The Wild Blue Yonder
A Chronology of the James N. Williams B-24 Bomber Crew During World War II
Warren F. McPherson
THE WILD BLUE YONDER
Who among us has not felt the rise of goose bumps when we heard, or sang, "Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun," the opening line of the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) song, which was later revised to become the U.S. Air Force (USAF) song? Yet to hundreds of thousands of us who took off into that wild blue yonder during World War II it was a terrifying, horrifying, and sometimes deadly blue, and often it was a wild black yonder when the sky was filled with flak.
At the peak of World War II, we had 2,411,294 men and women in uniform. The Eighth Air Force flew 264,618 bomber and 257,321 tighter sorties from England and lost 4,148 B-17s and B-24s, had 43,742 airmen killed or missing, and 1,923 seriously wounded.
Of all the combat jobs in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, from infantryman to submariner, the most dangerous job statistically was a man in a bomber over Germany. The Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces took a higher percentage of losses than any other American fighting force from foxholes to destroyer decks. To be in a bomber during World War II, taking off "into the wild blue yonder," was deadly! There were no foxholes in the sky!
This is the story of 10 men who flew 13-24 bombers on 30 bombing missions over Nazi Europe during World War ii.
Flying Fortresses and Liberators
During World War II, Boeing built 12,677 B-17s and Consolidated built 18,188 B-24s-more than any other single aircraft in history. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber evolved in the early/mid-1930s because of the tense situation in Europe and the growing threat of Japanese militancy in Asia. In January 1939 the U. S. Army Air Corps asked Consolidated to prepare a design study for a heavy bomber with performance superior to the B-17.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress had four 1,200 horsepower Wright Cyclone engines. It had a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour at 25,000 feet altitude, a service ceiling of 35,800 feet, and a range of 2,000 miles. It had a wingspan of 103 feet 9 inches, a length of 74 feet 4 inches, a length of 19 feet 1 inch, and a wing area of 1,420 square feet.
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator had four 1,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney engines. It had a maximum speed of 290 miles per hour at 25,000 feet altitude, a service ceiling of 28,000 feet, and a range of 2,100 miles. It had a wingspan of 110 feet, a length of 67 feet, a height of 18 feet, and a Davis wing with an area of 1,048 square feet.
Near our B-24 base in England there were B-17 bases. Airmen from their bases and ours would mingle in surrounding villages. The B-17 men called our B-24s a plumber's nightmare because of the B-24's use of hydraulics, and we called the B-17 a flying fire box because of its electronics.
The Draft Dodge
Ours was not a religious family, but in August 1941 a 19-year-old man held a revival at the Wellston, Oklahoma, Assembly of God, and I attended. One night I accepted Christ as my Savior. My life was never the same. The following summer I attended a national youth conference at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. During the conference I received a call into ministry.
When I graduated from high school in 1943, thousands of men were being drafted to serve, and I knew I would be I-A. Yet I felt called to the ministry, so I went to the draft board to ask about a deferment to prepare myself. The woman at the draft board all but called me a draft dodger. I vowed she wouldn't get a chance to draft me!
I went to the USAAC and asked about the Aviation Cadets to be trained as a pilot, navigator, or bombardier. Many took the Aviation Cadet test, but only three of us passed
it. So, I volunteered for the Army Air Corps. I dodged the draft. I showed that woman from the draft board, didn't I!
After being accepted into the USAAC I waited to be called to active duty. I was finally ordered to report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, a couple of days before Christmas. Thinking I would be issued uniforms immediately, I took only the clothes I had on. When I got to Fort Sill, the induction process was shut down for the holidays and didn't resume until the New Year. That outfit I wore got awfully grungy.
When processing resumed, it had been so long since I had a blood test and a physical I had to have new ones. The medic doing blood tests had to stick me three times before being able to draw blood. They stripped us down and marched us through the physicals. Along the way, medics sat on ledges on either side of a door swinging vaccination needles between their knees. As we walked through they simultaneously swung the needles upward right into each arm.
