Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chapter 34

Next day, we had to report to the Presidio of Monterey for additional orders. They gave us orders to report to the R&R center at Santa Monica after 30 days leave. We then drove back to Merced and then on to Payson to visit my folks.

Since Syl’s dad was a railroad man, the family could get free passes on the railroad so Syl talked her mother into coming with us to Los Angeles to pick up our son, Britt, while we were at Santa Monica. We had several unforgettable experiences at Los Angeles and round about. We went golfing for my first time. I didn’t break any par, but I beat the golfing buddy we went with and he was really ticked that I beat him my first time out.

We also got tickets to a UCLA-USC football game in the LA Coliseum. During the first three quarters and 13 minutes, USC made 2 touchdowns and one extra point. UCLA made zilch. Our golfing friends were very bored with the game and wanted to leave. With 2 minutes left, we finally agreed to go. As we were leaving, the crowd started to go wild and we were wondered what we had missed. We learned later that UCLA came back with two touchdowns and 2 extra points to win the game 14-13. We had missed all the action.

Probably the highlight of the whole adventure was a trip to R.K.O. Movie Studio. Beggs and Corbin lived in Los Angeles and so we got together and took them and their dates to the Brown Derby for dinner. Bill’s girlfriend was a stand-in at R.K.O. A leg stand-in. Whenever they wanted to photograph a pair of legs for the movies, they would use her legs. The other parts of the girl weren’t bad, either. She invited us to take a tour of the studio and volunteered to escort us. This was great. We took the 2 dollar tour, then, as a little extra, she took us to the make-up studio where we met Perc Westmore, the best known makeup man in Hollywood at the time. He decided I’d look cute with a mustache so invited me to sit in the make-up chair. After covering me with a makeup cloth to prevent makeup from getting on my uniform, proceeded to give me a full grown cookie duster, Clark Gable style. As he was working on me, the director came in and said he wanted to have the makeup changed on one of the cast. Perc said, “I’ll take care of it as soon as I finish the Captain.” Without looking, the director said, “Haven’t you finished him yet?” Then to me, “You should have been on the set long ago.” He proceeded to give me a good bawling out for being late.

Some explanation and introduction later proved I was not the Captain of his play. It lead to an invitation to go watch the actual filming of the movie. It was a nautical tale staring Paul Henreid and Maureen O’Hara. We met and talked with both the stars and really saw them making several short scenes for the movie. To an old farm boy and his wife, this was very exciting. [The movie was “The Spanish Main” which came out in 1945.]

After due time, I was assigned to Tarrant Field, Fort Worth, Texas, so I could be near the Brooke Medical Center. This was the world’s leading authority on Malaria. We collected our son and all our possessions, put them into our little car and trailer and we were off to Texas. Upon arriving at the new base, I stopped at the housing office and they had just received a new billing for a house to rent. I grabbed the slip and rushed to the address. It was 4008 Birchman, in Arlington Heights [Fort Worth], the better part of the city. There we met Mrs. Jones and promptly rented her completely furnished home. It was lovely. A nice, neat white house with a fenced backyard and a separate garage. Mrs. Jones was an artist and her husband had been drafted. She had decided to rent the house and go back to live with her folks until he came home. The house showed her very artistic touch and contained many of her paintings.

My work at Fort Worth was at first very dull. There were hundreds of returned combat pilots in a holding pattern with absolutely nothing to do. At the same time, the training squadrons were refusing to release pilot instructors for combat because instructors were claimed to be especially trained. After about a week of that nonsense, I went to the director of trainings office and introduced myself. After explaining my instructors background, requested that I be put back to work as an instructor pilot. He allowed he would arrange a flight check to see if I was qualified to be an instructor pilot. I passed with no questions. The director then proposed he send me to instrument school at Bryan, Texas. At first I was very unhappy at his delaying tactics, but then later was very glad to have been through the school.

Since we only intended to be at school for six weeks, we kept the house and just took enough to get by with for a short period. When we arrived at the school, we first went house hunting. We ended up living in a motel at College Station, Texas, right across the street from Texas A&M.

The instrument part of the school was no problem, but feeling confident in a little AT-6 aircraft after stepping down from a B-24 took awhile. The highlight of the school was the school commandant, Col. Duckworth. He had been one of the first pioneers in instrument flying and had some 12,000 total hours. He was continually in trouble with the AirCorps administratively, but was fantastic in inspiring students to be interested in instrument flying. Most of the students, like myself, were combat returnees sent there to get us out of the way. All the instructors were non-combat pilots. One instructor was even a cadet I had washed out of one of my squadrons back when I was a flight commander at Merced. It took someone with great ability and insight to motivate the students.

After completion of the Air Force instrument school, we returned to Fort Worth and again put in the holding squadron. After another visit to the director of training and another flight check, I was reassigned to a B-24 squadron as an assistant instructor. This meant I could only teach with another instructor pilot along. Generally this meant being completely free to teach B-24 flying while the regular instructor slept in the back end.

After a couple of weeks, I was called into the squadron commander’s office and asked if I would take two very troublesome students and see what I could do with them. These two students were from an old training command, a Lt. Colonel and a Major with many thousands of hours of flying time and good pilots, but they resented the young lieutenant who tried to treat them like cadets. I simply talked to them and treated them like senior officers. They soloed the first day I taught them.

An interesting thing developed while I was soloing them. For years since we were married, Syl could fly with me occasionally and she got to the point where she could fly very well. I had promised to solo her and help her get her license, but to do this, I had to get my commercial, instrument, and instructor’s rating from C.A.A. I had succeeded in getting the commercial and instrument rating and was working on getting my instructor’s rating at the time. As I sat on the end of the runway watching these students solo, they were shooting landings, one after another and I was sweating out each landing. I suddenly thought, “What if that was your wife.” Right there I decided no way. I never did get that instructor’s rating from C.A.A. and she never did solo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chapter 33

About the time of the invasion of southern France, I started having fever attacks every afternoon. The first one occurred one night after a baseball game. I had flown a mission and then played the game. The first question the doctor asked me was, “Have you been taking your Atabrine?” (A pill to prevent malaria.) I reported that I was taking it regularly but he said he better check for malaria, anyway. The results showed negative and so he started analyzing for something else. In the meantime, I would fly a mission and get home in time for my chill. Then by morning, I’d feel fine. Finally, the doctor grounded me and sent me to the hospital where they couldn’t find anything wrong with me either.

After a few days of rest, they sent me back to duty. As soon as I started working, I’d start having attacks again. This time the doctor prescribed an R&R (Rest and Relaxation). So my whole crew was scheduled to go to the Isle of Capri for a vacation. That night the O.D. needed an extra man, stumbled into my tent and demanded my top gunner fly as a replacement. When I woke up to go on R&R, all the crew were so angry they refused to go. To make matters worse, the aircraft was shot down and we lost Sgt. O’Brien. The doctor insisted I take a vacation and ordered me to go to Rom an a rest quota for administrative personnel with some of our group leaders. When we reached Rome, we were taken to the Hotel Augusta where I was quartered. As we entered, we observed a long line of girls and women waiting outside the hotel door. At the counter as we registered, we were told we could take a friend to lunch and dinner and we could choose any one of the waiting line if we liked.

I became good friends with our group chaplain because he and I were the only two officers in Rome going solo. One day as we came out on the balcony overlooking the very ornate dining room, Chaplain Goldberg made a very descriptive statement. “Vern, there sure is lots of virtue going before hunger here today.”

