3:57 | The Japanese were a fading presence when flight engineer Fred Eichenbrenner began flying back and forth between India and Burma, supplying Allied troops. He soon had a new mission, flying over the Hump to China.
Keywords : Fred Eichenbrenner flight engineer India Burma China Japanese Rangoon Chiang Kai-shek communists missionary Joseph Stilwell Burmese
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Fred Eichenbrenner couldn't believe it. He and all his friends were eager to serve and he got into the Army Air Corps as a result of his test scores. After his training as a mechanic, he languished in a unit training pilots. He began to think he would never get to some combat.
Flying from a small airfield in the far north of India, the Army Air Corps was supplying Chinese and Indian troops in Burma. Flight engineer Fred Eichenbrenner had a memorable first flight, flying over a battlefield and sweating over a rumored Japanese machine gun nest at the end of the runway.
When he got to 600 flying hours, flight engineer Fred Eichenbrenner got orders to return home from India. After a slow trip on a troop ship, he sailed into New York harbor to a dazzling display and welcome home.
It turned out to only be a rumor, but when Fred Eichenbrenner was told there was a Japanese machine gun nest at the end of the runway, it was the most scared he ever was while he was in India. After a supply run to Burma, he found what he thought was a perfect souvenir. He should have hung on to it.
They never encountered Merrill's Marauders, but Fred Eichenbrenner's squadron flew over Burma frequently, supplying Indian and Chinese troops. Sometimes they landed and unloaded and sometimes they air dropped the cargo.
As the pilot revved up the engines on the C-47, one of them sounded really bad. Flight engineer Fred Eichenbrenner pointed out that the plane could fly just fine on one engine. That was a good aircraft. You needed one to fly over the Hump to China.
Mechanic and flight engineer Fred Eichenbrenner's most difficult repair was right at the beginning of his deployment. The tail wheel was damaged almost as soon as they picked up the new C-47 and they had to deal with it at every stop between West Palm Beach and India.
Some got passage on a luxury liner but Fred Eichenbrenner sailed home from India on a slow troop ship. He had been a flight engineer in the Army Air Corps, so he tried to pursue a similar civilian job. Unfortunately, so was every other discharged flight engineer. He came home uninjured except for a painful shoulder.
The hundreds of hours in the sky over China, Burma and India earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for flight engineer Fred Eichenbrenner. He had a good friend there who kept saying to him, "I'm afraid of these planes." Was it a premonition?
At the air strip in India, there was a company clerk who was a real character. He was a good guy, he just didn't like to work all that much. Fred Eichenbrenner recalls the stunt he pulled after being reprimanded.
The room in the POW camp barracks was small but it housed eighteen men, including downed pilot Clayton Nattier. It had a tiny stove which was much improved with a little American farm boy ingenuity.
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.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. 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.
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.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
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.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
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.
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.)
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.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
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 Allies were pushing across France and the American landing craft were being turned over to the British. John Mahmarian went back to the States for leave, then joined the crew of an LCI heading for the Pacific. He became the skipper of his ship as the war was ending.
Newly liberated POW Clayton Nattier arrived at Camp Lucky Strike, where thousands of men like him waited for passage home. When his turn came, he rode in a Liberty ship, fighting seasickness all the way. He was soon in a luxury hotel in Miami Beach.
About a week before D-Day, the skipper went to a meeting and came back with a thick notebook detailing the plans for the fleet of LCI's. John Mahmarian was the Executive Officer of LCI-500 and he and his captain were very careful to safeguard the secrets in the book.
The second phase of pilot training was called basic training. You flew a more powerful aircraft and you did acrobatics, which taught you how to recover from bad situations in the air. Clayton Nattier knew he wanted to fly the big planes, the bombers, so when he moved on to advanced training, he flew multi engine aircraft.
LCI-500 delivered a company of British commandos to the Normandy beachhead flawlessly. John Mahmarian was sickened, though, when he noticed bodies floating around the ship. As the ship was backing off from the beach, he had to post a man back at the propellers to perform a grim task.
There were radios in the camp, built with bartered parts that the guards traded for D-Bars and cigarettes from Red Cross parcels. Clayton Nattier didn't have a radio in his barracks, but he saw the typewritten rundowns of the latest news from the BBC. He well remembers when the Germans stopped distributing the Red Cross parcels. It was just after the best meal he'd had as a prisoner.
John Mahmarian was a pre-med student when the attack on Pearl Harbor sent shock waves through the nation. He entered a Navy program that would allow him to finish school and then receive a commission. The naval training he received then was unlike any schooling he had ever encountered.