Volume Four. World War II Stories from Online Readers
Subject: WW II Memories
MEMOIRS OF WORLD WAR II
I enlisted in the Navy on August 26, 1942 in response to repeated advertisements pointing out the need for Electronic Technicians to maintain RADAR equipment. Radar of course was very new and the Navy used to advertise in the Sunday papers (in the comic section no less) with strips showing the adventures of Radar Technicians and advising young men of the advantages of joining the Navy.
I had all of the qualifications - I had four years of high school math, good grades, training in radio and electronics - and I really liked the idea of the intensive (9 months) school that the Navy offered. I went to the Recruiting Office and they were so anxious to get me that they offered to sign me up as a Radioman Third Class. I was flattered, but since I was simply unable to learn Morse code, I refused that. I could see myself going someplace and being told to sit down and perform like a Radioman, and I said I would rather not. In any case they promised that I would go straight to Radar/Radio Tech School so I signed up.
When I got to Great Lakes (Boot Camp), they gave us a series of aptitude and intelligence tests. I was rated Honor Man of my company and told that I could go to any tech school that I wanted. Naturally, I told them I wanted to go to Radar/Radio Tech School, but they said that the needed Radio Operators more... I had made the lowest score in the company on the code aptitude test, but I guess they thought I was faking it. So, off to Radio School at the University of Miami, in Oxford, Ohio.
I nearly lost my mind trying to learn Morse code. I finally managed to achieve a level that qualified me for aircraft operations. The best went to the big ships (the battleships, etc., where they would actually function as radiomen), the next best went to the Air arm, where radio operation was useful but not often necessary, and the rest went to the Amphibians where they used voice radio exclusively!
After Radio School, we went to Aviation Radio School where we learned a little bit about various pieces of aviation radio equipment, then to Gunnery School in Florida. Now that was worth waiting for. We got to shoot skeet, including shooting from moving platform on a little hand car type of vehicle
on a railroad track - and most of us got pretty good at hitting moving targets from a moving platform.
I ended up in San Diego (North Island Naval Air Station) in 1943, and was assigned to Photographic Squadron Four (VD-4) which used B-24 Liberator bombers to map the islands before the Marines landed. I chose to man the belly turret because it had a Sperry computing sight and I didn't have to
worry about how much to lead a target. Actually using the computing sight was quite difficult. It was necessary to set a dial to the wing span of the fighter ( the Japanese Zero was 35 feet I think) and then using a range finder (driven by a pedal under my right heel) set the bars of the sight on the wing tips and keep everything lined up while the fighter attacked. Sort of like rubbing your belly and scratching your head at the same time... On top of that, because the sight was connected to the turret so that it could
detect motion and correct accordingly, whenever you moved the turret, the sight moved - so it wasn't a simple matter of putting the sight on the target, you had to coordinate the movements and adjust everything in real time while trying to keep the range correct... Quite an operation, at least for me.
We had a B-25 attached to our squadron for a while in California. The B-25 has got to be the NOISIEST aircraft ever manufactured. They didn't callt hose Wright engines Whirlwinds for nothing. Anyway, when I first started flying (I had never been up in an airplane before) and I used to get sick just thinking about flying. One Sunday morning I was tapped to fly with a couple of ensigns checking out on the B-25 and it was a disaster. They did all of the things that could make it bad (not deliberately) - they did
stalls, landings and take offs, and I was sick as a dog throughout. We came in just before lunch and they said, "We're going to get some lunch and will be back a little later for another flight this afternoon." I spent the next hour or so trying to find some one to take my place with no luck. I will never forget after I crawled up into that plane, thinking- "Well, I guess it won't kill me." I was simply too proud to say I couldn't do it. The enlisted man always manned the fire extinguisher for starting the engines and then crawled up in the aft section through a hatch in the belly. I had just crawled up in the plane, when someone banged on the side of the plane and I looked out to see a friend (Ken Parrish) who had come to take my place. He said later that I looked like I was going to my execution when I crawled up into that plane. I know I felt that way. I will always be indebted to Ken for sparing me from that flight.
We left San Diego for Hawaii, Barbers Point NAS, late in 1943 and then spent six months at Barbers Point. It gave us a lot of time to practice gunnery which paid off later. We made a trip to Apemama to meet with people from VD-3 whom we were replacing, and a trip to the Christmas Islands, but
otherwise our time in Hawaii was pretty much routine. In April of 1944, we went to Eniwetok and relieved VD-3. I made my first combat mission on 29 May, 1944 to Saipan and of course will never forget it.