While in Rome, Capt. Roberdeau, an intelligence officer from the 830th squadron, and an old friend of mine, was assigned as my roommate. We spent a good deal of time touring the city. Rome is a city of Art. There is a famous statue or building on almost every corner. Of course, the greatest art treasures are in the Vatican. We had hired a cab driver who spoke English to be our guide. As we went through St. Peter’s cathedral, the guide would almost invariably say, “This statue was done by Rafael, he was beheaded in 1776” until it seemed that all the famous people had been killed. My friend Roberdeau finally stated, “No wonder all the Italians are so dumb, they killed all the smart ones.” This made the guide so angry, he deserted us. While we were going through the cathedral, a man in a beanie came by and asked us if we would like to have an audience with the Pope [Pope Pius Xll]. Of course, who wouldn’t? We, with a number of other servicemen were taken to the Sistine Chapel where we were seated. I managed to get a front row seat. When the Pope entered, he shook hands with all of us and as he came to me he asked, “And are you a good Catholic boy?” To which I answered, “No Sir, I’m a good Mormon boy.” He answered that must be a good church, too. He then sat down and gave us a good fatherly lecture on the evils of sin and in keeping ourselves morally clean. He impressed me as a very noble old gentleman trying to do his best for the good of everyone.

That evening, I went to dinner with Roberdau and his “date.” She was an Italian actress who was very beautiful and spoke perfect English. She was married and had two children. Her husband worked 16 hours a day and earned enough to feed his family just one meal a day. If she ate at the hotel, then her children could have two meals a day. She left each night in time to meet her husband when he got home from work. When she went home that night, she had money and food enough to feed her kids.

The people in Rome and other large cities were literally starving to death, while the people in the farm lands ate adequately. That night I vowed I would have a farm as soon as I got home.

After my R&R I returned to the same routine, fly all morning and have fever all afternoon. One mission I was flying deputy squadron lead on the right wing of my squadron commander, Major O’Brien. As we flew along, the number two propeller control iced up. This is caused by ice from the water in the engine hydraulic fluid freezing at the cold temperatures of high altitude. The ice would block the control valve causing the propeller to run away. I adjusted the power to compensate for the loss of one engine and turned the controls over to the co-pilot while I tried to remove the ice by cycling the control valve from full open to full closed. While I was doing this, the flight engineer was transferring fuel from one tank to another from which #1 engine was feeding. Sgt. Harris became interested in what I was doing instead of what he was doing. Then when the auxiliary tank from which he was pumping went dry, it began pumping air into the engine fuel line and #1 [engine] stopped cold.

By the time I could get my head out of the cock pit and get oriented to the situation, we were flying directly above the lead plane in a 90° bank—with two dead, on windmilling on the bottom side and two going full burner on the top. I couldn’t straighten the aircraft against the power of the two top engines and I couldn’t chop power without dropping straight down n the top of Obie and his crew. So I tried to let the plane drift across the formation to the left, hoping to right the craft after we had passed the formation, but we never got that far. About the time I had cleared the lead airplane, the aircraft controls stalled and we began spinning to the left. The next few moments of time can best be re-told as told to us after the mission. Major O’Brien missed me from my slot and asked, “What happened to Bryson?” The tail gunner answered, “He just spun out of formation.” Obie shouted, “Where is he now?” The very calm answer came back, “He’s still spinning.” End of story.

           Back to a spinning aircraft with 5000 pounds of high explosives on board. I shopped the throttles and called George to kick full right rudder. When the bird had slowed its stall, I called, “Pop the stick” at which time we both pushed the control column hard forward. The big bird shuddered once, nosed over and began to fly again. We were now dangerously near the tops of the mounts so we picked a low pass between two peaks to fly through. At this altitude, al the ice was gone and all four [engines] were working fine. I turned to look how the crew was and there were eight men lined up on the Bombay catwalk ready to leave us. We looked for the formation but they were not even visible in the sky so we gave up and returned home. We flew the same airplane and the same bomb load successfully on the next mission the next day.

Chapter 32

Our common targets were Ploiesti, Romanian oil fields, [which] I visited 5 times, Munich, Germany, the home of Hitler, to which I flew 3 missions, and to Vienna, where I set an Air Force record for returning from Vienna 9 times. I share this record for missions to Vienna with a Col. Campbell, but I came home all nine times. Vienna was our toughest target. There were reported to be 1000 anti-aircraft guns stationed there. When 15th Air Force visited Vienna, they rolled up a black cloud of flak that was so thick it looked like you could walk on it. The guns were arranged in groups of four and would fire in square patterns each bursting far enough away from the others to ensure damage to any aircraft within the box. As you approached the gunners would start to track you on your particular box. At first they would generally be a safe distance away, but on each series of four bursts, they would zero in on you until they made their kill, or you flew out of range. How many times I watched the quads pick up my squadron, one two three four, then a pause. Then 1, 2, 3, 4, coming closer. Then 1, 2, 3, 4, then 1, 2, 3, 4 until they were right ahead of you. Then one to your left, two to your right, three directly ahead and you waited and sometimes four never came. You breathed again and kept fighting to keep in formation and deliver your payload and watching for fighters and calling out “bogey at 1 o’clock high.”

            One mission now ran into another and only a very few remained clean. One day we had bombed Vienna and were returning home peacefully as could be. When we flew, we wore flak vests and helmets for our own protection, but they were very heavy and uncomfortable. On this particular day, I had removed my helmet and placed it down o the floor beside my seat. As we flew back south, we were flying over a heavy cloud deck when all of a sudden the sky started popping with fireworks. When the flak burst is close, you see red from the explosion, and we saw red with the first burst. About the second series of four, I got smacked on the top of my head and the fragment lodged in the frame of the aircraft to the left of my head. It felt like I had been hit with a club. My head dropped down until my chin struck hard against my chest. My first reaction was “Good old flak helmet!” Then I looked down and there it was lying on the floor. We wore a leather helmet under the metal flak helmet and the flak fragment had cut right through the leather seam above the center of my skull, cut a groove through my hair, but never brought blood. That’s about as close as you can come.

            On the 26th of June [1944], I was assigned to lead a mission to Vienna to bomb the Floridsdorf Oil Refinery. We had been to the same target for three days in a row and missed the target every time. How 800 bombers can all miss a target is hard to understand unless you have been there, but miss, we did. On this particular mission we all knew where we were going even before briefing and Germans knew it too. They announced on their propaganda radio that they would be ready for us and they were. They brought the entire Air defense capability that remained in the Luftwaffe into the area to meet us. The entire 15th Air Force with all available aircraft, about 800 B-24s and B-17s with all available fighter cover took off for Vienna on schedule. This looked like the show-down at O.K. Corral. Unknown to everyone, the Air Force had brought to additional groups of F-51 fighters from England down to fly cover for us also.

            We arrived over Vienna in the middle of the long train of American bombers strung out, group after group. As we started our bomb run, a group of yellow noses met us, head on. The yellow noses were the German’s crack outfit. Then flew the best aircraft and used more effective techniques and new their business. I was leading high box in the first wave. In the first pass, the lead box disintegrated so I was left alone, leading the group. Only two of that box finally limped home. The next flight of yellow noses were after us, head on. They would roll just before they struck and fire upside down, then fall away, beneath the target. The bottom of their aircraft was armor-plated so it was impossible to hurt them once they got turned over. As the flight leader came straight at my aircraft, we waited until he just started his roll. Then big Bill opened up with the nose turret and blew him clear out of the sky. The rest of the flight, to avoid his debris, broke off the attack and hit the second wave in full force. This left me unmolested to drop our bombs. We went on until bombs away then started to weave to avoid the flak which had every gun trying to stop us. The bombardier continued to watch his bomb until they struck and reported a direct hit from our six birds carrying 5000 pounds each. We continued to fake and weave to avoid the flak, putting as much distance between us and Vienna as possible. The rest of the group that was still flying rallied around us and we proceeded on home. My squadron had not been touched due to Bill’s pinpoint accuracy.

