Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Friday, January 28, 2011

Photos from WWII

I recently viewed some photos of aviation activity at Iwo Jima during the war in the Pacific theater.


A friend on the list where this URL was posted spoke of showing some photos of his father from WWII. That made me realize that, although this blog is sort of dedicated to my father, I have not posted the photos I have of his WWII activities. I don't have many, unfortunately, but here are a few.

Top photo: Only picture I have of the results of a bombing run over Germany by his B-17.

Second photo: He and his crew after completing training in the B-24. According to one of his crew I heard from, their B-24 training took place at Casper, Wyoming. For some reason, I have a vague memory that Dad had some training at Mountain Home, Idaho before going to the Casper Army Air Base . This photo, however, was taken in Topeka, KS before shipping out to England. He and his crew were transitioned into the B-17. Since the B-17 had a crew of nine, and the B-24 had a crew of ten, they lost one crewman, who was reassigned elsewhere. I believe they were switched because there had been such heavy losses of B-17s that the 8th Army Air Force needed the replacement crews.

Upper left: Dad next to one of the Stearman bi-planes he trained in as an Air Cadet in the Army Air Corps. He was actually discharged as an Air Cadet, and then had to re-enlist as a Second Lieutenant to begin his training as a bomber pilot. For the record, he learned to fly as a civilian before he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

Lower left: I don't know who his classmates were, but this was during air cadet training.

Right: repeat of the top photo.

Here is a brief note written in 2003 from David Gabriel, his radio operator:

> Reg - - Since I did not keep a diary my recollection of > events involving my service in the armed forces is > somewhat foggy. In June 1943 I turned 18 and had > completed a year of college. I was inducted in September > and was place in the Air Force and sent to Sheppard Field > Texas for Basic training. In January 44 I reported to > Sioux Falls, SD for radio school. In July I went to > Yuma, AZ for gunnery school. Then to Nebraska or > Oklahoma for crew assignment. Our crew trained on B24's > at Casper, WY. Then reported, I think, to somewhere in > Kansas for combat assignment. We were sent to New Jersey > and boarded the Queen Elizabeth for Glasgow, Scotland. > I recall that the QE headed south and that we crossed the > ocean with the ship changing course every few minutes > because of the German Submarines. Since the QE was a > very fast ship it took the ziz zag course as we did not > have an escort. We were housed on the very top deck and > when we disembarked at Glasgow we were one of the last to > get off and catch a train which took us to Eye, in > England.>

This from the recollections of James Starner, his tail gunner:

Your fathers crew was put > together in Lincoln > Nebraska late August 1944. Received flight training in > Casper Wyoming for > three months,training in the B-24 . Of the 27 crews in > the class, 27 fliers > were killed in training accidents. Leaving Casper crew > went to Topeka > Kansas where we were issued a new B-24. The morning they > were to fly out, > they put the crew on a train heading for the eastern > United States, > stopping in Indian Town Gap Penn. for several days than > camp Kilmer, New > Jersey. The crew left New York on the Q.E. in Dec. > 1944 and arrived in > Glaskow Scotland six or seven days later with 16000 > troops on board. Left > Glaskow by train and arrived in Diss England Dec. 24 > 1944. Arrived in Eye > England at the 490th bomb group by truck at almost > exactly 2:30 am. > Christmas morning 1944. After the War Smiley, Ross and I > came home on the > Q.E. with 14000 troops. Dave Gabriel came home on a > liberty ship.I believe > R. Thibodeau and Hubbel flew back from England destined > for Japan after a > furlow in the USA. Do not know how Rhodes,Mennillo, and > Brown got home. I > arrived home in Aug. 1945 for a thirty day furlow and > that was extended for > an additional 30 days more for all veterns. I was > discharged Nov. 2 1945 > from S A C Air base in San Antonio Tex.Two years and two > days in the > service. Would like to add that on the way home on Q.E. > saw Jimmy stewart on > the stair way with 8 to 10 other officers. I spent my > 20th birthday Aug. > 13t in Stone , England waiting shipment home. The war in > Japan ended Aug. > 14. James F. Starner

Dad's crew told me that he remained behind with his B-17 (and his co-pilot, Ernie Mennillo? Bombadier Hubble? Perhaps both, but I can't confirm that) to do some "Chow Hound" runs, flying food and supplies to desperate civilians in Belgium and Holland. He was also tasked with picking up several loads of French prisoners used by the Nazis as slave labor in Yugoslavia, to repatriate them to France, as he spoke French. He would have been assigned to the Pacific Theater if the war against Japan had not ended.

I won't bore you with a bunch of stories of what my father's crew experienced, but they told me of one incident where they lost a couple of engines coming back from Germany, due to flack, I think. They had to put down, and the only place available for anything except a controlled-crash landing was a very short metal runway built for fighters that they spotted in Holland. Dad landed on that short strip, and the crew all got out without injury. The Dutch dressed them in Dutch uniforms and smuggled them out, enabling them to return safely to England where they were assigned another aircraft.

I wish my father had spoken of his experiences, but like many other veterans, he didn't like to talk of the war. He died when he was only 50 (1973), so perhaps he would have gotten around to it if he had lived longer. Hard to believe he was only 21 years old and in command of a B-17 and crew, bombing the Germans in Europe. Compared to the 21 year-olds of my generation or today? I know we have many good soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines of that age, men whose courage and devotion to our country are unquestionable. But, to think of what those young men were capable of and actually did in WWII? They were incredible.

[Edit: as I read this again the day after Memorial Day in 2011, I realize I mistakenly stated they landed in Holland. It was actually Belgium, per the crew. Can't remember why I wrote Holland.]

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