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Legacy Of:

Horace  L.  Watkins

 

Personal Legacy
HORACE L. WATKINS
World War II
Memories and Biography

(One of the most decorated E.M. in the service)

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)

24 August 1994

Dear Will:

Thank you for your letter dated 20 August, which I received today. To be short and to the point, enclosed please find my check for the 44th VA thing, and wish you guys lots of luck. Having only been a member for a short time, I am ignorant of what has caused the demise of the present unit, but want to be part of anything beyond this point and will support you any way I can. You will also find my proxy enclosed, but let me explain this. I cannot plan far enough ahead to say yes, I will be in Colorado, or no, I won't be. I have a serious heart problem, Will, and do whatever I do, on a daily basis...one day at a time, as it were. If my health will allow me to, my wife and I will be in Colorado Springs. If not, vote my proxy for the interest of those men who, like myself, would like to continue our unit, under whatever name you choose.

Now, about the help you gave me, which I appreciate very much. If you will recall, you sent me the names of two men, one deceased, I learned, the other alive (barely) and living in Florida. He, in turn, identified other men from old photos I took while in the 44th. One now lives in Oregon and either has the memory of an elephant, or kept a daily record ... whatever. Between his information and my own log book mother gave to me the day I began cadet training at Randolph, I've been able to piece together what I feel to be a fairly accurate autobiography for my oldest daughter and my granddaughter, who are both into some sort of family tree thing. Needless to say, this has been a time-consuming effort, after 50 plus years. The Army Records Center in St. Louis claimed my records were all burned or water damaged beyond salvaging in a 1974 fire, and gave me nothing until I was disgusted to the point of writing to President Clinton, who helped me.

Within a week or ten days, I had a letter from the Director, who had previously refused to reply to my requests, and in approximately a month, I received not only my 201 file, my medical records and form fives, the Center issued me a third DFC, W/2 OLC; third Air Medal, W/17 OLC, second Purple Heart, W/3 OLC, a second Bronze Star Medal, W/V device, two arrow heads and one OLC, The soldier's Medal that had been recommended in 1952, but never issued, a set of Blimp Wings, Paratroop Wings, Glider wings and a Sharpshooter's Badge with rifle, pistol, sub-machine gun, machine gun, hand grenade, and a B.A.R. clasp that looked like a Marine recruit wears when he first comes out of boot camp. They also enclosed every service medal (not just the ribbons) that I'd ever been authorized, including the Good Conduct Medal with two clasps, or knots, whatever ... the WWII Presidential Unit Citation, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, etc. etc. I think, they went through the bins in their warehouse and sent me one of everything so they wouldn't hear from the President again. The issue slip was stamped: Expedite/White House.

Speaking of presidential help, I had two ME-109s from a mission with the 446th, then downed an ME-110 in the 44th, on a mission to a refinery I have listed as Politz, Germany, but can't find on a map. Later, as a CFC gunner in 29s, I flew two and a half missions, got the Mitsubishi (Sen) Zeroes on the half mission, then spent close to 72 hours in the water between Osaka and Bonin Island (Jap owned). As in the 446th, I was a lone survivor - with no verification of the two Sens.

I was flying choppers at Fort Eustis, VA, in 1949, when Harry Truman came for a visit (and our special dog and pony show). His plane landed at Norfolk Naval Air Station, and I had been selected to pick him up and deliver him to Eustis, some 15 minutes by air. During the flight, he inquired as to why I wore two sets of wings; gunner's wings over my right pocket, and pilot's wings over the left. I explained the reason: an aerial gunner during the war, then helicopter pilot training in '47. He asked me if I destroyed enemy planes while serving as a gunner, and, Will, I unloaded on the man. I vented my frustrations of having been a first three-grade non-commissioned officer (T/Sgt.) at the time of my fourth and fifth kills, but could get no recognition because I was a lone survivor.

That was during the 4th of July holidays. On September 3rd, my commanding officer informed me that the old man wanted to see me. We had a commanding general at Eustis who'd flown fighters in WWI, and I'd flown him every time he wanted to go any place...the only pilot in the unit, syndrome. He informed me that Truman had called him after his visit to inquire about my character, etc. Evidently satisfied that I would never lie to the President of the United States for being treated as a nothing by my country, he wanted me at the White House on the morning of 6 September 1949. We knew nothing beyond that.