            As we droned away from the target, we took time to look around at the rest of the battle. Any direction you looked, you could see B-24s or B-17s going down in smoke and flame. Finally, 12 of our original 24 birds reached home and safely landed.

            It was reported a little later than the U.S. Air Force had shot down 376 jerry aircraft that day. It effectively broke the back of the Luftwaffe because I never saw another fighter the rest of my tour.

            One Sunday, I wasn’t flying for the first time and I got my next day mission planned early so a group of us could go to Church up at Foggia where there was a large concentration of Air Force groups. They had started a church group and four of us borrowed a jeep to drive to Church about 50 miles distance. We arrived late and everyone was seated so we slipped in the back and joined them. They were meeting in a large auditorium in the city and had a capacity crowd. During the services, we had to stand up for a song and when we stood up, I thought I had shrunk. Being six feet tall, I was not used to having trouble seeing over people’s heads. This crowd was all so much taller that I was awestruck. I couldn’t believe that a group of L.D.S. men stood so far above the average of the men I was used to working with. A testimony of the Word of Wisdom.

During the summer, we made several missions to southern France to soften up the course for the invasion of southern France. One of the obstacles as a huge 16 inch naval weapon located on a prominent point overlooking one of the harbors. The squadron lead was assigned to bomb the gun implement. As we made our run, the bombardier reported a direct hit on the target but, of course, the target was instantaneously covered with a cloud of smoke so no assessment could be made. One of the men was assigned to take pictures through the bottom of the aircraft for target identification. When we got back and developed the pictures, one showed a bomb exploding immediately behind the big gun causing the gun to be blown forward toward the ocean. The picture snapped just as the muzzle of the gun struck the water causing a spray out from the impact.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chapter 31

The Arabs are generally a fearless people where death is concerns because they believe their religion. There is one thing they fear and that is the “Gumbs.” The Gumbs are French West Africans and they are generally very tall, powerful negroids. The French armed them with World War I rifles with old long triangular shaped bayonets. They were used exclusively as troops to ring the Arabs in line. In all, I had to admire the Arabs more than their French conquerors.

Probably the most interesting thing in the three weeks we stayed in Oujda was the Arabian horses. All the horses we saw about the area were stallions because the Arabs never work a mare. They are kept for breeding, but since they are very selective about their breeding stock, it must be more than just using the mares for breeding but never did I see a mare being worked. All the horses we saw were outstanding as to configuration if not for size. They were generally quite small but there were some that were very tall. I never saw any draft-type horses either. Even the beer wagons were pulled by Arabians.

Most of the Arabian stallions were very tranquil, showing no viciousness we would see in American stallions. Our friend, the cabbie, had 5 stallions he kept in a single room—in his house—incidentally—and they never fought. On the street, people would walk up and down the street walking within inches of the horses and pay no attention to the horses, as if they were completely harmless.

There was one outstanding example to the contrary. He was, without question, the most beautiful and dynamic horse I saw. He was a bright copper sorrel. He stood taller than most of the Arabians I saw, but was light of frame and very leggy. He was worked on the outside of a beer wagon with two nondescript but heavier horses. When he moved, you could see every muscle in his body moving in rhythm, like the muscle patterns you see in some tall, but very powerful athletes. He was very quick and would always have the load started before the other two horses could move. But he was mean. They had to work him with both kick straps to prevent him from kicking and a muzzle to prevent his biting. They say Arabs select their breeding stallions according to their docile nature and their obedience first and configuration second. I’m sure he would have been a brood stallion except for his meaness. He was a beautiful picture to behold.

Another outstanding horse was a tall dappled grey horse that was driven on a two-wheeled surrey by the wife of one of the French authorities. He must have been 17 hands high, with a beautiful dappled coat that almost became blue in the hind quarters. His head was the typical short Arabian head with a tiny muzzle. They say a brood stallion must have a muzzle small enough to drink from a tea cup. This particular horse was completely gentle and her owner would stop in front of a store and the horse would stand perfectly still without even being tied for as long as the woman was shopping. When he travelled, he had a long swing that really covered miles.

After 20 days of waiting, the Air Force finally shipped us a tire but no aircraft jacks to mount the tire. Since were bothered by our long absence, we were eager to get going. We borrowed 5 jacks from the British and a truck load of railroad ties from the French. With the ties, we built up a crib on which to place the jacks and with planks under the wing to distribute the load, slowly jacked up the plane enough to remove the old tire and wheel and replace it with the new one. It was a very risky procedure and if a jack had slipped and punched a hole through the wing, I could have paid for the whole aircraft. We succeeded without incident. We finished about noon and by one o’clock, we were in the sky on our way to our final destination.

We landed at Oudna [Airfield], I reported directly to the squadron headquarters were the commander told me he had reported us all missing in action. Seems the message had not reached the squadron in the three weeks we were waiting although I had personally talked to the group operations officer and told him where we were and why. The base at Oudna, Tunisia was very hot and dry. It was just inland from Tunis and the surrounding area was very harsh desert.

Since it was the French territory before the war, a provisional French government was established. They imposed all sorts of dumb rules, like, if an aircraft crashed, it belonged to the French government, even if it crashed on the airstrip. The base security guards were French and in general, they were milking Uncle Sam for all they could get. About this time, one of our aircraft had a wheels-up landing on the field near the runway. As soon as the plane had crashed, the French rushed out and posted a guard around the aircraft. It happened that the ball turret on my plane was inoperable because of a simple little airbase fitting that was not in stock and we were being briefed to fly a mission the next day. There was a fitting on the crashed aircraft. So I determined to get the part. We drove a jeep we had borrowed from Ops. out to this downed aircraft and were immediately challenged by the big colored guard. I tried to explain to him that I need a part in English and kept jabbering in French or Swahili, or whatever he spoke. I’d show him the wrench and part inside the aircraft and he finally got the idea that I wanted to do something with the plane so I got as far as the turret. When I’d start removing the part, he would start jabbering and start to lower the end of that long rifle. I’d drop the wrench and would drop my hand down to my pistol. This provided a pretty good bluff because he soon was watching my right hand more and jabbering less. After several minutes that seemed like hours of playing bluff between a few turns of the fitting, I finally succeeded in getting my part and backing out of the aircraft with him jabbering more than ever when he found I was going to take something. With my right hand free, he never threatened to point his rifle anymore. I got back in the jeep and we drove off. It was a foolish game to play, but I morally objected to flying a crippled aircraft in combat because of stupid political bungling.

We flew a couple of short practice missions their and I got to fly to Algiers one day to take the group commander on business. Other than that, it was a pretty dull place. Finally, the word leaked out that we were scheduled to move to Italy. At this time the invasion of Sicily had been completed and we had taken Southern Italy up to the north end of Foggia Valley. The beach-head at Anzio had been established, but had not been connected with the inland troops. In fact, they were completely stalled in the small beach-head.

About the next day, the Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Griffin, a good “jack-mormon” from Utah, called me in and told me I was going to Italy the next day and would be in charge of establishing the squadron area. We loaded up our Big Bird again and flew onto a new field near Venosa, Italy. The field consisted of a pierced plank runway and part of the taxi ways and parking areas. Everything else was a wheat field until the war came to Italy. We landed in a beautiful clear day. The grass was up and green and everything looked beautiful. We set about getting a couple of tents and set up to live in and just about succeeded when it started to rain. We had no heat in the ten but had succeeded in keeping our gear dry. And it rained. Finally one of the group officers came by and dropped off a few cases of “C” rations. Later they parked a trailer of drinking water. From that, we lived for two weeks until they could get another aircraft into the field. As soon as the rain stopped, the rest of the squadron started to arrive and we began to prepare to fight a war.

