392nd Bomb Group

Excerpts from "Our Turn Next"

by James M. Ross as told to his son, James E. Ross


It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when they sat me down on the side of the road with my feet hanging over the shoulder, kind of dangling in the ditch. The road was higher than the ditch and my leg felt better just hanging. It gave the same effect as traction on my leg, so the pain wasn't too bad in this position. The next thing I knew, a German brought Galler over and sat him down next to me. Galler had broken his ankle.

A little German corporal came along in an old Mercedes Benz touring car to pick us up. The car ran on charcoal gas. (They burned charcoal in a boiler type unit on the car. The burning charcoal created a gas that fueled the car engine. They had to preheat the spark plug before starting the engine, but after the engine was warmed up it ran pretty good. They used a special, very large, spark plug in the engine.) The Germans helped get us into the car and we were taken to Colmar, France. It looked like a village, at least more like a village than a town. There was a hospital there, but they took us to what appeared to be the village jail. I didn't see any jail cells, but it looked like a town hail that was also used as the jail. When they got Galler and I in there, the rest of my crew, except for Heavy and the eleventh man, was already there. They were in good physical condition. They had gotten down fine without any injuries. It must have longer than I thought, getting down and all, because they had picked up the crew and already had them in there.

They put me in a small room that was about ten feet square. The rest of the crew was setting in a larger, adjoining room. I was really hurting by this time. While I'm setting there, the door burst open and a German kid about ninteen years old came marching in. He's a Messerschmitt pilot. He came over to me and said, "Krank," which meant sick or ill, although I didn''t know it at the time, and he pointed to, and was looking at, my leg. "A," he said, and he wnet over and picked up a chair that had no back and brought the chair over to me. He very carefully picked up my leg and put it on the chair. Again he said, "Ah," and left the room. He came back with a bottle of Schnapps, potato whiskey or gin and poured me a good big slug. I downed that and about choked! He let that settle and he poured another half and I drank that. That was beginning to warm me up! He pulled up a chair and put it in front of me, sat down and said, "du flieger America?" (you fly for America?) I said, "yeah." He said "Du Liber-a-tor?", in broken English. He grinned and said, "Ich, Messeerschmitts." I said, "Oh?" He said, "Liberator Mmmmmm" (he gestures with his hand to show the Liberator in level flight) and he continues, "Heeeee Messerschmitt, rat-tat-tat (gesturing with his other hand shooting down the Liberator). He said, "Liberator roarrrrr" (going down) and I answered "Yep." He said, "Du flieger America, Ich flieger Father Land (you fly for America and I fly for Germany). He held out his hand and we shook hands. We had a friendly conversation, as best we could with the language barrier. He pulled out some pictures and showed me his girl friend and his family.

He touched his flight jacket and said in a stuttering voice searching for the correct English words, "No.. .non. . .non fear".. .1 interrupted, "Nonflammable." He said, "Yah." His jacket was nonflammable. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a comb made of Plexiglas and the handle was a naked girl. He grinned at the handle and I asked, "Plexiglas?" He said, "Yah, Plexiglas Germany, Plexiglas America?" I said, "Yeah." He took out a cigarette case and there was a cigarette and a half of another in the case. The half cigarette was one that he had smoked and butted earlier. He gave me the whole cigarette and he took the butted one, and he then lit both of our cigarettes. He asked if I had any cigarettes and I indicated that I didn't.

He went into the other room, where the rest of our crew was, and got what cigarettes they had and brought them in the room where I was. He counted out the cigarettes and divided them evenly among us. There were two cigarettes left and he asked if he could have them. I said, "Sure." He then gave out the cigarettes to the rest of the crew.

He started looking around and asking the other two Germans in the other room wh~ something wasn't being done to help me (this was my interpretation). They began .to hustle around and got on the phone. He had the two Germans carry me out to the Mercedes, the same car that brought me, and helped me into the car. He got in the back with me and had them drive us to what looked to be a rehabilitation hospital for the German Army. He took me in and put me on a table. Two interns took a wire splint and bent it to fit my leg from my hip to my ankle. Then they got some paper bandages (that's all they had) and bandaged the splint to my leg. They did this ever so carefully. Then my young friend got the same two Germans to carry me back to the car and helped me into the back seat. Again he got in the back seat with me and we left to go back to the same building from where we came. About half way back he had the driver stop the car and he got out. He looked at me and said, "Du flieger America, Ich flieger Father Land. Goooood. . .good luck." I said, "For this, thank you." He said, "Danke schone." I said, "Oh, danke schone" and he said, "Yeah, danke schone." He stepped back, shut the door and saluted me. I saluted him back. We drove off.

He was a typical nice German kid. He was blond and thinking back, he reminds me of Jay (my grandson, Jay Ross, the son of this author) tall and slim and weighed about 140 pounds. He flew for Germany, I flew for America.

