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.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #26) As a reward for 78 days of hard fighting in Operation Market Garden, Jake McNiece got a 72 hour pass which he characteristically abused and stretched into an AWOL situation. He was offered a way out of his arrest. He could volunteer for the Pathfinders.
Eberhardt remembers still being in Germany during the Nuremberg trials, in which he was assigned a job of taking prisoner's papers to Frankfurt for further criminal inspection. He was discharged in November 1946, and came back to the United States shortly after. From there he joined the National Guard. He gives a bit more detail about his brother's service overseas before him.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #17) The men of Jake McNiece's demolition and saboteur unit were told to blow two bridges and wire a third, then wait for the advancing forces from the Normandy beachhead. The paratroopers were widely scattered, though, and he was on the ground fighting alone for two hours before he hooked up with anyone else.
Originally from Verona, New Jersey, Bill Schneidewind joined the Army Specialized Training Program at the end of the second world war. That led him to take classes at Rutgers University, and then to his basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. After that, he went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning.
Bobby Eberhardt was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the age of 18 was instantly drafted, along with many other 18 year olds in America. His brother was already in the Army before him, and he got to see him come home before he himself went overseas. He went to Camp Wheeler in Georgia for training, and goes into detail about different accidents and even some deaths during that training.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #15) The paratroopers were quartered on a large English estate which functioned as a game reserve. Jake McNiece felt like the food they were being fed was just slop, so he looked around at the deer and the trout and the rabbits and started scheming.
Jim Starnes was a young assistant navigator on the USS Boise, a cruiser out of Pearl Harbor. The ship was not there when the Japanese attack happened. They were in the Philippines on an escort mission. The men of the Boise got a short command telling them they were at war, but it was days before they knew why. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Tyler remembers a few accidents during training. After he graduated he went Columbia, South Carolina for B-25 Combat Training. After completing that he was stationed at New Guinea for a while and then on the Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. He describes his very first missions overseas.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #20) Six days after D-Day, in the town of Carentan, France, an awards ceremony was held for valorous American soldiers. There were French collaborators at work because, suddenly, a barrage of shells from a German 88 tore through the assembly. Jake McNiece describes that heartbreaking scene and the surprise of snipers in a church steeple.
He was only a lieutenant, but the Navy had decided that you could be navigator with that rank, so Jim Starnes was the new navigator on board the USS Missouri, Admiral Halsey's flagship. The nearly new battleship took part in the bombardment of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and came under kamikaze attack. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Influenced by a friend who had joined the Navy, Jim Starnes decided to do the same and take advantage of the V-7 Navy College Training Program. It was a plan instituted in 1940 to train midshipmen for the expanding fleet of ships. A one month cruise started the training, followed by three months of intense schooling. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, John Tyler enlisted in Aviation Cadet Training in February of 1943. He had his basic training at Keesler Air Force Base, then went to San Antonio, Texas and Pine Bluff, Arkansas to continue his flight training. He reveals the first types of planes that he flew during his training.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #22) After weeks of battle beginning when he parachuted into Normandy, Jake McNiece was rewarded with a seven day pass back in England. True to form, he overstayed his leave for seven more days.
As quick as they could, Allen's medics rushed him to a first aid station for his injury. After they removed the piece of mortar shrapnel, he got to keep the remains. He spent about a month in a hospital before returning to his outfit, where he was transferred to division headquarters shortly after.
It had been decided that the Tokyo Express must be disrupted. That was the name given to the Japanese supply convoys reinforcing Guadalcanal. On board the cruiser USS Boise, Jim Starnes knew that his was the only ship outfitted with a new radar system, which gave them a real advantage. Unfortunately, it did not stop the enemy shells. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #30) While in occupation at Hitler's retreat in Austria, Jake McNiece was amazed at the luxury of the installation. After a huge victory celebration there, complete with baseball games, he went to Paris to do the town one more time. Since it was Jake McNiece, you know what was bound to happen.
Once he graduated from OCS, Schneidewind was shipped over to Japan to join the Army of Occupation following the end of World War II. He talks about the lasting effects of the bombing on the Japanese streets, as well as what it was like to work under General MacArthur.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #31) After the war, Jake McNiece got a call from a Dutch boy who told him the story of his aunt. She had watched the 101st Airborne Division's jump into Holland, and was thrilled because she knew she was destined for one of the Nazi's "baby factories," where blue eyed, blond girls where kept for the pleasure of the SS.
Jim Starnes describes the battleship Missouri's mission to bombard Japanese installations on Hokkaido. He became the navigator for entire fleet, in effect, because they were all following the flagship. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #8) Jake McNiece wanted to contribute to the war effort, but it wasn't until 1942 that he enlisted. He insisted on paratrooper duty, a new type of warfare that was considered highly dangerous.
Eberhardt gives specifics about the jobs he had on guard duty at the Giesen prison camp, and the mostly pleasant interactions he had with prisoners. He would trade cigarettes with some of them in exchange for handcrafted items. He also talks about some of the places he slept in during that time.
(From Interview #2 Jan. 9, 2011 Video #9) He was in trouble from the very beginning. Jake McNiece liked to fight. If you didn't give him his butter, or if you were an MP trying to take him back to base, you were apt to take a licking. His masterpiece of contrariness, though, was his claim of being a member of an unusual religion.
During one of his missions, Tyler remembers one of the men in another plane that was flying on his right wing being hit by something and sadly not making it out alive. As the war progressed, he was sent to Okinawa and even flew two missions to aid in the Australian invasion of Borneo.
(From Interview #1 Jan. 10, 2010 Video #3) The mortar round landed just a few feet from Jake McNiece and his eyes filled with blood and debris, but that didn't make him nearly as mad as discovering that his Copenhagen didn't make it through the battle.
As the second world war came to a close in Europe and he was redirected back to the states, Allen took a train to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He talks about all the reunions he's been to since, as well as his trucking job he took when he got out of the military.
After the war, Jim Starnes saw an ad in Life magazine from Bell Laboratories touting it's radar components, which enabled his ship, the USS Boise, to sink six Japanese warships. He reads that ad and then reads a poem written by a Navy captain that was brought to light by Admiral Chester Nimitz. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
(From Interview #1 Jan. 10, 2010 Video #1) Jake McNiece thought it was finally time to enlist. It was 1942 and he had a mind to take on one of the most dangerous jobs in the military, the parachute infantry. From the beginning, he was a troublemaker, but he was too good to wash out.