Samuel "Tex" M. Findley
323rd BG, 453rd BS
Memories of WW2, by Sam Findley
"Best Damn B-26 Crew in the ETO" Tex, 2002
T/Sgt Bryce Ramey
S/Sgt James M. Smith
S/Sgt Sam (Tex) Findley
Capt. Roscoe R. Haller, Pilot
Lt. Donald Nelson,
Lt. Curtis E. Wheat, Jr.
MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II BY SAM "TEX" FINDLEY
One of the truly great eras in the history of the United States of America was that of WWII. Soon all those who lived during this time will be gone. Those who served in the Armed Forces of our nation are dying at the rate of thousands per day and most all now living are in their late 70s or 80s. As one who lived and served during this era I have written this account of my memories to pass on to my grandchildren and anyone who may be interested in reading it.
I owe many thanks to my dear cousin, Martha Smith for proof reading my draft and for her encouragement and suggestions for improvement to the text. I especially thank her for the copies of the letters she saved that were written to her by my brother, relatives, and me during our service in the Armed Forces.
MEMORIES OF WWII
On December 7,1941 I was living at Terrell, Texas where I was employed as an aircraft mechanic for a flying school that was engaged in the training of cadets for the British Royal Airforce. On that Sunday I went with some friends to Dallas and when we arrived back that afternoon to the motel where we were staying our landlady was standing in the driveway with tears streaming down her face. We asked her what in the world was wrong and she said, "We are in war. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor."
I donít think that I even knew where Pearl Harbor was located then and I doubt that many Americans knew that Pearl Harbor was the name of the naval base in Hawaii. Americans were outraged against the Japanese for this sneak attack but we did not know at first the seriousness of the damage that had been done. As the Japanese swept on through Southeast Asia it became apparent that it would soon not be possible to buy automobile tires because all tires were made from natural rubber and thatís where most of our rubber came from.
My parents had a 1938 Chevrolet sedan that they let me use and I drove it to Mesa, AZ where I was re-hired by Southwest Airways (I had previously worked for this flying school prior to working at Terrell). I sold the car and sent my folks the $300.that it brought because I didnít believe that I would be able to buy tires for it. There was already talk that tires would not be available for civilians.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S., but at the time this was not of much concern to us. We didnít think of Germany or Italy as being the enemy. It was just those "damned Japs". The people living on the West Coast were afraid that the Japs were going to invade. As a precaution all private aircraft were moved from the West Coast to airfields further inland. The Japanese attack on Hawaii united the citizens of our country like they had never been united before. Everyone wanted to avenge this attack and to do his or her part in winning the war. Industry and the whole country went in full mobilization to support the effort. National Guard units were being called to active duty and men were being drafted for military service.
I began to feel that I should be making a more meaningful contribution to the war effort and I felt that it was my duty to engage in the actual combat against our enemies. I made up my mind that I was going to enlist in the Army and if possible get in the Army Air Corps. So, I quit my job with Southwest Airways, packed what few belongings I owned in a suitcase, and began to hitchhike rides back to my parentís home in Mt. Vernon, TX. I had to hitchhike since I didnít give proper notice that I was quitting. Southwest Airways would not pay me immediately for past work. I had only a little pocket change but after 3 days on the road I arrived home, a little hungry and still with the resolve to join the Army. I informed my parents that I would be leaving to enlist in the Army. My father went to town and purchased a wristwatch as a" going away" present for me. After packing a small case of toilet articles and bidding my mother, dad, and younger brother Louis Ray farewell, I caught a bus on April 17th to Paris, TX and the recruitment office.
At the recruitment office I filled out my enlistment papers and was then given a ticket for fare on the interurban train to Dallas, TX. In addition, I was given two vouchers for meals and was given directions to a small hotel where I was to spend the night before reporting to the recruitment office in the Dallas post office the following morning.
There was a large group of men at the post office for induction into the U.S. Armed Forces. We were required to strip and doctors gave us a medical examination. We were then lined up and told to raise our right hands and then administered an oath, wherein we each swore that we would faithfully serve and defend our nation against all enemies whomsoever. I was directed to a waiting bus that was to transport us to the Reception Center at Camp Walters in Mineral Wells, TX. This was on April 18th 1942 and as we went out on the street the headlines of the newspapers proclaimed that American aircraft had bombed Tokyo. I really felt that I had enlisted in the Service too late and that the war would be over before I saw any action. We arrived at Camp Walters that same afternoon and it was a beehive of activity. Soldiers were marching everywhere in small groups. They would all notice us because of our civilian dress and would call out as they passed by "Youll be sorry".
On the morning, reveille sounded and we were marched to the mess hall for breakfast and then to the barbershop for a haircut. After being sheared we went to supply where everyone was issued uniforms, shoes and other articles of clothing. Everything was well organized and we were kept busy all of the time. Career and skills tests were administered, identification tags were made, each soldier was given the opportunity to sign-up for government life insurance, and we were advised that we would draw the regal salary of $21.00 per month as buck Privates. They also taught us how to recognize commissioned officers when we saw them and how to salute when meeting one. When I put on my uniform for the first time I felt proud to be able to wear it and I pledged to myself that I would try to be a good soldier and do my duty to my country.
New recruits were arriving at Camp Walters every day and soldiers were also being shipped out daily. I was surprised one day to see my 17-year-old brother, Louis Ray, among a group of incoming recruits. I told him that I had requested to be assigned to the Army Air Corps and that my civilian aircraft mechanic experience had been accepted in lieu of having to receive training at an Army Technical School. At that time I believed my job in the military would be about what I had done in civilian life-----work on aircraft.
After a week or ten days I could tell that my processing at the Reception Center was almost over because we were no longer being scheduled for many activities. A corporal or sergeant would take some of us on hikes out on the outer fringes of the camp just to get us away from where the activity was going on. After about two weeks at Camp Walters a large group of us were shipped out to Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, TX for basic training in the Air Corps. My brother was shipped out to Ft. Knox in Louisville, KY to be in a tank outfit.
Most of my time at Sheppard Field was spent learning close order drill. After breakfast and about 30-45 minutes of calisthenics, it was close order drill for the rest of the day with thousands of other soldiers. It was Hup, Two, Three, Four; to the left flank March, to the right flank March. The days in May and June were beginning to get hot up in the day and the water you drank was out of rubber bags suspended on tripods around the perimeter of the drill field. Before getting a drink of water each soldier was made to swallow a salt tablet and this made lots of the soldiers sick and you could see them throwing up almost anywhere you looked. After about six weeks of this close order drill routine I was getting pretty fed up ----after all I wasnt in the Infantry----I was in the Air Corps and besides there was a war that needed to be won..