I remember watching a black Zero take off as we approached the island, and he caught up with us at 20,000 feet and made an attack from below. We had been told, insistently, to conserve ammunition and fire short bursts, so when the Zero came up on us I fired probably ten rounds and then was fascinated by the Army B-24 on our wing, whose belly turret gunner was firing away like there was no tomorrow. I thought he must have a problem - but in truth he had the right idea. The Zero only made one pass - I don't know whether we hit him or not. I saw a huge black cloud of smoke come out from him and yelled "We
got the S.. O. B...." but later I thought that probably it was smoke from his guns. In any case, he turned away and dove back toward the island. Maybe one of us did score a hit. He came in very close I know that. I probably should have scored hits if I had expended ammunition the way the Army gunner did.
The anti-aircraft fire was much more worrisome to me that fighter attacks. Might be foolish on my part, but I hated the AA fire because I couldn't do anything about it. When a fighter attacked, at least I could try to defend myself. My knees used to shake so bad I had to brace my legs against the side of the turret to keep myself from shaking to pieces. I don't think it was fear so much as excitement.
We made two or three trips to Truk, Nauru (where the AA was really fierce), Iwo Jima (where we got credit for destroying a Japanese fighter) and many other islands. We moved our base from Eniwetok to Guam and left Guam on Thanksgiving Day 1944. We were given a choice of staying for thanksgiving
dinner or starting home and you only get one guess which we chose.
We lost an engine on the trip to Kwajalein so spent a week on Kwajalein where we changed out the engine. We could have waited for the people on Kwajalein to do the work but it would have taken them another week so we did it ourselves. Arrived in San Diego on December 7, 1944 and promptly left for
home on 30 days leave.
We enjoyed Christmas at home and reported back for refresher training in January 1945. I had proceeded to San Diego again and was preparing to go back overseas when President Truman made the decision to use the A-bomb. You only get one guess on my position on that. Pardon me for being a bit
maudlin, but frankly, I had little confidence in my surviving another tour of duty so naturally I was happy.
I was discharged on January 1, 1946 - after a short trip to Kaneohe NAS in Hawaii and a trip back to the US on the USS Ganymede. We had almost nothing to eat for nine days during that trip. But that's another story...
God Bless America!
Subject: New War Stories
From: Kenneth Smith email@example.com
Please consider puting this on your page. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
TODAY IS JANUARY 4, 1994 (RESEARCHED EXACTLY 49 YEARS, ELEVEN M [THE ABOVE DESCRIPTION OF A FIGHTER PILOT WAS EXTRACTED FROM THE BOOK LITTLE FRIENDS BY KAPLAN SAUNDERS, RANDOM HOUSE, NEW YORK] ON THiS SINCE MY FATHER'S DEATH ON SUNDAY MORNING-FEBRUARY 4, 1945)
I HAVE A BOOK THAT WAS GIVEN TO ME THAT VALIDATES THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING MY FATHER'S LAST DAYS.THE BOOK IS CALLED "THE 56TH FIGHTER GROUP IN WORLD WAR II." THIS BOOK WAS PUBLISHED BY THE WASHINGTON INFANTRY JOURNAL PRESS 1948.IN THIS BOOK IS DESCRIBED THE HISTORY OF EVENTS OF THE AIR WAR IN EUROPE AS EXPERIENCED BY THE 56TH FIGHTER GROUP OF THE 8TH AIR FORCE. THE FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF EVENTS THAT I THOUGHT WERE SIGNIFICANT TO THE EVENT OF MY FATHER'S DEATH:
JANUARY 3. 1ST P-47-M AT BOXTED AIR BASE(56TH'S BASE) JANUARY 14 1ST P-47-M ON A MISSION(P-47-M NOT FLOWN BY ANY MEMBER OF MY DAD'S SQUADRON,THE 62ND)
*NOTE-THIS WAS ALSO THE DAY MY FATHER SCORED HIS FIRST AERIAL VICTORY BY SHOOTING DOWN A GERMAN Me 109 FIGHTER AIRCRAFT. 161 GERMAN AIRCRAFT WERE DESTROYED ON THIS MISSION IN A HUGE FIGHTER SWEEP. RAMROD MISSION (ESCORT)TO MAGDEBURG.
*EIGHT DAYS LATER(JANUARY 22)MY FATHER IS HOSPITALIZED FOR SEVERE STOMACH CRAMPS ,IRRITATED BY DIVING FROM 30,000 FEET TO THE "DECK"AND TAKING UP TO 6 g'S WHILE CHANGING ALTTITUDE.
