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This is written at the request of 392nd archivist and b24.net researcher, Ernie Barber the capable and dedicated crewchief of JAW-JA-BOY.
My flight training began in Pre-Flight Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama. It was continued with Primary Flight Training at Dorr Aero Tech, Albany, Georgia. From there to Basic Flight Training at Gunter Field , Montgomery, Alabama then Advanced Single Engine Flight Training at Spence Field, Moultrie, Georgia. It was there that some of us were given the opportunity to fly the P-40-f before being graduated as pilots in the class of 43-f (June 1943)
A group of several advanced single engine graduates were assigned to Dale Niobry (?) Field, Tallahassee, Florida in July 1943. We were to be assigned to one of the first P-51 operational schools, Things were looking great until we learned that P-51 production schedules were lagging and that the Army needed bomber pilots. There was a rumor that we were being assigned to the 2nd Air Force for training in bombers. This was to wild to happen but it did. About two dozen of our potential P-51 pilots were transferred to Pocatello, Idaho for transition in B-24's. Others of the group were transferred to various bomber training bases in the west. I was assigned as a copilot on a B-24 crew without even knowing how to get in to one. This was some new experience , I had flown nothing but single engine controlled by a stick. This was a four engine thing with a control wheel and tricycle landing gear. I learned several things- do not make steep turns (the crew would worry) and don't rely on the navigator all of the time.
Our crew was sent to Topeka , Kansas to pick up a new B-24 H which we were to fly to Prestwick, Scotland, over the northern route. It was at the Iceland stop that our pilot was hospitalized. We got the loan of a service pilot from the Transport Command and continued on to Prestwick. From there we managed a series of train rides to Stow, England for some indoctrination. It is very hazy as to how we managed that train trip with all our baggage, the various transfers and with little idea of Stow or the train schedules.
The next step was assignment as one of the first replacement crews of the 578th Bomb Squadron, I have no recollection as to how we got there, but do remember that it was the same day that John Buschman's crew was shot down (October 08, 1943) on the Vegasack, Germany mission. Our arrival might have been something of a surprise,since our crew was missing one pilot. This was solved when F.A. George was assigned to our crew. He had been the copilot on the Fletcher crew (One of the original 578th crews.
Our first mission was Nov. 03,1943 to Wilhemshaven, Germany. Our 27th mission was to St.Dizier, France on the 24th of March 1944. Lt. George had gone to the hospital so Lt. Kermit Spears(from the Carnine crew) flew with us on the missions of the 23d and 24th of March 1944. I flew as copilot for the John Reade crew on April 09, 1944, that was my 28th mission although it is not clear as to whether that completed tour. I accepted an offer to return home on TDY and then return to the 578th for a second tour. Perhaps 100 of the 8th and 9th Air Force was doing the same. Lt. Col. David Schillings (of the Col. Zenke's Sadie Hawkins Group) was the senior officer of our group coming home on a nearly empty troop ship. At the end of the TDY we gathered at Port Hamilton, N.Y. awaiting transportation back to England. A few of us went to West Point to get a little flying time. It was a lousy day and the West Point Cadets were not flying. I was permitted to fly a BY14 basic trainer and flew around the area a while, visability was too poor for much else, I noticed a group of workers doing something at the end of a long field putting in a drainage ditch?? I attempted to bounce my wheels in the middle of the field but was going to fast and concerned about the woods at the end of the field, I slowed up on the next pass but didn't have enough airspeed to bounce and then go over the woods, in both passes I went over the woods at full throttle. The Port Hamilton Commander called me the next day for Court Marshal because a witness said I narrowly escaped crashing into the Superintendent's home. I never did agree that it was a narrow escape but did agree the flight was below 1500 feet and over restricted area to boot. Lt. Col. Schilling disposed of the court marshal results in the Atlantic. I did mention this to Col. Polking upon return.
My first mission upon returning was with the Cliff Edwards crew, July 18th, 1944. The next mission was with the Charles Rudd crew on August (?) 1944. I was then assigned to what had been the Paul Barton crew, Paul Barton had been killed on December 04,1944 on the Kiel, Germany mission. Our crew flew 7 more missions before being shot down September the 9th 1944 on a mission to Maintz, Germany. There were two explosions that destroyed JAW-JA-BOY immediately after going over the target. Bill Riddleberger and I were blown out of the aircraft by the second explosion which was the only way we could have gotten out. The rest of the crew perished in that explosion. That included a none crew member S/ Sgt. Creighton E. Schaefer who was assigned to monitor German fighter frequency's.
Prisoner-of War life lacks a lot to be desired. I spent about a month in two German Hospitals (Medicare was not available) and then to the POW camp at Sagan, Germany (Stalag Luft III) They immediately got John Buschman to see me and confirm that I was not a spy. We had never met before because John had been shot down the same day I had reported to Wendling. Under different circumstances it might have been like old home week with a good number of 392nd people in the camp. We walked out of the camp on January, 30th 1945 when the Russians were within a few miles and it was cold. We walked for several days and slept in some unusual places before getting aboard those old 40 x 8 box cars to Moosburg, Germany. We were liberated April25,1945 by the 14th Armored and 99th Infantry.
This whole thing might have started with the move from P-51's to B24's, J.D. Long a outstanding pilot,, very good friend and fellow 578ther, had the same sad experience (P-51 to B-24's) We always believed that single engine and P-40 training were prime reasons for becoming outstanding B-24 pilots. There is probably more than a little doubt that all 578th pilots could agree with either opinion.
Louis's First Tour Crew Louis's Second Tour Crew F.A. George
Signed Louis M. Stephens