One day a corporal called several of us together and announced that the Air Corps was looking for volunteers to train as aerial gunners and did anyone want to volunteer. I saw this as an opportunity to be through with this close order drill and to go fight those damned Japs so I volunteered. I was told where to report for a physical and I went there immediately. One soldier just coming out of the examination room told me that they wouldnt accept him because he was too tall. He said you could not be taller than 5 ft. 10 inches or weigh more than 150 lbs. I only weighed about 130 lbs. but I was almost 6 ft. tall. When they measured my height I bent my knees enough to get below the 5 ft 10 inch limit. Within about two weeks I was sent on a train to the Harlingen Army Gunnery School in Harlingen, TX.
AERIAL GUNNERY SCHOOL
It was hot and sultry in Harlingen and we started gunnery training immediately. They started us out with B-B guns and then rifles, firing at stationary targets. We then began firing shot guns at clay targets on the skeet range, which was a lot of fun. Next we began shooting 30 caliber machine guns, first at stationary targets and then at a sail attached to a sled which was towed by an Army truck. Later we fired at a sail attached to a remote controlled rail car that ran on a circular track behind a bank of dirt so that only the sail was exposed. This device was broke down most of the time. Instruction was also given in the disassembly, cleaning assembly and adjustment of both the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns.
Finally we reached the most crucial part of the gunnery course----Air -to-Air firing. One T-6 aircraft towed a fabric sleeve and gunner trainees standing in the open cockpits of three other T-6 aircraft in the flight would alternately fire 100 rounds of 30-caliber ammunition at the sleeve. The projectiles in each trainees ammunition belt were coated with a different color of paint. After each flight completed firing, the aircraft returned to the field and the sleeve was dropped and the hits scored by each trainee were tabulated. In order to graduate from the Gunnery School a trainee was required to score an average of 20% hits during the Air-to-Air firing. The pilots of the T-6 aircraft were flying sergeants.
On one of my flights my pilot was a private. He had committed some sort of "goof-up" that had caused him to be busted down from sergeant.
The gunnery range began at Port Isabel, TX on the Gulf of Mexico and extended up Padre Island towards Corpus Christi. I was consistently scoring more than 15 % hits in the Air-to-Air firing. The machine gun had a ring and post sight and I took care to fire short bursts to keep the shot pattern close to the sleeve. At 200 to 250 yards that 18-inch by 10-foot sleeve looked very small. Sometimes it would be towed at an altitude above you requiring you to squat down in the cockpit in order to aim the gun and sometime it would be towed at a lower altitude requiring you to climb up on the side of the cockpit in order to fire down. There was a strap secured to the floor of the rear cockpit that the gunner trainee could fasten to his parachute leg strap to assist in keeping him from falling out of the aircraft. After the first few flights I did not fasten myself to this strap. I had horrors of falling out and my parachute accidentally opening so I figured I would rather fall free and then open my parachute if I did fall out.
One thing that was not learned at Aerial Gunnery School was the point to aim at when firing at an enemy aircraft. Some of the instructors would say "just lead it about a city block". No one could dispute this because at this time there was no individual in the U.S. who, as a gunner, had fired on an aircraft or even seen one fired upon. Any way, it was false. In reality there were times in aerial combat when it was necessary to fire behind an attacking aircraft in order to hit it.
If my memory is right each gunner trainee was required to fire 800 rounds in the Air-to-Air phase of the course. Those of us who graduated were promoted to the Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) rank of corporal with pay of $66.00 per month. This was the first graduating class of trainees from the Harlingen Gunnery School that were promoted to NCOs upon graduation. We wasted no time in getting our corporal stripes sewed onto the sleeves of our uniform shirts. We were also now entitled to wear Gunners Wings on our uniforms.
It was the middle of summer. Our next destination was Daniel Field at Augusta GA. We were sent on a train. I never learned why we were sent to this replacement center, but we were only there for a few days until we were put on a train again and sent to MacDill Field in Tampa, FL. I do remember, however, that some Lieutenant at Daniel Field was awfully peeved because he could not require us to work on Kitchen Police (KP) duty because we were all NCOs.
MacDill Field was located on Tampa Bay and upon arrival there we were all billeted in tents on a section of the field called "Boom-town". There were some beautiful twin engine airplanes lined up near the flight line of a type that I had never seen before .I asked someone what they were and was told "those are B-26s. They are medium bombers called Marauders and are made by the Glenn L. Martin Co". Boy! How I wished I could be a gunner on one of those. Some were flying around the field and they were noisy and seemed to be very fast.
After we were in "Boom-town" for a day or two we noted that no one came around and called the roll or otherwise checked on us or assigned us any duties. A few of us went up to headquarters to see what our status was. We gave an officer our names and after checking around he informed us that none of our records had arrived and that we should go back to "Boom-town" and wait for further orders.
We went back and told the others what we learned and several of them left and went "absent without leave" (AWOL). Some were gone for up to two weeks and were never missed. I sure felt like going myself but I just couldnt bring myself to do it and besides I didnt want to risk losing my stripes. Time sure passed slow just laying around with nothing to do and I thought "here we are with a war going on and Im an aerial gunner and should be out fighting those damned Japs but Im just here in this tent laying on my butt."
After 2or 3 weeks some NCO came and called some names (mine included) and told us to gather our gear and follow him. We got in an army truck that carried us to some permanent wooden barracks where we were to be billeted. I found out later that I had originally been sent to MacDill Field to join the 320th Bomb Group but they had become fully staffed and had departed for another airfield. (The 320th Bomb Group finally ended up in North Africa).
I was now a charter member of the 323rd Bomb Group, 453rd, Bomb Squadron. Our group was equipped with the airplanes that had been used by the 320th for training and they were in poor shape. My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was, because of my civilian experience, Airplane Mechanic Gunner and I was assigned to assist one of the new crew chiefs in our squadron in readying one of the aircraft for flight. We were in a race with the other crew chiefs to be the first to have their assigned aircraft operational. The crew chief who I was assisting was a recent graduate of an Army technical school, but he had never had any prior experience working on aircraft. His name was Eugene Pechon. We really worked hard and diligently and were the first crew to get our aircraft readied. We advised the squadron maintenance officer that the plane was ready and it was only a few minutes later until the Group Commander, Col. Thatcher and Squadron Commander, Maj. Travis arrived to fly the aircraft. Col., Thatcher questioned me as to the airworthiness of the plane and I assured him that it was ready for flight. He said "Get you a parachute and get on board"
Boy was I thrilled! This was the first multi-engine aircraft in which I had ever flown in and when it took off it accelerated with a surge of power that I could hardly believe. During flight Col. Thatcher shut one engine down, feathered the propeller, and flew around with only one of the two engines operating. I wasnt even aware that such a thing was possible in an airplane. After that first flight I flew as often as I could with whoever would take me along as engineer on a flight. Many of our flights were to the bombing range where hours were spent making bomb runs on a large circular target. The bombardiers, who were recent graduates from bombardier school, would release one sand-filled practice bomb on each bomb run. These practice bombs had a small powder charge which, on impact, would explode and indicate the impact point. Each bombardier strove to be the most proficient in getting his bombs closest to the bulls eye of the target. I also participated in many navigational training flights made for the purpose of giving the navigators, who were fresh out of navigation school, more experience. Many of these flights were at night and over water in what is now known as the Bermuda Triangle.
