4:35 | 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.
Keywords : Ken Rohde pilot Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress tail gunner Meersburg Germany 50 cal machine gun flak suit flak
When he was drafted, there was no choice. He went to the infantry, but Ken Rohde applied for the Air Corps at some point. It didn't catch up to him until he was deployed to Fiji, but there he took the tests that got him into the Air Corps and he returned to the states for training.
He was just learning to fly, but Ken Rohde already knew one thing, he wanted to fly bombers or cargo planes. Forget that upside down stuff. He had to do it, anyway, in training, but he was lucky enough to be assigned to a bomber group flying B-17's. At the end of training, when everyone else had an assignment, he was in a group which the commander called his best pilots.
Looking back, Ken Rohde felt he was lucky for the slow Atlantic crossing in a large convoy. The longer you put off being in that air war in Europe, the better off you were. When he reported to 8th Air Force HQ, he saw a chilling sight that drove home the fact that he was now in a real shooting war.
How long were you exposed to the flak? It depended on the length of the bomb run. That's when you got it, according to Ken Rohde, B-17 co-pilot. When you got back, the first thing was what you might imagine, then it was interrogation and a shot of whiskey, if you could handle it.
It was a memorable mission. Ken Rohde was a pilot, but he was in the tail gunner's position as the air commander's observer in the lead plane. He was leading the entire 8th Air Force, about 1500 planes. Then, out of the blue, they went to a secondary target. The next day, the group CO flew the lead plane and Rohde was in the second plane as they tried again. That turned out to be lucky for him.
The B-17 was the most perfect plane in the air, according to pilot Ken Rohde. After the war, he ferried B-24's around the States and he found out how lucky he was to have flown the B-17 for his combat missions. The B-24 rudders would wear you out. He also flew in the tail gunner's position as an observer, so he learned how those 50 cal's would jam up in the cold.
Everybody knew it was his last mission, but no one said a thing. That was the procedure, don't jinx it. B-17 co-pilot Ken Rohde's last mission was routine until the flight headed back to England. There was a loud bang and the cockpit filled with smoke and he was worried until he heard the top gunner's irreverent voice. Then he knew he was going home.
The Japanese prisoners built their own prison camp, under the watchful eye of Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. and the other GI's there in the Philippines. He explains how, during the fighting, the Japanese were hampered by the poor quality of their weapons. The GI's, on the other hand, had the magnificent M1.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wes Ruth piloted one of the first aircraft to take off from Pearl Harbor following the Japanese attacks. He was a member of a photographic squadron, but his task became determining the location of the enemy fleet. For his actions this day, he was awarded the Navy Cross.
Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. was one of the GI's tasked with constructing a huge prison camp in the Philippines. He was skillful at adapting and repairing the electrical equipment they found there and this became a career path for him after the war.
Navy pilot Wes Ruth served with a photographic squadron based out of Pearl Harbor until 1944 when he became a transport pilot between the West Coast and Pacific islands. After the war, he enjoyed a number of training and photographic assignments that sent him around the world.
The draft came for Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. There was still some war left to fight and he was sent to infantry training to prepare for deployment to the Pacific. After a month of zig-zagging across the ocean, he landed in the Philippines.
His first mission was a milk run. B-26 co-pilot George Nelson did not have that luxury on the rest of his missions. He recalls a rare low altitude bombing run on German submarine pens and describes the make up of his crew, who varied in age between nineteen and forty.
While Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. was serving in the Philippines, his camp was hit by a tidal wave, something he never wants to experience again. A different kind of problem vexed him with the local population, sorting out the Japanese from the Filipinos.
There was almost always flak when B-26 co-pilot George Nelson flew missions over Europe. Milk runs were rare. Near the end of the war, the Germans sent up the very first jet fighter, which was extremely limited in range and could be countered by pincer maneuvers.
It was a way to get into the airline industry. Wes Ruth figured that experience as a Navy pilot was the best way. After training, he was assigned to a photographic squadron in San Diego. The year was 1939 and, in 1940, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor.
George Nelson was a freshman at Notre Dame when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He had scrimped and saved to afford the tuition and when he found out what pilots made in the Air Corps, he thought that would do the trick. He passed the tests and went off to flight school.
Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. recalls how green soldiers mishandled the machine guns in the Philippines and how an ice machine was procured for adult beverages. He may have been preparing for the upcoming Japanese invasion, but he was also concentrating on conquering the dance floor and meeting Filipino ladies.