Legacy Page




Legacy Of:

James  N.  Tomblin


Personal Legacy
44th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force


When Pearl Harbor was bombed, December 7, 1941, I was a student in high school. At that time, being involved in the war was an extremely remote thought. However, when Jimmy Stewart made a pitch in a movie short, March 1942, extolling the virtues of being a commissioned flying officer in the Army Air Corps (as it was known at the time) I decided to join up. The concept of being a commissioned officer with silver wings and 50% monthly pay bonus for flying was to irresistible a temptation for a 17 year old kid. I started then to gather my letters of recommendation from my teachers (I needed 3) and hoped I could pass the Air Corps most difficult physical to be admitted to the Aviation Cadet program.

To apply for Aviation Cadets, I had to travel to Knoxville, Tennessee, which was 100 miles from Johnson City, Tennessee. Since my 18th birthday was on a Sunday, I asked my mother if I could travel to Knoxville on the weekend and then apply for Cadets on Monday. "Can't you wait a little while," she said, so I decided to postpone my trip. That very week, all the services stopped accepting volunteers, stating that the various services were getting out of balance. Many were volunteering for some services and not enough for other services. So I signed up for the draft, was drafted, and was assigned to the Army Air Corps anyhow.

I was sent to Keesler Field, Mississippi, near Biloxi. There I saw the first B-24 I had ever seen. I had no idea I would one day be flying missions in that plane. I applied for Aviation Cadets there, but before the paperwork cleared, I was sent to Radio Operator and Mechanic (ROM) school in Chicago. The Stevens Hotel had been taken over by the Army and that's where I was quartered.

The Stevens Hotel overlooks Lake Michigan and there was a naval ship anchored there, used for training Navy personnel. As we learned Morse code, my roommate and I would send messages to the Navy trainees on the ship. We would turn the room lights on and off giving visual dots and dashes. The trainees would respond with a real blinker.

When I was admitted to Cadets I was sent to a College Training Detachment (CTD) for 3 months academic instruction and physical training. My CTD turned out to be Michigan State.

While I was there I had classes in history, math, literature, and, in addition, I received 10 hours of pilot training and extensive physical training. To "graduate," each Cadet had to be able to do 50 sit-ups, 25 push-ups, and climb a 25' rope, all within a specified time. We also had to swim double the length of Michigan State's Olympic-size swimming pool underwater.

After CTD, I entered Navigation School in Coral Gables, Florida, and graduated April 22, 1944, a new 2nd Lieutenant with silver wings. I was quartered in another hotel during training, the San Sebastian. Our instructors were Pan American Airlines personnel (civilians) with whom the AAC had contracted.

I had qualified for training in any of the flying officers categories - Pilot, Navigator, or Bombardier. Since flying officer status was my main goal, I investigated the "wash-out" rate of each category. Bombardier was 10%, Navigator was 25%, and Pilot was 50%. I then chose Bombardier, but got so bored I transferred to Navigator training just before Christmas.

We studied dead reckoning, celestial navigation, meteorology, map reading, and related subjects. We learned how to calibrate a compass and read airplane drift. Our training utilized old PAA commercial seaplanes, which were flown over the Atlantic Ocean on training exercises.

After graduation, I was shipped to Gowan Field, Boise, Idaho, to enter phase training with other crewmembers. The plane I was to train in was a B-24. The whole purpose of phase training was to get all the crew members experience in working together, learn the airplane, and practice various type flights - day, night, individual and formation.

We had all completed our particular tech school and were in the final phase of training before going overseas. We were from all over the United States. Bill Wright, the engineer, from North Carolina; Bill had a soft, slow drawl and really loved his work. Johnny Bertollio, from Texas, was a waist gunner. He was quiet, and just did his job. Bruce Starr, ball turret gunner. Never did find out where Bruce was from and he was transferred to Italy soon after we got to England and the ball turret was removed from all B-24's to increase air speed. Fred Weiner, from Brooklyn; and he had the accent to prove it. Fred was the other waist gunner. Eddie Sharp was the radio operator and occasionally manned the top turret. The tail turret gunner was Henry "Hank" Starr, from New Hope, Pennsylvania Hank was the most military of all of us. His father was a retired Army Major from World War I.

One of the exercises we went through was practice gunnery, with movie cameras mounted on the .50 caliber machine guns on the plane. A female pilot in the Women's Air Force (WAF) would fly a pursuit plane, simulating a fighter attack on the bombers, and we gunners would try to shoot her down.

The cameras would activate when the gun's triggers were pressed. After the flight in formation, the whole crew got to review all the movies taken. They laughed loudly when my film was shown, because I was constantly shooting off the tail of our lead plane. I wasn't trained as a gunner; I had no gun assignment on the plane, and shouldn't have been practicing gunnery anyhow!

One of the crew (never did find out who) later sent me a road map in the mail.

From Boise we went to Topeka, Kansas, and were given a B-24. Had our picture made there. Then to Goose Bay, Labrador, across to Iceland and finally England. (I calculated our flight time to Iceland as 7 hours 40 minutes. It was actually 7 hours, 39 minutes.)

In Goose Bay, since this was July, the sun didn't set until after midnight and rose about 3:00 AM. Some mechanical trouble developed on the plane and we were delayed for several days. It was really difficult to sleep with almost constant daylight.

The bombardier, Dick Pascal, and I had become good friends and were together a lot. The one time we were in Birmingham, England, we each bought 2 peaches from a street vendor for $2 per peach. Gives you an idea how expensive fresh fruit was. We commissioned flying officers then walked the streets of Birmingham eating peaches.

Dick had had some college, and mentioned that one of his professors, on learning of Dick's entering the Air Corps, told him: "If you ever fly over Germany, be sure to look for the blue heather." We both thought that very funny because you can't see a lot of detail 4 to 5 miles up.

Dick also told me what another professor had said: "Remember, the victor writes the history books." That is so true, and I have made use of that many times over.

We were assigned to the 66th Bomb Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, 14th Air Wing, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force, located in Shipdam, England. Shipdam is just East of Norwich. We flew our first mission 27 August, 1944.


There were 51 heavy bomber groups in England at the end of the war. Almost all the fields were just carved out of the countryside, mostly farms. Crews slept in Nisson huts, the rounded roof structures, used for temporary housing.

