SCHAEFFER, FRANK N.|
Engineer--Evadee on Lt. Bernard J. Komasinski's Crew
B-24, Liberator Bombers
44th Bomb Group, 506th Bomb Squad
Some reminisces by a B-24 enlisted crewmember and of various incidents while at Pueblo, Colorado, England, France, Laredo and Sheppard Field, Texas, etc. 1944 and 1945
Our crew managed in one day to ground two B-24s while in training in Pueblo. In a formation takeoff, with one plane each 30 seconds, we were up to about 100 mph when it became apparent that the plane ahead of us had slowed with some sort of engine fire. Our pilots jammed the brakes hard which almost collapsed the nose gear, but did get us slowed down safely and while taxiing back with brakes smoking, we parked and shut down engines. Sgt. Jackson, the engineer instructor arrived and proceeded to give me hell because the flaps were still down. The rest of our crew sounded off in my defense and Sgt. Jackson found himself out-voiced and then quieted down.
Another B-24 was provided, and because the cross-country formation flight was long gone, we were sent out to the air to ground gunnery range. All was going well until one of our crew went back to try his skill at the right waist gun. Suddenly there were three .50 cal. Holes through the wing, flap, aileron, etc. Then we returned to base to face the wrath. Sometime later there appeared on a bulletin board a damage report stating that over 700 man-hours of damage had been caused.
On Easter, in the Pueblo area, there was a terrific blizzard, which shut everything down for several days. We were without heat and electricity in the barracks. Our main concern during that period was staying warm. That was accomplished mainly by staying in bed. Our training flights were suspended for the time. The planes were covered with snow.
In phase training, we endured a variety of near emergency situations such as having to land with feathered propellers and once almost colliding head on with a B-25 coming from the opposite direction.
Our tail gunner seemed to have a keen gasoline-sniffing nose and would often call the pilot who'd send me back to the waist to investigate and correct the problem if possible. In one instance, we encountered a fuel leak, which occurred only at high altitude.
I did not see this, but some of our crew said there were bombs which just missed our wing while at the bombing range when the 491st Bomb Group came over from the opposite direction at a higher altitude.
The time I entered the ball turret for familiarization and when ready to exit, thinking it was in the correct position, I unlatched the door, but it didn't open more than a few inches. Just then, one of the gunners who had been keeping an eye on me said over the intercom, "No Schaeffer. No," and then he proceeded to tell me how to get the turret into the proper position for existing. I had been trying to open the door when it was partially to the outside of the plane.
One of my duties was to check the landing gear before landing to make sure they were down and locked. In one instance, when checking under the flight deck, the nose gear was not down, so I rushed up to tap our pilot on the shoulder, telling him not to land, as we were already coming in on final approach. After trying the handle in both positions several times without results, I went back down to kick out the nose wheel. To do that, one had to pull a small pin, etc., then get in position behind the gear and while braced, push with both feet against the wheel to move it forward and down. These nose gears worked with a scissors-like action in going form one position to the other. In getting ready to pull the pin, I had just taken my hand back when the gear suddenly went down with a big whap!
Sitting around in the barrack, we became aware of some aircraft buzzing over the field. Our radio operator exclaimed, "P-38s!" Out of the door and what we saw was B-24s buzzing the runway. It turned out to be the 491st doing their goodbye salute.
The following is taken from a 491st remembrance of that day, in their summer 1964 Journal.
Then late in April, the word arrived: "The Flight Echelon, 491st Bomb GP. . . . will proceed . . . to Herington, Kansas, for purpose of staging and processing . . ." The movement was to be conducted in five flights over the period April 21-25. Lt. Col. Goldenberg led the first flight of 20 aircraft on the 21st, giving the field a polite "fly by" before heading east for Herington. On succeeding days, these "fly by's," became faster, lower, and a "hell of a lot more fun," until the last flight's on-the-deck antics led to the unfortunate confrontation by General Longfellow.
Continuing that episode in Shy's words, the General ". . . subjected us to considerable blood-letting. However, in due time and after assuring him that 'the guilty ones would certainly hear from us,' we hastily took off, climbed on course and departed -- straight, level, and at a very safe altitude. Evidently commitment to a combat zone was adjudged to be adequate punishment, as nothing official followed us to our destination."
Upon arrival at Herington, it was found that Lt. Rock's plane (42-110185) had suffered considerable structural damage. It was left there for repairs and the crew forced to continue their overseas trip via some unglamorous ATC bucket seats. Some "face" was salvaged, however, when the necessary accident report reflected that, ". . . the gear was raised prematurely on takeoff and turbulent air caused subject aircraft to settle back onto the runway. Only a superb piece of flying by the pilot managed to lift the aircraft into the air and on to Herington. . ."
