8:35 | 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.
Keywords : Ken Rohde pilot Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress last mission flak Miami Beach FL Consolidated B-24 Liberator Bradley Field
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.
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.
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.
At the end of the war, Jim Sample had boxes full of pistols confiscated from Germans. He even had some that he took from Hungarian soldiers who were allied with the Nazis. He explains why none of them made it back home with him.
It was D plus four when Emil DeDonato waded ashore at Utah Beach. It was quiet by then and his unit moved inland. When they advanced to Cherbourg and entered a huge German pillbox, they found a bounty of provisions which was appreciated very much, especially the cognac.
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.
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.
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.
Jim Sample set out for Europe in a convoy, but the third day out, the ship was dead in the water. Hobbled by a bad propeller shaft, the craft limped back to New York. His unit made it to Europe in a bigger ship in another convoy and made its way inland from Le Havre.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Emil DeDonato was an advertising errand boy when his name appeared on the front page of the New York Times as part of the first draft of 1941. That was in January, and in December, war came to America. Soon, he was being trained for amphibious landings in anticipation of the work that had to be done.
After basic training, Jim Sample was trained as a wire lineman, but when he got to an active unit, he became a mortar gunner. He learned how to dial in the mortar fire just right, then never fired it again, even after he got to Europe.
At the Battle of El Guettar, the first frontal assault failed. It was nine days before the GIs prevailed and pushed on. Emil DeDonato was shuffling between the front and the rear as part of the communications team. He had to dodge superior German firepower in the form of plentiful aircraft, burp guns, 88mm guns and Screaming Mimis.
Once Germany was beaten, Jim Sample became a bit of a sightseer in Europe. He got to visit Berchtesgaden and Paris, among other places. The principle concern among the troops was points. If you didn't have enough, you might be invading Japan.
The heaviest action that Jim Sample saw was in the Ruhr Pocket. The German 88 fire was tremendous. The last movement for his unit was a run to Linz to meet up with Russian forces. He was diverted to protect a wayward tank and, while waiting there, he practiced his German with some local children. Hilarity ensued.
His unit was overextended and the order came, get out of there! Emil DeDonato was under fire in Sicily when he organized his men and got them clear of the danger. He didn't know it until after the war, but this got him a cluster for his Bronze Star. It was just another close call like the ones he had in North Africa.
Other units had gone around the Ruhr, but it fell to the 13th Armored Division to go in and clean up. It was there that Jim Sample came to hate church steeples. They either had a sniper in them or they made for excellent artillery targeting if you were near one. He knocked his own jeep out of commission through a freak accident with a grenade.