Well, needless to say, I took the family. We drove up on the 4th of September, stayed at the Bolling Field NCO Guest House, celebrated my wife's birthday on the 5th by seeing all the sights, and arrived at the White House on schedule at 0900 hours on the 6th. Harry was accustomed to the old routine of Hurry Up-and Wait, and we were ushered into the Rose Garden at 10:30. I could not believe it when that old bastard gave me an Air Medal and six oak leaf clusters. Why the Air Medal, when I already had one? Why six oak leaf clusters, which represented nothing ... since I had only five planes to my credit?

Later, I received a Citation from Stuart Symington, Secretary of the Air Force (I was Army), who invited me, my wife and two kids, to accompany him to the Pentagon for lunch. Afterward, we were introduced to the (new and first) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Omar Bradley, et al. Symington confided in me that he was embarrassed by the Air Medal Truman gave me, and awarded me a second DFC. The citation that accompanied it gave me credit for the five destroyed enemy machines, and designated me as an "Ace Aerial Gunner."

It was a long time in coming, but I needed that, Will. At the time, I had been a Chief Warrant Officer approximately a year, which I was happy with, but Bell Helicopters of Fort Worth had made me an offer I felt I couldn't refuse. I was giving some strong consideration to accepting it, (as a test pilot) as soon as my three-year category expired. Receiving the recognition that had eluded me for years, was an image-builder that gave me the incentive to stay with the Army. Of course, along about September 12, 1950, when we were going into Inchon Harbor on the invasion of South Korea, I regretted my decision. Korea, like Vietnam, was sort of a bummer for me, although I wasn't in Nam.

My Army flying career ended when the main rotorblade disintegrated during a test flight. It was a machine we'd had problems with, but the junior test pilots had flown it several hours without a flaw. It was now my duty to play with the machine in a serious manner.

During takeoff, at probably 200 to 250 feet, still over our own turf, the main rotorblade disintegrated. My assistant test pilot, a WO-2...(I was a WO-4), was killed instantly. I was in a coma for 78 hours and awakened in Brook General Medical Center's trauma unit, in San Antonio. I was in one cast from my neck to my butt, and from there down to my ankles in still another cast. Both arms were in casts, or splints, in the case of my left arm. I was pretty screwed up and spent the following year and 11 months (until December 1962) in Brook, Walter Reed, and Fitzsimmons General, in Denver. Needless to say, the military would not return me to flight status, so I asked for retirement.

By the way, I mentioned that I have Blimp Wings, Paratroop Wings and Glider Wings. That's in addition to my Gunner's Wings, basic Pilot's Wings, Senior Pilot's Wings and Master Pilot's Wings, (Command Wings in the Air Force).

Question, Will: If you were curious to know how many men are authorized seven sets of wings, to whom would you seek such information? If you can help me, I'd appreciate it.

Hoping you are enjoying life to the fullest. I am.

Most respectfully yours,

Horace L. Watkins

P.S. Received my Caterpillar pin and membership, along with notification that four jumps (to save my life, not with the paratroopers) gave me the same number as Eddie Rickenbacker, who has held the official record over 50 years. Thanks for helping me with that information.




HORACE L. WATKINS
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)

17 July 1994

Dear Will:

Thanks to you, I am near the end of a project to get all of my "stuff" together - medals, wings, badges, caterpillars, etc. I really appreciate your help. I sent a Xerox copy of your letter to the Switlik Parachute Company, Inc. and just, today, received my replacement caterpillar, along with a membership that I had never gotten (and) a membership card. Also, they returned my check for ten bucks; noted that Mr. Switlik had so ordered. Again, I appreciate your help. The information you supplied, to the best of my knowledge, is the only such mission on record of four that required me to return to earth by parachute.

I have corresponded with a Colonel North (not the Marine) of the 20th Air Force, who told me that so far as he knew, no such organization within the 20th had a mission-by-mission history, such as we have in you. Will, why in the hell have I gone all these years without knowing about the 8th Air Force Historical Society; the 2nd Division Association; the 44th Bomb Group people and the Air Force Gunner's Association? (I don't expect an answer to that question, nor event o this letter). I simply feel obligated to show my appreciation to people who volunteer to help me with things of this sort and I do, indeed, appreciate all the things you've done to help me.