JANUARY 17 1ST P-47-M ASSIGNED TO THE 61ST SQUADRON *NOTE-IN THE EVENING OF JANUARY 26, MY FATHER WAS RELEASED FROM THE HOSPITAL AND READY TO FLY.
JANUARY 27 DAVE SHILLING TRANSFERS TO THE 65TH WING *NOTE-DAD WRITES OF THE TWO PICTURES TAKEN BY THE FIREPLACE, POSSIBLY ON THE OCCASION OF DAVE SHILLING'S DEPARTURE AS COMMANDING OFFICER OF THE 62ND SQUADRON.
*NOTE-DAD FLEW MISSION RAMROD TO BIELEFELD ON THE 29TH OF JANUARY. STRAFING. *NOTE-ON FEBRUARY 2, DAD WRITES OF GETTING HIS OWN NEW PLANE IN A COUPLE OF DAYS AND HE WILL BE ALLOWED TO TAKE SHILLINGS LETTER S FOR HIS OWN NEW PLANE. HIS OLD PLANE WAS S.(S, BAR) HE SAYS THAT HE WILL BE OFF COMBAT FOR ABOUT A WEEK TO GET IT PAINTED, SLOW TIMED AND POWER CHECKED.
FEBRUARY 3 P-47-Ms ARE ASSIGNED TO THE 62ND SQUADRON. (DAD WRITES OF THE POSSIBILITY OF FLYING HIS NEXT MISSION ON THE 4TH OF FEBRUARY, HOWEVER, HE DOESN'T THINK SO BECAUSE OF IMPENDING BAD WEATHER)
FEBRUARY 4 K. SMITH KILLED IN TRAINING *NOTE-IT IS MY BELIEF THAT DAD WAS THE FIRST OF SEVERAL PILOTS TO DIE AT THE HANDS OF THE ILL FATED P-47-M. THIS WAS THE FIRST MISSION THAT THE 62ND SQUADRON HAD USED THE P-47-M AND IT WAS ALSO THE FIRST TIME A PILOT FROM THE 56TH WAS KILLED IN A P-47-M.
FEBRUARY 17 P-47-Ms ASSIGNED TO THE 63RD SQUADRON FEBRUARY 18 B.FISHER KILLED IN TRAINING, 61ST SQUADRON
MARCH 11 F.AHERM, 62ND SQUADRON KILLED IN TRAINING MARCH 13 L.HINES(61ST) TUTTLE(61ST) KILLED IN TRAINING ALL P-47-Ms WERE FINALLY GROUNDED AND ENTIRE NEW ENGINES PUT INTO NO LESS THAN 75 P-47-M's. BY THE END OF MARCH THE CHANGES WERE COMPLETED AND THE 56TH FIGHTER GROUP WAS BACK TO STRENGTH FOR THE FINAL ASSAULT ON EUROPE. THE 56TH WAS AGAIN "READY AND WAITING" TO DO THE JOB AT HAND.
Kenneth L. Smith
1061 Bristol Drive
Vandalia, Ohio 45377
From: Adam Andersson email@example.com
This story is about my grand dad, when he served in the german army in 1945.
My grand dad was 16 years od when he was forced to join the german army as an anti-aircraft gunner. He came there with a lot of other 16 year olds and some 12 yearold Hitlerjugend (hitler youth) soldiers. Their commander was an old injured (one arm was off!) veteran from the eastern front. Anyway...the old commander knew the war was lost so he told the boys that when the P-38 Lightnings came.....run for the shelters! But some of the more fanatic boys still jumped on those guns and shot at the planes. When Germany surrenderd my grandfather left the army (of course) and soon therafter moved to Sweden with my grandmother and her I am!
Hope this was interesting....Adam.
Subject: Medal of Honor
From: mc killop jem3@DONUTS0.BELLCORE.COM
The following is from the US Air Force News Service.
960975. Air Force honors its Medal of Honor recipients
by Master Sergeant David P. Masko
Air Force News Service Features
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- If you hadn't already known the Air Force's 58 Medal of Honor recipients, you certainly did after listening to Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald R. Fogleman dedicate a monument to these heroes at Lackland's parade grounds Sept. 24. Fogleman said that remembering those who have received the Medal of Honor is important to the Air Force because it focuses on "the idea of service before self ... The Medal of Honor is for valor against an enemy, above and beyond the call of duty." The Chief of Staff went on to give examples of Air Force people who have always been the epitome of what anyone could call a warrior.
