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.
Bill Garrison was in China wishing he had some good American food. The aircraft mechanic at least came up with a way to get some whiskey. He worked at a long list of air fields repairing P-40's, moving frequently to stay near the front. The Japanese bombed these fields, but the Chinese had good intelligence and used a traditional method for the warning system. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Moving into Belgium via train, Bob Spooner's food got an upgrade when a boxcar full of m-rations was located. His job of battle casualty reporting was made easier when he moved into the regimental headquarters and started compiling reports from multiple sources.
Ralph Way was an aircraft mechanic in India, maintaining cargo planes. He recalls one incident in which a pilot couldn't tell if the landing gear was up or down. That was resolved successfully, but there was another incident regarding propellers which did not end so well.
Roy Walker had a pretty good set up on one trip. The Merchant Marine steward had cornered the market on decks of cards and Coca-Colas, plus he got tips out of the kitty because he ran the officers mess. He also had an identical twin brother on the crew, which could lead to some confusion.
As Bob Spooner's unit began moving from the beach into the French countryside, they accepted the surprise surrender of some unenthusiastic Germans. He was tasked with reporting battle casualties and he had a lot of work after the battles of Saint-Lo and Brest.
Iwo Jima was a mess. Ralph Dunlap was part of a Marine reconnaissance unit and he was amazed at the gore and devastation. He describes his experience there, which included tense missions ahead of the lines and furious banzai attacks. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
The streamer was flying from the bridge. It was the heading home streamer and the men of the USS Straus were overjoyed, including Clyde Milam. He was soon to discover that his short stop at Nagasaki had left him with a terrible problem. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
While in training for the US Merchant Marine, Roy Walker had to be pushed into the water. He couldn't swim, but when he was at sea, he didn't even think about it. The ships he sailed on kept the war effort supplied with fuel and ammunition.
He wanted to choose his service instead of getting drafted, so Curtis James went for the Marine Corps in 1943. As part of the V-12 program, he attended college for a year, then had his training and got his commission. Assigned to the occupation forces in Japan, the friendliness of the Japanese was a big surprise to him.
After witnessing an amusing incident involving sake on Saipan, Ralph Dunlap thought he might be headed back to Pearl Harbor, but the destination was a little island called Iwo Jima. His usual reconnaissance mission was to scout out beachheads before invasion, but there, he was needed on shore to assess the situation out in front of the lines. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
The men of the destroyer escort USS Straus were very busy. It was their job to spread smokescreens to protect the fleet from kamikazes and they were credited with one shoot down of a suicide plane. Bombarding coastlines was another important job. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Stationed in Japan after the war, Curtis James had the opportunity to see the devastation at both atomic bomb sites. It was hard to believe. Marines went into occupation duty with a lot of animosity for the Japanese people, but were surprised to find out how friendly they were.
At the end of the war, George Wilkerson was part of the force occupying Dachau. He describes the horrific scenes resulting from the genocide that was just becoming apparent. He spent some time in Europe before he returned stateside and was in two vehicle accidents. Apparently, the danger was not over. (Caution: Graphic Descriptions)
The Army promised him college and then Officer Candidate School, but George Wilkerson and many others were called into the Army after a short time. He went to an armored battalion and became chief of a 105mm gun crew.
He wasn't told much about the mission while he was training in England, but Bob Spooner knew exactly what he was in for. He wound up as company clerk when his commander found out he could type. Then he was given the unusual role of casualty reporting. Once he was ashore after D-Day, that job proved difficult.
Clyde Milam was assigned to a brand new ship, a destroyer escort named USS Crowley. Tonsilitis put him in the hospital at Pearl Harbor, and by the time he got out, his ship was gone. Soon, he was on another destroyer escort, the USS Straus, with the same job, signalman striker. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
They crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge. George Wilkerson's field artillery unit moved fast and were in five countries in as many months. It was cold, their mail couldn't catch up to them and George Patton managed to make them hate him, the one week they were under his command.
The men at the air base in India were due for some badly needed R&R, so they were shipped off to a rest camp. Ralph Way remembers watching the monkeys in the trees and thinking how nice it would be to have one of those monkeys. How, exactly, could you make that happen?
Clyde Milam was a signalman, but his battle station was on a 40mm gun, part of a 10 man crew. His destroyer was once host to some Japanese officers who were picked up from a life raft. This led to the captain getting quite frustrated with holding prisoners. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Awakened by gunfire and shelling, Bill Garrison was told that the Japanese were going to overrun the base and that there was a plane evacuating personnel. Unfortunately, the plane was overloaded. What was he supposed to do now? Someone pointed down a road and said, "Go that way." (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
It took four days to send him to war by plane, but when the time came to return from India, Ralph Way spent a month on a ship. At home, he got married and went to college, thanks to the educational benefits from Uncle Sam.
He was sleeping on the flight line at a far flung air field in China when he was awakened by a big commotion. The war was over and Bill Garrison was elated. He had been away from home for three years and he'd never had a furlough. Why? The old Army run around. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
On a visit to Miami, Clyde Milam saw Navy personnel training and immediately sought out a recruiter. He was very young, but he was ready. It was 1943 and he was eager to contribute. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)