Before our first mission I had to be checked out on a new navigational device called a "G" box. While on the test flight, fog closed in on our base and we were forced to land at an RAF base and spend the night there. I chatted with pilots of pursuit (fighter) planes who had flown 50, 60,70 missions. They called them sorties. They told me during the Battle of Britain the only time they slept was while their planes were being refueled, then off again patrolling the skies over London. They talked in a quiet, matter of fact way, not seeing anything heroic in their actions. I have never been so impressed as by these most heroic, brave, genuine heroes. The AAF required 35 missions to complete a tour of duty.

The American Air Force bombed during daylight hours, the British at night The RAF would send a spotter plane out to drop a flare on the target and then the flare was bombed. The AAF just sent their bombers to the target and bombed visually. Weather was an extremely important consideration in scheduling missions.

Our daylight missions were well organized. About 10 PM in the Officer's Club we would be told if there was a mission the next day, or we were to "stand-down." If there was a mission, we would be awakened about 3 AM (once it was 2 AM), get breakfast and then a briefing at which time the target was disclosed, the cloud coverage expected over the target, the type of bombs we would carry, flight patterns, assembly points, type of fighter escort, and bombing altitude. Types of fighter aircraft we might encounter, areas of flak concentrations, length of mission, all were described. Each crewmember would be given a box of K-rations, and we were trucked out to the waiting planes. Usually we were airborne about 5 AM. With most mornings foggy, and all the airfields in such close proximity, it was sometimes the scariest part of the mission - just getting assembled. Missions would take about 10 to 12 hours. Our longest missions seemed to occur on Sundays, when the base cook prepared fried chicken. Usually the base personnel would have eaten it all by the time we returned and we had to settle for cold cuts.

Incidentally, K-rations were not one of the most enjoyable foods around. The rations were in a small, waterproofed box, about 8" by 3" by 1", and consisted of a small block of cheese, 4 crackers, a fruit bar and 4 cigarettes.

I remember 2 missions very well. One was to a jet airfield (yes, the German's had jets flying then, but they could only be airborne for a few minutes because of enormous rate of fuel consumption) we were supposed to "post-hole." This was the only time I actually got to drop a bomb! The last bomb failed to release, and I threw the salvo lever, which released it. Since it was the last bomb, and slightly late, I watched it fall and explode in an open field well past the end of the runway we were bombing. I felt good that my bomb hadn't hurt anyone.

The other mission I remember very well was a re-supply mission to paratroopers who had just been dropped near Arnhem, Netherlands. To practice this mission, we had flown in formation over the English countryside at an extremely low level. I lay on my stomach next to the bombsight and looked through the Plexiglas nose. We were so low I could see the ground between blades of grass. We had to pull up to get over small picket fences.

On the actual mission, we flew in at treetop level. A 4-engine bomber traveling a 200-mph that low is pretty exciting. German soldiers on the ground were firing at us with rifles. The bombardier in the nose turret would spot a rifleman and then try to tell the waist gunners and the tail turret gunner where the rifleman was (e.g., 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, etc.) but we were travelling too fast for that tactic to be very effective. At that speed, we traveled the length of a football field in one second.

At the drop site, we cut throttle, pulled up to 500 feet and the jumpmaster (our special 11th crewmember) kicked out the supplies. I was looking through the Plexiglas nose and saw a paratrooper crossing the field with his arm around a girl - and they had just dropped yesterday!

A rifle bullet hit the hydraulic reservoir tank, located in the top of the fuselage above the flight deck, and the red liquid spelled all over the engineer, Bill Wright Eddie, the radio operator, thought Bill had been shot scared him to death.

When we got back to the base, we had to manually crank-down the landing gear and stopping the plane was a little difficult, but we managed OK.

(The story of this immense effort by the paratroopers is in the book A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan and in the movie of the same name. A plan by General Montgomery was to drop 35,000 paratroopers 64 miles behind enemy lines and capture the bridge across the Rhine River at Arnhem, Netherlands. To accomplish this, 3 bridges had to be captured intact, by paratroopers, to enable a relief column to advance the 64 miles to Arnhem.

The Paratroopers captured all the bridges, including the one at Arnhem, but the relieving division of tanks stopped 5 miles from Arnhem. The paratroopers there were captured. They had held the Rhine Bridge 7 days, and Montgomery said 2 days was all that was required. In my view, this was the biggest boondoggle of the War, and certainly the most tragic.

The total 7-day casualties for all the forces involved - killed, wounded, and missing - amounted to more than 17,000. The 24-hour period of D-Day had 10,000-12,000 casualties.)

After the mission, our 6th, everyone got an Air Medal and a few days leave in London. Dick Pascal and I saw all the sights in a cab with a huge gas blimp (full of propane I guess) attached to the roof. We saw one bombed-out area in downtown London that covered 63 acres. No wall over 5 feet tall was standing. Seeing this and the hundreds of 8th Air Force heavy bombers flying out daily helped me understand why the British people really loved the 8th Air Force (and still do). This was the only time I got to see the hundreds of bombers leaving England almost daily. Every one had either 6,000 (B-17) or 8,000 (B-24) pounds of bombs.

Our tour of London covered all the sights I had heard about. I saw St. Paul Cathedral; Westminster Abbey and the burial sites inside where so many historic figures are buried; the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Palace. The cab driver spent almost a half-day showing Dick and I everything, including a knowledgeable discourse, and charged us only $2 apiece! He refused a tip, saying it would cause inflation. (Incidentally, the small hand on Big Ben is 9 feet long).

Our first mission after returning from these few days in London was the marshaling yards in Hamm, Germany. Meeting at the plane, climbing aboard with our gear, there was very little conversation. An unusually glum tail gunner, Hank Starr, muttered "we're going to have to hit the silks today." The pilot, Arthur Ledford, was getting his final puffs on his cigar before take-off. I always wondered how he could smoke something so strong so early in the morning.

It takes a long time to get 20 bombers off the ground at 30 second intervals while I it's still dark and somewhat foggy. Then the constant climbing and assembling until the whole wing of 3 groups is together.