On hand to help dedicate the large granite monument -- it lists all 58 Air Force Medal of Honor recipients dating back to World War I -- was one who served during World War II and four who earned the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
At the ceremony, retired Colonel William R. Lawley Jr., beamed with pride as he peered at a classic B-17 "Flying Fortress" on display near the monument. Lawley received his Medal of Honor for a B-17 mission he flew as a first lieutenant on February 20, 1944.
During this mission, his B-17 was attacked coming off its target and forced from formation by 20 German fighters. The crippled aircraft was severely damaged and eight of his crew were wounded. His co-pilot was killed. Lawley was also seriously and painfully wounded, and had to force the body of his co-pilot from the controls to bring the bomber out of a steep dive.
With blood covering the instruments and windshield -- making visibility impossible -- he flew with his left hand only and regained control of the aircraft. He ordered his crew to bail out but was soon informed that two of his crewmembers were so badly wounded that it would be impossible for them to bail out. Lawley then elected to stay with his aircraft to bring his crew back to safety, if it was humanly possible.
Enemy fighters again attacked, but Lawley masterfully evaded and managed to lose them. Refusing first aid he stayed at the controls until he collapsed from loss of blood and shock. Revived by the bombardier, he again took control of the aircraft. With control surfaces shot away, numerous engine fires, an engine feathered, and one engine on fire during his approach he successfully crash landed at a small fighter base in England.
Lawley's remarkable story was read during the ceremony, and was followed by the heroic deeds of the Vietnam era Medal of Honor recipients: Colonels Bernard Fisher, James P. Fleming, Joe M. Jackson and Leo K. Thorsness.
"I was involved in the genesis of this monument when my wife and I asked 'why can't we remember Medal of Honor recipients who are still living?' The idea went to General Fogleman, and today we are all pleased about this dedication and its being part of the Air Force's 50th anniversary celebration," Thorsness said. "I remember being in basic training here at Lackland on Jan. 6, 1951. Back then we were issued the blue uniform with brown shoes ... but we had to dye our brown shoes black," Thorsness said, who went on to pilot an F-105 fighter during Vietnam, earning his Medal of Honor in a dogfight with four MIG-17s while helping in a search and rescue mission.
Fogleman said he's very proud of the five heroes who returned to Lackland for the monument dedication. "They've earned the highest medal that out nation presents, but it's a burden because you carry the weight and gravity of a nation."
The monument represents airmen who paid the supreme sacrifice in America's defense, Fogleman said. The names of the Air Force's heroes will be a lasting reminder to all Air Force people, and especially to basic trainees, of the kind of sacrifice it takes to be "the world's greatest air and space force."
After highlighting the distinguished careers of the five Medal of Honor recipients, and airmen who earned the medal during World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Fogleman led a wreath-laying ceremony at the base of the monument to represent the Air Force's past, present and future.
The Air Force's past was represented by the Medal of Honor recipients; the present, by Fogleman and General Billy Boles, Air Education and Training Command commander; and the future by two graduating basic trainees.
The ceremony closed with a perfectly-timed missing man formation flown by T-38 aircraft of the 12th Flying Training Wing, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps.
"Our memorial is a fitting tribute to those who, in many cases, sacrificed their lives for America's freedom. It's our honor and distinction to be one of the first bases to salute the Air Force's anniversary," said Brigadier General Robert J. Courter, Jr., Lackland's 37th Training Wing commander.
In addition, Lackland recently dedicated one of its logistics complex buildings to World War II Medal of Honor recipient Colonel John Riley Kane. Kane led the B-24 Liberator bombers of the 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and four other groups in a massive low-level raid on the strategic Ploesti oil refineries in Romania in August 1943.
Lackland also dedicated its logistics training center in memory of Medal of Honor recipient Major Thomas B. McGuire Jr., and plans to dedicate the 737th Training Group headquarters in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Airman Ist Class John Levitow on November 8.
Fogleman said the Medal of Honor monument dedication is part of the Air Force's 50th Anniversary, celebrating "those who made an independent Air Force possible." The 15-month celebration of the Air Force's 50th Anniversary begins this month and continues through December 1997.
The Air Force Medal of Honor monument is located at Lackland's parade grounds near a B-17 dedicated to General Ira C. Eaker, one of the Air Force's pioneers and chief of staff in Europe during World War II. Eaker flew B-17's in the European and Mediterranean theaters.