By now it was getting dark and we heard a commotion outside. There was a German truck that had backed up to the door. Two Germans got out of the truck and walked around to the back of the truck and pulled the canvas back. The same two Germans came for me first, picked me up and literally threw me into the truck. I went sliding all the way to the front and slammed against the cab. I heard Galler say, "Son of a bitch" and Clover said, "I hope he passes out." Evidently I did because that's the last I remember until they were carrying me in the corridor of a hospital. I remembered it being about ten o'clock at night. They took me to an operating room. The nurses in the hospital were French Sisters (nuns). One of the nurses came over to me and spoke some English to me, "To see how good you can count, you start to count one, two, three, four".. .and on and on. So I started counting and got to about eight. I remember a big spiral thing that started spinning faster and faster and… I was gone.

I was hazy for quite some time, blacking out from time to time. When I came to, I was in a two bed ward in a hospital and Galler was in the bed next to mine. I couldn't believe it. It was nighttime and I was feeling woozy and I went back to sleep. I can remember being very, very tired. 1 woke up in the middle of the night and a nurse, not a Sister, had propped me up In bed and she was feeding me soup. She was talking to me, but I didn't know what she was saying. She left the room and I went back to sleep. The next time I woke up it was daylight. Galler asked how I felt and I said, "Pretty good." "You kind of went out of your head during the night," he said. I said, "I did" and he said, "Yeah, you were talking in your sleep. You weren't very coherent, so I called in a nurse and she gave you some soup. After that, you went back to sleep." I could remember vaguely someone talking to me and Galler said that I was talking to her. I said, "I was" and he said, "I though you were going to get her into bed with you. It was Cheri this and Cheri that. She was really taking care of you." According to Galler this was about three o,clock in the morning when all this happened.

While Galler and I were talking, two nuns came in carrying a English/French dictionary. They began asking us questions about how long we though the war would last. We both agreed that probably right after Christmas, or maybe even before Christmas, it would be over. We asked them how they were treated and they motioned that their hands were tied. Another nun came into the room and the two that were in there got kind of flustered, and said, "Well, good luck and God bless you," and they left. Just as they left the room, a German officer came in. He looked at Galler and asked, "Wat ist lose?" (What is this?). The nun evidently told him what Galler's problem was and he answered, "Aus, aus." He came over to me and asked the same question and got the same answer from the nun. Again he said, "Aus, aus, aus." He was telling us to leave although we didn't know it at the time. He was a tall, big man, strictly Nazi. The nun came over to us and said, "Very sorry, soon they will come to take you away," and they did. They came and took a hold of Galler and took him out first. When they came for me, there was one German and one nun. My leg had a full leg cast and the cast had been split open and wound together with a bandage. A diagram was drawn on the cast to show what had been done. The German took a look at me and my cast and said, "Ah." He got me up and I hobbled out of the room. There was an iron railing on the wall outside of the room and he propped me up against that. He spread my legs apart, backed up to me and picked me up piggy back and carried me about a half mile to a street car. You should have seen the look of the people on the streetcar. "Luft gangster," they called me and they made him take me to the back of the car. We rode about forty-five minutes until the streetcar stopped. He helped me onto the platform and did the same thing again, carried me piggy back. He carried me very carefully because I had a leg sticking out to one side. He got me out onto the sidewalk and a German army truck came "along. He waved it down. The truck stopped and the Germans talked among themselves. They finally put me in the back of the truck and about a half-hour later, we were in a prisoner of war distribution camp in Frankfurt. Here I would be processed and sent to a prison camp.

I was put into a barn. There was chicken wire on the door and straw on the floor, a typical animal pen in a barn. It was like a stock yard and I had to lay on straw on the floor. That night the English bombed some marshalling yards in the area. It didn't come close to us but we could sure hear it and it shook everything around us. They must have blown the yard all to hell!

The next morning when I woke up the whole crew, except for McMillan, was there, including Heavy. This was the first time I had seen Heavy since he bailed out. I was glad to see that he didn't get hurt when he bailed out. He so easily could have been killed. He had said many times while we were flying, "If this plane catches fire, I'm gone," and he was! We heard that McMillan had escaped from a train and was free for three or~ f our days. He had jumped from a train through a toilet window. He was a gutsy son of a gun. I learned years later from Berger that McMillan was going to take on the whole German army by himself and Berger was afraid he was going to get them all killed. I didn't know until later when I heard from home that they had caught McMillan and that our whole crew was in prison camps, except the eleventh man.

