- Historic Sites
The 36th Mission
He spent his tour of duty bombing German cities and made it home only to discover he could never leave the war behind him. Then, a lifetime later, he found a way to make peace.
May/June 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 3
I was terrified and went to tell the pilot, who immediately became terrified too. We tried to figure out what might happen and realized we couldn’t land the plane this way. The pilot called the squadron and reported our predicament. We were advised to drop out of the formation; if we did blow up, at least we wouldn’t take others with us.
Being a gunner never bothered me, but dropping bombs did. To me the war had a human face.
We finally reached the Channel, and I opened the bomb-bay doors. The co-pilot and I went back and literally kicked the bombs until they finally released and fell harmlessly into the water.
Before we even reached the target, the sky filled with the Germans’ newest jet fighters, the Messerschmitt 262 and 163—planes so fast that we couldn’t track them with our guns. They hit the squadron in front of us, and we watched one plane after another go down until there was nobody ahead of us.
As we approached the target, anti-aircraft blackened the sky, and then we saw the reason for all the protection: big ships were tied up in the harbor. We had a clear view and could see them trying to separate and scatter.
We hit them hard.
There were times like this when I got caught up in the excitement of the moment and never questioned what I was doing. But I wasn’t really happy with the job I had been given. Being a gunner never bothered me, but dropping bombs did. To me the war had a human face. I had begun to feel helpless, suspended in air. I sometimes wondered if I was still alive. I could see images in the clouds, images of faces—my father, mother, sisters, brothers, and people I did not know.
This was happening more and more, and I couldn’t explain it—not to myself and certainly not to other people. I was afraid they would think I had gone crazy.
We had never been on a raid like this before. No anti-aircraft was expected and little chance of fighters because Minden was away from any large towns. Minden was an oil refinery. I say “was” because I don’t think anything was left when we got done with it.
Böhlen was another small town that had very little protection. We hit a marshaling yard, and because visibility was clear, we knew we did a good job on it. There was no flak or fighters. This was the kind of mission we liked.
A very large town deep in Germany, almost to Czechoslovakia. The mission was fairly routine until after we had dropped the bombs and were heading back to the base. Flak was heavy, and fighters came after us. One of our engines was out and feathered, and it caught on fire. The pilot put the plane in a dive and tried to put out the fire. We lost sight of the rest of the squadron and had to limp home on our own. We all were frightened. The pilot was having trouble with the controls and told us we might have to bail out. As soon as he said this, I reached around to get my parachute, and the damn thing caught on something, which pulled the rip cord. I nearly panicked. The navigator helped me gather the chute together, but it was all over the nose and so slippery we could hardly control it. Fortunately we didn’t have to bail out after all. The white cliffs of Dover were looming on the horizon.
If my remaining missions were as easy as this one, I would never complain. It wasn’t a complete milk run, but we all came back together.
The town must have been important to rate two missions.
We went back to Bremen, where we had had such a bad time on March 11. It was not much different this time either. Jet fighters—ME 262s and 163s—came up to greet us. The planes they hit never had a chance.
A long trip into Germany to a submarine base that was well protected with fighters and flak. It was a visual target, and what a view. We saw submarines being built in a production line, and we blew the hell out of them.