Photos and comments courtesy of:
During his tour in the Army Air Corp 1944
My High School Grad pic - aged 17 (May 1943)
My Enlisted days with the Army Air Force
World War II, Eighth Air Force, 4th Wing,
3rd Division, 94th Bomb Group, 331st Squadron
8th Army Air Corp---94th Bomb Group
Finishing basic training. (Nov 1943)
*HUTS, BARRACK, AND TRAINS*
Fresh out of Gunnery School at Las Vegas, I was assigned as a
gunner on Jim Cummings' crew at Salt Lake City AAF, in February
1944. Jim came down to my barracks and introduced himself as a
pilot and said that he was from Richmond, California. I was from
El Cerrito, which adjoins Richmond, and he had noticed this while
going through records of unassigned gunners. He asked me if I
wanted to be on his crew and I fell over myself telling him that,
yes I sure did, Sir! I had never ever talked with an officer and
was completely awed that one of them would talk to a PFC. So was
everyone else in the barracks! I was already a celebrity of sorts for
having saluted the civilian Fire Chief, mistaking him for an officer!
B-17F [left] and B-17G [right] tailguns.
That barrack was a miserable place to live, one of those
20X50 single story, temporary, war built, freezing in winter, roasting
in summer huts. Heat was provided by a couple of coal fired pot belly
stoves, and they were completely inadequate for that time of year.
But on the other hand, maybe they were adequate. Since there were
probably fifty or so men in there with me, with bunks double decked
and about 18" apart, the body heat alone must have helped a lot.
Latrines were in another building some distance away, and you quickly
learned to get everything done in one trip. Shit, shower, and shave in
the morning, and one last trip before sack time at night. It was cold!
At any rate, I was only there for a few days, met the rest of the
listed members of "Cummings' Crew", which included Cpl. Ed Herbert,
the Crew Chief, Cpl. Bob Herald, Radio, Cpl. Al DeWolf, Armorer,
and PFC's Ralph "Pappy" Painter, and Steve Wasser, "career" gunners,
like myself. We got on a troop train to Dyersburg, TN, and spent
the next five or six days getting to know one another better.
My crew in Tennessee just before going to England
in WWII. L to R: Bob Herald, Ralph Painter (Pappy),
Phil Garey, Ed Herbert, and Al Dewolf. (1944)
World War I had its "40 et 8," but we had the troop train, which
consisted of ancient Pullman cars. The assignments were that two
men bunked together in the bottom bunk and one singled it in the
top. Being 6'1", I was always given a top bunk. Can you imagine
sleeping arrangements like that in today's world?
Toilet facilities were standard Pullman, the only problem being that
there were too many men (or too few toilets!), and the food problem
contributed to that. We were fed from a makeshift kitchen in a baggage
car. Food was some kind of rations cooked over makeshift coal fired
stoves. We'd go down a line holding our mess kits out and the cooks
would slop food in it. This on top of that, take it or else. We'd get
our mess kit filled, then a cup of almost undrinkable coffee, and went
our way back to the Pullman, wolf it down, then wash it off the gums
with scalding coffee. I already knew that there is no possible way to
drink hot coffee out of a mess kit cup without burning your mouth.
The coffee never cools down. One second it is burning hot and the next
second it is ice cold, there is no middle ground.
At any rate, as soon as we finished our meal we headed back to the
kitchen car to wash our gear. They had set up a series of garbage
cans on fires burning on a brick floor and the procedure was to scrub
out the mess gear in the first one, which had GI soap dissolved in
it, then rinse and re-rinse in the garbage cans that followed. Maybe
the first guy got his mess gear rinsed but after that there was always
a soapy residue. This brings me back to the toilet problem. Every one,
depending on the nature of his internal workings and/or the amount of
soap on his mess kit, was either constipated or had the big "D!" And
there were simply not enough toilets!
By the way, there was a touch of luxury on these troop trains. They had
the regular Pullman Porters assigned and they swept up and made the bunks.
We were led to understand in no uncertain terms by the military troop train
crews, that we were expected to tip the Porters. So we did, to the tune of
about $5.00 each. A tithe, since we were earning $50 a month now. I always
suspected that the military train crews got a little kick back there.
Re enactment of the last thing a crew did before
leaving on a mission. Me on left (1944)
When we got to Dyersburg AAF, Tennessee for our Combat Crew Training,
we were assigned, by crew, to a new arrangement in quarters. Some war
profiteer had gulled the Army Air Force into buying prefabbed huts.
These were of simple plywood construction, about the size of squad tents,
joined together in threes. Each hut had a pot bellied stove in each
segment and two windows with screens but no glass. The windows were
covered by a shutter that could be propped open with a stick. Lighting
was provided by a single unshaded bulb hanging in the center of each hut.
Each crew of six men was assigned to a hut, and that's where the crew
really became friends. In such close quarters you either became friends
or you were off the crew. The military base siting committee, who selected
the most miserable locations all over America to put bases, had taken
particular care to locate this bit of deep mud, and the huts were located
in the deepest part of the mud. The official Washington position was the
more miserable, the better. Cleaning was a constant problem and we had
all the typical inspections that you'd find in a peacetime army post.
The latrines were as usual, located in a separate building some distance
away. Because of the mud, a trip there inevitably resulted in shoes or
shower clogs covered in mud. The floors were covered in mud no matter how
often those on latrine cleaning duty cleaned them. Then of course, our huts
had a layer of mud, no matter how often we scraped it off and mopped up.
Just as the rain stopped and the mud began to crust over, we finished our
training, and headed west on another troop train. This time we were headed
for Kearney AAF, Nebraska, to pick up a new B-17. These trains had one big
difference, a new (to me) type car. They were steel freight cars with
windows cut into the walls and rows of bunks, three high, along the walls
with a central aisle. Each was especially constructed with squared off wheels
so they would ensure the ordinary soldier to pain and prepare him for the
rigors of war. Still had the ubiquitous Porters, who demanded their tip!
Meals were the same, garbage! The new trains still had the same old cook
cars, and the food that went in came right back out the other end. And as
the computer people say in the modern age, Garbage in, Garbage out.
At Kearney, where we had come to get a briefing on aerial warfare, by
men who had never been outside of Nebraska, we were assigned a brand
new, shining B-17G. We lived in a standard two story 20X100 barracks,
with as many as 150 men assigned. We never knew who was there because
crews came and went quite rapidly. We were only there a few days, but
wallowed in the luxury of indoor latrines, with hot showers! I
remember the food at Kearney as being quite good, probably as a result
of two things. The food at Dyersburg, in the special air crew mess hall,
was on par with the worst of basic training food, and then we had just
gotten off a three day trip on a troop train!
One special bit of training there got me into trouble. It was first aid,
and the instructors used rubber body masks with simulated wounds on them,
complete with simulated blood and holes. They put one of these on a crewman
and told us that this man had been hit by two 50 caliber slugs in the chest.
What would be the proper treatment? We stared at him with wonder. No one
answered. He finally called on me and I didn't know what to say. I finally
stammered out something about putting a band-aid on each of the wounds! The
instructor blew his stack! What did I mean Band aids? Was I dumb enough to
think that applying band-aids to serious wounds like that would help? I got
mad and asked him if he really believed that while flying in an airplane at
30,000 feet, in freezing cold, and wearing all our protective gear, we could
apply any kind of first aid that would help a man who had been hit in the
chest with two 50 caliber slugs! Oh man, Oh man! Was that ever the wrong
answer to give! I never did get the court martial I was threatened with, but
I was one scared 18 year old brand new buck sergeant till we left Kearney!
*DYERSBURG AAF, TENNESSEE*
Dyersburg, Tennessee, one of the most ill-conceived Army Air Bases of War II,
was situated in Western Tennessee, near the Mississippi River, surrounded by
swamps, beset with rainy weather, and seemingly floating on a sea of mud.
The nearest village was called Halls and the local town was Dyersburg,
county seat, complete with a town square and a courthouse.
To an aircrew member, both Halls and Dyersburg were complete
mysteries. I was in Halls once and Dyersburg a half dozen times,
mainly to catch a bus to Memphis. I remember dour men with old hats
sitting around town, even some of them whittling away at a stick,
cigarette or pipe hanging from the mouth, or maybe a drool of brown
tobacco juice, and with little piles of wood shavings around them.
There was nothing there to attract us and the peculiar liquor laws of
the south prevented us from searching for the jug of happiness. But
Memphis! That was the storied home of Jazz, alcohol and beautiful women!
None of the enlisted men, and very few of the officers, had cars.
We'd get a ride in a G.I. bus or on the back of an army 6X6 truck
and we were on our way to town. The first time Cummings' crew, or
at least the enlisted men on it, headed for town, we walked. It was
our first free day after processing into Dyersburg Army Air Field.
