3:37 | The B-17 could take some serious damage and still fly. Crew chief George Keating describes two miraculous returns after direct hits from the dreaded German 88. The plane was superb, yet the young pilots suffered from inexperience and there were mishaps.
Keywords : George Keating aircraft mechanic Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress German 88 pilot
His boyhood hero was Lucky Lindy, Charles Lindbergh. When the boy was grown, there was a war to fight and George Keating enlisted in the Air Corps one step ahead of the draft board. They made an aircraft mechanic out of him.
George Keating shipped out on the Queen Elizabeth. There was no escort fast enough to keep up with her, so they traveled alone to England where his B-17 was waiting for him. He was on the ground crew and was not destined to be on the front lines, but there was that one time a lone German plane slipped through.
Once, when the B-17 he was responsible for was heavily damaged, crew chief George Keating stayed with the plane for 72 hours until it was fixed. His job on the ground crew was tough, but he had a really good commander and a so-so assistant.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
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.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Ubert Terrell was training to be a C-47 crew chief at the Douglas aircraft plant. While there, he also went to radio school and navigation school. He had absorbed enough knowledge about the airplane and it's controls that he was able to avert near disaster while flying with an inexperienced pilot. It was only his second time in an airplane.
Dachau was just one of many forced labor camps for Norbert Friedman. One of the first built, it was run internally by German political prisoners. At the next camp, it was Gypsies. Along with his father and two uncles, he was fortunate to be classified as skilled labor, which was in high demand at German aircraft plants.
The Army Air Corps had shuffled Ubert Terrell from school to school, based on his high aptitude test scores. He wound up as a thoroughly educated C-47 crew chief in the 100th Troop Carrier Squadron. He became good friends with a nucleus of men who were together through the war.
The Japanese awoke one day to the sight of 850 ships off shore at Iwo Jima. The naval bombardment was not enough, though. Marine radioman David Greene remembers eating his ration one day sitting next to a 16" solid projectile that had skidded to a stop on the beach. He never saw the kamikazes that plagued the ships, but he did see and hear the Japanese version of the Buzz Bomb.
He had some brothers who enlisted after Pearl Harbor, but Ubert Terrell had to be "invited" by the president to join up. He already knew how to handle a rifle because he had to hunt to put meat on the table.
It was an M-1 rifle that he grabbed out of supply. Dan McBride found out he grabbed the wrong one, later on in a firefight. His Airborne outfit had just marched through an unknown town, dug in and were waiting for the Germans they were told were coming. What's the name of this place? Bastogne.
It was after the war had ended that David Greene was called on to try and signal a large cargo ship with semaphore. There was a typhoon warning and the sailors were frantically signaling. Unfortunately, he was a Marine radioman and his semaphore skills were a bit lacking.
The Navy Japanese language school was concentrated, intense and psychologically taxing. Vern Chaffin cultivated an air of detachment that kept him from washing out. In fact, he was near the top of the class. Most of the teachers were Japanese Americans from the internment camps.
As a crew chief on a C-47, Ubert Terrell and his crew spent a lot of time training with paratroopers stateside before traveling to England to prepare for the big invasion. While there, he saw some of the devastation visited on London.
There was a table size mock up of Iwo Jima onboard ship. David Green saw it, so the geography of the place was no surprise. As the Marines worked their way up the island, the aim was to keep the line solid from shore to shore. He remembers strafing runs on the enemy and the opportunistic naval bombardment from ships that stayed through the battle.
There were some women prisoners on Saipan, recalls Alex Nuckles, but you better not go messing with them. Some guys did, anyway. They also made up bad hooch with bad results. He was the cook and he tried to make the powdered eggs taste like something, but that was a tall order.
David Greene recalls hearing about the atomic bombs while aboard ship somewhere between Hawaii and Japan. When he was departing for home after his turn at occupation duty, he was asked if he wanted to pick something from a big pile of Japanese rifles.
Before his first mission with his real crew, B-17 co-pilot Ken Rohde was told he was flying in the lead plane with a different crew in the tail gunner position. He was there to be the eyes of the air commander for that flight. He was baffled by the flak suit and those black puffs of smoke, which he found out later were closely related.
At Camp Ritchie in Maryland, Navy Japanese linguist Verner Chaffin pored over documents shipped from the Pacific, but most of them had already been gone over and sorted as less important. Later, he was assigned to the translation section at the Joint Intelligence Center at Pearl Harbor and he picked out the plum documents.
Naval Intelligence Officer Verner Chaffin had often been chided for his "Southern" Japanese accent, but he found in Okinawa that the locals spoke the language that way, so he felt at home. After a chance meeting with Tyrone Power, he reported to a new assignment in occupied Japan.
There were four boys and no girls in the family, so David Greene was experienced with laundry and cooking before he was drafted in 1943. He picked the Marines when given the choice because of a rather odd reason.
Naval Intelligence Officer Verner Chaffin recalls meeting Gen. Douglas MacArthur in postwar Japan. He shared the general's vision for the rehabilitation of Japan and, when the next war came, he lamented that his strategy for victory was not followed.