During this time a close friendship developed with George Dunlap from Wilburton,
OK. We were together through basic and hoped we would stay together, but George went with a bomber crew to the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy, and I went elsewhere.
In January and February I had basic training at Sheppard Field, Wichita Falls, Texas, where the only thing between us and the bitter north wind was the barbed wire fences, and most of them were down. We marched up the hill, down the hill, forward, to the rear, to the left, to the right. We hurried up and waited. We did push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. We went on bivouac and lived in cold tents for a week while pretending to fight battles at night. We went through the gas chamber and walked through clouds of gas to learn about gas masks. We hiked with fill packs at night in mud on back roads. While men overseas fought and died, we played games.
For some reason I was always being singled out. During a barracks inspection, we stood at attention at the foot of our beds. The commanding officer stopped in front of me
and looked me up and down. I was petrified! What was wrong? Then he told all the men that everyone should look and stand at attention like I did.
We went through a pressure chamber to learn about oxygen and properly fitting oxygen masks. When we were sealed in the chamber, while everyone else watched, the instructor handed me a note pad and a pencil, took my oxygen mask off, and told me to write. I did and in a few seconds was out cold. lie quickly put my mask back on and revived me. I couldn't believe how quickly I had passed out.
I got volunteered again on the skeet range. In skeet the shooter calls "Pull," and a mechanical arm flings a clay disk, called a pigeon, into the air. The shooter then shoots at it. The instructor looked at me and told me to shoot. I didn't know what to do, so I waited. "I said shoot," he barked, so I shot into the air. He erupted and shouted, "What are you doing?" He then told us how to shoot skeet. I was humiliated.
General Eisenhower was preparing to invade Europe, and there was great need for bomber crew gunners. So, all of us Aviation Cadets were washed out and sent to gunnery schools. I went to Laredo Army Air Field, Laredo, Texas, where we were surrounded by cactus, mesquite brush, and rattlesnakes. Again we played games!
In the 50-caliber machine gun game, we had to take the gun apart. That was fine until we had to put it back together without any parts left over! When we could do that, we took it apart and put it together with gloves on. Then we took it apart and put it together with gloves on while blindfolded. Then I learned to shoot a 50-caliber machine gun and lots of other guns, both on the ground and in the air. I earned the rating of sharpshooter, and just missed the rating of expert by a few points.
In the simulated parachute-landing game we would climb a tower and sit in a seat that would slide down a cable. When we got near the ground the seat dropped from beneath us, and we hit the ground like we would in a parachute jump. We were taught how to land, roll over, and end in a standing position, ready to spill air out of the chute and get out of it quickly. Fortunately, this was a game we never had to use!
There were bullfights across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, so we went. When we saw how the bulls were tortured, we began rooting for the bulls-nearly causing an international incident. The Mexicans were furious! They complained to our officers, and we were forbidden to attend any more bullfights.
Something that wasn't a game was Army chapel services. It was a real uplift to go to chapel, turn my thoughts toward God, and shut out everything else for a few minutes. I loved singing the Doxology: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!"
At Last a Crew!
Wearing summer uniforms, we left Laredo by troop train and arrived at Lincoln Air Field, Lincoln, Nebraska, in a snowstorm where we waited for assignments. I got orders for combat crew training at Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado. I arrived June 5 and was assigned to a crew in their final days of training. No more training was scheduled, so I was given a pass to Colorado Springs until 10 p.m., June 7. The next day, June 8, 1944, I met our crew and we received certificates stating we had "satisfactorily completed the course of training for combat crews."
Our crew consisted of:
Pilot: James N. (Willie) Williams, Tupelo, Mississippi
Co-pilot: Everett Wellman, Jr., from West Virginia
Navigator: Louis A. (Lou) Salzmann, from New York
Bombardier: Michael R. (Mike) Salvatore, Brie, Pennsylvania
Flight Engineer: Leonard J. (Len) Schiavone, Youngstown, Ohio
Radio Operator: Hal Woodson, Mount Vernon, Missouri
Right Waist Gunner: Robert B. (Bob) Rusch, Forest Park, Illinois
Left Waist Gunner: Warren F. McPherson, Weliston, Oklahoma
Ball Turret Gunner: John W. Dubrock, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Tail Gunner: Gerald N. Jenniges, Mankato, Minnesota
How this crew was put together no one knows, but before it was all over we would realize ours was one outstanding and talented bunch of guys! We bonded rapidly and had a mutual trust and complete confidence in each other. Without doubt, that confidence and trust saved our lives.