We walked out the gate and onto the local highway and headed to Halls,
hoping to take in the local scene, not knowing that there was nothing
in Halls. We had walked along the road hoping to hitch a ride, but in
those wartime days, and out in the farm country like that, vehicular traffic
was mighty thin. The road was bordered by a swamp and there scattered humps
with trees upon them and a few small houses set on islands of ground above
the level of the water. We trudged along with B-17s taking off just a few
feet above our heads and we gawked at each one like fliers will always do.
They were literally only a few feet above us, maybe thirty to fifty feet.
We were watching one bomber thunder over, when suddenly the ear-bursting
noise ceased, the giant aircraft headed for the ground and crashed into
the swamp beyond the fringe of trees! The six of us quickly decided that
two of us would head back to the base and the other four go for help.
Herb and I headed at a dead run for the gate, about a half
mile away, where we breathlessly informed the MP gate guard
of the accident, but the rescue vehicles were on their way.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew were already at the scene. They had
gone to one of the small houses at the scene and commandeered a small
row boat. The owner refused to tell them where the oars were, so they
ripped boards off a fence and paddled out into the swamp a few hundred
feet, found the wrecked aircraft and attempted to rescue the crew.
Unfortunately, the crew was dead. They found a floating parachute and
pulled it up to the boat, but the attached crewman was dead. The rescue
crews arrived on the scene and Cummings' crew left and headed into Halls.
What an introduction to Aircrew training! And how calloused we were!
Later we were told that the cause of the accident was Pilot's Error.
In this case Co-pilot's error. Following the check list on operation,
as the plane lifted off the ground, flaps down and wheels were lifted
up, the Co-pilot, reading from his chart, reached over and closed 4
switches. Unfortunately, he missed the four Booster switches that gave
maximum take-off power, but caught the four nearly identical switches
located near his mark. And unfortunately, these were the battery switches,
which cut off all electrical power to the four engines! The engines stopped
abruptly and the plane crashed before anyone understood what was happening.
It was probably not the first time the wrong switches had been
thrown, but later a modification was made to the B-17s which
moved the site of the battery switches to another location. Too
late for those ten dead men and probably others before them.
I mentioned processing. Processing was the procedure for checking in
and out of a base. Everything was done on an organized basis and
in-processing typically took three days and out-processing the same.
I think I once set a record for in-processing and out-processing. I
processed in at Salt Lake AAF on a Sunday, got my crew assignment, visited
my grandmother in Salt Lake City and finished out-processing the next Sunday!
At any rate, you started at 0800 and marched to the processing center to
begin going through a check of everything that had to be done. You waited
endlessly in line for everything while a long series of clerks and
orderlies did their duty. They checked all your personal records, making
certain that everything was correct and up to date. No matter that you may
have just had an out-processing at your previous station three days
before. This was here and that was there! So you stood in line after line,
leaning against walls, sitting on steps, shifting and shuffling, longing
for a coke or a candy bar, endlessly and aimlessly talking with one another.
Oft times the clerks would go for lunch and just leave the men waiting.
Or they'd go for a break and we'd wait... and wait.... and wait.
Another part of processing was a clothing check and you had to bring
all your issue clothing in your A and B barracks bags, with the
addition that we were now carrying our flight gear in two more bags
and the B-4 bag. We were so heavily laden we could barely stagger
along the streets from the barracks to the clothing check warehouse.
If you were missing some item of clothing you signed a Statement of Charges,
were reissued the item and the cost was later deducted from your pay.
One of the odd things about my week of processing at Salt Lake AAF,
was that I underwent two complete physical examinations! And none
of the processing hospital orderlies thought there was anything
unusual in my record all being done within the week by the very
same people! As someone twice said, That's the army for you!
*DIRTY CLOTHES FOR NEW!*
One peculiarity I learned about clothing issue, but later on when I
was a sergeant, was that they would replace damaged or worn items
without charge. Not even a question. So what I would do when I ran
out of clean underwear was to make trip to supply and throw the items
on the counter and say, These are worn out, give me replacements. They
never questioned me and I walked out with six sets of clean underwear.
Most of the time though I washed my clothes in the laundry tub in the
latrines and dried it by stringing it around my bunk, as did everyone
else. Wool shirts and Khakis were sent to the laundry, and a week later,
if you were lucky, you picked up clean clothing and that was it. No charge.
The base laundries had special high tech button smashing
machines. We knew this because at least one button on every
shirt or trousers was broken. In those days we had button up
flies on trousers so there were a lot of buttons to smash!
Every base had a Post Exchange or PX as it was called. They weren't
like the military Exchanges of today, huge department stores with an
almost unlimited range of merchandise. They were small shops where you
could get the necessities of life. Cigarettes, cigars, stationary,
prophylactics, candy, souvenir pillows inscribed MOTHER, and so on.
Pens, pencils, cigarette lighters, and a few other items, but most
importantly, a beer garden was always attached. Here you could get a
beer for about 10 and a coke for 5. They were noisy, crude rooms with
tables and a few chairs and benches. The RA (Regular Army) old-timers always
had the chairs, and the AUS or wartime reserves, sat on the benches. I didn't
drink and the smoke was thick. There always seemed to be a belligerent who
wanted to fight, so the best thing was just to stay out of them.
The Regular Army men were people who had been in service as Regulars
before the war. Some after many years of service had achieved the
rank of PFC (Private First Class) or Corporal. They sat there with
their pot bellies, ruddy faces and were a class to themselves. I
could never figure what kind of military jobs they had because they
were there as soon as the Open sign went up on the door and stayed
all day. They never spoke with anyone but themselves, certainly not
to an AUS PFC and especially not to an aircrew man!
*PAYDAY & PAYROLLS*
Payday came once a month, on the last day of the month or the
first weekday afterwords. When I first entered the service I
found payday was an ordeal that civilians never had to face.
If they had they'd have resigned from being civilians.
Payday finally came around and we prepared ourselves according
to the instructions of our D.I. Fresh haircut, clean shave,
Class A uniform, shoes spit shined, the best we could look.
The procedure was to get in the payroll line, in alphabetical
order, a chore in its self. Then we found that RAs came on
the front of the payroll and were paid first. They just strolled
to the front of the line, sloppily appearing, gave a salute,
mumbled their name and the officer counted out their money,
handed it over and they strolled off to the beer garden.
Now we AUS men, spiffed up as well as we could, had to approach
the table Salute, and recite our name rank and serial number.
I was Sir, Pvt. Garey, Phil D., 19149129, reporting for pay Sir!
The armed sergeant standing in front of the table would repeat,
Private Garey, Sir! If you made an error, you were sent to the
end of the line and awaited another chance. If the Sergeant or the
clerk was in a bad mood, they would redline you, that is, draw a
red line through your name and you were out of luck until next month.
And this happened often enough to make you want to do it right the
first time! The NCOs also inspected your appearance and your
bearing. If it didn't meet their standards, you were redlined.
Some poor sods, despite all night rehearsals could not
say the required line without error, through nerves or
maybe stupidity, and they were dismissed with contempt!
Seated at the table was an armed officer and an armed finance clerk,
with the long pages of single spaced typewritten names, ranks, serial
numbers and the amount each man was due. You stepped to the table and
the clerk pointed out your name and you signed on the dotted line. The
pens were the common type, and you dipped it in ink and signed. Woe be
upon you if you made a blot or splash of ink! You were in deep trouble!
The officer had a cash drawer and would reach in, count out your
money, hand it to you, then you counted it out, then you saluted,
did an About Face and strode away, stuffing the money in your pocket.
My first payday I got $50.00, less $6.11 Government Insurance, and
less a sum for laundry, about $40.00 then I had to run the gauntlet
of the first Sergeant, the D.I. and the loan sharks, old time RA
men. They collected a dollar or 2 for various vague things. The Loan
Sharks were there to collect from men who had borrowed from them.
A $5.00 loan would pay them $7.00. They had concessions and were
backed up by the First Sergeant and the other regular army NCOs.
*THE REALIZATION STRIKES!*
One afternoon I was in the barracks, and alone for the first time.
After a bout in the hospital suffering the aftereffects of my shots,
I had returned to the squadron and all the others were out doing their
basic military training. I sat down on my bunk and fell into a very
despondent mood. It dawned on me that I was really in the army and it
looked as though I would be in it for the rest of my life. I had signed
up when I volunteered for the USAAF for a period of The Duration of the
War Plus 6 Months. Holy cow!, this was forever. This was early October,
1942. The NAZIs were still in control of most of Europe, the Japs were
running wild over the Pacific. The Allies had had one or two minor
victories. They had invaded North Africa and in the Pacific, Guadalcanal
looked like we were making a start in the Pacific, but where was the end?
It seemed endless and I'd be an old man before it was over!
As I sat there with my head in my hands, the Barracks Chief, a Corporal
whose sole duty seemed to be in the barracks when no one else was present
and to maintain order at night, approached me and asked me what I was
doing in the barracks. I told him I had just been released after 4 days
in the hospital. He told me that he had been talking with my D.I. and
knew that I knew all the drill and physical training aspects of Basic.