After the flight crews arrived, the ground personnel arrived en mass. Well, most of them did. While the flight crews flew across the ground support, troops had come across by boat. They were traveling in a huge naval convoy protected by many warships but just after they entered the Mediterranean Sea, three JU SS, Jerry bombers, came in on the deck and concentrated their attack on just one ship out of the convoy. This happened to be the ship one of our squadron personnel was on and the entire ground force for one squadron was lost. The group reassigned personnel from within the group and filled in the vacancies with replacements.

Very quickly the assignment came for the first mission. It was an easy milk-run on a seaport on Yugoslavia. I was assigned a position in the lead box of our squadron. All the crews reported for briefing about 2 a.m. and by the first light of dawn, we were launching aircraft. The lead aircraft containing the group commander, took off first then by squadron, each aircraft took off at 20 second intervals. The leader started a slow turn to the left around the field and each pilot would take a route inside the circle so as to intercept the leader by the time he had made two complete circles. From there we flew to a rendezvous point with our arrival timed exactly so as not to interfere with other groups arriving over the point at time spaced intervals. Since this was our first combat mission, they sent us by ourselves so we wouldn’t foul up other groups. We went in at bombing altitude and we saw a couple of little white puffs in the sky below us. Everyone was too busy preparing to drop bombs and to stay in good tight formation to worry about them. As pilot, all I had to do was stay in formation with the squadron leader. The bombardier manually released the bombs when the lead ship released his. Everything went well and after about six hours flying time, we were back at the field. After landing and parking the birds, we all were picked up in the personnel trucks and taken directly to debriefing. There each crew member was given a shot glass of whiskey and we were criticized on the mission and results. Since not all of the crews could fly in every mission, it took three such flights to give each crew a milk-run to get over the jitters then things began in earnest.

On my second mission, our group was assigned to bomb some installations immediately in front of the narrow beachhead we held at Anzio. We were supposed to fly from the ocean in south of Anzio, bomb our targets, then rally left, over Rome and back to the Sea. As we approached our target, a few bursts of flak could be seen over Rome so our leader decided to rally over the Anzio beachhead instead of over the city. Only the ground troops didn’t like aircraft flying over them and the American anti-aircraft opened up on us.

My aircraft received 32 flak holes and my tail gunner was wounded to the point he couldn’t fly for several missions because a leader didn’t do as he was directed. Other crews didn’t fare as well as we did.

Soon after we started flying combat, the 731st squadron lost almost half its squadron in one mission. The squadron commander was hurt on the mission, also, and was hospitalized, so Capt. O’Brien, one of the senior pilots from our squadron was made commander of the 731st Squadron. He asked for and with my concurrence, had me transferred to his squadron. O’Brien was an old-timer and the one flight commander remaining in the squadron was an old-timer, but the squadron operations officer was an inexperienced fellow. So the squadron was organized with two flights instead of the usual four. Capt. F.X. Dalton was chief of one and I was the chief of the other. F.X. and I had complete responsibility for the planning and leading our flights and we would alternate days flying. Each mission required a squadron leader and only three of us, O’Brien, Dalton, and I were qualified to fly the lead and/or alternate the lead. Every fourth mission where our squadron became group lead squadron, two of us had to fly. The days I didn’t fly, I would select the crews and plan the flight for the next day. Then the next day I was responsible to get the crews up and to briefing and see that the mission was performed properly.

Missions ran into missions, one every day and sometimes two on consecutive days. On the days I flew, I had to be awake before the rest of the crews to be sure the O.D. awakened the right crews and to make assignments to replace men that were sick or wounded. This meant getting up at 1 or 2 a.m. and being briefed at 3 or 4 a.m. Most take-offs were around 5:30 or 6 a.m. We would return around 2 p.m., depending upon the distance we had to go to the target.

After we returned, we had to attend debriefing then our time was free until the next mission except for the required planning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chapter 30

The next morning we were off to Marrakech, Morocco. This flight took us across the west edge of the Sahara Desert, through a pass in the Atlas Mountains before landing at Marrakech.

As we crossed the desert, we could see the sand flowing below us, actually obscuring the ground. As we went further north, the sand storm kept getting higher and higher until it was higher than our assigned altitude and we found ourselves flying in a cloud of red sand. We applied the air filters to keep the sand out of the engines but it was everywhere else. Using air filters always decrease the output power of the engines perceptible and we had to apply more power to hold our airspeed and altitude. After a couple of hours of flying in the red cloud, the crew chief noticed liquid coming out of the number 3 nacelle, which proved to be gasoline. Of course, raw gasoline you don’t want in the nacelle of an airplane so we shut off the fuel line and feathered the engine. No big deal—except we discovered that which our heavily loaded bird, the filters on, and one engine feathered, we couldn’t hold our altitude. We kept getting lower and lower and we knew the pass in the Atlas Mountains was 12,000 feet with 16,000 foot mountains on both sides of the pass. And we were blind all the way.

I picked up the microphone, turned to intercom and asked the navigator where we were. It had been my habit to recheck the navigator with the radio compass at all times, just to play it safe, but this evidently didn’t go well with Zeke and he answered, “What the h— you asking me for, you have a radio compass, don’t you?”

As we continued to descend, it became extremely doubtful if we could clear the pass, particularly if we were slightly off course. I considered all things, took a chance on the leaking gasoline and restarted the dead engine. We climbed up to a safe altitude and flew through the mountains. As soon as we were through the mountains, the sand storm disappeared and the green oasis that was Marrakech was right in front of us, as it should be. We re-feathered #3 [engine] and made an uneventful landing.

When we got on the ground we had an understanding with the navigator, repared the broken fuel line and prepared for an early morning take off on our last leg to our destination at Oudna, near Tunis. Next morning we were off on schedule and were cruising quietly when an engine started running rough. A quick check indicated that lost a magneto on number 2 engine. This can cause an overheat of an engine with extended use, and since we wanted those engines in the very best shape for things to come, we decided to land at an airfield at Oujda, French Morocco to get the engine repaired. Our briefing material indicated the field had an American repair facilities so we expected a quick repair and on to our base.

After we landed on the pierced-plank runway, we turned to taxi back to the parking area, but one corner of the plank had been broken loose and bent up. It cut a tire causing a blow out. We were instructed by the tower operator, a very British voice, to clear the runway and park the aircraft since they had no towing equipment big enough to tow an aircraft.

This particular base had recently been turned over to R.A.F. and they had only Spitfire aircraft there, from the African campaign and no maintenance facilities for American aircraft at all. The change had not been corrected in our briefing material.

For three weeks we waited for the Air Force to ship us a new tire. While I was calling the Air Corps to make arrangements for the tire and magneto, the crew found a wrecked C-47 with a good magneto on the engine. Since B-24s and C-47s have the same engine the engine was repaired within an hour. But not so the tire.

Here I had experiences with three groups of people at the same time. It was a French territory, the base was British and most of the population were Arabic. The English, the Royal Air Force controlled the field were we had landed and the BOQ where we were staying. The BOQ was an old hotel in downtown Oujda, in the French section but serviced by Arabs, mostly women. Each morning early, they would chant their prayers. It was a rather startling alarm the first time you heard it.