Subject: The Story of an unknown friend of my Grandfather
From: Sean Cahill firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, my father and I attended a WWII reunion for members of the 134th Infantry Division. We did this hoping to find possible army buddies of my granfather who also served in the 134th, part of the Medical Detachment of that unit. At the table that we were placed, were various veterans that we did not know. The men at the table asked us what we had intended to discover by being there. We told them that we wanted to know what is was really like in battle, because it may give us some insite as to what my grandfather would have gone through. Though none of the men spoke up immediately, one eventually did. Here is his story as he explained it to us.
He was patrolling through various fields with his company in Europe. They were walking through the fields that were often times separated by the large thick hedgerows. He came to a hedgerow, and not knowing what was on the other side, started climbing it slowly to make sure that the enemy wasn't waiting for them on the other side. Just as he had reached the top, he felt a tremedous concussion that smashed him back to the ground at the base of the hedgerow. He, and his company, had been hit by a barrage of artillery rounds. He was in especially bad shape. (it gets graphic from this point on). His right leg had been instantaneously cut off 8 inches below the knee. Shrapnel had sliced a gash in the same leg at the thigh area. This gash was deep enough where it had severed the main artery in his leg. Needless to say, blood was spurting out at the same rate as his heartbeat. Shrapnel had also managed to slice open his gut, spilling his inards onto the ground. All hell was breaking loose around him. No one had realized what had happened, as the barrage continued. He knew that if he didn't take care of himself, he would die quickly. He pinched off the artery with his fingers and held the vein tight. He then pulled his own guts back into his body cavity. Fading in and out of conciousness, and becoming extremely thirsty he yelled for help. Help never came as the confusion raged around him. He lied on the battlefield for almost 2 hours until the medics had finally gotten to him. They rushed him to a field hospital where his life was saved. My father and I must have looked stunned, because we were.
hope you liked this one!
Subject: WWII England Diary Entry
From: Darrell E. Reed (8th Air Force, 445 Group, 700 Sqd)
Tibenham, East Anglia, UK
B-24 Radio Operator
as relayed by Shannon Reed email@example.com (son)
Here's an entry from my diary detailing a low level supply mission where a reporter from the Associated Press saved my life as I was about to fall out the Bombay door.
March 23, 1949 Our Sixteenth Mission
We were called to operations at 1230 for a briefing. On the way we noticed supplies being unloaded on the hard stands around the planes with parachutes. We were told that we would be flying a low level supply mission to drop supplies to our ground troops as they crossed the Rhine River. We spent most of the day at the plane (Q QUEENY) taking out all extra weight
and loading supplies in the plane. There was ammo, mortars, food, medical supplies, gasoline, telephone wire, you name it. Large heavy bags were hung on the shackles in the bomb bay. We did not use the ball turret, so netting was stretched over the opening and across the rear escape hatch. On these nets were loaded the smaller supplies. Our pilot, Lt. Tom Shafer, said some
of the pilots complained tha the center of gravity was calculated to be some distance aft of the bomb bay and as such was an unflyable condition. One of the Squad commanders took one of the fully loaded planes off the field and landed it safely. Lt. Shafer told the crew that he and the other officers were called to Sqdn. Hdw. Where Major Johnny Burke said,
"We are asking for volunteers for an extremely dangerous mission. Heavy casualties are expected, and it is absolutely vital that the mission be successful ."Prior to this, all of our missions were at 20,000 feet or over. This was something that had never been done before as this mission would be flown below 3,500 feet. We would not need our oxygen masks or heated suits and high altitude equipment.
March 24 and 25
We had another briefing at 0830. Heard much the same as yesterday. Drop area would be Wessel, Germany..on the Rhine River. As we waited on the field for time to take off, we watched as the skies over England were full of transport planes with paratroopers and other planes pulling gliders. Finally it was our time to take off at 0930. We flew over the White Cliffs of Dover and crossed the channel at 3,500 feet and began to slowly let down.
By the time we were near the target area we were down to 150 feet! All the way in we saw the devastation that had been inflicted on livestock and humanity. Dead animals, towns on fire, and destruction everywhere. Army engineers had built a pontoon bridge across the Rhine River over which men and equipment were crossing. As we came to the clearing where we were to drop, the pilot slowed the plane to almost a stall. At the alarm bell we were to cut the nets and drop the supplies out of the ball turret opening and the rear escape hatch. My position was between the rear bomb bay and the ball turret opening. As we cut the chords, I lost my balance and almost fell out. There was an Associated Press reporter flying with us that day. He saw what was happening, grabbed my chute harness, and pulled me back and saved my life. An airman was seen falling out of another plane. His body bounced up to almost our altitude! After the drop, the pilot dropped to 50 feet to avoid the ground fire. One of the plans on our right was hit and went in. We were so low we couldn't bank on the turn for fear of catching a wing. Lt. Shafer had to make a rudder turn and slide around the corner.
