13:09 | 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.
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While plowing behind a horse one day, on his family farm in South Carolina, B.E. Vaughan decided he didn't want to be stuck behind that plow forever. "I want to be somebody." So he enlisted alongside three friends who were drafted.
B.E. Vaughan already knew how to drill. In a Home Guard group he'd done well but when he got to boot camp, they executed the "Halt" command a little differently and this led to a little tension with the Drill Instructor.
Shipping out on a newly commissioned destroyer, B.E. Vaughan went straight into the chaos of the Normandy invasion. All around him was "a slaughterhouse," but the crew performed a valuable role as soldiers struggled to get a foothold, knocking out pillboxes on the bluffs.
Setting out from Portsmouth after a short break following the overwhelming experience of D-Day, B.E. Vaughan and the O'Brien joined a task force with the battleship Texas supporting the landing at Cherbourg. Their support was so good that they drew the fire from the Texas onto themselves.
One of B.E. Vaughan's shipmates on the O'Brien went over the hill as they prepared to head to the Pacific, sure that he wouldn't make it back. He walked up the gangplank in Hawaii, though, after a change of heart. In one of their first Pacific actions, they came to the rescue of the USS Ward, whose captain had fired the first shot of the war an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor began.
It was Condition One Easy, which means B.E. Vaughan could step outside the gun mount and have a smoke. But before he did, everyone started running by and he saw the sailor just outside the hatch look up and "his eyes just about popped out of his head."
The atomic bombs had ended the war and B.E.Vaughan had the experience he'd hoped for, sailing into Tokyo Bay in dress blues. The things he'd seen haunt him to this day and he wonders how it was that he lived and others died. He recalls the moment when, as a typhoon bore down on his ship, he decided he was ready to die and it was OK.
While still in Tokyo Bay before heading home, B.E. Vaughan was tasked with running the whale boat to shore to transport some personnel. It didn't work out so well.
The war was over but B.E. Vaughan faced one more trial, getting home without any money. As in war, those who served looked out for each other.
B-17 gunner Nicholas Sawicke's first mission was to hit some submarine pens on the French coast. As the missions moved across France and then into Germany, fighter escort became harder to come by. The airmen had to face the anti-aircraft fire and the German fighters with their own firepower.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John Hancock describes the experience of torpedoes hitting his ship at the Battle of Midway. Though it was close to sinking, the abandon ship process was orderly because of all the drilling. He didn't even know he had shrapnel wounds and a collapsed lung until after he was rescued from the water.
Nicholas Sawicke was from a tiny rural community and when he was old enough for high school, it was sports that gave him the discipline to succeed. When the draft came after Pearl Harbor, his test scores put him in the Air Corps.
John Hancock outlines his trajectory through Navy flight school and the different aircraft he progressed through on his way to being a fighter pilot. When he got back to the war, he flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat from the deck of a brand new carrier.
The men of the 306th Bomb Group crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Elizabeth and settled into a hastily constructed base in the English countryside. Right away, gunner Nicholas Sawicke did not like the place or the food.
John Hancock got used to life aboard the carrier Yorktown as she cruised from Norfolk to San Diego. He was a latecomer to the crew so he had a hammock instead of a bunk. Once the ship got to the Pacific, its planes joined in the first retaliatory strike against the Japanese in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.
Nicholas Sawicke was a lucky man. The B-17 gunner finished the required missions without any aircraft he was on suffering a mishap. His pilot, who was out for a few missions, had to stay on longer than the gunner to finish his tour. He was not so lucky.
After successfully landing his glider during Operation Varsity, George Theis discharged his cargo of four men and a jeep. As he threaded his way to his designated command post location, he met a general and captured two Germans.
On his last mission, B-17 gunner Nicholas Sawicke was a little more anxious than usual, but it ended without incident. His tour was relatively early in the war and, when he returned, this made him a subject of much curiosity in the local newspapers.