As we ascended out over the channel to our bombing altitude of 22,000 feet, bombardier Dick Pascal and I crawled through our little 10-foot long tunnel up to the nose. Dick got into the nose turret, his regular post, and I closed the access door, locking him in. I spread his flak suit on the floor (he couldn't wear it while in the turret) of the plane between the two large .50 caliber ammo cases on each side of me. Both the bombardier's parachute and mine lay there together. These were snap-on chest packs with 2 heavy metal rings that snapped into place on the parachute harness we always wore. The chest packs were too bulky for either the bombardier or myself to wear during flight.

We were flying on the wing of the leader of the high squadron. Lt. Rasmessen was the pilot leading that squadron - but he was at the same altitude of the group leader, not the required 100 feet above. We often wondered if this lower altitude of the high squadron caused our plane to be shot down.

(The AAF employed pattern bombing at this time, which meant that one squadron would fly 100 feet above the lead squadron and the other squadron 100 feet lower. Bombardiers in each plane would release their bombs when the lead plane released theirs. This caused a wide "pattern" of bombs being dropped.)


TOT (Time over the target) was 1:25. We received three direct hits in the tail, bomb bay and the nose, 30 seconds before the target. We fell out of formation. The No. 1 engine was completely disabled, the No. 2 engine losing power, the No. 3 was on fire, and No. 4 was OK The hydraulics were knocked-out also and the bomb bay doors would not close. Had I occupied my usual position between the ammunition cases in the nose as I had on all previous missions, a piece of flak would have undoubtedly struck me. As it was, I had decided to stand up on this mission, for some reason, and I got the compass heading before we went over the target, instead of afterwards. I was standing when flak came through the nose and went between my legs and into an oxygen bottle under the navigator's table. I started to call the pilot about it, but decided there was too much excitement, anyhow.

The bombardier called up all the crewmembers. All of them answered but the tail gunner. He called the tail gunner three times, and then told the waist gunners to go back there and see about him. At first they balked because they were so afraid, they were scared stiff; but Dick then ordered both Weiner and Bertollio back to the tail. Then they reported back the situation: "Hank's done for," came the voice of Bertollio over the intercom.

"Yeah, there's a big hole in his head," said Weiner.

The pilot came back on the intercom - he had been on command, trying to contact some fighters, without avail - and told the waist gunners to get Hank out of the turret; put a static line on his rip cord and throw him out the camera hatch. They told him they couldn't get him out, but he ordered them and made them get him out. Hank was taken out of his turret.

The pilot called me and asked for an ETA (estimated time of arrival) to the Rhine River. Once across the Rhine, we would be over Allied held territory. I computed an ETA of 2:00 p.m., using the air speed and wind we had over the target. Since our air speed had dropped, I thought I should add 5 minutes more to the time. Instead I subtracted the 5 minutes and gave I Ledford an ETA of 1:55. I'll never know why I did this silly thing. Ledford said later that he would have given the order to bail out sooner, had he known.

The pilot then gave the order to prepare to bail out, and I took off my flak suit. The upper turret, Sharp, asked if he ought to get out of his turret, and Ledford said "Yes," he had forgotten about him. So Dick Pascal said he thought he had better get out of his nose turret. It was now about 15 minutes to 2:00 o'clock.

Pascal unplugged his intercom, preparing to leave the turret. While I was helping him (it's very cramped in the nose and 2 doors must be opened and closed to get anyone out of the turret), I accidentally unplugged my own intercom. It was just then that the pilot ordered everyone to bail out. Of course, neither Pascal nor I heard the order.

Pascal got out of the turret, and he had closed the turret doors and was just closing the back hatch doors when all four engines quit and the intercom went dead. The hydraulics were already gone; we lost them over the target. It became absolutely quiet.

Pascal didn't know the engines had quit. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to our parachutes, the snap-on chest packs laying under the navigator's table. He crouched down and I looked under the table back toward the bomb bay, and saw fire back there.

We decided we ought to leave. He still didn't know the engines were out. He handed me up my parachute, and got his. I put mine on and looked up above the navigator's table to the pilot's rudder pedals and saw the cockpit, which was empty. A big tongue of flame went across it while I was looking. I made up my mind to leave the airplane then, and crouched down just behind the bombardier. Just as Dick reached for the emergency release handles, which were supposed to jettison the nose wheel doors, the flames came up into the nose and both of us were enveloped in flame. Then I saw Dick pull the release handles and saw one door disappear. The second door did not release. Dick crawled out, laid on the door and began pounding it with his hand. So I sat back and waited (eyes closed) until I thought Dick had time to get out. I was in the fire all this time, and I could feel myself burning.

Then, just as I started to move toward the door opening, I thought something had come between the fire and me because I was no longer on fire. I thought that it was the navigator's table, and that I was going to have to move that to get to the possible escape opening under the nose wheel.

Two seconds later, I found myself out in the air. Just as I left the ship I felt my parachute leave me. I could not find it at first. Then I heard something flapping above my head and I looked up, and there it was, still attached. The static lines had been tacked on with thread to the parachute harness, and the thread had burned through, leaving the chest pack about 8 feet above my head. So I pulled it down to me, and pulled the rip cord and the parachute opened. Looking across the way, I saw Dick in the air at the same level I was, and a part of a wing came fluttering by. Then I looked down below me and saw a large tree. Then I was on the ground, landing in a small ditch next to a barbed wire fence. I remembered to clear my ears on the way down. I also remember holding the ripcord in my hand, wondering if I dropped it, that it might injure somebody. Strange thought! A ripcord is a 1/4" diameter steel rod curved to form a handle. It is pretty heavy.

The plane obviously had exploded but I heard nothing and felt nothing. Both Pascal and myself were badly burned, and some flying object broke Dick's left hand. Strangely enough, my left hand was very badly burned but the rayon glove I had on my right hand wasn't even singed.

I got out of my parachute harness and got out of the ditch. Over the fence I saw a civilian farmer. He started talking to me in German; I could not understand it. So then he said, "Parlez vous, France?"

Thinking I might be talking to a member of the underground, I got very excited. Remembering I had just completed 2 years of high school French, I said: "Mais oui.J' etude pour deux ans dans l'ecole."

