Military Biography for John MacCarley S/N 0-785289 |
Enlisted at age 17 and was sent to Biloxi Mississipp fondly referred to as "The Hell Hole of the Universe." After 30 days of grueling testing in hot humid afternoons, and numerous arm-numbing medical shots, half of the original group was eliminated.
Next came CTD (College Training Detachment) at Texas Technological College in Lubbock Texas. The base Commander was a fruastrated West Point graduate with one goal in mind, and that was to "break us." Each morning sadistic "Physical Education" Sergeants drilled us mercilessly in the dusty sandlots, and always concluded their sessions with 3-mile cross-country runs. In the hot afternoons we were marched to one class the other for accelerated studying of subjects such as math, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and even English composition. The extreme heat and fatigue from the morning's activities made staying awake almost impossible. If caught, it meant "washout" (elimination) from the program. We also were required to amass a minimum of 10 hours flight time in antiquated Piper Cubs. It was the mandatory 3 1/2 turn vertical spins that mentally eliminated quite a few of us, especially when one of them dove straight into the ground because the stick reportedly came off in the student's hands.
After CTD they shipped us to Santa Ana California, where they had constructed in the middle of nowhere, the largest Aviation Cadet Classification Center in the US. While there we were subjected to an endless array of written and physical examinations. Of the many "fun-house" testing contraptions we had to manipulate, the "wire-in-the-hole" was the most memorable. You had to hold the wire in the hole at arm length and not allow it to touch the sides. Each time it did, lights would flash, buzzers would sound, and a counter would rack up the number of contacts. While this was going on, eager drill sergeants constantly besieged you with "four-letter" words of encouragement. The second most important ability we had to acquire was shouting "huba-huba" each time we had to fall out for parade drills. However, it wasn't all bad. A few times they bused us to the NBC studios in Hollywood where we got to see celebrities such as Spencer Tracy, Eddy Cantor, Lucille Ball and Hedy Lamar. When our stay at the base came to an end, only about ten percent received notices that they were considered acceptable. To my surprise, I was told I could choose to continue training as either a Pilot, Navigator, or Bombardier. Being a stick-jockey sounded boring - everyone wanted to be a Pilot - and a stargazing Navigator even more so. It was the Bombardier slot that made sense to me. After all, he was the main reason the others did their thing to get him over the target. As a result, I graduated with Class 43-11 on November 9, 1943, as part of the Bombardier Squadron 85. (Reference Class Picture #116, now stored in the Santa Ana Army Air Base Historical Archives.)
The next stop was the Las Vegas Gunnery Training Center. ( now called Nellis Airbase) By the time our training was over, we were thoroughly conversed (even while being blindfolded) with the operation and maintenance of every gun on the B-17. Besides firing at targets being towed be B-26's, they had P-39 Air Cobra's simulate attacks at us from all angles. The best part was when our graduation exercise culminated in a sumptuous dinner at the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino (now bulldozed away). Besides Bugsy Siegal's Flamingo Palace, it was the only other hotel on the strip in 1943.
From glitzy Las Vegas we were shipped to a desolate "no-name" base on the outskirts of a town called Deming New Mexico. The almost constant 110 + degree heat there made breathing and movement of any kind exceedingly difficult. Many passed out on the parade ground where they made us stand at rigid attention for hours. Dust Devils (miniature tornadoes) always seem to roar through our barracks just before "White-Glove" inspections on Saturday mornings. In the middle of all this, I contracted pneumonia (109- degree temperature) and almost died in the base hospital that was ill equipped to handle such cases. They put me in a big tin bucket and covered me with ice. Despite it all, I managed to drop my practice bombs from an AT- I I within the allowable CEP (Circle of Error Probability), and graduated with 44-11 an August 12, 1944.
With my coveted Lieutenant's bars and silver Bombardiers Wings, I was ordered to report to the El Paso Air Base on the Mexican border (now called Briggs Field). Here I got to climb into my first B- I 7F (old version without the Chin Turret), and was introduced to the nine other members that were to form our crew. Two of them had just returned from a full combat tour in the Pacific, so we felt somewhat secure having "experienced" men backing us up. Most of the time was spent practicing rapid takeoffs and assembly, plus hazardous close formation flying. Our pilot, the infamous Pappy Chandler, was quite good at it, and loved to show off by tapping the top of the lead ship's wing with ours. Also, since we were only a short distance from the Mexican border, we usually had exciting times both in the air and on the ground. As the only non-drinker in the group, it was automatically my duty to see that the crew got safely back in their beds each night.