Many B-26 crashes were occurring at MacDill Field. The saying "One a day in Tampa Bay" was an exaggeration, but anyway it was bad. I just accepted it as a hazard of flying in military aircraft. Most of us in the flight crews began wearing identification bracelets, on our wrist, in addition to our official identification tags (dog tags) that we wore, on a chain, around our necks.
Most of us had somewhat of a fatalistic attitude about flying. The crashes in the B-26s continued at such a high rate that a congressional investigation by Senator Harry S. Trumans Investigating Committee was made and it was recommended that no more Martin Marauders be manufactured. Jimmy Doolittle, who had flown the Marauder appreciated the aircrafts qualities and was probably instrumental in causing Trumans recommendation not to be carried out. Most of the crashes were due to pilots inexperience and some were due to faulty design problems that were soon corrected. Our training at MacDill was completed in late summer of 1942. I was promoted to buck Sergeant while stationed at MacDill and my pay was increased to $78.00 per month. We were about to begin another phase of training in simulated war zone battle conditions at the Myrtle Beach Bombing and Gunnery Range, Myrtle Beach, SC. This time I didnt have to ride the train to our new destination. I flew up in one of our Marauders.
The airfield at Myrtle Beach consisted of two asphalt runways carved out of a pine forest. Our quarters were tarpaper barracks scattered out among the trees. Here we slept on canvas cots and ate standing up at tables in the mess hall.. This is where the flight personnel were organized in to crews and began flying together as a crew and where specific stations were assigned to the gunners. It was decided that all of the flight engineers would be the tail gunner, so I became the tail gunner on our crew. The other two enlisted men on our crew were Sgt.Bryce Ramey who, when not required at his station in the aircrafts radio compartment, would man the waist guns and Sgt. James M. Smith was the top turret gunner. Smith was from Mississippi, Ramey was from West Virginia and of course I was from Texas. No one in the squadron called me Sam. Everyone knew me as "Tex". The officers on our crew were Lt. Roscoe R. Haller from New York, pilot and Lt. Wayne Kachner, bombardier who I believe was from Arkansas. The Martin Marauder was equipped with dual controls for a co-pilot, but none of the flight crews in the 323rd Bomb Group had co-pilots. We were the only Marauder group that did not have them.
Our training at Myrtle Beach was somewhat different than what we had done at Mac Dill. We were flying at really low altitude. As we progressed in our training all personnel were being granted furloughs on a rotational basis. In November I got my furlough and came back to Mt. Vernon, TX where my parents resided. My brother came home on leave at the same time and we spent a joyous time together with parents, relatives, and friends. This was the last time we were to see Louis Ray alive.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and passed. This was the first Christmas that I had ever spent away from home. By this time I had been promoted to the rank of staff sergeant with pay of $96.00 per month. I also received an additional $48.00 per month flying pay. This was the highest grade that I was to attain while in service.
Our training continued by making long over water navigational flights. On one occasion the squadron flew to Bermuda and return with out landing there In January 1943 the aircrews with their airplanes were sent to Eglin Field in Panama City, FL where we were trained to drop torpedoes against naval vessels. One of the instructors was a captain Muri who had made a torpedo run against a Japanese aircraft carrier during the battle of Midway.
Soon all leaves were frozen and everyone pitched in to pack all of our support equipment for rail and water shipment to some overseas destination. The flight crews were sent on a train to Baer Field, Ft. Wayne, IN to take delivery of new airplanes from the Martin factory at Omaha, NE and fly them where ordered.
We anticipated that we would only be at Baer Field for a few days, but we ran into a snag and remained here almost two months. The self-sealing fuel tanks were leaking and repairs had to be made. Life was not too bad while we were there. We had no duties. Ft. Wayne was a nice city with a General Electric plant employing thousands of young girls and we had a liberal leave policy for the local area.
Our aircraft was the B-26C models and was armed with 11 caliber 50 machine guns. It had a wing span a few feet longer than the ones in which we flew in training but it still had the highest wing loading of any bomber in the U.S. inventory. Each square foot of wing surface had to lift more than 50 pounds when the airplane was fully loaded. It was theorized that because of our speed we would come in so low and fast that we could strike a target and be gone before the enemy could react.
U.S. Army ground forces had landed in North Africa and we began to speculate that we may not be fighting Japs after all----maybe we would be fighting Germans or Italians. We would not be long in finding out, because our aircraft had been repaired and we were ready to deploy overseas.
On April 7 1943 (almost one full year after my enlistment) we received orders to proceed to Hunter Field in Savanna, GA and then to West Palm Beach, FL. So we kissed the girls at Ft. Wayne goodbye, boarded our new planes and departed. The top turret gunner, the bombardier, and myself were taken off of the B-26 at West Palm and taken to Miami, FL where we spent the night. The pilot, radio operator, a navigator and the crew chief remained as crew for the B-26. I was aroused at 4:00 AM on the morning of April 9 and taken to the Miami Airport. There I was given sealed orders that were not to be opened until I was out of the continental limits of the country. We boarded a C-47 cargo plane and took off. After departing the U.S. I opened my orders and discovered that I was on my way to England. After a six- hour flight we landed in Puerto Rico where we refueled and immediately took off for Georgetown, British Guiana in South America. This leg of our trip was about 1000 miles and also took six hours flying time. The next morning we took off on an 11- hour flight to Belem, Brazil and crossed the equator in route. We also flew over the French penal colony named "Devils Island". We stayed at Belem for a few days and then departed for Natal Brazil. On this flight the weather was nice and the civilian pilot of the airplane let me fly it for an hour which was a real thrill for me. (The pilot was flying on contract for the Air Transport Command). One night I boarded a C-87 transport airplane and flew across the Atlantic Ocean non-stop and landed at Dakar in French West Africa. The C-87 was a four engine B-24 Liberator Bomber that had been converted into a cargo plane. The range of our B-26 Marauder was not great enough to fly across the ocean non-stop so they were flown to an air strip on Ascension Island out near the middle of the ocean where they were refueled and then flown on to Africa.
After departing from Dakar we flew in a two engine transport 1300 miles across the Sahara desert to Marrakech in French Morocco. There was nothing but sand as far as the eye could see until we reached the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. We crossed the mountains just before making our descent for landing at Marrakech. The top-turret gunner and I were reunited with our aircraft and our pilot and radio operator here. The crew chief was removed from the crew here and we gunners were put back on for the rest of the trip to our destination in England. On the 24th of April we departed on a short flight to Port Lyautey located on the Moroccan coast where we landed on a perforated- steel runway and spent the night. The next morning, which was Easter Sunday, we departed for England. Our aircraft was heavily loaded. We had auxiliary fuel tanks in the front bombay and special tools stowed in the rear bombay. We gunners were each given 150 rounds of ammunition for our guns because we would be flying adjacent to German occupied France and well within range of Nazi fighter planes. The flight, however, was uneventful and we landed in Newquay located on the southwest tip of England. From Newquay we flew to Bury St. Edmonds where the 322nd Bomb Group was based. They were the first Marauder group to arrive in England but had not yet began operations. The reason for us going to their station was that our airfield was not quite ready for occupancy. I enjoyed the deployment over but I must say I was glad it was finished. With-in 16 days I had been in four of the six continents of the world.
