In honor and memory of my dad, I am posting his memoir of World War 2. Any errors found in this document are likely attributable to the fact that it is a transcript of audio tapes my dad made between 15 and 20 years ago.
For a more detailed account of his bailout and capture, click here. For an account of the day he thought he was going to be executed by firing squad, click here.
My name is Wayne Livesay and today I began something that I have thought about for some time. Many people, mostly my relatives, have asked me to write some stories concerning my experiences in World War II. I have written a couple of things regarding when I was flying combat and when I was a prisoner of war. A couple of them have been published, but I have never thought that I could sit down and write a historical outline of everything that happened to me during World War II.
Recently my daughter-in-law asked me to one day put this on tape or put it in writing and so, in response to that, today I begin the process. Now I realize this is not going to be professionally done and I know that there are a lot of things that I will miss, even some of the dates and the places I will not be exactly sure of. But I thought I would write this account; or, I should say, tape this account and try my best to maintain as factual a record as possible. And of course I’ll interject some sense of humor, because as I look back on the experiences, some of them were very humorous. So I wanted to make these tapes and perhaps maybe my sons or my grandchildren later, can enjoy listening to them.
In 1941 I was a student at Hiwassee Junior College, Madisonville, Tennessee. I was on the football team and we had just finished our season. In the back of my mind I dreamed that after finishing school at Hiwassee, the junior college, I would go on and play football at some university. I don’t know whether I had the ability to do this, but down in my heart I thought I did. And my record had been such that there had been times that I thought that I had the ability to play college football.
I was sitting in the dorm on a Sunday afternoon and I was looking over my math assignment for the next day. We had just had lunch and there were three or four of us in this one room, and we had the radio on. It was one of our habits to study with the radio on. Somehow, listening to music, always gave me a greater incentive to study. And we were listening to Sammy Kay’s Sunday Serenade, and all of a sudden, in the midst of one of the songs, the announcer comes on the radio with the words: “Ladies and gentlemen – We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. Unidentified planes have attacked Pearl Harbor.”
That was all that was said. At that time I did not even know where Pearl Harbor was. We were discussing it among ourselves and one of the men in the room said, “Well, Pearl Harbor is in the Hawaiian Islands.” And about five minutes later, the program was interrupted again with a lengthy news bulletin that went into detail; that Japanese planes had attacked Pearl Harbor and we had sustained many losses. During the rest of that day, December 7th, 1941, all follow-up study in school was put in the background and we listened to many news bulletins. And on campus, this was the only conversation that could be had.
The next day, December 8th, we all were listening on the radio when President Roosevelt made his famous speech that “This day...yesterday, December 7th, a date which will live in infamy.” He went on to make the statement that since that attack upon Pearl Harbor, that a state of war had existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
Well, I had about two more weeks of school at the end of the semester, and although I know that I didn’t do much studying, and my mind really wasn’t on the books, I decided to stay in school through the 21st...or I think it was the 19th...whatever that Friday date was, and then I would go home and I would spend Christmas and New Years with my family, and I would enlist then in either the Army, the Navy or the Air Corps. And that’s what happened.
I remember going home and I remember that Christmas. We enjoyed it, but shortly after I got home, around the 22nd or 23rd of December, I went down to the recruiting officer and I signed up in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In filling out the form, I requested training in the Flying Sergeant Program, which existed at that time. My departure from my home in Pennington was on January 8th, early in the morning. We took a bus and we went all the way to Richmond, a long trip that day. Around 4:30 or 5:00 o’clock that afternoon, I, along with several other people from other parts of the state, were sworn in as $21.00 a month buck privates in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
We were then taken by bus over to Camp Lee and although when we arrived there it was already dark, we were given our uniforms before we were assigned a place to sleep. I never will forget...when we were given our uniforms, everything was either too large or too small. We got two pairs of pants, one was the normal what they called Army khaki and the other was what they called the blanket pants. Well, in looking at those things, I made up my mind that I would very seldom wear them. I’d wear the others all the time. And we were given some fatigue clothing, so most of the time that I wasn’t wearing the regular khaki pants when I was...when you might say dressed properly, I was wearing my fatigues. I don’t think I ever wore those blanket pants, since I was able to turn them in shortly before I left Camp Lee.
My next experience at Camp Lee...I was very naive and the very next morning, about, oh, I’d say, right after breakfast, around 9 or 10 o’clock, I went back to the barracks for something. I thought I’d write a letter or write a card or something and I learned that that was a mistake. I had no more arrived in the barracks, and there were about, oh, six or seven of us in there. In comes this corporal, and he yells out: “I need some volunteers for K.P. and you six guys are it.”
Well, I went to the mess hall that day and about fourteen hours later, I came out, very tired, but a little wiser. I learned right off the bat that if you don’t have anything to do, don’t go and do it in the barracks, because that’s the first place they look for “volunteers” for K.P. or any other assignment that might come up.
We weren’t at Camp Lee very long. We were there long enough to go through a little processing and take a few tests, and all of that. We got a lot of shots, and then we were told that we would either be sent to Shepherd Field, Texas or to Keesler Field, Mississippi. Well immediately we hear all the rumors about each place and some people would say: “Keesler Field’s the worst place on earth.” Others would say: “Then you haven’t seen Shepherd Field.” Very little on the positive side was said about either place.
About the middle of January...I’m not sure of the exact date, I looked on the bulletin board and a shipping list was out for Keesler Field and my name was on it. So we had to go over to the housing office and turn in all of our bedding. We left early in the morning, out by train, on our way to Keesler Field. Well, I sort of enjoyed that trip. It was good to get away from Camp Lee. I didn’t have much of a good opinion of Camp Lee, but when I got to Keesler, I found out that it wasn’t much better, if any.
There I was to spend...I found out...twelve weeks in what they called “basic training”. Well, the first part of that basic training was K.P. And on the second day that we were there, we were assigned to a barracks and it was very interesting. They had an alphabetical list of all the names in that barracks posted on the bulletin board. Each day, if you were to have any kind of an assignment, or a letter from the mail from the Post Office, they would put up a certain colored pin by your name. So you were constantly to check that board to see what you were to do.
Well, on this matter of K.P., there were about 120 men in that barracks, upstairs and down, and every day for K.P. they would need anywhere from 50 to 75 men for the K.P. assignment. Well, typical of the Army, they didn’t do it in a fair way. One day they would start at the A’s and take the first 50 to 75 names that were on the list. The next day they would start at the Z’s and go back the other way. Well, with about 60 in the mid-point, on some days, we in the middle with initials from K through N, wound up doing K.P. either way they went. Of course, there were a couple of days when we didn’t even have to do K.P. because they didn’t want to reach the L’s. But, for the most part, during that three weeks, I was on K.P. about every day. The K.P. assignment at Kessler Field was a good fifteen, sixteen hours. You would get back and you would no sooner get to bed and they’d be waking you up to go the next morning. I never will forget how happy I was when that three weeks of K.P. was off.
And then we were assigned to what they called the basic training. Drill, drill, drill. Run, run, run. We did this over and over and over. In a way I guess it was good for us because some of us...and I was in better than condition than most...some were out of condition and some of the exercises and the training out at the athletic field, grew very hard. One of the problems that we had at Kessler Field, was...there was an epidemic of yellow jaundice. Now I don’t know what caused it but they blamed it on the food, and they blamed it on other things, but everyone in our barracks practically, wound up with yellow jaundice. Our eyeballs were yellow and we had no appetite. Of course they were giving us treatment for it but a doctor there at the clinic, told each of us that we should never submit ourselves for blood transfusions. We should never give blood because of the jaundice. Maybe that wasn’t a valid statement, but to this day I never give blood because of that warning by that doctor.
Let me go back on this Kessler Field. There were a lot of rumors about corruption there among the upper echelon at Kessler Field. And I do know that the food was pretty bad. I think most everything we ate was so greasy and at breakfast, the only thing I would eat would be a bowl of cereal or a dish of prunes or something like that, because every time they would have chipped beef, or they would have eggs, everything was just terrible. So, there were a lot of rumors that the money that was going into the mess hall, was being diverted somewhere else.
And there was a General Weaver...I don’t know what his command was or exactly who he was, but General Weaver would come over about every two or three weeks for an inspection. And during the days when he would come, I was amazed at how nice the food was. Everything changed for the better the day he was there. Well, that went on for a while, but along about my 11th or 12th week at Kessler, General Weaver came over unannounced. They said he came in and he and his aide walked into one of the mess halls and picked up a tray and started through the line. And then, I didn’t see this...it was just related to me...but he slammed the tray down and went storming back to administration.
A few days later Colonel Golrick, who was the C.O. at Kessler Field...Colonel Golrick, the mayor of Biloxi and the mayor’s brother, were indited on some type of fraud. Now I don’t know whether it was because of the food there or what, but we got a new Commanding Officer after that. I wasn’t around long enough to know if the food did get better.
While I was at Kessler, I took what they called an Aviation Cadet exam. I was enlisted in the Flying Sergeant program and the reason I never took the Cadet exam prior to this was because a person had to have two years of college to qualify for the exam. Well I was only in my first year at Hiwassee when Pearl Harbor came along, so I wasn’t qualified for the Cadet program. But somewhere along about March of 1942 they changed the rule and said that if anyone could pass the two year equivalent exam, they could qualify as an Aviation Cadet. At the same time they announced that they were doing away with the Flying Sergeant program.
So that left me in sort of a quandary because the only other alternative seemed to be to go into mechanics school there at Kessler. Well, I’m no mechanic and I didn’t want any part of mechanics school, but they required all of us that were in the Flying Sergeant program to go into the mechanics school and start taking the course until such a time as we could be appointed into some other program.
Well, I was desperate. So I not only applied for the Aviation Cadet program, but I also applied for the Glider Pilot program. My feeling was, anything but a mechanic. But I was in the mechanics school for approximately five weeks before they took me out and sent me to Napier Field. That was in Alabama. I later learned that going to Napier was because I had passed the Cadet exam and all the ones that were taken out of the school were sent to Napier Field were those that were waiting Cadet appointment.
Now I rather enjoyed Napier Field. I didn’t have anything much to do. We lived in tents. A nice housing set up. We weren’t crowded. There were only six people to a tent and the food was good, and once a day, they would call us out for a drill. And we would drill for about, oh, I would say an hour-and-a-half to two hours; and for the most part, the rest of the time was ours. Napier Field at that time was an advanced training base for British R.A.F. Cadets and so, in our spare time, we spent a lot of time over at the flight line watching them take off and land. And we got quite a kick out of the British accent of these fellows. And for the most part, they were real nice guys. We enjoyed being with them and my experience in Napier Field was about two-and-a-half months. While I was there, as I look back on it, I have no bad memories of that place. I enjoyed it.
Along about the middle of June, and here again I’m not exactly sure of the date, I received information that I’d been appointed Aviation Cadet and, all of a sudden, I was being sent to the Cadet Center at Nashville, Tennessee. Now they didn’t waste any time. They took us straight up there and we started the classification process to determine whether we would be a bombardier, navigator or pilot. Well in my case I really didn’t care. I was so glad to be out of the mechanic program and all I wanted to do was to be in the Air Corps. Once I became a Cadet, my salary went up from $21.00 to $70.00 a month, and at that time I really thought I was wealthy. I’d gotten by on the $21.00 a month because I didn’t spend much off the base and, in those days, I actually drew about $10.00 in postage exchange checks. My monthly pay was only about $10.00, but I never had any problems because I had enough for stamps and I didn’t do much running around off the base.
But, be that as it may, when I got to Nashville it was really interesting. We’d go through all of these tests to determine whether we were going to be a bombardier, a navigator or a pilot and, this is the truth, when we looked at the board when the classifications came out, practically everyone whose initials began with K, L, M, N and O where classified bombardiers. Well, in a way I was kind of perplexed, not because I’d been classified as a bombardier, but because of the way it seemed to have come down. It appeared that all of the tests we took and every thing, was just a matter of form. And I was surprised I was being sent to Santa Ana Cadet Center, California, because we always thought there in Nashville that everybody, after they were classified, would go down to Maxwell Field or somewhere in Alabama or Georgia. But here they sent us all the way across country to Santa Ana, and it took several days to get there, but we traveled in style. It wasn’t a regular troop train; it was first class passage. We had sleeping cars and our beds were made up every night and the food on the train was good. The fact of the matter is I wouldn’t have minded if that train trip had taken a couple of weeks.
Eventually we arrived at Santa Ana. That was a very grueling experience. The Cadet pre-flight was thirteen, fourteen weeks and I mean to tell you, it was a strenuous thing at that time. It seemed like that they did everything possible to wash out as many men as they could.
But it was good to have different uniforms; to have uniforms that fit; and to be under a program where you knew where you were supposed to be and what you were supposed to be doing.
Now we had classes every day except Saturday and Sunday. We had drills every day and we had athletics every day. And I never will forget that one day a week we would play flag football and one day we’d play softball and one day we’d play speedball, which is sort of like soccer. And we’d play tennis or badminton or whatever. But at the end of the week, on a Saturday, there was a parade and all the units had to go and dress in Class A’s and parade before the Colonel, and each unit was given a grade. Well, our unit never, for the first six or seven weeks, we never came in either as high as third. It just seemed like our unit was not one that got the high marks on the parade ground.
We had a Commanding Officer of our group, Lt. Chuck Mullery, a good man, a strenuous disciplinarian, one that you could respect although he was very hard. He had an Adjutant by the name of Lt. Vauder, who we found out was a wash-out from Cadets, and as a result, it was very obvious, he hated all Cadets. Well, we had a demerit system whereas if you got nine demerits during the week, you couldn’t go off base on the weekend. Well, we all tried to keep our beds made properly and our area clean and everything in the locker just where it should be so we wouldn’t get any demerits.
Well, one morning Lt. Vauder was out giving the exercise and I was in the front row and he decided he’d have us all bend over and touch our toes. Well, in leading the exercise Lt. Vauder bent over and he didn’t come near his toes, and he straightened up and he tried it again. And when he tried about the third time I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. He took one look at me and never said a word. But that afternoon when I went back in to the board to check the assignments, it had Cadet Livesay: Nine demerits. Charge: General bitching. I don’t know where he got that. But because I laughed at him I wound up missing my weekend pass, and I was assigned on Saturday to clean out three or four furnace rooms in the barracks. So, that really got me with this little guy. After that I steered clear of him as much as I could, but I had no respect for him.
One Saturday, about our sixth or seventh week there, I’m not sure, we won the parade. They had told us if we finished in the top three at the parade, that we would be released exactly after the parade at 10 o’clock to go into L.A. Well, that day, I never will forget, UCLA was playing Oregon. No, it wasn’t UCLA. It was Southern Cal that was playing Oregon, and we were all in Cadets, so we got in free. A bunch of us had planned to go to the ballgame so we were all really looking forward to doing well in the parade, which we won first place that week, and we had never been any higher than fourth. As we came back to the barracks, we marched back to the barracks. Everyone was ready to be dismissed and grab their toilet articles and head for the bus. It was always on our mind.
We marched back to the barracks and this little old Lt. Vauder, got out in front of us and he said, “Men,” he said, “you did well today.” He said, “I’m really proud of you. The thing that bothers me is why you haven’t been doing this way all the time. So I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to go back into the barracks; we’re going to put on our PT clothes and we’re going to double-time down to the athletic field to take an hour of calisthenics.”
You talk about crushed morale! We did that but, needless to say, that was the last time we even had a decent parade. It ruined the morale, the group, because of that one little fella. Well, after the hour on the athletic field, and we get back and take a shower, we got into L.A. but it was the third quarter of the ball game, but we got in. But I never will forget Lt. Vauder and I know everybody in our outfit hoped to see him sometime after the war; but I don’t know if anybody ever did. He was one of the worst men that I had ever had the experience of knowing in the military.
The rest of the time at Santa Ana was all right. I came out in the top ten in my class, in the pre-flight, and we were then told we would be transferred to Roswell, New Mexico for the advanced bombardier training.
Arriving at Roswell was probably the turning point of my service life. For the first time we were going to be treated like adults instead of children. I realized that the pre-flight training at Santa Ana was more or less a test to see how we could stand the hazing, the abuse and some of the restrictions, but I guess I down deep inside, resented the way they always watched over us like children in a kindergarten. At Roswell they still had plenty of restrictions, yet we were given our responsibilities. We were told what we should do and we didn’t have the feeling that they were always looking over our shoulder. As long as we complied with our responsibilities, we felt like we were on our own.