Then it was off to freezing Lincoln Nebraska (while still in our summer khakis without any coats). Our assignment was to pick up a brand new B-17G and fly it to England. At the last minute we were scratched from the flight list due to the lack of available planes, and told we had to go by boat. All of us were immensely disappointed until we later learned that the entire flight got lost in a storm, and disappeared in the North Atlantic waters. What ensued was a 14-day boat trip on the converted luxury liner Ill de France." It zigzagged the whole time to outrun the German submarines, and without exception, kept every man tossing up till we reached England. By then the smells coming from the refuse was almost unbearable.
As soon as we reached England, we were assigned to the 1st Air Division, 379h Bomb Group, 525th Squadron, just outside the town of Kimbolton. Almost immediately, our crew was broken up to serve as fill-ins for other crews, who presumably had lost their buddies in combat. It was sort of a shock. Never the less, I flew 35 missions that way, many times not knowing who was in the aft part of the ship. Had quite a few close calls - mainly from Flak - and got all the way to my 34th when I thought my time had run out. Our number one engine had been knocked out during the bomb run, and we no longer could keep up with the Group. Two German ME-262's jets then jumped us - one low, one high - each time letting loose a volley of R4M rockets. The first wiggling mass missed us completely, but the second got us right in the wing area next to the radio room. It opened a hole large enough to jump through.
Through the Waist window, we could see the 262's circling back to finish us off. Bailing out seemed the only recourse. But just then an old P-47 came swishing in, and positioned himself between us and the onrushing 262's like a shield. The 262's apparently saw what was happening, and pealed off never to be seen again. Two weeks later I found myself in the hold of an old cargo ship heading for the States. The day we departed England's shores was May 8, 1945, now commemorated as VE day, the day they officially declared "Victory In Europe."
As soon as I got back to the states, I married my High-school sweetheart, and immediately started training in B-29's. Two days before I was scheduled to take off for Japan, they dropped the bomb, and that ended it all. Having an ample "Number of Points," I was alnost the first in line for discharge. So ended an illustrious time of my life that I shall never forget!
Personal Detail of John MacCarley's 34th Mission
(World War II - Mission #322)
It was a typical rainy morning in England, with bone-numbing fog making everything more than two feet away a ghostly shadow. The fire in the coal stove that was in the center of our hut had long since gone out. Even the floor was wet and slippery. I shook visibly when donning my coveralls, for the wet cold had penetrated every fiber. Our Bomb Group, the 379th, had just been informed we were to fly that day. Later at the briefing, we were told the mission was going to be a deep penetration one all the way into Berlin. The date was April 10, 1945, and our target was to be the ammo dumps just north of the city. About 1200 B-17's were to be put into the air, and each group had a specific target, either in or around the city. Nothing was to be left standing when we headed for home.
We had gone this route before, but this day was destined to be different. Rumors were flying that the Germans were planning to put an awesome secret weapon into the air that could change the whole course of the war. It was a sleek arrow shaped assembly without propellers that could make our best fighter planes look like they were standing still, and worst of all, could knock down B-17's at will. They called it the ME-262 Schwalbe or Swallow. Post mission records show they sent up at least sixty of them that day, primarily near the town of Oranienburg. They were the worlds first operational jet fighters.1 "Planes without propellers! That's impossible" we said. Must be a new kind of rocket. "Good God, I hope they don't hit us." Needless to say, we were scared.
