Chapter 6

England and Missions


After a few days at Camp Kilmer we were moved out to board ship in

the middle of the night. All I can remember is going up a very

wide gangplank into a big black opening about 20 foot square in

the side of the ship. The U.S.O. girls were there passing out

coffee and doughnuts and I think there was a band playing. The

ship was the Queen Elizabeth, owned and operated by the English,

and there were thousands of us on this trip. I believe there were

about 12,000 troops and a crew of 1,700 on the ship, but am not

certain of the figure. We sailed at night and by daylight we were

at sea. I will note that we never did see the Statue of Liberty

then or when we returned.


The entire ship had been altered to carry troops and the

staterooms that originally were for two people now held twelve of

us. there were four bunks with just a narrow aisle in the middle

and one small shower. We didn't take many showers as it was salt

water and left you so sticky. As I recall we had Just a little

fresh water to rinse off with. The only open areas were the

lounges and the large ballrooms of peace time. In these the almost

continuous poker games took place. I spent very little time on

dock except for the abandon ship drills. It was December and the

weather was not very good. On the few good days we could go up on

the stern and shoot skeet. The shells were free and we could shoot

all we wanted. We usually found an enlisted man to run the machine

to shoot the clay targets. It gave us a little more practice in

1eading a moving target.


I didn't get seasick, but in the morning when I went to the dining

room and saw the fish for breakfast I did not feel so well. I took

a couple of rolls and bacon for sandwiches and went back to my

room to eat them in my bunk. This being an all English crew we got

very English food. About half way across the Atlantic the ship

began to take a zigzag course and the direction was changed every

three minutes. It took longer this way but was the only

protection against the German submarines as we were alone with no

escort ships. When walking down the corridors we would feel the

ship 1ean one way and then the other. We soon got used to that and

the thing which bothered us the most was at meal time. The tables

had a board along the edge and all the plates would slide from one

side to the other. When you wanted salt, pepper, etc. you would

grab it when it came to your side of the table. We had to hang

onto our plates as we ate, but that didn't seem to hurt our

appetites. As it was such a large ship the movement was slow and

not violent unlike the small ship I came home in.


The normal four day crossing took us seven days and we landed at

Gloucester, Scotland, harbor in the middle of December. As we

disembarked we looked back at the ship and that was the first time

we saw the Queen in its entirety. It was huge in the brilliant

sunlight. We next had our first experience with an English train. 

The aisle runs down the side of the car with small compartments on

the side. We were packed in so tightly with all our luggage that

the aisle was full and prohibited any walking around. We made part

of the trip in the daytime so we saw some of the Scottish and

English country side.


On December 23 we arrived it Keevil, England in the southwest not

far from Bath. This was not an airfield, just a place to stay

until we got a base and planes. Keevil was horrible and the worst

of places to spend your second Christmas away from home. We lived

in board shacks covered with tar paper and the weather was cold

and damp. We had little stoves in our shacks but nothing to burn

in them. The only tools we had were knives so we used them to cut

branches of trees and bushes. It was green wood so we would coat

the twigs with shoe polish to make them burn. We had one large

building for a mess hall with one stove in the middle of it. Here

we were served powered eggs for breakfast every morning and they

were terrible... tasteless, smelly and a sickly green color.

Instead of the eggs we would get a couple of slices of bread and

toast them on a stick in the one stove in the middle of the room.


Neill and I made one trip to Bath where we went through the old

Roman baths and walked through the rest of the city. We made one

trip to London by train and walked around the city. Trafalger

Square remains in my memory. It was a long trip by train from

Keevil so we only went once while stationed there. Later we were

closer to London and went more often. I remember once getting a

cup of coffee while waiting for a train back to base. The English

were unfamiliar with coffee making and it was so hot and strong

that the train arrived before it was cool enough to drink. One of

the interesting things at Keevil was how we would take a bath. The

bath house was a long narrow building with openings at either end

and had a cement floor. Partitions separated bathtubs set up on

higher concrete slabs in each stall. It was winter and there was

no heat in the building but the water was always hot. We would

hang all our clothes, including our shoes up high, fill the tub

with water, jump in and leave the water running the entire time.

The tubs would run over and the water would run down the aisle and

out the doorways at either and. The building would fill with steam

and we would lay in the tubs for one to three hours as it was the

only place we could get warm. I have no idea how they heated the

water, but it was always hot. I was in the same shack as Ullo and

Bruce so we all suffered that place together. While we were

overseas we asked Lettie and Ullo's girl friend Dolores, who lived

in Oakland to get together and they became friends.


After a couple of weeks we moved to Riverhall, near Colchester.

Here we lived in metal nissan huts and conditions were a little

better. We still didn't know what kinds of planes we would get,

P-51 or P-47s and were very happy when we got the P-51s. it was

January, still cold and we had one small stove in the center of

the metal building and we were still trying to burn green wood.

The mess building used soft coal to cook and it came in big

blocks some chunks over a foot square. We would go down there and

steal a chunk when the cooks were not looking and run like hell.

We broke it up for burning, and would keep warm for awhile. I had

about ten Army blankets on my cot. First I covered the cot with a

thick layer of newspapers and then put all the blankets on, tied a

rope around to hold everything on and never made my bed the

entire time I was there. I crawled in Just like it was a sleeping

bag. You had to watch out lest someone from another hut come in

and put a hand full of shells from our 45 caliber revolvers into

the stove when no one was looking. They made quite a noise, but

would Just rattle the stove and not really hurt anyone.


Ullo had an electric razor that ran on 110 volts but of course

the English power was all 220 volts. Ullo was an electrician by

trade so we went to Colchester to the "sparkmonqer" (hardware) and

bought a lot of wire, bulbs, ect. and Ullo put up about ten foot

wire over our bunks with a lightbulb connected about every foot.

When they were all lit it cut the voltage down so the razor would

run. If your beard was tough you could just unscrew another bulb

and the razor would run faster. Real handy, it worked fine and we

both used it.


