage, but two GIs stomping their feet and each with a dim flashlight.
Bill and I practiced the English accent and the way we found out it was good happened one night when we were going back to the truck parking area. A British man and woman member of the armed forces about 30 feet ahead of us were talking. We were using the accent and we noticed they were suddenly quiet. When we got to one of the dim streetlights, she turned around and in a very angry voice said, "I thought they were British."
Norwich had many concession wagons in the public square, which sold all kinds of things including fish and chips, chips being what we call French fries. Near the Norwich cathedral was a recreational building which had a snack bar, tables, games and other things to wile away the time. There was a castle, which had a museum in the center of the city, but we never seemed to have time to go through it. Restaurants were open to us but usually we didn't use them. Bakeries had many things but without sugar due to rationing.
At our base the officers had the Officer's Club, and we enlisted Men had a recreational building called, the Aero Club. It had magazines, tables where you could write letters, Ping-Pong tables, a wireless with a gramophone (radio and phonograph), a large circular table which served as a game table and for poker. On payday it had a very large poker game going. The pot would be about 18" in diameter and maybe 4' high, mostly with one pound notes (about $5.00 a pound). One time I saw one of the British workers walk passed and I thought he would pass out, seeing what would be several years wages for him.
Our mess hall sometimes had oranges and we would take one to eat at our barracks. If we didn't eat it, we would take it to Norwich and when we saw a woman with a baby in a pram (baby buggy), we would put the orange in the pram. She would thank us and later we found that oranges were so scarce they were packed with cotton in wooden crates and sold for about 65 cents!!
The British soldiers didn't pal around with us as we would want to treat them and they were so poorly paid. They couldn't return the treat and they would feel bad about it, not that we would want them to. Many of them were only paid a shilling (25 cents) a day. We found out that our sergeants, overseas and on flying status, got as much ($140.00 a month) as a colonel in their ground forces.
One afternoon. Bill and I were down at the gate with some other gunners looking for a ride to Norwich. An empty flat bed bomb truck came along and the driver said he could take us to Wymondham (about 5 Miles from Norwich). A gunner, sitting with the driver asked how much to take us to Norwich. The driver would take us to a bus stop on the edge of Norwich for a shilling. When we got there, the driver got down to collect what he thought would be a handful of pennies to total a shilling. To his happy surprise each of us gave him a shilling which would probably be 12 days wages.
The gunners who had bicycles, would go to Shipdham or to East Dereham to the pub for the evening. When they weren't to fly the next day, they would refer to the trip as a "mission." Bill and I didn't drink and neither of us owned a bike so we didn't go.
Sometimes we were scheduled to help out at the parachute building where the flying gear was kept. The building was kept warm due to the damp climate of England. When we were going back to the barracks, we would see the planes shooting off flares. So others could get in the proper formation.
Oct. 15th, Cologne, Germany, the crew was set up as a spare, but we flew it. A/C #P-260, "Lili Marlene."
Oct. 17th. Leverkusen, Germany, as primary, but had to be changed to Nord R.R. Marshalling yards at cologne. A/C #T-805 "Gypsy Queen."
The Last Mission
On the 10th (last) mission of our crew, Oct. 18th, the 44th Bomb Group sent 31 aircraft to attack the chemical works at Leverkusen, Germany. The bombardier, Lt. Reinecki, was learning navigation so he didn't go and it wasn't my turn to go. The crew was flying #K-381 (#42-50381 K). A toggler, S/Sgt. Arthur A. Steinke, who was not a member of our crew, manned the nose turret, which had switches to open the bomb bay doors and to drop the bombs. The method of dropping the bombs, either salvo (all at once) or in train (one after the other), had already been selected prior to the mission. That mission would have given S/Sgt. Steinke the required number of missions to complete his tour and return to the USA. He was a member of Lt. Rickett's Crew, the rest of whom had already completed their tour. Also on Board was radar observer S/Sgt. Conrad P. Bentley Jr.
Three aircraft did not return, due primarily to the severe weather conditions that existed over the continent. Squadrons incurring losses were the 67th and 68th. Bombing was accomplished by G-H* equipment: results unobserved due to clouds.
