March 17, 1999
My view of World War Two
S/Sgt. Lewis T. Haas
452 Bombardment Group (H)
730th Bombardment Squadron
On a B-17 Heavy Bomber
Served from Dec., 1942 to Dec., 1945
Basic Training and Armorer School
I have been asked by my family to write up a few of my adventures in World War Two, if they can be called adventures. I canít imagine anyone being interested enough to read any of it. Itís only one of many thousands of such stories that have been told and retold so often that they have become quite boring. If there is any anything different about mine, it may be that I seemed to always get with the wrong bunch of guys at the wrong times and still come out smelling like a rose. Also I donít intend to lie about it to make it more entertaining. So prepare to be bored, if you are one of my beloved descendants, and if your Mom is forcing you to read it you have my sympathy. Please keep in mind Iíve had pressure brought to bear to write it, and I can only type with one finger, so if you have two eyes to read with I figure youíll be done a Hell of a lot quicker than me. Also Iíll be 76 years old this month so Iím senile, shaky and forgetful.
Off we go: As I said I managed to always be with a bunch that managed to get in deep Poo-Poo. For instance I was scared a thousand times, but only four times did I figure I was a dead duck. The mid-air collision, the bombing at Frankfurt Germany, the bayonet run and Starvation Hill. Why it got dubbed that I donít know, I was too sick to know or care. Maybe because we were starving when we got there. Anyway each of the four times I was with a different bunch of guys. Do not look for heroic deeds, I was behind the door or absent the day they passed out the heroism. In fact I was scared so often and so thoroughly I thought for a while I must be a coward. After a while I decided maybe not at least an any bigger one than the average guy. I can remember kind of admiring most of the guys for the way they looked and acted when things got rough, and Iíd think, well hell, I wasnít weeping and wailing either, I was too busy trying to cover my ass. Survival was the name of the game. I figure if neither hero or coward I fell into the largest category, young, scared civilian being trained to be a warrior. I was 19 years old and had a pregnant wife; I wanted to think sweet thoughts about being a husband and father. Instead I was employed to kill people and destroy property. It was dangerous work and not too well paid. I was a private for a while and made fifty dollars a month. A lot of men did not survive Iím sorry to say Including my favorite brother, the other nine men on my crew and my friends on other crews. There was a time I felt like a Jonah, you know buddy up to old Haas and prepare to meet your maker. I still carry a guilt feeling because I lived and so many good men died. I thought God had something in mind for me, but if so I havenít found it yet and time is getting short, I canít keep dodging the reaper forever.
Inducted Dec. 1942 at Riverside California, Assigned Air Corps, basic training Keesler Field at Biloxi Miss. Basic training is designed to teach discipline, hatred, close order drill, to live with sore arms cause they are full of needle holes, kitchen policing, gas mask drill, hand to hand combat, short arm inspection, making beds, guard duty, calisthenics, obstacle courses, 15 and 25 mile hikes and any other delightful pastimes to improve your stamina and dexterity and hatred. Keesler Field is on the Gulf of Mexico and they claim the only place where sand blows in your eyes while your marching up to your ass in mud. It was bad news as far as I was concerned every body developed such bad coughs that they made us sleep head to foot and we had a spare sheet to make a kind of sail at our heads on each cot, so when we coughed we wouldnít cough in the other guys face. It was a real hell hole plus they made it as rough as possible, like if you wore your overcoat in the morning when it was cold as hell, they would make you march in it all day when it was very hot. You only done it once, after that you shivered for a couple of hours in the morning so you could stand it the rest of the day. Oh well all things pass in time and basic is about the worst of army life. After that they treat you better, just sub human.
While at Biloxi we were given tests like IQ etc. also you could kind of take your choice of what you trained for, if your IQ was high enough and you were healthy enough (above moron and warm to the touch). I could have tried out for OCS 90 days to a commission or wash out, tempting but no chance to fly, or Pilot training one year of cadet bullshit and probably wash out, Navigator or Bombardier which I had no interest in. I figured the war would be over by the time I made Pilot and I figured Iíd wash out anyway and I was wild to fly and besides I had a pregnant wife at home and I needed a little rank to get better pay so I volunteered for a combat crew as aerial gunner and picked the shortest tech. school I could get. Armorer, God what an IDIOT!! Machine gunners and armorers are in big demand in civilian life. My trouble was I didnít think of the Army Air Corps as a way to a career later. In fact I donít think I did any thinking at all, certainly not the intelligent variety. I was waving the flag with both hands and real eager to get over there.
That feeling kind of died out when they started shooting at me. The trouble with volunteering for any thing in the Army is you canít un-volunteer if you change your mind. I donít think I explained about the volunteer bit. In 1942, flying and submarines were considered out of manís natural element so those two things you had to volunteer for. I should have tried for Pilot, that was the only one where you had a chance to stay out of Bombers. Pay was pretty good for gunners, what with a little rank, flight pay 50% of base pay and overseas pay 18% of base. Plus rank came every time you completed a school. Also they called the flyers the glory boys, almost no one had flown those days and it seemed very romantic. The problem came when the 8th Air Force decided on daylight precision bombing. As a matter of record the 8th lost 10% of all Americans killed in World War two. Now that included Europe, Italy, Africa and all of the Pacific, .and the 8th was only one of many air forces. Of the 72 original ships in our group only one completed 25 missions and it wasnít a complete original crew. The 8th suffered 25,000 dead and many more thousands wounded and captured. A good spot to fight a war it was NOT.