I still had a camera and started using it again. I can't remember

why I didn't take any pictures during flight training but Bill

Haynes, from Chicago, and I took a lot around the base, of the planes,

gun emplacements, etc. I had about ten rolls taken and kept them

in my locker. Due to security reasons I didn't get them developed,

but I should have sent them home undeveloped and taken the chance.

When I was shot down they were all in my locker and I never saw

it, or them again. After the war I tried to contact Bill Haynes

to see if he had any, but was not able to find his correct

address. It would be wonderful to see them.


We were Just north of London and were now experiencing air raids

by the Germans at night. By this time we had been through enough

that we didn't have any fear so we would go outside during the raid

to watch the searchlights pick out the German bombers and listen

to the anti-aircraft guns. We were out in the country so there

were no close targets and we felt safe.


At Rivenhall it was a long way to the mess hall from our barracks

so in the morning we would come outside to smell the air to

determine if they were serving powdered eggs. If they were, we

would just skip breakfast. Real eggs were very scarce in England

at the time and once every week or two we were issued two real

eggs. We kept them in our lockers and on the mornings when we

would smell the powdered eggs at their worst we would carry our

hoarded eggs down to the mess hall. We carried them in our jacket

pockets and it was difficult to make it there without someone

breaking them. If someone thought you were carrying eggs, they

would chase you all the way to the mess hall. They got me once and

it made a mess in your pocket! Anyway, our aim was to get the eggs

to the cook who would fix them any way you wanted while you



We were still having classes in aircraft identification and a lot

of map study so that we would recognize all the coastline of

Europe and England. The boys were still playing poker and Al

Johnson was still borrowing money and paying me back every payday.

He owed me money most of the time. We went to London several times

and stayed at the Palace Hotel. It was near the center of London

and one of the best hotels. It made the English angry as we got

the hotel room and would fill the little gas heater up with

shillings then would go out to eat while it was running to heat

the room up. The heater would run about twenty minutes for a

shilling, but the English would never run the heater unless they

were in the room as gas was in short supply. We had the money and

felt that we needed heat more than they did. One night we were

there during an air raid and didn't oven bother to get out of bed

to look for a shelter. The hotel shook a lot and it was noisy, but

we survived. We ate some of our meals at the Grovesner House which

was a huge place. The serving was cafeteria style and 2,000 could

be seated at a time. The food was good and there was a bar there

too. One night in the blackout and the fog we found a little bar

where they served warm beer in big pitchers which we tried to cool

by adding ice. It was so dark and foggy outside that you kept

bumping into people and all you could see were taxis with little

slits of light for headlights. They still drove them in the total

darkness. While in London we also visited several art museums and

saw one stage show.


The English prostitutes were really a problem to some of us. One

night Ullo and I were staying at the Palace Hotel and when we

opened the door to leave, there were six or more of them who

pushed into the room. We had quite a time getting them to leave,

and they followed us all the way out to the main entrance onto the

sidewalk. With all the people around it was embarrassing as they

were swearing at us. We lost ourselves in the crowd as fast as we

could. There were a large number of prostitutes in London and I

suppose they made a good living off the Americans. The English

soldiers had no money and the Americans were loaded with it. I

never did understand the English system of money and when Paying

for food or a bus ride would usually Just hold out a handful of

change and let them take the right amount. I guess most people

were honest because I know enough about it to suspect if they were



I enjoyed walking around the little narrow back streets and

stopping in the tea shops for tea and biscuits. I remember one

little place because when you were ready to leave you had to bend

over to turn the doorknob which was only about a foot and a half

off the floor. One time several of us went to Colchester for the

weekend and stayed at the Red Lion Inn. There were inns of that

name all over England. They all had the high beamed ceiling, a

the dark woodwork, with a small bar and a place for eating. For

breakfast they served eggs and bacon with toast and coffee. We

couldn't figure out how they fed us like that when the English

people were going without due to shortages. Probably they did it

for the money although it seemed a reasonable price to us.


Lenny Pierce was at an airbase in central England about thirty

miles from where I was stationed and he was already flying

missions. I contacted him and made arrangements to go up to visit

I made the trip by ambulance as that was a cheap and good way to

get around. They were headed in every direction so I would catch

one going one way and when they stopped at a base I would catch

another going in the next direction. At one base I was waiting

when they wheeled in a stretcher with the remains of an Englishman

who had been trying to defuse a bomb. He was still alive, but not

much was left of him. I finally made it to Len's field and spent

the night there. He was living in a beautiful brick home that was

probably the residence of a British officer before the war. At

night he would set his shoes out in the hall and in the morning

they would be returned polished. Something different from the

conditions in which we found ourselves! We were able to travel

around like this when the weather was bad and there was no chance

of flying. After we began flying missions we had to be more

careful to stay near our base. Len Pierce was also flying P-51s

and was with one of the best outfits. He entered the service a

couple of months ahead of me and was Just that much further ahead.


We received a base pay each month and a flying pay for each month

when we flew at least four hours. During the first two months we

received no flying pay as we had no planes. Just before I left the

States, I arranged to have $100 a mouth from my pay go to Lettei

in California.