We went back to Lincoln Air Base for assignments. No one knew where we were going, or if they did, they weren't telling. We thought we had a clue when we were issued mosquito netting and chemically treated clothes. South Pacific, here we come!
Soon we were on a troop train that roamed all over the eastern half of the U.S. before arriving at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Soon afterward a train took us to the harbor, a ferry took us across the Hudson River, and we hoarded the biggest ship in the world, the Queen Elizabeth on our way to Europe, not the Pacific!
Lots of Luck!
The Queen Elizabeth was being built when the war broke out, so instead of finishing her as a luxury liner she was turned into a troop ship. Over 15,000 of us were on board. We were fed two meals a day at assigned times. At one of those meals we were served a British dish, whole broiled tomatoes. I wasn't very impressed. We were also rationed to two canteens of water a day.
German submarines were a menace to all ships at sea. So most ships sailed in convoys, but the Queen Elizabeth sailed alone. She used a zigzag course of evasive action, but it gave everyone an uneasy feeling to be in mid-ocean all alone. It didn't help much when we were taken out on deck in shifts for lifeboat drills. We wondered how over 15,000 of us, plus a huge crew, could get into the available lifeboats.
We arrived at Glasgow, Scotland, at night. Someone said it was good luck to toss coins into the harbor. I'm not superstitious, but I don't take unnecessary chances either, so I tossed a few coins into the harbor. We were ferried ashore and taken by train to an assignment center in England. While there I got volunteered for KP to wash pots and pans. The water was so hot and the soap so strong that by the next morning my hands were solid blisters. No more KP after that.
Next we went to Kilkeel, North Ireland, for orientation. Veteran bomber crewmen, who delighted in telling bomber-raid horror stories, taught the sessions. They claimed the British thought daylight bombing raids were suicidal, so the Royal Air Force (RAF) decided to fly their raids at night and let us Yanks fly the daylight raids! Kilkeel was beautiful, and I spent lots of time hunting for four-leaf clovers. I found three. Maybe that was a sign we were in for good luck!
At Shipdham, England, a village about 18 miles west of Norwich in northeast England, was RAE Station 115. All around the base were dispersal areas where the planes were parked. That's where maintenance crews worked to repair planes returning from bombing raids and to have them ready to fly the next raid at a moment's notice.
Housing areas for troops assigned to the base were located a little farther away from the base. Farms surrounded the housing areas. The farm people spoke a sort of cockney dialect--mostly grunts and abbreviations--that made them hard to understand. Their houses had thick thatched roofs and quaint shutters that looked like something out of a Robin Hood movie. Farms were small and surrounded by hedgerows. Narrow roads wound among the farms.
What we were served in the mess hall was usually good, but a few items left a lot to be desired. The eggs were powdered and turned green when they were cooked. Ice cream was never available. The milk was also powder mixed with water. I got so hungry for milk I took a big canteen cup of the milk mix one morning, took a big gulp, and nearly gagged! Local produce was supposed to be off-limits to us. However, every once in a while we paid nearby farmers dearly for fresh eggs and feasted in our hut.
The 44th Bomb Group
RAF Air Station 115 was home of the distinguished and highly recognized 44th Bomb Group and its unique emblem, the "Flying Eight Ball." The 44th Bomb Group consisted of the 66th, 67th, 68th and 506th Bomb Squadrons. We were assigned to the 66th Bomb Squadron. The 44th Bomb Group had led one of the most hazardous missions in modern air combat. The raid of August 1, 1943, was a daring low-level attack on the Nazi-held oil refinery and storage facilities at Ploesti, Romania.
