I was up at McGowen Field up in Boise, Idaho when I ran into Lark Morgan. He says: "Why don't you get on our crew?" At the time, I was a gunnery instructor and I told him: "I can't get released." He says: "Aw...Try", so I kept at it for days. Sgt. Kleckino was the senior N.C.0. and I approached him about a transfer. All I got for my trouble was: "You're crazy...I ain't letting you go!"... "But you've got to release somebody you told me so yourself."... "Naw! I'II let some other dud go." Well, the upshot of it was that two weeks later, I ran into him again and I said: "Hey, Kleck. Did you ever get my release?" He told me: "Didn't you get your new orders yet?"... "Hell, no!" I ran down to the first sergeant, "gruesome" Newsome...and there was my orders sitting on his desk, assigning me to the crew. He had them on his desk for days but didn't bother to tell me.
We were part of the 52nd Bomb Group during training, and things were beginning to heat up over in Europe while we were at Boise. We were a replacement crew and part of a wave of guys headed overseas. One thing I never expected though, was to run into our C.O. again over, in Europe. We called him "Full Bull" and he was the first guy we would meet with when we got to Dulag Luft. That was a shocker.
We were at Colorado Springs for altitude training and we got issued lined suits. One time we hit 28,000 feet and I think that's the highest we ever flew in our B 24 The rear end really iced up...man, it was cold up there. We had our "blue bunnies" on so that helped, but the electrical system on them was unreliable. One tine they all went out.
Another weak point was, the wires inside them would break at your knee and elbow joints. Turn the heat on, and it would burn you; turn the thing off and you'd freeze to death. You didn't dare put your boots on until you're out near the plane so they wouldn't break or wear out.
The funny part of that day was when Lark Morgan came down; his wife was waiting for him, with a wedding ring. He never wore one. So she went out and bought one. She says: "If Lark's going to fly that high...he's going to wear a wedding ring!" When she saw us up there, we were just a speck up in the sky.
When we went overseas, the ship we flew to England only had space for 250 rounds of ammo. When we got there, it was modified to carry a thousand rounds. We had big chutes near the waist windows. On top of that, Ollie and I always made sure there were two extra boxes of ammo. The flight crew was real nice about that; but if it wasn't on board, I raised so much hell, they went and got it. No way we were going to run out of bullets.
For a while I got away with bringing a second barrel for my machine gun...but they finally found out and took it away from me. Too much weight and we might run out of gas! You wouldn't think a guy could change a barrel up there in the cold, but we could do it. It would take me two minutes.
Part of our job was to go out into the bombay and arm those bombs. That wasn't bad; all you had to do was pull a wire out. On a recall, when they want you to bring it all back home, we had to go out and wire all them damn things up again. You're hooked up to a five minute oxygen bottle and you have to keep running back and forth along the catwalk...which was like a gangplank over a 20,000 foot drop. Just to make it more fun, there were cluster fragmentation bombs, which we had to lean way out for.
Flak was our companion on most missions. Our first mission, to Brunswick, carried us over the Zuider Zee and they had a barge with guns on it, down there. Those gunners were good! All they ever shot was 88mm and 105's. The way you could tell the difference was that the 105's came up with white puffs, the 88's sent up oily black puffs. Those 88's could pick your eye teeth out. We got a burst that hit near some oxygen tanks on the left side of the waist section. I looked at the angle those damn things was pointing in and it could have been like a torpedo headed right for me. Fortunately, it was my lucky day. Black or white, those puffs were deadly and we didn't like either.
The day we were hit, the 29th of April, we had P 51's escorting us; then at the break point, the P 38's were supposed to pick us up. That's where we started to get the hell knocked out of us. Right in between, we had a stretch of about ten minutes when we were on our own. Our bomber formations were really scattered out so much that the fighter would have had a hard time covering us, anyhow. We were spread out more than we should have been.
After the attack, I wasn't aware of all the things going on around me. We were on the way down and ME 109's were buzzing all around us. I was really wrapped up in drawing area on them. We had dropped our wheels as an indication of surrender and Kamemitsa says: "Cease fire!"... I'm firing away and I couldn't imagine him telling me to quit with fighters all around us. I looked over at Ollie, trying to figure out what in the hell was going on with him. Ollie says "Look out here"...he points to the left waist window...jeez, there's the outer wing section gone and the rest flapping in the breeze. I never felt any collision, I was so intent on firing at those FW's. At this point, I had to make a decision and it didn't take me long. I took one look at that chute and kicked the hell out of it. I said: "Were ever Bill and this ship go...I'm going with her!" In practice, we all had positions to go to, in case of a crash landing. Archie Young got up and leaned against the bulkhead like he was supposed to. Ollie and I were actually standing up looking out our waist windows during the landing attempt. We could see everything. As the plane hit the tops of the trees, we watched the branches going by. Everything was all right until the plane hit that lousy culvert.
I got torn loose from my machine gun and drawn up straight. I figured: "We're down what's the sweat?" Just about that time, the nose dropped down and I sailed clear across the length of the fuselage...right straight through until I pancaked against the front bulkhead, behind the front cabin. By golly, I looked over and Ollie Guillot was right there on the other side of me. Archie Young looked up and saw two people sailing over his head and he said he saw us both pancake into the bulkhead about the same time.
