Tough Planes Spared WWII Gunner
Harlyn Turner will be one of them, but he won't see anything he hasn't seen before. His wouldn't be an educational tour, but rather a chance to reconnect with two old, reliable friends.
Turner, 72, of Dubuque, was a gunner in the Air Force on the B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress bombers during and after World War II.
The two aircraft, along with a C-46 Commando transport, will be at the airport through Monday.
Turner was part of a crew that flew 31 combat missions on B-24s in Europe. His most notable mission was on D-Day, the Allied forces' invasion at Normandy, a port in northern France in the English Channel, on June 6, 1944.
Turner said his B-24 bombed its target on the beach at about 6:15 a.m., 15 minutes before 176,000 Allied troops stormed ashore.
"You had to see it to believe it," he said. "There were ships up and down the channel, starting from the coastline all the way over to England. All you could see were battleships bombing the shoreline."
As a gunner, Turner was responsible for spotting enemy aircraft and "shooting them before they could shoot us."
He said the bomber was hit by gunfire on every mission, but the crew was forced to abort the mission just once.
"We always continued our mission unless we were losing altitude," he said. "If you were hit, you just kept going as long as the engines would move."
Turner earned the Distinquished Flying Cross for courage and skill for his service.
After the war ended, he was on leave for 15 months before reporting to an Air Force base in Spokane, Wash. In the fall of 1948, his B-29 crew was sent to Okinawa, Japan, on a 90-day temporary assignment.
The 10-man crew ran surveillance over China and North Korea, monitoring troop movement and shipping practices.
"Noboby said so at the time, but we knew there were going to be problems in Korea," Turner said. "It was just a question of when."
In November 1948, with a typhoon bearing down on Okinawa, U.S. officials decided to move their bombers to Guam.
When a B-29 crashed into the Pacific Ocean while making the move, Turner's crew was sent to find it. However, midway through the trip, an electrical fire knocked out the plane's navigational equipment.
"We got lost," Turner said. "We flew around until we ran out of gas."
The pilot crash-landed the plane near a small island. None of the men was seriously injured, though Turner said the impact "was like hitting a brick wall. We stopped in a hurry."
As the airmen swam ashore with their survival gear, 200 island natives greeted them.
"They were friendly after a while, but we didn't know that at first," Turner said. "We weren't sure if they were cannibals or what. We thought we were in trouble."
The natives led the crew to their leader, who "looked like a Sumo wrestler sitting on a big throne with his arms folded, "Turner said. "He wasn't going to do anything until we gave him gifts."
The airmen offered knives, belts and sunglasses. It wasn't until one of them pulled water-logged Christmas candy from his pocket that the leader's disposition changed.
"He tasted it, and after that he lit up," Turner said. "We knew we were accepted."
After a meal of coconut milk and yams - "It was horrible; it made us all sick," Turner said - the natives allowed the men to send for help with an emergency radio transmitter.
A B-29 dropped supplies, including food, on the island the next day. A Navy seaplane rescued the men a day later.
After two days in the hospital, the men were transferred to an Air Force base in Guam.
"They opened the club for us there," Turner said. "Sometimes, nothing taskes so good as a cold American beer. That's one thing I'll always remember."
Turner retired from the Air Force in 1970 as a chief master sergeant.