All planes were distinguished by markings on their tails. B-24s of the 44th Bomb Group had a wide black vertical stripe on the tails. In the center of the stripe was a large white letter. Some letters were plain, some had a "+" beside them, and some had a bar over them. Those markings helped identify the planes of our bomb group.
Close Formation Flying
RAF bombers flew raids, called sorties, at night. Each plane had its own target and flew alone. For our daylight raids we flew in close formations. For heavy bombers that was not only very difficult and dangerous, it also proved to be very effective. It was dangerous because of prop wash from planes ahead of us and from the close proximity of other planes in the formation. It was dangerous because it gave attacking enemy fighters, as well as antiaircraft gunners on the ground, more concentrated targets to shoot at. But it was highly effective because we could concentrate bombs on our targets.
Planes took off a few seconds apart in assigned order. When they were airborne the lead plane flew around in a large oval pattern over a designated area. The other planes in the formation flew shorter ovals in order to join the lead plane in elements of three planes until 12 planes were flying together in close formation. Then they joined other formations and headed for their targets.
The Quonset Hut
Quonset huts look like huge corrugated culvert pipes cut in half lengthwise and placed on concrete floor foundations. The six of us enlisted men were assigned a Quonset hut in the center of our housing area with the enlisted men of two other bomber crews. Hal Woodson and I were bunkmates. I had the top bunk. Bob Rusch and Len Schiavone were bunkmates, as were John Dubrock and Gerald Jenniges.
Hal called himself "a hard rock miner from Missouri." He frequently wrote letters to his wife, Maxine, and watched mail call for letters from her. He loved telling us what she said about things back home. He had a rough exterior but a soft interior. He looked after me like I was his kid brother.
Len also took me under his wing. Sometimes we scuffled. During one scuffle I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the end of the hut, aimed at him, and tapped the plunger. I thought it would squirt and quit. But once the plunger was activated it wouldn't stop until it was completely empty. We hurried to get it outside and then cleaned up the mess. Len and I had some great talks about religion.
We were constantly reminded of security. Slogans were posted reminding us, "A slip of the lip could sink a ship," or "The life you save may be your own." Our letters had to be censored so we didn't reveal any military secrets. We could only say we were "somewhere in England." Commissioned officers censored letters, so we asked our officers to censor ours. They wrote "Censored" on the envelopes and signed their names.
Everyone looked forward to mail call. Sometimes days and even weeks went by with no mail. Then we would get a bundle of letters all at once. We would put them in chronological order by their postmark dates and read them in sequence. Those letters had a magical effect on us. However, one mail call brought back to me a letter I had written to George Dunlap with the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. The envelope bore the stamped message, "Killed in action." That was awfully hard to take.
One of the first things we had to get used to was the nightly blackout. Windows had to be covered with blackout curtains every night so light could not be seen outside. When we traveled by train, conductors made sure blackout curtains were drawn. We were told the light of a single match struck outside in the dark could be seen for many miles. The smallest light could help enemy planes during an air raid.
For Emergency Use Only!
During our training we were drilled on what to do if we ever became a prisoner of war. According to the Geneva Convention, we were required to answer every question with our name, rank, and military serial number. Regardless of what happened, we were urged to give only those answers and not be tricked into telling anything else. I found myself frequently rehearsing, "My name is Warren F. McPherson, my rank is Staff Sergeant, my serial number is 38564960."
We learned about the Belgian, Dutch, and French underground who did a great job in getting vital information to us and in rescuing downed airman at extreme risk of their own lives. We were told that if we were shot down and rescued by the underground, we should cooperate frilly and do exactly as they told us without question or hesitation.
We were issued items to carry on raids to help us escape if we were shot down and be rescued by the underground. The items were not to be displayed in public. They included French Francs; a packet with English phrases translated into Dutch, French, German, and Spanish; a silk map; and two disks about the size of dimes that looked like metal buttons. One disk was plain; the other had a small protrusion on the top. When the plain disk was placed on top of the protrusion it became a compass.
