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There are so many things that I think of now that I had forgotten these past years. Some days, out of a clear blue sky, I'II think of a thing that happened which I hadn't thought about in thirty years. I flew 9 missions with Kamenitsa's crew, but I had 22 missions all together. I got overseas in June of 1943 and we got knocked down on my 22nd mission. Yet for all I'd been through I couldn't remember seeing an airplane go down, blow up, or get destroyed. It was something that just slipped away.
I had been around the 392nd longer than the crew had, but the only time I saw them was when we were getting ready to fly. You didn't spend too much time on: "Hey, how are you doing? - Where were you born? What are you going to do after the war?" We were worried about what was going on with the mission. When I got home, I had no idea where these fellow crewmen were. I figured after a few years passed, if I ever ran into them they'd have to have a sign on them saying: "Hey, I'm Archie Young (tail turret) I'm Ollie Guillot (waist gunner)" because I never would have recognized them. Now I'm seeing and remembering things I knew back then. And that's wonderful because I know more about them now then I did back then.
I flew 12 missions with another crew, and my first mission was on the 5th of November 1943. I had been over since June and flew sub patrol out of Southwestern England. I got credit for 2 missions, but we had flown 22. I flew 200 hours and got credit for 2 missions. There were other crews on sub-patrols that were given credit for five missions or 8 missions. Still others went right from sub patrol into Northern Ireland. They trained crews coming from the states.
The crew I was on was sent to the 93rd Bomb Group... a Pathfinder's Group (PFF). The pilot was an excellent instrument man. He was aces, so they sent him to Pathfinders. Well, it turns out, old Bob is allergic; he got colds and had sinus trouble so he spent most of his time in the hospital on sick call. When we were with that group, I flew two or three missions with another crew that need a co pilot. One of these cotton picking missions was a no ball deal. We were over enemy territory for seven minutes. I think it was the Brest Peninsula. What hurt was that we had to make another run over the target because cloud cover came in. We also had a 90 M.P.H. headwind. Our indicated airspeed was about 140 or 150 at the same altitude. Boy, I thought we were never going to get out of there! Then when the group came around for a second run boy, the flak started coming up. When I was with that group, every time we flew, we led the Eighth Air Force. And every time we flew, we had a command pilot with us in the right seat. Guess where I flew? In between the two seats. Talk about useless! Boy, I fought like hell, with everything I had... but I was only a 2nd lieutenant. I tried to get out of it. "Why fly me? Why put an extra man on the ship? He's not going to do anything." "Nope you've got to go!" I was so happy (if you can be happy in such a situation) to get sent back to the 392nd Bomb Group. Shortly after, Kamenitsa got sent over. Then I hooked up with him.
There was a crew in the group, back in the fall of '43 the latter part of November or December that got shot up and made it to Switzerland. They got repatriated and returned to Wendling. When they came back, they had five more missions to fly then when they first got shot down. What was remarkable to me, then, was that the crew returned to active duty. I thought they couldn't go back. The thing is they were shot down under Ira Eaker and when they came back Doolittle was in command of Eighth Air Force. He had increased missions from 25 to 3O.
There was another mission we went on over a lake in Switzerland itself. We actually dropped bombs on Swiss territory. We were at the head of Second Division and somebody called out: "Hell we just hit a farmhouse!" We thought it as a joke until we came back. There was a telex waiting for us. The Swiss Government had called Washington. Washington had called the Eighth Air Force. Eighth had called the 392nd and they were ready to chew when we landed. They said this was the second time this had happened. The mission to Hamm was the one that gave me the biggest thrill I ever experienced during my whole stay over there. On the way into the target, I'd watch those spiders coming up at us from the flak guns. I swore every one of them was aiming at me. I wanted to crawl under my flak helmet all six feet of me tried to hide under that little pot on top of my head. Once we reached the rally point, coming back... no matter where you looked north, east or west all you saw were P 47's, P 51's, P 38's, Spitfires, B 17's, and B 24's. The whole sky was black with them and not a single German. It was incredible but those are times I hope we'll never see again.
Diary written May 1944
Picked up by civilians as soon as our ship it ground. We were flying at 26,000 feet when we broke out of the overcast. Clouds became 5 to and flak started popping around the formations. About 10 minutes later, Kamy and I spotted Jerry fighters (about 70 or 80) five or six thousand feet above us and spread out from 12 to 2 o'clock. We called them out to the gunners and told them to keep their eyes open. Just as the group turned south, the Jerry fighters knifed in at us.
