8:07 | The mission was photo reconnaissance and Clyde Burnette maintained the modified F-51's that flew the daily flights over North Korea. It was a miserable place to work, he recalls, as they had to maintain the aircraft with no hangars or sheds, just tents for shelter.
They told Clyde Burnette that if he enlisted instead of waiting for the draft, he could pick his specialty school. He held out for aircraft maintenance school while they tried to make him accept others, and was soon training as an engineer and gunner on heavy bombers.
The score from the color-coded bullet hits on the target showed he had no hits, until they found out the scorer was color blind, recalls B-24 gunner Clyde Burnette. He was on a model crew, held back to wait on new aircraft, but the men got tired of waiting and volunteered for combat. It got his attention when he was designated a ball turret gunner, yet never saw a ball turret in training, even as he arrived in England.
The ball turret was "the worst torture chamber ever," according to Clyde Burnette. He was very happy when the bombing mission didn't call for it and he could man a waist gun instead. Wherever he was positioned in the plane, it was cold, so cold that layer upon layer of clothing was necessary.
On his first bombing mission, B-24 Gunner Clyde Burnette saw another aircraft explode in mid-air. One man got out but his parachute was in flames. It was a sobering introduction to combat. He recounts some other close calls, including the time they had to return with a payload of special 2,000 pound Blockbusters and broken landing gear.
B-24 crew member Clyde Burnette walks us through a typical mission for the airmen stationed in England and flying missions against Nazi targets. It took an incredibly complex ballet of men and machines just to get hundreds and sometimes thousands of aircraft in formation to start the mission.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
Captured airman Clyde Burnette says his German interrogator spoke better English than he did and already had a complete dossier on him. He kept quiet and was soon in a prison camp where all anyone could think about was food and the lack of it. There were hi-jinks, like throwing rocks at the commandant's plane, disappearing infantry, and the sergeant who was really a doctor.
In the prison camp, Clyde Burnette only saw one American shot by the guards, a man who snapped and started climbing the wire. In the infirmary, a Yugoslav prisoner invited him along on an escape, but Burnette had to return to the general population and he missed his chance to try to make it to Italy, where his brother was posted. The camp was Stalag 17B and it became famous after the war when a prisoner wrote the story which became a well known Hollywood film.
The Red Cross parcels were supposed to augment the food provided by the Germans but it became the primary food source for the American airmen in Stalag 17B. Clyde Burnette describes how they kept distracted from the hunger, including making some homemade booze from raisins and holding rat races in the barracks. When a prisoner stole food from another, the punishment was harsh and memorable.
When the guns of the approaching Russians could be heard, the German guards emptied the prison camp and marched the allied prisoners westward across Austria. Clyde Burnette waited in the woods where they were left by the guards until a lone American tank rumbled up.
Liberated and well fed once again, ex-POW Clyde Burnette tried to return to the States with his unit, but his records were gone when he got to England so he had to wait. He had a space on the Queen Mary, but was bumped by officers so he wound up crossing the Atlantic on an LST. A small reward was once again getting billeted in a hotel in Miami Beach.
Continuing his Air Force career after the war in Europe, Clyde Burnette became a flight engineer ferrying retired aircraft. After a short discharge and reenlistment, he served in the Berlin Airlift. When they asked for a position check on one flight near the East German border, they didn't get a position but they were told to immediately make a 180 degree turn.
After serving in World War II and the Korean War, Clyde Burnette was stationed in the Philippines as the Vietnam War began to heat up. He nearly got sent there but returned to the States to finish his career which included prepping aircraft for possible use in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
He always wanted to be a Marine. Ever since he followed the daily news through World War II, Fred Fletcher had that deep desire. He survived the abrasive Drill Instructor at Parris Island and was assigned to Subic Bay on routine station duty when the Communists from the North attacked South Korea. Soon he was in a different climate.
It was called Hill 205. The small Ranger company was told to take and hold the hill. They did that as long as they could but Ralph Puckett and his men had to go through hell to do it. Waves of Chinese attackers had him calling in very close artillery strikes. He lay there, unable to move after three wounds, watching the Chinese bayonet wounded Rangers. Then two figures charged up the hill.
Ben Malcom recalls a mission to infiltrate and destroy a 76mm gun hidden inside a North Korean mountain. During the cover of night on July 14, 1952, Malcom managed to sneak 120 guerilla fighters onto the mountain and into the bunker, and describes the combat that ensued.
Ron Clark remembers when the Chinese would attack and how the strategies between American and Chinese differed. He also explains one detailed account of an American casualty during battle and his own major injury that permanently disabled his eyesight.
When it was time to act, Bill Minnich came through. On a night watch, as he caught sight of a Chinese patrol, the only question was, rifle or grenade? When the unit was pinned down and no one responded to the order to move out, he cussed them all out and charged forward. And when he fell wounded, it was a sure thing that he would get up and scramble through the bullets landing at his feet.