During night landings, I would go back into the waist and shine my flashlight onto the main landing gears to check the down lock indicators. This action normally got me crabbed at by the gunners who'd be sleeping on the waist floor. Later, our pilot arranged for one of the gunners to check and report the main gears for being down and locked. This saved me the effort of having to struggle back through the bomb bay and back before each landing.
One time, with an instructor pilot in the right seat, our pilot called for flaps up soon after takeoff. The captain in the copilot's seat was trimming and seemed to not hear. Our pilot again called for flaps up. The instructor continued adjusting on the trim wheels and after several more calls for flaps up with still no action by the instructor, I raised the flaps. That was a mistake because when he eventually finished trimming, he turned to me and asked, "Who raised the flaps?" I said it had been me. This resulted in a big admonishment, generally known by other more forceful words. I was told that I had no business touching a flight control. If that incident occurred before or after Sgt. Jackson, the engineer instructor chewed me because we parked after having burned out the brakes, I'm not sure.
Sometimes the guys had hangovers when we had morning flights and sucked oxygen to help clear their heads. One time we had cameras mounted on our guns to record our aiming proficiency instead of bullets, while fighter planes were doing pursuit curves at the formation. After using up my film in the top turret, I had gone back into the waist to check on how the gunners in the back were doing. The tail gunner was not in his turret, but sitting in the waist holding his head. I urged him to get into his turret and use his film. He refused, saying his head was way too big to fit into the turret.
Some of us used to suffer airsickness on those rough, bouncy training flights. I found it convenient to have the bomb bay doors rolled open a foot or so and then lay on the flight deck floor with head over the back edge and let go down and out. B-24 bomb bay doors were flexible and rolled open on tracks and up the outside of the fuselage. While our tail gunner never became airsick, others of our crew often had trouble. After one exceptionally rough flight in which one of the guys lost his cap while hanging out of the waist window, we used to kid about bacon over Denver. After going overseas and into combat, the sickness problem was no longer with us.
Crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, we enlisted men of our and the other crews were berthed way down on D Deck forward. We were restricted to the forward third of the ship, probably to keep us from bothering the WAACs and nurses whom were on board. Our berths were of pipe-like frames with canvas centers that were stretched by rope lashings through grommets. The bunks were six high, which left little space above and beneath them. No doubt boredom started the practice of cutting the lashings to cause a person to drop down onto the one beneath. Some of us ended the voyager with lots of knots in the lashing ropes by the time the vessel anchored in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland.
Perhaps that rope cutting practice was the cause of the fracas between two of our gunners. As one of them related to me, "He pulled a gun on me. Of course, it wasn't loaded." However, I was aware that he did have one .45 caliber round. There was a tussle in which the gun pointer had his foot slammed against the bunk frame, and he complained about that for the next several days. Our pilot had word of that fight and restricted the one, which flourished the pistol to D Deck, except for the twice-a-day meals in dining rooms and the abandon ship drills.
British train coaches have separate compartments, each with a door to the outside. The six enlisted men of each crew occupied one of them. On the train from Scotland down through England we sat three facing the other three. When one of the gunners eventually dozed off and started to snore, the temptation was too great, and I seemed to be the only one of us who knew how to effectively administer a hot foot. I proceeded to demonstrate how to the others. The results seemed to take a long few seconds, but the reflexive kick caught our radio operator, sitting opposite, on the knee. There was a pretty hot argument going for awhile, but it wasn't till many years later and after the incident was long forgotten before I confessed to that act.
Soon after our arrival at the 44th Bomb Group, I bought a used bicycle. If memory is correct, it cost me eight pounds. Upon liberation and return from France, the bike was found still in the rack in the squadron compound and I continued to ride it on my several visits when up from London. When last leaving the site, the bike was left behind in the site 2-bicycle rack.
While MIA in France, evading capture behind enemy lines and staying in a house on the edge of a village named Orbais L'Abbaye, German wehrmacht convoys often passed by on the road on which the house fronted. While with a pretty girl who was very active with the resistance, in the backyard, and no one else around, a German convoy suddenly was passing by in front. She and I were taking turns standing on a short ladder against the side yard stone wall watching the Germans.
When back at Eckelshall, awaiting orders to ship to the Zone of the Interior, the inevitable K.P. materialized and as usual turned into an all-night ordeal. We ran about five bags of potatoes through the peeling machine without any trouble. Then we had one bag of carrots to do and why not put them through the peeling machine also? But as it turned out, some farmer must have cheated the Yanks because the contents of the burlap sack turned out to be not only carrots, but also considerable amount of his topsoil and roots and stems. The result was a jammed and gummed up mess. I recall having to open the sewer drain and scooping out the mass of mud, roots, and fibers by hand. All that action in the middle of the night!
At Prestwick, Scotland, waiting for space back to the U.S. on a C-54, we had a few camp dogs hanging around the barrack. One of the fellows opened a can of C-ration hash for one of the dogs in our barracks. The dog just sniffed at it and walked away.