Most of the English were very nice fellows but there was one in every crowd. In this case, a group captain equivalent to an American Major. When we were introduced, he invited me to have a drink with him, which I politely declined explaining that I didn’t drink alcoholic beverages. Soon he came back with a bottle of champagne and insisted I toast the Queen. He said it would be an insult to Great Britain if I refused. I accepted the glass of champagne he thrust into my hand and he toasted the Queen. As quietly as possible, I set it down on the table besides me. Suddenly I saw a hand reach out from behind me, grab the glass and quickly replace it empty. Lt. George had drunk it in one gulp and put it back on the table beside me without the Captain seeing it. The next morning I went back into the club for breakfast, quite early and as I entered, the Wing Commander called to me and asked him to join him at his table for breakfast. He apologized for the rudeness of the group captain the night before and as we talked, the captain came in for breakfast and immediately started telling how he had tricked me into taking a drink. After much bragging how he had outsmarted me, he asked how I liked it. I quietly, but plainly, explained I hadn’t tasted it—that I had put it down on the table and George had drunk it. This just panicked the whole group of officers to think I had out done the jerk. Everyone just roared with laughter, particularly the Wing Commander with whom I was eating. I thought they would laugh him clear off the base. They just kept laughing until he left the club. They have all kinds, too.

The French were the governing society in the country. The only thing I particularly noticed about them was the beautiful women. Not only were there a lot of lovely French women who lived there, but a lot of Spanish nobility had escaped to the French Morocco at the time of the Spanish Revolution and they lived there also. In the tow and the hotel where we lived, all the people were French. The Arabs came to town to work, but they lived in the cadina on one side of town. The cadina was walled as if to keep the French out, but it really served to separate the two races. Except for work, the Arabs stayed within the cadina and no Caucasian went into the cadina without an Arab escort.

The French were a very cruel people where the Arabs were concerned. A French man could kill an Arab and the standard fine was 26 Francs. If an Arab killed a Frenchman, he was shot on sight, without trial. There was a contingent of French legionaires stationed there to guard the railroad and they road as guards on the trains. It was reported they shot any Arab in sight of the railroad track. When an Arab saw a train coming he had to get a rifle distance from the track even though he may be working on his farm right beside the track.

The Arabs were characters. They were very philosophical about everything. Since the war in Africa [started], the natives had been without gasoline so no cars would be driven. The Arabs, being a very industrious people were a fast buck is concerned, removed the engines from the cars and put a driver’s seat in a place of the engine. They then put a tongue in front of the car and drove 2 to 4 horses to provide taxi service or their personal transportation.

We became good friends with a one old sheik who drove three horses on his machine. He had about 1932-35 Chevrolet, very well preserved inside and waxed to a mirror outside. His horses were on the small side, but many Arabian horses are, although I saw many that stood 15-16 hands. He had five stallions of which he worked 3 each day. We would generally go together, the four officers, and rent his rig all day so we could see the countryside. It got so he would wait for us outside the hotel and drive us to the base for breakfast and then wherever we wanted to go. One day we borrowed the carbines from our enlisted men and went wild boar hunting but with no luck. Wild pigs were about the only game in this part of Africa.

After he had gained confidence in us, he asked us if we would like to attend a slave auction. He laughingly said we could buy a wife. He then carefully warned us if we went, we must not get out of the car for anything while we were there. We all agreed, so he drove about 5 miles out into the country into some rather hilly country. Between a couple of ridges, in a secluded area, was a large assembly of Arabs. Sure enough, they were buying and selling human beings. The bidders were all men, mostly older sheiks or free men. The slaves were young girls eight to ten years old. When the parents raised a girl that age and she hadn’t been betrothed, they simply took her to market and sold her to the highest bidder. The bidder then took the child into his household and she became a servant until she was old enough to marry. Then he either added her to his harem or sold her as wages to another of his laborers.

The Arabs were mostly very sincere in keeping their religion. None of the people drank or would break any of the Ten Commandments in regard to another Muslim but the Koran states the commandments a little differently. Their Good Book reads, “Thou shalt not steal from a believer.” It was not a sin for them to steal from the French, the English or Americans. Since we were protected by our cab driver, we were fairly safe, although the selling of slaves was forbidden by French law. Had we been Frenchmen, we had not been invited or permitted to live to report them. As it was, we had to physically restrain Bob Catlin, who decided he was going to stop them. He could have got us all killed, including our host. We sat on Bob while the old sheik quietly drove away.

Chapter 29

Early the next morning we were off and flying on our way to South America proper. We landed in Belem, Brazil, near the mouth of the mighty Amazon River and very near the equator. In March the sun is directly overhead, which made it hot and humid. The jungle was everywhere that man did not fight to keep clear, and of course, a point of intrigue to all us North American kids. After a few questions to the permanent part, we told that there was a good stream which was only a couple of hundred feet from the road. We followed a path through the jungle to the stream and you couldn’t believe the beauty of the stream. It was perhaps 10-15 feet wide and generally only a couple of feet deep as it tumbled over moss covered snow-white rocks, forming deep pools big enough for a us all to swim in. Then the water would tumble over some more rocks, thick with moss. We soon found we could slide down the rocky falls from one pool to another like a group of otters. There were flowers of all colors along the banks and in the trees, and everywhere was this dark green moss. It was beautiful and we were having a ball swimming across the pools and sliding down the slippery cascades. As we reached on cascade, we heard girls giggling. Some of us stopped to see what was going on but some of the fellows didn’t hear the laughter and went head first down the cascade into the next pool where a group of older men and a couple of girls were also swimming. Now we all had bathing suits but they didn’t. We excused ourselves quietly and started walking our way back up the stream to the road. That night as we were having dinner, the base commander and some other officers were having dinner with a couple of Red Cross girls, and sure enough they were our jungle friends.

Again, the next day were off and flying on our way to Fortaleza, Brazil. By this time, I had determined that our fuel consumption wasn’t what it should have been and reported the fact on to maintenance in the Form 1. This stopped our progression for a couple of days while the maintenance officer double checked my conclusions. Then we were off to Natal where they had better maintenance facilities for changing the carburetors on our engines.

While we waited at Fortaleza, we were introduced to pineapples. We again had gone swimming, this time in the Caribbean ocean and to a group of small boys were around hawking ripe pineapples. They were a nickel a piece and when you bought one, the boy would hold it by the tope and lop off the skin on the side of the pineapple with a machete. Then you ate the fruit like an all-day sucker. They were very ripe and very sweet and very good.

The Caribbean Sea has got to be one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world. It is generally very shallow and the ocean floor is white stone, quite irregular so in flying over the ocean at relatively low altitude, on can see the very pale blue water and the pattern of the white ocean floor all animated by million or even jillion of tropical fish all fighting the law of survival. Many of the fish are sharks of the predatory variety so one has to swim with caution.

Natal is a short flight south-east of Fortaleza along the Brazilian North Coast. Here our aircraft went into repair and a recheck to determine the fuel consumption was now correct. They filled each tank right to the top and then flew for an hour. Upon landing, they refilled the tanks right to the top again to determine the consumption. Sure enough, all four engines were right on. They screwed the gas tank caps on real tight and notified me my plane was ready to fly. This was all early in the morning and that afternoon my crew went out to double check the bird to be sure she was ready to fly the big pond [Atlantic Ocean]. But there she stood, spouting gasoline from every tank. In Brazil, the sun is very hot and that hot sun on the wings of the plane caused the gasoline to expand and rupture every tank so we sat in Natal another week, waiting for maintenance to change a complete set of wing tanks.

Again, we swam a lot but the base was a little farther from the beach and harder to get to and Natal is right at the point where the Caribbean and the Atlantic meet so the swimming was not so good.

The north coast of Brazil is populated by blacks, mostly a cross of native Indians and Negro slaves imported from Africa to work the sugar plantations. Just south of Natal is Recife, a resort town popular to Brazilians. At Recife, black Brazil and white Brazil, to the south, meet in common population.  North of Recife, white or blonde people are rare.