Again, thank you! Trusting I will some day have the privilege of meeting you - along with people like Art Hand, Fred Arthur, Albert Conder, et al. I am .

Most respectfully yours,

Horace L. Watkins
WO-4, US Army (Ret)




HORACE L. WATKINS
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
23 June 1997
El Camino Real, Box 59
San Benito, TX 78586
(210)399-2312

Dear Colonel Cameron:

Dick Butler of the 2nd ADA furnished your address, upon request, and my reason for wanting it is due to my belief that I flew as your tail gunner on the Plitz, Germany, raid, the date of which I don't have. Do you recall going after the synthetic fuel refinery that produced the juice for the doodlebugs? If we were on that raid in the same airplane, which is my reason for writing to you, you will recall that we crossed the North Sea, then skirted that narrow strip of northern Germany near Kiel; proceeded on to the Baltic, then cut east to our target. We were still over the Baltic when the Luftwaffe attacked the 2nd Division.

We were not directly hit by the Luftwaffe's main force. Rather, it was the 446th who took the brunt of the attack. However, a lone ME-410 proceeded toward our formation, and I had just recently read in the Stars and Stripes that they'd been equipped with 20mm weapons, and I had no desire to see the whites of the pilot's eyes before I fired. I got lucky and knocked it down - my third score.

Having been orphaned on my seventh mission in the 446th when my crew took some serious hits over a target whose identity doesn't come to mind, I left the 446th for the 44th with Lt. William O. Peterson, who became a Mickey lead pilot about the time the ball turrets were removed, and he switched the ball gunner into the tail. Afterward, I flew only with experienced pilots, and I storongly believe I flew at least once with you..

My first crew lost number four engine and dropped behind the main strike force and were nearing the French coastline when three ME-109s hit us, in trail. I blew the first one up at about 700 yards out, the second one went under us smoking and the pilot managed to eject, but the third machine was too close behind the second one, and we lost number one, and two was afire.

Colonel, I had just received a letter from my oldest brother, who was an enlisted Navy pilot, flying Cats out of Pearl. In the V-mail letter, he described a rescue he'd executed very recently, when a lone survivor on a B-24 had placed himself in the space above the bomb bay, in front of the aft bulkhead door. He went on to describe how the Lib broke into two sections at the trailing edge of the wing, and the tail section scooped up water with the plane's forward momentum when it first touched the ocean, and trapped the men in back. The engines and props then pulled the nose under, and the only man who survived was the tail gunner, who was wearing his Mae West, and my brother said he went in after him and picked him out of the water within 20 minutes.

When the pilot advised us that we were going to ditch, I made a futile attempt to get everyone up there, but for the pilot and our engineer, of course, but no one took my advice, and I lived because of that letter from my brother. I received no credit for those two fighters until 6 September 1949.

Once I completed my 35th mission in the 44th, I came back and asked for B-29s and attended Central Fire Control School at Smokey Hill.

I left on a flight of 10 bombers from March Field, to Tinian, where I flew two and a half missions - the half mission on the 17th of August, 1945, and spent the next 80 hours in the Pacific. The day Bock's car bombed Nagasaki, we (12 crewmen) were picked up at midnight by the submarine USS Batfish. We'd blown a bubble on the backside of the target, and the window gunner was sucked out through the hole. He fell 35,000 feet.

With oxygen for only one man, the pilot, we dived to about 12,000, and most all of us had perforated eardrums. We were an hour or so out of Tinian when four Mitsubishi Zeroes hit us head on. Since I was the only gunner who could see them, I took command of the total armament on the bomber, and three zeroes blew up in only seconds. The fourth one was smoking, but was still firing when he rammed our number three engine. The bulk of the airplane then proceeded aft and sheared the CFC turret's bubble off. Broken Plexiglas cut my right cheek pretty bad, but the Zero took off the top half of the vertical stabilizer, and we were forced to jump.