We had our pictures taken in the clothing and poses required by the underground. Then we received six small pictures of various sizes the underground could use to forge identity documents for us.
Something else I did just in case I had to bail out was to fasten a pair of my army shoes to the back of my parachute harness with fine, strong copper wire. The heated shoes we wore on our missions were a felt-like material, and I was determined I would have a durable pair of shoes I could walk in to freedom.
Riding in Style
Everyone rode bicycles. I bought one for £7-15, about $30 back then, and rode it everywhere on and off base. One evening I saw a U.S.O. Camp Show, "Blithe Spirit," by Noel Coward. After the show I biked my way in the dark and the rain. Suddenly I hit someone who began cursing so loudly that I sped away. Shortly after I got to our hut, a hut mate burst in raving about being hit by someone on a bike. I never admitted I was the hit-and-run culprit!
Every so often someone would come home from a pub "under the influence." As he wobbled by our hut his bike handlebar would scrape along the ridges of our hut and sound like a firing machine gun. Pandemonium would erupt inside the hut.
Speaking of "being under the influence," one man on our crew drank too much. As the ranking non-com of our crew, Len took him aside after one drunk, told him he was a danger to our whole crew, and warned him to get his act together. Len meant it, the man knew it, and he did better after that.
The Buzz Bomb
I've been asked if I was ever afraid during our bombing raids. My answer has been, "Yes, one time~from the time I got there until the time I left!" By late July, we expected our first raid anytime. One night the terror I felt reached a peak. I could tell from the sounds of breathing, everyone was asleep but me. 1 began to weep and pray silently. I told God I was terrified and didn't think I could fly those raids without help. I repented of everything I had ever done, or might have done, or might yet do. I was desperate, and I told God all about it.
Suddenly, an awesome presence filled the hut and a warmth started at the top of my head and swept over my entire being. A new version of Psalm 23 flashed through my mind: "The Lord is my Pilot, I shall not want," and "Yea, though I fly through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil!" God had answered my prayer and promised to take care of us!
Almost immediately there was a sound I had never heard before, but I knew exactly what it was-a German V-l, or buzz bomb. It was a large bomb with wings, a tail, and a jet engine mounted on top. When launched it went in the direction it was aimed until it ran out of fuel, then it nosed over, crashed, and exploded.
I froze and thought, God, you just promised to take care of us, but I never dreamed it would he this way or this quick. When the V- 1 got over our area the engine sputtered, but caught again. It went about a mile where it crashed and exploded in an open field.
Something said to me, "I promised to take care of you, and I just showed you I could do it." All this was so sacred to me I did not share it with anyone.
Ask any crew member to define flak, and you might get dozens of answers because it meant many things to each of us. These meanings would include bitter memories, fear, anxiety, pain, frustration, despair, and even determination. It usually meant terrifying nightmares which continued for years to come.
It was never hard to identify flak. The first time we saw it we knew beyond question what it was. On our first bombing raid the deeper our bomber got into Nazi territory, the closer we were to seeing our first burst of flak. We weren't disappointed!
Suddenly, just outside the window of the left waist position, it was like the burst of an artificial bouquet from a magician's sleeve. It announced its arrival with a roar like the violent clash of a mighty set of cymbals and an angry burst of flame which quickly clothed itself in a puffy cloud as black as an undertaker's shroud.
Each flak burst propelled scores of white-hot metal slivers scampering in every direction through the sub-zero atmosphere~searching for a bomber on which to hitch a ride. We never welcomed such hitchhikers, but many found their mark. Sometimes their mark was a vulnerable gas tank, an essential engine part, a control cable, or a fragile landing gear. Sometimes it was a pilot, navigator, bombardier, or other crew member.
The first burst of flak meant we would see more, and how we hoped we would see it. On one raid we had dropped our bombs squarely on the target and were headed for home Suddenly, the thing every airman dreaded happened. There was a violent blast like the shock of a hundred sonic booms all rolled into one. Our heavy bomber was pitched upward like an impatient pitcher flips the baseball waiting for the batter to get ready for the pitch. We couldn't see the flak, but we heard and felt it just beneath us! We knew the next blast might not miss us~but it did! however, the plane flying just outside my window was not as fortunate. It caught a direct hit, and I watched it nose over, make a long dive to the earth below, and disappear in a ball of flame.
