Chapter I - POW |
This tale is about our second mission to Foggie, Italy on 16 August 1943. We were all flying out of Benghazi, Lybia in North Aftrica. On this day we were flying in A/C 42- 40373 (Natchez Belle) on the Tail End Charlie position in the 68th Bomb Squadron of the 44th Bomb Group. The following is a crew listing:
Pilot - 1st Lt. Eunice M. Shannon
Co-pilot - 2nd Lt. George P. Hersh
Navigator - 2nd Lt. George W. Temple
Bombardier - 2nd Lt. Elwood E. Collins
Engineer - T/Sgt. Dennis E. Slattery
Radio Operator - T/Sgt. Clarence Strangeberg
Waist Gunner - Sgt. Clarence H. Rothrock
Waist Gunner - S/Sgt Clayton B. Heller
High Gunner - S/Sgt/ Nick B. Smith
Tail Gunner - S/Sgt Robert 1. Vogel
We had a clear day and bombing was good. We were at an altitude of 25,000 ft. Just a few minutes after the target, as we were headed southward an unknown B-24 crossed over us, coming from about 4:30 and was only about 30 feet above. His slip stream turned us up on our wing and Shannon did a masterful job getting control of the ship. Only one thing wrong, we were now a mile behind the formation, somewhat below them and about 25 fighters, yellow nose ME- I 09's and Foch Wolf joined in the attack.
They came in level at 3, 6 and 9 delock and turned away just to keep from hitting us.
Our gunners were seen to have shot down about 8 of the fighters. Their firepower killed both Heller and Smith with the same exploding shell. Shannon gave the bail out signal and I was the first to exit. Before I continue with my account, I must account for Hersh. His parachute bundle was on fire, so he headed for the rear to get one of the spare chutes. Strandberg, Slattery and Shannon each tried to get him to go out with them while holding onto them. He refused. All of the rest safely cleared the plane. About six weeks later, in Tunis, I happened to talk to a B- 1 7 Navigator who was in the formation behind us and watched the aerial battle. As to our plane, he said, "it suddenlty snap rolled and blew UP
Back to my exit. The last thing that I did before exiting was to check the altitude. We were at 18,000 feet so I had plenty of room to delay pulling the ripeord. I was in free fall for one minute, approximately 12,000 feet, by following the second hand on my wrist watch with my finger because my eyes had watered up in the wind. After 30 seconds of falling,, I rolled over to look down and see if I was coming down into a valley or onto a mountain top. It was into a valley. The landing was under control but my left foot landed on a 6 inch round stone which resulted in my breaking my ankle. There was a civilian waiting party that took me, via donkey, to a gathering point where I met the remainder of my crew. We were transported to the Carabinieri, police Station in Potenza. From there the wounded were transportd to the Provincial Hospital of San Carlo. It was there that we spent the next 25 days, under Italian guard. We were in the top second floor at the end of a wing off from the main building. While there, I secretly briefed the rest of the prisoners on some star celestial navigation, in the event that they ever got free and could travel.
The evening of 9 September we were told that the Italians had signed an arynistice with the Allies. I filled in the troops as to what that should mean for us. Freedom, just as long as we stay out of the hands of the Germans. We should try to stay with the authorities or the military. Little did we realize what was to come.
The next morning, around 10:00 we heard bombers, headed North. Looking outside of our south window we were greeted with a formation of B-25 bombers, headed directly toward us. We knew that a railroad marshalling yard and a military barracks was between us and the bombers. The B-25's were at roughly 8,000 feet and we easily saw the bombs as they were leaving the planes. Yes, they did hit, among other things, the hospital. The blew the room off directly next to us, completely separating us from the main building. We all escaped unhurt. Even the guard was running for safety as we all heard more bombers coming. Robert Vogel, Ralph Knox from the 506th Squadron and I all wound up at the Carabinieri, Police Station the next day. At the station there was a B- 25 pilot and his Right engineer, whose names I have forgotten. They had been there for a few days as prisoners but were free now following the armistice.
The Caribinieri told us that we could leave or stay with them. They would watch out for us and feed us until we decided to leave. The feeding issue was a noon meal each day and a small round loaf of bread for supper. We knew that the Allies had invaded Italy so we decided to stay with the Caribinieri until we heard gunfire in the distance. The police followed the same rational. During the next nine days we had a couple of brushes with the Germans. One, the police hid us out in some of the jail cells. They hid the other Lt. and me under the floor boards in one of the cells until the Germans left. Another time we had lunch with a couple of Germans sitting just across the table from us. Our Lt. spoke fluent German, we never told the Italians that fact. At the table, one of the Italians was speaking German with the Germans but he never mentioned anything about the Americans sitting across the table from them. The Italians didn't know that we had stolen pistols and hand grenades from them, so we were armed and ready. After the Germans finished their lunch they departed. All's well that ends well.