How would I like to be the Assistant Barracks Chief? I would be in charge
of the barracks when he was absent and make sure that everything was safe.
I'd be excused from all basic training except rifle range, parades and
long marches! Wow, and Yes Sir! So my first promotion came through.
From then on, I would march to breakfast with the squadron, sometimes
acting as the squadron leader and shouting out commands to move them
on and to the mess hall. After breakfast, we'd return to the barracks,
and prepare for the days training. Unless we were going to the range
or on a march, I was through for the day! When all had left, I would
sit and read, polish my shoes or whatever struck my fancy. About 0900,
the barracks Chief would appear, announce that he would be back,
and leave. I later discovered that he would go to the mess hall for
a late breakfast with his cronies, then they'd all head over to the
PX for the 1000 opening of the beer garden.
In the evening, when the troops had returned exhausted from
their training, there I'd be lazily greeting them. When they
were cleaned up and ready, off we'd march to the mess hall for
supper, and I'd often do the marching. Thinking about it now,it's
a wonder that there wasn't an unfavorable reaction against me
but it must have been that they were too tired to care or envied
me or that they just figured, What the hell, he's a lucky one!
*MEMPHIS, THAT WONDERFUL TOWN!*
When we got a little time off from flying training at Dyersburg,
we'd all, the six of us on Cummings' crew, would we'd head off
for Memphis. What a City! We'd get a truck or bus into town and
then the Greyhound bus for the big city. Sometimes we'd hitchhike,
but that was a chancy way to travel because of the very limited
wartime traffic. Sometimes a farmer would give us a ride in the
back of his old flatbed truck, but that was only part of the way.
Then we'd have to try for another ride or catch the bus.
Once safely in Memphis we'd head for a fleabag hotel. These
usually had the reception desk up a flight of stairs and
invariably there was an old, old man on the desk. We'd generally
get 3 rooms, sleeping two to a bed. Bathroom was down the hall.
We'd get out on the street hunting for a bottle. If we found a
liquor store open we'd be forced to buy 2 for 1. This meant
that if we wanted to buy a bottle of whiskey or gin we had to
buy two additional bottle of some otherwise unsaleable goods.
Maybe a quart of Sloe Gin and a bottle of Creme De Menthe, or
some other abomination. Whatever it was we'd all chip in and
pay for it. Then we'd head out for the bars and the Jazz, and
the mythical women. I say mythical women because we were
always going to find some absolutely stunning girl and we'd
be happy into eternity! Needless to say, we never did! Either
we'd lose interest after looking at the rough stuff in the
bars or we'd get engrossed in the Jazz. There was some
fabulous music in Memphis in those days. My ear were more a
tuned to Big Band Swing, but I soon grew to love Jazz. Bob,
the radioman, was a musician and he'd often sit in with the
band, while we sat at our table enthralled. There many great
Negro musicians playing, both in white and Negro bars.
We'd didn't care, and Bob just wanted to play!
I'd usually have a drink, get sleepy and head back to the Hotel. I
was always tired in those days and wanted a real bed and above all a
long hot bath! So when I got to the hotel, I'd get my towel and head
down the hall to the bath. I'd run the tub full and hot and lie back
and soak. Ah Heaven. Often I'd fall asleep and waken to either a cold
tub or someone pounding on the door wanting his turn at the tub!
On one of these trips, Pappy met a lovely young woman named Marie. He
had a suave look about him. Reddish hair, a red mustache and quite a
handsome man. Pappy had been married a couple of times but they didn't
stick. He was a native Los Angelinian, and had been a parachute packer
for Standard Parachute Company. As an incentive to keep the quality of
their work up, his supervisor would come along the packing tables and
pick up a parachute that the worker had packed and say, Come on its
quality control time. Off they'd go to the local airport, up into the
sky and then the packer would jump with the chute he'd just packed!
Just part of the job. Pappy claimed that one time he'd been blown
adrift by the wind and had landed on the deck of a U.S. Navy Cruiser!
Anyhow, Pappy met Marie and they fell in love. Marie lived with
her grandmother, Mrs. Gray, a delightful elderly lady. Their home
was a beautiful old, slightly run-down house, quite large. We often
would meet there, taking food from local store and Mrs. Gray would
prepare us a meal and we were always welcomed. Sometimes we'd sleep
there, sprawled across the floor of her sitting room or on a sofa.
I corresponded sporadically with Mrs. Gray for several years.
Pappy married Marie and they lived together happily for a short
time, but were divorced shortly after the war when Pappy had
returned to the states. But it was a romantic interlude in our
lives at the time and I, for one, thought it would last forever.
*PEABODY HOTEL TEA DANCE*
One quiet Sunday afternoon, I had been separated from my crew and
wandered around Memphis at ends for something to do. I came across a
beautiful hotel, The Peabody. I'd never been in such a classy place and
entered rather carefully. It was just swell! I found a sort of ballroom
where I could hear music coming. I wandered in and there were all these
people chatting away, dancing and sipping from cocktails. I thought: "So
this is what I've been missing and looking for all over Memphis?" I
sauntered over to the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender nodded. I
soon discovered that he had nodded at a couple of bouncers. I found this
to be true when these two giants grabbed me by the arms, frog-marched me
to the door, and pointed out a sign reading: Officer's Tea Dance! Then
I was thrown out the door and got the hell out of there. What a surprise!
On another trip to Memphis I got drunk for the first time in my life. We
had picked up a 1 for 2 pack of liquor and had a bottle of Southern
Comfort. This was a sort of sweet syrupy tasting drink and I tried it
and liked it. We also had bought a bottle of Port wine. I found I liked
it too. I was alone in the hotel and passed out. I awakened in the
morning, found I was alone and had been sleeping on the floor.
I realized I was sick and late. If I didn't leave quickly I knew I would
miss the last bus to Dyersburg that would get me to the airfield before
my pass expired. I buttoned up my coat, ran to the bus station, and jumped
on the very crowded bus. No seats available so I had to stand, hanging
onto a strap. It was hot so I unbuttoned my blouse and noticed that the
crowded bus was becoming less crowded for me as the others edged away
from me. I was still drunk and I stunk! About half way on the two and a
half hour trip I was nodding, fighting to stay awake and looked down at
my chest. What a mess! During the night I had apparently vomited on my
shirt and the red wine stain was very smelly and very ugly! Now I
understood why people were edging away, and giving me such nasty looks!
I managed to survive the trip, though utterly humiliated! We arrived in
Dyersburg and I caught a truck out to the base. I quickly cleaned up,
changed clothes and went up to operations, wondering where the crew was?
I quickly discovered that we were scheduled to fly a surprise training
mission. Jim came in and asked me where the crew was. I didn't know and
told him so. Since the officers were there, they borrowed a radio operator
and an engineer, and we took off. It was a navigation cross country
training mission and we really didn't need the other gunners. It was also
one of the most horrible flights I've ever suffered through. I was so sick
I thought I'd die. Out of pride, I didn't throw up, but I was sick! My head
hurt, my gut hurt, I had diarrhea, I couldn't think, and I wanted to die!
The mission was finally over and we landed. Jim was visibly angry that his
crew had missed the flight. He apparently got chewed out by his superior and
probably got downgraded on his record for our absence. He never said it
aloud, but told me to have the crew report to him as soon as I found them.
That night they straggled in, hung over, dirty, tired. I gave them
the bad news and they asked: Do you think he wants to see us now! I
assured them that he did so they quickly cleaned up, and we marched
up to the Bachelor Officer Quarters. I went in and knocked on Jim's
door and told him the crew was downstairs. He told me to get them
in the lounge and have them at attention when he walked in.
When he came in, he was angry, but controlled. He simply said you
have let me down as a crew and that it had better not happen again.
He turned and walked out. We were flabbergasted and felt like utter
useless fools. We left and never missed another formation or flight
of any kind. We trained and studied and worked. Jim never mentioned
it again and neither did we! It was the one and only time I have ever
seen Jim angry and I knew him for 44 years until his death in 1997.
*ONE LAST TALE FROM DYERSBURG!*
Herb had gone home for a rare weekend in Ohio and managed to bring back
his car. This was indeed a rarity for an enlisted man! Even most of the
officers didn't have cars with them. We moved so much and when we came to
Dyersburg everyone knew that we'd be there about 2 months and then overseas.
Very few of the married men had their wives with them, officer or enlisted.
Anyhow, Herb had his car and we took off for a quick trip to Memphis.
I don't remember if we ever got there, but anyhow, somewhere along
the line we had a few drinks and headed back in Herb's Ford. It was
a very foggy night, that dense low fog that envelops the Mississippi
River area sometimes. We were unsure of the road and didn't know
where we were. The drinks had their effect too.
We stopped and talked it over and agreed that it was best if we pulled
over to the side of the road and waited out the fog. Herb steered the
car over to the side and we promptly fell asleep. Once in awhile I'd
wake up hearing the blast of a horn or the screech of tires.
