Diary of Lt. David Purner

by Greg Hatton

© Copyright 392nd Bomb Group Memorial Association 2017 - All rights reserved

This diary starts with his application for cadet training in February 1942, enlistment on April 4, 1942, arrival Wendling on March 24, 1944, shot down April 29th, 1944, captured May 1, 1944 and sent to Stalag Luft III. Forced march to Nuremberg in January 1945, then to Moosburg in March 1945 followed by the POW camp liberation by Gen. George Patton on April 29, 1945. This historical account ends with some vivid reflections of the POW life.

02-28-42Applied for Aviation Cadet Training
03-30-42Qualified for Aviation Cadet Training
04-04-42 to 06-30-42Enlisted as private AAF 17071742 Private, Spec.CA A.C. Stationed Army Aviation Cadet Board, St. Louis, MO. Traveled with the Aviation Cadet Examining Board, recruiting at colleges throughout state of Missouri
08-21-42Sworn in as Aviation Cadet and stationed at SAACC, Kelly Field (Sqdn 126, Hill Wing ), San Antonio, TX
08-29-42Classified as Aerial Observer/Navigator by preference. Never applied for pilot training. Older brother was a B-24 navigator who won his wings with the RCAF in Canada and transferred back when U.S. entered war. He flew with Gen Chenault in the CBI; He finished a tour of 50 missions there.
12-27-42 to 07-24-43Attended Navigation Pre-flight and Advanced Schools AAFB Selman Field:Monroe, LA Commissioned 2nd LT, AC Aerial Observer/Navigator 0-808142.
08-15-43Arrived Davis-Monthon AAFB, Tucson, AZ. Met rest of crew.
08-18-43Arrived AAFB, Blythe, CA for 2nd and 3rd phase training. Took our 10-day embarkation leave early when all B-24s were grounded to modify Davis wing. We lost four crews to accidents in 3rd phase training flights
11-04-43Arrived AAFB, Topeka, KS. Staging area. Picked up our plane here.
11-10-43Louise and I were married at the chapel in First Methodist Church, Topeka, KS.
12-03-43Louise left for home to wait for me.
12-21-43Left Topeka for embarkation point. Flew around Topeka for four hours when nose wheel jammed. Krushas did a beautiful job following instructions from the tower to retract the wheel properly. It was cold! Ofenstein made a beautiful landing, holding the plane on the tail skid and off the nose wheel. He wore the tail skid completely off. We looked like Halley's comet coming in. All of us went to the back of the ship to put maximum weight there for the landing. We were soon cleared for our flight to West Palm Beach. 6:40 flight from Topeka to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, FL.
12-24-436:20 flight from Morrison to BorinquenField, Puerto Rico, Arrived on Christmas Eve. and stayed for New Year's Eve. Filed an unsatisfactory report against the engineering officer at Morrison, who by-passed our fuel transfer system, not in compliance with AAF specs. This was the reason we landed at Borinquen without transferring fuel (4 engine craft were supposed to go on to Trinidad.)
12-31-436:40 flight from Borinquen to Atkinson in Guyana.
01-02-44:35 flight from Atkinson to Belem in Guyana.
01-05-445:40 flight from Belem to Fortaleza, Brazil,
01-08-442:15 Flight from Fortaleza to Natal, Brazil. Having much trouble with our aircraft: nosewheel, main landing gear, wing fuel tanks, etc. Stayed at Natal for 3 weeks for repairs.
01-26-4411:30 fight over water from Natal to Dakar on the Gold Coast of Africa. I got a pilotage pinpoint by spotting St.Peter/St.Paul Rocks (the only possible "land" to spot on the over water flight.) Used the octant on some sunshots; used the drift meter on the whitecaps; picked up wind changes; made heading corrections; came in "on target" with less than ½ hour fuel remaining.
01-29-447:30 flight from Dakar to Marrakech, French Morocco. I remember seeing my first POWs being detained here. I also remember a Free French Officer riding alone in a lend-lease jeep, passing us up as we walked along a dusty road into town. I think we cursed him. I remember eating a rather poor meal at the La Mamounia Hotel and walking in the gardens. Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, etc. met several times at this same hotel. I remember, too slipping into the old walled city(Medina) which was off limits. It was a picturesque town with sand, camels, and natives dressed in traditional costumes. I remember Krushas guarding our ship like it was his own baby.
02-07-449:20 flight from Marrakech to Valley in Wales(northern England). We flew off the coast of Portugal.Spain was pro-allies, but since Portugal was pro German, we flew with battle stations manned, guns loaded. The Germans were in the habit of picking off single aircraft flying on this leg. They also would send out false radio signals to guide us into German occupied territory. We made it.
02-10-44Landed in England and delivered our ship after flight of :45 from Valley.
02-10-44Took a train for Stone, our redistribution center where we stayed for three weeks. Visited Hanley in the Stoke on-Trent area. Bought Louise a carving set (Sheffield steel)
03-02-44Left Stone via train and boat for North Ireland so the navigator could get some radar training on the "G" box. Took a boat from Blackpool to Belfast (bought some Irish linen) and on to school near Londonderry.
03-4-44celebrated my 24th birthday. Stayed in North Ireland for 3 weeks until 03-20-44. I remember shooting landings with Johnny Wall. He needed the practice.
03-20-44Left Northern Ireland to report to 392nd BG, 576th BS at Wendling in East Anglia, near Kings Lynn on The Wash. Ours was the northern most bomber group in East Anglia
03-24-44Arrived at Wendling. 19 replacement crews composed our group. 392nd losses had been high. We were met by a 1st Lt. pilot who was the first 392nd pilot to finish a tour. Moral was not especially high. We started one week of ground school.
04-01-44Flew our first combat mission. I flew with Lt. Acebedo's crew to Brunswick-rough! Kennett flew with another crew. The rest of our crew did not fly. Then followed Zwickau, Augsburg, Tutow, Schwienfurt, Hamm.
04-23-44Left on R&R pass to London. Buzzi and I visited a Red Cross director from his home town(Passaic) who lined up a Member of Parliament to show us the sights of London-very interesting, We reciprocated by taking him to the Reindeer Club for dinner. With the severe rationing in Britain, he was delighted.
