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.
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.
When Marine Bob Brockish shipped out for Korea, he had no idea what an experience it would be just getting there. From the indignities suffered when he crossed the International Date Line to dealing with the sketchy black market in Japan, it was an adventure before he even saw the war.
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.
It was like sandlot baseball. The replacement Marines were divvied up by the platoons and fire teams and Bob Brockish was the last guy to go. He had been driving an ambulance in the rear, but now he would be in a foxhole on the front line.
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.
There were celebrities in Gilbert Howland's training unit at Fort Dix, including Eddie Fisher. They were preparing to go to Korea and it wasn't long before Howland found himself there in the frigid winter; dodging artillery and trying to capture prisoners for interrogation. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
The first thing he noticed was the smell. Bob Brockish was still on the ship at Pusan when he caught a whiff of the local fertilizer. The Marine's first assignment was driving an ambulance, but before he even got to that, he had two run-ins with the regimental commander.
From the rear at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, Sgt. Gilbert Howland sent in the worst casualty report of his life. The tenacious enemy would not let go, even though the territory being fought over had no real tactical value. His unit was relieved and then, to the relief of everyone, came the armistice. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
After the Battle of Horseshoe Ridge, Bob Brockish stayed on the move, taking and retaking hills as both sides jockeyed for position. He lived in foxholes, where the sleeping arrangements could be described as tense.
When the sun rose after the first night at Horseshoe Ridge, the Marines could see they were surrounded so they prepared to attack back the way they came. Bob Brockish remembers the rolling, leapfrogging battle back to rejoin the regiment, during which he lost friends as well as his weapon. Part 2 of 3.
Just as the Marine Corps was releasing Bob Brockish from active duty, North Korea invaded the South. Soon he was at a newly bustling Camp Pendleton, training for deployment to the peninsula. His new cold weather gear proved to be a problem on exercises in Southern California.
They never made it back north to the Chosin Reservoir. The advance of the Marines stalled near the 38th parallel and mortarman Jack King recalls how he was threatened with court martial there, twice. The second time, his refusal to load the weapon actually prevented a fatal error. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
After the push to get to the Punch Bowl area, Bob Brockish went into reserve with his battalion and it was around this time that he became squad leader. The Marine was nineteen years old and suddenly he was responsible for twelve men.
It was a historic day for the Marines, the first air assault with Marines placed at the front with helicopters. Bob Brockish didn't make that ride but his unit relieved those troops and he couldn't believe what they were complaining about. As he looked around the terrain, he wondered why there was apparent road construction on the top of a ridge.
Even without any college, Bob Brockish passed all the tests at Officer Basic School, where even college graduates were taking remedial courses. He wanted to go to artillery or armor school, but the captain had other ideas, so he decided to go inactive and entered the Marine Reserves.
They knew the Chinese spring offensive was coming. The untrained Communist prisoners would just blab everything they knew. So the Marines hurried to the hill that became known as Horseshoe Ridge and dug in to block the way. It was the first combat for Bob Brockish and he recalls his part in the battle. Part 1 of 3.
The Corps put out a call to NCO's in Korea asking for applicants to become commissioned officers. Bob Brockish applied and was interviewed and then heard nothing about it. So it was back to moving hill to hill, dodging enemy mortar fire.
He was pulled from the line and sent to division for Sergeant's School. That was big living after a long line of foxholes. When he finished that and got his stripes, Marine Bob Brockish got even better news. He was going to Quantico as an officer candidate.
His flight home had to circle around after an aborted landing and Bob Brockish thought for a moment, am I going to survive Korea and then die here? He was on his way home for Christmas and then on to Quantico, where hoped to become a commissioned Marine officer.
His memories of the Battle of Horseshoe Ridge are noise, light and smell. There was so much ordnance and so many flares that you didn't need lights. Bob Brockish relates these impressions and remembers the men lost. Decades later, there are still expeditions to locate the remains of the missing. Part 3 of 3.
Every Marine knows about inspections. Bob Brockish prepared well and got duty at the front gate as a reward. That did not last but he got other duty which he liked, something which was preferable to guard duty in the cold desert lookout towers.