10:23 | 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.
They told Clyde Burnette that if he enlisted instead of waiting for the draft, he could pick his specialty school. He held out for aircraft maintenance school while they tried to make him accept others, and was soon training as an engineer and gunner on heavy bombers.
The score from the color-coded bullet hits on the target showed he had no hits, until they found out the scorer was color blind, recalls B-24 gunner Clyde Burnette. He was on a model crew, held back to wait on new aircraft, but the men got tired of waiting and volunteered for combat. It got his attention when he was designated a ball turret gunner, yet never saw a ball turret in training, even as he arrived in England.
The ball turret was "the worst torture chamber ever," according to Clyde Burnette. He was very happy when the bombing mission didn't call for it and he could man a waist gun instead. Wherever he was positioned in the plane, it was cold, so cold that layer upon layer of clothing was necessary.
On his first bombing mission, B-24 Gunner Clyde Burnette saw another aircraft explode in mid-air. One man got out but his parachute was in flames. It was a sobering introduction to combat. He recounts some other close calls, including the time they had to return with a payload of special 2,000 pound Blockbusters and broken landing gear.
B-24 crew member Clyde Burnette walks us through a typical mission for the airmen stationed in England and flying missions against Nazi targets. It took an incredibly complex ballet of men and machines just to get hundreds and sometimes thousands of aircraft in formation to start the mission.
Captured airman Clyde Burnette says his German interrogator spoke better English than he did and already had a complete dossier on him. He kept quiet and was soon in a prison camp where all anyone could think about was food and the lack of it. There were hi-jinks, like throwing rocks at the commandant's plane, disappearing infantry, and the sergeant who was really a doctor.
In the prison camp, Clyde Burnette only saw one American shot by the guards, a man who snapped and started climbing the wire. In the infirmary, a Yugoslav prisoner invited him along on an escape, but Burnette had to return to the general population and he missed his chance to try to make it to Italy, where his brother was posted. The camp was Stalag 17B and it became famous after the war when a prisoner wrote the story which became a well known Hollywood film.
The Red Cross parcels were supposed to augment the food provided by the Germans but it became the primary food source for the American airmen in Stalag 17B. Clyde Burnette describes how they kept distracted from the hunger, including making some homemade booze from raisins and holding rat races in the barracks. When a prisoner stole food from another, the punishment was harsh and memorable.
When the guns of the approaching Russians could be heard, the German guards emptied the prison camp and marched the allied prisoners westward across Austria. Clyde Burnette waited in the woods where they were left by the guards until a lone American tank rumbled up.
Liberated and well fed once again, ex-POW Clyde Burnette tried to return to the States with his unit, but his records were gone when he got to England so he had to wait. He had a space on the Queen Mary, but was bumped by officers so he wound up crossing the Atlantic on an LST. A small reward was once again getting billeted in a hotel in Miami Beach.
The mission was photo reconnaissance and Clyde Burnette maintained the modified F-51's that flew the daily flights over North Korea. It was a miserable place to work, he recalls, as they had to maintain the aircraft with no hangars or sheds, just tents for shelter.
Continuing his Air Force career after the war in Europe, Clyde Burnette became a flight engineer ferrying retired aircraft. After a short discharge and reenlistment, he served in the Berlin Airlift. When they asked for a position check on one flight near the East German border, they didn't get a position but they were told to immediately make a 180 degree turn.
After serving in World War II and the Korean War, Clyde Burnette was stationed in the Philippines as the Vietnam War began to heat up. He nearly got sent there but returned to the States to finish his career which included prepping aircraft for possible use in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Stalag Luft IV was a huge POW camp full of captured airmen from America and England. Bill Livingstone remembers how there was nothing to do between roll calls. Fortunately, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross sent books, sports gear and food to the prisoners.
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.
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.
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.
It was the most miserable night of his life. After bailing out over Germany, Bill Livingstone was captured and being held in a stable with his crew mates. Following a very cold night, they were taken to an interrogation center. Part 4 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.
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.
Bill Livingstone was lucky he had no problems with his feet on the forced march from one prison camp to another. As they marched further into Germany, a guard let slip the somber news that FDR had died. The men arrived at Stalag VII-A, the largest of all the POW camps. There, he had a memorable chat with a British prisoner who had been there since Dunkirk.
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.)
He failed his first eye test because of color blindness, but at the next level a sympathetic officer allowed Bill Livingstone to enter the Air Corps. Eventually he did get disqualified from pilot training, but they decided he'd make a fine aircraft mechanic.
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.
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.
Though he had been a POW, Bill Livingstone had such a late entry into the war that he didn't have enough points to be discharged. He worked in a personnel office until the time came. He pays tribute to his friends who didn't make it, along with the many others who made that sacrifice.
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.
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.
When the bombs were released, the B-17 sharply rose in the air, then banked right. Bill Livingstone heard a loud pop and that's when two engines were knocked out. They were losing speed and altitude fast and they didn't know where they were. The decision was made to dump the Norden bombsight and he watched it fall into the darkness below. Part 2 of 5.
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.
Christmas came to Stalag Luft IV in 1944 and the Germans allowed the prisoners to cut Christmas trees for the barracks, though there was little to be had in the way of decorations. Bill Livingstone recalls how the men in his room came up with an improbable holiday cake.
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.
"Be kind to your web footed friends...." Bill Livingstone couldn't believe that the sergeant had never heard that song. He was in a two month wait for aircraft mechanic school to start. Gunnery school was next and they made an instructor out of him. He watched his friends leave to join crews and go overseas. Finally, he was going.
He had it made for a couple of weeks there. John Souther's recon company occupied an Italian estate which had giant casks of wine in a cellar with nice convenient taps. By this time, the much better K-ration had replaced the C-ration, so when you weren't at a nice estate, your meal was a little better.
He crossed on the Queen Elizabeth with thousands of others, zig-zagging their way to Scotland. Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was sent off to an RAF base for more schooling. On that trip, he got to see the sights of London.
The war was nearing an end, but John Souther's unit was still on the move across Italy. He had to be evacuated for a few weeks when he fell ill, but he rejoined his men in time for the final push toward the Alps and the German surrender.
Allied POW's were being sent further and further into the interior of Germany. Bill Livingstone arrived at Stalag XIII and found an incredible array of nationalities. Again, the sound of approaching guns meant the prisoners would be moved, this time on foot. He and his buddies brought along an unusual item they hoped to trade for food.
Right after he dumped the Norden bombsight into the night sky, Bill Livingstone saw the co-pilot blow the hatch and tumble forward into the air. The rest of the crew followed and were strung out in a line when they landed in a farmer's field. He approached them angrily and that's when they found out where they were. Then, the Wehrmacht showed up. Pat 3 of 5.
They could hear the sound of Russian guns approaching from the east, so the Germans decided it was time to leave the POW camp in Poland. Bill Livingstone was one of the throng of prisoners packed into old boxcars and sent into the interior of Germany. One night, the train rolled to a halt in a large rail yard. He was surprised to see where they were.
Bill Livingstone was taken into an office where a German officer greeted him warmly and promised him he would be housed in a very comfortable camp. All the captured airman had to do was help him fill out a form and answer a few questions. Right. Then it was off to Stalag Luft IV. His first mission was finally over. Part 5 of 5.