04-29-44All out effort with 2000 bombers from the 8th and l5th Air Forces hitting Berlin in the biggest raid of the war. The Allies lost 60 bombers and 14 fighters on this raid. The 392nd lost 8 aircraft; 2 from each squadron. German fighters attacked our group as we were passing Hannover. They made two passes and had 8 of us going down at the same time. Our ship was damaged severely; 2 engines out, tail assembly gone, fires throughout the aircraft. Buzz had followed through on the fighters and I had to straighten the turret before I could get him out. He was okay and sat on an ammo box close to the nose wheel, waiting for bailout. I had been wounded in the left leg and foot and sat on the edge of the nosewheel door, just under my table. We fell out of formation immediately, losing altitude rapidly in a flat spin. We fell below the cloud cover and at about 1000 ft, the ship jerked into a tight spin. I slipped off the edge of the nosewheel door and wound up astraddle the nosewheel, sitting on the mudguard, over the wheel. The pilot had previously dropped the landing gear, which made bailout difficult. The slip stream ripped both pair of boots (fur lined & heated) off my feet and I was now in my sock feet. I knew all I had to do was lay back and fall off that wheel, but I just couldn't do it. The centrifugal force had pinned me against the side of the aircraft and couldn't move a muscle. I gave up and knew I was going in with the ship. Every time she went around I could see the trees getting closer. I estimate at about 500 ft there was an explosion and I felt myself free. I began to scratch with both hands for the ripcord on my chest pack and not finding it, I began to panic. I glanced up and saw my chute swinging wildly amidst billing smoke and flying debris. I hit the ground without seeing it and after burying my chute I crawled out into the center of a big field and lay flat. I could see German troops scouring the woods. In a very short time I spotted Sgt. Smith and called to him. We lay together in that field and watched the 8th Air Force fly back to England. We decided to head for the Baltic and catch a boat for Sweden- wishful thinking. Sgt Smith and I evaded capture for the next three days; hiding during the day and traveling at night. My wounds were of great concern. I ripped the white lining from the cuffs and collar of my uniform shirt to use as bandages. I put chlorine pills in water and washed the wounds as best I could.
04-01-44At dusk on the third day we were captured by civilians- from the city of Bucholz near Hamburg. It was a sizeable and very angry mob armed with guns, clubs, pitchforks, dogs, etc. I was beaten, spit on, clubbed and threatened with hanging. Ironically, Bucholz had been bombed just 11 days prior by ships from the 392nd. After several hours we were turned over to the military. Under guard, we were taken through Celle, Hannover, and Frankfort to Dulag Luft, for interrogation. After a period of solitary confinement and interrogation was sent to a POW camp. Sgt Smith and I were at this time separated. I was placed on a box car which was terribly overcrowded and locked in. I traveled clear across Germany to Stalag Luft III at Sagan, in Silesia(about 7 miles south east of Berlin). Arrived at Stalag Luft III and was placed in a POW "hospital", which was a POW barracks staffed by doctors who were POW's previously captured. They were using meager red cross supplies and doing the very best they could. My foot was elevated and saline compresses applied. After about 7 weeks my wounds had healed sufficiently to allow me to be placed in a regular POW barracks and assigned to a cooking combine. At this point we were fortunate to have a meager supply of red cross food parcels which were doled out at the rate of one eighth parcel per man per week; so by joining a combine of 8 men we could control a full parcel each week. By using water, we could make stews and stretch that food to the limit. Incidentally, this would be the last time we would have red cross food available. Just prior to my arrival there had been a mass escape attempt at Stalag Luft III -not very successful. Some 250 POWs were scheduled to go, but most of them were caught in the immediate area, some still in the tunnel; only 3 made it all the way home. It took a year to build the tunnel and make preparations. A motion picture was made concerning this and titled "The Great Escape".The Germans were furious and the Gestapo took over the camp. In reprisal they picked 47 field grade flying officers, lined them up and shot them; then brought their ashes back into camp. This was the Gestapo method of discouraging escape attempts.
January, 1944As the Russians approached, we were put on the road on a forced march, leaving Sagan for Nuremberg. There was snow on the ground and it was 15 degrees below zero. For 72 hours, the Germans gave us no food or water or shelter. We had heavy casualties. I survived by drinking snow and eating from a pocketful of dried prunes, lump sugar and 1 "D" ration bar, which I had saved from the red cross parcels for just such an occasion. My feet were frozen. We arrived at my 2nd camp Nuremberg; extreme filth; food and water, all but non- existent; medical care nil; Nuremberg was bombed for 15 days around the clock (Americans by day and the British by night). Adjacent to the marshaling yards, we had a front row seat.
March - 1945When the Americans approached, we were put on the road again in a forced march. I was really not physically able for this one. We headed south to Moosburg near Munich. On this march . We slept on the ground; food was scarce. The column was straffed by allied planes on three separate occasions. Three POWs were killed and many wounded. We finally arrived at Moosburg. The Germans had rounded up 100,000 POWs and crowded them into Moosburg. Conditions here were chaotic. Little food or water and no shelter. I slept on the ground. On April 29, 1945, Gen. George Patton, after a pitched battle, liberated this camp. A really big day!