One of the things that made the experience at Roswell great was that we were now flying for the first time. It wasn’t all classroom and theory, but it was practice. Of course we had about three weeks of orientation in the Norden bomb sight, which at that time was a high security restricted classification. We were explicitly told that any time we checked out a bomb sight, that it was not to be out of our view at any time, and that we were completely responsible for its security. We were also warned that if we violated this restriction that we would be subject to being washed out of the Cadet program.
I also learned that during our Santa Ana pre-flight, about one-fourth of our class did not make it through the pre-flight process. Most of these wash-outs were because of scholastic problems, but some were caused by the fact that they disobeyed the restrictions that were placed upon us. Also we were told, and at first I didn’t believe it, that 40% of the survivors of pre-flight never made it through the bombardiering school. I thought that was a pretty high figure but, as time went by, I began to realize that it was very realistic. This was a rather sobering thought for it brought to mind that over 50% of the Cadets that started the pre-flight program at Santa Ana would be washed-out of the program and not be graduated as 2nd Lieutenants.
One of the reasons for this was the strict restrictions on the bomb site that I pointed out before. As we got to Roswell and started our flying, each of us was given a partner. My partner was a Cadet by the name of Lockhart, and on the days that he was to be doing the bombing, he would check out the bomb site, the 45 pistol, and I would check out a camera and the parachutes for the flight. The next day when I was scheduled to do the bombing, I would be responsible to check out the sight and he in turn would be responsible to check out the parachutes and the camera.
This was done in order that the bombs that we dropped would be duly recorded officially. Now the bombs were hundred pound bombs, loaded with sand, and with a demolition charge on the nose, so that when they hit the ground, they would make a flash and therefore could be recorded by the one using the camera.
During our training at Roswell we were required to drop 200 bombs for score, and all around the base there were several targets and these targets consisted of a shack, about a four foot square building of wood, and around it were drawn large lines, just like a target. Each line would be 50’ from the shack. The first line was 50’. The second line would be 100’. The third line 150’ and, in some instances, there was a fourth and a fifth line. But the score was recorded on the basis of 150’, which they called a CE circular era. And after you had dropped your two-hundred bombs, the average of those bombs must be under 150’ if you were to graduate as a bombardier.
Now this might not sound like a big thing but in reality it was very touchy; because when you were on the bomb sight, you were actually flying the plane with that sight, with the course and rate corrections involved. And when you’d be going down the bomb run, and you’d realize that you did not have the crosshairs of the sight synchronized, you had the authority to gauge the gyro on the sight, tell the pilot to turn and try it again. Now this did not make you very popular with the pilots because all they wanted to do was get rid of the bombs that were on the plane and get back and land at the base. But we had to remember that it was not the pilot that was being checked, it was us. And any time I was going down a bomb run, and because of turbulence or some other thing that prevented me from getting a good reading on the sight, I would gauge the gyro and ask the pilot to turn. I was thankful that in all of my bombing I wound up with a score of less than 120, which was well above the average. I think I was about 7th or 8th in the class, as most of the averages went between 130 to 140.
Now, all of these averages of bombs dropped, all as converted to an altitude of 14,000 feet. Of course some of the bombs were dropped at lower altitudes, and they had a conversion factor that would raise the amount of error up so many feet. For myself, the higher we bombed from the better I liked it because the sights seemed to work better at high altitude. And when we were bombing at say 12,000’ I really enjoyed it because there was less turbulence and it was easier to pick up the target and to zero in. And when the bombs went away, if the indices on the Norton sight were stationary, you knew you were going to on or near the target.
Well, the thing of it was, many young Cadets did not take seriously the point of the necessity of guarding the sight. I remember many cases where men were washed out because they would give the sight up to a lieutenant or to an instructor. On occasion maybe an instructor would come up to you and say, “Cadet Jones...looking at your sight I believe there is a malfunction. Let me check it before you take it on the flight.” And the unsuspecting Cadet would hand the sight over to the officer, who would turn it in at the vault and the Cadet then would not have a sight. He would be disciplined because of it and, in most cases, was washed out immediately.
There was one instance where a young Cadet, about two weeks before our scheduled graduation, was to check out the sight, check out the 45, and his partner was responsible to check out the camera and the parachutes. The Cadet’s partner was in line for the parachutes, which was very long, and the Cadet with the sight looked over and saw that the camera line was empty, so he set his bomb sight down, walked about 15 yards over to the window and checked out the camera. While he was gone an officer saw what he had done. He picked up the sight, turned it in to the vault and when the Cadet came back, he asked him what he was looking for. And the Cadet knew then what he had done. That young man washed out two weeks before he was to become a 2nd Lieutenant. He’d already purchased his uniform. I don’t know what happened to him, but he was no longer with us at Roswell. So, that 40% became a realistic factor.
During our training there at Roswell, not only did we fly and drop the bombs, but we went three days a week to the hangar where the bomb trainer was located, and we had to put in two hours every week on that bomb trainer. It was very, very realistic because you were on a platform about 15’ above the ground. On the ground was a map and you had a Norden bomb sight mounted up on this trainer and you were given certain targets, and you were to manipulate the trainer down the bomb run, as if it was an actual flight. It proceeded at a speed equivalent to that of the twin engine trainer that we were in. You would more or less synchronize on the target and as the bomb was released, the bomb would hit the target at the right place, and you would be scored. These scores did not count in your overall grade and, for the most part, it was very easy to hit the target. There was no turbulence. There was no wind. There was no outside influence, so all you really had to do was just synchronize the sight on the target and it did the rest. I enjoyed the training there.
Another thing I enjoyed was the people in Roswell. At that time Roswell was a small town. I have never been back there but I understand it’s quite different today. When we got there there were very few restaurants and very few places of entertainment in town. I enjoyed the people there and I never will forget the first time that I went to town and went to this restaurant and ordered a hot tamale. Well, I’d eaten chili and I’d eaten hot tamales back in Virginia, but nothing like this. When I bit into that hot tamale for the first time, that was my introduction to a really hot tamale. Man alive! My tongue seemed like it was on fire and I believe you could have screwed light bulbs into my ears and they would have burned!
I very quickly learned that when you partake of Mexican food in Roswell, New Mexico, you take it very slowly and you also tell them at the outset that you don’t want it too spicy. I never will forget that. And as I looked around and saw those little kids, eight, ten years old, eating those jalapeno peppers just like they were candy, I couldn’t believe it. They must have had a leather tongue. All in all, I enjoyed my time at Roswell.
Our graduation was February 13th of 1943. We were in Class 433. There were about 65 of us that graduated and they had a tradition there...I guess it was a tradition...in all Cadet bases, that whenever you graduated you had to give a dollar to the first enlisted man that saluted you. Well, our graduation was held in the base auditorium and as we went across the stage and received our diploma and a handshake from the colonel, we were not to return to our seats but we were to go out a side door on the left side of the stage. As you went out that door, there was a line of enlisted men and the first one in the line saluted me. I returned the salute and handed him a dollar bill and he left the line. The second person stepped up to get the next young lieutenant coming out. I never will forget that.
Well, after I got my commission and my bombardier wings, I actually awaited my next assignment, and we believed it would be to a staging area for B-17s or B-24s, but to my surprise, about eight of us received orders to report to Hondo, Texas to the navigation school. Well this brought a question to my mind as to why we were going to navigation school; but it was explained to us that some of us had been selected for B-29s and that as a bombardier on a B-29, you would also be the navigator.
Well, I accepted that at face value and went on down to Hondo and really and truly, as I look back on it, the thirteen weeks I spent in Hondo, although were not the most pleasant from the physical sense, I believe the training I received there was the best training I received any time in the Air Force. Hondo was located in the desert west of San Antonio and it was ideal place for a navigation school. There was nothing around it but just the base. The little town of Hondo consisted of two streets and there were, I think, two restaurants, a couple of dry good stores, a filling station and a grocery store. That was about it. But the training we received there was very good. Navigation schools are both dead reckoning and celestial. We had good instructors, and after I got through the training I really regretted that I had not been trained as a navigator first. Nevertheless, that was a beautiful time. I waited then to being sent to a B-29 staging area.
So when I received my orders, it was to report to Moses Lake, Washington and the date was given as June 28th. So I noticed that there was about a ten day lapse between the time I was to travel there and the date of our graduation, so I thought I’d use that ten day delay en route and get back to Virginia and have a few days with my family. Well, I took a bus to San Antonio and I tried to get a flight from San Antone to Knoxville. Well, that was out of the question, but I could get a flight from Dallas to Knoxville. So what I did, I bought the ticket and took the bus from San Antonio to Dallas and when I got there I was ready to go straight into Knoxville. I had a rude awakening. Although we were ready to go, and just about the time we were scheduled to take off, myself and a Marine were bumped from the flight by two civilians, which had military priority. I was a little bitter about this and I let my feelings be known. So did the Marine.
I then had an option. I could wait around stand-by for another ten to twelve hours, take the next flight; or I could go down to the bus station and take a bus to Knoxville, which I did. This more or less delayed my trip back to Virginia. I think I was only there about three days because I had to get on a train in Bristol and head towards Spokane, Washington to get to Moses Lake. I enjoyed that trip though by train. We were treated just like first class passengers. When they saw I was military, they took me out of the regular seat assignment and gave me a Pullman assignment. All the way to Spokane I was a first class passenger. Frankly, I wouldn’t have cared if that trip had lasted several more days.
When we got to Spokane we were told that we would have to take another train over to Moses Lake. Well, when I looked at the train that they gave us, that we had to take, it reminded me about some of those trains on T.V. and the wild, wild, West. It was an old steam engine and the cars were out of the last century. It took us practically all day to get from Spokane over to Moses Lake. And you talk about a rude awakening! When I first got to Moses Lake I looked around and it was the Scriptural interpretation of the abomination of desolation. It was all flat desert. There was a make-shift runway there that looked like it wasn’t even safe. There were some B-24s and a few B-17s and there were a few fighter planes, but I did not see one B-29 because they weren’t there.
I learned that Moses Lake was just a staging area. There were pilots there. There were navigators there. There were bombardiers. There were gunners. And no one seemed to know what was going on. I commented that the word Moses Lake was aptly named because, like Moses in the Bible, out there it looked like you was going to have to beat on a rock to get water.
Well, my stay at Moses Lake was about ten days, and I did make two flights. I did that in order to get in my flying time for my pay, but I was never assigned to a crew. There was no assignment there. Everyone was waiting to go somewhere else. Well, after ten days I received orders to report to Geiger Field back near Spokane. Geiger Field, I think today it’s called Fairchild Army Air Force Base, but at that time it was more or less a gunnery training school.
Well I went through gunnery training for about three weeks. I never did understand the full reason for it. We went to class. We went to the range. I don’t know how many 50 caliber rounds of ammunition I fired, and we were required to field strip the 50 caliber machine gun and put it back together blindfolded. After a few practices on this it became very easy to do, but I never did understand why I had been selected to do this.
Nevertheless, finally, we got orders that we were to report to Montana to the 401st Bomb Group. Twelve of us were told that we would be assigned crews there and go to what they called third phase training for combat. Now the crews that were in Montana had already been through their first two phases without a navigator, but on the third phase, a navigator was required. And they were short navigators and we were sent there. This made it very clear that I was not going to go to B-29s, but that I was going to be in a B-17 as a navigator.
I never will forget going there. I had all kinds of misconceptions, but going to Montana was really the highlight of my training. I was assigned, right off the bat, to a crew and I was with that crew all the way through training. We flew overseas as a crew. We went through the First Combat Tour as a group. And it was good because, for the first time, we belonged to something and it was something we could be proud of.
Now in Montana the 401st consisted of four squadrons. One squadron was a permanent base in Great Falls; and the other three squadrons were at satellite bases at Guttbank, Lewistown and Glasgow. I was assigned to the squadron at Lewistown, and the day I arrived there I met my crew. Paul Anderson was the pilot. Walter Shepherd was the co-pilot. B.K. Burt Davis was the bombardier. Arthur John was the top turret flight engineer. Bud Morrison was the radio operator. Bud Marutz was the ball turret gunner. Wesley Kanard was one of the waist gunners and John Brownell was the tail gunner. Our other waist gunner was Walt Gorsky, but he had not arrived yet. So we were given a man by the name of Singleton as a temporary waist gunner on our flights.
Singleton was our engineer, a flight engineer. And we knew his assignment was only temporary because he was later to be assigned to another crew as a flight engineer. The training at Lewistown consisted of two things. First of all we made several cross country trips at night to test my celestial navigation. This was very good because it helped me later on on the flight across the Atlantic to England. We would fly down to Grand Island, Nebraska, up to Rapid City, South Dakota and to several other places they gave us for our flight. We would go there. We would not land. We would just go there, make a turn-around and navigate our way back to Lewistown, using different routes. I really enjoyed that because it gave me a good chance to test the training that I had had at Hondo.
The bulk of our training was in the daytime because we figured we were going to England and daylight bombing was to be the main thing there. So what we would do every day, except maybe a holiday, we would put up a bombing mission, and three of the four squadrons were to put up nine planes. Every fourth day we had a stand down, which means that we had the entire day off and we could do what we wanted to do. But on three of the four days we would put up nine planes, and since we had four squadrons at our base, three of the four squadrons would each put up three planes. So we would put up nine planes, and of those nine planes, we would assemble in a lead, high and low squadron and then we would meet the other two squadrons at a group rendezvous point. We would then proceed, at the proper altitude, and make a bombing run on Fort Peck Reservoir. And in the two to three months that we were there in Lewistown, I think we bombed Fort Peck about thirty times. But it was good training. It may seem that it got sort of redundant and we may have gotten a little lax in what we were doing, but in later months we were to realize that that training of the simulated bombing on Fort Peck Reservoir was one of the best things that we had done during our training.
In the month of October, as September ended and October began, all of the rumors that we were soon to leave were coming to the fore; and all of a sudden we were given what they called a “base alert”, which meant that the next day we would be departing under sealed orders.
Well, this brought a lot of speculation and I still, all the time, figured we were going to England, but some of them still thought that we might be going to the Pacific. Well when we took off the next night I had an envelope with sealed orders, and I opened it after we were airborne and the destination was Scott Field, Illinois. Well, we headed for Scott Field, and when we get there the next day we went through a processing that seemed to be for overseas. We figured we’d never see Lewistown, Montana again.
But, three days later, we were given orders to fly back to Lewistown. So although we were sort of deflated, we made the trip back to Lewistown. We stayed there almost a week and then the alert came again. And you know how it is when you have a second alert on something, and you figure it’s another dry run. So, somehow we didn’t figure that this was real, but nevertheless we were given sealed orders again. And when we were airborne...Scott Field, Illinois.
When we got to Scott Field this time there was a different attitude among the personnel there. It’s as if they knew the first time we got there was just a dry run, but this one was for real. Everything was checked. We got all of our overseas shots brought up to date and everything was in order for us to leave. Two days later, we were ordered to Syracuse, New York.
So we flew to Syracuse and that day is one I’ll always remember, not from what happened to us as a crew, but what happened to one of the other crews. At that time the World Series of baseball was being played at Yankee Stadium, and one of the crews from our group, buzzed Yankee Stadium during that ball game. That was a stupid thing to do and someone in the stands got the number off of the airplane, and it was one from our group. The Mayor of New York at that time was LaGuardia, and he got up and made a big speech and prepared Court Martial charges against the pilot of that crew. As we went on to England that charge followed him, and he was subject to Court Martial. Nevertheless, on one of his first or second missions, I’m not sure whether it was the first mission or the second...this man was...his plane was shot up and he brought it home and made an emergency landing and saved the lives of his crew. And in view of that, Mayor LaGuardia dropped his charges and the man was never prosecuted for what he did back in New York.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t justify the action, and it is bad that one of our crew...one of our group...went down in history as the one that risked the lives of thousands of people by buzzing Yankee Stadium during a ball game. Well, we were only at Syracuse, New York over night. We just refueled and got a night of rest and the next day we flew up to Bangor, Maine. We stayed overnight and were given all of our overseas maps and all of the equipment we would need when we got to England. And then we flew up to Gander, Newfoundland.