We feared flak much more than enemy fighter planes. Since we flew in tight formation with scores of other planes and were in constant radio contact with them, hundreds of eyes analyzed every inch of heaven and earth. When an enemy fighter was spotted we all knew about it, and dozens of machine guns were prepared to welcome him. Most of the time our own P-38, P-47, or P-51 fighter escorts would swoop in and drive the enemy away. But the flak had no warning. Suddenly, it was there all around us. Sometimes the suspense was nearly too much to bear.
Flak meant a threat to survival, and this challenged us. The Air Corps provided flak suits made of overlapping metal plates sewn into canvas. Sections of these snapped together to form an armless and legless, 20th-century suit of armor. I always scouted around and gathered up any extra flak suits-or parts of them-and put them on the floor to stand on in the waist position.
We had another trick, too. On cloudy days the Nazis tracked us by radar, and we used chaff which was shredded aluminum foil just like the icicles we used for Christmas tree decoration. As we threw chaff out of the plane, it fluttered toward earth and reflected the Nazi radar beams back to them. This threw their calculations way off as to where our planes really were. We reveled in seeing their flak burst violently among the chaff, which floated far below us!
The Waiting Game
We flew our first six missions in rapid succession. That was great, as far as we were concerned. When we got home from a raid we were so exhausted sleep usually came quickly. The longer we waited between raids the worse it was. We had too much time to think about the horrors of prior missions. Even sleep didn't help because nightmares began to come more frequently and more violently.
Many times one or both the other crews in our hut flew when we didn't. When that happened, one of the men from another crew, Jack Frost from Rifle, Colorado, would get dressed, then step to my bunk, shake my shoulder, and say, "Mack, I gotta go fly, but I'm not going until you pray for me." So I would pray for him, and off he would go. I'm glad to say he always came back, too.
On days we didn't fly I went to the canteen to have tea and crumpets. The British servers identified me as the Yank who didn't take milk in his tea. At the canteen there was a big map that showed where the front lines were on the Continent. We liked to keep tab on how much more ground our troops had taken.
Back at the hut there was often a poker game going on around one of the single bunks. Those of us not in the game would read, sleep, work on hobbies, or write letters to family and friends. But we still had lots of time to think and dread the next mission.
When we didn't fly a raid we went to the flight line to "sweat out" the planes as they returned. We counted them in as they landed, and the suspense would get intense. When a plane came in shot up and crippled, we became like a football crowd-rooting, cheering, and pulling to help them make it. When a plane didn't come back it deeply affected everyone.
After our sixth raid, for reasons we never knew, we were pulled off flying raids and assigned to fly a jet black B-24 at night all over the British Isles. Sometimes giant spotlights on the ground would lock onto us, so Willie and Everett would put the plane through all kinds of maneuvers to get out of the lights. That was hard to do.
When any of us asked what we were doing, we were told it was secret. Not really knowing what we were doing in this strange assignment was bad enough, but doing it night after night for so long made the stress get worse and worse. As far as we were concerned, this could not end soon enough.
Our hut could be a noisy place, but we learned to shut out the noise and go to sleep. However. a couple of the quietest things in the dead of night would wake everyone up in an instant. One was the low hum of the intercom speaker in the hut, which was used to announce an air raid. The moment that hum came on we would be wide awake. The other was the way Pappy opened the door and entered to awaken us to fly a raid.
Our first three-day pass to London was from 6 p.m.. August 26. to 6 p.m., August 28, 1944. At that time London was the largest city in the world. We went to Norwich by army truck and on to London by train. The guys knew I didn't drink, but they still invited me to go to pubs with them, so I went a few times. Once in a while I even took a turn at playing darts. Near the London railroad station was a pub called Dirty Dick's Wine Cellar. It was down a flight of. stairs right off the sidewalk. It was decorated with the sun-dried and mummified carcasses of cats! I couldn't believe my eyes!