The afternoon of the 2 1 st we heard gunfire so we left that evening just before sundown. The Lt. along with his flight engineer and Vogel left first. They were not crippled up and Ralph Knox and I did not want to impede their progress. Ralph still had a bad leg and my ankle, though useful slowed me down. We left about 20 minutes later. We spent the night on a mountain side some 3 to 4 miles to the south. The next day we hitched up with a group of Italians that were headed south, getting away from the Germans. Later that afternoon we got tangled up in the front line crossing. A machine gun battle took place just around the bend and heavy shells started flying overhead. Needless to say, we hot footed it down the hill and away from the highway. Stopping in a bam yard, we watched a large group of weapon carriers and some tanks driving north, along the road. Ralph and I spent the night there in a farmer's bam. He had told us that the next morning he would take us through the lines.
The next morning he came down the Mountainside with a soldier beside him. Neither Ralph or I saw a weapon or insignia to identify the nationality of the soldier. I kept the pistol under cover as the soldier knelt down to speak to Ralph and said, "How are you laddic"? He was Canadian with the British Sth Army. This was the morning of the 23rd. We were taken to a forward medical field station. That morning they captured Potenza. We were air evacuated to Catania where we contacted the US Air Force. The nW day I was flown by B-25 to Tunis. This was the 25 of December 1943. 1 was debriefed at, I think the 12th AF Headquarters and then send over to the 44th who were then in Tunis. Ralph made it back a couple of days later.
I stayed with the 68th and went back to England with them in October by ATC. In London, I was, I guess, on detached service with the 8th AF. At Headquarters they told me that I was the first 8th AF man, who after having been shot down over continental Europe, taken Prisoner of War, escaped, got my way through allied lines of action and returned to England. Another honor took place in General Ira Baker's office in late November. About 6 or 8 of we escapees were presented our medals by the General. When he awarded the third medal to S/Sgt Vogel he told Robert that he was the first man he could remember he had ever awarded three medals in the same ceremony. As I was standing next in line to Vogel, I heard the verbal exchange very clearly.
Chapter - II Post POW
This Chapter began in November while still in London with the 8th AF.
I was sent, for me week, to a Seminar sponsored by MI-9, a Top Secret Section of the British Government or Military. The subjed of the Seminar was "Escape & Evasion". At the time, I asked myself why am I being sent here?
In mid January-February 1944, 1 was assigned to G2 at the Pentagon. This then led to a period of TDY'S, accompanied with a G2 Second Lt. to 5 staging area bases in the midwest: Salina, KS, Topeka, KS, Grand Idle, NE, Lincoln, NTE and Kearney, NE. Here the new combat crews (B- I 7's and 24's) were receiving their new planes and departing for the ETO. While on station they received clothing, supplies, etc. plus pertinent lectures. Our team of two gave lectures on "Escape & Evasion".
The Lt. began every lecture, perhaps 400-500 in attendance, with the same question: "Did you hear the me about the sailor that got his head stuck in the port hole? ---- Pause for a moment ---- He couldn't get it out to save his ass". Instant laughter and then wait 15 to 20 seconds after it quieted down and they busted out laughing even louder this second time. They had thought about what had been said. Then we began the lecture with "we hope today, to tell you something, that if you are downed in occupied territory, may help you to save your ass.
After the Lt. gave his presentation, he introduced me (Exhibit A). I began with my being shot down on 16 August 1943 and related my experiences of 6-7 months earlier.
After a couple of months I was replaced by T/Sgt Dennis E. Slattery, our Flight Engineer. My assignments then took me to Selman Field, Monroe, LA as a Navigation Instructor. In October 1944 1 began the first steps toward Single Engine Pilot School. I lacked two weeks of graduating when the war ended.
In late'44 and'45, I was stopped on two occasions, each time, a different airman and asked if I had ever been stationed (you guessed it) at one of the staging area bases in Feb. or March '44. After I said, "yes", and answered in the affirmative as to whether I had given "Escape and Evasion" lectures. They responded, " I was there that day and if it hadn't been for something you told us that day, I wouldn't be here talking to you now". Success!!!
Chapter III - Korean Recall
In June 195 1, lacking I course of graduating in Electrical Engineery at LA Poly Tech, I was recalled to Active Duty and assigned to Barksdale AFB, Bossier City, LA. There I was assigned to the 301st BW, 352NOBS. This was a SAC Wing and we flew B-29's.
On reporting, I went to Squadron Operations and met the Squadron CO Col. John H Diehl. What a surprise. Col. Diehl had been my Squadron Commander in Benghazi, Lybia, eight years earlier when I was shot down. About three days later, after reporting
in, Col. Diehl made me the Asst. Operations Officer, in charge of training. This then led to my assignment of flying with the Squadron on a TDY to Lakenheath, UK in August Is 1.
