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.
They heard the Russian guns approaching from the East and it wasn't long before the men of Stalag Luft III were shipped on a train to Nuremberg. It was there in a freezing outdoor camp that Crawford Hicks saw his friend strip down in the snow to bathe at a water spigot. There was a good reason.
Iwo Jima was a unique battle in that the victors suffered more casualties than the defeated. Marine Captain Lawrence Snowden says that you came to feel that like it wouldn't happen to you, and that spirit enabled the men to reach their objective.
His company was in the 1st wave to land on Red Beach Two. Under attack from the moment he left the amphibious tractor, George Alden lost 4 of his men. Forced to keep moving in order to protect his remaining comrades, the group pushed further up the island towards the first landing strip. However, George was injured when he and his squad found themselves pinned down under Japanese fire. Injured and alone, George was forced to wait nearly a full day before he was discovered and rescued.
Tinian was a little easier time than Saipan and Iwo Jima, says Merrill Burroughs, who was with an Anti-Aircraft battery. He still had close calls when Japanese planes strafed the island. On the way in, he managed to hide a case of pork and beans, which was a precious thing.
Lou Smith was evacuated from Iwo Jima to Saipan, then to a hospital in Hawaii. That was tough duty, recuperating with the swimming and the girls. One thing haunts his sleep, though, until this day. He had been throwing enemy grenades back the way they came when he was wounded, and this is key to his nightmares.
When Marine Joseph Hiott arrived in Guadalcanal, he was assigned to the 2nd Raider Battalion, a new unit created under orders from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who admired the British Commandos and wanted an American unit to perform special operations. The Raiders, like the enemy, would fight to the death but for a very different reason. They also considered themselves the best of the best and trained accordingly.
It was thirty six straight days on Iwo Jima with no change of clothes or regular meals. Phil Wells carried an extra bandolier stuffed with fruit bars. He had come ashore with the fourth wave just as Japanese gunners really began to fire on the landing force. As a runner, he didn't come face to face with the enemy, though once he was sure he had. What's that password?
The German interrogator knew more about his bomb group than he did and after a short questioning, Michael Gold was off to a POW camp where he was lucky to share a barracks with the other officers from his crew. The German rations were supplemented with Red Cross parcels that arrived from Sweden.
Frank Gleason talks at length about how Japan began pushing their way into China in early 1945, and the last ditch efforts by his crew to destroy bridges and other vital structures along the way while U.S. troops pulled out of the area.
After breaking out at Anzio. Hubert Aaron's unit marched into Rome, the only American unit to capture an enemy capitol during World War Two. He received a Silver Star for actions during that operation. When he went into St. Tropez, with dry feet for a change, he ignored his platoon leader's order to move out through an open field. Then he let his Thompson submachine gun do some talking.
The British had battled the Germans back and forth across North Africa and American P-40's had arrived to provide some additional air power. Crew chief Gordon Markle describes what that was like with the sandstorms, the C-rations from another war, and the German air attacks. He also learned that you don't want to cross the Gurkhas.
After capturing an entire German Panzer division, Hubert Aaron's outfit was moving up the Rhone River Valley when he was wounded in an ambush. Evacuated to Naples, he found out how great was his sacrifice.
The pilot was ready to die. Louie Clark saw him after he crashed his kamikaze into the deck of the destroyer USS Haynsworth. There were many casualties, including a big pot of beans that caught a machine gun from the kamikaze after it crashed through the deck. Clark describes the bravery of men that day and the solemn ceremonies of the burials at sea.
Trained as a Beachmaster, Mortimer Caplin shipped out for England on the Queen Mary. His unit had a lot of specialized gear and he had to form a guard detachment to keep other units from walking away with it. After they got it all to the Southern English coast, they participated in the ill-fated Exercise Tiger out of Slapton Sands.
Hubert Aaron says, "I know I'm going to heaven because I spent three months in hell at Anzio." During this battle, he directed some artillery fire that was highly accurate, but then he was on the receiving end as an incoming enemy round put him in the hospital with a concussion. After being pinned down for three months and nearly being pushed back into the sea, the Americans finally prevailed.
Herman Buffington was hunkered down in his foxhole on Okinawa when a mortar round hit close by and a piece of red hot shrapnel tore through his leg. It sounded like bacon frying, but a medic got the bleeding stopped and he was going to be OK. He refused the morphine because he was already exhausted and didn't want anyone else to tend to his tourniquet.
Navy Corpsman Frank Walden went ashore at Omaha Beach with the Beach Battalion, a unit charged with managing the beach during the assault. After the shock of seeing the first bodies, and after a frightening rush to find safety in the chaos, he began to treat the wounded.
When his buddy George Farris was hit by a sniper, Bob Royce and two others started back to battalion headquarters to get help. They had to hit the ground when the same sniper targeted them. Royce decided to get up and run for it. After he secured aid and was returning to the front, the sniper struck again.
The man had been shot up pretty bad, remembers Herman Buffington, who carried him back to the camp. All the way the wounded soldier had pleaded with him to leave him there, but once safe in a foxhole, he wouldn't let go of Buffington's hand, even when the medics prepared to evacuate him.
When he arrived in Burma to join Merrill's Marauders, Stanley Sasine had to jump from a moving plane, run for cover and dig a foxhole. He did not have to face the daunting challenges of the original Marauders, but the perils were plenty. When the General found out that Sasine was color blind, he was made 1st Scout because he could spot the hidden enemy so well. His first kill came suddenly, though, when he came face to face with a Japanese scout.
It was late night guard duty and Herman Buffington heard something. Then he saw a figure crouched in the brush. When the next flare went up, he sighted and fired. The figure didn't move so he shot him again. When he found out why there was no reaction, all he could do was laugh. He did get a souvenir out of the encounter, a silk Japanese flag.
The Ranger battalion was supposed to make it to a certain point in Italy by nightfall, but rain and mud slowed them down. The result was that the Germans were already there and had a distinct advantage. Jack Roan describes the humiliating surrender of hundreds of Rangers that followed.
Alexander Jefferson recalls his captivity in Stalag Luft III, camp southeast of Berlin. The war was far from over so the Germans were on edge about potential sabotage of their camp, but Alexander recalls his own interesting treatment there.
Herman Buffington was taking some potshots at Japanese troops on the other side of a large ravine where they were foolishly cooking their rice out in the open. When an officer came by and asked how he was doing, he remarked that he was trying to mix a little lead with the rice. The man asked for the rifle so he could give it a try and he proved to be an excellent shot. Buffington could smell the brass and he was right. It was General Simon Buckner.
B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks was returning from his tenth mission when he spotted the German fighter coming in with guns blazing. The plane was crippled by hits on the engines so they had to bail out. After the others had jumped, he looked down through the hatch to the ground far below, then he fell.
They were trying to take a ridge on Okinawa where the Japanese had dug trenches and the persistent Americans tried repeatedly to take the position. Herman Buffington got close enough to vault over into a trench where he used the old helmet-on-a-bayonet trick to judge the enemy fire. He received the Bronze Star for his actions in this firefight.