At the bar was a snaggled toothed woman who fit the stereotyped look of a witch. With her was a beautiful girl-her daughter! While I was mesmerized by the place, Hal put the woman up to matching me up with her daughter! When I realized what was happening I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Woodson thought it was hilarious.
We located Mrs. M. Hager's Bed-and-Breakfast hotel where Len, our chief negotiator struck a good deal for us for one night. We could depend on Len to always get the bargains. Next morning the door opened and a maid cheerily greeted us with tea and toast. That was new to me. The next night we stayed at The Mapleton Hotel.
We set out to see London! A taxi driver showed us bombed-out sites from the London Blitz. We saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, the River Thames, Prime Minister Winston Churchill's residence at 10 Downing Street, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's home at Buckingham Palace, the famous changing of the palace guard, Scotland Yard, St. Paul's Cathedral, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and everything else along the way. We rode lorries (taxis), double-decker buses, and the tube (the subway) The tube stations were also used as air raid shelters. And we went to a variety show in the theater district.
We walked a lot, too. Whenever we needed directions we asked a bobby (policeman). It would give us detailed directions and invariably end up saying, "It's just a ten-minute walk; you can't miss it, Mate!" But we almost always did miss it! And everywhere we went children swarmed around asking, "Got any gum, Chum?"
On the train from London to Norwich we moved from coach to coach as we wished. At one stop, part of the train was disconnected and sent to Ipswich. On one trip from London, Hal wasn't paying attention, and when the train was divided he was in the wrong section and ended up in Ipswich. By the time he got back to base we had flown a mission without him. He nearly got court martialed over it.
A Gunner Too Many
Someone said, "Nothing is as constant as change." Just when we started flying raids, the unexpected happened. Someone decided to remove the Sperry ball, or belly turret, from the B-24s. In its place was a device that looked like a white upside down dome. It was a new kind of radar called the "mickey," and soon we found out how it worked, and in some cases how it didn't work! When we had a mickey set on board we lowered it so it protruded beneath the plane after we test-fired our guns over the English Channel.
Suddenly we had an extra gunner. John, Bob, and I were told we would have to rotate by missing every third raid our crew flew. The three of us would be one-third behind when the rest of the crew finished their tour of duty. The idea of flying raids with crews we didn't know was very traumatic. Tail Gunner Gerald, who was very close to John, was furious. He felt since I was the last to join the crew, I should be taken off John asked him to just keep still and he did. After Bob, John, and I missed one raid each there was another change. John was assigned to become a mickey operator. Bob and I were glad, but we really hated to lose John. However, after John finished radar training he flew with us several times as our radar man.
The Flak Shack
In view of the number of raids we had flown we needed a break, so we were ordered to spend December 7 through December 13 at the Flak Shack. We went by train across England to Liverpool and on about 20 miles north to Southport. It was about 220 miles northwest of London on the Irish Sea coast, a place that liked to compare itself to San Francisco. Even though it was December and quite cool, it was peaceful and fun to beach comb for washed-up treasures - only we didn't find any. On the way back to Shipdham we stayed overnight at The Sefton Commercial and Family Hotel in Liverpool.
What a difference this Christmas was from the last one at Fort Sill where I had no contact with anyone I knew. By late November everyone was singing, "I'll be home for Christmas... if only in my dreams." From the way the war was going we knew it would be only in our dreams!
Gift packages started arriving from family, friends, and churches in Wellston and Tulsa. There were lots of useful items and delicious edibles-cookies, candy, canned delicacies, and two one-gallon buckets filled with Oklahoma pecan halves! What a delight it was to share my goodies with the other guys. Before Christmas was over I received 28 packages, more than all the other guys in the hut put together.
Following D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Allies had steadily pushed the Nazis back toward and into Germany. They retreated faster on some fronts than others. Yet, in spite of the Allied advances, we watched with considerable concern the progress the Nazis were making with their V-I buzz bomb, the V-2 rocket, and their incredible new jet fighter planes. We wondered if it could be possible for Hitler to still win this war!