When we got to Gander we didn’t know when we were going to be leaving for overseas because the weather was adverse, and we were to stay there until the weather was at least appropriate for the type of flight we would be making. During those few days, I sat down and looked at that map and, man, the Atlantic Ocean looked like it was more water than I’d ever dreamed it had been. Now here I am, I’m a navigator. I’ve been trained, but here I’m going to start out over miles and miles of water, and here I’d never been over water, except about an hour-and-a-half over the Gulf of Mexico, and I could always know that the coast was nearby. But here we’re going to start out single file across the Atlantic and all we had in those days as navigation equipment, was an air speed indicator, an altimeter, a drift meter and an A12 sexton that was very outmoded at that time, and we had a compass. We didn’t have the sophisticated radar, or these sophisticated compasses, or the sextants that were updated. Nevertheless we knew that we were going to be heading out across the Atlantic and, with the equipment that we had, and we were really leery about some of the things that we might encounter.
About four or five days after we arrived at Gander, we received briefing orders that we would be leaving around 8 o’clock in the evening. So we went over to the briefing room and we get the weather briefing. Although it looked very good to the briefing officer, as I saw those large clouds and the things on the chart, I had all kinds of misgivings. Nevertheless when the time came for take-off, we were ready to go. The night of that flight across the Atlantic stands out as a very memorable time in my life. The anticipation and the way things finally worked out are a note of satisfaction as I look back on the experience.
I had plotted the course from Gander to a point on the West Coast of Ireland, where we were to shoot for, and then go across the Irish Sea to Prestwick, Scotland. I was plotting the great circle course on my map chart, which meant that every so often we would have to alter course in order to maintain the shortest distance from Gander to the West Coast of Ireland. I had it all figured out that I would make a celestial fix every 45 minutes, and since we were traveling almost due East, I would, about every ten minutes, shoot the North Star Polaris and thereby gain a latitude by Polaris to check not only my course, but also my ground speed.
Things don’t always work out exactly as planned, but for the most part of the route I believe we came pretty close to staying on our prescribed course. One thing I don’t think I mentioned earlier was that we were flying in a brand new B-17. All during our training in Lewistown we had used different planes, but in October we were given a brand new plane. That was to be our plane, the one we were to finish training in and the one that we would fly overseas with, and also take into combat.
We did fly this plane for our first thirteen missions, and while we were on leave after our thirteenth mission, another crew took this plane out and it was shot down. The plane was named Belle of the Ball. But, nevertheless, for that night across the Atlantic, the Belle really did a good job. We ran into some adverse weather and we had some icing on the wings and we had to climb to different altitudes in order to be able to get celestial fixes. But all in all as we look back upon the scene, it was a great experience. I never will forget the anxiety I felt when I had marked the point of safe return on our map, which meant if anything went wrong, there was no returning to Gander. We still had to go on and I remember when we crossed that point of safe return, I called the pilot and said “We’ve cross the PSR and now we’re committed to go on to destination.”
One thing that happened during the flight that was a matter of concern for me, and of much concern to the pilot, was that about three-quarters of the way across the Atlantic, as it was almost getting daylight, I wanted to make a course correction and I got on the intercom and called the pilot, but I got no response. I called about three times with no response. So I got my light and I stood up in the bubble of the astrodome and flashed it into the cockpit, and lo and behold, as I looked at the pilot’s seat and the co-pilot’s seat, both were asleep!
So I thought, “Well, if I’m the only one awake in the airplane, I’d better wake somebody up and make this course correction.” So I crawled through the hatch up towards the pilot’s compartment, and as I crawled through the hatch, Anderson, the pilot, was down there asleep. He had taken a brief rest and turned the thing over to the co-pilot, and the engineer John had gotten up into the pilot’s seat and neither one of them was awake. And when I informed Andy that I wanted to make a course correction but everybody was asleep in the cockpit, you talk about coming unwound! He really came unwound. He went up to the cockpit and he exploded on those two! Ousted John from the pilot’s seat, and for the rest of the trip Andy was in the pilot’s seat. There was nothing wrong with Andy taking a break but Shephard and John were certainly off base because with the navigator, the only one awake in the airplane, the situation could have been disastrous.
That was the only adverse thing that happened. As we approached our estimated time of arrival, I began to anxiously look ahead for land, and I was really pleased. We arrived about eight minutes early at the West Coast of Ireland at the point we wanted to make and we were about five to seven miles left of course. Well, in my book, that was great because there was no way we could have missed the destination point with that small amount of error.
So then I merely gave a heading from that point on across the Irish Sea to Prestwick, and in process of time, we landed there. Landing at Prestwick we were rather tired and we left the engineer, John, with the airplane while the rest of us went up to Operations for debriefing. There was quite a surprise when Andy and I came back to the aircraft. There stood a captain with his hands above his head, and Arthur John, who was only about 5’6” was standing there in front of him with a 45 pointing straight in the man’s face. That captain was very upset, and when he saw us he interceded with us to get this man to quit pointing the gun at him.
Well, what had happened...John was completely within his rights as to what he was doing. Each B-17 as it was arriving at Prestwick was loaded with equipment that we were to use later. It was sort of laughable though. All of the equipment in our B-17 was for tropic areas, and with all the mosquito netting and all the other stuff that they would need in maybe North Africa. We were not going to be using that, but nevertheless what was happening, and we’d been told about this back at Gander, that there were some personnel at Prestwick who had seized upon an idea how they could confiscate all of this material and maybe later on sell it on the black market. I don’t know.
So what happened, this captain comes up to Sgt. John and said, “I have been commissioned to have my men strip the plane, take all the equipment off of it.” John’s response was: “Over my dead body,” and he immediately pulled out his 45. The Captain got rather upset, but after we began to investigate the thing, it was the captain that was in trouble and not us, because John had behaved exactly right. We were not to give up that equipment and I’m sure that captain, along with several others, wound up facing charges for trying to take this material from us.
We were at Prestwick less than a week but that was a very pleasant week. We were quartered in an old castle and it was very unique, but the accommodation was top drawer. We were treated like celebrities. The food was good. There were very few restrictions upon us. We could go into town whenever we wanted to. The only requirement was that we check the bulletin board each morning because we knew that soon we would be flying down into a base in England.
About the fifth day that we were there, a plane from the 351st Bomb Group flew up to Prestwick and we were all told that we would begin our flight that next morning, following him back down to Prestwick. It was quite a unique thing because there were about 40 or 50 B-17s that day that took off from Prestwick on its way down to Polebrook where the 351st Group was located. Now Polebrook was about 68 miles almost due north of London, and there was an established base there. The 351st. And while we were there, and we sort of over-crowded the place with the addition of these 401st airplanes. This wasn’t all of the group that came overseas. It represented most of the group that night.
While we were there we did not do anything except listen to the stories from the men who had been flying combat. On the morning that they were going on a mission, we would go out to the flight line early and watch the take-off; anticipating how soon it would be that we would be doing the same thing. During this time our Commanding Officer and our Group Leaders made flights with the 351st, sort of an orientation-type thing. We were told that shortly we would be going over to a place called Deanthorpe, which was about 12 miles from Polebrook where the 401st base would be located.
Then we had a pleasant surprise. The 351st needed some replacement crews and they more or less asked that 13 of our crews be brought over to the 351st. Now this was done on a strictly volunteer basis, and I guess it was fixed up so that the first 13 pilots that asked for it would get it. So after looking at the prospect of going over to a new field, and opening up that field, with a group that was entirely new as far as combat experience was concerned, it looked pretty inviting to volunteer to stay with the 351st, an established group, that had combat experience and we felt like it would be much better to fly with them.
So Andy got the crew together and it was discussed, and we unanimously voted that we would like to be one of those 13 crews. So we were chosen and there were four other crews from the squadron that we were with in Lewistown, that also came to the 351st. All of us came into the 511th Squadron. It was a crew of Lt. George Meers, Lt. David Litsinger, Lt. Al Jones and Lt. Warren Putnam. We knew these men well. We knew their crews well and so for the five crews that came over there, including ours, was really a blessing, and I have never regretted transferring over to the 351st.
Once that transfer was officially made, we realized that in the 511th Squadron all of the airplanes had to have the name “Ball” because this was Col. Ball’s Squadron. Well, up until then we had been thinking about naming our plane after Paul Anderson, the pilot’s wife. Since he was the only married member of the crew, and his wife, Connie, had been with us in Lewistown, we wanted to name the ship “Connie” or “Champagne Connie” or something to that effect. But we were told that it had to have the name “Ball” because every plane in that squadron was named “Ball”. “Eight Ball.” “Woodchopper’s Ball.” There was all kinds of names but all of them had the name Ball.
So Andy came up with the name “Belle of the Ball” and that was painted upon our plane. We still, after the plane was named and we’d taken a few practice flights over England, we still were anticipating that first combat. Well, on the night of November 25th, which was Thanksgiving night, we were informed that we would be flying the next morning on a mission. I never will forget that night. I don’t think I slept a wink. I was anxious. I had all kinds of mixed emotions because all of the training we’d gone through, everything that we had done to date, was leading up to that first taste of combat. So, I guess you can say we had misgivings. We had fears. We had anticipations, and we also weren’t very enthusiastic.
That morning we went to the briefing room and as the colonel stood up and made the briefing, and they pulled back the curtain from the briefing board, the name of Bremen stood out. Well I knew Bremen was a submarine base on the North Sea and we were more or less anticipating a rough mission. But as it turned out, we were not bombing the port but it was an industrial complex in the City of Bremen.
As we took off on that flight and it was very uneventful on the take-off, and the flight across the Channel. But as we approached the IP...the initial point...for our bombing run, we were North of Bremen, over the sea and we were beginning to receive flak. Anti-aircraft fire from an island...Helgoland. So I marked the first enemy action I had seen, was the flak from Helgoland. Well, we made our bomb run without incidence. We got our bombs on the target and we came out, and for all purposes, in my mind, it was duck soup. There was nothing to it. We came home back and landed.
We found out that another group had been hit by flak and also by enemy fighters and that one of the ships out of the 508th Squadron, which was also from our group, had been shot down. So, although I was sad to hear about the plane being shot down, I was beginning to think, “Well, if this is combat, this is nothing.” So I had a real good feeling after that mission.
A few days later I was brought back to reality. My second mission was on the 1st day of December and it was down into the Ruhr Valley...what they called “Flak Valley”. This was where the steel was being made at a place called Solingen. We went down in there. We not only received flak that you could almost walk on, and after we got back to the base that day, we had over fifty holes in the aircraft; but we also were under attack from thirty to forty-five ME-109s and ME-190s, and there was one ME-110 they were seeing in the area.
Our group lost two planes that day to enemy fighters. One group...one plane from the 509th Squadron, one from our Squadron was James M. Plant. I didn’t know him or his crew, but he was from the Squadron that we were flying in. When we got back home I realized you can get killed out there. And all of anticipation and all of my high morale after the Bremen Raid, was shaken to reality after that second trip to Solingen.
Now during the month of December we made about four other missions and later on I’ll go into detail on the December 31st mission, which I record as the roughest mission I was ever on. It as not the one I was shot down on. I later went to Berlin and other places, but I believe that December 31st mission to the southern part of France, turned out to be the roughest I was ever on.
In the meantime, we knew crews would be sitting around and listening to the older crews talk. Lots of times we figured they were just pulling our leg, exaggerating stories that didn’t exist. One such story centered around a German pilot by the name of Schmidt, who was a 109 pilot. And they used to say that he would come up there and get on our fighter channel and talk to us. Then he would attack. They would always talk back at him and to me this was unreal. I thought, “Well, this is just one of those stories.”
But on one of our December flights we were sitting there and all of a sudden, on the intercom, comes this voice and it says, “Greetings to American planes in the vicinity of Osnabruck. In a few minutes you’re going to see the world’s greatest aviator.” Well I thought at that time and thought: “That’s a joke”; but it wasn’t a joke. This was the legendary Schmitty talking, and in about five minutes, all of a sudden from out of the sun came Schmitty and he attacked the group and there was quite a running battle in the air there. Several planes were shot down on each side. And this guy Schmidt was not just a legend that didn’t exist, he was a reality that did exist. And we had to put up with Schmitty on and off up until, I’d say, the middle of February. And on one mission to Wilhelmshaven, I wasn’t on the mission, but some of the men said that they talked with Schmitty and he talked with them. But after that mission nobody ever heard from him again. So the feeling was that that day Schmitty had got shot down. Because after that there was no more reports of the conversations with Schmitty. Now there’s a lot of stories that went around about Schmitty. All I can vouch for is that he did exist and that he did come on the air and warn you that he was going to attack, and then he did attack. So if he was shot down on that Wilhelmshaven Raid, I’m content to live with that because I’m sort of glad that he no longer existed, because he had a way of unnerving you.
Another thing that was sort of a legend, and I found out it was true. Some point as we’d go over for briefing, and it didn’t matter whether we went over it 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock, or whatever time, every time we would go on, we had the radio on to this wonderful one station that had American music on it. And on that very station here would come on the lady we called “Calais Kate” and she would come on and say:
“Good morning to American airmen in England. Some of you are eating your last breakfast.” And then she would play American music; and in a few minutes she’d come back on and she’d say: “To Major Caraway of the 511th Group, it is now . . .” and she would give the time in New York, and the time in Denver, and the time in Los Angeles. And she’d say: “Your wives and girlfriends are now out dancing with draft dodgers. And now I will play for the Major of the 511th...Somebody Else Is Taking My Place.”
This type of a thing did not cause a morale problem. We thought it very entertaining, but it was amazing how they knew exactly when we were briefing. One day she spoke specifically to the 351st and she said: “The clock in your operation is a minute-and-a-half fast” and sure enough it was a minute-and-a-half fast. I don’t understand how they had this good intelligence, but they had it. And Calais Kate became a part of our morning existence as we would get ready to go on the missions.
On December 31st a mission to Bordeaux, France was the roughest of my missions during the first tour. Our base had planned a New Year’s Eve party that night and Col. Hatcher, who was our Group Commanding Officer, was to be honored that night, but he was to lead the mission that was originally scheduled for an aircraft assembly plant in Bordeaux, France. Well, in being briefed for that mission I realized it was a long way down there. We had to fly over the Brest Peninsula and go on down the coast of France and then make an end-run towards Bordeaux, and when we got down, ready to make the run in to Bordeaux, the weather was terrible. The overcast was such that there was no way that we could get in there and bomb our original target. Well, our second target was an air drome at Cognac, France, and rather than count the mission as a total loss, we turned in towards Cognac and as soon as we started that bomb run, I have never seen flak as heavy as it was there.
We learned later after I was liberated from prison camp or long after that, that a group of freshly trained...newly trained...anti-aircraft group had just moved into that Cognac area and when we made that run on Cognac, there wasn’t any flak listed as far as we knew there, we ran into a hornet’s nest. On that day our group lost seven planes. And we lost most of them right in the target area. As we turned off the target after we had dropped our bombs, Col. Hatcher’s plane was shot down.
I later ran into him in prison camp but his command pilot that day was Major Blaylock, and when they were shot down, and Blaylock bailed out, for some reason his parachute never opened and Blaylock died near Cognac. From our group we lost Lt. Warren Putnam and his crew over the target. They were shot up pretty bad and as they came off the target, they were unable to make it back and then they were jumped by fighters and finished off. Putnam was killed. And on the way back it seemed like that adversity was just going to continue to hit us. All of a sudden we got an increase and a headwind and it knocked down our ground speed by about 75 knots which meant that we were going to have fuel problems. It also meant that we would miss the rendezvous point over Brest with the Spitfires who were to be our escort. So here we were, struggling along, being hit by fighters occasionally; we were shot up from the flak and the ground speed was so slow that we began to be very anxious about the fuel. As we crossed the Brest Peninsula, Al Jones’ plane had been shot up pretty bad over the target and he had to drop from our formation; and he ditched there in the Channel and he and his entire crew were drowned. They never were picked up.