Finally our new planes arrived and this was the first time we were

sure we were really getting P-51s. A lot of the other squadrons

were getting P-47s and P-38s so we considered ourselves lucky to

be getting the planes we wanted most. It was near the end of

February and everyone was anxious to begin flying after two

months. These were the best fighter planes in the war and

thousands of them had been built. Until this time there had been

no fighters with long enough range to escort the bombers deep into

Germany and our effort was taking a real beating from the German

fighters. On February third I flew the P-51 for the first time and

it was a thrill. It had so much more power than anything we had

flown before and was a pleasure to fly. In it you truly felt part

of the plane. That was what they called a "Pilot's Plane". For

several days we just took the planes up to get their feel. On

clear days you could see France and Belgium across the Channel

but in general we flew near the base. Some pilots wore crazy and

one even slipped across the Channel and shot all his ammunition at

a train. This aggressive type of pilot usually proved to be the

best in combat, so he was only reprimanded and grounded for three

days. Due to the English weather, we were probably al1 grounded



We had a softball diamond for use when we were not flying. You had

to watch it all the time because some one would fly across the

field just above the ground when they could. They were so low that you

would be forced down into the dirt. All fighter pilots were a little

crazy, but mostly the nicest guys you'd ever meet. Several times I

went up to 33,000 feet which was the highest the plane would go

before the controls got sluggish due to the thin air. When you

started the plane you could not take too much time getting into the air

the air. You needed to taxi out and take off as soon as possible

as it was a liquid cooled engine and the liquid would overheat and

boil out al1 over the plane. That would make your maintenance crew

real unhappy as they would have to clean the sticky material off

the whole plane. This happened to me just once as I was getting

ready to take off and it was the only mission when my flight had

to go without me. The P-51 landed at about 90 mph and took off at

100 to 110 mph.


One day Bruce, Tilson and I were flying together and landed at

another field where they had P-47s and we had the opportunity to

look them over closely. We didn't think much of them as they were

big and clumsy next to our sleek planes. The fog started to close

in and we headed home in a hurry. By the time we got back to the

field we were on instruments only as we couldn't see a thing. The

base put us at different altitudes 500 feet apart and brought us

down one at a time by radar. It was a good thing we had all the

instrument training and by following the radio instructions we

were brought right to the end of the runway before we even saw the



We were in the Ninth Air Force, the 363 Fighter Group, and the 380

th squadron. Each field had three squadrons at different locations

around the field. We had the 380th 381 and 382 squadrons. Our

squadrons consisted of 25 pilots and a lot of the guys I flew with

in the States were in the other squadrons, but we didn't get

together much. We were all second Lieutenants except for one

first lieutenant, Martin DoLong from Dansville, N.Y. and our

commanding officer, Captain McCall. Our commander was a very poor

leader and was scared to death to fly a mission. Most of the other

groups in England were led by majors or colonels and sometimes

even by a general. Good leaders made all the difference, and the

squadrons had much better combat records than we did because of

this. Those squadrons with good records were sent to the areas

where most of the fighting was taking place. Most of our missions

were led by the first Lieutenant Martin DeLong. Years after the

War I heard that he was a colleqe professor down in Dansville

But never got down there to see him.


When we flew missions, our squadron flew four flights of four

planes in each flight and the other two squadrons the same. On

occasions we were down a few planes due to damage. Our flight was

usually Tilsen leading with his wingman and I with my wingman. 0n

one mission I led our flight. Most often Bruce flew as my wingman.

When you were flying, your wingman was supposed to protect you

from an attack from behind. It was good to have a friend there.


We had our own doctor at the field and he was a nice fellow a

Michael DeMaio MD. He was always checking us as he certified us

for flying duty and could ground anyone for sickness or flying

fatigue. We also had a dentist, Dr. Axelrod, to whom I went a

couple of times. The office was a tent with a dirt floor and the

drill was run by a foot pedal. He had an enlisted man who sat in

front of you and pumped the pedal when the doctor told him. The

faster he pumped, the faster the drill went. I did not notice the

equipment was from Ritter in Rochester, so I felt right at home.

Dr. Axelrod was big man, 6 foot tall and over 200 pounds.


Mr. Woods was a baldheaded man of at least 60 years who taught us

map reading and aircraft identification. We now had to be able to

recognize all the English, American and enemy planes which made a

large number to identify quickly. In one class this gentle man was

showing us the location of different cities in Germany and we

asked him where Blutengluten was. We sat there giggling for 15

minutes while he tried to find it. We had Just made up the name

and after a while he caught on.


Mr. Fagan was also an older man who gave us the weather conditions

and other information. I think it was remarkable how those older

men were serving their country doing whatever they were qualified

for. They were necessary for each outfit and at their time of life

it must have been even harder for them to be away from home and

living under such hard conditions. At age twenty six I was older

than most of the other pilots myself.


After six hours of flying in England to get used to the planes

and practice landings, we were about ready to fly missions. Now we

were to get our own planes. I understood that each plane cost

about $45,000 which seemed like a lot then, but is nothing compared

to the price of a plane today. We had our own crew which consisted

of a crew chief armorer and mechanics. They were proud of their

plane and kept it in excellent condition. They would wash the

plane with gasoline and then wax and polish it so there would be

less air resistance and it could go a couple of miles an hour

faster. My crew chief was Alvin Wolfe from Buffalo New York. Each

squadron had their own identification number and mine was A9-R

which was on the side of the plane in large letters. This was the

only way we could identify the squadrons that we might get mixed

up with over Germany.



I should mention here that Ullo was always playing cribbage, and

he and Snyder would often be playing on the wing of a plane right

up to takeoff time. Neill Ullo and I had been to London and

decided to take piano lessons. What a time and situation to start

something like that! We walked all around the little back streets

of London until we found an old man who gave lessons. We made a

down payment and set a date for our first lesson, but due to what

was to happen to us, we never made it back again.


Our first mission was on February 25, 1944. After breakfast (if

you were not too nervous to eat) we would report to the Ready

Room which was similar to a school classroom with chairs, a

platform up front, and a large map showing England and Germany

was covered with a drape and we would sit there buzzing with talk

and nervous about where we might be going. When they pulled back

the drape there was a red ribbon from our base to the target and

back. If it was a short ribbon everyone would cheer and a long

ribbon would fill the room with groans. Our first mission was

across the Channel to France to see if any German planes would

come up. We ran into no opposition and it was an easy time. It is

not too clear after all these years, but I remember that first

mission we were short of equipment and I flew without either a

parachute or a life raft. I believe it was a parachute I was

missing because that usually fit into the bucket seat to raise you

up and I filled mine with a jacket and rags. It was on my mind the

whole mission that if anything happened I would have to land the

plane and not bail out. We were ordered to fly ... and we had to go,

but that never happened again.