He responded immediately, correcting my French, just like my French teacher. "Non, Non, Non!. Deuxans, Deuxans!" (duzan - as though one word). Then he said, "Avez-vous le bon-bon?" Hoping he might help me evade capture, I gave him my escape kit containing maps, money, and concentrated food, some of which was chocolate. I think he may have heard of escape kits before.

Then he walked away. This was probably the most bizarre thing that ever happened to me during the war.

Then a truck full of soldiers pulled up on a dirt road about 100 feet away. The leader of the group had a sub-machine gun. He gave me an order three times, without my understanding him, then pointed the gun directly at me. That is scary, looking down that gun barrel. A soldier indicated that he wanted my parachute. Mother soldier helped me get my parachute disentangled from the branches and I was taken to a haystack about two blocks away. The road I walked on was lined with women and children, staring at us. The children didn't seem to be afraid, and I knew I looked pretty terrible with my face and hair so burned.

When I got to the haystack I saw Pascal sitting there. The Germans had already captured him. He stood up and shook hands with me. We sat around the haystack, with a lot of civilians around us, who thought it was an interesting sight. Ledford came up about 15 minutes later. Just before Ledford came, a staff sergeant from a B-17 was brought to the same haystack. He had a flak wound on his left arm. We also saw another parachute at about 10,000 feet in the air.

One of the German soldiers put salve on Dick and myself - face, ears, my left hand, and ankles. We were the enemy, had just bombed one of Germany's large cities, and this soldier was showing compassion! Dick had had on his helmet, but I had been bareheaded.
About 4 o'clock they moved us to a little old jail about 8x10 feet. We were put there for the night. There were seven of us from two different crews, four of us injured. Ledford tried to talk a doctor into letting him go to the plane, which had crashed close by, and get a first aid kit for some morphine; and also to get his fighter (service cap). But they wouldn't let him.

About 6 o'clock that evening a doctor came in and gave us some morphine. Dick slept all night, but I woke up at 10, 12, 2, 4, 6 and 8 - every two hours. I drank some water during the night, but threw it right up.

About 9 o'clock the next morning (Sunday) the Germans came in with some kind of sandwich and a cup of coffee. My eyes were swollen shut; I couldn't see, but I took a bite from the sandwich and drank a sip of coffee because it was liquid. They took us out and put us on a truck and started us towards Munster, about 45 kilometers away. The town we were captured in was Nordwilde, about 300 population.

We got to Munster; stopped at an airport. The three able-bodied men took one dog tag from each of us, and took them inside a building at the field. Ledford saw some men walking away he identified as members of our crew: Armstrong (co-pilot), Wright (engineer), Weiner (waist gunner), and he believed Sharp (radio operator) - he was not sure. He told the men who were going into the building to tell these men we were OK.

We went on to the hospital. There, someone bandaged my hand with a cloth that felt somewhat wooden, as though it had wood particles in it. A gauze cloth was put on my face. We were taken to a room with a couple of other guys in it. We were put to bed, and stayed in that room for about seven days.


At 11 o'clock, B-17's bombed Munster. From the sound of the bombs I estimated about 450 bombers. The hospital was on a hilltop overlooking the city, but we still felt the concussion and heard the tremendous explosions. The nurses became very cool toward us then, calling us "terror fleigers." I still couldn't see, but estimated the number of planes assuming one bomb group for each massive explosion.

They tried to move us about a week later. A Nun got our clothes ready, but I couldn't see, so they didn't move me. Dick didn't eat for a time. The next day my eyes opened; Dick's opened two days later.

A day or so later we were moved to another part of the hospital - a larger room with a lot of other wounded. In the room I met a British paratrooper named Reggie. He had been in the drop at Arnhem, Netherlands, where we had dropped supplies the day after he had parachuted in. That was my 6th and last complete mission.

Reggie had been shot in the right ear, the bullet exiting through his right eye. The brain was untouched. The Germans had given him a glass eye.

Reggie was friendly and cheerful and cut eyeholes in my gauze bandage so I could see. Reggie was very bitter toward General Montgomery, who he blamed for not relieving the paratroopers as planned. The paratroopers had captured the bridge over the Rhine River and held it 7 days with small arms against tanks, and they were to be relieved in 2 days.

Reggie made friends with a German nurse named Alma. Alma gave Reggie a quart jar of canned peach halves (a very rare delicacy in Germany at this time), which Reggie shared with us. This was a very generous, and most welcome, gift. We ate with our fingers.

There were about 15-20 other war prisoners in this ward, and a German doctor visited us daily. The doctor spoke a little English, and each time he came into the room he would say "Goodbye." When he would leave, he would wave and say "Hello." We never corrected him. When asked who caused the War he would say "Roosevelt and the Jews." And he was a professional doctor!

While we were at the hospital we had had two slices of white bread and one or two of black bread for breakfast, which usually had honey on it; and coffee. At noon we would have a lot of boiled potatoes, as many as we could eat. Twice a week we would have a little piece of meat. Sometimes we would have soup, sometimes spinach. We had fruit for dessert, about four times a week, such as cherries or apricots. In the evening we would have more bread, with cheese or baloney on it.

We were being fed well there, but wouldn't know that until later. The Nun packed a lunch for us to take with us on the train when we left.


Twelve of us were moved out about 7 PM. A Nun gave each of us a sandwich to eat on our trip. She also stuck an apple in my pocket just as we left. It made me feel like a schoolboy going to school and my Mother sticking an apple in my pocket.

We went down in a wood-burning bus to the freight yards, where we were put in a boxcar. There were twelve of us, and five guards. It was about 11 PM when we got in the boxcar. While waiting in the siding, an RAF plane came over during an air raid and dropped a flare about 100 feet from where we were. We thought it was a target marker for other bombers, but nothing came of it. It gave us quite a scare.

While sitting on the siding, one of our guards bought a loaf of bread from a bakery just down the street. While it was still hot, he cut it up and shared it among all the prisoners and guards. It was delicious!

The sandwich and apple were eaten before morning. We went to Frankfurt and arrived at about 10 AM. We traveled through Frankfurt on trolleys; got on a little local train at the edge of town, and the man that couldn't walk - the navigator off the B-17 - rode inside the trolley from the train station out to the camp. He got to sit down; we had to stand up.