When dawn broke, we awakened and found that we were parked on the outside
lane of a four lane highway! That was the sound of horns and screeching
tires, with cars or trucks avoiding us! Well, I guess we were being saved
for the war against Germany, because we had survived that bungle.
Me at tail of B-17 Flying Fortress. (1944)
At any rate, after a few days there, we took our sparkling new B-17G, and
flew from Kearney to Grenier Field, NH, and spent three days in a crew
transient barracks, which was not bad. I remember going through a spit shine
barracks inspection there, by base personnel, on the last day before we went
overseas. I guess they wanted to see if we were clean enough for combat.
We got as far as Gander, in Newfoundland and waited a few days for
whatever officers did in those days. That's what enlisted men usually
did, wait for officers to get the inside skinny, then pass little bits
of it on to we GIs. Usually it was very abbreviated. They would spend
hours in a briefing then come back and tell us, "over there."
We amused ourselves at Gander with aircraft guarding, probably from
the hoards of ladies who lined the fences, and getting in line at
the NCO Club. They had two lines. One for beer, Ruperts Knickerbocker,
and the other for Seagrams 7 Crown. Or maybe it was 3 crown. 10 cents
a beer and 10 cents a shot. The system was to get in the beer line
and buy a beer, then go around to the shot line and sip the beer while
the line moved. When you got your shot you threw it down, chased it
with the last of the beer, and went back to the beer line.
There was no place to sit and you could only buy one shot or one
beer at a time. I think this was due to a policy set forth in
Washington to keep enlisted men from acting like enlisted men.
Anyway, it didn't work. When you could no longer negotiate the
lines, a buddy would drag you outside. There you bent over
facing east and prayed. If you could get up, back in you went!
I and a crew mate, Steve Wasser, were walking around the base on
a sunny, but very cold May day. We found a little lake, with a
little dock and a couple of row boats. It was the bluest lake
I'd ever seen and Wasser and I decided that we needed a swim.
We stripped and dove in. I stuck about half way in, it was
so cold! We turned blue in a second. Wasser claimed that,
although he dived in head first, he got stuck when the water
was about half way up his body and then he miraculously twisted
back on the dock, and only his arms got wet! It was that cold.
We decided to go back to the NCO Club, where a man could be safe.
Photo of 94 BG B-17 over wheel at Bury St. Edmunds. (1944)
We had an amazing assortment of quarters in our tour in England in 1944.
They ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, and some of them weren't
that good. Our crew landed in Northern Ireland at Nutt's Corner, near
Belfast on May 25, 1944, fresh from a dead on navigated trip from
Newfoundland, courtesy of Lt. Joe Toeniskoetter, the world's best navigator!
Our brand new B-17G was promptly taken away from us and we were shuttled
off to a tent city where we were accommodated overnight in a large squad
tent. It was completely furnished with canvas cots and that was it. We
had been advised to leave our baggage in the aircraft where it would be
safeguarded by the ground crews, but Ed Herbert, the Flight Engineer
wouldn't hear of it and we reluctantly lugged all our baggage, flight
gear and all to the tent. The only thing we left was a few shopping
bags of food and one large sack of fresh oranges, which we had bought
in the states to give to English kids. But we hustled the rest of it to
our tent, through the mud and dumped it on the wood floor.
An hour or so later we found that we could get a meal at a mess hall
and waded through more mud to get there. Baloney sandwiches and coffee,
the standard meal for flight crews! The next morning we had a taste of
powdered eggs and salt bacon with unmixed dry lumps, and the usual cereal
with canned milk. Compared to the sour mess hall guys, the food looked
good. We ate it, there was no other choice.
Ed came back and told us to get ready, we were taking a Gooney Bird to
England. We got together all our baggage, and manhandled it to the
flight line. Then we went over to the B-17G we had flown over, to get
the food we had left. It was gone, probably stolen by the transient
aircraft ground crews. So much for oranges for the English kids.
We landed at Eccleshall and had our first taste of the ubiquitous English
"biscuit" mattress, three iron hard rectangles of horse hair covered with
canvas. It was claimed that these biscuits were used by the British
troops too, but secret documents revealed after the war, show that
Churchill had directed that these things be designed to keep American
crews as tired as possible so that they wouldn't be running in and out
of British towns, disturbing folk, and especially young girls, who needed
rest so that they could perform their war duties in the munitions plants.
Whatever the reason, they were impossible to keep together at night,
so that as you slept, they slid apart until your nether side was
exposed to the cold British night. One guy I know said that he had
tried to nail them together, but that nails would not penetrate them.
At Eccleshall, the crews were split up. The officers went off to one of
those mysterious places that only officers can go. Probably some palace in
London, and we enlisted personnel were sent to a camp up on The Wash, near
King's Lynn. This was another of those bases selected by The Washington D.C.
Site Selection Committee. Coldest spot in England in June or any other time.
The winds would whip in across the Wash, direct from the North pole and
at near gale force. Being as it was so cold we were barracked in squad
tents, issued the biscuits, two blankets and a comforter. The nights were
so cold that most of us wore our flying gear to bed. The latrines were
the other side of nowhere, and it was very coooold!
Last call at night, everyone would high tail it to a huge hedge row, at
the edge of the tent rows, to "hang it out," one last time. One night,
some joker stole a bunch of pepper from the mess hall, liberally laced
the hedge with it, and waited in the dark till there was a good line up.
Then he stood up at the end of the row, and fired several rounds from his
45 pistol, down the row. This shook loose the pepper and it scattered it
all over everyone, resulting in a lot of sneezing, cursing and threats.
The main mission at The Wash was to teach us how to shoot at tow targets
towed by slow aircraft flying down the row of machine guns and turrets
on the firing line. It was known that the Germans often used this highly
effective tactic against the 8th AF formations at high altitude.
We were slightly bored with this after the first day, and also
very cold. So we found that by concentrating our fire power,
perhaps 40 or 50 machine guns on the tow rope, rather than the
target, we could usually cut the rope. The tow planes only
carried one or two targets, and they were probably happy to
get out of there, knowing that most gunners located the target
in their sights by finding the plane, following the rope down,
then firing on the target. At any rate that's what we thought
we were doing, but once in awhile, some slow thinking gunner
would get the procedure wrong and fire at the tow plane! So
the Lysander and Whimpy pilots were understandably anxious to
get the hell out of there at the slightest excuse.
Air shot of B-17G named Skinny. I flew several missions aboard her.
No chin turret as it was lost and rebuilt without one. (1944)
D-Day had come and gone. We were carrying 45 pistols all the time now,
because it was a known fact that the Germans were going to mount a
counter offensive at any moment and the weakest point they could find
was The Wash, defended only by pistol armed American air crews.
Guns played an important role at The Wash. That's where we first
experienced a handful of 45 slugs tossed into a pot belly stove.
That will get your attention. Another favorite trick was to lay a
50 tracer slug atop the stove and get out fast. It would "cook" off
and go whizzing around the tent. One lodged in my oxygen mask one
night. The oxygen mask was in its box, and I had covered it with my
fleece helmet to use as a pillow. My head was on the pillow! We
chased after that guy and would have killed him if we had caught him.
Every once in awhile, someone would get out and shoot a farmer's pig,
butcher it, and share barbecued pork with everyone around his area.
The farmers protested to the base commander, but it went on all the
time. It was generally a dangerous place to be, because a bunch of
undisciplined youngsters, with no supervision will act like hoodlums.
And there was no disciplinary force in the crew tent area. No base
personnel ever penetrated there as far as I know. I don't blame them.
We got on a train and headed for our new base, and it was to be our
permanent base, we were told. We would meet the officers there and
soon start flying against "Fortress Europe." Boy the brass loved
those terms and phrases in that war. Remember the "Soft Underbelly
of Europe?" "The Eighth Never Turned Back?" Huh! Air crews
contributed things like "Big B" for Berlin, padeecalay for Pas de
Calais, and so on. Actually, I never, ever heard a crewman call
Berlin "Big B." The usual reaction I heard was "Oh Shit!" But
that applied to about everything beyond the coast of France.
So we got on the train. About a third of the guys were boozed up and
there was no disciplinary control. What to do? Whip out the 45 pistols
and shoot at cows in the fields we passed. They did it, believe me.
Made me a believer in discipline, and a lot of other guys, too.
Eventually we arrived at Roughham. Left the train at Bury and were
trucked out to the airbase, good old station 468, home of the 94th
Bomb Group (H). We were a miserable lot, as we stood there in front
of a hut that was Squadron Headquarters for the 331st. All our
worldly goods was in two barracks bags, our flying gear, and a
musette bag, and the First Sergeant was assigning us to barracks.
Cummings crew (that's us) was sent off to a quonset hut.
It held four or five crews, at least the enlisted members of
them, including us. We took the empty six cots and looked around.
