CLIFFORD D. POWELL|
World War II Memories
Mementos taken in a letter to Will
Now, as to the name of the aircraft that Lucas was assigned to. All that my memory allows is this. There was not a lot of conversation about naming the craft. If others had any suggestions they were probably ignored as mine were. I do remember recommending two names, "The Big Load," (I was still impressed with the size of the B-24), and since Lucas was from Texas I thought that "Texas Turkey" would be most appropriate. I still do. He didn't. I can assure you though that we did not fly the Shoo Shoo Baby.
With this in mind let me say here that I found your Base, and mission flight sketches, very, very interesting. I no longer remember what the field looked like from above, you wouldn't think it would ever be forgotten, and just vaguely remember the truck trips to and from the dispersal area. Having said that, I recall the time we had just returned from a mission. We were waiting to be picked up when we were startled by a shot. Evidently a plane going overhead had ejected a 50 caliber shell and it landed, base down, just a few feet from where we were gathered. Jangled nerves were again momentarily put in high gear. Now, back to the sketch of the base. You left off a most important feature. Where is the "Burma Road?" If you don't have your fill of war stories let me know, because I've got a favorite to tell.
A friend gives me four magazines. In one is an account of the last flight of the B-24, "Ruthless." In another issue of the same magazine is a letter from you taking exception to some of the information in the article. Why I read your letter is beyond me, but something sparked my interest, and I then had an avenue that might lead to the identity of two men in the crew picture. So, I wrote to you.
I don't know about your but I find all this real exciting. I can't believe the interest renewal after all these 50 years. And whom do I owe for all this? You! But, I think the most important aspect to come out of all this has been the shedding of the guilt complex that I've had all these many years for not being on the mission when the Lucas plane had to land in Switzerland. I had no idea that the percentage of crews that stayed together was so low. I don't feel any better about it, but I do have a better understanding. Better late than never, as the saying goes.
Now, as to the Lucas crew. I'm going to start at the beginning. It should be known that my first love was for the Navy. After graduating from high school I would spend considerable time trying to enlist, so much so that they finally gave me a little medal for patriotism. My problem was a bad looking left wrist. It had been broken, and poorly set, when I was about 12 years old. The result was a wrist with a bad knot and an arm that was 2" shorter than the right. The naval requiting officer, knowing my desire to go to sea, got me a berth on a Richfield oil tanker that traveled between the West Coast and Hawaii. I would he in Pearl Harbor shortly after it was bombed.
Sometime during the summer of 1942 the Maritime came under the jurisdiction of the Navy Reserve, which meant that I would be required to attend maritime training, which meant that I would be required to take the naval physical again. I had tried to get into the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Marines and now even Merchant Marine didn't want me. I wanted nothing to do with the Army.
One day, in my hometown of Torrance, I ran into a school friend. He was wearing the uniform of the Army Air Corps with the stripes of a Sergeant. When asked how he managed to accomplish such a high rank, so quickly, he said that if I could pass the mental, and physical examinations, I would -be sent to a school and upon completion of the school I would come out a Sergeant. "That's for me," I thought, and mentally said, "Good bye ocean, Hello Wild Blue Yonder."
Needless to say, I would pass the examinations. The wrist was scrutinized, I would wriggle it, squeeze the man's hand, but nothing was asked, or said about the shortness. It wasn't noticed. On November 10, 1942 I was inducted and sent to Fort Douglas, Utah.
From there I was sent Shepard Field, Texas where I would receive more shots and physicals. I was also given choices of what elements of the Army Air Corps I'd like to be in. I requested aircraft maintenance. In very short order I found myself, along with six other men, at the north end of the base ready to attend the Aircraft Maintenance School. I would never attend, never receive, what is commonly referred to as, "Basic Training." After completing the maintenance course I volunteered for specialized training on the Martin B-26. I did not come cut a Sergeant; I came out a Corporal.
The B-26 school was located at Green River, Maryland near Baltimore. Upon the completion of the B-26 school I volunteered for Gunnery School. This involved another physical examination by a flight surgeon to qualify for flight status; Again, nothing was said, or noticed, about my wrist. After Gunnery School I was sent back to Salt Lake and put into a pool for assignment to B-24's, not B-26's. Oh well, they did have the same engine and top turret. And, oh yes, I did get my Sergeant stripes. From Salt Lake I was shipped down to Davis-Monthon, near Tucson, Arizona.
Shortly after arriving at Davis-Monthon I was assigned to the flight crew of one Lt. Robert Lucas, as an Assistant Engineer. To what extent the crew was gathered there, I no longer remember, but I do remember there was a group of us standing on the flight line watching a B-24 land and taxi passed us. I remember distinctly thinking, "I know they got it down, but how in the hell do they get that big son-of-a-bitch off the ground?" It was the biggest aircraft I'd ever seen.
The only persons I now remember as being a part of that group, that day, are Lucas and Capella. Other men would be assigned, then leave, throughout our stateside training. We left Davis-Monthon for Blythe, California. If we thought Arizona was hot, at Blythe we would be in training for Hell itself. Where we would pick up the designation, "Pettus Provisional Group", I don't know, but that's what we were a part of at Blythe.