We got all the way to IP (Initial Point of the bomb run) without seeing any of them, but then came the flak. Our ominous bomber stream was strung out all across Germany, and the group behind us were so close we didn't have time for the usual zigzag evasive action. All we could do was head straight for the target. The German flak gunners knew it and had us pegged from the start. Big "black orchid" puffs of exploding fragmentation shells began to appear all around us. At first they were a little low and slightly behind us, but with each barrage, they kept getting closer. A plane here and there would be seen exploding or trailing smoke. As the German radar guided flak gun batteries continued to refine their aim, we sat frozen in position waiting for the inevitable. "Am I next? Is this what the end is going to be like?" Death sat taunting us ever closer with each succeeding flak burst. I was convinced that I know knew the date of my death. It was this waiting for it to happen that drove many crew members almost crazy. Each concussion from the explosion would toss the plane about like a leaf on a turbulent sea. As you sat huddled on the floor, you wondered it if was God or a roll-of-the-dice who was to determine your fate. All you could do was watch the approaching black puffs come closer and closer.
I had my heavy flak vest on, plus an oversized steel helmet with hinged earflaps that were molded to fit over my earphones. Since there were no seats in the nose, and not enough headroom to stand straight up, I usually sunk to my knees and bent over in a fetal position so as to make myself as small a target as possible. By now the flak gunners had us "locked on," and planes were dropping out like a line of sparrows falling off a telephone line. Then it happened. A shell exploded right under the number one (left-outboard) engine. Pieces of shrapnel sprayed across the entire left side of the ship. It sounded like someone had tossed a large bucket of gravel at us. Daylight appeared through many holes in the nose, and a few of the jagged chunks of mental entered with such force that they actually bounced back and forth around the cabin before exiting the other side.
A quick look out the navigator's window confirmed we had lost an engine. It valiantly kept sputtering for awhile, then coasted to a stop. To keep up with the formation we had to "feather" the prop, (i.e. rotate the blades so they faced the windstream) even though we knew this was giving the enemy fighters a clear signal that we were a "lame duck" - and lame ducks were what they mostly looked for. We actually had no choice, because if not done, the free wheeling prop on the dead engine starts to "windmill." Within a short period of time rpm increases to a point where the resulting centrifugal forces cause the blades to separate from its hub.
The blades then are thrown off in all directions, many times slicing through the nose right where I sat.
By quickly feathering the prop on the dead engine, we reduced its drag slightly, and poured the coals to the other three. This allowed us to stay in formation until "bombs away" thereby dropping our load on target. You knew when the bombs had departed because the plane would momentarily rear up like a horse on its hind legs, due to the sudden decrease in loading. The standard practice was then to have the entire formation of planes immediately take a steep turn to the left for, as we said, "to get the hell out of there." Since we were in the unenviable "tail-end Charlie" position, it whiplashed way out to the right. This caused us to trail the formation and loose its protective coverage. Out pilot tried everything to get back in, but with one engine gone, we just kept slipping farther and farther away. It was a sickening sight to watch the group gradually pull away and leave behind.
The next thing I remember was seeing a huge black shadow streak by the nose going almost straight up. Then came the rattle of our top turret firing away. A German ME-262 jet fighter had fired his 50 millimeter cannon at us, but missed us completely. Then a second one started diving in from 5 o'clock high. A horrendous explosion followed, causing the ship to be violently tossed almost upside down into a steep roll to the left. It slammed me right across the nose, and pinned me immobile against the ceiling. A few seconds latter I was thrown to the floor as the pilot brought her under control. Everyone started screaming "We're hit, we're hit!"
Not knowing what had happened in the aft part of the ship, I told the crew to calm down and cut the chatter. It obviously was nothing more than a "near-miss" flak burst like we had experienced many times before. "Like hell it was," came a reply from the right waist gunner. "The whole top of the wing is about to come off." "Yeah - I can see a hole large enough to jump through," said the top turret gunner. Since I could not see this, I wondered if I should immediately bail out or crawl back and assess the damage. The picture of planes spiraling out of control on prior missions flashed across my mind. When that happens it is too late to bail out because the centrifugal forces of the spinning literally pins you to the bulkheads. I quickly glanced at the emergency pull handle on the nose escape hatch. Should I or shouldn't I? I felt responsible for the other crew members, and just couldn't abandon them. Back through the crawl space under the pilots instrument panel I went. But about halfway through I got hung up on some of the control cables. This was because I long ago had elected to wear a bulky "backpack" instead of the standard "clip-on" chestpack chute that was issued to us. The problem with the chestpack was, you only snapped it on your harness when you were ready to bail out. While this arrangement allowed you to move around relatively unencumbered, it did take time to hook it on when an emergency arose., such as when the ship exploded. Many times I had seen crew members being blown out alive, but without their chestpacks. If I was going down, I wanted the chute to be with me.
