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The story of Staff Sgt. William B. Dowling
September 3, 1942 was the day I was drafted into the U.S. Army.
I first went to Camp Blanding and was there for three days. During this time I was sworn in and given my uniform prior to being sent to Keesler Field in Mississippi. One memorable experience was having gotten my shirt wet and laying it on my bed to dry. The Sgt. came by while I was out and threw it on the floor as his way of telling me that was not acceptable.
At Keesler Field, an aptitude test was administered to determine what vocation I would be best suited to perform. Based on the results, I had the choice to become a radio operator or an aircraft mechanic. I chose to become an aircraft mechanic and was sent to an Air School at Sheppard Field, Texas in Wichita Falls.
I was at Sheppard Field for about three months. Since mechanics were needed as fast as they could be trained there was no standard basic training. Basic training consisted of drilling for a couple of hours and going to school for eight hours.
I was also sent to the Ford Motor Willow Run plan in Ypsilanti, Michigan where the B-24's were constructed for schooling. The plant constructed about 1 B-24 per day. Schooling concentrated on the functions of the aircraft.
After completing the schooling in Michigan, I was shipped to Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas. There I was united with the 392nd Bomb Group, 578th Bomb Squadron which was being formed there in 1943. From there I proceeded to Alamogordo, New Mexico which was near the White Sands Proving Grounds for further training.
At Alamogordo the training consisted of maintaining aircraft and being allowed to join the flight crew when they flew for practice; this was around April 1943. It gave me my first taste of air sickness due to banking and diving done for target practice. I was there for a few months prior to being shipped overseas. After completing that training, I was shipped to New York as the port of embarkation.
In New York we boarded the Queen Mary with no idea as to where we were being shipped. However, shortly after sailing the rumor began to spread that we were being sent to England. I was very pleased to be going there, verses some other location. The trip took about 3 days and we landed in a port somewhere in Scotland. Before daylight the next day we got up to the sounds of bagpipes playing and were given a very nice welcome. From there we boarded the train to Wendling airfield near Norwich, England for what ended up being approximately a two year tour of duty.
We constructed a 10' X 12' shack (using torn down bomb boxes) right next to the B-24 we were assigned to maintain. We utilized a drum as a stove for heat using a mixture of fuel oil and gasoline.
The planes flew every day when there was decent weather. When I first arrived, I was a member of the crew but was soon promoted to Crew Chief; maintaining four or five planes. Duties included gassing the plane up, checking plugs and oil, defrosting the windows and checking the control instruments to make sure they were working. The first plane I worked on was the Gypsy Queen.
The Gypsy Queen flew more than a hundred missions and was retired due to being an old aircraft. Next was the Niagara Special, which flew approximately 50 missions with no mechanical failures. I was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Achievement.
As a crew maintenance chief working on B-24 bombers, 128 planes were serviced that performed their combat mission and returned to base with no mechanical failures. Ernie Barber and I both got this award at the same time. I also maintained the Cannon Ball which was lost in combat.
The crews would go out to spot the planes as they returned and it hurt when the Cannon Ball did not return because you couldn't help but get attached to the crew flying the aircraft. The first crew of the Gypsy Queen was eligible to return to the States after flying 25 combat missions. The crew of the Gypsy Queen gave me a silver cigarette case engraved with the name Gypsy Queen on the front, which I still have. I also still have an English wallet that was given to me by the crew of the Niagara Special. Members of the 392nd Bomb Group wore a blue and gold Distinguished Unit Badge for outstanding performance of duty in armed conflict with the enemy.
On one of my first trips to London, the Germans were bombing that night. I was watching while the search lights were looking for the bombers and I saw one of the German planes get shot down. I got in a doorway for protection from the falling flak. Also while in England, I had an experience with having a buzz bomb fly over. Near the end of the war, the Germans had concocted these bombs as a device to rattle the nerves of the English people. However, it didn't bother them all that much because they had gotten used to them.
On D-Day, June 6th 1944 was the first time I had been to see a movie. I had always stayed with the plane and let my crew go to the movies. About the time the movie started there was an announcement for all Engineering support to report to the flight line. When we got to the line, all the unit bombs were laying along the flight line. That was strange because I had never seen that before and knew something was going on. The ordinance crew loaded the bombs and before daylight the next morning, the sky was full of planes heading towards Germany. We didn't know anything until our plane returned and the crew told us stories of what they saw when they flew over the English Channel. It was covered with boats containing the invasion forces. Only afterwards did we know the invasion had begun.
At the end of the war, I rode back on a B-24 and we landed in Northern Ireland and were fogged in for three days. We then proceeded to the Azores and were again grounded by fog for three days. From there we flew to Newfoundland and were there for three days. Finally we left Newfoundland and landed somewhere in Massachusetts. The first thing I did when I hit the ground was to give it a kiss. It was good to be back in the States. The Red Cross had fresh cold milk and donuts. I didn't know that much milk existed because the only milk we saw in England was powdered milk. I got so tired of powdered milk and that fresh milk tasted so good. I was there only a day or two before being sent to Salt Lake City for tow or three weeks. Since there was nothing to do, we would march up town for some exercise. From there I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and was there when the Japanese surrendered; August 15th 1945. We thought we would be sent to Japan to finish out our service time but once the Japanese surrendered we knew we would stay home. It was a happy day needless to say. I was there only a week or so.
I was the disbursed to Fort McPherson, Georgia to get ready for discharge. At Fort McPherson, Ernie Barber's dad would come to pick up Ernie, Rodney Farrow and myself and we would go to his house to spend the night. He would take us back to the base the next morning.
I was sent to Charlotte, North Carolina for discharge. At that time I went to sick call for my foot. They sent me to Hunters Field, Savannah, Georgia. It was September 1945 that they operated on my foot and I was there for a month or so before being discharged.
I received an Honorable Discharge on October 26th 1945.