Nothing, just a lot of disinterested stares from the other
occupants. We each had a bed and a footlocker. 3 biscuits, two
blankets and a comforter, plus a bed sack to stuff the biscuits
into. Heat was two pot bellied stoves, fired by coal or coke.
No one was in charge. We set up and unpacked, and tried to look
as if we knew what we were doing. Finally Pappy got a conversation
going, and broke the ice. We learned that the latrines were a 100
yards or so down the path. Someone told us how to get to the Combat
Crew Mess ... walk was how you got there. We didn't have bikes yet.
We were dying to asked some of these grizzled veterans about flying
but didn't have the guts. So we just listened to the normal barracks
BS and waited. When they started leaving we followed and found the
mess hall. Typical food in a combat crew mess. Supposed to be
non-gassy so that flyers wouldn't bloat up at altitude. Cabbage,
chipped beef, gravy, bread and potatoes. Non-gassy? Oh well.
We quickly found out that the barracks was the same as at The Wash. No
one was in charge. The same kind of jokers tossing 45 slugs in the stove,
waving of pistols, etc. It was impossible to sleep at night because of
the constant card games and the cursing, the fights, and the general
ruckus caused by 20 or so young men flying against a tough enemy.
Air Shot of contrails of 94th BG on mission. (1944)
After we began flying, practice at first, then later on the real thing,
we got to know that we'd be whistled up at 2:00 AM or so for a mission.
The CQ would come storming through, blowing his whistle and calling
out, "Cummings Crew," or some other crew if we weren't going. We
quickly realized that no sleep wasn't going to cut it. If we got an hour
or so it was unusual. So we began to look around for an alternative.
There was a tent area with several squad tents occupied by
other crews. They seemed happy. So Herb and Pappy started
trying to make a deal. I think they finally bribed someone
in the Orderly Room and we had a tent. Canvas, a stove, and
a dirt floor. But by this time, in July of 1944, we had begun
to fly and knew a few people here and there. The ground crew
of our airplane helped us get a bunch of old bomb cases and
we managed to scrounge a hammer and a saw. With this we tore
apart the bomb crates and built a wood floor with side walls
up about four feet on the inside of the tent.
I found a pile of bricks, and liberated a few at a time until we
had enough to make a fireproof platform to set the stove on. We found
a door and some hinges somewhere and we were in business. Snug as
bugs in a rug! Warm, safe, and it was quiet at night. We had a light
we could turn off when we wanted to and began to get some sleep.
We had to get bicycles, and managed to buy one each. This made it
much easier to get around. To the mess hall, to the NCO Club, and
to the PX. Actually, those were about the only places we went on base.
Trucks hauled us to the flight line and to briefings and all that.
Getting to the club was much easier with a bike. Getting back home was
much more difficult. Lots of ditches and no lights made travel treacherous.
A general unsteadiness, probably from extreme stress, or maybe it was that
watery beer we got by the pitcher? Who knows? No one on our crew ever
broke a limb, but we pulled ourselves out of ditches more than once!
Bicycles were our main transportation in England. Of course no one had
a private car, not even the officers. We all managed to buy or scrounge
ancient 2 wheelers from men who were returning to the Z.I. (Zone of
Interior), or Land of the Big PX. They were all old and worn, but they were
enough to get around the base and sometimes into Roughham, the nearest pub.
That made for a dangerous time! Riding into the pub was not too
bad. Plenty of light as wartime Britain was on double summer time
and it was nearly light enough to read a newspaper at 10:00 PM.
However, a few rounds of beer, a few choruses of Roll Me Over
and the ride home became dangerous. There were absolutely no lights
in blacked out England and the effects of the beers put a lot of
fellows in the ditches that lined most roads. Many friends ended
up in the water of a ditch, and many an arm or hand was broken!
We quickly learned that there was an etiquette to these country
pubs. First of all, whiskey and gin were scarce and the locals
resented a crowd of G.I.s pushing in and drinking the pub out
of booze in a quarter of an hour! We were wealthy according to
their standards and this was a resentment too.
We on Cummings' crew quickly adapted to the situation and confined
ourselves to the rather watery beer that was wartime Britain's lot.
We would buy a beer, and maybe a round for the regulars, then Bob
would sit down at the ever present piano and begin to play jazz or
whatever popular song was on top at the moment. Bob had been a
professional band pianist and was a very talented guy!
He'd play and we'd start to sing, then the regulars would start
to sing. Once that got going, they'd begin buying beers. Soon
the piano was covered with pints and we were well underway.
The British liked the old favorites like, Roll Out The barrel,
current hits like White Cliffs of Dover, and Bob taught them a
bunch of old jazz tunes, Barrel House Bessie, etc. We'd be roaring
away, everyone having a good old singfest, when the stentorian voice
of the publican would roar out: "Time, Gentleman!" And just like that it
was over, pints were hurriedly downed, and off we'd be into the night.
Then came that dangerous trek home. If we'd had a bit too much Pappy
would warn us all and it was a push-the-bikes night. We always made
it safely and we didn't really go out very often, just when we felt
sure we wouldn't be called out for a mission in the morning.
On a particularly rough mission to ___________, our plane (Shady Lady)
was shot up pretty badly. We'd been hit very hard by concentrated Flak
going in to the target, over the target, and coming out. The plane lost
an engine, and we left formation as we couldn't keep up. As we slowly
descended, prop feathered, we pushed on back to England on our own.
We soon had another engine threatening to quit. We dumped everything
overboard to get the weight down. Heavy flying gear, what ammunition
we felt we could spare, tools and so on. Jim fought to keep the plane
in the air and we crossed the channel and saw the English shoreline
ahead. Just about that time the second engine gave up and we were in
deep trouble! 2 engines on a badly shot up air frame are not enough to
maintain altitude and we had already gradually sunk to about 2,000 feet.
There was a giant airfield at Manston, in southern England. especially
engineered for crews just like us. It had extra long and broad runways
to accommodate shot up airplanes. Along side the main runway was a
huge plowed field for planes that couldn't get their landing gear down,
or who feared to try to land on a hard runway. It was like a heaven for
crews like us! Jim managed to get Shady Lady lined up for an approach
and we slowly staggered toward safety. Just before touchdown, the third
engine cut out, was quickly feathered and Bang! We slammed down on the
runway. Jim took Shady Lady down the runway, quickly found the
hydraulics were shot up and there were no brakes. As we slowed he
turned off the runway and spun in on the plowed dirt.
We spun around, lurching and a huge cloud of dirt spewed
into the air. The crew was tossed around quite a bit,
but we managed to get through it without a scratch.
Ground shot of B-17, Shady Lady on ground (Shot Down, 1944) in
Germany. I thought this was "my" Shady Lady but it turns out it
was another group's. "Shady Lady" was a popular song of the era
and they ended up as names of lots of ships in all groups. (1944)
We were quickly picked up by a truck and returned to operations
building. Here the officers related the problems and we were asked
if we had any injuries we hadn't reported? Nope and off we went to
an RAF Sergeants Mess, where we were bunked down. Later we went
to the dining hall for a meal which was strange to us. Very greasy
mutton, cabbage, and boiled potatoes. Not very appetizing. And we
complained about the food we were fed back at our own base!
In the morning we were awakened with a mug of very strong tea with
milk in it and had a bite to eat at the dining hall again. A bite
was about what it was. They served cold toast, smoked haddock, and
the inevitable tea. Strange to us at the time, and we didn't eat much.
A few hours later a USAAF B-24 bomber came in to pick us up along
with a couple of other crews in the same plight. We looked the
"24" over carefully, being suspicious of an airplane we considered
2nd rate, compared to our B-17 Flying Fortresses. It looked okay
and anyhow, we had no choice. So off we flew in to the wild blue
(gray) yonder. A few minutes later we landed at a base where the
first crew got off. The B-24 stopped in a low tail position and
the rear door couldn't be opened so a crewman told another gunner
and me to jump out the front and go around and lift the tail up.
We did so, skeptically, and put our backs to it. Behold! It lifted
up and the doors opened and the crew that was at its home base
jumped out, the door was closed, the engines revved up, and we taxied
out and took off for the Roughham Airfield. We landed there and went
through the same procedure, a truck picked us up and we went on to
operations for a debriefing and then back to the squadron area.
We found that we had been presumed lost, as the last that had
been seen of us was the sad sight of our bomber, trailing smoke
and shot up, leaving formation and headed down. Apparently the
94th had not had the word that we were safe in Manston.
We got to our tent and found it had been ransacked. All our personal
belongings had been packed and stored for shipment to our next of kin.
Of course the scavengers had been there and stolen most everything except
uniforms. Books, pens, writing paper, a wind up phonograph, my collection
of Dinah Shore records, and more had all disappeared! Our clothing we got
back from the orderly room. I found my stationary box complete with my
little private diary mission notebook, and a partially written letter to
my parents in the possession of a gunner in a Quonset hut. He denied it was
mine but gave it up after the letter to my folks was found in it. A brief
and furious fight erupted but I was hauled off before I could kill the thief.