As for us, I never will forget, as we started coming back over the Brest Peninsula there, we were to pick up Spitfires but since we were almost an hour behind schedule, we figured that the Spitfires wouldn’t be there. But yet our co-pilot, Shepard, who was sort of an aircraft identification expert, we thought, he picked up his binoculars and looked out and he said: “There’s Spitfires out here at 1 o’clock high.” We looked up and there were three or four planes up there, and he said they were Spitfires and I even turned in my log and marked down: Escorter – Spitfires at such and such a time.
About that time the plane started rocking back and forth as Andy came over and said: “Yeah, they’re spittin’ fire all right. Shoot at ‘em.” And here come some 109s through the formation that Shepard had called Spitfires. And they went flying through. They didn’t shoot anybody down that route but it certainly caught us off guard, and we got a couple or more hits. The Belle was really shot up that day. And during that attack over Brest, a 20mm exploded near me. I’m not sure whether it was flak or 20 mm to be honest, but I had on my flak helmet and it rang like somebody had hit me with a hammer. I later found out when I was in a hospital in Southern England that I had suffered a mild concussion, but I didn’t feel anything. I just felt sort of numb.
Anyhow, we’re losing altitude and every fuel light on in the panel was turning red. Andy called me and he said: “Give me a heading to the nearest base we’ve got in Southern England.” Well I hastily got out the map and checked and near Bournemoth there was an R.A.F. Base and I just gave him a heading for that. The good Lord was evidently on our side because we came straight in and we landed at that place, and we actually ran out of gas taxiing. But we were there.
Well, it was New Year’s Eve and the British officers there...they were getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party, and of course they invited us to attend. There was R.A.F. there. There was Naval Air Force there, and several other groups. English fighting personnel. So one of the Navy officers gave me one of his uniforms and I went to that New Year’s Eve party in a British Navy uniform. I didn’t feel very well. I didn’t stay very long because I had a terrific headache. And the next morning I went over to the infirmary.
During the months of January and February, the 8th Air Force activity was greatly increased. Our bombing runs were more frequent. We were making deeper penetrations and, of course our losses were increasing also. During those two months I made two trips to Frankfurt, two trips to Wilhelmshaven. We went to Leipzieg. We went to Sehweinfurst; to Brunswick; and also we made missions over the rocket launching sites on the coast of Europe.
These launching sites were to launch V-1 and V-2 unmanned rockets upon London and other cities in England. They were controlled by radar and they were directed to have an exact impact upon the morale of the British people. Every time that intelligence would sight one of these launching pads being built, a group of eight B-17 bombers would go out and destroy them. There were so many of them, that we couldn’t destroy all of them, but I’d say we got about 80% of them destroyed before they were ever to launch a rocket. Nevertheless those rockets did have a nuisance value, and when you were in London, and you could hear those things coming, and always when the engines stopped on those things, you knew they were ready to drop, so I never was affected by them. They never landed near where I was, but several people were killed and a lot of people injured. Most people went through a traumatic experience because of it.
During the months of, well, I’d say February and March, during those two months, when we began to make penetrations as far as Berlin, our losses increased and during those two months, the 511th Squadron lost four planes and our 351st Squadron lost thirteen. In that period of time we lost Harvey Anderson. Same name as our pilot, Paul Anderson. Anderson and his crew were shot down over the target and we later learned that all ten were killed. We also lost the crew of Lt. Thomas White and Lt. John Pugh went down on February 22nd. Incidentally, he was flying in the airplane, The Belle of the Ball, the one we had finished our first thirteen missions with. Losing that airplane was almost like losing an individual because we had grown so attached to it. We had all the instruments fixed the way we wanted it. After that, flying in other planes just wasn’t the same. We lost the crew of Lt. LeClerc in March and this began to have a real devastating affect upon us. You must realize that in the barracks in which we lived, there were forty people, four officers from ten different crews. When we arrived there the five crews that came over from the 401st were all placed in this barracks, and as we began to get accustomed and acquainted with the other people, it seemed like every day that we went on a mission, somebody would get shot down. Here would come in the people from Operations and they would strip the beds and inventory the lockers and take all the clothes and stuff of those officers, to be sent home. And then before the day was out, in would come four new officers and we would start getting acquainted all over again.
Well, after a period of time, this begins to work on you. Of the 40 people that were in there when I first went in, after the January and February raids, there were only 12 of us left. That was our crew. The crew of Lt. Litsinger and the crew of Lt. George Mears. And it just seemed like that every time after a raid, when someone would get shot down, when we went to the dining room to eat, the radio would have on the song My Buddy. To this day, I do not like to listen to that song because it brings back the memories of the 351st and those many men that died that I knew personally.
Lt. Martin came in there and he was only there three days. He was shot down and killed on his first mission; and this was not an exception, but this more or less happened to many people on their first, second or third mission, that they were shot down. So after a while when you begin to see all of these beds emptying up, you begin to wonder: When is my turn? My turn didn’t come until I was on my second tour later. But it’s something that preyed upon our minds.
One thing that was interesting to me during the month of February or March, I’m not sure which, was the experience of our tail gunner, John Brownell. This man was totally unflappable. He would not show any emotion on anything, and everything was just a simple “I think . . .” or “I believe . . .”, and that was it. We were coming back from a mission, I think near Calais, and we would get fighter attacks after the bombing run on many missions, and we were always alert to the ME-109s and the ME-110s and the Focke Wulf 190s coming at us from different angles.
Sitting in the nose of the airplane I did not mind the attacks from the front because I could see what was going on, and with the chin turret and the top turret gunner, we had good fire power head-on. But what disturbed me was when we would get an attack from 6 o’clock from the tail of the aircraft. You could hear the guns shooting. You could hear the report of “Fighters at 6 o’clock”, but you couldn’t see what was going on. I never liked it that way.
One day we were coming back from a mission and all of a sudden I heard Brownie say: “Fighter at 6 o’clock!” Then I heard his guns and the ball turret guns, and the waist guns begin to fire, as well as guns from the other planes, and then the ball turret gunner, in a very excited tone screamed out: “YOU GOT ONE BROWNIE! YOU GOT ONE!” And I just happened to glance out the right window and here comes a 109 cart wheeling right out to the right of our wing. Smoke was pouring out from the cockpit and the plane then went into a steep dive. After the ball turret gunner had gotten through with his excited expression, Brownie comes on the intercom and he says: “Tail gunner to pilot. I think I got one back there.” That poor guy never knew what hit him.
Another time we had been bombing and we’d been off the flak area for about five minutes; everyone had been checked that they were O.K. and that the oxygen supply was working. Brownie comes on and said, “Tail gunner to pilot. I think I got hit back there a while ago.” Well, in the tone that he expressed himself, it wasn’t very disturbing, but nevertheless the bombardier, who was our medical officer, or first aid officer, you might call him, went back and he stayed and he stayed. Finally he called up and he said, “Brownie’s hit pretty bad.” So this made it so that when we got back to the base we fired the flares that indicated “Wounded aboard.”
We got a priority landing and when I saw Brownie as they were taking him off the airplane, he was a bloody mess! He had taken a piece of flak in his shoulder that was a huge chunk of metal, and it had just absolutely messed him up good! Yet he never complained. He never tried to get any special attention. But that was Brownie. He missed about two or three missions after that because of his injuries, but pretty soon he was back in flying status, with a bandaged shoulder and all. I never will forget the courage of that man. He’ll always stand out in my memory as a man that could not be disturbed, could not be upset with anything. He was always the cool head that I guess all of us would have liked to have been.
During the month of March we started hitting Berlin and I made a total of three raids to Berlin. It was rough. The Germans, for many reasons, did everything in their power to protect Berlin. On one raid to Berlin the 8th Air Force lost a total of 76 bombers. On that very raid our group did not lose a plane. It’s hard to figure. But Berlin was always a costly target and every time you went to Berlin, you knew you were in for a battle, both from the flak and from the enemy fighters.
At this time we were given P-51’s as escort, along with the P-47’s and this made it very good for us, because with good fighter escort, we didn’t get near the number of fighter attacks from the Germans that we’d gotten otherwise.
During the month of May I was finishing up my first tour of duty. I only flew twice in May, once to Berlin and my final mission of my first tour was to the marshalling yards in Luxembourg. I never will forget that day. As we got back over the field and landed, it just seemed like, “Well, it’s all over. It’s a load off of my mind.”
Then I began to think about my future and, of course, I was anxious to get back to the States, in one sense; but then I began to think: “Well, what do I do now? I don’t want to go to training command.” That’s what happened to a lot of the guys that went back from combat. I know of many of them that were killed in training command, because it was a known fact that the maintenance of the planes there was secondary, not nearly as good as the maintenance we had in combat.
So I was offered an alternative, and after about three days of pondering the issue, I decided to volunteer for a second tour. And what this entailed was that I would be given first class passage home on the Mauritania and I would have a thirty day leave at home; two weeks in Atlantic City at the Redistribution Center, and then a return to England on the Mauritania. So I took this because it entailed then the idea that I would wind up as Squadron Navigator, a promotion to Captain, and with the idea that down the road there, I might even wind up as Group Navigator.
I realize that I was young and foolish and I didn’t take a long look, but at that time it seemed like a wise choice. I was home on D-Day and although I had been bombing much up until then, I missed that experience that many of the guys had on D-Day. At that time the Allied air power was so much stronger than the Luftwaffe, that the main force on D-Day was on the ground and not from the air. I think our bombing had made D-Day possible, and in a wide sense, I regretted not being able to participate in the action on that day.
Well, I arrived back in England on the 1st day of August, 1944 and I went straight to my group, and since I had not had any flying time for a couple of months, I wanted to get some flying time in for my pay. Although they were going to be training me for a group and a wing lead, I needed to get some time. So I volunteered for a couple of missions before I was to be checked out for the lead. Since a lot of flights were being made over the front in Normandy, I thought maybe that I would wind up with a couple of missions over there.
I was rather surprised on August 6th when I went to briefing and looked at the chart, it was another raid to Berlin. Well I’d been to Berlin twice before and, although they were rough missions, I was not unduly concerned about this one. I was not going to be flying in a lead group because I was just going to go along as a navigator on one of the trailing planes, and really and truly it wasn’t going to be much of a navigation test for me. I met the pilot that I was to fly with, a Lt. Jim Myl, and we went out to the plane and after we pre-flighted everything, we got ready for take-off.
The mission that day though turned out to be very rough. From the outset it seemed like several things went wrong. We were jumped by enemy fighters as soon as we got to the European coast, and although that attack didn’t last very long, it sort of awakened us to the fact that this was going to be a rough mission. When we were about 30 miles from the IP at Berlin, we were jumped by a swarm of 109’s, FW-190’s and ME-110’s; and one of the planes of our squadron was shot down during that attack.
Then when we turned on the IP we hit some of the worst flak that I had ever seen, because it seemed to zero in on our group. That day we were in the low squadron of that group. As we went down the bomb run, four of our planes in our squadron were hit, and three of them were shot down at that point. The plane out to our right was piloted by Lt. Wilson Strange, and it got a direct hit in the area of the waist, and a fire broke out; I don’t know whether Lt. Strange was hit at that time or froze at the controls, or what, but all the way down the bomb run, they were shouting over the intercom: “Number 33, you’re on fire! Pull out of formation! Number 33, you’re on fire! Bail out!” He remained steady in the formation, and just about the time we got to the point of “Bombs away!” the tail of that plane burned off and it went into a dive. Some of the gunners said they saw two or three chutes come out, but I didn’t see anyone come out. Lt. Strange was killed in that. Our squadron lost five planes on that mission. Four of them were shot down, including Lt. Strange, and a fifth one, I understand, wound up in Sweden.
As we were going down the bomb run we received several direct hits. The Number 1 engine was knocked out and it, for a moment, caught fire but we were able to put the fire out. Number 2 engine was knocked out and began to windmill. At the same time, all of our electrical equipment was shot out. The oxygen was gone and we immediately had to start thinking about getting down from the 20,000 foot altitude.
As we descended out of the formation, it dawned on us that we had not released the bombs. They had not released properly. So the pilot began to go into a series of stalls to try to shake the bombs loose, and after several attempts at this, the bombs finally did release, much to our relief. Well, here we were, in Berlin, 360 miles from the Dutch coast, and the way the head wind of only about 15 knots, plus the fact that we had lost one engine, and the second engine was wind milling and creating a drag, we were going to be making less than 115 knots, which meant that here we were...going to be alone...deep in Germany and it’s going to take us well over three hours to get even to the coast.
Checking on the fuel, we realized we had plenty of fuel. Fuel was not going to be a problem, but our immediate concern then was German fighters, and being able to navigate all the way out from Berlin with nothing but an altimeter and a compass and an air speed indicator. So I got out all the maps that I had available. I plotted the flak areas and I had to verbally, every time I’d want a correction, I’d have to stand up in the astrodome and give a motion to the pilot because we had no radio communication. The wind milling prop had stopped for a few minutes and it looked like it was going to stay that way, but in the process of time, after we descended below 10,000 feet, it started to windmill again. The vibration was so bad that it seemed like any minute it would come loose.
I saw a motion from the pilot for me to leave the front of the plane, but I went back, crawled through the hatch and told him, “Look! There’s no way that we can get out of here if I can’t stay in where the maps are, and I’ve got to make some semblance of an effort to get us out without going over flak areas.” I fully realized that the wind milling propeller on the Number 2 engine could come off at any time, and if it were to come off, it would have a 50/50 chance of coming to the left right into the area where I was. But when you weigh all of the options, I don’t think I had much choice but to stay there.
Unknown to me at that time, the radio operator had been seriously wounded by a 20mm explosion and the bombardier had gone back to administer first aid to him. Because of his condition, the pilot and the co-pilot were in a discussion of whether we should try to get to Sweden or to try to get back to England. The decision was made that we would go to England, because if we could get there, the operator would have a better opportunity for medical aid right off the bat.
So the decision was made to go to England and that’s the way we plotted our course. I checked the flak areas on the map and also plotted in the German fighter fields in any of those areas where we’d be traveling. I tried to plot a course just about as close as I could to a straight shot to the point south of Rotterdam on the Dutch coast. However, because of the flak areas and because of the fighter fields, I had to make a sort of a zigzag course in order to secure the idea that this was the safest route to follow.
All during this three hour plus flight to the coast, we were constantly aware of the danger from enemy fighters. We were low enough that perhaps it would make it difficult for them to attack us, but still, all in all, it was still a precarious thing. The prop was windmilling. The plane was vibrating. Our ground speed was down to less than 110 and it just seemed like everything was going wrong. But the thought that the radio operator needed medical aid, and the fact that with the decision had been made to head for England, it just seemed like it had to be. That we were going to make it.
Well I never will forget...when we were approaching the coast, we looked out to the left and we saw this fighter plane. At first I thought it was an ME109 and my heart really rose to my throat. But then on a closer examination, as all the gunners were ready, we realized it was a P-51, and although we couldn’t communicate with him by radio, it was obvious that he was going to stay with us and be our escort as long as his fuel would allow him to do so.
After we got to the North Sea, we were down around 6,000’ at that time, he left us and I gave the pilot a straight shot to a point on the east of England, just east of Polebrook, our base. And although I had nothing to double check the heading with, I was just hoping that the wind wouldn’t change and that we would be able to hit that point. It turned out that we were just a little south of the point that I had designated. After we got to England, I left the front of the plane, climbed through the hatch and stood up by the pilot and gave him visible directions as to how to get to the base. As soon as we got within the site of the base, we started firing the emergency flares to let them know that we had wounded aboard. The landing was no problem for the simple reason that all of the other planes that were going to return, had already returned and we would be the last one to get in. As we landed that day, the ambulances and the medical people were there on the ball, and they immediately took the radio operator over to the infirmary; and we learned later that he was doing very well. That was quite a day! I never will forget that that was one night that I think I slept the clock around. It was almost noon the next day before I woke up. I’m not one to sleep like that under normal conditions, but that trip had really exhausted me.
We learned later that the plane was in such bad condition when it landed, that the maintenance officer looked at it and just decided to junk it then, cannibalize the parts for other aircraft. It wasn’t worth repairing, but we were thankful to that old plane. It brought us back and that windmilling prop never did come loose, much to my surprise.