Due to a change (unknown) to direction and velocity of the wind, we were off course and minus fighter cover. The fighters (190's and 109's) hit our formation, but we got through unscratched. Our wingman (Ofenstein) and the boy in the slot (Rogers) weren't so lucky. The man in the slot got hit in the cockpit and set it on fire. Our wingman also got it in the cockpit. He looped up, over, slanted down and clipped us on the left wing. He went spinning on down, taking with him about ten feet of our left wing and all our left aileron. Finding it impossible to stay with the formation and the shock of the crash throwing us out of it anyway, we started down in a wide spiral to the left.
We were pulling full power on engines one and two, with half power on (engines) three and four. The throttle quadrant looked like this. With both of us on the controls and trim tabs rolled all the way over, Kamy had the ship under control. In the condition the ship was in, it was impossible to turn to the right, so we continued our spiral to the left, angling for the clouds. We had an idea that we would be able to get back to England, if we could hit the clouds. On the way down we talked it over with the crew and all decided to stay with the ship and try to fly it back. It was a good idea, but it just didn't work.
We picked up an escort of FW 190's that had other ideas. We talked over a couple of passes with them and Morgan, the tail gunner, reported that his guns were jammed. Heater, the engineer, had left the top turret when we got hit. He was busy scraping the ice off the windshield, so Kamy could see where he was going. I was busy tearing up papers and stuffing them out the window into the slipstream, when the Jerries pulled up on our wing (God bless 'em) and rode us down to the ground. I had salvoed our bombs from the cockpit, right after we were hit.
With the windshield frosted up, Kamy had a hell of a time looking for a place to land. He picked out a large field just south of a village, northeast of Hannover. He brought it in low and fast. The airspeed indicator was frosted over, so we do not know how fast we were going when we hit. I think it was upwards of 150 mph. We came in low to make sure we hit in the first third of the field. Our undercarriage dragged through the tops of the trees bordering the field. I expected them to give way when we hit the ground, but they didn't.
Kamy made a normal though "hot" landing. We rolled about 100 or 150 yards like the devil. Then we hit the road running across the field and all hell broke loose. The nose, which had been held off the ground by Kamy and me, snapped forward into the ground, and dug up for about another 200 or 300 yards. Why the engines didn't catch fire or the ship blow up, I'll never know. Heater, the engineer, was standing between the seats when we hit and the top turret came down and trapped his leg. The armor plate in back of Kamy and me came forward and pushed us forward into the wheel. Due to the eradication of the nose, it forced the wheel into our stomachs. The cockpit got dark and filled with dirt and dust. Between the pressure from the plate and the pressure from the wheel, Kamy and I came damn near "having it".
When the ship stopped, the tail eased down and took the pressure off the nose, which split wide open. While wondering why the damn thing didn't explode or start burning, I pulled the throttles off and reached down to cut the engines, but the mag switch box was probably back in the nose section, or what was left of it. After extricating myself from the equipment I had on, I got out of my seat took one step forward and was on the ground. I helped Kamy untangle himself and then went to see about the men. German civilians had us surrounded by this time. A couple of them had rifles and so we deemed it advisable to follow their orders. Heater's leg was cut pretty badly by the top turret and something ripped my clothes and cut my leg, but the scratch wasn't bad. The civilians headed us into a small truck and under the supervision of a Luftwaffe non com, we were taken to a flak emplacement, where we stayed for about seven hours.
They kept a guard on us all the time, but we weren't mistreated. About 7:30 that night, we were taken, along with some other boys who were picked up, to the municipal airport at Hannover where we were quartered in a sub cellar or air raid shelter. At intervals during the night, which was cold, we were called one at a time to undergo a thorough search. At the conclusion of the search, we were taken back to the cellar and given a light snack. We were left to sleep as best we could, wherever we could find room on a bench, if luck or on the floor. The boy's who were wounded were made as comfortable as possible and so to sleep.
About 5 am on Sunday 4/30/44 we were roused and put on a truck and trailer and ferried to the station in Hanover. It was a dreary, dull day with a steady drizzle. It typified the spirits of the men exactly. We didn't know where we were going or what was going to be our lot. There was a cheering factor, in the trip to the train and that was the damage we saw on the way. The buildings were mere shells and the railroad station and right of way were in a hell of mess. We were marched under guard, along the platform, while the Gerry civilians called us every name they could think of, under their breath and aloud.