This was a common occurrence, a missing crew's personal belongings were
often stolen by erstwhile friends. We got most ours back except for the
records and the phonograph. The whole crew got their bicycles back except
for me. The First Sergeant had it and denied that it was mine and there
wasn't much I could do about it. I could probably had whipped him but I would
have ended up in Lichfield, the ill-famed G.I. prison. So I just let in lie.
Merseberg, Germany. I flew 4 or 5 missions there, the toughest
target in Germany. The Intell Briefer said "There are 750
heavy AA guns there (88mm and up) but don't worry, only 500
of them can bear on you at once!!!!" (1944)
When the 94th had it's three day stand-down for the 200th anniversary
mission, we really began to swing. Dinah Shore, The Glenn Miller band,
The Phyllis Dixie girls from London's Windmill Theater, and a host of
delightful girls from the local area to dance the night away.... What
a time. We saw the Band, we saw Dinah, we saw the Phyllis Dixie Girls,
danced about one dance, then Pappy and I stole a keg of beer from the
NCO club. This created a slight problem. How do you get a keg of beer
home without getting caught, and how do you move it? We knew it was too
far to roll, so, in a slightly (!) tipsy state, we proceed to load it on
a bike and started up the road in the dark, Pappy holding the bike erect
and me pushing. We only dropped it a couple of times and only once did
it fall in a ditch. But in the end we managed to get it back to the tent.
This was a coup, if ever there was one. We stayed in the tent
with that beer for the rest of the three day stand down. Other
crews, neighbors knew we had it, but we wouldn't let them in.
We'd send one man out to scrounge food, and that's the way we
celebrated the 200 mission anniversary of the 94th!
There was a notice on the Squadron bulletin board to the effect
that all ladies must be off the base within 24 hours of the close
of the three day stand down. It was purportedly signed by the
Squadron CO. Whether it was legitimate, I never found out. Didn't
concern us anyhow. We had a keg of beer to make disappear!
More contrails. (1944)
Food was a constant concern. The best a mess can do is try. They didn't
often have the greatest ingredients. Canned rations, lumps of powder in
the scrambled eggs, and soggy pancakes can sure put you off, and the
bread was terrible. We used to steal food when we could. One afternoon
we "found" a sack of fresh potatoes and had the crew officers up for a
snack at the tent. The pilot, Jim Cummings, the best natured man in the
world, as well as the best pilot in the same, sat there peeling potatoes.
Joe Toeniskoetter, the Navigator, and Fred Masci, the Bombardier,
washed them. Pappy Painter did the frying in oil, and we all did the eating.
We often broke into a hut in a warehouse area where emergency
K and C rations were kept. Pappy was adept at cooking these,
adding a few ingredients, and serving up gourmet meals out
of rations that troops throughout the army had learned to
hate! And all on our little pot bellied stove.
That little stove was designed to burn coal or coke, but along
with a lot of other crewmen, we adapted it to be an oil burner. We
scrounged a 55 gallon drum, ran a tube from it to the stove, with
a control valve to control flow, and dripped crankcase oil onto
a fire. It really kept us warm and without the fuss and mess of
coke/coal, which had to be hauled from the squadron orderly room area.
Other crews did this too, and once in a while you'd hear a loud
WHOOMF! Someone had gotten crankcase oil contaminated with 100
octane gasoline, and it blew! Startle the heck out of the guys
in the tent or hut, to say the least.
We used 100 octane for our own patented dry cleaning. Put the wool
uniforms in a can of it and rinse it around. It was odoriferous to
say the least. The most humiliating moment of my life came as a
result of the 100 octane dry cleaning method. A high school friend
and I were checking into a Red Cross Hotel in Oxford one afternoon,
and this very haughty woman, Lady Something-or-other, sniffed loudly
and said, "Whatever is this ex-trord-nry odor of cleansing?" As only
a Brit can be snooty! Of course it was me. I felt like dropping
into the nearest deep hole! Oh, well, what it was, was stinking!
For laundry, we'd build a fire outside and boil a can of water, with
dissolved yellow GI soap in it. Then we'd swish our clothing around
in that, and they'd be white, white clean! Better than the famous Rinso
White! One gunner had a surprise. He tried boiling 100 octane to "make
it clean faster!" It blew and he singed half the fellows in his tent!
More contrails, 94th BG. (1944)
One problem I always had in the Army, was showers. The 331st had
no hot water when I got there. The First Shirt took up a collection
and a bloke put in a boiler to heat water. The first day was great.
The first night, it blew up! End of hot water.
I always used passes in the Army to get a hotel and a tub, and
spend most of the time reading and soaking. Plus getting caught
up on my rest. Yes, it's true, I was 18 and thought that was a
great way to spend a leave. Imagine my disappointment on my first
48 hour pass to London. Went down the hotel hall to the bathroom,
and there was this huge bathtub. Great, just what I wanted. Had
a line painted around the inside about 2 inches from the bottom.
A sign explained that we were only allowed to fill the tub to
the line, so as to conserve water for the war effort!
One more thing about station 468. There were constant rumors that
summer of 1944 that the war would end soon and we'd be sent here
or there. That's what they were, rumors. I and a gunner from another
crew sneaked into a storage area one evening and painted a bunch
of Chinese characters on several cases. We'd gotten the writing
off a Chinese menu or something. Then we started telling people
about these packing cases with the Chinese writing on them. The
rumors began to fly fast and furious. China was our next destination!
Was very cold and got tired of seeing
all this every day - Merseberg (1944)
I flew combat exactly 2 months 15 days, and finished on September
23 with a little trip to Kassel. It was with no regrets we left our
tent ten days later, and the crew was on it's way to Bamber Bridge
by train. I've never known how I could spend WW II in the Army
Air Force, and never travel by plane. Always, except for crossing
the Atlantic, it was either train or the back end of a 6X6 truck.
I have never been sure where Bamber Bridge is, and don't really
care. We arrived there, and were greeted by a T-5 who made a
little speech. "You men," he said, "have done your bit, but
while you're here you'll be working for us!" And he wasn't
kidding. We were all SSGTs and TSGTs. We built fires in the
early morning for the offices so the base cadre wouldn't have
to come into a cold room! We pulled KP, picked up trash, made
garbage runs, and were generally treated like a bunch of
prisoners or basics. It was a trying time for our young egos.
The barracks were old cinder block RAF barracks with
very small rooms and bays. The usual mattress biscuits.
The first day I walked into the dayroom, I saw German
Lugers, P-38s, NAZI daggers, and helmets just lying around.
I asked who they belonged to. A gunner told me no one!
But he said not to get excited, that we weren't allowed
to take anything back to the states with us. They had been
discarded by former transients. The base cadre had their
pick. We found out what they were talking about the day
we left. We had to take all our personal luggage to outdoor
inspection stations equipped with long wood tables. Here
our bags were searched and anything prohibited taken from us.
They took two chunks of FLAK from my pocket, and several
British civilian aviation magazines! They were returned
to me several years after the war, via registered mail. But
nothing surprised us, nothing daunted us. We were going home!
So off to Glasgow by train to get aboard the Queen Mary. We had
to stand in line for several hours while we waited for the military
processing teams to get up from their naps, and a young Scot came
by. I asked him if he could get me six bottles of beer. I wanted
to take it home for my father. He took my money and left and came
back with the beer, which I concealed in my army greatcoat.
We finally filed aboard the ship and proceeded down to the bottom
hold where we deposited out baggage, then back up to pre-assigned
staterooms. About 10 or 12 to a room. We had been given a piece
of canvas and a length of rope and told to make up our bunks,
which were three high racks of iron pipe. None of us ever figured
how to make up a bed, navy style. The guy above was sagging into
my lap. But before we could get settled, the word was passed that
there was another personal inspection team coming round. Knowing
they would confiscate my dad's beer, I quickly drank the six
beers. That inspection went very pleasantly for me!
An hour later, a crew of blokes came around and unscrewed
the toilet seats from all the bathrooms...each room had
it's own bath. But we weren't allowed to sit on a seat!
There were only a few thousand people on the ship, for
this was only October, 1944. I was assigned as an MP on
ship and also to a 40mm Bofors quad mount AA gun tub.
What a thrill firing that in practice. The MP duty was
easy. There were a hundred or so civilian VIPs aboard. We
were to prevent them from being contaminated by exposure
to we GIs. One great star, a woman called Bea Lilly, screamed
terribly at one poor guy who happened to spot her and dared
to ask her for an autograph. She wanted me to "arrest" him!
The food was British and pretty much up to their usual wartime
standards. It was new for us to be served family style, with
platters of mutton and potatoes passed around. Many men
couldn't stomach it and went out to pray to the toilet.
Of course many men got sea sick while we were still in port.