While I was Natal, I ran into an old friend from Moffet Field and from Merced Field, who had married one of my wife’s friends. Most transient crew personnel are not allowed off the various bases as we travel to our combat area, but Capt. Cole obtained a pass to permit him to take me to town for dinner. The night club where he took me was one of the few places were Americans were allowed to eat for sanitary reasons. We did obtain a good steak at fair prices. The feature of this club was a dancer and singer called the “Blonde Brazilian.” She was fair of complexion that most of the natives and with the help of lots of peroxide, managed to be blonde. She could neither sing, nor dance, in my un-humble opinion, but she starred just because she was blonde. One night in town was enough and the rest of the time we spent at the Officers’ club reading, playing ping-pong or pool and listening to a stack of worn records.

The Officers’ club at Natal deserves special recognition because of its collective character. The club took the attitude about being very selective about its associates. It [has been] reported to have begun when Tommy Harmon, the erstwhile football jock tried to be a pilot. He had been washed out of cadets only to be reinstated because some high person in Washington thought it would be bad publicity for anyone as famous as Harmon to be washed out of the Air Corps. This, of course made him a marked man because of political interference. Before we went to South America, he had been flying B-25s in Brazil. He ran into trouble and bailed out of his aircraft. Nothing wrong with that except he left the crew in the plane, which crashed into the jungle and killed all four crew members. A pilot bails out last, after all others are safely gone. Well the Air Corps had found the lost plane in the jungle, identified it as Harmon’s and recovered the bodies of the crew. Later when he came walking out of the jungle and was taken to Natal Airfield, he reported that the crew had all bailed out. As the story goes, when he entered the Officers’ Club, every man got up and walked out of the club.

The custom was then adopted as a standard rule that anyone who brought bad publicity to the Air Force received the treatment. There became a regular rogue’s gallery of persons who had been ostracized at Natal’s club.

After all the delays at Fortaleza and Natal, we were anxious to catch up with our group. As soon as the bird was well, we took off for Africa. As we climbed out and established our assigned altitude, I set up the auto pilot and put the plane on auto pilot (George) and told the co-pilot to take over while I caught a little nap. It was always emotionally exhausting to get everything in order and make the take-off without mishap. After I relaxed, I became very drowsy.

           Off the coast of Brazil was a stationary weather front that had horrendous thunderstorms and we had been warned to avoid them at all costs. The next thing I knew, my big nose gunner was banging me on the side of the head quite excitedly. When I recovered my senses, he was really giving me and the co-pilot what-for. Seems the co-pilot got drowsy too, and with George doing it’s job, flying becomes very dull, so he accidently fell asleep. We had successfully circumnavigated all the storms in the tropical front while sound asleep, much to the anger of one Sergeant Beggs. The rest of the trip to Africa was very peaceful as it had been the first for Lt. George and I, and we landed at Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. It was also hot and sticky and a very uninteresting place to us.

Chapter 28

The winter was cold and lots of snow fell making flying and driving very hazardous, but it went all too soon. In February, new combat airplanes started to arrive and I was assigned one of the very first.  I had to sign an issue slip for one B-24 #448 valued at $298,000. Our crew really worked to make her an outstanding ship.  They cleaned and polished and tuned the engine, checked the turrets and guns and equipment of all kinds. Then in February, the entire wing was ordered to Lincoln Air Force base in Lincoln, Nebraska for final overseas phasing. The planes were again inspected and the crews briefed and given combat clothing and overseas shots and all kinds of things. I got into a big fight with the inspectors over the wearing of non-regulations under garments which I refused to change. It took the higher officer to convince them everything didn’t go by the books. So my garments stayed.
We had rented a rook in the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln for my family to stay and there my first son took his first steps. Finally, Mom St. Jeor came to go back west with Syl.
On the night of 4 March 1944, Lincoln had a big snow storm. The next morning we reported to the base before daylight, received our orders, filed our clearance and prepared to start a long series of flights overseas. Our orders were not to be opened until we were in the air, so we didn’t know our destination. As we taxied out to take off, the outboard props were biting into the snow, piled on the side of taxiway. The take off was eventful and after being airborne, we opened the orders. They read, “Land at Miami, Florida, Morrison Field. That afternoon we were swimming on a balmy 80 degree day. Because we were combat crews, enroute overseas, we were not allowed off base. Still we enjoyed the beautiful palms and tropical flowers, in what had been mid-winter, the same morning in Nebraska.

           Our stay in Florida was short and the next day we were first off for our next destination still unknown. After opening our orders, in flight, we were headed for Berenquin Field, Trinidad. In route, we flew past Cuba, Haite, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. As we approached the Virgin Islands, we decided we didn’t have enough gasoline to reach Trinidad. So we decided to land at the Air Force emergency field on St. Croix. We touched down very close to the approach end of the runway because we knew the runway was only 4,300 feet long. But as we approached the other end, we were still going at a good clip. I called, “Loop it left!” and both George and I jammed left rudder and left brake. The big monster sharply pivoted about and headed back down the runway, just in time to avoid running into the fence at the end of the runway. The B-24 has an extremely long gear and they are not all that sturdy, but they held together. We came to a complete stop, but only because of superior crew coordination between the co-pilot and men.
While I was busy getting gas and further clearance, the crew pooled their money and ran next door and bought a case of scotch, for about a ¼ the American prices. In a hour, we were back into the air and completed the trip to Trinidad.
As we approached the field, we were given landing instructions. After another aircraft called in, we were told to clear the pattern until the other ship had landed. Finally on the ground, we were told that there was a very important person (VIP) in the other aircraft. It was Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the President of the United States.
We were told we wouldn’t leave until the second day so we could have a good crew rest so we obtained a jeep from the motor pool and went to Macqueripe Beach to swim the next day. It was one of the most beautiful places in the world and before the war was a famous Caribbean vacation spot for the rich. The beach is of snow-white sand. The water is a Caribbean blue as only Caribbean can be blue. The beach is only about 100 yards long and at one end a river runs into the ocean. At each end of the narrow beach, two huge cliffs 200 feet high extend up at a narrow angle for several miles. The cliffs are capped with a thick carpet of dark green tropical jungle. The immediate area behind the beach is stair stepped up to about the level of the cliff tops and there sits the beautiful Macqueripe Country Club. During the war, it had been taken over by the Navy and had become their Officers’ Club and barracks.
During the afternoon, we met some Navy officers swimming on the beach and they invited us to go up to the club and eat with them. So we dressed up in the only uniforms we had, tropical suntans with short sleeves and open necks, and went to the club to eat. It was late afternoon so we put off ordering food until dinnertime, but were thoroughly enjoying the beautiful faculties and view. As evening came, we noticed all the navy officers appearing in full white formal uniforms, but we had been invited so we didn’t worry much. Suddenly, the place became quiet and everyone stood at attention, which we promptly jointed. There was a flurry of movement at the inside entrance and in walked Eleanor Roosevelt, accompanied by all the Navy brass in the Atlantic.
Mrs. Roosevelt looked about the room and spotted us in our grubby suntans amidst all the Navy whites and headed straight for our table. When she approached, of course we all popped to attention, but she told us to sit down and, taking a spare chair, sat down at the table with us. We talked for about 10 minutes or so and she commented how nice it was that the Navy and the Air Force could be so friendly and both enjoy the club house. The look from the Navy brass was not friendly, nor were we right at that moment enjoying it.
           After she left, we enjoyed our dinner with what bravado we could muster and excused ourselves and headed back to Berenquin Field. It made a short stay in Trinidad a most memorable occasion.