As fall arrived, those mysterious "London Fog" nights set in. Temperatures would drop during the night, and when morning came everything would be clothed in dazzling coats of the thickest frost you could imagine. It was spectacular! Then in early December heavy snows came. As a result, bomber raids and fighter sorties practically came to a halt.
The Nazis desperately needed some kind of victory to lift the eroding morale of the German people. About that time, they detected a weak spot in our front line, so they decided to make an all-out counterattack at that weak point. Suddenly, they launched a blitzkrieg offensive, broke through the weak point in our lines, and plunged deep into Belgium. The territory they recaptured came to be called "The Bulge."
In their drive they captured a number of our soldiers and brutally massacred them in the snow. They surrounded Bastogne, Belgium, and sent a message to Brigadier-General A. C. McAuliffe and his isolated troops to surrender. He simply replied to the Germans, "Nuts!" That message electrified the free world!
In the meantime, we watched The Battle of the Bulge with increasing anxiety. Every man who could possibly do so wanted to go bomb the daylights out of the Germans. But the weather stayed horrible and kept all of us grounded. Finally, just before Christmas the bad weather broke! What a wonderful Christmas gift for our troops!
Out of the Blue!
Soon after my last mission Hal got his last one. John completed 18 missions, and then the war ended! All ten of us faced the wild blue yonder and came through without a scratch! On August 6,1945, my 20th birthday, the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and soon afterward World War II was over. It wasn't long until all of us gladly returned to civilian life.
After a while we lost track of each other. Then, out of the blue, in 1992 a letter came from Art Hand, who was searching for all the members of the 44th Bomb Group. He had located John Dubrock, Leonard Schiavone, Everett Wellman, and me. We immediately contacted one another and began searching for our other six crew members. It took a lot of sleuthing, but eventually we located everyone.
Radio Operator Hal Woodson returned to Missouri and his beloved Maxine. He had health problems and died in Joplin, Missouri, in August 1965.
Tail Gunner Gerald N. Jenniges returned to Minnesota and died in April 1978.
Navigator Louis A. (Lou) Salzmann returned to New York and died in December 1989.
Pilot James N. (Willie) Williams returned to Tupelo, Mississippi. We located him in early 1993, but before we had a chance to see him he died in May 1993.
Bombardier Michael R. (Mike) Salvatore returned to Erie, Pennsylvania. Mike and his wife, Vi, attended two of our crew reunions before he died in August 1996.
Ball Turret Gunner/Radar Operator John W. Dubrock has been unable to travel because of a bad accident in the 1950s. He lives in Iron River, Michigan.
Right Waist Gunner Robert E. (Bob) Rusch returned to Illinois. He and his wife, Dolores, live in Winfield, Illinois.
Flight Engineer Leonard J. (Len) Schiavone returned to Youngstown, Ohio, where he and his wife, Vera, still live.
Copilot Everett Wellman, Jr., migrated to Oklahoma. He and his wife, Ellen, live in Oklahoma City.
I returned to Oklahoma and fulfilled my call to be a minister. My wife, Betty, and I live in Springfield, Missouri.
In 1994 five of us and our wives met for our first James Williams Bomber Crew Reunion in Dayton, Ohio. From the moment we met it was like picking up right where we left off in 1945. Even more wonderful was the fact that our wives immediately had a wonderful bond with one another.
Each fall since then we have had delightful bomber crew reunions where we relive our experiences from the wild blue yonder, talk about our families, update each other on our recent activities, see the sights, and just enjoy each other. We expect to keep getting together every year to the very last man!
TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF US WHO TOOK OFF INTO THAT WILD BLUE YONDER DURING WORLD WAR II IT WAS A TERRIFYING, HORRIFYING, AND SOMETIMES DEADLY BLUE, AND OFTEN IT WAS A WILD BLACK YONDER WHEN THE SKY WAS FILLED WITH FLAK.
Warren F. McPherson
1016 E. Rockwood St.
Springfield, MO 65807-5092