Returning to the United States and after a furlough at home, I was to proceed to a rest hotel at Miami Beach, Florida. The wartime trains were crowded and busy. Accompanying my sister as far as Fort Smith Arkansas, we were sitting on a suitcase in the aisle for most of the night, until finally seat space became available as others went off at various stops. Later, further on my way and transferring trains at Jacksonville, Florida, that train was overfull and started to pull out with a small crowd still standing on the platform. Determined to report on time at my destination, I managed to be the last one aboard the car. Standing on the lower step with my barracks bag and hanging onto the boarding railing, the train pulled out of the station. No one seemed able or willing to move further into the car. After a time, the conductor came through and escorted several of us forward into the baggage car where he had a compartment. WE rode the rest of the trip to Miami in there.
I found myself along with a lot of other combat veterans at Keesler airfield near Biloxi. We seemed to be unassigned and surplus so spent many hours pitching horseshoes in the squadron area. Not happy with the lack of usefulness, a group of us approached the C.O. with a request to volunteer for another try at combat duty. This was recognized, and those of us who had been engineers or M.O.S. 748 were sent to Ford's Willow Run Factory School, and then we were to go through Aerial Gunnery School. Both were to be refresher courses, preparatory to going back overseas again, presumably to the Asiatic theatre.
As ordered, we mechanics shipped to Willow run near Ypsilanti, Michigan. While there, some of us whose homes were in Chicago and Milwaukee found we could get home on weekends without having the proper passes. One fellow had a car, and was from Chicago. From there a couple of us would ride the North Shore R.R. train up to Milwaukee where we'd get off on the south side in order to avoid encountering any M.P.s in the downtown station. After a time, when receiving a three-day pass, and tired of going home so often, I spent the time in Detroit. For our weekend escapades, there was a hole in the fence surround the base, which was referred to as gate one and a half.
Having completed the factory school course, we shipped off to Laredo Army AirField for our refresher in Aerial Gunnery. We sat around waiting to be assigned to a class in the school, and meanwhile were put to use doing various jobs. I worked in the mailroom for awhile before getting out on the line and working with the ground crew of a B-17. This, I enjoyed. It was my kind of work.
I also flew in that and another B-17 as the engineer enough times to qualify for flying pay. We did preflights, engine changes, and I sat in on a session of classes on B-29 maintenance, even though not being assigned to it. Two of the mechanics were model plane enthusiasts and I joined them in our times off in building and flying rubberband-powered models. Once our model ended up on the mess hall roof. This dilemma was soon ended when a wind gust brought it down again. We then decided to do our model flying out on the ramp, and away from buildings. In one instance, the pilot of a taxiing B-17 stopped for us to retrieve the model before it would have been destroyed by his aircraft.
Sadly, some orders were cut separating me from that pleasant time of my service life. I was to return to Sheppard Field, where I had done basic training, at the time being housed in a hangar due to the over-crowded conditions. Also, I had gone through (a.m.) Airplane Mechanics School there. It was remembered as a hot, not unlike Laredo, and dusty place. Arriving at Sheppard Field, I found myself assigned to a basic training squadron as a clerk, general M.O.S. 055. What a letdown! Well, I had a desk in the Orderly Room and decided to make the best of it. No matter what situation, there are always a few side benefits.
Whatever came up, I always turned out to be the ranking NCO. When a troop train of trainees was sent to Keesler Field and I was to accompany it as supervisory, I found myself with privates and Cpls.
At Keesler, the train was detached from the engine, which was going back to New Orleans. The train crew informed us that in order to get back into New Orleans, we would have to ride in the cab of the steam engine, which we did. Then we spent as much time in New Orleans as we thought we could get away with.
Another time the C.O. sent me and a Pvt. Charles Stemple to Ft. Leavenworth to secure and return an AWOL soldier who was being held there. We left Ft. Leavenworth by train to Kansas City where there would be an overnight delay before getting a connection to Wichita Falls. In those times, large city railroad stations were beehives with very many people moving about. With the prisoner handcuffed to my wrist, it was interesting to find how many people tried to walk between us only to be caught up by the handcuff chain and to see their surprised expressions.
With the overnight delay in train connections, we checked the prisoner into the jail and then secured a hotel room for ourselves. The next morning, after getting our prisoner and boarding the train, and both of us very tired, my partner went to sleep in his seat leaving me to sit guarding the prisoner all the way back to Wichita Falls.
When the first sergeant went off on furlough, I was the next high-ranking non-com, so automatically became the acting top-kick. That was okay except when we were on Saturday parade and I had to march in front of the whole squadron, and just behind the CO. I didn't know all the motions and commands, so the commanding officer had to quietly tell me what I had to do and say.
One positive thing about my being assigned to a clerk's job, my last assignment, while in the service, was the availability of typewriters which enabled me to type my experiences for the Caterpillar Club, which I soon expanded to my complete story of experiences of our missions, our bailout, and resultant experience of evading capture in France and eventual liberation by General Patton's forces.
