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Drafted in October, 1942, my first camp was Ft. Knox, KY, where I took many tests (aptitude). Then a year in Basics; Gulfport Tech; Training School; Boise, Idaho; Laredo, Texas; and Pocatello, Idaho. Then to Topeka, Kansas and to the Port of N.Y., and a one-week pass to go home. After a boat ride on the Aquatania, I arrived in Scotland. One year after being drafted, I was a Flight Engineer on a B-24 Crew, Mighty Eighth, 392 BG, 578 BS, Wendling, England. Oh man! - Floppy hat, sharpshooter medals - I was going to kill Hitler. That was the end of Heaven (end of the hero movie stuff).
My first combat mission was on Christmas Eve, 1943, to Emden, Germany. What a way to get indoctrinated into com-bat - the head of the Ruhr Valley. It began kind of calm until we hit the I.P. Vreiling, our copilot, yelled out -"Fighters at 12 o'clock level!" I swung around to that direc-tion, but it wasn't fighters at all, it was flak over Emdem. (Flak wasn't bad at all - we simply got out on it and walk-ed around, if you know what I mean, and played football). Well we were lucky, holes all over and Waist Gunner, Enoch E. Masterson, hit in the cheek. He was hit with a pinspeck of flak and we teased him mightily, but he never got his Pur-ple Heart to my knowledge. Well we left ole JOLLY that mom and came home "OLD' men.
Eventually came along the target, Gotha, where we really got a whipping - I think about 12 of us went down, or 120 men - for which raid our group (392nd) got a Presidential Citation. Of course we had the usual everyday losses between the twix and tween - a hell of a lot more than the news media were told - hundreds of men.
Finally came Friedrichshafen. Our crew hit on the 16th of March and again on the 18th, our next huge loss, and the last mission for Peterson's crew. I think 14 B-24s, or 140 men, got it. We bypassed Friedrichshafen to the north and circled southward and then westward through the Swiss Alps - invading Swiss air space. The Swiss obliged with deadly aimed flak and 10 Swiss fighters. We lost three B-24s here and on our I.P. run. The flak aim was deadly accurate.
We lost an engine and had big holes in us, but were still flight worthy and hit the target. One blast in the nose killed the bombardier, Edmund Brown, and our new navigator (borrowed for the mission) bailed out over the target. (Went A.W.O.L, poor feller.) After the target, Peterson ordered me to find out why it was so cold. This is when I crawled to the nose and found the bombardier dead, the navigator gone, and the cold wind whipping through the open nose wheel door.
Shortly after the target, ole trusty Copilot hollered, "Fighters at 12 o'clock level!" This time he was absolutely correct, for by now he "knew" fighters from flak. Here they came, 40 of them stacked up. Well we and they went down like flies, but not us yet. However, the entire instrument panel and windshield disappeared, the top turret bubble (me) was gone, and one .50 in the waist torn loose. Also, after this none of our rear guns ever fired again. We watched them circle and form up, and here they came again. I had pieces as big as card tables coming off one of them, and ole Cowboy Russ, the copilot, was hanging out the side window popping at them with his .45. (I know, you are going to say we didn't carry personal weapons at that time, but Russ did.) I heard Peterson holler over the intercom - "Damm't Russ, quit that and help me." Well one of those fighters skimmed over my head and cut off (rammed) our vertical stabilizers. Of course we went sky diving. Four of us did, period; all grossly injured except me. Radio operator's (Eugene Rosko) chute popped and his feet hit the ground at the same time and broke his leg. Russ had bones hanging out right side, and Peterson was hit in the head, face, eye, arms and legs.
We crashed near a little village 20 miles from Strasburg, France called Ettingheim-Munster, Germany, and we chuted nearby. Russ and Rosko were captured instantly on the spot by German home guards (old men, boys and wounded vet-erans). Peterson and I teamed up and stayed loose for about four hours, but were finally run down by men and dogs. Everyone 'cept me went to a hospital. My first night I spent in jail in Strasburg. The next night I was in a Prison in Frieburg. Two days and two nights later I arrived at an in-terrogation camp outside Frankfurt. Two nights later I was in the city of Frankfurt and had my first shower and food since 2:00 A.M. on the 18th at Wendling. That night the British bombed Frankfurt. A 4,000-pound cookie and five other bombs hit our camp. Six barracks were there when I went to bed, but the next day you could put the largest piece available in your pocket. We had big clods of clay (big as an auto) lying all around the crater. I helped bury eight men in a shallow grave on top of a hill nearby.
They ran and walked us through Frankfurt to a train waiting on the other side. Glass crunched with every step, Street car tracks were rolled up like pretzels, beds hung out of buildings, little ole "pops and moms" were sitting on curbs crying, and the rest of the population was cursing, throwing rocks, spitting, and trying to kill us as we ran.