I will not be able to describe the missions in order, so I will

simply describe experiences as I recall them. We had a nice

concrete runway at this base but Captain McCall only flew a couple

of missions as our squadron leader. lieutenant DeLong led most of

the early missions and McCalls record was so bad he was soon

replaced. We got a West Point grad who wasn't much better, but he

was big on discipline. This was completely lost on a bunch of

fighter pilots. When you go through long missions and lose a lot of

your best friends, you are not about to spend time worrying about

West Point rules and regulations. He even tried to give bed and

equipment inspection and had us line up for full uniform

inspection on the runway. I can't remember what finally happened

to him, but on one mission were led by a Colonel who came from

another base and was an experienced combat pilot. I think he was

sent to check out what kind of an outfit we were.


Of the 23 missions I flew, most were bomber escorts and a few were

bombing runs to targets in France and not too deep into Germany. The

P-51 had two tanks that hung one from each wing and they hold 150

gallons of gasoline each. On bombing runs these two racks held a 500

pound bomb each. If we were called back from a mission due to a change

in the weather, we would drop them in the Channel as it was too 

dangerous to land with them still attached as they might Jar loose on 

the runway. We thought about all the gas Rationing at home while we 

were dumping all that fuel. These tanks and the 50 gallon tank that was 

located right behind the pilot plus the tanks in the wings were the 

reason the P-51 could stay in the air about six hours and was able to 

escort the bombers all the way to Berlin and back. The English 

Spitfires could only go as far as Belgium and France with the bombers 

and the bombers suffered heavy losses until we were there to intercept 

them. We would also be there to guard the bombers coming home slowly 

after being damaged and losing engines. The Spitfire planes would 

escort them as far as Belgium where we would pick them up, then the 

Spitfires would meet them there again coming home. The other American 

fighters like the P-47 and the P-38 could go a ways into Germany, but 

not all the way to Berlin until their range was increased later in the 

war. During flight the wing tanks had to be used first as they were 

dropped at the first sighting of enemy aircraft. They created drag and 

affected the maneuverability of the plane. You had to remember, even in 

combat, to keep switching the tanks to keep the plane's weight 

distributed equally and also to keep the tank From running dry, causing 

the engine to quit. You could start it again by switching tanks and 

putting the nose down, but you couldn't afford to have that happen in 



You can see why our training was so extensive as the fighter pilot was 

his own, pilot, gunner, bombardier, and navigator. He had to be trained 

in all areas. on our second mission, which was the first one for Ullo, 

he failed to return. Even though no one actually saw what happened, we 

figured he had gone down. Remember that he was the one who had gone to 

Texas to advanced gunnery school and came back to California to teach 

us all he had learned He went down on his first mission and probably 

never got to fire his guns. His bad luck spelled the end of our piano 

lessons in London. His story is interesting and you will Learn of it 

1ater, After we got together again.


We had another pilot, James Barlow from Klamath Falls, Oregon, who 

during training was always on the radio singing on the radio "here I 

sit, fat, dumb and happy". He was shot down on one of our early 

missions and we heard him call on his radio "So long guys here goes 

fat, dumb, and happy bailing out. We were beginning to lose pilots now 

and were getting replacements from the States. I'm glad I never had to 

Join a group like that, not knowing anyone. We had been together so 

long by then that we knew each other and were good friends. We did not 

dwell much on the friends we had begun losing. Each of us had accepted 

the probability that it could happen to us any day, so had conditioned 

ourselves to the situation. Some of the missions made us nervous but I 

wouldn't say that we were inordinately bothered by fear. We were so 

occupied and it was a thrilling experience to actually be a part of 

combat over enemy territory. However we did look forward to the days 

that the weather was bad and no missions were flown. We would sit 

around the "Ready Room" playing cards and discussing past missions. I 

should mention that my Flight Leader T.J. Tilson or Bruce had given me 

the nickname of "Buck" Benson when we were in training in California 

and that is what I was called from then on. I don't remember anyone 

ever calling me Bunny.


One of our missions was a dive bombing run on some factories in France. 

We flew in formation to the target and peeled off one at a time diving 

down at a large building and releasing our bombs. I saw some of them go 

right into a large door at one end of the building. We were down to 

about 500 feet and when we pulled up I saw the plane in front of me 

blow up and I flew right through the pieces. I don't remember the 

pilots name, but recall seeing something yellow go by me and thinking 

it was the yellow "Mae West" life vast we all wore. Anti-aircraft fire 

must have hit his tanks. I was flying with Bruce and when we got back 

to the field he found several bullet holes in his plane. Several times 

when we flew together he got bullet holes, but I never did get hit.

When going on a mission we would start our planes and taxi out onto the 

runway. You taxied by zigzagging because the nose of the plane was up 

while on the ground and you couldn't see directly in front of you. We 

took off by twos with the second plane at the side and slightly behind 

the other. The second plane watched the lead plane only and kept the 

same distance from him. You didn't look at the instruments on the 

runway, just the other plane. Sounds hard now, but it was easy once you 

got used to it. We would then climb by twos until reaching a specific 

altitude, circle until everyone was in formation, then we would head 

for Europe. Sometimes when it was cloudy you were forced to climb on 

instruments only until getting above the clouds, anywhere up to 30,000 

feet. The sun would be shining there and the clouds as white as new 

snow. It gave one the feeling that you were just above the earth and 

could step out and walk on top of the clouds. The other planes would 

pop up out of the clouds. It was quite a sight.