We were a replacement crew which arrive din the Firth of Clyde after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the great liner Queen Elizabeth. The ship was painted grey, and carried some 15,000 military people form the U.S. We crossed most of the way without any escort and zigzagged while taking but five and a half days. One morning, after much racket in the bow of the ship from anchoring, we found ourselves off Greenock, Scotland. It took about all day to lighter us ashore, where we boarded trains and were carried southward into England. Sometime during the night, we arrived at Eckleshall, and were billeted. Soon afterward, we moved to a military camp at Warrington where there was only about a one-day stay before we were taken to an airfield to be flown to Northern Ireland for further gunnery training. This was only the enlisted members of our crew. The officers were somewhere else. We were packed into a B-24 for the flight, 34 of us, and landed on a grassy field near Kilkeel, Northern Ireland. After a couple of weeks of training there we were again flown across the Irish Sea to our airbase, the 44th Bomb Group. That time, carried in a B-17.
Our crew's first mission took place on July 29, 1944. This, after several scrubbed missions. These always entailed getting up at about 3 a.m., getting breakfast, mission briefing, suited up, drawing parachutes and escape kits, being hauled out to the plane's dispersals and preflighting, the aircraft, and then standing by for engine starting time, only to see a white, I believe, flare fired from the tower to indicate the mission being scrubbed.
The first mission we flew in a B-24-J, bar-P, named "Ole Cock." Serial number 42-110024. Crew chief's name Harry Steele. There was solid undercast at the target area, Bremen, Germany and we bombed by PFF. The target area was very evident, however, by a great barrage of flak. I recall one plane in a higher element must have dropped its bombs without opening the bomb bay doors because the doors hanging straight down out of the tracks. That crew must have had an exciting landing. I was unaware of the two planes colliding over the North Sea, and spinning in, until after our return to base and at post mission interrogation.
Those two crews lost were Lt. Bernard J. Eberhardt's and Lt. William Green's. Of the two crews, only one man was saved from the water. Whenever our crew flew in "Ole Cock," we went as an 11-man crew. That plane was set up with radar jamming equipment, which was locate din the left rear corner o the flight deck. We called the radar-jamming operator a carpetbagger. I cannot recall his name.
After my return from Liberation in France, and visit to the dispersal area, it was learned that bar-P had gone down on August 12th on a mission to Juvincourt airdrome in France, near Paris. Sgt. Steele and his crew were busy repairing a different unpainted plane, which had been already badly shot up.
Our crew's second mission was again flown in the same aircraft, bar-P. This time we went o Ludwigshafen, Germany, in the Rhine River Valley. Date was July 31st.
Then, on August 3rd when on a mission to Mery-Sur-Oise, we were out over the sea when the No. 3 engine cut out. The propeller was feathered, we peeled off for a return to base. Going back over the wash, there was a British Lysander flying an oval course pulling a tow target sleeve. We saw it, but the pilot of the Lysander apparently did not notice us until after he/she had started to circle back. It was a bit too close. Lt. Edgar Michaels had done a good job by guiding us back to base, and we came in with our bombs and almost full fuel tanks. Then the pilots asked me to accompany them to try to explain our reason for aborting. Sometime later, I went out to the dispersal for bar-P and Sgt. Steele showed me a broken rocker arm, which they had found in that No. 3 engine. That cleared us of aborting a mission without a good reason.
Our third credited mission was on August 4th and we were assigned a different plane. It was bar-L, which is all the record I know of it. Target was at Amiens, France, and may have been a V-2 launching site.
Mission No. 4, August 5th we were to fly deputy lead in an almost new bare metal B-24-J, marked bar-H, No. 42-50626. Name was "My Gal Sal," and the crew chief's name is James Boyer. We carried some incendiary bombs plus other probably general-purpose bombs. Unfortunately, when breaking out above the overcast we were unable to locate the lead plane, and with the sky full of the great number of aircraft going in all sorts of directions, we had to attach onto the back of some other formation. The great air armada then headed out over the North Sea. I remember there being one B-24 in that formation being painted all black. Our navigator, Lt. Michaels informed that we must be 30 miles behind our own formation. Course was eastward over the North Sea, and we turned southward at Helgoland, where the flak guns took pot shots at us. Then, over the mainland we saw and passed Hamburg on our left, on the way to the target at Brunswick.
As I recall, the bomb strikes were very good and there was a great cloud of smoke high in he sky. Flak gunners seemed to be tracking us. When in the top turret with air whistling past the gun barrels, and the flak bursts were audible, I learned that it was close enough to put some holes in the skin of the plane. This turned out to be the case today as we later discovered.