Anyway, since my bulging backpack had hooked on to some wiring in the top of the crawl space, the only thing I could do was to remove the entire chute assembly, which included the harness. Then I had to crawl backwards to the nose compartment where I had entered. Once again I stared at the enticing nose escape hatch. Here I was on my 34th mission - only one more to go. It began to look like I would never make it to my 35th. On top of this there were confirmed reports that the German civilian population was now shooting parachuting airmen on sight - some even before they hit the ground. After all, we were blowing up their homes, industry, and just about every available means of transportation.
The thought of being shot headed me straight back thought the crawl space once again - only this time without my chute. It seemed like an eternity had passed, but actually it was only a few seconds. I climbed up and out of the tunnel through an opening between the pilot and co-pilot's seats, and continued aft to the bomb bay. It had it obstructions too. Right in the middle was a 6 inch wide walkway and two vertical bomb-shackle racks or panels that formed a "V." Normally a crew member could squeeze between them, but not with a backpack and harness strapped on. The usual practice therefore was to swing around the outside of these racks to get to the other side. This wasn't too difficult at low altitudes where temperatures were above freezing. However, above 20,000 feet it drops to 65 degrees below zero. When bare hands touch metal at this temperature, they stick and remain stuck. Getting a good grip on the bomb rack with thick fur lined gloves on , sometimes caused you to almost let go and fall on the bomb bay doors - if they were closed. But even if they were closed, the hinged doors would not support the weight of a crew member because they had been designed to allow a loose bomb (or human) to pass through, should it ever happen - and it frequently did.
After getting through the bomb bay, I entered the radio room only to find the radio operator very still and slumped over his table. He had apparently picked up a few pieces of shrapnel that escaped from the explosion in the wing. At the same time I could see the two waist gunners waving frantically in the main part of the ship so I moved on towards them. It wasn't until I reached the waist windows that I realized my oxygen mask was unhooked. We were now at about 22,000 feet where the oxygen-free air could cause you to pass out in less than a minute. Through some miracle, I managed to find one of our green emergency "walk around" bottles, and quickly attacked it to my mask. When I looked out the waist window, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I really could see right through the wing, and the jagged upper surface near the hole was flapping in the breeze like a fighter pilot's silk scarf. We then began to worry about it separating and sailing back into the horizontal stabilizer which was right behind it. The impact could easily slice it off, thus making the plane go into an immediate nose-dive. For a moment we watched in dumbfounded silence, not knowing what to do.
I borrowed one of the gunners throat-mikes and reported the situation to the pilot. It was agreed we all should stay next to our escape hatches, but not bail out. Only if the wing starts to fold should we get out immediately. Curiosity, however, got the best of us, and we all gathered around the waist window to view the unbelievable sight. The main spar was the only thing holding the wing in place. I even forgot I didn't have a chute on. We were jolted out of this trance when the flapping upper surface let go with what sounded like a pistol shot. Instead of traveling straight back, it sailed upwards and over the horizontal stabilizer. Out ship gyrated in pain, just like a person would when a raw wound is touched.
By now our Bomb Group was way off in the distance high above us. The gaping hole in our wing, as well as the feathered prop, made it abundantly clear to enemy fighters that here was an easy kill. We needed fighter protection, but none were in sight. It was decided the firing of distress flares might help. To do this I had to return to the pilot's compartment where the flares and flaregun were stored. After searching frantically, they were finally located under an empty ammo box that was used as our portable toilet. Then I recalled only certain colors were supposed to be fired for certain events. But "what colors were they?" was the question posed to the pilot. The quick answer was "any damned color you can find." So we fired off everything we had except the "red-reds." We knew they were the signals for "emergency landing or wounded aboard" when we returned to the base - if we ever got there.
Before we knew it, out of nowhere appeared an old P-47 fighter called the "Jug" by its pilots because of its shape. He waved his wings at us and pulled in close to our right wing, apparently to get a good look at the hole. Because of this action, the ME-262's that were hanging around waiting for an easy kill, simply lost interest and headed for home. He escorted our vibrating hulk all the way back to the French border, then peeled off in a flamboyant victory roll. Never did find out who he was, but he definitely was responsible for saving our lives.