I think it took us a few seconds to realize how far up into the plane we were. Then we both scrambled back into the tail section, which was above us now and at an angle. The tail guner had come out, and dropped his chute through the camera hatch. It was a good 20 foot ride, as we slid down to the ground. As soon as I got out of the aircraft, I took off heading for the woods, when somebody yelled out: "Hey, come back! Kamy's hurt!" I wheeled back and about that time along comes this damned old farmer. He had a double barreled blunderbuss...and oh boy was he mad. We had torn up his field something awful. That made him angry enough, but another B-24 had gone down into his barn...killing all his chickens for sure. He didn't like us at all. If you've ever looked down the bore of a cannon...that's what that shotgun looked like, to us. There was a Frenchman working there and Kamy asked him if we could escape. He told us there were too many Germans, then looked in the pocket of my leg, where I had my escape kit. He took it out and buttoned up the pocket again. When the Germans turned their backs on us, he came over and gave it back.
German soldiers rounded up the crew and we had to run behind this little three-wheeled wood burning truck. It was bad enough for us even though we were captured as a group. That old guy really had us scared because he was madder then hell. I think, though, we gained a lot by going down together. There's a lot of guys who went down alone; bailed out and captured by civilians. They're the ones who hated you the most.
At Stalag 17 B, we had one room with 200 odd people in it. They were like no barracks any American ever built; like drafty barns, they were. Cleanliness became an art. We had water only three hours a day...and not much soap either.
We did what we could, with what we had. When all they give you a couple of times a year, is a bunch of twigs tied on a stick...you didn't get anything really clean! Just imagine tracking in mud each day. Then, if you happened to drop a bite of food, you didn't leave it lay there. You said: "Oh...this fell on a napkin" and you picked it up and ate it. You didn't let anything go to waste.
The barracks ate as a group, and we got our own Red Cross parcels. You didn't have to share, but then we didn't get so many of then. I believe the Germans gave some of them out to the civilian populace, before they gave it to us. Us Kriegies got plenty of rhudabegas with sand on the roots. When we went out on the road, it was a treat if a P 47 strafed a horse...that was our only fresh meat. We always looked on the brighter side of life, even though we weren't in that Riviera, like the officers were.
During winter, we got a few lumps of coal each day, which wasn't near enough. We started tearing the buildings apart to keep warm. The fellas had stoves and superchargers and other wild contraptions. Ollie Guillot was one of the best tinsmiths in our barracks. He made us all cooking stoves out of c ration cans.
For the most part, we had little physical violence, although we lost two guys. One of them was at the lazerette; he as out of his head. Another was also "goofy"...he hit the wire at the camp and the guards at the tower shot him. They killed that boy deader than hell. He lay there for 24 hours as a warning to us, not to get too close to the wire. The Gerries biggest deal with us was harassment... like running us out of the barracks in the middle of a rainstorm...or roll call: "Raus Schnell!"
Late in the war, our bombers came over Krems on a mission. When they swung north, we figured "some boy up north is going to catch hell this day!" Pretty soon, they turned around and headed for Krems. Those planes were releasing the bombs directly over the camp. Of course the bombs were going the same momentum as the bombers, so they went right on into the target. I tell you, you could see them coming right out of the bombay, and you could hear them too!
That first wave took out the giant turntable the Germans had down there. It could turn any size locomotive, but after the bombers left, it was over on its side like a pile of junk. Two of three hours later, the civilians and a few Russians were down there cleaning up. That's when the P 38's came in and did a little more damage. One of those Lightnings flew over the camp so low that we could see the pilot's face. He was just above the towers and he waved down at us. We waved back at him!
One of the German guards took his rifle and fired at him. Well... the old P 38 poured the coals in, made a loop and dove at that tower. He didn't fire, mind you! Man that guard dove! Right out of there. The German Commander was right there to greet him when he hit the ground. You talk about a chewing out. That guard jeopardized not only his own life, but also the lives of the P.W's. he was supposed to be guarding... that's a no no under the Geneva Convention. Our treatment was to the letter and nothing more.
Us P.W's never got much of a warning for our evacuation. When it was time to go, they said: "You're moving in the morning, so load up!" That's what we done and we moved out. We were on the move for thirty days and then we were liberated on the third of May. We stayed at Linz for three or four days. Patton came through and said: "I don't have any food for you, but that town down there is yours. We stayed at this factory. I had a terrible case of the runs. There was a reinforced concrete gun pit that we made into a latrine .I was in and out of that place for 3 days. The best part of the story is that my wife's brother had been a ground pounder and came in with the occupation forces. They stayed in the same town after we left and had to clean that pit out.
D C 3's flew in to get us out and take us to Camp Lucky Strike. We were in a warehouse type of building, with bunks all over the place. Everybody had to turn in their name, because they were going out by train. I had crawled into one of the bunks and I went to sleep. That meant my name never went on the list...I woke up about the time that everybody's piling out and going to the trucks. There was about a dozen of us left over who hadn't signed up. We all said: "Hey, what are we...orphans?"..."Your name ain't on the list...where you been?" ... "Well, we been sleeping. Where else would we be?" The upshot of it was that, they flew us out. The other guys took a train and it was about six or eight hours after we got to Lucky Strike, that the others came in. Hell, we were all bedded down already. Eventually, I came home on the S.S. Porpose. We hit the States on June l2th, 1945.