This Ford built plane was a treat to fly, at least from my viewpoint. Fuel transferring could be accomplished with some toggle switches on the flight deck pedestal. But in my effort to get all of the gasoline out of the auxiliary tanks, but with my finger on switches the Nos. 1 and 2 engines coughed, and I instantly flicked the switches, which put those two engines back onto their main tanks again, but the pilot Lt. Komasinski crabbed at me. I said it was my effort to get all the fuel from the auxiliary tanks.
In the consolidated models, fuel transfers were done by the engineer going back through the bomb bay and onto the command deck behind the wing, and transferring gasoline by timing the pumps. That worked, except you didn't dare to run the auxiliary tanks bone dry like I had done in this plane. Another bad feature about transferring fuel in the back was that there was no interphone jack, nor a heated suit plug receptacle. After landing and taxiing and turning around on the hardstand we noticed that our plane was drawing a lot of attention from the spectators who had been watching the mission returning. When climbing out, it was discovered that we had gotten a couple of pretty big flak holes in the left side of the nose. There had been only skin damage, but a bundle of wire just inside could have been cut.
Article by Jim Boyer, crew chief of "My Gal Sal"
The next B-24 that I received was a new "J" series. We named her "My Gal Sal." 42-50626 Bar-H. She had 24 missions to her credit when lost due to an accident. She crashed on takeoff on August 30th, 12944, and I was on board her at the time. The pilot had special orders to fly to London, not a combat mission. The flight engineer was not able to be found at the time of takeoff, so I volunteered to fill in for him. However, just as we were ready to leave, the engineer came out and took over his duties. Being all set to go, I decided to stay in the ship and go with them.
We were all fortunate as no one received any injuries as a result of the crash. I hated to see the ship destroyed -- it was too badly damaged to consider the major repairs necessary. Sincerely, Jim Boyer.
August 7th, we again were going on a mission in "Ole Cock," and felt that we had a steady airplane. As things turned out, that wasn't true. This day the target was at Saleux, France. We got sprayed by some small fragments of flak. They were tracking us and our pilot, who we called "Komo" did some evasive weaving, which probably only helped our crew's morale. More memorable was his cussing, which otherwise he was never heard to utter.
The 8th of August, 1944, our bad-luck day. Target was a German airdrome near LaPerthe, France. We carried 52 100-lb. bombs, called M47s, and were to fly a B-24-J, bar-Y, No. 42-100415. Name was "My Peach."
Takeoff was delayed for several hours because of heavy ground fog. On this day, we had a fill in gunner, who took the place of our regular ball turret gunner, Frank La Fazia, who was put on guard duty. Anyway there was a shift of gun positions. I would stay on the flight deck to monitor the rpms of the No. 2 propeller because there was a faulty prop governor on that engine. In turn, waist gunner, Nelson Brott, moved into the Martin top turret, and the fill in gunner, Coley W. Richardson handled one of the waist guns. This left the ball turret unmanned and retracted. This was to be Richardson's last mission, but as things developed, it was the last mission for all of this crew. While waiting for takeoff signal, our crew sat on some 500-lb. bombs near the left wing, smoking, resting, and kidding one another. We joked about going for our Wilkie buttons (Air Medal) and this our sixth mission.
In my memory, there was little or no flak on this mission, at least to the target area. When past he IP and on the bomb run to the target, the No. 2 engine began to speed, and I could not bring it back to cruising speed with the synchronizing switch. The rpms increased, and I could not slow them down. We had a runaway propeller!! She really howled, and went to 4,500 rpm. Our copilot W. Scot Gippert operated the feathering button and the throttle was closed but the propeller refused to feather. Meanwhile I had gone into the forward end of the bomb bay to turn off the No. 2 fuel selector valve. Fuel booster pump switch was also turned off, as well as the generator for that engine, but with everything off it continued to run wild.
Lt. Gippert asked me to replace the feathering fuse, but I shouted "No fuse. Circuit breakers here!" and pointed to the four little red buttons. He pressed on the button, but that was useless because the breaker had not popped. Oil pressure was at zero, which probably made any further feathering efforts useless. We had learned in training that when at high altitude, feathering could be very sluggish, no doubt due to the oil line propeller spinner being very cold and thick. That may have been the reason for the prop to initially fail to feather. Meanwhile, the engine continued to howl, and the cowling shook violently. I expected the propeller to come flying off, possibly into the fuselage.
At wits end about what to do, and in desperation, I tried to replace the supercharger amplifier, but didn't depress the retainer catch, so it would not come out of its receptacle. When back in London, discussing the situation, our pilots asked, "Why do that?" I replied that it was the last thing in my desperation that I could think of to do. While all of this excitement was going on, we had reached the target and our bombardier, Charles Lain, released the bombs. He later told us that he had delayed a bit in releasing because we had dropped back somewhat form the formation. In all that action, I had released my flak suit, taken off my oxygen mask, head set, throat mic, helmet and gloves and unplugged the heated suit.