BURY ST. EDMONDS
One of the first things I did was to go into the town of Ipswich and buy a bicycle so I would have transportation on the station and the countryside.
Our host, the 322nd Bomb Group planned their first mission, which was to destroy a power plant at Imuiden, Holland. This attack was launched on 14 May using delayed action bombs in order to give the Dutch workers a chance to evacuate before they exploded. The aircraft returned from this raid badly damaged from enemy anti-aircraft fire. Allied combat crewmen in Europe always referred to anti-aircraft fire as "FLAK" (an acronym for the German term Flieger Abwehr Kanone). One of the badly shot up planes crashed after returning to the station while attempting to land. The Marauders had received a "bloody nose" but the worst was yet to come ----a real catastrophe. Photo- reconnaissance revealed that the power plant had not been destroyed so three days later the 322nd attacked the plant with ten B-26s. We all went out on the flight line to await their return. None of the ten planes ever returned. What a blow to our morale this was! There were some that thought the Marauder was no good for combat in Europe and there was talk of our being sent to China. We, who flew this airplane, still had confidence in her. Some of the "brass" decided that the problem was that the B-26 just wasnt being used properly. They believed this airplane could be effective if flown at medium altitudes with fighter escort. It was decided to give this concept a try. Our station at Earls Colne was now ready so we moved there and re-trained for operations at medium altitudes of 8000 to 12000 feet.
At Earls Colne we moved into steel Nissen Huts which were going to be my home for more than a year. Our station was located in Essex County of England just a short distance inland from the English Channel. Across the Channel from our station was the Pais de Calais area of France and there, only 20 minutes flying time away, was the greatest concentration of fighter aircraft in the world----The German Luftwaffe.
On July 16 (my 19th birthday) our group flew its first bombing mission. The target was the railway marshalling yards at Abbeville France. The raid was executed with 16 B-26s escorted by 18 squadrons of Spitfires of the British RAF. Ten of the B-26s were damaged by enemy flak and one combat crewman was injured but all the aircraft returned to station.
INTRODUCTION TO AERIAL COMBAT
On July 25th, I flew on my first mission. The target was some coke ovens at Ghent Belgium. As our flight of 18 planes approached the coast of Belgium I felt a fear and anticipation of what my fate would be. When we crossed the coast black puffs of smoke began to erupt throughout the formation. So this was flak. It didnt seem so harmful. I developed a healthy respect for it later when I saw the holes it made in the planes. I kept my eyes peeled for German FW-190 and ME-109 fighters. The only fighters I saw were the Spitfires of the RAF that were our escorts and were a comforting sight. All of our aircraft returned to our station. No one was killed or wounded and only three aircraft were damaged. The group had now completed five missions without the loss of an aircraft. ----How long would our luck hold out?
Our Bomb Group began attacking the German airfields in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands. A loading list was posted on the Squadron bulletin board to alert the crews who were scheduled to participate on each subsequent mission. When the mission was announced these crews went to the Operations briefing room to be briefed on the target, weather, expected enemy opposition, bomb load, fighter escort rendezvous point, route to and from the target, and take-off time. When the Mission Briefing Officer announced the target he would display a large map with a string marking the route to be flown to and return from the target. Enemy flak batteries along the route would be indicated by circles drawn on the map. Where the string passed through a circle flak could be expected at that location during the mission. Of course there was always flak at the target. Any target that was worth bombing was one that was also worth defending. After the briefing we would go to the equipment room. Here our parachutes and escape kits were issued. The parachutes were of British manufacture, and the parachute harness incorporated a quick release feature that enabled the airman to quickly separate from the parachute in case of landing in the water after bailing out of the airplane. A "one man" rubber boat was available to each crewmember and it could be attached to the parachute harness if it was necessary to bail out over water. These boats remained in the aircraft, as did the flak vests that each crewman wore when flying over enemy controlled territory. The escape kit contained many useful items such as a compass, rubber water bottle, a map and money of the country where the mission target was located, etc.
Each combat crew had a Jeep available to transport them to the hard stand where their aircraft was parked and ready for the mission.
Our luck finally ran out when the Group flew its 10th mission on July 31,1943 while attacking the enemy airfield at Poix, France. The B-26 piloted by our Squadron Commander received a direct hit from a German 88-millimeter flak shell. He, the navigator, the bombardier, and the radio operator were killed. Three crewmen parachuted out successfully. One of these was captured and the other two evaded capture by the Germans and with the help of the French underground managed to get to Spain and eventually back to England.
WOUNDED IN ACTION
All during the summer of 1943 the Marauders hammered the Nazi airfields and railway marshalling yards. Our escorting Spitfires shot down over 100 enemy fighter aircraft during these raids. The weather in Northern Europe was probably our worst enemy. We were briefed for many missions that were either scrubbed or aborted because of bad weather either at our base or at the target to be bombed.
On the 30th of August 36 aircraft from our group bombed a secret target in the Foret de Eperlesque in France. As the formation crossed the coast between Dunkerque France and Ostend Belgium our Marauder was hit with flak. Shrapnel pierced the side of the aircraft at my crew position and severed the ammunition track to one of my guns knocking it out of commission. Pieces of flak and shreds of metal from the ammunition track pierced my right arm, hands, and neck. I immediately knew I was hit and there was blood on the piece of bulletproof glass through which I sighted my guns. After notifying the pilot that I had been wounded I asked the radio operator at the waist guns to look at my face to see where I had been hit and he told me that he couldnt see any wounds there at all. Upon returning to our airfield from the mission our aircraft landed first (It was normal procedure for aircraft with wounded aboard to be the first to land) and we were met by the ambulance and medics. The wounds to my arm and hand were examined and treated and I advised the flight surgeon that I had also been hit somewhere about my face. After examination he conclude that I had no wounds in that area, but the next day while shaving my razor scraped something and I rode my bicycle to his office where he removed a small piece of metal from my neck. Luckily, I was not seriously wounded and I continued flying missions. For my wounds I was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. I had already received The Air Medal for flying 5 combat missions. I never learned what the secret target was that we bombed that day but considering the amount of flak at the target it must have been important to the enemy.
It was about this time that we lost our bombardier. Every time he was briefed for a mission he would plead illness to our pilot claiming that he was unable to fly. He just lacked the intestinal fortitude that it took to be a combat crewman. He was sent back to the U.S. and was replaced by Lieutenant George Friesner. All of us had a fear of the hazardous undertaking in which we were engaged. We were well aware of our mortality and the risks we were taking of being killed, wounded, or becoming prisoners of war. The hazards we shared forged a close bond between the members of each crew. It was a bond, which in some ways was closer than that which exists between blood brothers.