After returning from overseas at age 19. (Nov 1944)
It was on the Queen Mary that I first saw movies from the back
of the screen. The transparent screen was stretched across one
of the covered decks and my place was behind the screen. I
still believe everyone in "Alexander Graham Bell is left handed!
We arrived in New York in early November. The Red Cross met us
at the bottom of the gangway,and passed out fresh milk, the first
most of us had seen in a long time. Donuts, too! Very welcome.
We were sent by ferry boat to Camp Shanks for reassignment. Until very
recently I swore that Camp Shanks was in New Jersey. Had many arguments
over it in the last 45 years. Found out it is in New York! I was on the
site a year or so ago. If I was wrong about this, a memory I was
absolutely certain of, it makes me wonder what else I'm so wrong about!
At Camp Shanks we were treated like royalty. No inspections, didn't even
have to make our beds, but we all did. We were served four meals a day,
and could have steak for each meal, if we desired. Yugoslav (can that be
right?) prisoners served meals, dished up the goodies, bussed the tables.
We had several days to do what we wanted and most of us were in
New York City every day. Met some grand people, and some nice
girls. I remember a cab driver driving me all over Manhattan
looking for my date. I had forgotten the name of the place I
was to meet her. We found it, and he wouldn't take a nickel!
This was November, 1944, and combat returnees with ribbons and
wings on their chests were fairly rare. Bartenders were always
serving drinks that someone had ordered for us. A heady
experience for a young guy, already a grizzled veteran at 19,
trying desperately to think of a war story...."There I was at
40,000 feet flat on my back, when Boom! went the copilot....yes
Sir, I'll have another drink, and I thank you Sir and Madam!"
Well all good things must come to an end and we were loaded on another
troop train to head cross country. The idea was that the train would
stop in cities along the way and disembark the troops that were going
to whatever area we were in. Let off a few crews here and a few there.
You may remember that Chicago had two separate railroad stations and
normally you got off at one, and made your way to the other to continue
on west. With us, they spent the night shunting around Chicago, moving
our cars over to the other station. We'd move for ten minutes and sit
for two hours. Finally we decided that one of us should go into the
nearest liquor store and buy about 20 bottles of various types of booze.
I was selected to go be the buyer, jumped train, and headed for town,
scared to death that I'd be caught. I had a wad of money in my pocket
and finally found a liquor store. Bought a case of assorted bottles
and headed back to the train. The case got heavier and heavier and I was
in a half trot. When I got to the rail yard, the train was gone. A train
crew man told me that it had gone over there, pointing off into the night.
I began to run and eventually caught up to the train, to the welcoming
shouts of my friends. I was dead tired and soaked in a sweat. My uniform
was ripped, and I didn't care if I ever had a drink. Ordeal by train!
Eventually the train arrived in Utah, and we all watched in wonder
listening for sirens and gunfire from the station. Never heard a thing.
You see, we had watched a crew get off wearing their A-2 leather jackets.
On their back each had the usual painted B-17 and the name of the aircraft.
Their's happened to be called "The Frig 'Em Young!" Never heard a sound.
From Salt Lake City, we proceeded to Monterey, California. At
Oakland, the train had to be put on a ferry boat to get across
to San Francisco. I called my Dad who met me at the station.
He took me home for a real mom-cooked meal. Then back to San
Francisco where I rejoined the train. On to Monterey and there
they gave us a 21 day "delay enroute." So I headed back home
and spent a great 3 weeks showing the uniform, and waiting for
someone to ask me about the war. It was California, and I was
only 19 so I couldn't go in a bar. But no one would talk about
the war. I found out that they had all read magazine articles
that told them that returning GIs didn't want to talk about
the war. What a crock that was! My dad finally asked me if
the "food was as bad as it was in the Great War?" I told him
I really couldn't compare but I figured it might be equally
as bad. This was all I got from my old man. He was the guy
who gave me the two greatest pieces of advice a dad could give
his son leaving for war. The first was find the oldest guy in
the outfit and do what he does. The second was better! "Don't
ever shoot craps on a blanket!" What else does a man need?
On leaving home I proceeded to Santa Anita AAF (the race track!), in
southern California. This was an old aviation cadet base converted to
a reception center for returning overseas veterans. The small mess halls
had double rations to feed us. The food was magnificent with a choice of
main courses and an unlimited supply of veggies, fruits, milk and ice
cream! If Washington had ever heard what they were doing for GIs heads
would have rolled all the way from California back to Washington.
Part of the mission at Santa Anita was to determine if we had any
psychological problems. If you said you had nightmares, or didn't
have nightmares, if you couldn't sleep, or complained of sleeping
all the time, and so on, whatever you said you could stay in this
paradise for another week. Some guys played this game for weeks.
I went to the Hollywood Canteen and saw big stars serving ice cream
or talking to kids like me. I experienced the surprise of waiting to
cross at a stop light and have people offer me a ride. "Sorry, and
thanks, but I'm just trying to cross the street!" I had a blind date
with the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, and here I was a kid out
of high school, but wearing the magic ribbons and wings!
Finally I couldn't stand it any more. Life was too good! I decided
to go home for a few days and went AWOL to do it. After a few days
at home I began to worry that I'd get in big trouble, and in my
imagination, there was an M.P. waiting around every corner. I hopped
a commercial DC-3 back to Los Angeles, dodging real MPs at Burbank
Airport, and made my way back to Santa Anita. I slipped in the gate
and walked over to the barracks. The first sergeant hailed me and
yelled at me. "Where've you been, I've been looking for you all
morning!" My legs sagged, but I quickly found that I was safe. I had
signed up for combat crew on B-29s, and he had my orders for Las Vegas
AAF. I argued that Vegas was still B-17s but he told me I was wrong.
Arriving at Las Vegas I found that I was right and I was back
on B-17s, but that wasn't bad. Problem was I had been through
gunnery school less than a year ago and the instructors were
wary of the few combat returnees that were showing up. So they
made me a flying instructor for the length of my schooling.
Here, barracks were not a problem. I was a staff Sergeant and
they gave me a room in the cadre barracks. Pretty neat. I
rather enjoyed this period of school. But all things come to
an end, and I was shipped to Lincoln AAF for crew assignment
just in time to find the blizzard season. We were in 20X50
huts with latrines just over the snow banks. I was back to
basics again. Pot belly coal fired stoves and all. One good
break there. I was made a detail sergeant and the first day
in front of the Gis falling out for dirty details I found my
basic training D.I. standing in front of me. He shoveled
enough coal in the next few days to make him remember his
treatment of us poor young men he hassled at Shepherd AFB.
Boy oh boy, vengeance was mine!
Ultimately I was assigned to a crew at Lincoln and we entrained
on the Rapid Canyon Limited for Rapid City AAF, SD. Still snowing
and it seemed to the entire two months we were in crew training.
In fact it was snowing when we left in May.
RCAAF was equipped with the standard two story barracks, with over
100 men in each. Since I was made Barracks Chief, because of my rank,
I quickly became acquainted with its workings. Being a 19 year old
staff wasn't all that great. I had no idea of how to supervise 100
men. No training or experience. I was a gunner. Big deal, so was
everyone else, though they were mostly PFCs and corporals, with a
few busted NCOs scattered throughout. My method was that if they
wouldn't do what I said we'd fight it out. Sometimes I won, sometimes
I lost, but I never gave up. What a lousy NCO I was! I hadn't a clue!
There was often a problem GI in a barracks. Once in awhile there'd be
a fellow who wouldn't bath. Almost always they were guys who would
never take off their clothes, sleep in them, atop their beds, and just
smooth the blankets down when they left. They usually became quite ripe
after awhile, and the men around them would complain. We had one here.
When I was told of the problem, I went over to his bed, and the aroma
was "channel 10," the ripest of ripe!. So I told the guys what to do
and when he returned to the barracks, a bunch of them grabbed him,
stripped him, and took him to the shower room, where he was scrubbed
down with a floor brush and harsh GI soap. It must have been quite
painful and he put up a heckuva struggle. But we no longer had a
problem. Saw the same treatment several times in my enlisted career.
Heating was provided by a coal fired boiler in the barracks. We
had a 24 hour detail to keep the boiler going. If the fire went out,
so did our heat and hot water. And it was cold in South Dakota. If
the fire was built up too high, it would burn the grate out. Then
we had to scrounge up a new one, wait for the boiler to cool down,
and replace the burned out one. And one or the other seemed always
to happen in the middle of the night. If I was particularly mad,
I'd just punch out the offender. If he could do it, he'd whip me.
Remember there were no officers around one of these squadrons. The
only cadre I dealt with was the old timer First Sergeant and the Supply
Sergeant. That's the way they dealt with problem GIs. What a way for
the modern manager. Later I saw this old line method used as late as
the 1950s. A First Sergeant would take a recalcitrant out behind a
barracks and beat the bejesus out of him, rather than court martial
the kid. Crude but effective. But I just didn't know any better!
