55 Years: And The |
In 1944 we came together as a heavy bomber, B-24 Liberator crew. Clayton R. Roberts (Pilot), William A. Lundquist (CO-Pilot), Art Aronoff (Navigator), Joe Stewart (Bombardier), Kenneth Amick (Flight Engineer/Gunner), John Boileau (Radio Operator), Robert Dunlap (Gunner), Bill Cross (Gunner), Edgar Flowers (Gunner) and John "Junior" Roberts (Gunner).
Our first crew picture was taken in 1944 at the Desoto Hotel in Savannah, Georgia on the eve of our departure for the United Kingdom. We delivered a B-24J from Mitchell Field, NY via Bangor, Maine and Goose Bay. Labrador to Valley, Wales. We were asigned to the 68th Bomb Squadron, 44th Bomb Group and flew bombing sorties over Europe. We suffered no casualties, but would have lost our radio operator when the radio compartment was blown out by flack had he not been following procedure--holding the bomb bay lever in the open position from the IP (Initial Point) to bombs away.
Our last flight as a crew was in May 1945 when we departed for Bradley Field, CT via Bluie West One, Greenland. After flying up a fiord with wing tips brushing rock walls we landed with a flat main gear. Fuel shortage necessitated an instrument landing, 100 foot ceiling and I mile visibility at the ATC field in Mingan, Quebec. We were the first heavy bomber to land there throughout the war and station personnel, who treated us like royalty, couldn't belive that we were so young and that a 22 year old was the Pilot.
We were broken up as a crew at Sioux Falls, SD in 1945 and went in ten different directions. Efforts by some of us to make contact over the years failed. In 1990 1 managed to locate Joe Stewart in Providence, RI. However, he passed away before we could get together. In April 2000 photograph #2 appeared in the Second Air Division Journal asking the identity of some members, which I recognized as my crew. This photo was sulmnitted by Bob Dunlap and triggered a series of events that resulted in the five surviving members making contact, which culminated in the five of us -- Bill Lundquist, Art Aronoff, Bob Dunlap, "Junior" Roberts and myself--meeting for the first time in 55 years at the 44th Bomb Group Association annual reunion in San Diego, CA on 31 August 2000.
This reuniting and meeting after over half a century surpassed all our expectations. The feelings of comradeship, the rush of emotions and bonding have been intense. We are in daily to monthly contact and are committed to not losing contact again. We are scattered across the country. Bill Lundquist lives in Spokand, WA; Art Aronoff live in Stockbridge, MA; I live in Norwich, CT; Bob Dunlap lives in Austin, TX and "Junior Roberts lives in Lake Charles, LA. It ahnost seems that we were destined to reuinte in the year 2000 because for the past 12 years, since 1988, 1 have passed within five miles of Stockbridge, MA and Art Aronoff as I traveled the Massachusetts Turnpike at least twice monthly.
We are the newest members of the Association and understand that we may be the crew with the most surviving members. Our coming together this late in life has brought new meaning into all our lives at a time when we thought meaninful experiences were behind us. Our reuniting in San Diego was the "Mother of Experiences" and the feeling was unanimous that we "wouldn't have missed it for the world". What we felt and experienced is beyond description and regrettably cannot be shared with others-- especially family. We are all "Chomping at the bit" to get there for the Shreveport reunion in 2001.
We regret and are sorrowed that five of our crew have passed on, but are grateful and overjoyed that our 55 years of waiting and wondering have finally come to an end.
Clayton R. Roberts, born 1 October 1922 in Gasport, NY. A small rural communit.)" approximately 20 miles northeast of Buffalo, NY. Graduated from high school in 1940 in Lockport, NY. Joined the Anny Air Corps aviation cadet training program in September 1942. Completed pilot training, in May 1944, Class 44E, and commissioned Second Lieutenant at Columbus Field, Mississippi. Received B-24 co-pilot training at Harlingen, Texas and was one of thirteen selected from a class of one hundred and thirty for B-24 pilot training at Maxwell Field, Alabama. Met and joined other crew members at Westover Field, Massachusetts and completed overseas combat training at Chatham Field, Georgia. Delivered a new B-24J to Valley, Wales (England) and reported to the 8th Air Force, 68th Bomb Squadron, 44th Bomb Group at Shipdam, England. Flew bombing missions over Nazi held European territories and returned to the States in May 1945 delivering a B-24 to Bradley Field (Hartford), Connecticut.
Remained on active duty and was in the initial cadre that formed the United States Air Force in September, 1947. Served 19 years in Strategic Air Command as Aircraft Commander, Instructor Pilot, Squadron Operations Officer, Deputy Base Commander and Deputy Inspector General.