To help us endure the rigors of combat each crew was given two days off about every two weeks. We could visit some of the towns near our station or take the train for a short ride into London.
London survived the Blitz of 1940 but there were still lots of evidence of the destruction caused by the massive raids of the bombers of the German Luftwaffe. In 1943/44 they continued to come but they did it at night and with just a few planes. I witnessed several attacks and the British searchlights would converge on the raider and the anti-aircraft guns would open up on the intruder, which was usually a Junkers JU-88. There were servicemen from many different allied nations in London. There was an American enlisted mans service in an area of London called Piccadilly Circus. It was called the Rainbow Club. A serviceman could go there and get snacks and cigarettes, write letters, etc.
When I went into London I would call a girl friend that worked for the British mint. We would meet and take in a show or go to a dance at the Hammersmith Palais or at Covent Gardens. The lights of the city were totally blacked out to make it more difficult for the enemy bomber crews to locate specific targets. In fact all cities and military stations were blacked everywhere in England. We used the underground subway to travel in various parts of London. Most of the service men that I knew drank socially and so did I but the British liked their beer warm (there was no ice) and I was not too fond of it. There were many cultural sites to visit in London but I didnt see many of them, however I did visit St. Paul Cathedral and Westminster Abbey once. I also remember going to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Most of my time though was spent patronizing the many public houses (pubs), meeting girls, and seeing shows. War is bad anywhere, but it was better to fight it in a place where the natives spoke your language and were civilized. The times that I spent in London were very beneficial in unwinding, to some degree, from the rigors of combat.
We had received briefings for raids on secret targets before but in November 1943 we were briefed for a mission against a Noball target. What was a Noball? When we asked we were only told that it was a secret target. Noballs began to constitute the majority of our missions. In November there were 2, in December 12, and in January all 18 missions the group flew was against Noballs. The only thing we could see from our bombing of 8000-12000 feet was a small mark in a hedgerow and a small structure of some sort. They were heavily defended with flak. Why did the enemy defend these Noballs so strongly? We combat crewmen disliked these targets. From our point of view we were exposing ourselves to great risks and unlike an airfield or railway marshalling yard we could see no real damage our bombing did. At this time there were at least 6 other Marauder Groups bombing them also and thirty B-26s were lost during attacks on them.
WEATHER-THE WORST ENEMY
The enemy never stopped us from bombing a target.. The enemys defense against us could only reduce the effectiveness of the attack. The weather, on the other hand, could reduce the effectiveness of the raid or completely eliminate the possibility of it being carried out. The B-26 did not have all weather capability. We had to have visibility to take-off, to see the target we were to bomb, and to land when we returned to our base. The weather in northern Europe was bad or marginal most of the time. Fog would roll in sometimes and remain for days and cloudy or partly cloudy skies were the rule. During the year I flew combat (June 1943 through June 1944) our Group was able to mount an average of only 11 missions per month, and the average for each individual crew was 7 per month, as every crew in the Group wasnt sent on each mission.
Each crew had a lot of time on their hands. A lot of time was spent in briefings for missions that had to be cancelled at the last minute due to weather. In order to alleviate boredom crews would shoot skeet, play volleyball, attend survival training, etc. A lot of time was spent in aircraft identification classes. Silhouettes of all aircraft in the war theater, both enemy and friendly, and taken from various angles of flight would be flashed on a screen and crewmembers would compete in identifying them.
On two occasions our crew was sent to Ayr Scotland to ferry some of the B-26s to southern England that were flown there from the U.S. over the northern route by replacement crews. This was necessary because these crews would not be familiar with the radio procedures etc in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). Once we went up to Scotland on the train and the other time 54 of us crowed into a B-17, which had been converted into a transport.
Combat crews stayed pretty close together when on base so the pilot could assemble his crew on short notice. Sometimes, if we were not scheduled for a mission, we would just fly around the local area just for the fun of it. Once we saw a lone B-17 bomber flying along and decided to have a little fun with it. We could fly faster on only one engine than it could cruise on all four of its engines, so our pilot shut down one of our engines and we overtook and passed very close by the B-17. The crew of the B-17 had very surprised looks on their faces as we slowly passed by apparently with no engines running.
There was a nice service club on base, but I rarely went there. I do recall going there once and eating some tomato and onion sandwiches. They tasted pretty good. During inclement weather we also spent a lot of time in our barracks playing blackjack or just laying on our sacks (cots).
Mail call was held at the Squadron Office each day and it was an event almost every one looked forward to. I say almost every one because there were some who never received mail at all. All of the letters I wrote had to be mailed at the Squadron Office unsealed so a censor could read them. The censor would cut out or obliterate any thing he thought may be of any value to the enemy. The mail I received was of utmost importance to me.
It was the thing that kept me connected with my loved ones. I received many gifts from my Aunt Imogene and Uncle Beryl Jones while I was in England. I can also remember some candy that my mother sent me also some leather fur-lined gloves. I lent the gloves to my radioman and he lost them. My mother also sent a pair of Nylon stockings for my girl friend in London and she tore a runner in them the first time she wore them.
THE GROUND CREWS
It took a lot of support personnel to sustain combat operations. Without the crew chiefs and airplane mechanics to service and maintain the aircraft there would be no flying. Specialists for the propellers, electrical systems, radios, hydraulic systems, and instruments were on duty. Sheet metal men were kept busy after each mission patching the holes caused by flak. They kept a supply of various size patches on hand to speed the task.
The armorers took care of the guns and loaded the bombs in he planes, however, I chose to take care of my two tail guns myself. Loading the bombs was a hard job. We usually carried eight of the 500 pound bombs, but sometimes the target required 1000 or 2000 pounders. Each of the bombs would have to be hoisted up into the bomb bay with a hand-operated winch. Often, after they were loaded, the target would be changed and bombs of a different size needed. This meant that the bombs previously loaded would have to be removed and bombs of the required size loaded in their place.
Service men and women of all skills were important----cooks clerks, medics, truck drivers, etc. All were needed for carrying the war to the enemy.
1944 - A DECISIVE YEAR
I spent my second Christmas away from home and loved ones and we entered a New Year; one which would be eventful for the Army Air Forces in Europe and also for my fellow crewmen and myself personally. During this year we were shot down, our original crew disintegrated, Normandy was invaded the Allied Air Forces finally overwhelmed the German Luftwaffe, I returned home, and my brother was killed while fighting in Italy.
February was a bad month for our crew. On February 5 our aircraft was so badly damaged by flak while on a mission to bomb a Noball in France that we were forced to bail out of it after returning to our station rather than attempting a landing. An account of this incident was published in the "Stars and Stripes" (Daily Newspaper of U.S. Armed Forces in the European Theater of Operations) and parts of it has since been published in several other publications.