It was a fouled up mission right from the start. The group lead for that day was Lt. Parks, and they failed to get off the ground, so the second element, with Lt. Michael Bakalo, in aircraft #41-28944 D "Flying Ginny," from the 67th Squadron, had to take over the group lead. Apparently the whole second unit took over the lead and not just the plane itself moving forward. Lt. Dayball's crew, from the 68th, was to fly in the second element of this second section, off to the far left.
When the formation got into the high clouds coming back from the bombing they hit very bad turbulence, causing Lt. Bakalo to lose control, turn upside down - there was already a fire in the bomb bay (see statement by S/Sgt. George J. Encimer). He must have veered off to the left, as he collided with Lt. Dayball's plane. The planes hit the ground and all watches stopped at 1307 hours. The two waist Gunners had bailed out and were the only survivors. They were S/Sgt. George J. Encimer, right waist gunner and S/Sgt. Cecil L. Scott, left Waist gunner. With Lt. Bakalo was Lt. Col. John I. Trumbull, the group operations officer, who was air commander on the mission (command pilot).
The flight surgeon's report stated that the aircraft piloted by Lts. Bakalo and Dayball, collided in mid-air during an electrical storm over Belgium. Both aircraft crashed, with one exploding; all crewmembers were killed except Lt. Bakalo's two waist gunners, who bailed out safely before the collision. Twelve bodies were found in the two liberators. It should be noted that Col. Turnbull was not killed immediately, but died two days later. The dead were temporarily buried at the U.S. Army Cemetery, Flanders Field, Waregum, Belgium. Some were later moved to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Mo. Lt. Dayball was from High Hill, Mo., about 60 miles west of St. Louis.
The following is a statement from S/Sgt.. George Encimer, right waist gunner on Lt. Bakalo's crew. "Approximately seven miles from the assigned target, the radio operator, S/Sgt. Jerome Stern called on the interphone to say that there was fire in the bomb bay. I, then, went there - forward - and looked into the bay. Evidently the bombs had been salvoed as the bay was empty.
"On the way back to the base, there was a large bank or front building up to 28,000 feet that we couldn't get over. We were at 24,000 feet and proceeded to go through this bank of clouds. While still in the bank we must have hit a prop wash. The engines were throttled back. About this time, it felt like a huge force was lifting the right wing. The aircraft went into a sharp bank to the left. It was at this time, I think, that Colonel Turnbull, the command pilot, said, "Center the needle! Center the needle!"
"I knelt on my knees and buckled the hooks of my chest type parachute to the harness. The aircraft then flipped over on its back. I fell and broke my arm. When I looked up, I saw the rear escape hatch, and the next thing I remember, is being outside the ship. I pulled my ripcord and soon afterwards heard an explosion. Within moments I saw land beneath me. S/Sgt. Cecil L. Scott, left waist gunner, landed approximately 30 feet away from me, but his chute hung up in a tree.
"The Canadians gave Scott a quart of blood and set my broken arm. We had landed approximately seven miles from Ghent, Belgium. Shortly after that, they put me on a hospital train (plane 7) back to the 231st hospital near Shipdham.
"The last aircraft we saw before going into that cloud bank was U-539, below us at 5 o'clock. I think that the pilot had trouble with the controls or control cables." S/Sgt. George Encimer also stated that all other crewmembers were killed when this plane crashed 1 km (5/8 mile) from Petegan, Debase, Belgium.
The second 68th aircraft that failed to return was piloted by Lt. Edward C. Lehnhausen, ASN 0-764355, brother to the commanding officer of the 68th Squadron. The entire crew was Kia. The commanding officer had signed up for a second tour of duty when Edward was assigned to his squadron.
Since I was a spare gunner, I was put in a group of 500 spares and sent to Italy on an old British ship built before the First World War. I was then in the 15th Air Force. We lived in tents and the runways were made of steel. I was in a mid-air collision over the Alps when a B-24 sat down on us instead of in front to take over the lead position. That was the third time I should have been killed. You can readily see, I was one of the lucky ones.
I arrived back in the states June 14th, 1945, having been overseas 10 months, 17 days.
Since I only had 8 missions; I was assigned to Ft. Myers, Fl., to learn the B-29 turrets and to go to the Far East in august, I was discharged on Oct. 31, Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. I was in 3 years , 10 days. I had 87 days of terminal leave coming to me as I hadn't a furlough to my credit.