5:45 | B-24 Gunner Hugh Lee Young moved from the waist to the ball turret and his first mission there was memorable. On the low altitude run, they were so close to the ground that when a ammunition cache exploded, it nearly brought down the plane.
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Hugh Lee Young was working in Mobile when he decided it was "his time" to join the war effort. He enlisted in the Air Corps so he "would not have to walk" and started out as a waist gunner on a B-24.
B-24 gunner Hugh Lee Young shipped out to Egypt where the big bombers were helping turn the tide to the Allies. The targets ranged Northward all the way to Austria and he said of his first mission, over Crete, "It was fun!"
No one would take credit for downing fighters, according to gunner Hugh Lee Young. With so many gunners firing, no one wanted to take the ribbing over the perceived bragging. He didn't mind being in the ball turret because, "I was already crazy."
On a bombing run, Hugh Lee Young and the B-24 crew saw a man on the targeted bridge waving at them. Hugh "always wondered where he went." He also wondered why they were told not to bomb a gas field. Later he found out it was English owned.
"You knew you might not come back," said Hugh Lee Young about bombing missions. He had been giving away his nightly ration of whiskey, but the doctor told him if he did not start drinking it for his nerves, he was grounded.
B-24 gunner Hugh Lee Young remembers that the mission was supposed to be a milk run. Then the flight was swarmed by over 200 German planes and he was shot down and had to bail out, barely making it out through a window.
Captured B-24 gunner Hugh Lee Young was first put in solitary confinement for 6 days, then interrogated by his German captors, who became upset at the lack of information. He gave up nothing because he knew nothing. "All I do is fly."
POW Hugh Lee Young helped stand watch as more able prisoners dug a tunnel and made plans to escape. On the fateful day, the Germans set up guns at the end of the tunnel. Someone had turned traitor for 2 bottles of wine. What happened to that guy?
The most daring escape attempt seen by POW Hugh Lee Young involved a tape measure and a notebook. "They measured their way right out of camp." When the Germans tried using an electric fence, the Americans ran wires to it and made a hot plate.
After nearly 18 months in a prison camp, Hugh Lee Young was sent on a forced march ahead of the advancing Russians. The marching prisoners soon encountered piles of corpses alongside the road. Most of them were executed Jews.
Near the end of the war, Hugh Lee Young was one of 500 men encamped in the woods after a forced march. Food was scarce and he learned he, "could eat dandelions pretty well." Then there was the time he cut his hair into a mohawk.
Liberated POW Hugh Lee Young and his fellows were stopped from entering nearby Mauthausen concentration camp by Allied guards because they feared that the freed men would massacre the Germans. No reserve duty for him after, "I had about all I could do."
The message center was a vital part of battlefield communications. Emil DeDonato was constantly training the junior members of the team, which could be working far in the rear or right on the front. Near the Elbe River, he encountered two Russian soldiers who were trying to take a cow from some German civilians. He stepped in and soon everyone was happy.
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.
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.
Emil DeDonata was lucky. He came back from the war and went right back to his old job. He wasn't so lucky readjusting to civilian life. The bed was too soft and even things that should please him caused him stress. It took a falling out with his boss to make him strike out on his own, which led to much success for him.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Emil DeDonato was only an hour or so away from Berlin when his unit was ordered to stop there and wait. It would be many days before the Russian Army could claim the privilege of entering the German capital. Once it was all over, he was at the top of the list to go home because of his points. There was just one problem. He didn't want to go.
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.
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.
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.