Duties were performed at 305th, 306th and 307th Bomb Groups, 72nd Bomb Wing and Headquarters 15th and 8th Air Forces. Was awarded the Air Medal with clusters, the European Theater Medal with five battle stars, the Air Force Commendation Medal with cluster, the Army Commendation Medal and eight others.
Received a BS degree (with honors) at Sacremento State College, California, completing 64 semester hours in one year .Retired, Colonel (USAF), in August 1965. Completed 26 years second career in federal service in January 1992.
I will forever be awed by the way my generation performed as teenagers and early twenty year olds. As pilot I was the oldest crew member -- 21 years of age. My tail gunner was the youngest -- he was 18 and his name was also Roberts. This I'm sure typified the bomber crews that did the impossible -- daylight precision strategic bombing -- which brought the two most powerful military forces the world has ever known to their knees.
I will forever be proud to be from the World War II -- The Greatest Generation -- and to have served.
By Clay Roberts, Colonel USAF (Ret.)
Background: At the time of these encounters I was an Aircraft Commander flying B-29s in Strategic Air Command (SAC) and was assigned to the 371st Bomb Squadron, 307th Bomb Group at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida. Focus back then (late 40s early 50s) was on training long range navigation to develop navigators skills, cruise control to sharpen flight engineers interpretation of charts and calculations forever striving for maximum distance with a minimum amount of fuel consumption, and simulation of bombing on Radar Bomb Scoring (RBS) sites to evaluate bombardiers accuracy by radar calculations saving the use of live ordnance. By knowing the speed and altitude of the airplane, along with the known trajectory of the type of bomb simulated, the point of impact for a given target in the RBS area could be accurately determined electronically, thus providing a non-ordnance means of evaluating the effectiveness of bombardiers.
First Encounter: One night on Tampa RBS, we were flying a racetrack pattern at 25000. We had been flying the racetrack pattern for over an hour when my left scanner (left waste gunner) reported a brilliant light at 8 o'clock and that it been following us for several minutes. I banked left and saw what looked like a large landing light over my left wing. It was at our altitude and followed us into the turn onto the downwind leg of the racetrack At briefing we had been informed that we would be the only aircraft on Tampa RBS. Since the light continued to follow us in the racetrack and remained at the
8 o'clock position "it had to be another plane." I called Tampa RBS, informed them of our sighting, and was informed that we were the only aircraft over Tampa at that time. They claimed we were the only aircraft on RBS radar. The light stayed with us until we descended. My self and my two scanners confirmed the sighting.
Second Encounter: Again at 25000 feet, daylight, heading on a northerly course from Tampa into the Georgia/Alabama/Mississippi area (don't remember the exact mission but generally all missions were combination " long range navigation, cruise control, RBS") my right scanner (gunner position) called and reported a brilliant ball at our 5 o'clock position. He could not identify what it was but knew it was not an airplane. He said it was so bright that it was like looking into the sun. After a few minutes, my left scanner (gunner position) reported a similar object at the 8 o'clock position. Both objects were at our altitude and both maintained the same distance from us. I don't remember the time lapse, but finally both spheres flashed by the cockpit on their respective sides of the plane at an unbelievable rate of speed. As we watched, both spheres turned to the 2 o' clock position, climbed at an unbelievable speed and merged with a larger sphere that had appeared at a much higher altitude moving at a rate of speed I had never seen before or since. Knowing the speed of our plane the spheres' speed had to be in the thousands of miles per hour. The spheres were sighted by four of us - my copilot, my two scanners and me.
Do I believe in UFOs? You bet!
The Adventure Continues
"The Russians Blinked"
For over 50 years I have wondered how many Americans knew that we were on the verge of war with Russia in the late forties. In December1947 to be exact!
It was a warm and sunny early December afternoon in Tampa Florida. I was assigned to the 371st Bomb Squadron, 307th Bomb Group, flying B-29s out ofMacDil1 Air Force Base and had been scheduled for transition --touch and go landings --and airspeed calibration of the aircraft. While in the local area all aircraft are required to stay tuned to tower frequency. I had been listening to the routine chatter when it was interrupted by "all 371st aircraft return to base immediately." Upon getting out of 4072 I was met by the squadron operations officer who informed me that I was to keep those crew members necessary for the loading of flyaway kits, release all others, and for the entire crew to be back in five and a half hours for two weeks deployment to a cold environment. Crew members I released were to be back in three hours so I, my flight engineer and the ground crew would have two and a half hours to get home and get our winter uniforms. At our pre-departure briefing we were informed our destination was Furstenfeldbruk, Germany, which was just outside ofMunich. We were told our mission was classified and that we would receive details of our mission upon arrival at our destination.