Suddenly, copilot Gippert raised up out of his seat, took off his equipment and started back. I snapped on my parachute and tapped Nelson Brott, who was in the Martin top turret on the knee and crooked my finger at him. He had one of the most quizzical expressions I've ever seen. Years later, he told me that his interphone was not working. I was first down onto the catwalk, but then it occurred to me that I had not heard any bailout order or bell, and therefore, would not be first to jump. So in order to be out of the way of others, I swung out and around the right side of the forward bomb rack, and back onto the catwalk behind it.
The reason for this maneuver was that with a check pack parachute on, you could not get through the center of the bomb bay between the bomb racks. The catwalk was ten inches wide and space between bomb racks at the jumper end 14 inches. But a problem developed. In swinging around the rack, my parachute rip cord handle snagged on a bomb shackle and pulled out about ¾". I took notice and pushed it back in, but the damage had already been done. The chute suddenly started to spill while I was getting into position on the catwalk. Quickly, I gathered the folds in my arms, but with so much air rushing through the open bays, more folds kept spilling, and I had my hands full gathering them together. It was all I could do to keep my arms around that bundle of silk. I recall seeing one of the fellows drop from the nose wheel door and our pilot urging our radio operator, John McKee, to go.
I had to decide what to do. We did carry two spare chutes, but they were the old flat types and by previous trial, I had found that the spacing of the harness D rings was a bit different from the spread of the snaps on the present chest packs that we were issued. A bit of thought had convinced me that by unfastening the harness center buckle, they might be workable. However, I was in the center of the bomb bays and having trouble controlling my opened parachute in that hurricane of air, and also hanging onto something. Even our pilot got impatient watching me fooling around and decided to go. That left me the last one aboard, so I worked myself into the forward end of the rear bomb bay and I crouched and rolled out of the right side of the front end of the rear bomb bay.
At once, the chute was pulled out of my arms and there was a big jerk, which jammed me down in the harness. It was very painful, and continued to be until I reached France, about 20 minutes later. Suddenly there was no sound of the engines. I was swinging in a big arc, possibly 180 degrees, with the chute partially collapsing at each upswing point. This made me cautious to not do any movements that might worsen the swinging. A later look at the plane and formation showed ours to be flying level and somewhat behind the rest of the formation, and trailing dark smoke from the No. 2 engine NA-cell.
When eventually we returned to base, I was told by some other crewmen who were also on that mission that the plane had followed along till the formation made a turn and it was eventually lost sight of. The pain of being jammed down in the harness crotch was bad, and at various times during the decent, I attempted to pull myself up so that the seat cross strap would be underneath my rump, but I was too weak form lack of oxygen. Also without helmet and gloves, the cold was hardly bearable until considerably farther down. The swinging gradually stopped, but I kept revolving slowly. The canopy had three tears, each about a foot long. There was another parachute lower and a bit to the side, and two others in sight, but farther and lower.
No amount of my yelling got any response from the nearest person. It may have been our pilot, Komosinski. I noted that my black flying shoes were still on my feet, but was also glad to have had the sense to have had tied my GI shoes to the parachute pack. They would come in very handy during my time in France. Gradually, the air became warmer and my hard breathing eased up.
It was a very frightening experience, hanging there in the sky above enemy-occupied France. We had been trained, if we had to jump, to delay it until only several thousand feet up. Our formation was at 20,000 feet, and my chute was opened from that height, which if they were in the area would have given the Germans plenty of time to converge on us.
From high up, there was no sensation of falling. There were scattered cumulus clouds at a lower height and for awhile, it seemed that I would be dropping through one, but did drift between them. Eventually, the earth seemed to be drawing closer and it became apparent that I was dropping quite fast. At one or two thousand feet, I saw two bicycles or motorcycles traveling along a road. Then getting lower, there were people coming out of farmhouses and running along roads, and I could hear some shots. The earth was getting close, fast, so I began to prepare for the landing. With knees bent slightly, but legs stiff, I hit. Legs folded up and I fell down hard, backward. Pulling on the upper shroud lines collapsed the canopy. The landing had been in a cut grain field with a gravel road along one side.
I unsnapped the chute, got up, took off the harness, removed my GI shoes, bundled up the chute and harness and ran to the edge of the field bordered by the road carrying the equipment and threw it under a bush. A shot was fired and I believe the bullet passed above me. That got me moving and I ran parallel to the road but with any vegetation between me and the road. After about 100 feet or so, I noticed that I was still wearing my Mae West (inflatable life jacket). I removed that while running and threw it under another bush. There were some young boys around me very soon after landing, and soon older people.
The French people who saw me land were all about me by then. One had a bicycle and was coaxing me to get on it and ride down the road. Where he wanted me to go is still a mystery to me. I wanted to head for my nearest crew mate; the one who had been beneath me on the way down, but that would have taken me in the direction from which I was shot at. I went down the road about half a mile, with a crowd of people following me. The fellow with the bicycle was wheeling it along.