Col. Fleming, deputy group C.O. was flying ahead of us. His plane was either hit by ground fire or caught a wing and hit the ground. There was a ball of fire and wreckage scattered for half a mile. Col. Fleming had finished his tour of duty and was to leave for home. He stayed over just to fly this mission. (I flew as Col. Fleming's radio operator about two weeks before this mission as he went up to observe the groups forming over England before they left for Germany.) By this time we were at full throttle attempting to gain altitude and fly back over friendly ground. At one time we flew over a forest that was on fire. Flames were just beneath us. The ship was full of smoke. We had to dodge church steeples, factory smoke stacks, and tall trees. My crew completed 22 missions before the war ended.
Subject: Re: Life after WWII
From: "Perry C. Stewart" PerryS7342@AOL.COM
Regarding Brook's question and understanding Joe's "OK", I'll offer the
As a "kid" growing up in a small town in Utah during WWII, life changed for us dramatically particularly after VJ day. The neigborhood "Kids War Club" was rather unhappy the war had ended, even though many of us had (or know those) who lost family members, the daily "excitement" of war news ("Japs Launch Fire Balloons over Pacific Northwest") was gone. The only "benefit" we could see immediately was that the availability of war-surplus equipment grew at a record pace. Instead of the moth-eaten, torn, always available,gas mask bags, we now had helmets, helmet liners, shelter halfs, entrenching tools, training bomb sights, etc nearly for the asking (or begging of parents).
The strangest immediate change, however, was in those of draft age "who had been left behind". My uncle was in high school early in the war and had been classified "4F" because of asthma and watched many of his classmates "march off to war". During the war, he had everything an adolescent boy could dream of; the girls and women of the county (married with husbands in the service, widows, whatever age, etc) were at his "beck and call". His closets at home were filled with gifts including hard to get items such as sweaters and radios.
My grandmother recounted to me how they would drive to the end of the paved road at the lane of her farm and give a prearranged "honk" on the car horn for him. She'd note with distaste, some were wives of the leading citizens of town. He despised high schools girls of his own age as "immature and unknowledgable". As a youngster, I didn't have the fogiest idea what that all meant. Girls, (including my sister) were suitable only for playing non-combat service roles (such as pack mules) in the Kids War Club.
When "the boys came home", all that changed overnight. He was just a "pimply faced" reject and semi-recluse (at least socially). Several times, I would go down to the town's grain elevator where some of his classmates worked hoping to catch a "war story" or two. They rarely mentioned the war, and when they did, it was about people and places, not the "combat variety" we saw weekly at the movie theatre. (It was rather bizarre to recall in later years, that a 20-year old B-24 pilot who won a Silver Star mentioned he didn't even know how to drive a car and had no license!)
When talk did drift into rather "gloomy" war experience discussions (often short and not discussed with the usual youthful exhuberance or flair),my uncle would immediately say "we had to go load grain" or some other excuse to depart.
While other young men opened gas stations, returned to college on the GI Bill, raised families, he returned to the farm, and lived out his life as a (presumably) lonely bachelor. He was clearly an "outsider" in our small community and did not share in the joyful rebuilding and refocus of the country after the war.
Subject: Re: Life after WWII
From: Robert McFaul robert@DGI.COM
Two friends of mine served during WWII. He as a medical doctor who served as a flight medical doctor for the 8th AF in England. His wife was a young housewife who got a job riveting metal for airplanes I believe. When the war ended she spoke of immense relief and gratitude at seeing her husband again. Unfortunately, she was laid off by the return of all the men. She wasn't necessarily happy about that. This apparently happened to a lot of women who valued their jobs and the independence and esteem it gave them. Lot's of women were fired to make way for the men to return.
I'll be seeing them again in the next week and will ask this question to see if they can add anything. I think this is a very interesting question.
I recall a TV movie made perhaps in the last 10 years that featured Paul Tibbetts' return to his home town and what that was like for him. It might make an interesting look at the times. It was more than 'hero returns' story.
In Germany, my father was still in the US Army and lived in Heidelberg in 1946. The town was itself undamaged but Mannheim to the north was devastated. I seem to recall that the atmosphere was relief the war was over and 'how are we going to survive' on the part of the Germans. The black market was the only place to get precious items like cigarettes. We still have many items (rugs, camera, piano, etc.) in the family that he exchanged for rations (cigarettes and booze). There are some other movies 'Zentropa' that offer glimpses into what Germany was like after the war. I cannot vouch for how good they are. Zentropa was certainly an interesting story.
