Nancy E. Luce (VanEpps)|
200th MISSION PARTY
44th Combat Bombardment Group
8th Air Force
Usually, with the completion of the 200th mission, a bomb group would stage a big party/celebration with parades, and possible fly-overs etc. All extra work for many and in particular for the enlisted, ground crew and mechanics.
General Leon W. Johnson felt very strongly that all should enjoy the day off. He issued "SPECIAL ORDERS" commanding all officers to exchange duty with their "enlisted counterparts" where ever it was possible and to exchange insignia and carry out the duties of their "newly" assigned counterpart. A complete reversal of roles and duties where ever and when ever possible.
Beer barrels were located at the various intersections throughout the base - figures say 2,000 gals. Gambling tables were set up in a hangar and the "famous 44th Combat Bomb Group Flying Eight ball" had a BALL!!
General Johnson replaced the one star flag on his vehicle with a special flag of three stripes for his driver, Sgt. Fusano and drove him around the base wherever he wished to go. When Sgt. Johnson drove up to the main gate of the 44th Bomb Group with the "new" General Fusano in the back seat, the group executive officer carried out the duties of the gatekeeper and gave Sgt. Johnson a bad time.
General Johnson was "lynched" and taken down to the duck pond near one of the squadron mess halls and thrown in. Great fun was had by all. Later in the day Col. John Gibson and I were also "lynched" and met the same fate. A great 200th party!
General Johnson was deeply concerned for every single person in his command - and he went out of his way to see that their needs and wishes were met - he was highly thought of by all who served with him.
Early on, his driver Sgt. Fusano was instructed to automatically stop and pick up any member of the base who was walking along the road from squadron sites to the base headquarters, hangars and dispersal areas or flight lines. The base was pretty much spread out over the flat, flat, flat, English countryside. An ideal situation where General Johnson could talk with his men and learn about their gripes and problems.
When I arrived at the 14th Combat Bomb Wing, I was given quarters and assigned to the Wing Club Room and dining area. There were slightly more that a dozen officers, it was very informal and we had our meals there with General Johnson. This was the room that had all the "Wall ART" that we hear about. Possible this building may be repaired as a historical marker.
I had been there only a few days when General Johnson showed me his Congressional Medal of Honor ribbon and asked if I would please sew it on his jacket. What an honor!
The General's wife and two daughters, Sue and Sally, were living in Savannah while he was overseas. I recall how pleased he would be when he received their drawings and papers from school. He would pass them around the table for all to see.
I have kept in touch with General Johnson and family these many years and visit at their home in McClean, Virginia when in the D.C. area. His daughter Sue Vandenberg asked me to be one of the military pallbearers at his funeral along with our other 14th Wing and 44th BG members at Arlington National Cemetery.
On August 25, 1944 the Glenn Miller concert was held in the hangar at the 392nd Bomb Group in Wendling. I feel very fortunate to have a picture taken of me standing on the stage with Glenn Miller. He had asked me to come forward to draw names in a War Bond promotion. His band toured many of the 8th AF bases.
As time went on with the war effort there was less and less need to use code methods for some of our transmissions and much was put over to PL (Plain Language). I was then a 1st Lt. and on 25 February 1945 was appointed A-3 (Watch Officer) 14th CBW and worked in the Wing control center preparing briefing information for missions and controlling and monitoring mission activities until the cessation of hostilities on May 9, 1945.
On January 18, 1944 orders from 8th Air Force Hdq. assigned four 2nd Lt. WAC Women Officers to the four Combat Bombardment Wings (B-24H) in 2nd Division as Cryptographic Security Officers. Glamorous as it may Bound, being the only female military person on the base was unparalleled, uncomfortable and at times a lonely situation. You didn't have another woman to talk with! However, we "gals" did manage to visit each other when we could "hop a flight" to their respective wing station or take leave as we did to London, Scotland and Paris after cessation of European activities.
I was quartered at 14th Combat Bomb Wing, but worked in the Code Room down the hall from the Signal Room in the 44th Bomb Group Headquarters, "down by the line," I did have to make trips to the code rooms at Wendling (392nd), and N. Pickenham (491st and 292nd).
Trips were also made with an armed guard to take certain classified papers (including every scrap of paper used in the ciphering) to a British Paper Mill. I had to stand up on a platform to visually check each "gunny sack " of papers that were dropped into a huge acid rendering vat and observe and sign that each bag had been destroyed.
The men who worked in these Code Rooms were well trained and extremely competent. Those in the 44th Code Room were tops.
I remember the night when a tap on my window woke me up and I was informed that a TOP SECRET message had come in and a vehicle with an armed guard would take me down to the Code Room to handle the message and deliver such to Gen. Johnson.
I can clearly recall the day we were alerted that some of our code machines and systems had possible been compromised by the Germans during the Normandy Beach invasions. This meant "scrubbing" those systems and immediately going over to a different procedure. As it turned out the position had not been over-run, but we couldn't take any chances.