Besides my Operations Duties and because of my Associated contacts in the LJK, I became a Travel Officer. Col Diehl had promised everyone on the TDY a long weekend while there. I got rides for everyone, all over Europe, including Berlin. One of the men had family in East Berlin. Yes, he did get to meet with them and returned OK.
I finally got a ride for myself to Italy. It was a Navy logistics Flight, two round trips a week. From London to Paris, to Naples, and on to Port Lyautey, NW Africa and return. I caught a flight to Naples on Friday. In between lay Potenza.
A Lt. Col. from the Squadron went with me to Naples. He was Catholic and caught the train to Rome. I caught another train to Potenza and arrived there at about 2 1:00. Upon exiting the station, a driver from one of the taxi's (horse drawn carriages) walked up to me, reached for my bag and said, "Taxi"? I looked at him and said "Vous est Lorenzo"? "Si, me Lorenzo" "quis est vous"? "Me est Georgio". "Georgio"? "Si me est Georgio, L'ospedal de San Carlo". "Ah Georgio" and then he threw his arms around me and we both hugged one another. Now lets go back 8 years again.
The first morning in the hospital, the day after we were shot down, a young man came into our room carrying a pan. He proceded to shave all of our heads as well as our
beards. Every morning he returned and shaved our beards. This barber was Lorenzo.
Lorenzo, after we looked one another over, as I was now in Air Force Blues, and still in awe, reached up removed my cap and rubbed his hand through my hair. Yes, we both remembered. Lorenzo then took me to a hotel for the night. Next morning, after breakfast, he took me over to the hospital. The building had been rebuilt and repaired, but it was empty. The hospital, per se, had moved to a large monastary type building over on the next hill, a couple of miles away.
Next we went to the hospital and there we met 3 of the Sisters that I remembered, and they remembered me. Lorenzo was my mouth piece and tour guide. The Sisters wanted to know why I came back. I told them I Red them, thanked them and wanted to see them. This pleased them to no end. From the Hospital, Lorenzo took me to the Town Square. On one side was the Bank building, I needed to visit to exchange some travel checks into Lira. Before entering the Bank, I recognized where I was and pointed to a building 90 degrees around the square and asked Lorenzo if the was the Caribinieri. He said "Si".
Upon exiting the bank, I headed for the Caribinieri but Lorenzo hesitated. Obviously he didn't know why I wanted to go there but finally followed me as I entered. I walked down the long flight of stairs, entered the internal court yard and headed back to the main office. I needed Lorenzo to tell my story. Obviously, the Captain in the office was perplexed as to what and who was this military man. Lorenzo started talking almost immediately a crowd of Caribinieri started to collect. Suddenly I saw a familiar face and then another. It took a while for Lorenzo to fill in all that he knew about me and the others that had been with me in the hospital. Then it also took awhile for the two caribinieri to tell their tales. You should have seen Lorenzo, proud and sticking out his chest.
Next one of the Caribinieri told me and the others to follow him. immediately I knew where he was taking us. Yes, it was back into the cell block. We turned the corner and then he pointed into the cell and down to the floor boards. Eight years earlier when some Germans had come into the jail looking for us, the Caribinieri had hidden all the Americans. This particular man had taken the other Lt. and me to this specific cell, told us to lift up the floow boards, get underneath them and be still. About 30 minutes later, he returned and got us out.
After departing the Caribinieri Lorenzo took me back to the train station and we tearfully said "A Biento".
There was one other event during that Korean recall worth noting. This took place approximately in May 1952. The 301st BW was an A-bomb outfit. At that same point in time, in history, A-bomb testing was being conducted. I was with the 301st, at 30,000 ft., above an aerial A-bomb blast at Frenchman's Creek, Nevada on one of their tests. Everyone was briefed prior to take-off, to monitor the count down over the radio. We were told tht at zero(detonation), we had to have our eyes tightly closed as well as having our hands crossed and covering our eyes. Being the navigator on our plaine, I was up front in the green house. When the bomb detonated, the flash was so bright that I could see the bones and flesh in my fingers, in technicolor in varying shades of pink as opposed to a black and white like an xray.
In April 1998, 1 saw and spoke with Paul W. Tibbets, or the "Enota Gay". Paul dropped the first A-bomb on Hiroshima. He denied knowledge oton his drop, what I described above. He said that as soon as he dropped the A-bomb he did a 180 degree turn and dropped his nose He was trying to get as far away from the blast as possible and his back was to the blast.
In August 1993, 1 talked with the "Confederate Air Force" Pilot who flew a B-29 into Keene, NE on tour. Some two or three months earlier, he, at another tour stop had the pleasure of meeting and talking with the tail gunner who was with Tibbets at Hiroshima. The Tail Gunner described the flash phenomenon identically, almost word for word , what I had described. The Pilot now said that he has to believe the story.