Four or five days later we arrived at Heydekrug in East Prussia in four feet of snow. Walking from the train to the camp barefooted was quite an experience, and I had my sec-ond bite of food in all this time. I didn't know it at the time, but Heydekrug was..a beautiful "rest camp" compared to what was to come later. Our best food at Heydekrug was a teacup full of mashed potatoes once a day and hot water. Now and then we received an extremely scarce supply of Red Cross parcels. The best issue was one parcel for two men every two or three weeks. We also got one inch of German sawdust bread once a week. (Believe it or not, this was our best food, ever.) Heydekrug "WAS" a rest camp - wait!
We left Heydekrug about July 15th by rail and were loaded onto a captured Russian tanker called "The Masuren." We were 800 to the hold, standing room only, a few buckets of water, and no food. Exhaustion set in, and with standing room only we bagan to sleep on top of each other. At first we designated a corner to relieve ourselves, but as the floor became entwined with layers of bodies this became impossi-ble, so we "did it" on the spot. Well we soon became flowery with our own urine and feces. The Germans at first let some sides up but two nuts jumped overboard. They machine-gunned them in the water and no one else was allowed top-side thereafter.
Ages later we arrived at a port near Stettin. You could smell us all of two blocks away. To add insult to injury, we were "ironed" (cuffed two by two with medieval screw-on chains) and loaded into boxcars. Excellent accommodations. In 1/3 of the car (from side doors to one end) they stacked us in like cordwood. The rest of the car was three guards with a machine gun set up. Our first food since leaving Hedyekrug was a tin of meat - oh how good! - we immediately ate and added to our "color" by puking all over each other and creating more urine and feces.
Days later, after traveling and sitting on sidings so other trains could go by, we arrived in a wooded clearing in nowhere. Don't ask how many days we traveled because I didn't know then and I still don't know now, but I think about ten days. No more food or water.
Hauptman Pickardt was a typical Prussian officer, I suppose. He was about five feet tall and you could cut your finger on the creases in his breeches and shave in the reflection of the shine on his boots. A "VURY" brave soldier if you weren't armed - Seig Heil!
They set up all the machine guns in a semicircle and off-loaded all this filth and vermin. By this time we had thousands of lice all over our bodies. A column of four abreast was formed, I have no idea how long. On the right side (where I luckily was) the guards were old men. On the left were young sailors with three-cornered file (pin-pointed) bayonets. The "run" began. We were chained two by two; my left wrist chained to Bill's right wrist. Bill had bad feet; when I first met him in Frankfurt he had casts on both feet.
We had been told that if we fell out we would be shot, and I heard guns going off soon after. Dogs were chewing on our legs. The brave sailors had been whipped into a frenzy by Hauptman Pickardt, saying "These are those who bomb-ed our country and killed your wives and children - take your revenge now. They used bayonet sticking, (not the running-through kind, just sticking), rifle butts, kicks, and dogs - we ran, or else. Two files forward and on the left side ran an Englishman. Every time they hit him or stuck him he would cuss them - "Schweinkoffs! Dumbkoffs!, etc. - so they gave him a lot of attention, He never went down and he never quit cussing them - he was insane (really). Sixty some times they stuck him. It was hot and we had no water.
Somehow we arrived in a field outside the camp. Have you ever been thirsty? Your mouth gets full of white frothy cot-ton, your tongue swells up, and you have trouble breathing. Solution: put a rock in your mouth to hold your tongue down. I lay in that field for three days, I think, with no food or water. I recall a few things about the camp, but I didn't last long (amnesia?) A German fighter plane got shot down and we all cheered. A German electrician got electrocuted up on a pole and we cheered and Hauptman Pickardt ran down and shot at us with his little pistol. They target-practiced their tower machine guns into our midst. Lightning hit a hut and 12 Britishers died. Somewherealong in here I died for a while. I woke up in a camp near Nurnberg where we were bombed again. I have no idea of how I got there. I do know that if we moved abruptly, like to lean over to tie a shoe, we would pass out on the floor. I wasn't hungry. Hunger has no pain I know of - you are just a mess. Some were real messes from insanity. I saw a German shoot one of these messes because he didn't know what he was doing.
I left Nurenberg and we walked to Moosburg, where I was eventually liberated. That was a fine walk - feet solid blisters. In all that distance we were fed only once. We slept in fields, in cold rain, and in a barn. Rain is great to sleep in - you get clean even if you do freeze. Germans are very humane; not like the Japs. Haw
Let it be known that I fared well. I lost only 40 pounds and puked for two years. Our glorious Veterans Hospital in Hun-tingdon was well staffed with foreigners who had no medical license and couldn'd speak English. They declared me neu-rotic (crazy) and a malingerer. They tried to give me a pen-sion, which I refused until years later. I gave away a lot of pension money before I got smart - I didn't want welfare. Well anyhow, one night I lay in bed and worms crawled out of my rectum. I captured a handful and put them in an envelope. The next morning I invaded the shrinks' domain at the hospital and he was amused. They gave me a big worm pill (like you give a dog) and I finally got well. They were all amused because they couldn't diagnose my illness. After all, it was a "cattle call" they ran.
This slobbering misfit cried at the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the recent Oil War - sorry about that, I haven't got on my glorious stint, even yet.
War to end all wars?? This time we left Saddam alive and well to start the next one.
P.S. YES, YES, YES - BLESS OUR BOYS AND GIRLS.