DYNAMIC GRAPHICS, INC Robert S. McFaul
1015 Atlantic Avenue Technical Support Specialist
Alameda, CA 94501-1154 firstname.lastname@example.org
fax: 510-522-5670 "EarthVision: because Nature loves to hide..."
"Opinions are based on faith: Judgements on Facts"
"Keep the Faith; Keep looking for the Facts"
Subject: New War Story
From: Steve Fenton email@example.com
The following story was written by my father, I hope it can draw memories from others who underwent similar circumstances.
(During the March from Stalag Luft III, Sagan, German-occupied Poland, to Stalag VIIA, Moosburg, Germany)
by Robert M. Fenton
2nd Lt., 96th Bomb Group, 339th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force
August 31, 1983
Halt!" "Ich will schiessen!"
I heard a rustle behind me. In a glance, I saw a rifle aimed at me, not twenty paces away. I continued shuffling down the narrow deserted street, not daring to look again. A sudden movement might startle him. "Halt!" I pretended not to hear the second warning. He hesitated. In the hazy darkness did my beret and World War I french greatcoat confuse him? Could he be sure I was not a countryman? "Would he shoot an unarmed citizen?"
A thousand thoughts flashed through my mind. I traced the events from leaving my home in Kansas City to enlist in the Air Force to the present terrifying moment. The day of air to air combat during which I was shot down, the bailout by parachute from the B-17, and the long months as a prisoner of war all seemed to run together as one bad dream. And now, what foolish urge had led me to leave the safety of my fellows; only a whim and a yearning to be free. For the moment I could only hope and wait.
If the German soldier was confused, so was I. Here, fifty kilometers from the haven of Stalag Luft III that I had known for eighteen months, I was cold, hungry, alone - and about to be shot. I felt miserable.
Two days before, under the protection of our Camp Commander, General Vanamann USAF, things were quite different. BBC, via our clandestine radio, informed us the Russians had crossed the Oder River, just 150 kilometers to the east of our POW camp near Sagan in Lower Silesia deep in the heart of East Germany. We feared the Russians more than the Germans. The German Wehrmacht was still acting under the precepts of The Geneva Convention; the Russian Army was preceded by hoards of outlaws who robbed, raped, killed and burned everything in a ruthless manner.
We had planned for our day of release since our arrival in prison camp. We saved clothing and mended it until we mended the mends, especially in our socks; shoes were always in short supply. In our Care packages from home we requested clothing, and shoes. Mother could never understand, "Why they' didn't provide me with shoes." Valuables, especially watches, never arrived.
We made rucksacks, (backpacks), to carry our belongings. The process of refining our escape kit was continuous. We had to eat some things that might spoil, and there was a limit to what one man could carry, although some didn't find that out until they were on the march.
Our "Deutsche Affair" began for most of us with a jump from a high flying aircraft. Some of us had been behind barbed wire for years and some came just last week. We all had a common feeling about prison life. We wanted out.
At five in the morning on January 20, 1945 our march out began. Rousted out of bed,in the middle of the night in a freezing snowstorm,we knew the moment had arrived. The Germans had set fire to the Auslager buildings. In the light of the flames we formed ranks. Everyone was packed, dressed and ready to be off. But to what?
Appell was taken quickly. Our guards knew our faces by heart. The count was correct, and we trudged away, through a foot of newly fallen snow.We bent into the step and pulled our caps down over our ears. We were learning about German winters.
The fires became more brilliant behind us as the Germans torched everything. Ahead, the sky was lighter; the sun was rising on a new day. Soon the word passed that the camp was empty. Our compound of 2000 men and nearly 8000 from all the other compounds were on the march. We knew we were only one of many such camps.
Later in the day, the snow stopped, and as we marched on, there was less of it underfoot. A pale winter sky silhouetted our column. Men walked four abreast, and filled the road even beyond the crest of the distant barren hills. The sight in another context would be stirring; for us it was humiliating. Yet, we were alive while many of our friends were dead or in the limbo of "missing."
Our first bivouac, in the town of Forst was merciful. Our guards,suffering as we were from the cold and wetness, were now a part of us.They found a brick factory. What a haven! There was a brisk fire in the kiln below. On the floors above we cleared the bricks o~f the drying racks. After a long day of being wet and chilled, we had a warm dry place to lie down. What a way to dry your clothes! We slept in tropical warmth.