We got off the trolley and four of us carried the navigator on a stretcher. Inside the camp, the first thing we saw was a German who spoke American - our slang. He said he was a doctor and said he would see us in the morning.

A German searched us, said he had ordered something to eat. We never did get it. I was put in a cell about 4 feet wide and 10 feet long, with a kind of mattress made out of gunny sacks; blankets made out of the same thing. I had to leave my shoes outside. Slept with my clothes on for once. I was very, very cold, very, very hungry, and very, very sad and lonely. The door was barred and clanged shut. Being in jail for the first time in my life seemed to add to the loneliness.


The next morning the guard knocked on the door; gave me two slices of bread put together with an extremely thin coating of jam; a cup of coffee - ersatz coffee. This was our first food since finishing the sandwich the hospital gave us two evenings ago. I was questioned, had my picture taken, and a lot of things like that.

At noon, Ledford and I moved over to another part of the camp. Dick stayed there in the hospital and we thought we would be permanently separated from him. That evening, I was about the hungriest I have ever been in my life - got one slice of bread, all that 1 ate that evening. We had some soup, too. I slept that night very cold and lonely, like the night before. (Sometimes the bread was moldy, but I soon learned to eat it, mold and all.)


The next morning we got up, had 2 slices of bread and were marched down to the train station about 3 miles away. It was extremely cold. We got down to the station, sat around there until 11:30, and then were marched back.

I was really cold and exhausted when I got back. Had some soup at noon, then we were marched back down to the train about 2 that afternoon. We got on the train, something similar to our day coach, and started riding.

About 8 o'clock the guards got us off of the train and gave us one loaf of bread for twelve men, which was our supper. Started on again, riding to the Reception Center at a town named Wetzlar. About 11:30 got off the train and were marched up to the Reception Center, Wetzlar prison camp.
I got inside there and thought I would go to sleep, or drop dead, or something. I was past the stage of being hungry. Before, I was so hungry I wanted to eat cardboard. But I was past that stage now.

We were searched again. All my clothes were taken but a pair of pants and a khaki shirt. I was given a British battle jacket and a pair of size 13 EEE shoes, and a scarf. Also, two packs of cigarettes, a tooth brush, tooth powder, two handkerchiefs, a razor, a shaving stick, a towel - all from the International Red Cross.

We were marched to a shower room and had a three minute shower. Later I saw the American Commanding Officer of the camp, a Colonel Stark. He was really a great human being. He took us all to a sort of auditorium. He told us to sit, close our eyes, and think of a loved one back home. Then he played Embraceable You on the piano. Each of us dreamed of home. And he was a full Colonel yet!

Then we went into a mess hall and sat down. I had the best meal I had had since being in Germany. We had a kind of hash, mashed potatoes, hot chocolate, and all the bread and jam we wanted. Everybody sat down and stuffed themselves. It was pitiful seeing the look of some of the men when they started to eat - they looked like madmen or something. Then we went to bed. During the night several of the prisoners were sick and threw-up from eating too much. I felt very bad myself; didn't feel much like eating the next day.


Got up, had hot oatmeal, two slices of bread, a cup of coffee. At noon we had mashed potatoes, two slices of bread, with either salmon or some kind of potted meat - and jam. They also gave us ten cigarettes. All of this food, except the potatoes and bread, was from the International Red Cross, every bit of it.

This camp was on full parcels - which is one 12# food parcel per man, per week. They had a communal mess there, so the parcels were not issued directly to the men.

An American Red Cross parcel contained the following:

1 can Powdered Milk - 16 oz 1 can Spam
1 can Corned Beef 1 can Liver Paste
1 can Salmon 1 can Cheese
1 can Margarine - 16 oz 1 box K-Ration Biscuits
1 can Nescafe Coffee - 4 oz 1 can Jam
1 can Prunes or Raisins 1 box Sugar Cubes - 8 oz
2 bars Chocolate - 4 oz 2 bars Soap
5 pkgs. Cigarettes

The next day Pascal arrived, and Ledford and I got him the same room with us. While he was there I went to the hospital and I met a flyer there that I had met at Keesler Field in 1943 when I was taking basic training. He was an engineer on one of the B-17's that bombed us at Munster on October 5th. He had been shot down on that morning. He was the only man I ever saw in Germany that I had previously known.


We went down to the train station; got on a very nice train with compartments. Ten men to a compartment which should have a maximum of six in it. We were given one half of a Red Cross parcel per man, which was to last us until we arrived at our destination (which was Sagan, Stalag Loft III, but we didn't know that then).

The trip took usually from three to seven days; we had no way of knowing. Our own Air Force was trying to destroy railroads, and Air Force prisoners suffered from that at times. The Germans gave us a large piece of baloney and a half loaf of bread each.

It took three days and two nights to get to Sagan, about 50 miles Southeast of Berlin. When we arrived it was evening; we stayed in the car until the next morning, which was Sunday. When we slept inside the car, two men would sleep, one in each of two baggage racks above the seats. One man would sleep on the floor, between the two seats, which were facing each other. The other men sat on the seats across from one another and put their legs across from one seat to the other to allow room for the man on the floor. It was quite uncomfortable.

We got into Sagan that morning. We were given our German identification tags. I was assigned with Pascal and Ledford to Room 16 in Barracks 125, South Compound. The American senior officer in the block who was in charge was Captain Griff Williams, who had been on the first Tokyo raid with Jimmie Dolittle, flying a B-25 off an aircraft carrier. He is mentioned in the book, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Since he was in charge of the block, i.e., barracks, we called him the blockhead. I discovered I was now a Kriegie, short for Kriegefangenen (German for prisoner-of-war). We Kriegie's called the Germans Goons.

We got one shower a week - if something didn't go wrong. We washed our own clothes. There was a path (called the circuit) around the camp, inside the wire about two kilometers long, which we would walk every day for exercise. Every night we had our own radio station down in the theater playing records. We had our own newspaper which published news from home, which they received in letters; and also news the Germans gave them about the war, and had a fairly interesting program. There were two movies at the theater the whole time I was there. We had an orchestra, directed by Dusty Runner, a former drummer with a big band, which was very good. All the instruments were furnished by the Red Cross. He had one band program while I was there.