Galler and I were taken to another cell over night. I had to be carried, so two Germans picked me up in a sitting position (as if I was sitting in a chair) and carried me to the cell in that position. This was much easier for them and me. One of the Germans asked me if I was an "Offizier" and I said, "Yes," but I didn't tell him I was a noncommissioned "Offizier." The cell was about ten feet square and that also had straw on the floor. The two Germans left and then another God damn animal came in. He was the most misshapen, ugliest human being I had ever seen. He had two cans of coffee and he gave one to Galler and the other one to me. I looked in mine and there was a cigarette butt floating in it. I asked Galler if he had tried his coffee yet and he said, "No, there's a cigarette butt in it." I asked him if his cigarette butt was bigger than mine. Galler asked what we could do and I said, "Maybe we could push the butt to one side and gently take it out of the can and get a few swallows that way." It was hot and we hoped it would taste alright. It was a mistake, it tasted terrible, but nevertheless we drank some.

From here I was once again carried, this time into a German interrogation building. Although I didn't know it at the time, it would be a long time before I would see any of my crew again. This was three days after I was shot down. I sat down in front of a German Lieutenant who was quite friendly. I was alone in the room with him. The door was open and people were going by outside, but he and I were alone in the room. The first thing he did was give me a cigarette. He asked me if they were treating me well and I said, "Yes, except they used my coffee cup as an ash tray." He said, "Oh no." I said, "Oh yes." He spoke very good English. "Well," he said, "what can you expect, you've been bombing their country and they don't like it." He asked if I wanted a good cup of coffee now? I asked, "Is there such a thing?" He said, "Oh yes," and he went to the door and someone came in with two paper cups of coffee. . .real coffee. He told me sugar was hard to get but it didn't taste too bad without it, and it was hot.

We talked about things in general and he asked, "How many were in your plane sergeant?" At about the same time he spotted Major Gray on my heated suit. He said, "We were so sorry to hear about Major Gray. That was sad, he was a gentleman. . . a flyer and a gentleman. We felt bad." He asked, "What did they do, give you".. .and I interrupted and explained that my heated suit wasn't working, I had a few minutes to change, and this was the only one that fit me. (Evidently, when they carried me into the cell, the Germans thought I was an officer and that's why they carried me so gently.) He asked me a few questions and I answered, "Sergeant James Ross, 31175759"...name, rank and serial number. He asked me six or seven more questions about what was doing and again I answered, "Sergeant James Ross, 31175759." He grinned, opened a drawer in his desk and took out a large folder. Inside of that folder there were four other folders. He opened them up and picked out the one for our squadron. I could see 392 written on the folder.

"Alright Staff Sergeant James Ross. You went to gunnery school at Tyndall Field in Florida. You went to Denver Colorado, and he went on to tell me all about the training I had,...and you landed in England in a B-24 that was equipped with a brand new Consolidated nose turret. Here's James C. Losey. He's your engineer. He went to engineering school in Texas and graduated on such and such a day (he had the exact date). I see you had to show your pilot and copilot how to shoot 45." I laughed and said, "I didn't have to show them how to shoot, I showed them how to hold it they could shoot well enough to qualify so they wouldn't have to go back there any more." How he laughed. He knew more about me than I did. I said, "You've got some organization." He said, "No doubt you've got the same on our people." I said, "I hope so." He grinned, and he was still friendly. "The only thing, sergeant, why do you come over bombing our hospitals and churches?" answered, "If we do that, it's not intentional." He said, "I was hoping that it wasn't." "But," said, "I'm telling you something. I was in London when there was a couple of raids and you blew the living hell out of a hospital for the blind, a children's hospital and a rehabilitation hospital. There was a gas station in the same area and you hit that and leveled the whole area." "Yes," he said, "it happens on both sides, doesn't it?" I said, "Yes." "Well," he said, "it's night time and the search lights are on, what are we going to do with those bombs?" I said, "You're going to let them go, just like I would." "War isn't funny, is it?" I said, "No, not a bit." He commented, "You're old to be flying, sergeant." said, "Yeah." He never questioned my nationality and I offered nothing. He asked, "Why, did you have to"... I interrupted and said, "No," and he asked, "Why?" I said, "America has been very, very good to me. I want to do what I can." He said, "A lot of people here feel the same way about Germany." I said. "Of course" "Well there's no use horsing around anymore. You've seen the folder. I can even give you your score on skeet shooting. You're not too good at that.

Trap shooting you're a little better at." (We had trap shooting and skeet shooting in training.) "You got good marks in armorment school." When he made that statement he got me to thinking a little bit. When I went to armorment school in Denver, there were two Russians in our class. They were friendly, spoke broken English, but you could understand them. While we were there, they took us to a rodeo and paid all expenses. They wanted to belong, to be friendly. They came to class every day. I often wondered. . . that was an ideal situation. We were friendly with Russia at the time, but I don't know.. .could this have been the source of some of his information? Of course I'll never know.

The interrogation ended and I was carried back to the cell. A short time later, I was put on a train headed for the Baltic, in East Prussia. It was the most desolate piece of Europe that there was. It took eight days for the train to reach its destination.. .Stalag Luft VI.