He had been a Radioman for the Navy and when Turner Harris was called to active duty during the Korean War, they sent him to Adak, Alaska, where he monitored Russian Morse Code for Communications Support Activities, a Naval signal intelligence agency. He missed his wife, but the chow was good.
Fred Webb was enjoying his Marine Corp Reserve meetings, but then the Korean War broke out and it was back into the service. The trombonist played in the band at Camp Lejeune and finally got some overseas duty of sorts. He spent a month in the Caribbean on maneuvers.
After moving around South Korea, Records Clerk Lou Pardy prepared to head into North Korea to Hungnam. The unit was in relief of Marines, whose tanks were not winterized. It was bitterly cold and there was a constant stream of refugees to screen in addition to regular duties. Finally, as the Allies lost ground, the city was evacuated in almost disastrous fashion.
Evarist LeMay recalls the capturing of a group of Chinese soldiers by his regiment and the actions they took for retribution. While scouting, LeMay and his fellow scouts come across a group of American soldiers that had been brutally executed. He credits these types of situations for the PTSD that happens to guys like him when they come home.
After a training operation in the Caribbean, Lou Pardy was settling in to a routine as a clerk in a tank battalion when the Korean War broke out. They were given seven days to get ready to leave and after that hectic week, they were shipped to a slightly more hectic location, the Pusan Perimeter.
Lou Pardy remembers the daily grind of Korea, the constant moving around and making do wherever you were. He also reflects on his long tenure as a Corporal, and why that was, and on his ill-fated attempt to reenter the military years after the war.
When Bill Camper arrived in Korea in command of an engineer company, the peace talks were going on so they were able to do their work on roads and bridges without getting shot. Mines were a threat, though, left by the retreating Communists. After tours in Japan and Germany, he was training paratroopers at Fort Benning when the Vietnam War began to heat up.
He had chickened out after trying to enlist, but the Army recruiter showed up at his house a week later and Lou Pardy wound up going in for a three year stretch. Basic training was tough and it put a few more pounds on his small frame.
He was at jump school when he heard about the North Koreans invading the South. Determined to get in the war, young 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Puckett was at a stopover in Japan when he was told to report for possible selection for a special Ranger unit. He found out that the officers were already selected but he made a pitch to get on the team as a rifleman if nothing else. Come back tomorrow, he was told.
After a short stint in the Navy, Bill Camper decided that it wasn't for him. He was going to serve, but in the Navy, the gulf between officers and enlisted men was too wide, so he got out and enlisted in the Army, where he knew the officers would be in the mud with him. Once in the Army, he was sent to Officer Candidate School and went to Korea with an engineer battalion.
Records clerk Lou Pardy had always been just behind the front lines with Headquarters Company, but after the rapid retreat from North Korea, all HQ personnel were moved back to Seoul. As his rotation date neared, and with a savvy replacement already in place, he took an unofficial job as a courier, which carried him back to the front on a daily basis.
Both feet were severely injured so Ralph Puckett had some serious hospital time coming up. Evacuated from Korea to Japan, then back to Fort Benning, he could, at least, see his family. Then came a knock on the door and two pretty girls walked in. If only they knew what he had just told his father.
Curtis Banker's armored unit was part of the force that came into Hungnam to support the Infantry and Marines who were "advancing in a different direction" out of North Korea. After the evacuation of thousands of civilians and Allied personnel, and as they were sailing away, he saw the warehouses full of supplies burning, torched so the enemy would not benefit.
Lawrence Abel was called back into service for the Korean War. The Air Force maintenance technician kept the planes flying over the 38th Parallel, then he was selected for a secret unit based in Japan. He made a career of it and even took his family with him to his favorite post in England.
We were totally unprepared for war when we had to fight one in Korea. Ralph Puckett should know because his job was to take a small unit of new Rangers into the country for dangerous missions. They arrived at Pusan where the American forces had just barely avoided being pushed into the sea.
After the war in the Pacific, Curtis banker got married but the Army still beckoned and he reenlisted in 1947. After a year of driving a target tank on the Fort Benning firing range, he got orders to ship out to Korea, where a desperate force was clinging to a perimeter around Pusan.
Piano wire? Those Rangers want everything, groused the supply officer. When the volunteer company got into Korea, though, they only had the most basic cold weather gear. The first mission for company commander Ralph Puckett and his men was to rout North Korean stragglers and units left behind when they retreated Northward.
The Marines were heading North when they found out that China had joined the North Koreans. Fred Fletcher was one of the men on the high plateau at the Chosin Reservoir. One of the patrols from his unit got to a ridge top and when they looked over, there were "many, many, many Chinese."
At first the tank battalion supported the line around Pusan, but then they became a part of the huge landing at Inchon. Tank Driver Curtis Banker drove his vehicle ashore with only one boot, which still makes him laugh. As part of the RECON platoon, he had a variety of missions, only one of which was reconnaissance.