We also had a short-wave radio, which had been smuggled, into the camp some time ago. Each day, a Kriegie would come into our room, close the door, and give us all the war news broadcast from BBC.

We were on half parcels at this camp. There were fourteen men in our room. With 10 rooms to one block (barracks). We cooked on a communal stove shared by 140 men. We got hot water in the mornings at 9 o'clock, enough to give everybody a cup of coffee and a shave if they wanted to. At noon and in the evening we got enough water for a cup of coffee, generally. We had to walk a block to the showers, usually with snow on the ground, making it quite cold. I learned to play bridge and knit while I was there.

We got up at 9 every morning and lined up outside where they counted us at 9:30. We did nothing until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, when they counted us again. Guards were in towers with searchlights and guns (we called them "Goon Boxes"). Everybody thought the war would be over by Christmas. But on December 15th, when we heard the German breakthrough at Bastone, everybody got pessimistic again and thought the Allies would be pushed clear out of France. At this time I heard about Glenn Miller being reported as missing over the Channel.

Christmas week we were given full parcels. We made the turkey last for three meals. We normally had only half parcels here, but we ate better than we did at the Reception Center because each room did its own food distribution and meal preparation. We had a cook, who served a week, and a "Stooge" who helped for a week.

The men in the room were: Ferguson (a co-pilot on a B-17), Russel Hannish, Gipson (we called him "Gip"), Tom Wilson, Fred Crawford (who was in a P-51 and was shot down by a P-38), John Pilches, Steve Mills, Roy Meeks, Jim Garvey, and a man named Jack who was an American officer in the RAF, a tail gunner on a "Wimpy," (Wellington bomber).
Jim Garvey had never flown a mission. He got lost and landed in the wrong field. He was in pursuit of aircraft, flying out of North Africa.

Fred Crawford's There I Was story was simple. As he related it' he was flying a P-51, was fired on and disabled by a P-38. Fred made a wheels-up landing in a plowed field, and, knowing he was supposed to destroy his plane so the German's couldn't repair and use it, started trying to destroy his plane. So, there I was with the cap off the gas tank, striking matches trying to blow up my plane. I ran out of matches, never did blow up the plane, then the Germans arrived.

Jim Garvey was somewhat different. A navigational error caused him to land his P-47 at an airfield held by the Italians. So there I was, stepping out of my plane, surrounded by enemy soldiers.

Later on we lost three of the men and three other guys came into the room; Smitty, Poncho and Mack - they were all swell guys. They told us about fifty English officers being shot for escaping, just before we had gotten there.

The escapees had dug a tunnel some 300 feet long, 30 feet under the ground. Eighty prisoners escaped in one night. They were almost all re-captured, and 50 were executed just because they escaped. A movie, The Great Escape, was made about this tunnel. After this mass escape, the Germans passed out a flyer threatening death to future escapees.

Another prisoner was killed by a guard on Easter - a guard shot at one man and missed. The bullet ricocheted from the floor and killed the wrong man.

Smitty was a B-24 pilot. His plane burned while he still had his oxygen mask on. The mask melted and fused to the whole lower part of his face. He was terribly scarred.

I read a lot of books while I was there. There was a good library.

We had all the cigarettes we could use. The camp had been well established and there were plenty of personal parcels with cigarettes that had come in, in addition to the 5 packs that came in each Red Cross parcel. Cigarettes were used as bribes for the guards.

We were allowed to write three, one-page letters and four postcards a month. All prisoners had to be inside their rooms with all the shutters closed at 10 o'clock every evening. Christmas and New Years we were allowed to stay outside until midnight, but we had to have the shutters of every room closed anyhow - blackout precautions.

On Christmas Eve about a dozen of the prisoners, with two or three members of the orchestra, sang carols to the Germans up in the Goon boxes. It was a strange scene: guards armed with machine guns, with searchlights lighting the area, and prisoners singing Silent Night to them.

I received an excellent present from the Red Cross on Christmas Day - two wool shirts and two pairs of wool socks.

Between January 15th and 20th, we went on full parcels. On January 22nd Colonel Goodrich, in charge of South Compound, told us to get ready to move, to prepare a pack with emergency rations. Each pack would have one can of compressed oatmeal, one box of prunes or raisins, two D bars (a four ounce emergency chocolate bar), one block of cheese and a half-pound of sugar cubes. All these had to be saved from the parcels we were getting.


At 9:30 p.m., Captain Williams stuck his head in the door and said we would move out in a half-hour. Everybody threw things into their pack. We got down all the jam and bread we had and ate it. We had a "bash." The Colonel had told us to take nothing except our emergency rations and our American GI blankets, which had been issued by the Red Cross - which was all we took.

We left the camp about 10:30 that night. Our compound was the first to leave. All compounds that followed us were all given Red Cross parcels, one per man. We didn't have time. We marched until around 6 the next morning, the 28th. It had snowed the day before and there was about 6 or 8 inches of snow on the ground. We stopped and each man was given a little bit of bread, with nothing put on it.

At the place we stopped, some of the men threw the bread away, too tired to eat it. All of them threw away any excess baggage they had, such as flying boots or jackets, and carried as little as possible.

We started marching again. It was very cold, my bones ached and my feet hurt. We marched until 11 am, and stopped at a town called Zerberg, and stayed in a barn. I was too tired to sleep until about 5 o'clock that afternoon.

We were given another piece of bread. And this time some margarine.


We started marching again about 8 p.m.. That night I was ready to stop. So was everybody else. We were too tired, but we kept going until we reached a small German town called Muscow, around 1 o'clock in the morning, the 29th. We marched up to a glass factory. The Colonel told us we were going to stop there. Six men fainted right then. As I went in I heard Colonel Goodrich telling the German Colonel that all the prisoners would have to get inside, or the German commander would have a lot of dead men on his hands from pneumonia.

We got in. There were some forges going, which gave a little heat. Everybody was too tired to even eat. The place was just about as packed as Grand Central Station on its busiest day. I don't know how everybody got to lay down, but they did. I found a place by a conveyer belt and went to sleep. Woke up at 10 o'clock the next morning, the 30th. I ate a piece of cheese and the last piece of bread I had. I went over and found Ledford and Pascal. They had some bread left so I ate some more. We finished up the last of my emergency D bars. My dried fruit was all gone. So was all of my sugar, which I had eaten on the road. We got some tin cans and put our oatmeal in there with a little water, and heated it on the forge as good as we could. We ate that that night. The next morning we moved out again.