Chapter 27

The major emphasis of 1st phrase training was learning to bomb, which is a complicated process of coordination between bombardier and pilot. The bombardier directs the bombsight which gives directional indications to the pilot and he flies the airplane where the sight indicates. It takes some time to get coordination between the two people, but having been a pilot in the bombardier school and Bob being a bombardier instructor, one bomb run and we had our coordination down pat. We flew the first bombing mission with our crew instructor and he wouldn’t believe we knew exactly what to do and how to do it. After the first run, we started to go for shacks (bull’s-eyes) and making them. The second and third day, we finished our bombing missions required for that phase and set a school record for lowest circular error probability. Of course, we were old pros.

Another flight or two to check instrument flying and night and we had completed our required sorties, but only had 35 of the minimum 50 hours flying time that was required. So for three nights in a row, we were assigned night flights with nothing particular to do but just fly. Since we had a strong desire to stay alive through this old war and maybe a little more moxey than most, we used the time to teach everyone of the crew to fly. At least enough to bring the airplane home if both pilots were hurt or whatever. The men liked this and it helped cement an esprit de corps [A common spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion to a cause among the members of a group] into our crew that wouldn’t stop.

Our crew had been complete for weeks with the exception of a navigator and we couldn’t graduate without a navigator. We were held up until a shipment arrived and we got first pick of the group so we could graduate with a class ahead of ours. We were intended to have a ten week course and we finished in four.

The navigator was Orest A. Zorina, a tall, quiet fellow of Russian decent and proud of it. A graduate school teacher, he was not much interested in sports, which made him somewhat different from the rest of the crew. Otherwise, he fit into the team very nicely. He did his job well, but let the rest of us know when he didn’t agree, regardless of rank.

We were notified we were to join the 485th Bomb group being formed at Fairmont, Nebraska. I visited the school commander and requested permission to drive my car and take my family at my own expense, thus saving Uncle Sam the cost of transportation. He agreed if we would make the same time as the train and we therefore, were promised orders allowing us to travel separately. All the rest of the crews were to go on a troop train. Three senior officers had been given this special permission.

When the personnel were briefed for the trip, the commandant announced he would like to see Capt. Jones, Capt. Reeves, and Lt. Bryson separately. We went over into the corner and he gave us our separate orders allowing us to drive. I left the building immediately.  Syl was waiting in the car in front of Headquarters and we drove directly to the front gate to leave. When we arrived at the gate, the base Provost Marshall was waiting for me and the other two [officers]. I was ordered to return to headquarters, which I did immediately. It seemed that a young West Point 2nd Lieutenant had overheard the Commander give us our orders and immediately called General Travis, the 2nd Air Force Commander, complaining that we were getting special privileges and he wasn’t. Bull Travis had called the provost marshal to stop us at the gate. The Lt. didn’t get the privileges and neither did we. We were ordered to travel on the troop train and Sybil had to travel alone with the baby.

            When we were required to travel by train, it made us the three senior officers and Capt. Reeves became the troop commander. That poor young lieutenant had to travel on the train too. There is around the country, at last communication, an old Air Force colonel who has claimed ever since [that train ride] that he saved my life. He says he kept me from killing that lieutenant. While I was on the train, Sybil found another girl who was going to Nebraska by train and offered her a ride so the two of them drove on Thanksgiving weekend to Nebraska. In Wyoming, they ran into a blizzard and Sybil had never driven in snow before. [This is why Sybil hates the snow.] The girls would have been in real trouble, except for some truck drivers who escorted them all the way to Nebraska. In our family, we came to love truck drivers.

When the family was safely in Nebraska, we rented a one room apartment in a home in Friend, Nebraska about 15 miles from the base. The home belonged to a local banker named Franz and his wonderful wife. Mrs. Franz was always doing things for us. One night I was assigned to fly and it was a miserable, snowy, windy night, but I went to the base just before dark and checked the weather, which was forecasted to get worse, so I released the crew and went home arriving about 8 p.m. Next morning, Mrs. Franz came in and said she couldn’t wait for the baby to wake up to check and see if I had gotten home safely. Syl told her I had not flown and was home in bed by 8 o’clock. “Well!” said Mrs. Franz, “there I was down on my knees until nine o’clock praying for his safety and he was home in bed!”

Just before we left for overseas, she gave me a St. Christopher’s medal. She said she knew I was not Catholic, but would I just keep it in the plane for the Catholic boys. We kept it throughout the war and for years after, until it was stolen from my accident-free car years later.

The flying in Fairmont was mostly formation, putting all the individual crews into a squadron and group unit. We first flew formation in tows and threes and later in whole group formations. We flew formations at night, in weather, and in all sorts of conditions. The aircraft were older model B-24s and not always in very good condition. One day I was flying formation when suddenly, in a turn, my pilot’s seat broke loose and I shot out of the pilot’s cockpit down about a 3 foot drop into the navigator’s compartment.

Fortunately I had a good co-pilot who kept the thing from running into anyone else, even if he did break formation. While I was trying to get unfitted from the seat and get the seat back into place, the group leader got on the radio and was chewing me out for breaking formation.

Another time I was instructing two new pilots in landings and in general, giving them a flight check. It happened, of all days, to be an open house day for the base. As we made the first take-off and began climbing out of the base pattern, Sgt. Harris came crawling up into the cockpit and he looked like a drowned rat. He was saturated from head to toe with hydraulic fluid. He had been in the bombay checking the gear when a hydraulic line broke, spraying all of our hydraulic fluid all over. In the airplane there are always reserve systems, but this had broken at the one place where the systems were common. We also had a mechanical method of putting the [landing] gear down, but this lowered the gear, but wouldn’t lock it. I strained on it, and pried on it, trying to force it into the locked position until I broke the crank right off the bulkhead. When all this failed, I called the tower for instructions. They told me to circle the field and got all the group brass into the tower. They each took turns telling me to do all the same things I had already done, to no avail. Finally they instructed me to fly until I had burned up most of the gasoline, then bring it in and land it. This all took about 8 hours. We had taken off in the early morning, and it was now late afternoon. Finally I got clearance to land and lined up with the runway, but it looked like an Army-Navy football game. Both sides of the runway were crammed with people waiting to see me kill myself.

The [landing] gear on the B-24 folded downward and outward from the wing, so I reasoned that a good hard bump in the right direction might lock the gear. I brought it in a left slip with the right gear low until it smacked the ground and Sgt. Harris shouted it was locked, then I reversed the procedure and bounced the left gear, straightened out the bird and settled smoothly on the runway. I think I disappointed the entire state of Nebraska—I didn’t kill myself.

The organization of the group created considerable antagonism among the various personnel within the squadrons. The original cadre was trained before crew assignments were made and some brand new lieutenants were assigned to the cadre as co-pilots. While they were still cadre training the group commanders promised them positions as operations officers and flight commanders. Then when a large influx of senior officers arrived out of training command, they all ranked many of the cadre personnel and many of the pilots found themselves working for people far junior to themselves. The junior birdmen in our squadron was Jacob Disston of Disston Steel, Co. We ended up with ten different pilots who ranked him but because of his political pull with the group commander, he had a position superior to most of us. To make the situation more galling, when we reached combat, he chickened and refused to fly combat.

My crew developed into a very cohesive group. We played ball together, worked together and trained together. They learned to pilot the plane and I learned to shoot guns and work on the aircraft. At Christmas time, the whole crew came out to our little apartment for dinner and it was a very good meal and a good time was had by all.