The command pilot was a Colonel Raymond Boyd, who'd piloted the 29 I left March on, although I don't recall the balance of the crewmen's names - never having met them before that day. Colonel Boyd and I were both scorched by the sun, and the surviving members of the crew ended up at Trippler General Hospital in Hawaii, where we were treated for sunburn and "salt-water poisoning," a new injury I'd never heard of, prior to that. It's now known as skin cancer. My brother had been called to active duty in his commissioned rank, and was then a Lieutenant Commander. He and I became very close friends with Colonel Boyd during my 67 days there, and the colonel saw to it that I was given credit for the four kills on the 7th of August. That gave me a total of seven, but only five had been credited to me - including the ME-410.

During the big divorce in 1947-48, I was at the Bell Factory in Fort Worth, in helicopter flight school, and I stayed Army, rather than going blue, in that the Army Air Force had been allocated the funding for chopper school and a few machines (H-13s). I was appointed WOJG by the Secretary of the Army, and had just been promoted to CWO on 1 May 1949, which were the only two warrant ranks at the time. I was stationed at For Eustis, Virginia, when President Truman was scheduled to come down and watch our dog and pony show on the 4th of July

The Independence flew him into Norfolk Naval Air Station, where I picked him up and flew him to our base. He asked me why I wore two sets of wings - my gunners wings and Army aviator's wings. He then inquired if I'd been credited with each of the fighters I'd shot down, and if I'd been awarded all the medals I was due from WWII. Colonel, ... I unloaded on the man.

About the first of September, the commanding general called me in and wanted to know if I'd been recommended for the Medal of Honor. Well, hell no! He said the President's senior military advisor had called, and wanted me to be at the Pentagon to meet with Air Force Secretary W. Stuart Symington, no later than 0800 hours on the 6th of September - who was to escort me to the White House. He then told me the President never awarded anything less than the MOH. Boy, was he ever wrong. Just above my computer desk hangs a 12x14 framed citation for the Air Medal and six Oak Leaf Clusters, and hear this, Colonel: The designation of Ace Aerial Gunner. By the way, my wife and kids were with me and Bess Truman made over them - giving them a real "show and tell" for school, later in life. It was a big day for us, but man, did I get ribbed by the other (former Air Force) pilots.

I don't want to make this into a book, Colonel Cameron, but I want to add that following two tours as a chopper pilot in Korea, I was placed on TDY at the Bell Factory (at their request), and worked with them four years in developing the machine that eventually evolved into the Cobra Gunship. We built a total of six prototypes, upgrading each of them one improvement at a time and I left in 1958 for the Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to train the first 12 Cobra instructor pilots. I put in a tour in Nam in 1964 to 1966, then returned with 36J Models in January, 1968, just in time to test them in combat during the TET Offensive. Damn, that is a fun machine to pilot, and an as-kicking helicopter that became the most effective ground-support weapon of the war - even to exceed the magnificent job the F-105s did over there.

Back in the States in 1970l, I pulled my last two years at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where I was chief recovery officer for NASA, through the final moon shot in 1972, when the choppers and splashdown were both phased out with the advent of the shuttle. I had my 30 years in on 11 December 1971, but extended through the completion of the last splashdown, then went to Rucker for retirement. And, Colonel, I work hard at retirement. Every morning when my little Mexican wife and I are having coffee, I make a list of the things I don't plant to do that day.

Oh, one more thing before I really do make this into a book - which is what I want to tell you about. I wrote a book entitled Hurry Up - and Wait, back in 1955, which was published by Doubleday - sold well, too. I wrote a couple more that fizzled, but I have one at the publishers now, entitled: Whores and Bombs and Enemy Planes - a WWII B-24 novel, based on actual events, but I always note that they are fiction. Nobody likes to ready what actually happened in wartime, and just plain old bullshit sells three times the books of an autobiographical type. I have a lot of hopes for this book - if indeed it gets published, and I should know in a month. If it is, I will see that you get a copy.

Hey, if you have the time and inclination, please sit down and let me know if what I've told you about the Plitz raid, threw us together on the same crew for that one mission. I'd love to hear from you, regardless.

Trusting you and yours are in good health and enjoying life to the fullest. I am.

Most respectfully yours,
H. L. Watkins, Jr.
 
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