During the march, I periodically ate a sugar cube for energy, especially when I had to get up a small rise in the road. Some of us carried the rifles and packs of those guards who were much older than we were and tired much faster. At times I went to sleep while walking and would bump into someone and be awakened.

We arrived at a city called Spremburg. They put us in a large kind of park by some military buildings with soldiers all around. We were made to stand out there an hour until the Goons got six leather straps which some Kriegies had taken out of the glass factory. The Goons said they would not feed us until they got the straps. They put us in a small room and we stood around for an hour or so. They finally let us out and gave us some hot soup made out of barley - the best soup I ever ate. Then we left for the depot.

We were loaded into boxcars, 50 or 60 per car. The cars were about 25 x 8 feet, so small everyone could not find space to even sit down. We were in the boxcars three days and three nights. Every night, 18 men in our car had to stand up. We had very little water on the train and were terribly hungry all the time. Couldn't sleep or think. You couldn't do anything. Couldn't even move.

(While marching through a park in Spremburg I saw about 15 children, maybe 10 years old, being drilled like soldiers by an adult. The children wore uniforms short brown pants, brown shirt and a Sam Browne belt. I was struck with the totality of Hitler's reign in Germany. I'll never forget that scene.)


We arrived at Mooseburg (Stalag VIIA) 30 miles north of Munich, after having been on the train for three days and two nights. We spent the night in the boxcar again.


The next morning we marched into camp. They put 600 of us into a barn so small you couldn't even get six of our boxcars in it. The first two nights, half of us stood up while the other half slept on straw on the floor for the first half of the night. Then we reversed it. There was one water spigot for 2,000 men. We ate out of tin cans, and thought we would get ptomaine poisoning, but we didn't. The Germans gave us 1/6th of a loaf of bread (about 12 ounces), out of which we would get six slices; a cup of soup at noon, and five or six potatoes in the evening - small ones, too. Every day they would give us a spoonful of sugar. We had run out of margarine, and had nothing to put on the bread. The first night, Ledford and I stood for the first half of the night and made up menus to pass the time.


Tuesday they moved us over into the barracks. We got our first Red Cross parcel we had had in ten days. We cooked and ate a meal; I got sick after that. We started out with 2,000 men on the march, and there were 1,500 when we arrived. Some were sick and left along the way, some escaped. They counted us there about 7 o'clock in the morning. They also counted us in the evening for awhile, but finally stopped it.

The barracks were terribly crowded. We slept on tiers of beds for twelve men. The Goons ran out of coal for the communal stove just after we arrived, so we made our own stoves out of the cans the powdered milk came in with the Red Cross parcels. We still had only one-half Red Cross parcel per man, per week. We took up the sub-flooring in the barracks to get wood for our stoves. Some of the men took slats out of their beds.

Life was very boring. It was dark inside the barracks, with hardly enough light to play cards. Everybody was pretty sad. A propaganda sheet was passed out to all of us, urging us there to join the Germans to fight the Russians.

MARCH 10th

We ran out of parcels and had none for a week. The next week we went back on half-parcels. The week following that we went on full-parcels. When we finally got back on full-parcels, I was sick again.

One Kriegie escaped, and the day we got the news from the Red Cross, the man was back in the states. The Germans didn't know he had escaped, and kept us out all morning while they searched the barracks.

When we first arrived, a pursuit plane dropped a couple of 100-pound bombs close to our barn, which scared us half to death. Then, on one of our roll calls, a belly tank, or a bomb, was dropped close to us. It must have been a bomb from the way it sounded.


We moved away from the barracks to tents. On that day, I saw a plane on a bomb run explode over Regensburg. It was a B-24. We slept in tents for the rest of our stay - until April 29th. One Saturday night (everything bad happened on Saturdays) we were completely rained out. We had to sleep in the barns, on the floor.

We slept on straw in the tents. Almost as crowded as the barns - only everybody could lie down.

APRIL 29th

Ledford, Pascal and myself, with several others, were marched down to the shower room. About 10:30, we heard small arms fire, exploding mortars and bullets ricocheting off walls. This was the most frightening time I had during the war. It went on for about an hour. At 11:30, jeeps and half-tracks were coming through the gate. We got back to the tent and saw the first tank come in. It was immediately completely covered with Kriegies.

Just before noon, the hated Swastika flag was taken down and the American flag put up. One of the most grand, thankful, joyful times of my entire life, before or since.

We made friends with a half-track crew and they gave us some of their C-rations. We gobbled them down while the crew looked on with amazement at our hunger. They didn't especially like C-rations.

The crew gave about 8 or 10 of us a ride in the back of their half-track. One Kriegie had his arm just outside the half-track when the tractor hit a soft shoulder and scraped his arm against a tree. This was the only injury he received as a POW. Then we went to a farmhouse and two of the soldiers frightened an old couple there. One of the soldiers opened a bread bin, speared a loaf of homemade bread with his bayonet and offered it to us Kriegies. We all refused. I think we all felt the soldiers were scaring the old couple needlessly.

APRIL 30th

We could still hear the heavy artillery going on all around, but it kept moving east. We have more food now from the GI's. All we talk about is going home.

MARCH 10th

We ran out of parcels and had none for a week. The next week we went back on half-parcels. The week following that we went on full-parcels. When we finally got back on full-parcels, I was sick again.

One Kriegie escaped, and the day we got the news from the Red Cross, the man was back in the states. The Germans didn't know he had escaped, and kept us out all morning while they searched the barracks.

When we first arrived, a pursuit plane dropped a couple of 100-pound bombs close to our barn, which scared us half to death. Then, on one of our roll calls, a belly tank, or a bomb, was dropped close to us. It must have been a bomb from the way it sounded.


We moved away from the barracks to tents. On that day, I saw a plane on a bomb run explode over Regensburg. It was a B-24. We slept in tents for the rest of our stay - until April 29th. One Saturday night (everything bad happened on Saturdays) we were completely rained out. We had to sleep in the barns, on the floor.