One time we had a Lieutenant Colonel leading our squadron and when he 

got up on the runway the pilot who was taking off with him either 

misjudged or didn't use his brakes and he ran into the back of the 

Colonels plane, chewing off the entire tail section. The pilot probably 

wished he could have died right there, but nobody was hurt. Another 

time a boy by the name of Snyder came back from a mission with a 

damaged plane and he ran off the end of the runway and crashed. The 

emergency trucks went out and covered the plane with foam to prevent a 

fire and he got out okay. He was not injured but during the next few 

weeks his hair turned completely white. I wouldn't have believed that 

could happen if I hadn't seen it myself.


The weather at this time of year was not very good in England, with fog 

and a lot of cloudy days. If the weather was good over the target we 

would usually fly anyway. Coming back from missions we were usually at 

about 15OOO feet and when we got to where we thought the field was, we 

would dive down and pull out just above the ground. We could get up to 

550 mph in those dives and the the wings would start to vibrate and the 

plane would shake, but that didn't stop us from doing it. At times we 

would come down through a thick overcast sky and wouldn't see the 

ground until we came out from beneath the clouds... sometimes pretty 

close to the ground.


After we took off and headed for Europe across the Channel there would 

usually be someone who would abort the mission. This was the term for 

dropping out and going back to the field. Usually this was due to 

engine trouble or knowing that something didn't feel Just right with 

the plane, but we had a few pilots who were "chicken" and just made up 

an excuse, particularly if the mission was to be a long one. They 

didn't stand very high on the popularity list with the other pilots. I 

had my ground crew to thank for keeping my plane in excellent condition 

so I never had to "abort".


There are a few facts about the P-51 which I will mention here. There 

was a lever that controlled openings that kept the coolant from boiling 

over while waiting to take off and it closed as soon as you were in the 

air. The wheels were pulled up as soon as you left the ground so you 

had to remember to put them down again before landing. The four bladed 

propeller was a variable pitch and had to be set so it would bite more 

air, getting you into the air faster, climbing steep, then set back to 

the right angle. A small tube at the and of the wing ran the wind 

indicator so you know how fast you're going. The plane had a cockpit 

heater that didn't always work too well and that was a primary 

complaint of the pilots. At 30,000 feet the temperature could be 

anywhere from zero to minus 60 degrees so you needed all the heat you 

could get. The guns were fired by pressing a button on the top of the 

stick and we would test them on the way across the Channel to be sure 

they were working. There was a camera mounted on the wing which worked 

from the same button and it took pictures every time the gun fired. 

This verified the enemy planes the pilots claimed to have destroyed.


One pilot in our squadron had the cutest little puppy. It was a little 

brown fat thing with fur soft as cotton. It would sleep on' the back of 

his neck and he took it everywhere but on the missions. Another 

incident I remember took place when I was walking in London. There were 

so many Americans around, I started looking for someone I might have 

known in the States. I finally saw someone who looked familiar standing 

across the street, so I dashed over and asked his name. You can imagine 

my embarrassment when he said: "Yes, sir, I am the armorer on your 



On the days that we were to fly escort for the bombers we would get up 

about 6:00 am as we heard the bombers taking off. We went to breakfast 

and then the Ready Room for briefing. When the curtain was pulled back 

and the ribbon went all the way to Berlin you knew you would have a 

tough mission. The weather man would give us the weather over the 

target and what to expect when we returned to England. All of our 

compass headings depended on the weather, our point of rendezvous with 

the bombers, heading to the target, and the compass heading home. The 

map man would describe the coast of Europe at the entry point and 

additional points of identification along the way so we would be 

certain of our location. He explained where we would be likely to 

encounter flak (the big German guns) and where we could anticipate the 

most enemy fighters. We wrote down all of this information on a pad 

fastened just above our knee so we could refer to it in a hurry.


All this time you could hear the steady roar of the bombers taking off. 

When there were about a 1,000 four engine bombers taking off you could 

hear it all over southeastern England. It took a good hour for all the 

bombers in a squadron to get into the air and another half hour for 

them to get to the right altitude where they would circle until in 

formation and ready to head for the target in Europe. They used a lot 

of gasoline and time just getting ready to go. After our briefing we 

would all make our trip to the bathroom and then to the equipment room 

to get our parachutes and other equipment. We didn't have to leave the 

field until about two hours after the bombers because we were so much 

faster. We would catch up with them soon after they crossed the 

coastline of Europe and it was a very pretty sight to see the 

formations of B-17s in the sky for miles ahead, especially on a sunny 

day. Some days there would be big white clouds and the B-17s would 

create their own clouds from vapor trails. The bomber vapor trails 

would be straight and the fighter trails would be above them back and 

forth across the blue sky.


When escorting the bombers we had to fly as slowly as we could and 

weave back and forth so as to not outdistance them. The closer to the 

target the heavier the flak and we would see the black bursts all 

around the bombers and once in a while one would go down. The bombers 

had to fly straight and level with no chance of taking evasive action 

and we would think how brave they were all the time never considering 

changing places with them. We were above them and when we saw the flak 

bursts could go up or down 500 feet, flying safely there for several 

minutes until the German guns could correct for our altitude. We never 

worried about the flak much because we could normally avoid it. Once in 

awhile we lost a fighter plane to flak, but usually it was to enemy 

fighters. After the bombers had dropped their loads they could take 

some evasive action.


On one of the Berlin raids it was a clear day and we watched the 

bombers drop their load and could see the bombs fall and the big 

explosions go up right down the middle of a wide main street in Berlin. 

After the bombs were dropped we would fly with the B-17s until they 

reached the Channel. I went on several Berlin raids and on other 

occasions we would be diverted to closer targets as the weather had 

turned bad before we got to Berlin. The P-51 could stay in the air 

about six hours which was the amount of time it took to go to Berlin 

and back. Our missions took anywhere from one to six hours. After being 

tightly strapped in and unable to move around in that small cockpit for 

six hours, it was difficult to even stand up when getting out of the 

plane. Some guys would step out of the cockpit onto the wing and fall 

off onto the ground. We used to tease one fellow because he opened his 

parachute when he fell off the wing. Being so tired (and the strain of 

combat really was exhausting) the shot of whiskey we got at the 

debriefing after a mission was welcome.