Chapter 26

In due time Britt was old enough and Sybil well enough to travel so we started to get our family back together again. Sybil and the baby were to leave Merced on the airlines, change planes in Los Angeles, and fly to Albuquerque. I was to drive to Albuquerque to meet her. The plane was scheduled to arrive in the middle of the night so I, after arriving in Albuquerque, got a room in the Franciscan Hotel and after dinner, went to the room to await Sybil. About 10 p.m. the phone rang, “This is Transworld Airlines calling for Mr. Vern Bryson. Your wife has been ‘bumped’ off the flight in Los Angles.” During those war years, official travelers had priority over civilians and she had been put off the flight. However, the Airlines had quartered her in of the patio cottages at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A., at their expense. The airlines had called every hotel in Albuquerque until they located me. Then they connected me there on the telephone so I could talk to her. It would take several days for them to get another reservation, so I had to leave the car with our friends, Jim and Nadine Burton, for her when she arrived in Albuquerque and I took the bus back to Roswell. Sybil finally arrived a couple of days later with the baby all in good shape and we were happy again.

Since we were only family with a house, our house became the social oasis for all our friends. We bought a big radio-phonograph, so we had music and the others would bring records and enjoy our house with us. One friend practically lived with our phonograph and we had records around for years that he had brought and left at our house.

There wasn’t much social life in Roswell. There seemed to be only 2 things to do: go hunting, or go swimming, and both offered pretty good facilities for each. The swimming lake, located 7 or 8 miles east of town, was a hot spring. The water smelled slightly of sulfur, but if you ignored that, the water was just a nice temperature and with gas shortages and rationing, there weren’t many people there, so we would often pool rides and go swimming.

Roswell is fairly flat, slightly rolling country with miles and miles of Lincoln County cow country. It had lots of huge ranches infested with squirrels, rabbits, and coyotes, which the ranchers were glad to have killed. This gave us lots of hunting opportunities.

One day I was in the local hardware store trying to buy shells for my guns, but when I asked the clerk, he said they were out of shells. A middle-aged Spanish man was there buying something from another clerk and he said to sell me some of his supply. Without a by your leave the clerk went and got just the shells I had ordered. The gentleman asked what we were hunting and invited me up to his ranch to hunt and gave me directions to his ranch up near Readoss. While I was finishing up my purchase, he left, and I asked who he was. It turned out that he was one of the biggest, richest ranchers in the State and if he said to sell me shells, I got shells. I wish I had had time to go to the ranch hunting, but it didn’t happen.

About this time each of the people who had volunteered for the P-38 squadrons received a personal letter from General Barlon K. Yount, commander of the Air Corps training command apologizing to us for a snafu in our assignments. It seemed 80 brand new lieutenants out of Yuma Adriance Flying School had been assigned to command our squadrons. The 80 of us senior officers had been sent to fly bombardiers where they should have been sent. It stated that a personnel clerk had reversed the two lists of officers and it cost each of us our assignment for which we had volunteered. The letter concluded  that threw would be no more fighter squadrons formed and we could either volunteer for some new B-24 or B-17 Bomb groups that were being formed. I chose B-24 because of the bad reputation the B-17s stationed at Roswell. I soon received orders to report to Kirtland Field, Albuquerque, New Mexico for B-24 transition training.

           With a new baby and the big radio and all we had accumulated, we had too much stuff to crowd into our little old Chevy. So, before leaving Roswell, we purchased a sturdy little 4’ x 6’ x 2’ high, two-wheeled trailer. Into that, we stuffed the radio, crib, etc. And with a flat plate of plywood to form a crib for the baby in the back seat of the car, we took off for the trip to Albuquerque. We arrived Friday in September 1943, found a nice motel on the west side of town, when to Church Sunday, and prepared to report to Kirtland Monday.

Our transition school was mostly ground school and PT. I think in the next month, I flew about 3 or 4 times with an instructor pilot and in conjunction with 7 other guys had a B-24 solo. In other words, we soloed each of us shooting one landing from the left seat and then flying co-pilot in the right seat for someone else’s one-pilot landing. I think I ran more miles than I flew. When we weren’t flying, we were in ground school which included P.T. One month and we were declared B-24 pilots and reassigned to Boise, Idaho.

Since Utah was halfway between Albuquerque and Boise, it permitted a weekend at home before we reached Gowen Field. The trip was memorable for only two things. One, the folks had sold the ranch and retired to a home in Payson and two, Sybil saw her first snow storm. She had seen snow before and had even skied, but her acquaintance was a warm sunny day’s trip to the mountains and return. She was fascinated by the snow. She was out running in the yard, trying to catch snowflakes as they fell, having the time of her life. Little did she dream how that white stuff would challenge her before the year was over.

After a weekend home, we travelled on to Boise. We found a motel with a kitchenette and prepared to enter first phase crew training. This command was 2nd Air Force, a part of the Strategic Air Command. They did things a little different here. We flew a lot more, went to school a little, and were expected to keep in physical shape as we went.

The first day we were assigned to a flight squadron and as soon as we reported, we were assigned to an instructor. Within one day, we were checked out and soloed. The next day I was assigned a co-pilot and a crew number, 44. My co-pilot was named Florian E. George, a smallish fellow several years older, but less experienced in flying than I. George ad been a first pilot in a previous class, but didn’t complete the class and was reassigned as my right seat arm. After a couple of flights, he seemed content to build a good, solid, well-trained crew and thus increased both of our chances of survival.

We flew at least three times a week, but had plenty of time to spare during the days. However, we worked seven days a week.

On several of our first flights, we were assigned a flight engineer named Harris. He was an instructor engineer at the school but had not yet received any students, this class. He up and volunteered to be our crew engineer and I was pleased to accept him. He was a real sharp mechanic and knew the B-24 from long experience.

The next project was to a get a bombardier because a good deal of our training was bombing. Because I was an older pilot in experience and had been around the Air Force some, I found a friend in the crew assignment section who gave me an opportunity to select my own crew members. In going through the bombardiers available, I came across a senior Second Lieutenant who had been an instructor in one of the Air Force bombardier schools. A flight or two proved him to be an excellent bomb dropper and he was pleased to find an experienced pilot who new how to work with a bombardier. We very quickly developed into a very accurate bombing team.

His name was Bob Catlin. He was from Cleveland, Ohio, where his father owned a couple of factories and had had too much money for Bob’s good. He was a fun guy to be around, but was irresponsible in his love life. He was engaged to a girl from Cleveland, married to and living with a girl from New Mexico and found a new love life in every station, all of whom he was madly in love with.

The next addition to our team was a friend of Sgt. Harris who was a radio operator. His name was Ball and he had been an instructor radio operator of the field. Because Harris had talked of our crew, Ball decided to join us.

The four gunners were assigned without my choice, but I couldn’t have done better if I had picked them all. Bill Beggs was the nose gunner. He was a 6 foot 2, 220 pounds ex-footballer from Santa Clara University, college graduate and an outstanding man. His one idiosyncrasy was sleeping. When he went to sleep, he wouldn’t wake up on anyone’s schedule but his own. If someone tried waking him, he would come up swinging and with 220 pounds behind him that was trouble. Many a time I had to wake him up because of the rest of the crew couldn’t or didn’t dare try.

Begg’s buddy, who had been with him since they enlisted together in Los Angeles, was Allen Corbin. He was about as big as Beggs, but not as good looking, or as aggressive.

            O’Brien and O’Niel were friends from back East who had been together since civilian days. Here again, O’Brien was good looking, aggressive and a good athlete, while O’Niel was quiet and refined, but a good man too. They were all four big men, athletic, and capable, but none of them would fit into the ball (belly) turret of the ship.  We made some adjustments and Ball became the ball turret gunner, O’Brien in the top turret, O’Niel in the tail turret, Beggs in the nose turret and Corbin and Harris at the waist guns.