The article written by Bud Hutton, Stars and Stripes staff writer is as follows:
"A MARAUDER BASE. Feb. 10----When Capt. Roscoe Haller gathered a torn , unpacked parachute into his arms and jumped out of his flakcrippled B-26, Miss Chevious, he brought down the curtain on one of the most hilarious bail-out performances ever enacted over England.
As a matter of fact the LaFargeville (NY) pilot almost tagged a tragic ending on the performance. As he dropped the unpacked chute caught on the bomb-bay doors, ripped out an entire panel, and sent him earthward supported by only half the canopy. Though bruised and battered by the high speed landing ,Haller laughed today as he told the story of his crews 31st mission Saturday to targets in France
Flak shot out the planes hydraulic system just inside France but because he was leading the formation Haller could not turn homeward, and went over the target with the rest. Back at the field he circled till the other ships landed, then found to his dismay that one wheel could not be lowered and the other two already down could not be withdrawn to permit a belly landing.
"At this point it began to be a little funny", said Haller.
Told to Bail Out or Crash
Over the command radio, Col. Wilson R. Wood of Chico, Tex. Told Haller to bail out the crew and either crash-land alone or bail out himself. Haller settled for the latter, and things began to happen.
S/Sgt. Bryce Ramey, of East Lynn, W. Va. Discovered his chute harness was too loose, and 1/Lt. Curtis Wheat of Pharr, Tex., navigator, tied Rameys harness with six feet of rope from the dingy.
Next scene in the "comedy" found Ramey and 1/Lt. George J. Friesner of St. Louis, bombardier in the bomb bay putting on an Alphonse and Gaston act, Ramey bowing and motioning Friesner to jump and Friesner bowing back. They finally jumped and after landing Ramey was chased around a field by a zealous knife-armed farmer who mistook him for a Nazi chutist.
When S/Sgt. Sam Findley, engineer-tail gunner, from Mt. Vernon, Tex. and S/Sgt. Jimmy Smith of Charleston, Miss., top-turret gunner, had gone out, Haller and Wheat took the ship to the coast and Wheat bailed out.
SILK ALL OVER
"I started to follow" Haller said, "but as I got up I accidentally pulled the ring on my chute and wind rushing the nose well spread the silk through the ship."
Gathering the silk in his arms and leaving the pilot chute sticking over his shoulder, Haller jumped. The trailing edge of the chute caught on the bomb bay door, ripping out the panel and leaving with only half of the chute working from 1,000 feet on down.
"It must have slowed me down to about two miles an hour, but I landed," Haller said. "I can still walk and next week well be back on ops."
"Three other B-26s from our Group were shot down on this mission. Our top turret gunner broke his ankle when he landed in his parachute and was not able to fly any more. Actually I was the first to bail out and the only one of the crew to land on the base. I jumped out of the waist gun window and it was a good feeling when the parachute opened. I landed right by the W.A.A.C. (Womens Army Auxiliary Corps) barracks area which was surrounded by a high chain link fence and was off limits to male personnel. Some of my buddies accused me of trying to guide my parachute and land inside the compound, but that wasnt so .I was just happy to get back to earth anywhere it put me down. No one jumped for sport in those days and mine was the first jump that many observers had ever witnessed, so I was quite a celebrity for a few days and a new member of the Caterpillar Club. (The Caterpillar Club is what every one becomes a member of when they save their life by use of a parachute. There are no roster of members, no club officers, or dues, or meetings. It is named for the worms that made the silk from which the chutes were made prior to the advent of Nylon).
Although we continued to hammer the Noballs we began to bomb a variety of other targets too. We bombed railway marshalling yards, airfields, and enemy gun batteries during March and April.
The stress from combat was beginning to affect many of us in the Marauder crews. The fact that you were flying in an aircraft fueled with 960 gallons of highly volatile fuel and loaded with two tons of highly explosive TNT while being shot at with heavy artillery is a very stressful feeling. Each German 88-millimeter gun batteries had six guns and each gun could fire 15 to 20 shells per minute. On some missions the shrapnel from the flak barrages would hit only a few of our planes, while on other missions all of the aircraft would receive flak damage. An enemy fighter posed a great threat to you, but you could try to defend your plane when attacked. There was nothing you could do to counteract the flak when making a bomb run on the target. The flak was very demoralizing. We B-26 gunners only had to fire at enemy fighters on rare occasions. Our fighter escort usually kept the German fighters at bay. One of the things that mattered the most to us was the fact that we did not have a combat tour of a certain number of missions to fly as did those airmen flying in the B-17s and B-24s or in the medium bombers of the Mediterranean area. The Marauder was a rugged aircraft and would take a lot punishment from the German flak batteries but if you flew combat long enough you would be killed, wounded, or shot down and taken prisoner by the enemy.
In May we began taking out the bridges over the Seine River. Many of these bridges had parts of a city at each end, so we were required to bomb going up or down river at a right angle to the bridge to save the lives of French civilians. It was much more difficult to destroy a bridge when bombing in this manner. During the same time that the Seine river bridges were being bombed operations were also being taken against gun emplacements and other targets in the Pas de Calais area of France.
This was done so the Germans would not know the specific area where the invasion would be launched. Our navigator, LT. Curtis Wheat, flew with another crew and was killed. Our bombardier flew a mission on another crew and was severely wounded in his foot. Our pilot was promoted to Squadron Operations Officer, and as such was not permitted to have his own crew. This only left the radio operator and me from our original crew so we were reassigned on other crews. I flew 19 missions in May, which was the most that I had ever flown in one month.
NEW CREW ASSIGNMENT
I was told that I was going to be assigned on the crew of a replacement pilot who had just arrived from the U.S. The fact was he was not even a pilot he was a co-pilot and had not flown the Marauder as a pilot. A few days prior I was the engineer on his checkout flight as pilot. I didnt think much of his piloting ability and I didnt relish being on a crew of novices. After discussing my feelings with Col.Roy Pratt, the Squadron Commander, he re-assigned me as engineer-tail gunner on Captain James Hunts crew. Capt. Hunt was from San Bernardino, CA, and was an excellent pilot. The enlisted men on his crew were Jim Siegenthaler, top-turret gunner, from Council Hill, OK and Joe Bothwell, radio operator, from Mondamin, IA. Lt. Phil Haglund, bombardier, from Brockway, MT and Lt. David Beamer, navigator of Sacramento, CA rounded out the crew. Capt. Hunt now became flight leader. The name of our plane was SAD SACK II. (The original SAD SACK had been previously shot down). We were flying two missions on some days and from the air we could see the build up of equipment and forces for the invasion of the European Continent.