We rode all that day and about 5 PM, hit a small town outside of Frankfort, which was our destination. The prison "Dulag Luft" was about 1 mile from the station so the civilians got another chance to give us the once over. Upon arriving at Dulag, we were put in the "cooler" which were small rooms with a single bunk in them. The bunk had burlap tick filled with wood shavings, which were somewhat the worse for wear. There was one blanket, which broke the cold somewhat. I don't know what happened to the rest of the boys but I imagine their tale is similar to mine.
As far as the boys in solitary are concerned; it was Sunday when I went into the cooler and outside of seeing the guard at feeding time, two or three times a day, I didn't see anyone for the days when I was interrogated. Those three days were, without doubt, the longest three days I ever spent at night. The guard took my shoes and with two broken ribs, it wasn't any too comfortable trying to sleep.
After the goon quiz kid finished with me, I was returned to my room and about forty minutes later was turned over to another camp about 100 yards away, where the boys were waiting for shipment to the permanent camp were quartered. In this enclosure I met with Kamy and the rest of the crew again, together with some boys from the group who had gone down the week before.
It was Tuesday when I got out of the cooler and it was Thursday when we left for Stalag Luft (3). A group of enlisted men left on Wednesday, our crew among them, for their camp up on the Baltic Sea. We, about 100 of us, left about 4 PM on Thursday 5/4/44 in a prison car from the same town (Oberussel) which meant another chance for the populace to crane their necks at us again. We were provisioned with 1/3 of a Red Cross parcel each.
Thursday night, all day Friday, and Friday night we were shuffled back and forth over Germany. Saturday morning, I arrived at Sagan, which is about l20 Km. southeast of Berlin. The camp was located a mile south of the town. We were searched again and had to take a shower. We were given a complete outfit while our own clothes were taken out for delousing. The new outfits consisted of a pair of pants (which had to be returned when our own were returned) 2 shirts, 2 undershorts, 2 undershirts, 3 pairs of socks, 1 face towel, 1 bath towel, toothbrush, razor, soap dish, comb and belt. We were assigned a room in one of the barracks...(end)
When we first got to Luft 3, they took us out into a field. There was lots of commotion and nobody could hear what was going on. When things settled down, the American Colonel in charge of the camp, chewed us up one side and down the other. "You guys are in here because you screwed up! You must have done something wrong or you wouldn't be here!" The funny thing was nobody said: "What are you doing here?" I'II tell you one thing, though: He knew what he was talking about, because in December of 1944, he saw the handwriting on the wall. He put out an order that everybody in that compound would walk ten laps around the perimeter. We started out knee deep in snow and ice. You should have seen us the net morning at roll call. There were guys, literally crawling. They were aching they were hurting. They were using muscles they hadn't used in months. When they finally moved us in January, it was the only thing that saved us.
Kamy cooked for us for six months, and we shared the K.P. the dirty work. Later, we broke up into three man combines. We had fifteen men in a room and each of the 3 man combines cooked for a week. One guy cooked and the other two did the cleanup. Our room had five triple-decker bunks and a little potbelly stove that's where we did our toasting. In the room next door, we had a charcoal wood burning cook stove. That's where we made our regular meals.
If it had been any other circumstances, the last march would have been out of this world. We went from Nuremberg down to Mooseburg near Munich. We were in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. It was gorgeous country. It was April so it rained some, but when we got down toward Munich the weather eased up. Unfortunately they weren't ready for us. They stopped us one night in a town called Gammeldsorf. This other fellow in our camp, Whitey was also shot down on 29 of April. We were in the beginning of the line and we reached our quarters a barn in Gammelsdorf. The rest of the guys were still coming into town so, Whitey and I took off. We walked back along the line of march the whole line's going south and we're heading north. Just the two of us. We had quite an adventure.
It was April 29th, 1945 when we got liberated by the l4th Armored Division of the Third Army. It was exactly a year from the day we had gotten shot down. They came into camp and then we stayed in camp about four or five more days after that, until they got their evacuation plan set up. We went from the town of Landshut to LaHavre. We stayed in the clearing house at Camp Lucky Strike until the middle of May. Then we got aboard the "Marine Panther". By the time we left Portsmouth, England, it had 600 casualties and 400 P.0.W's on board. We set out for the States in a convoy. It was one of the last of the war. I got home to my house about the 30th of May. We landed at Staten Island and went to Fort Dix. They paid us some money that we had comming; gave us new uniforms and put us out on sick leave R and R at the end of which we had to report back to duty. Of course, by this time we had enough points so that we were able to get out. I was separated by the sixth of December 1945.