To reflect a bit on the POW experience and life in a pow camp, let me say it is a very dehumanizing thing. I was reduced to the status of an animal struggling merely to survive. This became the name of the game ; SURVIVAL. The will to survive can be a extremely motivating force. In the POW experience, as you lose control of your life, a feeling of utter helplessness sets in; then you suddenly become very bitter and a driving desire to survive engulfs you. I don't know that I could name the worst or the most demoralizing aspect of the POW experience, but I will try to enumerate a few and not necessarily in the order of their importance:

1) the bitter cold that constantly gnawed at the bones. We grubbed out pine stumps with tin cans in order to have fuel. It was tedious and time consuming, but then we had plenty of time.

2) The constant fear for life resulting from beatings, threats and personal observations. Hitler and Dr. Goebels, his propaganda minister, had promised the German people repeatedly, that the "terror fleugers" who had bombed Germany, would not survive the camps to leave Germany. I was convinced this was no idle threat.

3) Constant and prolonged hunger, resulting from a prolonged starvation diet. After the red cross parcels were depleted I ate grass soup with horse bones in it. We cut cards so the lucky man could eat the marrow from the bones.

4) The depression and anxieties resulting from not knowing how long this incarceration would last; 1-yr, 1O yrs or forever. And not knowing ow our loved ones were fairing.

5) The deplorable filth. There was no soap and little water available. One cold after spigot served 350 men. We tried to clean the floor and table with sand and bricks. We shaved the hair from our bodies, but we still became vermin infested. I had bedbugs. I had body lice. I had fleas. As I tried to sleep in terribly overcrowded quarters( 24 men slept in a space normally devoted to four men)my wrists and ankles and hips were eaten raw. The toilet facility was a G.I. can with a board across the top, which invariably overflowed each night. Most of us suffered from dysentery and jaundice.

6)The complete lack of health care, both medical and dental, became a big problem as the war dragged on, and my physical conditioned worsened. By the time I was liberated my body weight had dropped to 95 lbs.