At Blythe more crewmembers decided they didn't want to fly. One evening, it was dark; we were preparing for a cross-country training flight. The aircraft had been preflighted, the rest of the crew, what we had, was on hoard, and being the last to hoard, I was just about to enter the bomb bay when a noise to my left got my attention. What I saw was a B-24, turned over on its back coming right at us. I hollered as loud as I could, "Clear the ship," and took off running. The aircraft crashed less than 50 yards from the concrete dispersal area killing all on board. If it had crashed on the concrete it would have taken a lot more of us with it. It seems the plane had a runaway prop on take off and another as it turned to return.
Not too long after the crash word came down the line to get the other aircraft in the air. Lucas asked each of us if we would fly with him, and when we took off there were three people on board, Lucas, Capella and myself. What reason others gave, I don't know, but I do remember that one stuck a pencil through an eardrum. Ouch!
The Pettus Group would be divided into thirds for the trip to England. One group went via South America, one group via Greenland and Iceland. Lucas would draw the Queen Mary. From Blythe to the Queen we would make stops at Topeka, Kansas and Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. At each stop we would pick up additional crewmembers. Sooo, by the time we reached the 506th Bomb Squadron we had never flown as a crew. I don't know if this is unusual, or not, but it seemed strange to me then, as now.
The records will show, I think, that we were assigned to the 506th on February 4, 1944. How soon we flew I don't remember, but Will, I'll ask you about that later. At this late date, though, I find it impossible to relate the time slots of missions we flew, diversion and actual, during the short time I was able to fly with Lucas. I either flew six or seven with him. On the last mission I had difficulty clearing my ears. No trouble going up, coming down from 25,000 plus was torture until they both ruptured. I was grounded, sent to a rest home at Bournmouth, I think, and either before, or while I was there, Lucas landed in Switzerland.
Will, you know the name of the target Lake Constance, without me looking it up, but this is Lucas' account of what happened. Just as they were preparing to drop their bombs another group cut right under them. The lead ship had n6 alternative hut to make another run. He said they made a 40-mile circle and came back over the target at the same altitude. Of course you know what happened, they were waiting for them. Lucas said they took a hit in the right wing and began to lose altitude. When it was determined that they had lost most of the fuel in the right wing, they tried for Switzerland. Now, according to Lucas, he found the biggest flat field and belly landed the aircraft. Missing from the crew that day was, John Neely, who was grounded because of sinus problems, but would be interned in Sweden, and myself, for reasons given.
There is one incident that I'll share with you. While flying with Lucas we were given a target in Germany. I wish I could tell you the name, and date, but I can't. Anyway, on the way to the target, some one in the rear decided to take a crap. Whoever it was opened the door into the bomb hay, dropped his pants, hung his butt over the door edge and let loose. Of course it was so cold that the crap froze and when it came time to open the bomb bay doors they jammed. Since we were over Germany I was asked, ordered, told, or whatever, to go into the bomb bay and manually drop the bombs. I think they were 500 GP, I'm not sure. I started at the back and worked my way forward. I didn't pay any attention to their destination until I got to the last one.
When I triggered the last bomb I became curious and decided to try and follow it all the way down. The doors being open enough I was able to look back, and kept lowering my head to keep the bomb in sight. At our altitude I would eventually lose sight of the bomb, but what came into sight, as we passed over it, was what looked like a very small community around a crossroad junction. That bomb couldn't have landed any more in the center of that cross road if I'd used a bombsight.
While I was grounded I got tired of doing nothing, so I approached Lt. Harbison, who was in charge of the Group Instructors, for a job. He accepted, and I went to work in the turret building and "Chubby" Oblack and I operated the trap range. When my ears healed I asked to be put back on flying status. I was required to take a test flight to assure the flight surgeon that all was okay. That flight was scarier than any mission I'd flown.
When we took off there was a Captain flying, another officer and two female nurses. I was confined to the rear. Where we landed I have no idea, but I was told to stand by for their return. When they did I knew they had been drinking, but the worse was yet to come. Why, I don't know, but the pilot was instructed to use the short, cross-field runway. You may remember that one end of that runway had little distance between the end of the runway and a bunch of trees.
That Captain dropped and I mean dropped that plane considerably short of the runway and we bounced like you couldn't believe. If that plane didn't receive some structural damage it was a miracle, but we walked away from it, so all was well. It was difficult to get missions as a spare, but I would wind up with 13 total.
While we were at Topeka we had our last physicals, and shots, before going over seas. As I walked into the examining room, in my shorts, the flight surgeon spotted my wrist. He took me by both hands, looked at my shorter arm, and being very upset said, "How in the hell did you get into the, Air Corps?" Without waiting for an answer he then cried, "How in hell did you get on flying status?" Again, without waiting for an answer he asked, "Do you want to fly?" When I answered, "Yes Sir," he said, "Get the hell out of here." Which I did.
Now, to wrap this up. All of Lucas' crew are dead. Capella, Kircher, Waska, Bass, Neely, Hammer, Dubail and Luther. All gone. Just Lucas and myself left, and so it goes.