Well, by this time we had sunk to an altitude of about 10,000 feet, so we were able to remove our irritating oxygen masks. A systems check revealed the ship had no internal power, no communications ability, and no hydraulics. The question was then - should we look for an emergency landing strip in France, bail out, or what? We opted for the "or what" which meant keep going, even though the wing was now vibrating rather severely. We wondered if it would hold long enough to get us across the channel. All the rivets on the trailing edge had been popped out by the internal explosion, and the whole assembly had opened up like a clam shell. It didn't matter though. Our cocky attitude of invincibility said let's go all the way in this "never-say-die" metal wonder.
This we did, and after what seemed like hours, we caught sight of the white cliffs of Dover. The only thing left was then the familiar 75 mile dash run to our base next to the town of Kimbolton. It was easy to spot on a clear day because it was in the shape of an Ace of Spades. This day however, it was almost completely covered with fog. By a shear stroke of luck, we did find it, fired our last "red-red" flares as we approached, and headed straight in. But first we had to had-crank down the landing gear Each of us took turns, stopping only when we felt our arms were about to fall off. With the exception of the pilot and co-pilot, we then moved to the radio room as we had been taught to do in preparation for a crash landing. We felt sure the wing was going to fold upon impact, and cut the ship in half at the ball turret line, just aft of the radio room. Luckily, nothing like that happened. But with no brakes we careened the full length of the runway and off into the mud where our ship came to a crunching stop. It audibly emitted an agonizing death groan, and was never flown again. The remaining three engines were immediately cut for fear of fire or an explosion, then there was dead silence. It was nerve shattering. Everyone had sort of a glassy-eyed look that seemed to say "Where am I?" We were on the ground and not vibrating any more. Could it be true? It was the chirping of the prolific sparrows that frequented the base which brought us out of our state of suspended animation. At that instant we all exited at the same time. How, I don't know.
The ambulance for the radio operator came roaring up even before we had a chance to go back and gather the rest of our flight gear. Although the radio operator had quite a few punctures in his side, they weren't life threatening. It was the waist gunner who looked rather shell-shocked. He kept trying to examine his posterior, like a dog chasing his tail. It seems the canteen coffee cup, that he always hung on his back pocket, was found to have quite a few rather large flak holes in it. As far as the radio operator was concerned, we were rather envious of him. He was now going to get to sleep in a nice soft bed with clean sheets, and be attended by beautiful nurses. Well after seeing him off, we all piled into a mud splattered GI truck that was waiting for us, and headed for the debriefing room. Everyone was kind of excited and anxious to tell his story. But when we walked in, we found it completely empty. It seemed everyone had left early on a weekend pass. The only evidence that a mission had been flown that day was a single sheet of paper that had been tacked on the wall next to the door. It was the post mission summary report, and it had us listed as Missing In Action. We found out later we had been written off because someone in our squadron had reported seeing us being shot down by some ME-272's. the word of course spread quickly, and the traditional raid on the "presumed dead" crew members remains was in full swing. Since only personal pictures and dog tags were all that usually were sent home, underwear, socks, boots and cameras were fair game. Luckily we got back to the barracks in time to retrieve most of the procured items. We had had it - in more ways than one!
And so ended the mission. Quite a few planes and their crews never returned that day. Those that bailed out were either shot immediately by the civilians, or captured by German military guards and herded into POW camps. The rest suffered a fate we didn't like to think about - namely being blown apart in the air. This was especially hard for their loved ones at home, because no bodies could be sent back and placed in marked graves. It is probably the main reason whey you won't find many flight crew member graves in government cemeteries. The irony of this situation is further exacerbated by post war records which show that more Air Force personnel lost their lives during World War II than those who served in the Navy, the Marines, or the Army. These men, most of them under the age of twenty, repeatedly faced the horrors of the sky because it was the unquestioned patriotic thing to do. Without exception, each crew member knew what he was fighting for, and truly believed their families at home were counting on them to keep the war away from U.S. shores. Too often they gave their all and did not return. We, thank God, were among the few that did.