All at once, his tire blew out. I thought it was funny, but didn't laugh, because I knew that tires must have been very hard for them to get. They stopped in front of a farmhouse and wanted to take me inside. There was one woman in the crowd who was objecting to my entering the house. She was evidently afraid of the Germans searching the house. I could speak only a few words of French. They asked me if I was English or American. I answered "American." The woman kept insisting that I should not enter her house. There was quite a heated argument among the people and I was becoming disgusted. I wanted to head for the woods to hide before the Germans came. They wouldn't let me. Soon, they made up their minds. Two young men took me to another house farther down the road.
We entered the house by the side door. They sat me on a bed and then began to rush around, gathering up clothing for me to wear. One of the men went outside while the other started to help me get out of my flying clothing and change into the civilian things, which they provided. A woman brought me a loaf of bread and some butter, which was wrapped, in paper. I gave them all the gum, matches, and candy which I had. Also a fountain pen. They then took me outside to a horse and cart, which one of the men had hitched up while the other helped me into the clothes. I also had the GI shoes on now. They loaded me into the cart and had me keep low. Then I had a rough ride of about a mile into some woods.
There, they unloaded me and had me crawl into a hole, which was covered over so that it could not be seen form the outside. It was a long "U" shaped hole in which they had cached a bag of potatoes and a keg of wine. There was some straw in the bottom on which to sleep. When I was comfortable, they covered me over and left. About two hours later, the two men returned. They whistled a certain tune so that I would know it was them. This time they brought a bottle of cider. I got out of the hole to stretch. They gave me a drink, from the bottle. It tasted very good. Then they broke a cigarette in half and each of them took one half. They offered me a whole cigarette, but I didn't' take it.
I opened my escape kit and showed them what it contained. I made motions on the maps with the fingers like a man walking toward Spain. They shook their heads. Then I did the same toward Normandy where our invasion beachhead was at the time. They again shook their heads and somehow got the idea across to me that I would leave that night on a trip. Where the trip would take me was a mystery.
Then they twiddled their thumbs and I got the idea that I would go somewhere and then wait for the Allied Forces to liberate us. They made me understand that they would leave again and at dusk return and start me off on the trip. Before they left, I Indicated that I was cold. One of them went off and soon returned with my flying clothing. Then I went back into the hold and covered myself in the heated clothing. That way I kept warm until they returned at dusk. I even slept a little this time.
Just as the sun was going down, I heard the whistle again and started to crawl out of the hole. I met them on the path. They tied up my flying clothing and one of them carried the bundle under his arm as we started off on what turned out to be about an eight or ten-mile hike. We cut across fields and came upon a small path through a forest. When we approached a highway, they acted very cautious and I followed their example. We crossed in a hurry after they were sure that there were no patrols near. Soon, we proceeded again.
We entered a forest and when we came out of the other side, I noticed a light flashing about 200 yards away across a field. My companions started signaling with their flashlight. Then we headed across the field and met two other men. I found out that the first two men were going to go back and that I was to continue with the two who we had just met. I shook hands with them and told them that I thought they were good Joes. They didn't understand what I said, of course.
My two initial evasion helpers names are: Charles Dupuis who now lives at the village of Margnay, and I believe he also had a brother involved. Also there was Jean Perault who I think was one of the first two escorts through woods and fields to a rendezvous with the next two escorts who were Henri Meysonst and Jean Piquet, who finished escorting me to the Benier home at Orbais, where Andre and Lucienne were living with their mother. Other than our radio operator, John McKee, who was taken prisoner by the Germans, and Coley W. Richardson, badly injure don landing, and I believe hospitalized under German control, the rest of our crew spent their time hiding in the forests moving often at night to avoid capture. My time at the Benier home was relative luxury. I slept in a feather bed and had regular meals prepared by the woman.
Then I went on with the new escort. We stopped in a forest and they showed me a French-English translation book. They looked up a word and pointed to the English translation. The English word happened to be "Feed." I shook my head and pulled some of the black bread out of my pockets to show them that I was not hungry.
Later, they told me that we would pass by the wreckage of a British Lancaster bomber. As we came near it, we saw two men standing near the remains. They cautioned me not to try to speak because the men were collaborators. We stopped at the remains of the Lancaster. There was only a crater with a lot of small pieces of metal lying about. As we stood there, the two collaborators came over and spoke to my companions. I didn't understand what was said. It was dark enough by then that they couldn't tell that the clothing under my friend's arm was not civilian.
Then we continued on our way. They told me that we only had to travel, "Sept kilomets." They showed me on their fingers that they meant the number seven. After going over more hills, through woods, fields and swamps, and dozens of barbed wire fences I heard a church bell ringing, so that gave me an idea that we were getting near a village. We went down a hill. I stumbled and slid most of the way. Then we came upon a path, which led along a stone wall. At the end of the path there was a road. The wall was built along the side of a house, which fronted on the road.