We slept on straw in the tents. Almost as crowded as the barns - only everybody could lie down.

APRIL 29th

Ledford, Pascal and myself, with several others, were marched down to the shower room. About 10:30, we heard small arms fire, exploding mortars and bullets ricocheting off walls. This was the most frightening time I had during the war. It went on for about an hour. At 11:30, jeeps and half-tracks were coming through the gate. We got back to the tent and saw the first tank come in. It was immediately completely covered with Kriegies.

Just before noon, the hated Swastika flag was taken down and the American flag put up. One of the most grand, thankful, joyful times of my entire life, before or since.

We made friends with a half-track crew and they gave us some of their C-rations. We gobbled them down while the crew looked on with amazement at our hunger. They didn't especially like C-rations.

The crew gave about 8 or 10 of us a ride in the back of their half-track. One Kriegie had his arm just outside the half-track when the tractor hit a soft shoulder and scraped his arm against a tree. This was the only injury he received as a POW. Then we went to a farmhouse and two of the soldiers frightened an old couple there. One of the soldiers opened a bread bin, speared a loaf of homemade bread with his bayonet and offered it to us Kriegies. We all refused. I think we all felt the soldiers were scaring the old couple needlessly.

APRIL 30th

We could still hear the heavy artillery going on all around, but it kept moving east. We have more food now from the GI's. All we talk about is going home.

MAY 1st

About 1500, General Patton walked through our tent. He was followed star, a 2-star, and two 1-star generals, plus a full Colonel and a British Commander. The most brass I've ever seen in one place. Patton wanted to see Cross parcel and wanted to know how long it was supposed to last.

Patton was wearing a single ivory handled gun. A rumor was that he had given one to Dinah Shore for singing to the troops near the front lines. (Patton was known for having two ivory handled revolvers which he wore throughout the war.)

MAY 9th

We finally were moved out by GI truck to a nearby airport and loaded into C-47's. We flew to the French port of La Harve. There were 3 tent cities there, named Camp Lucky Strike, Camp Chesterfield, and Camp Camel. Nothing to do but wait until a ship was available.

One of the waiting groups nearby took a French girl into their tent. She slept in their tent and got free food, since many of the French were hungry. They dressed her in fatigues and a helmet to conceal her hair. The English words they taught her were all profanity and they all laughed at her swearing. They made me feel ashamed.

MAY 10th

We left Camp Lucky Strike at 1945. We went to the edge of La Harve to another camp. There we were to wait until a ship was available to take us home.

MAY 22nd

Finally got on a ship. Crossed the channel to Southampton, England.

MAY 24th

Left Southampton for the USA.

JUNE 6th (Anniversary of D-Day

Arrived at Fort McPherson about 0200. They served us all steak dinners, even at that hour. This was the Army's way of saying they really cared.

Issued a G.I. uniform with an Eisenhower jacket. First one I ever had.

Traveled by train, day and night, and arrived in Johnson City, Tennessee, about 0300 June 10th. Spent the night in the John Sevier Hotel. Took a cab home the next morning, walked in the door about 10 am.


Looking back on World War II, the enormity of the total effort still amazes me. Our country was by far the most united than we had ever been - everything was the "war effort." An example of the unity - real togetherness - is shown in the many, many messages received by my parents from ham radio operators from all over the USA. These messages reported that I was now a POW. These ham radio operators intercepted broadcasts from Berlin and sent the information to the next of kin. This is real togetherness.

Because of this tremendous war effort, our military strength increased from less than 500,000 in 1940 to 16,500,000 five years later. Our country shipped $48,601,365,000 in military goods (when a billion dollars was worth something) to Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, China, India, Africa, Near East, France, England, Iceland, USSR and other miscellaneous countries. We also contributed to the 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 deaths the war caused.

Most civilians at home, such as my mother, had someone very close to them who were overseas fighting. Every attempt was made to keep track of the loved one through letters and sometimes news dispatches, such as the one my mother kept:

London, Sept. 30 (AP) Nearly 2,000 Americans and British bombers and fighters closed out one of their busiest months today by spilling explosives through the clouds on five German synthetic oil plants and rail centers in the industrial Ruhr and Rhine valleys beyond the Allied land armies.

In three separate waves more than 800 U.S. Flying Fortresses and Liberators, escorted by 700 fighters, hammered choked freight yards at MUNSTER, HAMM, and BIELEFIELD which feed the embattled German frontier troops.

It was the sixth successive day that the Allied bombers were over the western Reich, beating up transportation links. It was the fifth out of six days in which the U.S. Eighth Air Force alone dispatched more than 1,000 bit planes against key Nazi targets, despite unsatisfactory weather conditions.

My Mother tried to determine when I was flying by noticing if a bird flew between her and the corner of the block when she walked to work each day. This is how she determined whether I was flying or not.

One morning a bird flew between her and the corner and flew into a bush. "Something has happened to Jim," she thought. She hurried to her office and to her desk, there she saw the framed picture of me in uniform wearing a Purple Heart!

When the telegram came stating that I was missing in action over Germany, my Father was grief-stricken. My Mother assured him that I was alright. She told my father the plane had crashed and I was injured, but was OK! She convinced my Father and greatly relieved his anguish.

I have thought many times about this, which my Mother told me more than once. I think too about Henry Starr, the tail gunner, and his premonition about "hitting the silk" (bailing out of the plane). I think, too, about the various kindnesses shown me while I was a Kriegie:

1. The soldier who put salve on my burned face without being asked, even though I was the enemy.
2. The Nun who gave me an apple at the hospital when I departed.
3. Alma, the nurse at the hospital who gave us all the canned peaches.
4. The soldier who shared his loaf of bread with all the prisoners in his care.
5. The Kriegie's who carried the rifles and packs of the tired German guards during the march to Mooseburg.

Is there some sort of spirit in all of mankind, which really binds us together? Maybe our culture, tradition or government may turn us against one another but maybe these forces are only superficial compared to this innate spirit. Experiences in my life surely indicate the existence of such a spirit.

When I visited a German cemetery in September, 1995, I was struck by how young they were. Most were 19 to 25, one was 17. I couldn't help thinking that, had I been born in Germany, I probably would have been bombing London, England, instead of Hamm, Germany.
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