8:01 | 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are a woman veteran, reach out, find a network of women who have been there. That's the advice of Angela Beltz, a veteran of Desert Storm. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
When a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up at the gate, dental officer Mike Barno hurried to his emergency assignment, triage at the aid station. A truck with wounded men from the Afghan Army pulled up and he jumped into the back, ready to help.
In her quartermaster unit, Angela Beltz had to endure the stereotyping of women in the Army. It was difficult to find any men with much sympathy. But when she got to the Ohio National Guard, she found something she really liked, a new truck. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Following the tragic deaths of ten Afghan children, it fell on General David Barno to tell President Karzai about the incident. He describes the effect this had on the rules of engagement going forward and he discusses a document he drew up to give guidelines to the troops that would keep them in the good graces of their hosts.
It was a surprise when her National Guard unit was activated for Desert Storm. It gave Angela Beltz a new appreciation of the hands on training the water distribution detachment had received in the mountains of California. As she readied for deployment, she had to make a choice regarding her long hair. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
During the period of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, Kirby was stationed yet again. This time, she was working in Portsmouth, Virginia. She talks about how her children are now in the military themselves, and gives her thoughts about the ending of the Vietnam War.
After being thrown into combat right away, Marine air traffic control technician Nate Winkler's time in Iraq got a little more settled down. He was in country for eight weeks doing his part to set up and operate forward air fields. Then, relief was sent and he came home, which was fine. He'd got his taste of the war. Part 3 of 3.
Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz wanted to deploy to Iraq and he got his wish. The spartan conditions were bearable, but he had a sergeant who badgered him about his English and relegated him to KP duty. Fortunately, he was able to move to another company, where he was wanted, with the help of some breakfast cereal.
After getting back on flight status, Knisely also worked under General Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. He gives his reflections about the Vietnam War as a whole and what he wants people to take away from it.
When he landed in Iraq, Mike Pickrel felt like he was in a very unpleasant place. It was hot and it smelled bad. He was in a tight knit Cavalry unit which was immediately poached for manpower, so they would face their assignment shorthanded.
Morale was high on the ship to Kuwait, but Nate Winkler remembers how some were questioning the reasons they were going. Regardless of politics, everyone was anxious to do their jobs in a real world situation. Once there, his job was to set up and operate small air support bases.
You learned the little things that helped you spot IED's. Mike Pickrel tells how he looked for them and how the Surge never really made it to where he was. No more boots on the ground there. He chafed at partnering with former insurgents and was angry when he finally got a chance to engage in a real firefight, but was withdrawn.
Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom Nate Winkler looks back with pride on the job he and other service members did in that war. However, he's unsure about the lasting value of it, similar to how older veterans feel about their service in Vietnam. He is sure of one thing, the lessons he learned in the Marines guided his life and made it more successful.
His second tour in Iraq was a waste of time to Mike Pickrel. Just sit in the base, pretty much. He has some observations on the enemies we face in these latest wars, on the men he served with who inspired him and on what servicemen need from their leadership and their government.
While in Iraq, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz got the idea he wanted to go to Ranger school. He began hard physical training with Rangers in his unit and one of them had an unorthodox idea. Why not provoke his platoon sergeant? (Caution: strong language.)
Nate Winkler's first duty was at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point with a small air traffic control unit. He was there when the 9/11 attacks riveted the entire nation. That night, as he patrolled his base in the dark, he remembered something his drill instructor had said about why they had all joined the Marine Corps.
After a four year stint in the Marine Corps, Mike Pickrel could get no traction as a civilian. The Marines wouldn't take him back, so he enlisted in the Army. Then came 9/11 and, like so many others, he was anxious to do something about it.
His first day in the field in Iraq, Mike Pickrel learned some valuable lessons. He learned not to drive up to a visible IED, he learned not to return by the same route and he learned not to talk to the locals or give them anything.
Angela Beltz is proud that all water purification and distribution during Desert Storm was handled by National Guard and Reserve units. When she got to her forward base, the first order of business was to secure the perimeter with concertina wire. She was on that detail and a chance encounter would change her life. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)