I woke up on the morning of June 6th,to learn that the invasion had began and that I was on the loading list for the next mission. At the mission briefing we learned that our target would be a road junction near the city of Caen France and that we would have to go down below the clouds at about 1500 feet to be able to see the target. The briefing officer also informed us that our usual fighter escort would not accompany us but that there would be fighter cover over the entire beachhead. The invasion armada was something to see. There were ships as far as the eye could see. I didnt believe there were that many ships in the whole world. We flew right over the battleship Texas just as it fired a broadside. A large yellow flame belched from her guns and at first I thought she had blown up. As we proceeded a little ways inland we were flying down a railway track that had some box cars on a siding. I got completely absorbed while shooting into these boxcars and did not realize that our bombay doors were open and that we were on our bomb run to the target. Then all hell broke loose. Our bombs exploded beneath us on the target and the noise and vibration were terrific. We had never flown a mission this low before and I wasnt prepared for this. The concussion from our bombs broke some of the Plexiglas windows in some of the airplanes. One plane from our Group was shot down on this bombing raid.
One afternoon the air raid sirens at the base went off. We heard a funny noise and up in the air what looked to be a small airplane with some sort of engine but without a propeller flew over fairly low. The noise it made was similar to the sound made by the gasoline engine powered Maytag washing machines used by folks that didnt have electricity in rural U.S. They came over quite frequently after that. We learned they were flying bombs and London was their target and that they were coming from ski-type launching ramps in German-occupied France. So now we knew the identity of those so called Noball targets that we had been bombing. Officially these were V1 Flying Bombs, but were referred to as buzz bombs. They were one of Hitlers, so called "secret weapons. The Nazis had constructed 96 launching sites in France, all aimed at London. Although we were able to locate and destroy all but 14 of the sites the Germans launched over 8000 of the buzz bombs from these over England with over 2000 of these striking London. Civilian casualties ran into the thousands. If a person was below ground he was relatively safe, but when the buzz bomb exploded it created a terrific blast. Flying glass caused many of the casualties. When the bombs began to come into London I ceased my visits there.
A MEETING WITH THE BRASS
On June 13th our crew was directed to put on Class "A" uniforms and report to the Group Operations Briefing Room at once. Several other crews reported there also. No one had any idea why we were ordered there. We did note that all of us there had previously been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and that we were all crews with the highest number of missions. We thought, perhaps, we were there for a photo session.
The Provost Marshall called us to attention and in strode Generals George C. Marshall, "Hap" Arnold, and Samuel Anderson. They looked at photos showing the results of our bombings and made various inquiries regarding our operations. Finally Gen. Arnold asked if anyone had any questions. An officer stood up and said "Sir, what is the possibility of a mission tour for Marauder combat crews?" They wanted to know how many missions we had accrued. I believe Generals Arnold and Marshall were surprised to learn that every crewman in that room had more than 50 missions and that some of us had more than 70. Our Wing Commander, General Sam Anderson had been making every possible effort in our behalf for a tour to General Brereton who was Commander of the Ninth Air Force, but Brereton would do nothing. I never knew a combat crewman who had any regard or the least bit of admiration for Brereton. General Marshall commented that Infantrymen had no duty tour and General Arnold said "This is a mans war and men have to fight it." Nothing else was said. After hearing this I felt as if I were doomed and my probability of surviving the war was slight.
RETURN TO THE U.S.A.
Bombing missions continued but we were beginning to run out targets within range of our station in England. Preparations were being made to move our Group to France. On my birthday (July 16th) someone told me that they had seen my name on a list of combat crewmen that were to be rotated back to the U.S. All of us on the list were not scheduled for any more combat missions. I had completed 78 missions during the year that I was engaged in combat against the Nazis. During the last week of July, I departed with the rest of my crew to Liverpool England where we boarded the troop ship SS United States bound for Boston, MA. There was about 600 German prisoners of war on board. The threat of sinking by enemy submarine was a possibility, but to make it less likely the ship took a zigzag course back across the Atlantic. The ship made the ocean crossing alone. A Catalina flying boat and a blimp flew as escort on various parts of the route. The crossing took six days and everybody was on deck as we were approaching the U.S. to catch the first glimpse of land. When we docked in Boston harbor the flags were waving, the people were cheering and the band was playing. It was a glorious feeling to be back.
Busses came right up to the dock and we returnees were taken to Camp Miles Standish. There our orders were prepared for our next duty station with a delay of 21days in route. There were banks of phones at the Camp for service men to call their loved ones but my parents had no phone so there was no way that I could notify them of my return. After two days my orders were prepared, sending me by train to the Rest and Rehabilitation Center in Santa Monica, CA for reassignment. These orders specified that I was authorized a delay of 21 days to reach this destination. It was summertime and hot and after two or three days, on a coal burning train, my uniform was smudged from the smoke and cinders. I dont remember why a number of us overseas returnees were let off the troop train at Camp Beauregard at Alexandria, LA to begin our "delay en route". I suppose that this location was central to where a number of us planned to begin our "delay." I had planned to ride a regular passenger train from Alexandria to Dallas where my parents were living while they were working in aircraft factories. When the train came into the station it was full of passengers and I could not board. There were many others in my same situation. Five of us servicemen each paid a taxi driver $20.00 to take us to Dallas. The taxi driver drove me to the address of my parents and when I got there I sat my bag on the curb and told him to wait. It was about two in the morning. I knocked on my parents apartment door and their landlady awoke and asked who I was looking for. I told her for my parents and she told me that they had gone back to Mt. Vernon since they heard the news. At that moment I knew that my brother had been killed. Without waiting for any further explanation I went to an agency that arranged for people to ride with someone travelling in the same direction by sharing the expenses.
I arrived in Mt. Vernon that morning and confirmed with my parents what I felt that I already knew. My brother, Louis Ray, was killed at age 19 while fighting for his country in Italy. One of my cousins was at my parents house with her baby. She had lost her airman husband just a few months prior on a B-17 raid on Kiel, Germany and her brother was, at that time, in a German prisoner of war camp after being shot down in a B-17 bomber over Germany. Everyone was nice to me during my leave. I visited with relatives in and around Mt. Vernon and then went to Boling, TX where I was raised and visited with more relatives and friends. The time passed away so quickly that it was nearing the time that I would have to report to Santa Monica, CA where I would be re-assigned. My parents drove me to Big Springs to visit with my aunt and uncle whose son was a German prisoner and I left by train for Los Angeles. I tried to buy a ticket for a Pullman coach berth for the trip but there was none available. In fact I wasnt even able to get a seat until we were somewhere in New Mexico, but had to stand up.
The Army had an entire hotel in Santa Monica and all sorts of activities that we could attend if we wished. We could visit the Hollywood Stage Door Canteen and dance with the movie stars, tour the movie picture studios, go on beach parties, go horseback riding, and many other events. Mostly I went around on my own. I was there, as I remember, for about 10 days. I saw some of the movie stars and went to some nightclubs. One, in particular, was the Florentine Gardens. I went with a girl that I met and Sgt. Mickey Rooney, the movie star, and party occupied the table next to ours. The entertainment feature was Sophie Tucker who sang "Pistol Packing Mama".