On each mission we had one pilot who flew up and down the coast of 

England at 30,000 feet. This was the "relay plane" used to relay any 

massages to the planes over Germany. Due to the curvature of the earth 

and communication equipment at that time, radio messages could not be 

sent directly. If the wind direction changed while the planes were over 

Germany it would affect the compass heading we were given to return to 

England and if it was overcast we could have blown off course, missed 

England entirely and gone out to sea. If your home field was fogged in 

you were directed to another field. I flew the relay plane just once 

and it was very monotonous sitting up there for hours. You could 

throttle the engine down so it would Just keep you from stalling out 

and save gas that way. One pilot stayed up seven hours and we thought 

he'd gone down as six hours was the limit. He had just seen how long he 

could possibly stay aloft by using the technique and came happily back 

to base long after the mission was over.


They were very strict about talking on the radio from the time you took 

off until you were over Germany and even then it was used only for 

necessary messages and warning each other when in combat. Any 

unnecessary talk might have given away information to the Germans (even 

though they had probably picked us up on their radar). The English 

bombers always bombed the enemy at night and they continued to do this 

throughout the War. They thought that the Americans were crazy to bomb 

in broad daylight. The B-17 bombers, however, were heavily armed and 

could defend themselves fairly well. The English bombers, on the other 

hand, had few guns. When the B-17s first began flying, the Germans had 

so many fighter planes that the losses were terrible. With ten men in 

each bomber, sometimes five or six hundred men would be lost in a 

single mission. The situation reversed itself when the fighter planes 

had range enough to escort the bombers all the way to the target. At 

the time I was flying, the American fighters were beginning to 

outnumber the enemy. Their losses were so heavy that on some of, our 

missions we did not see a single enemy plane.


One time, before we started flying missions we had the opportunity to 

visit an English radar station in southern England. It was a large 

curved glass about six feet across at table top level with a map of 

England and Europe on the glass. The room in which it was placed was 

dark and there was a light under the glass. The planes returning from a 

mission were little blips on the glass. A couple of the blips were over 

the ocean way south of England and they were trying to contact them by 

radio to reorient them. they were far off course and expected to run 

out of fuel over the Atlantic. I imagine there were more than a few who 

ended up missing England due to wind changes or bad weather during the 



When we did use our radio we had a code for each mission and the four 

flights of each squadron were: red, blue, green, etc. We used these 

codes when talking to each other so we knew who we were talking to 

without using any given names. We looked forward to short missions to 

France or Belgium and these were called "milk runs". The long missions 

with flak and enemy fighters were the ones we dreaded. I should mention 

that we had a certain amount of fear on these missions. It has been 

said that anyone who doesn't experience fear in combat is lying. It 

affected some more than others, however, and we were constantly being 

observed by our doctor for any signs of battle fatigue. The strain 

would begin to tell after you had flown a lot of missions.


When we began to lose friends, I guess one just developed an attitude 

that it wasn't going to happen to you. If you were shot down there was 

still a good chance of surviving if you bailed out safely. The only 

instruction we ever had about parachutes took about five minutes. "You 

put the chute on this way and this is what you pull", and that was 

about it. One time I visited a building on the base where they were 

packing parachutes and I learned how they folded them, but I would 

never have had the nerve to do my own. When talking to some of the 

bomber crews that were in prison camp with us, we learned-much about 

their experiences having to bail out. They did not wear their 

parachutes and had to put them on before Jumping. They told about some 

airmen who were wounded or unconscious and they would put parachutes on 

them and push them out. Even the unconscious ones turned up In prison 

camp so it seems a fact that oven the unconscious mind reacts, telling 

the body what to do. They must have pulled their own rip cords to open 

their chutes.


One of the missions most memorable to me was to a target in northern 

Germany where we were providing escort for bombers. When we got over 

Denmark the weather turned very bad and we couldn't avoid the overcast 

so were forced to fly on instruments. We never did find the bombers. If 

it had been clear weather we could have seen Norway and Sweden as we 

were close enough. The relay plane broadcast the message to return to 

England and by this time we were all separated and lost in the storm. I 

headed for home alone and decided to try to get under the clouds as I 

couldn't get above them. When I came down out of the clouds I was about 

twenty feet above the waves of the North Sea. The waves appeared to be 

about fifty feet high and I was flying Just above them. Suddenly a big 

bomber went across in front of me in the mist and clouds. I don't know 

if it was enemy or friendly but I couldn't have found it again anyway. 

I was having enough trouble just flying my own plane. I was tense, my 

heart was in my throat and really pounding I flew across water all the 

way to England so it didn't much matter that I wasn't crossing the 

Channel at the narrowest point (my usual effort). I gained altitude 

when I thought England was near, went back on instruments in the 

overcast and called the base for a heading. The base would give you a 

heading to fly for couple of minutes then change to another heading so 

they could pick you out of the other planes on the radar screen. They 

could then determine your position and give you a heading home. When 

you are headed properly you pick up a steady beep on your radio. You 

try to keep the beep increasing in loudness as it gets fainter if you 

are turning to either side. You could fly a straight line to the base 

and when you approached you would be given an altitude to fly in at. 

They even gave instructions as to when to let the wheals down. The 

radio truck was parked at the end of the runway and when I came down 

out of the overcast I was about ten feet above the truck lined up with 

the runway And able to make a perfect landing. I was tired and relieved 

to be on the ground. The guys on the radar truck did a great Job!


The rest of the squadron gradually returned until we were all down and 

each pilot could go through debriefing, where he told what had happened 

on the mission. We found out then that from the three squadrons from 

our field there were eight pilots missing. Our squadron lost no one on 

that mission. Usually when a pilot goes down he calls an his radio or 

there is a lot of chatter if they engage enemy fighters. This time 

there was only silence on the radio. With forty eight planes in our 

three squadrons, if someone went down they should have been seen by one 

of us. We suspected the missing pilots might have flown to Norway or 

Sweden ( neutral countries ) for some reason. Some of those missing 

were friends of mine, but not as close as the fellows in our own 

squadron. High Command in England thought the Germans might have come 

up with a new weapon as no flak or enemy fighters were seen. All 

flights from England were grounded for three days while an 

investigation took place. None of those pilots ever turned up in prison 

camps and I don't think anyone ever knew what really happened to them.