We approached the road very cautiously, and two of us stayed back while the other fellow went around and knocked on the door of the house. Someone answered the door and then went back into the house. Then the other fellow came back around the corner of the house. They then led me around the front through a large gate and into the yard. We went around to the back door and were let into the house by an old woman. I was led into the kitchen and then said goodbye to my two escorts as they left the house. The time, by then, was about midnight. I tried to converse with the old woman, but she couldn't seem to understand anything I said. We then settled down to waiting, but for whom, I didn't know. After about a half-hour a man and a woman came into the house. The woman seemed very happy that I had arrived.
After I had done my best to answer all of their questions with the help of the French-English book, they gave me a drink of what they called whiskey. It was clear in color. I believe it was cognac. Then they showed me where I could sleep. It was a bedroom directly across a hallway from the kitchen. I was told that someone would join me in that bed some time during the night. He was supposed to be able to speak English. That made me very happy. When this fellow came to bed, I woke. "Do you speak English?" He didn't answer my question because he didn't understand it. Instead he started to question me in French, which I did not understand. At that, I gave up and went to sleep.
Next morning, when I awoke, my bed partner was gone. I never saw him again. At 9 o'clock, the woman came into my room with a bowl of something and a slice of bread with honey on it. All she said was, "Franc, Deshunas." I soon learned that the word meant breakfast. The food in the bowl looked like coffee with some scum floating around on the surface. I ate it with a spoon, like soup. It had a sweet taste. I went back to sleep and finally got up about noon when the woman indicated that it was almost time to eat again.
I shaved in the same room in which I slept. For shaving, I used the razor and shaving soap out of my escape kit. The woman gave me a pitcher of cold water and a wash bowl and towel for shaving. When I finished shaving and washing, she was very pleased with the way I Looked. I must have been very dirty and bearded the night before when she saw me. Then we went into the dining room to eat.
There was a young, dark-haired man who ate with us at that meal. I hadn't seen him before then, but it turned out that he was my closest companion for the next month. The reason for that was because he could speak some English. He also stayed at that house most of the time. I never did learn his name. I don't believe that he wanted anyone to know his real name. To me, he was known as Shorty. I later learned that he was a spy who was working with the British. He was French and his home was in Paris. He had been trained for his work in England, which accounted for the limited English that he could speak. Later, he showed me his equipment, which included two radio sets. One was British made and the other was made in the United States. Also, he had a sending key, two small storage batteries, a generator which could be coupled up to a bicycle for charging the batteries, an American .45 automatic pistol, some knives, a small , luminous ball, used for reading maps in the dark without using a flashlight, a bicycle and a hand grenade. I got along well with Shorty and he was glad that he stayed at that house. Through him I learned much. He was the only one with whom I could carry on a conversation.
Shorty told me that I was on the edge of a town called Orbais L'Abbaye. That town is about 22 kilometers south of Epernay, which is, in turn, south of Reims. He explained that he and I were living with some people named Benier. There were three of them. The old woman and her two unmarried children. The children were about 40 or 50 years old themselves. The old woman was 80 years old. Her feet bothered her and she did as little walking as possible. The man'' name was Andrae and his sister'' was Lucienne. They both treated me very well while I was living with them. Andrae had some sort of occupation, and was gone all day. He may have worked at the mill. Every night at about 9 o'clock, he came home on his bicycle. As soon as he was home, we had our meal. It was usually about 10 o'clock by the time that we finished eating. After the table was cleared off, we usually sat around the kitchen table. About 11 o'clock, we retired that night. I, again, slept in the same bedroom. Shorty slept with me in the same bed that night.
Before I got up the next morning, Shorty had left for the day. Whenever he went anywhere he usually got up very early and left the house before daylight. The reason for that was so that the neighbors didn't notice him. His and my presence in that house were kept secret. He explained to me that, although there were no German collaborators in the town, the neighbors talked too much. I was not permitted to leave the house, except to go into the backyard. The whole yard was surrounded by a high, stone wall, except where the gate was. For that reason, I had to be very cautious even when in the yard. I always was careful to keep behind any bushes or trees when it would have been able to see me form the road in front of the house.
There were certain friends and relatives who knew that I was staying there. They were all very trusted. There were Gaston and his wife, Blanche. They had a ten-year-old daughter whose name was Colette. Gaston had a dog, which was called "Dickie." That dog followed him wherever he went. Also there was Therese, who was very fat. Her husband was a little guy who looked like a bum. I never saw him dressed in any clothes, which were not either dirty or ragged. Another person who often visited us was Henri Meysonnet. He was one of the fellows who escorted me to the Benier home. He was very active in the F.F.I. and every time he dropped in, he would say, "When the American tanks come, we will go along and fight the Germans." I would agree with him, but thought to myself that I'd be going the other way.
MORE OF THIS STORY WILL BE ADDED IN THE UPGRADED VERSION OF THE DATABASE