Now the very next day, on August 8th, I was on a flight over the Normandy Beachhead. It was one of those flights where we went in at low altitude, and I never did understand the purpose of it, but we did not bomb any specific target, but we were given coordinates...what they called “area bombing”. We were giving a latitude and a longitude and we were supposed to drop our bombs...our group was...within a square within that latitude. We later learned that that was the way that the British were about to break out at St. Lo, and all of this patterned bombing by different groups, was to saturate the German lines below where they were going to be breaking out. I didn’t learn until later, because the very next day I was shot down, but I learned later that that day’s bombing did a lot of good. That was a brief mission. We weren’t in the air over 3-l/2 hours and we were back at the base.
And that night, about 9 o’clock, we were given an alert and that alert was more or less for the mission to Munich the next day. And this was the one that I was to be given what they called “a check ride.” John Rowan, who was one of the leading navigators in our group, was to lead this flight to Munich and I was to go along as the second navigator, to more or less observe John and to be more or less checked out so that I could fly the group leads from then on.
Well, I had flown group leads in the past, but I had never been designated as an official group leader; and receiving that designation meant that I wouldn’t be on any regular crew, but I, along with other navigators, would be briefed ahead of time for specific missions. I probably would fly only once every two or three weeks, but the point of it was that this is what I had come back for. And although I was a little weary from the flights on the 6th and the 8th, I was looking forward to this one on the 9th for it was the one that was going to check me out as a group leader.
In looking back upon the experience, and what happened on my second tour, that week of August 6th was one of the most memorable times of my life. The date of the 6th, when I went to Berlin, the date of the 9th, which was the mission I was getting ready for, and the day of the 10th, stand out as three days that I shall never forget. Coming back safely from Berlin on the 6th was a miracle in itself. And as I reflect back on the things that happened that day, it was just by the grace of the good Lord that I was able to live through that experience.
Then on the 9th, which I will go into later, the day I was shot down; the way things happened, it seemed like it was just divinely chosen that that happened to me. And then, on the 10th, my first day as a prisoner of war, I really thought that the Germans were going to execute me. These three days, along with that mission back in December of 1943, when I went down to southern France, and I guess I still regard that as the roughest mission I was ever on. All of those days just make me look back with gratitude to the fact that the Lord saw me through all of it. That in spite of all of the anxiety and the suffering and the trouble...that the Lord was with me. It was for a purpose, and many years later, today, as I think back upon those things, I can see the hand of the Lord in every bit of it.
Wednesday, August 9th, 1944 was to be the last day that I would climb into a B-17 and start out on a bombing mission to Europe. On that day I was scheduled to fly with the group lead. The pilot was Lt. Tony Zotollo. I’d never flown a combat mission with him but I had flown with him in test missions over England. The bombardier was Joe Loicano; the co-pilot was Lt. Bob Lawsen and the lead navigator was Lt. John Rowan. I was to be an additional member of the crew for the check-out as to what I was hoping to be would be the mission that would qualify me as a group leader.
After this flight I anticipated being put on a lead group and would be briefed about every two or three weeks for specific missions, and, hopefully, that I would eventually become squadron navigator. We realized that now that the invasion was underway, that the war in Europe would possibly end before the one in the Pacific, so we further anticipated that after the bombing in Europe was completed, that we would be, as a unit, transferred to the Pacific to continue the war there.
Nevertheless, all of these dreams and ambitions and thoughts of the future were to change during this mission. From the outset it seemed like this mission was doomed for failure. At the briefing we realized that the weather was very bad and, to be honest, we were sort of expecting the mission to be scrubbed before we left the ground. Nevertheless, we took off on time and we assembled over England, started our flight over the North Sea with the anticipation of bombing in Munich. Nevertheless, we had no more than hit the enemy coast, when the weather was much worse than it had been forecast. The overcast was up to 30,000’. We could not get above it, neither could we get below it. We were just in it.
During this time, the wings of the plane and the pitot tube on our craft began to ice up, making it impossible for us to have any valid air speed, so Lt. Zotollo had to turn the lead over to the Deputy Leader, Lt. Dingle, and we dropped back into the Deputy Lead spot. About the time we had done this, the mission was scrubbed. They called us and suggested that we try to bomb secondary targets in Belgium, or to return to the base. Well, being without an air speed indicator, and not be able to really and truly see anything, it was decided that our group would turn back and head for England.
As we were coming out over the coast, we came over an area where we had traveled many times. There was no plotted anti-aircraft fire there, and so we felt that as we dropped out of the overcast over Europe, and started over the North Sea as the weather cleared up as we came west, we figured that this day’s work was complete. And all of a sudden I heard a loud BANG! It sounded somewhat like...if you’re driving in a car and run over a rock or a piece of metal, and it flies up underneath the car and makes a loud noise. As soon as that BANG sounded, the plane began to lurch, and we went into what I would call a flat spin to the left. As we leveled off from that spin, we were out of the formation and the Number 1 and the Number 3 engine were knocked out. Well, we were at about 21,000’ so I figured we had no problem making England with two engines. And the sad part of this was...that I learned later...that my mother received a “Missing in Action” telegram and, about nine days later, she received a letter from the Commanding Officer of our group which stated that: “Lt. Livesay’s plane was last seen going down out of control over the North Sea.”
As far as the group was concerned, this may have been true because we sort of spun out of the formation and when we leveled off, they were nowhere to be seen. They couldn’t see us. We couldn’t see them. Well, as we started out over the water, we checked back...all was clear. Nobody had been hit. The oxygen system was O.K. As we started our descent over the North Sea, one of the gunners called up, very calm, to the pilot and said, “Sir, you have a fire on top of Number 3 gas tank.” Well, that shook everybody up. As I looked out the right wing, there was a fire on the wing and the aluminum was just peeling back like on a blacksmith’s forge, as the fire was coming out of the wing. Well that was back of the firewall and although Tony tried to slip the airplane into different dives and stalls, to try to get ride of the fire, it was to no avail. So the only alternative this time was to bail out.
Well I had never made a parachute jump. We’d gone through all of the practices of ditching and parachute jumping, and at this time, with all of the noise and the crackling of the flames, the noise from the engines and everything, we weren’t too disturbed. I don’t think I really got scared until later on when I was on the ground. We seemed to, more or less, act in accordance with what we had been trained; and as the different people began to bail out, I, when it came my turn, hooked on my chest chute onto the harness I had. I crawled back through the hatch to the door underneath the front of the airplane, and I got ready for my bail-out.
I got to thinking that the bomb bay doors were just a few feet behind me. I remembered one time over Berlin that a man bailed out of the nose of the aircraft, and instead of just falling out head first, he tried to hold onto the bar above the door, then release himself, and in so doing, he got caught in the slip stream and was slammed back into the bomb bay doors and killed.
So that thought entered my mind as I bailed out. When it came my time to go I just lowered my head and pushed my feet against the bulkhead and out I went. Well I didn’t come anywhere near the bomb bay doors. As I began to fall I saw the plane way above me, and I could see the fire, and to me it was just a wonder that it hadn’t blown up. I counted to myself: one thousand one; one thousand two; one thousand three...and I pulled the ripcord. Well, in a parachute jump or in a free fall, you do not have any falling sensation. You sort of feel like you’re on a cloud, floating. And after I pulled the ripcord I thought, “Well, I made a parachute jump.” But then I began to realize that something was wrong. I would blink my eyes and I would see the sky. And then I would see the water. Then I would see the sky. So it dawned upon me...“You’re still tumbling, head over heels.”
I happened to glance down, and I had a chest parachute, and the lead chute when I had pulled the rip cord, instead of coming out of the packet completely, had only come out just a few inches. So I got my left hand and I reached up and I pulled on that lead chute, and as soon as I did that, it felt like someone had hit me in the face with a boat paddle because evidently I was at the wrong angle when the thing opened. As the chute came out from the pack, it slapped me full in the face, and all of a sudden my face was very cold as the blood, coming from my nose, seemed to freeze instantly.
Well then I realized the chute was open. I felt like I was on an elevator going up. And I began to look up and all of these other men that had bailed out were above me. Well, I was the next to the last one out. Zotollo was the only one after me. After I looked up and began to count the parachutes, I realized that I was going to be the first one down, because, evidently, I had made a free fall of seven to eight thousand feet, and that put me below everyone in the downward journey.
I happened to see the plane blow up and all of it that was left was four balls of fire, which I presume were the engines. I wasn’t sure that Tony had gotten out, because he was to come out after me. It seemed like the way things were happening, I wasn’t sure he had gotten out. Later I found out, as he and I shared the same area in the prison that night, he’d gotten out O.K. Well then I was confronted with another problem. I looked down and I realized I was a good 10 to 12 miles out over the North Sea. The coast of Holland and the islands were to the east. And then I got to thinking: “Well, now I may drown,” because I had never been much of a swimmer anyhow. Although I had on a little Mae West lifesaving jacket, I could realize the North Sea was awfully rough and I really began to wonder about my endurance when I hit the water.
So then I got to thinking...I had seen men in the movies manipulate their chutes back and forth, and I started that to try and make chute pick up the air and head me towards the east. Well, to show that I wasn’t thinking too smartly, the wind always, in that area, was from the west. That wind was carrying me in towards the coast and, really and truly, all of my rocking, I got that chute to go in at such an angle I was afraid it might collapse. So I stopped that.
Then I realized that the wind was going to carry me right back in to one of the islands there. Even if I landed in the water, I realized that the water around those islands would not be very deep, because they were not even listed as good for navigation. Nevertheless I began to try to take a little inventory as to what I should do if I did hit the water. I figured out that just an instant before I hit the water, I would hit the release on the parachute and in the same action pull the inflation handle on the Mae West, and therefore I would hit the water without the parachute to bother me.
So I was going with all of this through my mind as I came down. But then as I began to approach the ground I realized that I wasn’t going to be on the water. I was going to find my resting place on this little island. It was, oh, I’d say, eight or nine miles in length, football shaped. And I noticed on the eastern part of the island there was a small town. So my plan was: O.K. I’ll land on the island. I’ll find a place to hide and then tonight I’ll try to evade and make my way back east, and in some way, get to the mainland and try to escape.
Now I’d been briefed on all this escape procedure and that was all going through my mind as I came down in the parachute that day. Nevertheless it didn’t work out the way I’d planned because when I looked down and began to realize that I was going to land on a flat place of land, there wasn’t even a bump, let on a hill. There was not a haystack. There was not a building. There was not a tree. There was not a place I could hide. And I realized that the Germans who were in that city on the east side of the island, were seeing me. They were seeing me come down; and my chance of escape would be very thin. I wasn’t really prepared for the landing because I had seen men in the movies land, and somersault forward, and get up very easily; get out of their chute, but the parachutes we had in those days were not like the parachutes you see in the movies today.
They weren’t those that you could manipulate. They were just for safety. And when you get ready to hit the ground, it’s about the same as jumping off a two story building. If I had landed on concrete, or if I had landed on a hard surface, I believe I would have broken both ankles. And as I saw myself coming to the ground very fast, at the moment of impact, my feet swung forward and I made a three point landing! First of all, my heels, then my rear end, and then the back of my head. I somersaulted backward about three turns, and wound up tied up in that parachute like a spider in a net. It took me, I’d say, a good minute to a minute-and-a-half to get untangled. As soon as I got out of the chute and stood up and looked around, I could see Bob Lawsen running towards me and he said: “We’ve got to find a place to hide!”
I looked around and there was no place to hide. So the only thing I knew to do was to head towards, what I thought was a wooded area to the north, and just as we started that way, we were met by two German troops from the village with machine pistols. So we stopped, put our hands up over our head, and from then on we were guests of the Nazi government until the day of our liberation, about nine months later.
The first few days was not a good experience. We were captured by the Wehrmacht which was the German Army. They wore the green uniform. They had been strafed many times, I’m sure, by the Air Force, and they had no love whatsoever for us. The first thing they did was to strip us and to search us. They took my watch. They took everything I had in my possession, and my personal items. They did leave my dog tags on and they kept insisting “Pistola. Pistol.” Well, I was young and foolish in those days, but I wasn’t that stupid. I knew that by bailing out with the 45, it might have given me a momentary sense of security, but I realized that that would have been nothing but an excuse to get shot. There was no way that the pistol was going to do me any good in escaping, so I’m glad I left it in the airplane. I learned stories later on of many men that made the mistake of trying to shoot their way out of being captured; and that was impossible.
Nevertheless, after they stripped us, they took us in a little Army truck, and drove us into a little town called Flushing, and there we were placed in the...what I would call...the City Hall, and we were in an auditorium, but we weren’t allowed to sit down. We weren’t allowed to actually lean against the wall. From about 12 noon until about 3 to 3:30 in the afternoon, we had to stand there. All of us were rounded up at that time except two of the gunners. They kept us there and they wouldn’t allow us to talk to each other. So all we could do was to stand. After a while that gets very hard to do. And every time we would lean back against the wall, they would shout at us and come and shove us back out to the center of the floor.
After a while they did let us go to the bathroom. They did finally take us into individual cells. The one I was placed in, I would estimate, was about 8’ x 4’ and the only thing in there was a straw mattress that was as filthy as could be. Well, I was tired and I lay down on that mattress and began to reflect upon the things of the day. There was one small window at the very top of the cell where I could get air from the outside. The door had a window of glass and so the only ventilation that I had was this little, I would say, 2 feet by...I’d say a half a foot slip in the outside wall, to give me air.
And as I lay there and reflected upon the things of the day, I got to thinking of how hungry I really was. You know, when you go on a mission, you always, that morning, get fresh eggs, and after you get back from the mission, you go in and pick out the steak that you want, and it’s the only time you ever get steak, and the chef fixes it the way you want it. And while I’m there thinking about that steak, they come to the door and they bring me a sandwich, which is...under normal conditions, I wouldn’t have touched, but it was a sandwich of black bread and some sort of meat on it. I learned later that they called it blood sausage. It was very strong and I didn’t like it at all, but I did eat it because I was hungry. They gave us a cup of what they called was “tea” but to me, it was only warm colored water.
For a short while, as I lay there on that mattress, I began to think about the events of the day and it was then that I began to get scared. It seemed like that as I rethought everything that happened from the time we were hit until the time I was captured, I’d been numb up until then. But reality finally set in and I realized that I could have gotten killed out there. I was exhausted so pretty soon I dropped off to sleep.
I really don’t know how long I slept but it must have been a good six hours. I was awakened by a knock on the door, and when the door was opened, a German soldier motioned me outside. When I went outside I saw that there was a truck and there was a German colonel, and there were a couple of other soldiers out there with machine pistols. So I was motioned to the truck and, being about half asleep and not exactly thinking straight, I didn’t figure at first what was going on. But then they placed me in the truck. It was covered like a regular Army G.I. truck. There was a driver and the colonel got in the front seat with the driver. Three soldiers sat on the tailgate and sat there facing me, with my back to the cab. And we drove for, I would consider, five to seven minutes and we couldn’t have been on a road because it was so bumpy it felt like we were going cross country, and driving over rocks and everything.
Then I began to think. “Where are we going? And why?” Well I had been briefed about how the Germans would use tactics to try to make you talk and to try to scare you, but they were talking about this at the Interrogation Center, and I wasn’t at the Interrogation Center. I was in the hands of the Wehrmacht and as I looked at those soldiers, they were nothing like what had been depicted to me as the German soldier. Most of the propaganda about the German soldier was a very military-like trained group, sharply dressed and everything that would more or less depict perfection in soldiering.
But as I looked at these men, unshaven, with uniforms that looked like they hadn’t been washed or hadn’t been cleaned in months. They were just the opposite! I got to thinking, “Well, they’re taking me out to shoot me. And they could take me out here in the area somewhere and kill me and nobody would ever be the wiser.” Well, as all this was going through my mind, the truck stopped. They motioned me outside, and as I turned to the right and looked...there it was. There was a wall...a rock wall extended for several hundred yards, it looked like...and it was about 8’ high. I never could figure out what that wall was from. It didn’t look like it had ever been part of a fence but it might have been a dividing marker between areas of land. I don’t know.
I do know that they motioned me over to the wall. The German colonel came up to me. All this time nobody spoke one word. He handed me a cigarette. He lit it for me. And there I stood, with a cigarette in my mouth, looking out at those men with their machine pistols, about, oh, I’d say about 60 to 80’ away, standing right side by side. The colonel over to the side. The driver of the car never got out. And there I stood. Then I got to thinking: “They are just trying to scare me.” And then the thought always would come back...“And boy, are they doing it too!”