Next morning, the sun was warm. The road wet from melting snow. After a good night's rest and dry clothes, our spirits had improved. Marching was better this day. There were fewer frozen feet, but more blisters; and there was a wagon behind to pick up stragglers. We walked with a spring in our step; we felt fit. Our daily camp exercises had begun to pay off. Although nightfall was accompanied by the return of cloudy weather and cold, most of us felt we could walk to the Allied Front.
On the outskirts of Cottbus, the advance party had outdone themselves again. They had commandeered a huge barn. It was the biggest I'd ever seen. Larger than any I'd seen in Kansas. It was three stories high and big as half a football field. There was no livestock inside. Clean straw covered the ground. Hay was in the 2nd and 3rd level lofts. We got out our limited rations and prepared to spend another warm dry night. No fires were allowed.
Later that night my adventuresome spirit beckoned me to leave. (I was really looking for hot cooked food which I did find later, but thatis another story.)
I slipped around the back and got past our guards. The air was brisk, but not as cold as our first day. The clouds hung low; there was no moon. I walked toward town. The streets were deserted and dimly lit by an occasional street light. While carefully easing down one particularly slippery, cobblestone lane I suddenly heard the chilling, guttural cry,
"Halt, Ich will schiessen!"
My heart pounded. And again, louder than before, the harsh voice cried out, "Halten Sie"!
Before the third summons to halt was uttered, and before I heard the click of the safety, I quietly turned a corner and slipped off in the darkness. No running, no noise, no reply. I was not brave. At the time I did not even consider it a calculated risk. The guards had been at our compound in Stalag Luft III, most of them we'd known for a long time. Consider the consequences if the guard shot an unarmed prisoner. Also,the war had been going badly for them, they wanted our friendship.
I was still hungry. The cold and dampness seemed more real. I came out of the shadows and followed the lighted streets of this very small country town. After a short time I saw people going in and out of a lighted house. In the road ahead, a german soldier, rifle held across his chest, stood in front of a low wooden barricade. "Wer geht da?", he asked. "Eine Deutche", I replied. He looked me over, asked where I was going, and when I said, "Zum essen", he let me pass. When I thanked him with my best "Danke", he grunted an acknowledgement. I had passed my language and pronunciation exam, with the use of german idioms and a cultivated german accent. I continued my unhurried gait toward the lighted house.
I opened the door. To the right of the entrance hallway was an improvised dining room with tables and benches. It looked like it had been a school. I carefully closed the door and eased toward the serving table in the front of the room. The smell of hot soup urged me on. A look around revealed the room to be full of German soldiers, some eating, some in the line ahead of me. There was no turning back.
Besides, the food looked too inviting. There was potato-barley soup with beef, hot black bread with a spread, hot tea, and fresh apples. It was not home, but it was warm inside and the hot food made me forget for awhile that home was still more than 5000 miles away.
When I returned to our barn, I had not been missed. My rucksack was intact. My comrades, the Kriegies, as we called ourselves, had been busy with their own preparation of food. However, with the warning not to have fires in the barn, only a few who set up their tin can stoves outside, had hot food. I felt like a traitor until I learned that many others had gone out too. Most of them had found the country people quite hospitable.
Tomorrow would be another day; we would continue our march to a railhead and later go by train to the "Redoubt" in the south of Germany.
Robert M. Fenton was born in Kansas City, MO, Jan. 25, 1920. He joined the USAAF right after Pearl Harbor, and became a bombardier on a B-17. He was shot down October 8, 1943, over Bremen, Germany, while on his 3rd mission. All ten crew members parachuted from the aircraft that had suffered the loss of two engines and was on fire from attacks by Focke-Wulf 190. His capture occurred around Oldenburg, Germany, on the same day as the shootdown. After a 3-4 day stay at Dulag Luft in Frankfurt Am Rhein he was transferred to Stalag Luft III. The above true story occurred on the march of prisoners from Stalag Luft III south. Some Allied personnel ended up at Stalag XIIID, Nurnberg, while others continued to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg. He was liberated on April 29, 1945, after spending 18 months, 21 days and 10 hours as, as he put it, a guest of the German Army.
Dr. Robert M. Fenton passed away Sunday, September 29, 1996, he will be missed by all of those that knew him.
If anyone reading this account has knowledge of the above, and would like to add more, I may be contacted by e-mail, my address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
This document cannot be reproduced electronically or by any other means without the express written permission of Steven M. Fenton, son of the late Dr. Robert M. Fenton, Garden City, KS, USA.