Armament school was the first I went to. That was at Denver, Colorado, first at Buckley Field then at Lowery Field. Seemed like going home. I grew up in Denver, my folks still had a home there so Helma came and stayed all the time I was in school. Actually she stayed after I left. She had our son, Kenneth, there. My mom came with her and stayed with her until the baby was born. Buckley Field was nearly as bad as basic training in some ways. One of the worst things we had was two very tough hours of calisthenics followed by a two mile run. Our calisthenics instructor was a mad man, he was so tough on us that we would be standing around and our legs would fold up on us. One of his cute little passtimes was to make us duck waddle across the drill field, stoop down grab your ankles and go. By the time youíve crossed a drill field you know youíve been exercised. My wife was very amused. She was used to seeing my knees buckle, but one day we were downtown Denver and run into some of my friends. As we stood there and talked, first one guy's knees would buckle then another. What tickled her so much was no one mentioned it, some one would lend him an arm till he got his legs straight and keep right on talking . We were so used to it nobody paid any attention. It seemed like most of our time was spent either doing calisthenics or kitchen police.
We did get a little class work done, learned about explosives etc. we learned the weapons after we transferred to Lowery Field. There we learned every weapon from a 45 cal. Automatic pistol to a 20mm cannon. We concentrated mostly on 30 and 50 cal. Machine guns, bombs, bomb sights, intervelometers for dropping bombs, hydraulic turrets and electric gun sights. In other words, anything that went wrong with any thing to do with bombing or defense of a bomber on a mission was the armorer's job to fix, and fast if it was fixable. We had to be able to field strip and reassemble a machine gun blindfolded in a very short time. I have forgotten the time allowed, but it wasnít very long and the gun had damn well better work when you finished.
When I graduated from armament school I was assigned to gunnery school at Laredo, Texas. I will always remember Laredo as having the worst chow of any place I ate in the Army; we had mutton stew till we would gag when we looked at it. Mostly I had to stuff it down or go hungry; I was too broke to get anything at the PX. The best chow was at Moses Lake, Washington. That was prime eats.
At Laredo, class work was ballistics, trajectory aircraft identification, both friends and foes. They frowned on shooting at allies. Any time not put in class was spent flying and shooting, shooting and more shooting. We shot air to air at tow targets with machine guns. On the ground at moving targets mounted on rails with machine guns, pop up targets with 45 caliber pistols and sub machine guns, skeet with 12 gauge shotguns and wire mounted moving airplanes with BB machine guns run with compressed air. The skeet range was the standard with five shooting positions in a half circle with a high house and low house to throw clay pigeons you would shoot a high and low then both at once you could usually wait till the doubles crossed and get them both with one shot. The only thing that wasnít standard was the center position it was a tower with different levels to shoot from, made it much more difficult. We would shoot a hundred rounds of 12 gauge about twice or three times a week, my shoulder was always black and blue. They also had a range out in the tulles, we rode the back of or a truck over a winding, rough dirt road and they would sling clay pigeons at unexpected places. It helped develop a good eye and quick gun.
At last the great day arrived, my first time in the air! What a thrill! We were to train in AT6s, an advanced fighter pilot trainer, fairly fast and very maneuverable. They had removed the rear canopy and mounted a ring to traverse a 30-cal. machine gun on. We were given two ammo. canisters of 50 rounds each, the lead in the bullets was painted. When they were fired the heat softened the paint and if you hit the canvas tow sock it would leave a mark. Each gunner had a different color of paint, this way they could keep track of your hits and or misses. If you missed too many, too often you were washed out as a gunner. Which meant no sergeant stripes, no flying pay and back to KP and the drill field. We were warned to get rid of the ammo in as few passes as possible as the pilots assigned to the school were all pissed off, disappointed, would be fighter pilots, that hated hauling gunners around.
When you got off your ammo, secured the gun and ammo cans and replaced the three foot gunner's belt with the seat belt, then we were supposed to hold up our thumb so the pilot could leave the range and go play for an hour or so. Haas decided to get on the good side of his driver, so I got rid of my ammo on the first pass, thinking the pilot would bank gently and leave range and I could stow my gear on the way to the playground. I held up my thumb, WOW! That was definitely not the correct decision. That dude pointed the nose at the ground and poured on the coal. I was hanging in the air at the end of the gunnerís belt trying to capture a loose machine gun, which about beat me to death. The ammo canisters went overboard. I just got the gun corralled when he pulled out of the dive; my butt hit the bottom of the plane so hard itís a wonder I didnít dislocate something. I hurried and got buckled in then I learned what was meant by playing. Hedge hopping, loops, rolls you name it we done it. First time was kind of scarey but I got so I looked forward to it. When we landed I found I was a very lucky fellow, some of the guys had got airsick and heaved all over the plane, so there they were, sick as dogs washing down the plane inside and out.
I was never susceptible to motion sickness and that not only helped in flying or sea travel but ended up saving my life. As first armorer I was supposed to fly waist position, but every one else got sick flying tail gunner. There is a great deal of motion that far back, and tail gunner was the last thing to go over, he even stuck out past the rudder. At the time of the mid-air collision I was the only guy with a prayer of bailing out since the tail was completely severed from the plane.
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