I think that after a while I came to the conclusion that this was not a test to scare me, that this was reality. And I realized that for the first time, even after all the combat missions I had been through, and the things that had happened, I think this was the first time I really felt like I was facing death and was going to die. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. I thought of my mother. I thought of my brother and sister. I thought of Ann. I thought of many things in my life, but I was convinced at that point, that I was going to die.
I think the only conclusion I came to before I finally dropped the residue of the cigarette to the ground, was: Do I look or do I shut my eyes? I don’t know whether I was praying or whether I was angry. All of these thoughts go through your mind at a time like that. I don’t think I can, at this time, really explain it. You have to be in that situation to understand it. But, at the last moment, when I dropped the cigarette, I turned and looked straight at the men with the guns. I decided to just stand there at attention and take what was coming.
We stood there, I guess, oh, it wasn’t over 15 seconds, but it seemed like an hour...the colonel made a motion for me to get back into the truck and, needless to say, I didn’t need a second invitation! I didn’t exactly run but I hastened back to that truck. I got back in the truck. I sat with my back to the cab. The soldiers with the guns sat on the tailgate and we drove back to the place where I was incarcerated. I was placed back in my cell and given a cup of what they called coffee...ersatz coffee made from barley...and another sandwich. This time it didn’t have the blood sausage but it had some sort of jam on it. But I never will forget that experience on August 10th.
I said in one of the earlier tapes that I made, that the week of August 6th will stand out in my memory for many a year. The day of the 6th when I was returning from Berlin, shot out of formation. The date of the 9th, when I was shot down and the date of the 10th when I stood at that wall in Holland.
In the ensuing months I was to go through many trials. I was going to have sickness. I was going to have starvation. I was going to be walking out in the snow from Stalag Luft 3. But all of that does not compare to the feelings I experienced when I stood there at that wall in Holland and faced what I thought was to be my execution.
Well after a couple of days there in Holland, we were then turned over to the Luftwaffe, and I never will forget...this young Luftwaffe Lieutenant...he didn’t look to be over 19 or 20 years of age...but he was sharply dressed. He was the very picture of what I had always seen as the German military man. He walked up to me. He saluted me and he said: “Lieutenant. On behalf of the Third Reich, I wish to apologize to you for the treatment you’ve been receiving.” From then on our treatment changed. Oh, it wasn’t good to be a prisoner and there were a lot of things that I could not appreciate, even about the Luftwaffe, but here was a man, representing an organization, that had a mutual respect for flying personnel.
One thing I had not mentioned before was that the Luftwaffe, in combat, had ethics. For example, we were told when we were briefed in England, that if you ever get in a condition where you know you can’t make it back, and you’re under fighter attack, you just drop your wheels. The Luftwaffe will pull off. They will respect that and give you an opportunity to bail out. I know some Hollywood movies have depicted that Luftwaffe pilots machine gunned Americans in parachutes. You’ll never find a man that flew combat in Europe who will say that.
On Monday, the 14th of August, the Germans started moving us into Germany. I can’t speak for all the other inmates that were there in that prison there in Holland. There were others there besides our crew, but on the morning of the 14th...a Monday morning...Tony Zotollo and I were taken outside and we were taken by truck into the town of Flushing, and there we were to be placed on a train for a trip into Germany. We had one German guard and the two of us standing there, and we waited, I would guess, about 30 minutes. While we were waiting on the train, I never will forget this little Dutch boy. He looked to be about eight or nine years old. And he had on a pair of wooden shoes that looked to me like they were 2’ long. Those were the biggest wooden shoes I ever saw. He was sort of raggedly dressed, but every time he would catch us looking at him, he would smile. Every time he would see the German guard looking off, he’d double up his fist and give an action in towards the German guard. Tony and I really enjoyed watching this kid because, I think, in his attitude, he depicted the attitude that the Dutch people had for the Germans.
When the train pulled in, we were placed in to a compartment that was actually for four people. Tony and I sat on one side and the armed guards sat on the other. Well, the train started out and it only moved about, I’d say, three miles and it stopped. The outside door opened and the German guard got out and another German guard got in. Well they followed this procedure all the way into Germany. I guess it was the idea that every guard would stay in his own area. By the time we got to Germany, I think we had about eight different guards.
Well, when we got across into Germany, we came near the town of Koblenz and the train stopped and we were there, I would say, approximately three hours. And we come to find out that what had happened...early in the morning of that day Koblenz had been bombed and the railroad yards had been messed up. So our journey was stopped for the three hours plus or whatever, to give the workers time to repair the rails. When we pulled into Koblenz and Tony and I were taken outside and we were placed on a platform. And then we had two guards...not one. As we were standing there on that platform, across about three tracks was another platform area and there was a tall, blonde German fella standing over there, and he began to shout insults at us in German. It didn’t dawn on me at first, but after a while, I began to see a potential for a real problem because as he was making his speech, many other Germans began to join him. I got to noticing that before long there were a good 20 to 25 men standing there. Some of them had sticks. Some of them had rocks and other pieces of metal. It began to dawn upon me that a mob was developing. Think about it, they had just been bombed. Word gets out that two American airmen are over at the train station, and they began to react accordingly.
I could tell that the German guards were a little uneasy because I don’t know what they’d have done if that mob had come across those three tracks to us. Just at the time when all of the noise began to reach its top level, I was really glad that in between us and them, pulled a train, and the German guards hastened us on the train and they pulled down the blinds on the windows, and as the train pulled out, we could hear rocks and other pieces of metal or whatever, hitting the side of the train as that mob was venting their feelings. That was a narrow escape. And as I sat there on the train I began to just thank the Lord for watching over us during that time.
Well, the trip all the way down to Frankfurt, where the Interrogation Center was, was rather uneventful. We arrived there and we were taken off the train and we had to walk, I would estimate, two-and-a-half to three miles from the train station, up to the Interrogation Center. And as we walked up through there, there were several other prisoners besides Tony and I, and they made us form a column of twos, and there were several German guards walking along with us. I noticed that on the side of the road, and I guess it was planned that way, that there were several dozen of the Hitler Youth...the young boys that had white shirts and the short black pants, and the red Nazi arm bands. They stood on the side of the road and hurled insults at us and sang songs, and a few times rocks were thrown, but it was typical, I guess, of what happened to every airman as he was taken to the Interrogation Center.
When we got to the Interrogation Center, we were each placed in isolation cells. After that I never saw Tony again until Stalag Luft 3. Incidentally, Rowen and Lawson also wound up at Luft 3, but Lou Luiacano was sent to another camp, I understand, up at Barth so I didn’t see Lou Luiacano after we were shot down.
Well, when we got into that isolation cell, it was much more confined than the cells we were in in Holland. This was a complete isolation. The only opening to the outside was a little slit in the wall about, I’d say, 6” x 12 to 14”, and that was my only ventilation. And even at noon day, it was dark in there because evidently, the way these cells were arranged, they just didn’t provide any light. I never did figure whether that slit was to the outside or just outside my cell into another room in the building. Nevertheless, that was to be my home for eight days. Once a day I would be taken out and questioned. When I was taken out, I was questioned by the same officer every day. I never will forget...when I first went in, he was a very sharply dressed individual and as I came in the door, he stood and saluted me. Of course I returned the salute and very courteously, he asked me to have a seat. Then as I sat there he began to ask me all kinds of questions. And the only answer that we can legally give back was: “I’m sorry, Sir, that according to the Geneva Convention, I am only permitted to give you my name, rank and serial number,” and if he asked me what I had for breakfast, I would give him my name, 2nd Lieutenant, 0739105...and that was all I would give him. This irritated him I could tell.
One day he told me, “We have ways of making you talk,” but I never received any other threat of any kind. My mind went back to standing at that wall in Holland and I figured anything he could do wouldn’t come on a par with that, but anyhow, eight days of that. In an isolated situation, I didn’t have anything to read, and it actually did me good when a fly would get in the cell, and I wouldn’t dare kill it. I’d rather watch it fly around. While I was there I memorized the 48 states alphabetically and I think I could say them to this day if required. Of course, Hawaii and Alaska were not states at that time, so they weren’t in my memory bank.
While we were there, the food intake was very bad. Every morning we would get a piece of toast with jam on it of some sort. We would get what they called coffee, which was barley coffee. At noon, or around noon, we would get a bowl of some kind of soup and sometimes two pieces of toast, but most of the time it was only one. Then in the evening we would get a sandwich, which was a very good sized sandwich, but the ingredients was never very appetizing. Sometimes it was blood sausage. Sometimes it was some sort of a meat. I never did figure out what it was. And most of the time it was jam. Then we would have their...what they called tea...and that was it.
And the thing that made it so bad in the isolation cell, was that they would never allow me to sleep, day or night. About every fifteen minutes, the German guard that was on duty, would kick the door and make sure that I was awake as he flashed his light. I learned after a while that I could sleep about 13 or 14 minutes and then be awake and then go right back to sleep. After a while I was so exhausted that that’s easy to do.
On the eighth day when I was taken out for questioning, the officer did not question me. He looked at me and he said, “Lieutenant, you think you’re smart. But I want to let you know that I know more about your group than you do.” And he produced a picture of the group. A picture...an aero photograph of the base where I flew from in England. He even had the magnetic headings of the runway and the call signs of the tower. And he produced a large album which had pictures of many men from our group that had been shot down. Some of them that I thought were dead but evidently they were prisoners.
I saw Col. Hatcher’s picture, and I saw a lot of the others that I had known before. Later on I ran into Col. Hatcher at Stalag Luft 3. As this man began to tell me what all he knew about our group, it amazed me. I knew that they must have had some spies right there on the base to keep him informed in this way. Then he told me something of his own personal life. He said, “I am a graduate of NYU and in 1931 I came to Germany to visit my family,” and he said, “The German government would not let me leave, and I have been here ever since. Not by my own will, but because I was ordered to be here.” And his last words to me were, “Good-bye Lieutenant. I’ll see you in New York after the war.” Well, I never saw him again, but I don’t doubt that he wound up in the States after the war.
After that eighth day they took us out into a general area there and gave us, what I consider, the best meal I had ever had up to that time. We had several bowls of soup. We had a couple of sandwiches and coffee that didn’t taste that bad. I almost foundered on that meal. Then that afternoon we were placed on a train and I say “we”...all of the prisoners that had been released that day, and I would estimate, counting the British and the Americans, there were a good 85 to 90 men there. We were taken down to the train station and we were placed on a train for a two-and-a-half day journey to Sagan, which is Stalag Luft 3. Sagan is in what was pre-war Poland, about a hundred miles east of Berlin. When we arrived at Sagan, a new chapter of our POW experience began.
I neglected to point out that when we were released from the isolation cells, each of us were given a Red Cross toilet article kit and so, besides the decent meal we got that day, we also were allowed, for the first time, to brush our teeth, comb our hair and shave. This made us feel like new men. So the spirits weren’t that bad when we got on the train and headed for Sagan and Stalag Luft 3.
We arrived there around the 26th of August. I’m not sure of the exact date because we had no watch and we sort of lost track of the time. When we got to Stalag Luft 3 it was no more solitary confinement. Everything there was open barracks and there were five compounds. One of the compounds was for British soldiers only, and the other four were for American airmen. I wound up in the center compound and ran into several people from my group, including Col. Hatcher. I didn’t realize at the time, but on the day that you arrive in Stalag Luft 3, you are sort of an outcast, because we learned that many times the Germans would put plants in there. They would put men in these as supposedly airmen that had been shot down, who were there for the purpose of just gathering information, whatever they could gather from some of the comments of the airmen.
So as a result of this, no one is accepted as valid until you are identified by at least two people that are there. Well, in my case, this didn’t take long because besides my former Commanding Officer being there, there were several people in my group that knew me. On the third day after I arrived there, I was called in to an office and I learned that day that despite our being prisoners, we had a regular structure or a squadron structure there. We had a Commanding Officer, Col. Spivey. We had an Adjutant. We had several staff officers and the Germans allowed us to conduct business just as we would back in England.
In other words, we had our weekly inspection. There were certain requirements that we had to meet and it was carried on in a very strong military manner, which I enjoyed, because if we had been allowed to just sit there and vegetate, the morale would have been rock bottom.
So even in this restricted set up, we were given more or less responsibilities. Each of us were placed into what they called “combines” of twelve men. Each of these combines was given six Red Cross parcels a week. Well, we were supposed to have been getting one Red Cross parcel per man, but due to the transportation difficulties, it had been reduced to one-half parcel per man. So in the combine that I was in, the ranking officer was called “Der Furher” and all of us were given an assignment. Two people were cooks. Two people were K.P.s. This went for a week, and during that week the other eight just got outside and got out of the way.
Well I never was much for cooking so when it came my time to cook, I would trade and do K.P. instead of cooking. I enjoyed that more. So all during my stay there at Stalag Luft 3, every so often, I would serve on K.P. (Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened there.) It was cold. We were never warm enough it seemed like. During the months of October, November and December it got pretty bad. While we were there, I wound up with a Red Cross Bible. Well, I’d never read the Bible through, but here I had the Bible, and really nothing to do but read it, so I set out and started at Genesis 1:1 and wound up finishing the last chapter of Revelation. And to me it was very enlightening, because, first of all, I learned that about 80% of what I’d been taught, was dead wrong. Although I had been born again...I was saved before I went into service...I never really had any teaching. I also learned that a lot of the quotes that people say are in the Bible, just aren’t there. So what I think happened when I was in prison camp, was sort of like Jonah in the belly of the whale. God put me there and I was forced to look at this Word. And I think, from that, my life and the perspective for the future changed a good deal.
I won’t go in to a lot of details about Stalag Luft 3 because it would get very boring. But it was a period of time, from about the 26th of August until the 30th of January that was not good to remember. We were cold. We were hungry and we seemed to have all kinds of physical problems.
On the morning of January 26th the Russian Army had come to the Oder River which was just to the east of us and it looked like that we were going to be liberated by the Russians. Well, we had a lot of misgivings about this. A lot of the people were interested in just being liberated, but I for one did not trust the Russians. I was hoping that something else would happen. It would have been great if we could have been liberated there by the American Army, but it was the Russians that were advancing towards us.
On the morning of the 26th of January, General Vanaman, who was the ranking prisoner of war there at Stalag Luft 3, issued orders that every man was to prepare to leave Stalag Luft 3...that we would probably be marching out away from the Russians, by order of the German government.
Well, we all took all the blankets and food and whatever we figured we could carry, and made a bunch of bed bundles. Sure enough, the very next morning the order came. Although we were in the center compound, we were going to wind up being the last ones to leave. I think the east compound marched out on the 27th, followed by north, south and west. It was on the 30th that we began our move out of there. It’s hard to visualize now, or hard to describe the situation. They marched us out in columns of three. The snow was a good foot to a foot-and-a-half on the ground, so we had to stick by the roads, which had been cleared somewhat, and for about each one hundred men, there was one German guard.
The way it was, it would have been awfully easy just to walk off from that area because there weren’t enough guards to watch us. But where were we to go? Me? I could not speak the language and wading through that snow, trying to make the Russian lines would have been impossible. Sad to say I don’t know of any of them that left and went towards the Russian lines that were ever heard of again. I don’t know whether they perished in the snow or the Russians killed them, or what. But, for me, I was not about to leave. I stayed with the column.
On the second night that we were out, and while we were en route, we just had to sleep wherever we could find a place, in a barn, under a tree, or whatever. And that was it. The second night we were in a little town called Muskau. And about the only thing in that town was a large pottery factory. And they placed us in there. I never will forget; I was up on the third floor and it was the warmest I had been in the last three months, I believe. We stayed in that pottery factory from about 4 in the afternoon ‘til almost noon the next day; and when they gave the order to march out, I was very reluctant to go because I had found a warm place and I wanted to stay. But they marched us westward. We had already crossed the German border and we wound up in a little place called Cottbus and it was there that as we were marching through the town, a lot of the civilian population threw snowballs at us and gave all kinds of insults which didn’t seem to bother us anymore.
The next night we were in a little place called Halbau and there were not enough empty buildings for us to sleep in; so they took us down to a Lutheran Church and I was one of the ones they put in that Lutheran Church. It wasn’t a large church, but it was big enough to accommodate about 300 of us as we just lay down with our bedrolls, and our bodies next to each other sort of kept us warm. That was the coldest night I think we experienced on our trip, but being in the church, and the warmth of each other’s body, made it so it was livable.