At our first briefing in Germany we were informed that the State Department had called for a display of force and since the 307th was the only bomb group directly under Headquarters Strategic Air Command (SAC), and not one of the numbered air forces (8th, 15th or 2nd) the Group was given the mission and we in the 371 st were given the job. Our questions as to why a display of force was needed and what happened to get the State Department to ask for one were never answered. The only thing we were told was that circumstances surrounding our mission were top secret, and that our two weeks deployment had been extended to 30days, which included Xmas and New Years.
We had one mission. To daily fly the Berlin Airlift corridors, Frankfurt to Berlin to Hamburg and return to Frankfurt for another "round robin". We were combat configured. Bulletproofglass was installed in front of the pilot's and copilot's positions, all guns had full ammo and both bomb bays had as many 500 pound general purpose bombs as they could hold. What we were to do with all these bombs we never knew. Our target instructions were to come by message via the radio operator, which much to our relief never came. Our orders were to patrol the corridors and if Russian fighters made hostile moves we were to open fire. Fortunately, neither side provoked the other and there were no incidents. We just ended up getting a lot of flying time in bad weather. To this day I have no idea as to what caused the State Department to ask for a display of force and doubt that I ever will.
The Adventure Continues
Furstenfeldbruk to Daharan to Furstenfeldbruk
Thirty days after our arrival at Furstenfeldbruk, Germany in December 1947 we stood down from patrolling the Berlin Airlift corridors and in early January 1948 prepared for a long-range navigation mission to Daharan, Arabia. It was winter in Germany, hot in Arabia, and we had no summer uniforms.
It was nighttime when we took offbut daylight when we were over Tel Eviv, Israel. Our leg from Tel Eviv was east to Baghdad then south from Baghdad along the west shore of the Persian Gulf to Daharan. With the aircraft on autopilot I had a chance to view the desolate and lifeless land below. It was brown, brown, brown, as far as you could see. There wasn't a plant, tree or life of any kind to be seen. I now understood why Moses wandered for forty years in the wilderness. I soon learned that Moses wasn't the only one lost. When I asked my navigator our ETA to Baghdad he said he didn't know. That his maps had run out at Tel-eviv and that the dead reckoning time to Baghdad had run out thirty minutes ago. Knowing the Persian Gulf and Daharan were south of Baghdad, but not knowing how far we had to go, I took up a heading of 180 degrees and had the flight engineer give me the power setting for maximum cruise at our present weight and altitude. Power was reduced to approximately 25 inches of manifold pressure and the props were turning so slowly you could actually count the blades. I was starting to get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I had never been lost in my years of flying and the thought of crash landing in the desert for lack of fuel was starting to consume my thoughts. Some time later radio contact was established with an aircraft having departed ahead of me calling Daharan tower. Continuing south we finally saw on the horizon the only navigational aid for finding Daharan --a huge column of fire and smoke from burning oil well gases. After sixteen plus hours of flying time we arrived at our destination.
After three days of sand and more sand we made a night departure for return to Furstenfeldbruk, Germany via Tel Eviv and Algiers. With Tel Eviv behind us we encountered a squall line --severe torrential rain and turbulence. The rain hitting the plane was deafening. I could no longer talk to my co-pilot and flight engineer --I had to shout to be heard. The turbulence was so bad that I had to shut down the autopilot and take over the controls manually. Turbulence was so fierce that my instruments on the rubber mounted instrument panel were a blur. It took all my powers of concentration to focus on the flight gyro and maintain a semblance of level flight.
As the rain continued and the turbulence lessened my bombardier brought my attention to a ball of bright blue the size of a marble dead center in the nose of the ship. Sure enough it was St. Elmo's fire. From past experiences St. Elmo's fire was a harmless display of static electricity, which was nothing more than little fingers of bluish light that danced across the windshield. This was different. This was a concentration of static electricity in one location and foreign to my flying experiences. My concern was increasing rapidly. The marble had now become a quarter! The quarter became a golf ball. Now we had two to three inches of the blue fire off the propeller tips resulting in a circle offire around each propeller. I had always understood that St. Elmo's fire was harmless but with the ball of fire now the size of a baseball, and the ring of fire on the propellers approaching 10 to12 inches, I had the bombardier get out of the nose. We were lit up like a Christmas tree. As we continued to watch the "baseball" it suddenly shot between me and the co- pilot, past the flight engineer, past the navigator, past the radio operator, through the tunnel connecting the two pressurized compartments and out the top aft turret. Gone also was the fire around the propellers. That was my last and worst experience with St. Elmo's fire. After seventeen plus hours we arrived at Furstenfeldbruk in the middle of a snow- storm. Subsequent examination of the aft top turret revealed that one of the 50 caliber machine gun barrels was badly burned. St. Elmo wasn't harmless after all.