I had a chance to go up in a B-24 at Shipdham. It was quite a project to get me into the heavy insulated leather flight suit. We needed to find the smallest size available and to add a parachute. We were not high enough to need an oxygen mask.
I had a chance to see all the stations- radio, tail gunner, waist gunner, and the Norden Bomb Site down in the nose.
Then, they really pulled one on me! They asked me to go back to the tail gunner's station, so I carefully inched my way along sideways being careful to not get my parachute tangled with the bomb racks. Then they did it. The bomb bay doors opened up and I was suddenly able to see the cornfields and the East Anglia countryside beneath my feet.
Another flight on a B-24 was when we took a crew to Birmingham so they could return to the states.
Coming back, we were on instruments all the way. "That blew my mind!" Couldn't see a thing and then our first view was the estate house/manor at the end of the Shipdham runway. WOW!
NANCY E. LUCE (VAN EPPS)
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
13922 Old River Road
Pensacola, Florida 32507
22 July 1988
I was going through some boxes in the den/study area trying to clean up odds and ends of correspondence, etc., when I came across your letter. A real surprise to me. I'm indeed sorry to be so late in corresponding. I apologize.
Wish I could help you on your research of the name E. Van Epps as being on Lt. John W. Jones aircraft on 7 October 1944. My mother-in-law's name is E. VanEpps - Evelyn. Actually, the family of Van Epps all settled in the Holland Grand Rapids, Zeeland and Kalamazoo areas of southwestern Michigan in the early 1890s. They came from Holland. However, there are a number of Van Epps in Iowa and some are doctors associated with Iowa University Medical Center - or maybe it is Iowa State University -- in Ames, Iowa, I think.
Actually, my husband flew a variety of Navy planes including the PBY Catalina and the PBM Mariner. His tours were state side or in the Pacific.
About myself. I joined the 44th Bomb Group in early January 1944, but prior to that I went to an RAF School in Oxford to learn my British Code systems and to General Doolittle's Code Room Headquarters 8th Air Force for my American Code Systems.
Actually, I was one of four female second lieutenants who were trained as cryptographers and worked as Code and Cryptographic Security Officers - each of us was assigned to a combat bomb wing in the second division - which, as you know, was B-24s.
My office was in the Code Room of the Signals Section in the 44th Bomb Group Headquarters down by the line. I also had to cover the code rooms at the 392nd Wendling and the 492nd N. Pickenhaur and later the 491st which replaced the 492nd since I was the code officer for the 14th Combat Bomb Wing.
My quarters were located at the 14th C.B. Wing site and I was the only female officer assigned to the 14th Bing. and the 44th Bomb Group. There were too other American women assigned to the A. A. F. Station 115 at Shipdham, but they were part of the American Red Cross Aero Club located by the 66th, 67th, and 68th squadron areas. The only WAVE I recall was Micheleen Hardy who was one of the first to move into France after the Normandy invasion with a mobile field Aero Club. I later visited her after she was moved and living in Virginia.
I was also assigned as a Watch Officer and worked in the War Room at the 14th C.B. Wing control desk. After VE Day was transferred to 3rd Air Division for the summer, returned to the states and home on temporary duty. Was released with rank of Captain in January 1946.
I have always kept in touch with Lt. General and Mrs. Leon W. Johnson over the years. Last summer, my son Bruce Bunker and I, along with William B. Taylor, who was the adjutant at 14 CBW spent a "remembering evening" with the General at his home in McLean, Virginia. He is now 84 years young, plays golf and enjoys life.
We could well recall a surprise 40th birthday party the 14 CBW staff gave him at Shipdham in 1944. His then quote was "Life Begins at Forty."
General Johnson told me about the 2nd Air Division Association and gave me some of the publications and 44th logbooks. Naturally, I sent for my membership.
I still wear my "Flying Eight Ball" patch on a jacket - but it is getting old and stiff. Who isn't?
We are retired and living in Pensacola - right now we are busy with the current expansion of the Naval Air Museum.
However, being a Navy wife doesn't prevent me from interest in the "Air Corps." I do have quite a collection of photographs, etc., from the 44th at Shipdham and keep promising myself, "I'll dig them out and go over them."
Since you are the historian, you may be interested in some of them or some of the incidents they are associated with.
Incidentally, do you remember the name Quade? A B24 pilot. I'm not sure which squadron and have forgotten his first name, but he came from the Chicago area. By a strange coincidence, he and his wife turned out to be next door neighbors in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But that is another interesting story. Maybe later on.
Are you responsible for some of the articles in these publications? Or is there someone else and an address I could write to and send them articles?
You mentioned the book 44th Bomb Group Liberators over Europe, published in 1946. Unfortunately, I never received a copy, but do have the 14 CBW book.
Sorry about this late answer - and apologize for the handwriting. My typewriter is broken.
Nancy Luce (Van Epps)