About the fifth day, and I’m not sure of the days now...it all runs together...we arrived at a place called Spremberg and there we were placed in these 40 and 8 box cars. They got their name from World War I, forty men and eight mules. But they put 50 of us in each of those box cars. Well, 50 of us couldn’t all really stand up comfortably at the same time; so we were going to be in those cars, we found out, for about three days. So we took a lot of our bedrolls and made hammocks and made it so it was half-way liveable there. But it was still cold and the only heat we got was the heat from each other.
We started out and about every two hours they would stop the train. Each man would get out and, under guard, would be able to use the latrine facilities that were available. Sometimes it might be right in the middle of a town. It didn’t bother us. When you had to go, you had to go, and that was just the way it was. That three days in the box cars just about finished me.
We arrived at Munich and as we got off the train we had to walk, I would say, about two miles to the camp. It started raining. There we were, soaked to the skin. We already were feeling like we had a bad cold, maybe pneumonia, I don’t know. And as we got to Moosburg Stalag 7A we find that they didn’t have any barracks empty for us. So that first night we were told we would just have to stay outside.
Well, I found a concrete culvert where they were going to be making a water culvert under the road and I crawled up in that and at least got out of the rain, and I slept. But the next morning when I woke up my chest felt like it was on fire. Well, the provided us housing and barracks that day, but I went into the barracks, and the next eight days I don’t even remember. I was told that when I got into the barracks I wound up with what they called pneumonia pleurisy, and I was moved over to what they called the hospital.
Well, that hospital was nothing more than the other barracks. But while there they did have medication and I was given penicillin. There was an American doctor there. He was a Ranger that had been captured in the Ranger Raid on Dieppe many months before. There were some doctors, I was told, that had volunteered to come in from Switzerland as Red Cross doctors. I don’t know whether that’s valid or not, but I was told that. There were about eight or nine days there that I cannot account for, because that pneumonia pleurisy really had me.
I started to come to around the middle of February and, although I was weak, they had my chest wrapped in tape, and every time I’d start to cough, it would feel like my whole insides were coming out. But for the rest of that month I really and truly was just bed-ridden. I didn’t go outside and what little walking I did in the barracks there, was very limited.
During the months of March and the first part of April, I began to feel a lot better, although I was still having back pain and pains in my chest. We began to listen, nightly, to the artillery from the west as the Americans were getting closer all the time. It brought up a lot of anticipation. And we’d hear rumors about what city had fallen and what city was about to fall, and how much progress the American troops were making, but we were still not sure. Everything was up in the air.
Well as the month of April got underway, the artillery was closer and we began to receive these bombing raids of leaflets that the Americans were coming over and dropping. They were giving us sort of an update on the progress of the invasion, and that the war was going to be over. And with it was a warning, a warning to the German government...that if any British or American troops are injured in any way, that the government would be held responsible. We’d heard rumors that the Gestapo had come into some camps up north and had annihilated the prisoners. And we learned later, after we were liberated, that Hitler had decreed that all prisoners of war were to be exterminated. That order was given but the German High Command refused to obey the order, because evidently they realized the terrific repercussions that would happen.
April 29, 1945 was our Liberation Day. And at Moosberg where there were a multitude of men, not only Americans and British, but there were men there from Italy, Bulgarians, Yugoslavians, South Africa, India...you name it. It was a melting pot as all of the northern camps had been moved down, and one by one they had arrived at Moosberg. I will not attempt to estimate the number of people that were there. I have heard others give estimation as to how many prisoners were there on Liberation Day, and the number goes anywhere from 55,000 to 90,000. I do know this: after the war, the official report gave 92,820 people liberated, Allied prisoners that were liberated during that last week of the war. And of that group, I would say, the majority had to be at Moosberg.
Moosberg was a sprawling place and the barracks were overcrowded. People were sleeping outside and it was really hard to figure just how many were there. The accounts of Liberation Day are varied, depending upon who you talk to and where they were in the compound when the liberation occurred. As for me, I was in what they called the hospital unit, and we were on the northwest side. When the Liberation Day came, we were one of the first to see the American troops coming. That morning was very interesting. We’d been hearing the artillery every night, and the night before, on the Saturday night, there was no artillery. It was as quiet as a tomb, and we figured maybe that they’d been pushed back. Maybe the liberation wasn’t going to be as soon as we thought.
But that next morning, I’d say 10 o’clock, two P-51s came over and buzzed the camp. And they began to circle; and with each circle they came lower, and after a while one of the German guards, someone in the tower, opened up on them with small arms fire, which was of no real value, but they did shoot at the 51s. The 51s then pulled up out of range, and evidently they were radioing back the situation. I would estimate twenty minutes later, here come a whole group of 51s, and they begin to strafe the town of Moosberg where some of the Gestapo, I understand, were. Anyway there were German troops there. I was told they were Gestapo. About that same time I heard an explosion that shook the whole ground around us. I looked up to the west a little bit, and I saw this one tank coming over the hill, and then I began to look to the left and to the right and there were numerous tanks, along with the Infantry. They came storming right through the gate and that lead tank went right through the gate and flattened that gate down, and the G.I.s came down and they were boring into the camp, and the Germans began throwing up their hands and surrendering. And there was a battle going on to the west there in Moosberg but it didn’t last very long, until they had more or less wiped out that pocket of German resistance.
And then I did a very foolish thing. You’d think after all the time I’d been in prison camp I’d have known better, but the G.I.s came in there and they were just passing out K-rations. I got a couple of the K-ration packets and I opened them and I took out the fig bar, and since we hadn’t had much sweets during the time we were in prison camp, very stupidly I began to eat those concentrated fig bars. And I ate about one-and-a-half before it dawned on me...“Man! You’re doing something stupid!” Because what happened...here I had been so long without proper food and my stomach was shrunk, and I was eating this concentrated food, and when it began to expand in my stomach...I’ll be honest with you...first I thought I was going to die...and then I was afraid I wouldn’t. So I went into the hospital...into the unit again...I call it a hospital...and I proceeded to throw up for quite a while. And man, I was sick as a buzzard! And my Liberation Day was sort of a sweet and sour thing. It was sweet to be liberated, but man...it was sour to do what I did and to suffer the consequences.
However, there was an advantage to being in the hospital unit because the very next day, amid all the confusion that was going on, they came in there with six or seven trucks and they began to evacuate us from the hospital. I believe that I was in the second truck that went out of Moosberg out of Stalag 7A and we were on a route up to Regensberg. It took us a couple of hours to get there.
And I never will forget, when we got to Regensberg they were taking us to the airfield there, and as we came across a little knoll just before we went down to where the field was, we looked out to the right, and there was General George Patton, standing there in his jeep. His pistols and his helmet sparkling in the sun. The very picture of military stability. I know General Patton is a controversial figure, and his behavior was not exactly what the nice boys would have liked, but to me, and I think to all of the people that were POWs, will always have a soft spot for the methods used by General Patton.
We then went on a C-47 and flew to a hospital in Paris. And of all the flights that I’d ever had before, or since, I believe that was the roughest one I was ever on. As far as being bumpy, the turbulence was terrible. We were flying at a very low altitude and it seemed like that we were just up and down all the way to Paris. Of course I was about half sick anyhow from the day before when I had eaten all of the fig bars, and that flight didn’t do me any good. But when we landed at Paris, we were taken to this very plush hospital; and immediately I was placed on a diet of creamed rice, which I learned later, was for the simple purpose of stretching my stomach. The fact of it is there wasn’t much else I could eat. I drank a little coffee and I drank one glass of lemonade that didn’t sit too well with me. But for three or four days, and I’m not exactly sure how many days it was, I stayed right there in the hospital. I never went outside and I did feel some better when we left.
After three or four days we were flown to England, to an American hospital in the southern part. While at that hospital we received good treatment, physically speaking, but we began to realize very quickly that being an ex-prisoner of war, put you in a sub-zero classification. We were being treated just like children. For example, we were not allowed to draw any pay. Here I had over a year’s pay coming, and I could not draw one dime from the Finance Office because some one up in the Administration had decided that no prisoner of war can be paid until he gets back to the States.
I considered that an insult, because really what they were saying was “You don’t have sense enough to wisely use your money, so we’re going to hold it for you.” And among all the ex-prisoners there in the hospital, and there were quite a few of us, this went over like a lead balloon. I think the crowning blow came on V-E Day when all the celebration started. The sirens were going off and all the automobile horns were blowing and there were fireworks...and here we were, in this ward, and we started to go outside to just enjoy the sights, and we were stopped and informed that there was a rule that no one could be outside the ward in pajamas and a housecoat.
Well, that’s all the clothes we had. We didn’t have any uniforms. We weren’t given any money. We couldn’t draw any money to buy them. So there we were...confined to the ward. We didn’t know how long we were going to be, so this also irritated us. We really and truly expressed ourselves to everyone around. I think that this was the first time in my military experience...and I’m not exactly proud to admit it...but I really was going through a period of inward rebellion. To think that after all we’d been through, now they were going to treat us this way! While I was in this frame of mind, I ran into a captain who was also a former prisoner, an Infantry captain from New Jersey...and he and I decided that we would go over the hill and go to London and see if we can get in some pay from the Finance Department there. So what we did, we borrowed some clothes from enlisted personnel. I wound up with an enlisted man’s shirt, a pair of O.D. Army-type trousers, a pair of his shoes; I was able to get a couple of Lieutenant bars from a medical officer there, and I borrowed 2 pounds sterling, which was the equivalent of $4.04 at that time per pound.
So when it got to evening and the sun went down and darkness came, and we knew the bus would be coming by in a few minutes, we went over the fence. It was only about a 6’ fence, no barbed wire or anything. It was easy to go over, so the two of us went over the fence, and when the bus came by, we caught the bus and headed for London.
Well, we got to London early in the morning. The fact of it was, we got there in the outskirts of London around 2 o’clock in the morning, but we stayed there at that bus station until almost daylight. Then we took another bus into downtown. And we got downtown...I knew we were dressed sort of queer looking, and I was afraid that the M.P.s or the A.P.s might pick us up, so we got a cab as soon as possible and asked to go to the American Finance Department. There was a big Finance Office...I can’t remember what street it was on...but he took us there.
So we get out and go in and we had the orders to show that we were ex-POWs...our identification. We go in and we tell them our story and it was the same thing that we got back at the hospital. “You are former prisoners. We cannot, by order, pay you anything.” So this sort of irritated us. Here we were, it was getting up...oh, I’d say, at that time, 10:30, 11 o’clock in the morning...and we were tired. We hadn’t been to sleep and we were really perplexed, because we figured now we’ll probably get picked up by the A.P.s. So as a last resort, we decided to go to the Red Cross. The cab driver knew exactly where the Red Cross office was and he took us there. We got out and went in. We were not expecting anything good. We’d been turned down at the other place; so we went in there with mixed emotions. But I never will forget...after we told our story to this Red Cross man...an older gentleman...I’d say he looked to be about 70 years old...grey hair, very understanding, and after we told our story, he looked at me and he said: “Well, how much would you two gentlemen like?”
Well, that floored me and I said, “Well, I’d like about, oh, I’d say 200 pounds.”...which would be the equivalent of $800 and some dollars. I thought, “Well, he’ll probably reduce that and just give me what he wants me to have.” So all he did...he turned to the Captain and he said, “How much would you like?” And he said, “I’d like the same.” So he reached down in his bottom drawer and unlocked the little tin box. He counted us out 200 pounds each and I said to him...I said, “We really appreciate this, but do we sign anything? Or how do we pay this back?” And he said, “Well, you don’t need to sign anything.” He said, “When you get back to the States, just go to any Red Cross office and you can pay them.” I thought to myself: “Now, I can beat him out of this if I wanted to.” But I was so appreciative of the consideration and the understanding this man had, that I made up my mind that I would pay that back to the penny.
So then we went out. We get in a cab and we say: “To the American Air Force clothing store.” We went down there and I bought a complete outfit. I bought greens, pants, a blouse, a val pack, several shirts, ties, socks and underwear, every thing. And when we got through there, there was a dressing room. I went back and one pair of the pants was a little...it didn’t fit exactly, and there was a tailor there that straightened that out for me. So after buying all that, I still had about, I think, about 60 pounds left.
So the captain and I went over to the Red Cross center there near Piccadilly Circus and we spent a couple of nights there. We went to several places in town. We didn’t really enjoy the restaurants. Even at that time I wasn’t having much success in eating. But we spent about three days in London. Then we got to thinking: “Well, we’re going to have to go back and face the music.”
Many thoughts were going through my mind. I knew the folks back home realized I had been liberated and that they were expecting me home. And I was anticipating the trip home, but all of a sudden it hit me: “Well, now you’re going to wind up in the Guard House. An A.W.O.L. soldier...and no telling when you’ll get home now.”
So with all this going through my mind, we decided; well, we’d better head back to the hospital. Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon we got on a bus, and back to the hospital we went. It was almost dark when we got there. The bus came up to the gate. The A.P. standing at the gate just waved us on by. Nobody checked any identification or anything. So when it stopped near where our ward was, we got out and we carried our val pack with our clothes into the ward. As you enter the ward, to the right is a large latrine area...a dressing room, lockers; so I took my clothes off and hung them up in a locker, reached over on the side that had the pajamas, and I got a pair of pajamas, a pair of bedroom slippers and a bathrobe, and then I went into the ward, went down the aisle to the very bed that I had left about four days before, and I crawled in the bed. Nobody really noticed me coming in, I don’t think. And I noticed a little nurse, Julia Senovich, never will forget her...from Wisconsin...she was making her rounds, and I noticed she was taking the temperature of everyone in the ward.
Well, when she made the round by my bed, she looked down and handed me a thermometer, stuck it in my mouth, and never said a word. And then she went on and finished her round and as she came back, she was taking the pulse of everyone. And when she came to my bed and she took the thermometer out of my mouth and recorded what it stated; then she started to take my pulse and she looked down at me and said, “Where have you been?” And I replied, jokingly, “I had to go to the bathroom.”
She gave no response. She didn’t smile. She didn’t frown. She just went on to the next bed. Well, that night, nobody in the ward said much to me. A couple of guys spoke, but they didn’t even bring up the fact that I’d been gone. But I didn’t sleep much that night because I was wondering what was going to happen the next day.
Well, the next morning, every time the door into the ward would open, I would think: “Well, this is it.” And it was about noon before an Orderly came down from the Administration Building and said to me...he cried out: “Is Lt. Livesay here?” And I said, “Here.” So he said, “Well, they want you down at Personnel.” Well, I could just imagine what was down at Personnel. I could imagine generals and colonels, and all the brass of the hospital being there, waiting to pounce on me.
Nevertheless I put on my robe and I walked down the corridor, about 200 yards, to the office that said “Personnel”. And I walked in and there was an Orderly sitting at the desk. And I said, “I’m Lt. Livesay. I understand they want to see me.” “Oh,” he says, and he gets up and he goes down to another office, and then he says, “Well, the Major will see you now.”
Well, when I walked up to the door, Major White, I believe, Major White, Personnel...I had all kinds of thoughts as to what I was going to say and what I was going to do. And when I walked in the door, after he’d said: “Come in.” I went inside and started to salute, but before I could do that, he jumped to his feet and saluted me!
Well, that totally disarmed me. There I stood, trying to return the salute, and I knew I looked rather stupid. And while this was going on, a side door opens and in comes that same Orderly that I had just met out front a few minutes before, and he had a scroll in which he started to read from. “On August 9th, 1944 on bombing raid . . .”Blah, blah, blah”...“Lt. Livesay” this, and “Lt. Livesay” that.” And finally, it dawned on me that I was being awarded the Purple Heart for injuries I had received the day we were shot down!
Well, after he finished his reading, the Major reached over on the desk, picked up a Purple Heart. He walked over to me, very military-like, pinned it on my robe, stepped back and saluted me. Well, I was trying my best to maintain some sort of composure. I returned the salute, did an about face, and started to walk out of the room. And I went out...and when I left the room, I was completely dumbfounded. I walked down the corridor, back to the ward, and got in the bed again. And all the people in the ward sort of stood around; and some of them made a few comments, but not one said a thing about my being A.W.O.L.