On another mission we escorted the bombers to Regansburg in southeast 

Germany, which was about as far as to Berlin, to bomb the ball bearing 

factories in that area. It was a tough mission because the flak was so 

heavy and the other defenses were greater because the factories were 

important. There were about 1500 planes from England and another 1100 

came up from Africa. Someone erred in the planning of this mission as 

we crossed at right angles at the same altitude and we had trouble 

keeping from flying into each other. I never saw so many planes in the 

air at one time and guess the Germans hadn't either as they didn't send 

up any fighters! it was reaching the point where we had more planes 

than they did and so they only came up when they had a chance of 

success. We observed something unusual on that mission. Some white 

smoky objects came up from the ground in a spiral track to about 15,000 

feet before they disappeared. They couldn't reach our altitude and 

seemed to move slowly. We reported them upon our return, but no one 

knew what they were. On other missions where the Germans didn't send up 

fighters, our fellows would be allowed to go down to ground level and 

shoot anything they could see.


On this raid our squadron went down and we dove shooting at some large 

boats on the Danube River. Every tenth bullet was a tracer that made a 

white trail in the sky allowing you to track them. It seemed strange to 

set your bullets going down and those from the ships coming up. I 

watched my bullets hitting the decks. We flew all the way back to 

England Just above the tree tops but never saw a train or airfield to 

shoot at. There were flak towers, but they were too dangerous and we 

all flew around them. They were concrete towers with many guns that 

could shoot in all directions. It did no good to shoot at them.


By now I had flown ten missions and was entitled to receive the Air 

Medal. At a ceremony at the base, we were presented with the medal by 

General Whelan. For each additional five missions we got an Oak Leaf 

cluster which we fastened to our theatre ribbon. I received two of 

these before being shot down.


On occasion we had the job of censoring outgoing mail from the enlisted 

personnel. No one liked doing this as it was a tedious Job. We had to 

read all their letters and cross out any military info that the enemy 

might pick up. Our mail was censored by the squadron commander then 

sealed and sent out. After reading letters for a couple of hours, I 

don't believe we bothered to cross out much.


Some of the English women living near the air base were selling chances 

on a fruit cake for a shilling a ticket. I had the winning ticket and 

when they delivered the fruit cake we could hardly believe it. It was 

in a washtub three feet across and over a foot high. We Put it on the 

table in our Ready Room where we spent our time relaxing. We had to cut 

it with one of our Jungle knives, a machete (another one of the Army's 

questionable issues: a Jungle kit for each of us in England). The 

bottom six inches of the fruit cake was solid fruit so you know it was 

rich. We cut off two sections for the other two squadrons and some for 

the enlisted men and still had enough to last a week. I don't know how 

they baked anything that big, but it tasted very good.


One other of our missions somewhere over Germany we lost several more 

of our pilots. We ran into a lot of German fighter planes and were soon 

scattered all over the sky. I was so busy trying to keep from being 

shot down that I didn't get an opportunity to shoot an enemy plane. 

When things calmed down I found myself alone so headed back to England. 

When I gained enough altitude I heard the relay plane calling a new 

compass heading as the wind had changed to about 50 mph from the north. 

I corrected to the new heading but there was no way of knowing if 

everyone had picked up the message. It was uncanny, the sense of 

direction I had. I believe I could have crossed at the narrowest part 

of the Channel even without a compass heading! It must have been a 

sense of direction I was born with because it made no difference what 

my location was over Germany, I knew exactly where England was all the 



As it turned out, I was the only one from our squadron of 16 planes 

that made it back to our airfield. Most of the others were low an gas 

by the time they got over land and were scattered all over England upon 

landing. One of our flights of four planes was unaware of the wind 

changes, were blown off course and were way south of England. They were 

still over land, luckily, when they ran out of gas and had to bail out. 

Al Johnson the big Swede was one of them and it was the only time in 

the year that he didn't owe me any money! They were along the coast of 

France and were captured by the Germans. He was not in our prison camp 

so I did not see him until we were in Atlantic City for discharge. He 

told me that all four had landed safely and that when he came down in 

his parachute, he went through an old barn roof and landed in a pile of 



At about this time we made another move to a field near Maidstone, a 

small town southeast of London. We were closer to the Channel here and 

the field was entirely different. Some one else flew my plane down here 

and I went by train with the rest of the group. It is interesting to 

note that we went through the village of Sittingbourne where my mother 

was born. The train didn't stop so I had no chance to visit there. Our 

living conditions at Maidstone were different: in a tent with a dirt 

floor in the middle of an apple orchard. There were four of us in each 

tent sleeping on army cots with a stove in the middle for heat. On warm 

days we could role up the sides of the tent for ventilation. Another 

tent was the mess hall and we ate sitting on the ground under the apple 

trees. We ate with our army mess kits and rinsed them out in a barrel 

of hot water.


This was much different from the beautiful place where Len Pierce was 

stationed. The runway at Maidstone was a grass field surrounded by 

trees. They put heavy wire mesh in the ground to keep us from sinking 

in when the field was muddy. It was a bumpy field to begin with! The 

field was not very long and you had to get down before running into the 

trees at the and of the runway. One time I came back from a mission and 

the wind was blowing across the runway. (Planes always landed into the 

wind and took off the same way) I was not lined up correctly with the 

runway and was drifting to the right. It was too late to pull up and go 

around again as I was down to landing speed. This decision had to be 

made quickly and I decided to land. When my wheels touched the ground I 

began to bounce to the right and by using brakes and all the other 

controls I kept from crashing, managing to stop Just before hitting the 

trees at the end of the runway. It was the worst landing I over made, 

but I was relieved not to have damaged my plane. I was very embarrassed 

when I got out in front of my crew.


