10:23 | 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
POW Jack Litchfield went to work every day in a steel factory near the prison camp in southern Japan. His favorite task was taking the cart to exchange empty oxygen cylinders because he frequently had to wait, which gave him a much needed break. He was interned for over three years and near the end of the war, he noticed that the Japanese foreman was making something new on the anvil.
The Japanese defenders on Tarawa were very good soldiers, Imperial Marines experienced in Manchuria. They would rather commit suicide than surrender and hundreds did. Walter Marshall hated them during the war, but time has changed his perspective. Not long after it was declared that organized resistance had ceased, he was shot through the thigh and had to be evacuated. Before that happened, he got to see the heroic actions of future movie star, Eddie Albert, a Navy Ensign at the time.
In 1938, twenty one dollars a month made a real difference. That's what George McLaughlin received when he joined the National Guard. His unit was activated in early 1941 and he rapidly became a very young Master Sergeant. When he was sent to Alaska, it was decided that the tents they were assigned were not adequate, so they milled the lumber to build barracks.
The goal was to intercept and destroy Japanese ships. RADAR Officer Hank Sturgess had help finding the enemy convoys from the coast watchers, civilian residents with hand cranked radios who acted as spotters. His ship was assigned a dangerous mission, to move in at night right in front of one of these task forces and lay a mine field. (This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
As he readied for the next operation on Tinian, Walter Marshall received the word that he had enough points to go home. He was carrying a bullet in his leg and had a fractured vertebra and the latter condition was destined to plague him for a long time. Determined to make a better life for his children, he ignored the pain and worked on.
With 500 survivors of the sinking of the USS Helana on board, the men of the USS Radford received a hero's welcome back at Tulagi. Hank Sturgess felt badly about leaving some men behind, but with the help of a civilian coast watcher, most of them were eventually recovered. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
You could trade cigarettes for food in the prison camp, but Jack Litchfield explains why that could be a bad idea. The food supplied by his Japanese captors was meager, but at least it contained something he was very fond of. The men had access to a bath house, though there was not much soap, and it was there that a showering guard uttered something that causes a laugh til this day.
Allena McLaughlin was married, but she had no children so she volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps near the end of World War II. After her basic training, she began to care for soldiers and was destined for postwar Europe, but an unexpected visit to the doctor changed all that.
He'd always wanted to fly airplanes, so when war came in 1941, high school student James Tabb was tested and approved as an aviation cadet. Upon graduation, he was inducted and sent to Miami Beach for basic training. It was a pleasant place for training, where Hollywood stars and movie making were to be found, but off in the distance, you could see merchant ships burning at night. (This interview made possible with the support of KETURAH THUNDER-HAAB.)
He was finally on his way to flying, but aviation cadet James Tabb kept playing a waiting game at each level of training. First some college, then some flight training. All the while, the Allies were progressing in the fight and the need for new aviators was lessened. There was this new plane, however, the B-29. (This interview made possible with the support of KETURAH THUNDER-HAAB.)
The Air Corps had changed James Tabb from pilot training to B-29 engineer training. It was the most advanced aircraft yet designed, with electronic controls throughout. Just as he was ready to deploy to Saipan, the big news about America's secret weapon changed everything. (This interview made possible with the support of KETURAH THUNDER-HAAB.)
He was trained and ready to go, but the atomic bomb ended the war career of James Tabb just as he was ready to ship out. He reflects on the Depression era that produced the war generation and on the way the war was resolved by use of a terrible new weapon. (This interview made possible with the support of KETURAH THUNDER-HAAB.)
After the war ended, Jack Rodin was assigned with transporting enlisted men home from being overseas. While on these missions, he had a lot of funny encounters with men that were looking forward to going home. Talking to guys in other branches, he had a huge sense of camaraderie with all the men and women he served next to.
As Quartermaster for the 5th Air Force, John Fain served under General Douglas MacArthur, operating out of Australia and New Guinea. It was touch and go for a while, but as American forces were built up, the Japanese advance was stopped. One of Fain's accomplishments was the organization of a crash boat fleet which rescued downed flyers before the sharks could get them. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Flying practice missions in Kansas, Jack Rodin got a good sense for how to handle his aircraft, the B-29. Dealing with new expensive equipment such as this came with a learning curve but was useful after plenty of hours logged.