To this day I have never received anything from any official regarding the A.O.W.L. So it’s good to know that that experience of four days in London does not appear on my record. And I think it’s because there were some people in authority that understood the situation. They realized the frustration that we had been through and, although what we did was wrong, I’m not trying to justify it, but I do believe there was a bit of understanding there. There was empathy for us and that’s why it never appeared on my record.
This entire experience also climaxed my belief that the American Red Cross was one of the greatest assets we had in World War II. I know that today there are many people that criticize some of the actions of the Red Cross, but to anyone that was a prisoner of war in Germany, they will admit that the Red Cross parcels were a great force in keeping us alive. And then my experience in London showed me that they had people on their payroll that had empathy and understanding for me and I’ll always remember that grey-haired administrator of the office in London, and his kindness towards me. So today, when I give charitable contributions, it doesn’t go to the United Way or any of the other organizations...and they may be good...but I always believe that what I have should be sent to the Red Cross, as a part of a repayment for the courtesy and the kindness they showed to me.
After we got back from London we were at the hospital about two more weeks. During that two weeks I stayed on a diet that they had outlined for me. I also had an exercise program that helped me to regain some strength in my arms and legs. I never will forget that the first time I tried to do a chin up on the bar, I couldn’t do one. I did about three or four push ups and the exercises that I used to be able to continue for 12 to 15 minutes, I was lucky if I could last for 2 or 3 minutes on the same exercise. But in the process of time, I was gaining my strength back. And while we were there we had opportunity to write letters; to more or less...we had free time. There was no restriction anymore in the barracks for some reason. They decided that it was all right for us to go outside with our bathrobes and our pajamas and slippers. I don’t know that the excursion of myself and the Captain had anything to do with it or not, but it was interesting to note that right after we got back, the orders regarding the dress outside the ward was changed. And this made the time there more livable.
We were told that in a few days we would be taken by bus up to Preswick, Scotland, and from there we would take a boat back to the States. So I wrote my folks and told them that it looked like I’d be coming home about the last of June or the first of July. Well, the order came to go to Prestwick around the 27th of May, I believe, and there were I think about six busloads. I’m not sure. It was either five or six that made that trip up to Preswick. When we got there we were housed in what had been a plush hotel before the war, and I was taken to a large room where there were about 40 cots. This room evidently had at one time been a ballroom there at the hotel, but it was converted into a sort of a dormitory for transit personnel.
When we got there, it was about 5 o’clock in the afternoon I guess, and most of the guys that were in that one area wanted to go to town. I declined because I wasn’t feeling too well. I thought: “Well, I’ll sit here and write a letter or two and just get a good night’s rest.” Well, after the town group had left, there were only three people left in the ward there...in the dorm. It was myself and two sergeants. While I started to write a letter, in came a sergeant from Operations and he said, “We have a C-54 going to the States tonight and we have room on it for two ex-P.O.W.’s. Are you ex-P.O.W.’s?” “Yes.” I said, “I’m one of them.” Then the other two fellas come charging down to the sergeant and I told them, I said, “Look. I’m one of them. You guys can decide among yourselves who else goes.” That was one of the few times in my military career that I pulled rank and I think at that time it was an appropriate time to do it. When I learned that there was a C-54 going to the States, I wanted to be on it. Well, things were happening so fast at this point that it’s hard to even recall what all happened.
We went over to Operations and we were immediately taken out to the airplane; although we had to wait about an hour-and-a-half before take-off. It was good to be on that plane, sitting in a seat, knowing full well that its destination was the States. I don’t know, it was about 11 o’clock at night, I guess, when we finally took off. We headed for the States and we were to land at LaGuardia Field, New York, early the next morning. When we got there, I never will forget, it was just wonderful to step out of that plane and say: “Well, I’m on United States soil again.” Well we didn’t have any time to rest there. They immediately took us by bus over to Mitchell Field, and there we were to be flown to the hospital nearest our homes. In my case, it was Nichols General in Louisville, Kentucky.
When I arrived at Nichols General Hospital, the young man that picked me up at the airport drove me straight to the admitting office in the Administration Building there. When I went in, the first thing they said was, “This is your ward. This is your bed.” And they gave me a slip showing where I was to stay. Well, I wasn’t interested in any of that. I remember taking the slip, but my question was: “Where is the Personnel Office?” And they directed me down the corridor, just over a few yards, and I left my baggage there and walked down to the Personnel Office and entered. When I went in, there were two people there in the office, just inside the door on the left was a young lieutenant, and you could look at him and see that he was a typical 90-day blunder out of OCS. He was short in stature, a little overweight, and the 2nd Lieutenant bars on his collar...they were absolutely brand new. Before I even said anything to him, I had almost made up my mind that this was going to be a sad engagement.
I looked over to the right and there was one other person in the office, seated at a desk, just before the door that said Personnel Officer. It was a young lady and she seemed to be busy filing papers, and the young lieutenant, on the left, had a typewriter in front of him and he was in the process of typing something. I went up to the desk and I stated my name and produced my orders that I had as a P.O.W....the orders giving me a 60-day leave at home. And I began to talk to him and I said, “I have just arrived from Mitchell Field, New York. I have a 60-day leave coming as a former prisoner of war, and I would like to receive that leave as soon as possible.” Well, he seemed to be listening to me very intently, and then when I finished talking he sort of pushed back his chair a little bit, and his words were: “Well, lieutenant, you’ve had a long and tiring trip. It’s Friday afternoon and I know you’re tired. You go back to your ward and you rest over the weekend and come in here Monday morning and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
That just blew my mind! And I don’t relate it with any sense of pride, because I think at that time I lost all composure. Being in the military really hadn’t taught me anything at this point. I was intent on getting my leave and I wasn’t too concerned as to how I went about it. That man’s words had flown all over me and I quickly replied to him, “Buster! There is a train leaving the Louisville Station this afternoon or later tonight, for my hometown, and I fully intend to be on it, with or without a leave!” At this point I looked over to the door that said major something...Personnel Officer. I can’t remember the name. All I could remember it was a long name. And I said to him: “Is the Major in?” He looked up at me with a very authoritative tone and said: “Yes, he’s in. But you have to have my permission to talk to him.”
At that point I took a step forward and I said, “Look, fella...I have your permission!” At this point he stood up, and I didn’t realize how short he was until he stood up; he hardly came to my shoulder. Although I was physically not 100% from my past experience, and I don’t know what would have happened, but if he had blocked my way, I fully intended to deck him right there on the floor. I don’t know how the altercation would have come out, but I’m very sure that one of the two of us would have taken a beating there. I would probably have wound up incarcerated in the Guard House or something. I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking properly. And as I look back on it, maybe my methods were not what they should have been, but I wasn’t going to let a little 90-day blunder block me from seeing the major.
So I walked towards the door. I didn’t say a word to the young secretary, but I knocked on the door. And there was a voice from the other side: “Come in.” I walked in and I saluted the major. He was an older gentleman with a very kind voice. And I stated my problem...what I desired...and he listened intently. I had no idea what his reaction would be, but after I had finished my statements, he reached down and punched on the squawk box, and he said, “Marie, would you come in here a minute, please.” This young lady came in and he said to her, “This lieutenant is entitled to a 60-day leave. Would you see if you could get this on record as soon as possible and give him his papers?” Well, I was amazed! I thanked him. I saluted him again and then I walked back out into the outer office, and I think I only waited ten or twelve minutes before I had my leave in hand. As I walked out I looked over to this little lieutenant, who had his head down and was beating on the typewriter. Our eyes never met. I don’t know his name. But I’ll always remember him as the very thing that I despised about the U.S. Army Air Corps at that time.
I inquired about transportation into town and was told that there was a bus that left about every thirty minutes. I picked up my luggage and went outside, and there was a bus sitting down. Oh, I had to wait about ten or fifteen minutes and then into town we went. When I got to town I learned that I was still several miles from the train station. So I got a taxi and went over to the train station and learned that I’d have about a three hour wait before I could get a train leaving for Corbin, Kentucky.
During that time of waiting I went across the street to a little restaurant and had some coffee and a sandwich and just killed time around the station. It seemed like the minutes drove by about hours. Finally I got on the train and I think it took, oh, I’d say two or three hours, to get to Corbin. I’m not exactly sure. When we arrived in Corbin I faced the prospect of waiting several hours before a train left for Middlesboro and on into Virginia.
Well, Corbin is only about 70 miles from Pennington so I thought, “Well maybe I can get a bus and get there before the train would get there in the morning.” So I went outside and got a taxi and told him I’d like to go to the bus station and we began the trip over there. After a few minutes of conversation with this man, I asked him...I said, “What would you charge to take me into Lee County, Virginia?” Well his reply was: “Well, we are not supposed to leave the state, but on emergency situations, we can do it.”
So I related unto him my experience...that I was a liberated P.O.W. That I hadn’t been home in a long time and maybe he could classify this as an emergency. And he was thinking about it. I could tell the thought was going through his mind. So I said, “What would you charge to take me to Pennington Gap, Virginia?” And he looked at me and I don’t know whether the figure he gave me was high or low, but when he said $20.00, I jumped at it. I said, “O.K. That’s fine.” Now in 1945 $20.00 meant more than it does today. But nevertheless it was way below what I thought he would say. So I was more than glad to agree to pay him $20.00 if he would take me into Virginia.
A bit of nostalgia swept over me as we passed through Middlesboro and we went up the mountain to Cumberland Gap, where the three states come together, and I remember many times standing there when I was going to Hiwassee College in 1941. I would come home on the weekends and many times I would hitch-hike, and in those days it was very easy to get rides. And many times I’d be standing there at the top of that hill, waiting for a ride into Virginia. And as we drove into Virginia, we passed through Ewing and Rose Hill and a lot of familiar scenes. Although it was dark I could relate to some of the past experiences I’d had through there.
When we got to Jonesville I really became elated because as we went out of Jonesville there was a sign “Pennington Gap” and I realized I was less than ten miles from home. Then I began to think. I would plan for the taxi driver to just drive me up to my house and I could go in and surprise the folks. But then it began to dawn on me...this might not be a good idea because I had informed my folks by letter, a few weeks before, that it would probably be the first part of July before we got there because we were coming by boat. And things had happened so fast in the last week that I was going to be here maybe even before my last letter got there.
So I told him, “When you get to Pennington, go downtown and let me off there at a café.” I knew that Green’s Café stayed open all night, and as far as I knew, it would be the only place in town that would be open. And I thought it wise to go there and make a phone call and let the folks know I was home, before I went out. And the way this turned out, it was the best idea.
When the driver pulled up to the front of Greens Café, I paid him the $20.00 and then I gave him an additional $5.00 because I really appreciated what he’d done. As he was pulling out I went into the café and the first person I saw was Maude Ethel Green, the owner. It was very ironic in a way because when I came home before, after graduating from Navigation School, the first person I saw when I got to Pennington was Maude Ethel Green. And so this made two in a row where she was the first person to see me when I got back to Pennington Gap. She looked at me for a second and then let out a yell and threw her arms around me. The two gentlemen that were there in the café...I didn’t know either one of them...I think they thought we were crazy. But we talked for a couple of minutes and I said, “Could I use your phone?” And of course it was O.K. I picked up the phone and I called the house.
Well, the phone rang several times and dad answered the phone and I said, “Dad. This is Wayne.” And I said, “I’m home.” And he evidently didn’t hear the last part because he said, “Now, where are you calling from?” I said, “Dad, I’m here in Pennington Gap. I’m calling from Green’s Café.” Well, it finally dawned on him. I heard him turn around and I could hear him. He yelled something to mother and he said: “Mother! Wayne is here in Pennington!” And I heard a loud noise and I later learned that when mother heard the news and got up, she fell out of bed. Anyhow, she wasn’t injured.
I tried to then say, “Dad, I’ll be home in a few minutes. I’m down at Greens Café and Miss Green is going to bring me right up.” Well, when we got there, the porch light was on; Dad was about half dressed as he stood there in the doorway and I got out of the car. I thanked Maude Ethel and then I went down and we had a great family reunion.
Needless to say we stayed up all night. We didn’t even go to bed until it was after daylight. But I never will forget. And I believe it was the morning of June 2nd...a Saturday morning...I wouldn’t swear to that, but the way things that happened in the last week, I had lost all track of dates...but anyhow I was there at home for a 60-day leave.
I had to report back to Fort Dix, New Jersey during the first week of August. And after getting back there, I was there for a little over a week being processed for separation. I wasn’t able to secure a discharge because, being in the Reserve and having a Reserve Commission, I was more or less given a promotion to Captain, and then I was put on inactive status.
Well, I didn’t think anything about it. I figured that was the end of my military career. I was placed on inactive status on August 15th. But the inactive status did not officially begin until the 22nd of November, as I was given a terminal leave in order to be paid up through some of the leave time I had coming. But on November 22nd my payment from the government ceased. And for the next eight years I enjoyed the life of a civilian.
Well, in June of 1953 I was recalled to active duty as a navigator at Travis Air Force Base, Vacaville, California. During twenty-one months of flying in the Pacific, I flew in C-97 transports. We covered the area from Travis to Hickum, Wake Island and Guam, Tokyo...all over the Pacific. I even had one trip that I wound up at Iwo Jima and another one at Eniwetok just before one of the big atomic explosions there. Several navigators had been recalled for a twenty-one month period and near the end of that 21 months, we had the opportunity of signing over to an indefinite recall, or reverting back to inactive status.
Now many of the men did sign the indefinite recall status paper, but I would not. I wanted out. And as soon as my 21 months was up, I got out of service. Nevertheless I did not receive a discharge at that time. I was just back on inactive status, subject to recall at the convenience of the government. It wasn’t until 1962 that I received a promotion to the rank of Major and then I received an automatic discharge.
In looking back over my record of service life, I realize that there are many things that I left out. I did not go into a lot of detail about many of the things that happened in combat. Nor did I go into a lot of detail about the things that occurred when I was a prisoner of war. But I wanted to hit the high points and give an overview of everything that happened to me from the day of Pearl Harbor until my separation from service.
And in looking back, there were times of joy. There were times of sorrow. There were times of elation. And there were times of ultimate despair. But through it all, I’m thankful for the love of a sovereign God that saw me through all of it.
And to my sons...to my grandchildren...and to anyone else that might listen to these tapes, I want you to realize that I haven’t written them with the idea of trying to focus individual attention upon myself, but I wanted to give a factual account of how through this whole thing, God saw me through. And looking back over everything that happened, I can see the protecting hand of the Lord in everything. I remember many times going down a bomb run. I would find myself reciting the words of the 23rd Psalm:
“Yea though I go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.”
I believe those words of comfort helped me immensely in many situations. And to the listeners of this tape, I want you to realize that the Lord is real. My entire service life should be considered a testimony for Him, for what He did for me, not what I did for Him. I can look back in sadness over some of the things. For example, I was saved shortly before I went into the military, but I never grew in grace and I was never an effectual witness while in service. Many times the men that I had flown with, men that I had eaten with, men that I had gone to London with, men that were great friends of mine, would go out on a mission and be shot down in flames. To this day I don’t know whether they were saved or lost. I believe I’ll face those men at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Just as Ezekiel’s watchman was placed on the wall and given a trumpet. I was placed in a position of witness. And in Ezekiel’s case, there were two options. If he heard the enemy come, and he blew the trumpet to warn the people, they would die in their iniquity but he was free of their blood. But if he did not blow the trumpet to warn them, and they died in their iniquity, their blood would be required at his hand.
I don’t know what’s going to happen at the Judgment Seat Christ in that case, but I do know this: the God who loved me and died for me, will require a sense of judgment at that Judgment Seat. And although some times I think there’ll be a lot of hay and stubble there for me, overall I’m thankful that I’m saved and I do not have to worry about being condemned for my sins.
The Lord Jesus Christ died for sinners. I furnished the sinner and God furnished the Savior. And you that are listening, it’s my hope and my prayer that you have this same relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
My favorite verse of Scripture which I will use to terminate this record of my service life is Galatians Chap. 2, Verse 20:
“I am crucified with Christ
Nevertheless I live
Yet not I
But Christ liveth in me
And the life that I now live
In the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God
Who loved me
And gave Himself for me.”