By now some of us had flown enough missions that our papers were sent 

in for review for promotion to First Lieutenant. We only had one First 

Lieutenant in our squadron and it was about time we had some 

promotions. I didn't get notification that they had been approved until 

I was back home after the war. The year I was in prison camp they paid 

me the lower wage so after the war I wrote to Washington and received 

all the difference in pay that was due me. We were also looking forward 

to the end of our tour of duty at this time. After flying a total of 

twenty five missions you were supposed to be sent back to the States. 

We were getting closer all the time and then they changed the total to 

40 missions. You can imagine what this did to our morale. We gave up 

thoughts of going home and Just concentrated on surviving as many 

missions as we could.


We were about to get some new planes with the bubble canopy and were 

looking forward to that as they made it easier to see all around you 

without all the metal braces in the canopy. One day I was told my plane 

was coming that day and was looking forward to checking it out. We 

would take it up high over England to check the performance at high 

altitude, the guns and controls... just to get the feel of it. In the 

afternoon we had to escort some A-20 bombers to France on a bombing run 

and when I got back my new plane was gone. One of our new replacement 

pilots had been sent up to check it out and at 30,000 feet he said 

something felt wrong and he bailed out. My new plane crashed somewhere 

in England and I never even got to see it! He was just a young kid and 

I never did believe that anything was really wrong with the plane. I 

was angry with him for a long time as I never did get one of the new 

planes and flew all the remaining missions with the old one.


Another time when our flight was returning on instruments as the 

overcast was so thick, we came down to 1000 feet and broke out to find 

ourselves over London with the barrage balloons all around us. They 

were balloons that had a steel cable hanging down from them to prevent 

enemy planes from flying low over the city. We pulled up fast and were 

lucky to get out of there in a hurry without being hit by one of them.


One other mission when I was coming back alone I got over an area where 

the flak was heavy--bursting all around me so that the sky was 

blackened with shells. I realized than that I was directly over the 

Ruhr Valley which was the industrial center of Germany. It was heavily 

defended and normally all missions were routed around this area. I flew 

all the way across the area and had to use a lot of evasive action, 

including changing of altitude When flak bursts in the air it makes a 

black puff or cloud-and there were thousands of them shot up at me. It 

did make me feel good to think of all the shells they wasted and what 

it cost just to shoot at me!


When you are starting the plane there is a knob that you push out and 

pull in called the primer pump and it gives extra gas to the engine for 

starting. On one mission Paul Maxwell was in our flight and his engine 

quit on the way back. He found that the only way he could keep it 

running well enough to stay in the air was to work the primer pump. We 

all slowed down enough to stay with him and prayed that he could make 

It across the Channel. On the east coast of England at the point 

closest to Europe there was a landing strip on top of the white cliffs. 

It was called the Masden emergency field and all the planes that were 

damaged or having problems would head for there. A lot of the bombers 

would land there if they couldn't make it back to base. The runway was 

wide and straight in from the Channel so they didn't have to make any 

turns. Paul Maxwell landed there and his fingers were covered with 

blood from his having to work, the primer pump constantly.


During the last couple of weeks that I was in England we began to hear 

the V-2 rockets that the Germans began to use. Most of them were 

directed at London but we could hear the sound they made as they went 

over us. The gun emplacements that fired them were all along the coast 

of Europe and it wasn't long before they were sending them over at 

night. It was interesting to fly over England at this time as 

everything was being readied for the eventual invasion. Every field in 

southern England was covered with big pile of boxes and equipment. I 

didn't realize until after the war the tremendous amount of supplies, 

food, gas, ammunition and hundreds of other things that were needed to 

supply an invasion of that magnitude. No wonder there were shortages 

back in the U.S.! So much of this was to be lost in the Channel when 

ships were sunk on invasion day.


One night Bruce and I were hungry so we decided to break into the 

supply tent and find something to eat. We got up the side of the tent 

and reached under the roof where we found a gallon can, of fruit 

cocktail. Wt ran back to the tent where we began to eat it. We were 

soon full, but had no where to hide the remainder so were forced to eat 

the rest. It is no easy task to eat that much fruit cocktail and we 

decided not to try that again. At the other bases there was no form of 

entertainment and we had to go to the nearest city for alcohol and 

movies. Finally at this base they put up two metal nissan huts: one a 

bar, the other a theatre. I didn't use either one for very long due to 

the following events.


On May 10, 1944 they opened the bar at 6 pm and Bruce and I ordered a 

glass of Scotch and a beer each. After a couple of them we were feeling 

good and decided to go to the movies in the other hut. Bruce and I got 

to laughing so hard at the comedy that they threw us out of the hut. We 

realized then that the movie hadn't started yet! We staggered back to 

the tent and in the darkness Bruce tripped over something and fell 

against the hot stove receiving a burn to the side of his hand. I will 

mention here the value of the "Purple Heart" medal because Bruce 

received one later for getting drunk and falling on a hot stove and I 

received nothing for being burned when I bailed out.


The next day, May 11, 1944, we were not scheduled for a mission...a 

good thing because Bruce and I were in poor shape. Some of the other 

pilots had been shipping their foot lockers home with all their extra 

belongings. They would go to Fort Levenworth, Kansas and be kept there 

until our return. I filled mine up with a complete sheepskin leather 

flying suit including the boots, a pair of English flying goggles which 

were very different from ours, a pair of warm English silk flying 

gloves that came up nearly to the elbow my Jungle kit with the machete 

knife, all my extra clothing and the undeveloped rolls of film I had 

taken in England were also included. I had so many good items in there 

and was looking forward to having them after the war. About 4 pm we 

carted them off to the base Post Office to fill out the papers and pay 

for the shipping.

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