At any rate, between the barracks and the flying I was a busy man. I
didn't like the crew much and could usually beg off flying when I wanted
to. I'd go into town and get a hotel room and soak in the bath. Ah, luxury.
The second most embarrassing incident of my career occurred At Rapid
City. President Roosevelt had died, early in April, 1945, and we were
to fall out for a memorial parade. I formed up my squadron. Not really
a squadron, but it was too big for a flight. Got all set up and gave
the command, "Dress, Right, Dress." I walked the ranks looking to see
that all was well. But I couldn't think of the command to get the arms
down and the eyes forward. I suffered a brain fart! I reinspected the
ranks a time or two and nothing came to mouth. A Lieutenant appeared to
take over and I was growing redder and redder. Finally I knew I had to do
something. I turned to the Lieutenant and asked, "Sir, what's the next
damned command?" He gave me a disgusted look and barked, "Ready, Front!"
I was razzed for that until I left the base later in the month. In the
1950s I ran into an NCO from the old days up there and he reminded me of it!
I mentioned that I didn't particularly like the crew I was assigned to.
An example of the leadership the pilot showed just as we finished training.
We were flying in a snow storm and the pilot came on the intercom and asked
if everyone had seen Mt. Rushmore? I tried to quiet everyone down, but one
dumb cluck said no! The pilot found a hole in the clouds and came down
along side the famous faces, between the mountain and the observation
platform. I thought we were all going to die but we made it. Senseless risk.
The war in Europe ended just as we finished our B-17 training, so
we obviously weren't going back to the 8th AF. I applied for B-29
training and they put me on a troop train for Harlingen AAF in Texas.
Wearing my woolen uniform, and carrying my overcoat, I headed south,
leaving Rapid City in a blizzard at the end of May. The train was the
old type Pullman cars and being one of the few NCOs aboard I lucked out
and got a room. I got a couple of buddies in with me and we played poker
all the way to Harlingen. I barely tasted the food, as I couldn't chew,
my jaw was swollen so badly. You see, the night before we left, I had
been involved in another barracks disciplinary problem, and a guy named
George Zimmerman, from Germantown, PA, cleaned my clock. I got him, but
my jaw was swollen like I had a wad of tobacco between the cheek and
the gum. My advice to the world is that if you ever run into George
Zimmerman, watch the right. He fakes with his left, and Wham!
We got to Harlingen and there were no B-29s there, just B-17
training which was phasing out. It was so hot and I only had
woolen uniforms, that I thought I'd sweat to death if I didn't
get out of there. We GIs never knew what was going on and
there was no way you could find out. I knew nothing of the
ways of the ground echelons, so one day I walked into the
First Sergeants office and asked to see an officer. When he
wanted to know why, I told him I wanted to get on B-29s and
go to the Pacific and fight the Japs. He thought I was a nut
case, and threw me out of the office. But the next day or so,
I got orders to go to Lowry AAF, CO, for B-29 training. A
few days later I was handed a warrant for a train ticket,
and some coupons for meals and headed off to Lowry. I arrived
in Denver, the most beautiful city I had seen and found out
immediately that there was no training going on at all.
I was assigned to a barracks full of combat returnees, and we lived a
pretty independent life. We would fall out in the morning, be issued
some grass cutting tools, which we'd discard at once, by hiding them
under a barracks. Then we'd get on our class A khakis, take up our
fake passes that we had made up from a purple colored cardboard from
a stationery box. This matched exactly the class A pass we were
supposed to have anyhow. Then we would walk out the gate and head
for the delights of Denver. Some life. The barracks was alright, and
I ate all my meals in town. But I was missing something. Of course
the real reason was there in the back of my mind all the time. I missed
the old crew, and had since we parted in New York the year before.
On top of that, I knew that I still wanted to fly B-29s and shoot down
Zeros. You see they flamed when hit. I knew that, as I had seen it
in the movies. So I saw another First Sergeant and explained my
predicament. He thought I was nuts. Offered me the chance to go to
Shepherd AAF and take a six week course and become a Liaison Pilot.
I told him that I had been to Shepherd, didn't like it and beside,
I was already a SSGT, which is what Liaison Pilots got as rank.
A couple of days later, I got orders sending me to Las Vegas
for B-29 Gunnery Training. I complained that I had been there
twice and they still didn't have B-29s, only B-17s. Didn't do
any good. I got on the train for Las Vegas with a delay en
route to my family home in Northern California.
The folks were getting a little tired of me coming home. I had
been home a couple of other times on delays between station
assignments, about five times in the last year! The neighbors,
whose sons all seemed to be overseas, fighting the Japs, were
looking at me like maybe I wasn't really in the Air Force at
all. My dad even hinted that he had served two years in the
WW I army, in the Great War, and he never had a leave at all.
So I reported into Las Vegas AAF and found that the only gunnery
training there was B-17 flexible gunnery. So what's new? I was
put in a typical barracks and became an instructor. I was
assigned to teach aerial gunnery from aircraft flying B-17s
and I taught skeet on the ranges out on the airfield perimeter.
What a life. One day I'd fly with a bunch of students and the
next I'd teach skeet. The flying quickly became the second choice.
When a gunner got sick, we'd have to have someone else fire his
ammunition. This wasn't bad unless he'd been sick in the ball
turret! The mess there was enough to make a man sick!
The rule was you couldn't go back with ammunition in the turret. Several
times I had to enter the turret and fire off the ammunition for him. My
method was to hold the trigger down in loooong bursts, often burning out
a barrel or two but getting it over with as soon as possible. The pilots
were transitioning into four engine airplanes, and to my experienced eye
(20 years old now!), they were a definite danger to my life. I wanted to
get out alive so I could get into B-29s and go fight the Japs!
Richmond, California where I went to high school.
This is a post card from early/mid 1930s.
Somehow, I got a leave in the midst of all this and went home.
While visiting my old 94th Engineer, Ed Herbert at Fairfield-Suisun
AAF (now Travis AFB) it was announced that the war was over in the
Pacific and peace was declared. I got out of the airfield that day
and went to San Francisco with a date. That was the night the sailors
rioted in San Francisco, and we were lucky to get out of town alive!
I went back to Las Vegas and found that gunnery school was all over.
No more need for gunners! I didn't know what to do so I asked the
Provost Martial if he'd give me a job. He couldn't believe that
someone was applying for a job, that's not the way it's done in the
USAAF! He looked at me in amazement, and made me the Provost Martial
Sergeant. I posted guards and watched the activities in the stockade.
When I could no longer stomach the brutality over the prisoners, I
looked around for another job. Approaching the Inspector General, I
asked him for a job. He was as amazed as the Provost Martial, but took
me on for the remaining couple of weeks till I was discharged. I never
did figure out what the Inspector General did. He always seemed to be
at the O Club, and I just sat around counting my discharge points.
At night I'd go into the gambling joints and hire out as an MP. I'd
managed to retain an MP arm band and the belt and pistol from my
Provost Martial days. The bosses at these places gave me something
like $10 for a four hour shift, standing around their joint to help
with drunk GIs. There never were any, so it was easy duty. One night
I was approached by some Chinese men. They asked me if I would be
interested in flying for the Chinese Air Force as a gunner. The pay
was some immense amount for those days. I told them politely that I
was occupied at the moment, but I'd be in San Francisco in a couple
of weeks, and that they could contact me there. After my discharge
in October, I went home via Los Angeles, and sure enough got a phone
call. It was my Chinese friends. We met and I regretfully turned down
the job offer. I discovered that I could lose my American Citizenship!
So ended my enlisted days in the active forces. I stayed in reserve and
was promoted to Tech and Master Sergeant. One day in 1948 I answered
the telephone at home and a man announced that he was Major So and So.
Sure, I said, and I'm King Kong. He assured me that he was an Air Force
Major and that he had a proposition for me. "How would I like a reserve
commission in the new Air Force?" Now I knew he was a nut case!
He eventually convinced me that he was not kidding. I sent in a one page
form he supplied me and was called over to Hamilton AFB one day. I took a
physical, where I didn't even get my pants off, took a battery of tests
that lasted a couple of hours, and met a board of officers in a 40 minute
interview. In January, 1949 I received a letter in the mail that said I
was now a second balloon, all I had to do was sign the form and send it back.
Of course a couple of years later I found out that my "Commission By
Letter", the official term for my source of commission, had a catch.
I got called up for the Korean mess and stayed in till retirement in
1970. But you know, it was never the same. A career as an officer is
lacking something the old free wheeling days in the enlisted ranks had. I
don't know, maybe it was just that I was younger, but then weren't we all?
Our baby daughter Terry's 1st Birthday(Terry, wife [Donna Mae], myself)
Photo was taken Aug 7, 1949 in El Cerrito, California.
Our 1st new car, a 1949 Hillman Minx (UK),
bought for $1400. (Aug 7, 1949)
A photo of Phil at 79. (2005)
Click on Drive-In photo to return to PRAB home page.