We were given physical examinations and I was certified as "qualified for overseas duty", but my next duty station was the Central Gunnery Instructor School at Laredo Army Air Base in Laredo TX.
GUNNERY INSTRUCTOR SCHOOL
The course at Laredo was for six weeks and this school was very advanced. While here I learned how to instruct students in gunnery and on the General Electric Remote Controlled Gun Turret which was installed in some of the newer bomber aircraft coming off of the production lines. I was given a choice of several stations for my next duty assignment and I selected Lake Charles Army Air Base in Lake Charles, LA.
I reported to the Army Air Base and was assigned to a Training Squadron. As I was carrying my gear into the barracks an officer came out of the Squadron Office. It was my pilot Capt. James Hunt and he was to be my squadron commander. A few weeks later my first pilot, Col. Roscoe Haller, arrived for duty as well as Col. Roy Pratt who was my squadron commander while I was in England. Another fellow airman and friend from England, Sgt. Eugene Duffy also came for duty at Lake Charles, so we had a reunion of sorts there.
My parents moved to Orange, TX and my father became employed in a shipyard there. They moved there so they could be close to me. They gave me my first car, a 1940 Ford sedan.
I had already obtained a gasoline ration book and I later became acquainted with a tugboat owner who was always giving me a few extra ration stamps.
I was living the "life of Riley." After instructing students during the day some of my friends and I would get in my car and visit some of the ethnic French villages around Lake Charles and date the girls and go to some dances where they played Cajon music etc. We would go to Jennings. Evangeline, Lake Arthur, Mermentau, and of course into the city of Lake Charles.
Once, while in a cafť, in Lake Charles I was playing a jukebox and there were two girls there. One of them appealed to me and I struck up a conversation with her and learned that her name was Dessie Sewell and that she worked in a pharmacy there. The next day I went by where she worked to see her and made a date with her. After a very short while I knew that I was in love with her and that she was the one person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I was determined to win her for my wife and within a month after meeting her popped the question. She consented and I was the happiest man alive. I wasnt able to get a three-day pass to get married so I arranged with a lady Justice of the Peace to marry us. I bought her a wedding ring on credit and got Sgt. Harry Compton, a friend, to be my best man and we were married in Westlake, LA on 27 April 1945. I made arrangements to live off of the base and we rented a furnished room with kitchen privileges in a ladys house. I also signed Dessie up for a dependency allotment. In the meantime momentous events were taking place. Our beloved president Franklin Roosevelt died, Adolf Hitler had committed suicide, Italian partsans had disposed of Mussolini and Germany had surrendered unconditionally to the allies. Also in the second week of May I was advised that I was eligible for discharge from the Army if I so wished.
MUSTERED OUT OF SERVICE
With Germanys surrender the United States would not require the numbers of men that were now in uniform so a point system was implemented to demobilize some of the armed forces. The point system favored those servicemen who had been overseas the longest and had been directly engaged in combat with the enemy. Points were given for the total time in service, time overseas, battles fought, missions flown, wounds received, and etc. My 78 missions made me eligible for discharge in the first group discharged under the point system. I was issued orders to proceed to the Fort Sam Houston Separation Center in San Antonio, TX by private conveyance to be mustered out of the Army Air Force. So my bride, of less than a month, and I loaded our meager belongings in our 1940 Ford and went to San Antonio. This trip was for us the honeymoon that we didnt have. We went by Boling, TX on the way and visited with my Uncle Beryl and Aunt Imogene Jones and my dear cousins Patsy, Martha, and Jeanie. While visiting with them we acquired our first household appliance. It was a small radio that would not play and needed repair. We were happy to get it because new radios were not available, as was the case with many consumer goods, during the war years. We had it repaired when we got to San Antonio and enjoyed listening to it for several years. I received my Honorable Discharge from the Army at Fort Sam Houston on 20 May 1945 after being a serviceman for three years, one month, and three days. I was now a civilian again.
FINAL MONTHS OF THE WAR
After receiving my discharge it was time to travel around a little. I had never met my wifes parents and her brothers and sisters so we headed for the small town of Doyline, LA which is located about 20 miles east of Shreveport. We visited there a few days then went to Mt. Vernon and visited with relatives. United States law required that I register for the draft. This I did and received a classification of 1-C (discharged) by the local draft board in Mt. Vernon. It was now time for me to get a job in order to support my wife and myself and to contribute to the war effort so we went to Orange, TX where my parents lived.
Getting a job then was easy. I applied at the Consolidated Steel shipyard and was hired that day as an electrician. This shipyard was engaged in building destroyers for the U.S. navy. The employees at the shipyard were mostly from East Texas and Louisiana and for the main part unskilled but they got the job done. This shipyard was producing a finished destroyer each week. The destroyers were badly needed because the Japanese Kamikazes were sinking them at a rapid rate.
Dessie and I got us an unfurnished apartment in a housing project that had been hastily erected adjacent to the Sabine River. We had no furniture and my mother helped us buy a bed and mattress, a couch that made into a bed, and a small dinette. That was it. You could not buy many new things made of metal and at that time there was not a plastic industry so we had a difficult time getting cooking utensils. I couldnt find a spatula to turn our eggs any where so I got a piece of scrap metal from the shipyard and made one. There were no new alarm clocks available for purchase. Someone gave us an old electric one that had exposed electric wiring on the backside of it. After getting shocked a couple of times while turning off the alarm I learned to get out of bed and turn on the light to see where to turn it off.
Ration stamps were needed to buy groceries, so we applied for and received War Ration Books of stamps. Sugar, coffee, lard, flour, meats, and canned goods all required ration stamps and were in short supply. Just because a person had stamps and money to buy an item didnt mean it could be found anywhere. It was often necessary to hunt for it. There was a "black Market" flourishing but most citizens avoided dealing in it. The "black market" dealers, if caught, could be jailed. I had a cousin who was engaged in it and many who knew about his involvement ever thereafter looked down upon him.
VJ DAY ---------VICTORY
It was clear that the Japs were heading for defeat but Americans were anticipating the necessity of invading the mainland of Japan and suffering heavy casualties while fighting a fanatical enemy. Then in the first week of August 1945 it was announced that atomic bombs were dropped on two Japanese cities causing extensive destruction. Shortly thereafter the Japs surrendered and everyone was celebrating the end of the war. My family didnt celebrate. We like thousands of other families who had lost loved ones had paid too high a price for victory to be in a mood to celebrate but we were happy for the victory and for the millions of families who had loved ones that would be coming home soon.
At the start of Americas entry into the war we were greatly unprepared. Our Navy was severely wounded at Pearl Harbor, and our Army was inexperienced and deficient in equipment. We were going up against enemies who had armies that were experienced in warfare and who had superior planes, tanks, and other weaponry. We believed in final victory but it was not a certainty. America was magnificent during the war years and by the grace of God we with our allies prevailed.
The official Japanese surrender took place aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay 2 September 1945. The war was over.
Samuel M. Findley
April 20, 2001