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.
There was a table size mock up of Iwo Jima onboard ship. David Green saw it, so the geography of the place was no surprise. As the Marines worked their way up the island, the aim was to keep the line solid from shore to shore. He remembers strafing runs on the enemy and the opportunistic naval bombardment from ships that stayed through the battle.
Dan McBride was dug in at Bastogne, but he was lucky enough to be on the relatively quiet side of town. It was mostly small probes but there was one big final assault. He describes how the fierce battle seemed in slow motion to his perception, the altered state of combat. After the Germans withdrew, the GI's moved to counter attack. He stood up to move after a tank round burst overhead and he fell flat on his face, unable to walk. "Mac? You hit again?"
They figured no more than a week for Iwo Jima, but it didn't go that way. Radioman David Greene explains why it was important to take the island and why the radio wasn't really used once the Marines were ashore.
When Dan McBride was fighting his way across France, he thought the French civilians did not like Americans and didn't want them there. Decades later, at a ceremony in Normandy, he found out how wrong he'd been.
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.
He was the "scribe" of the outfit. When he returned from the war in the Pacific, David Greene had a list of names and addresses and he organized a reunion and it grew from there. Others in the group took on the job each time so that reunions were held all over the country.
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.
The Japanese awoke one day to the sight of 850 ships off shore at Iwo Jima. The naval bombardment was not enough, though. Marine radioman David Greene remembers eating his ration one day sitting next to a 16" solid projectile that had skidded to a stop on the beach. He never saw the kamikazes that plagued the ships, but he did see and hear the Japanese version of the Buzz Bomb.
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.
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.)
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.
The Army Air Corps had shuffled Ubert Terrell from school to school, based on his high aptitude test scores. He wound up as a thoroughly educated C-47 crew chief in the 100th Troop Carrier Squadron. He became good friends with a nucleus of men who were together through the war.
David Greene tells the story of the time he was nearly buried by a Japanese artillery shell on Iwo Jima. His services as a radioman were not needed once ashore and this led to him being maybe the only Marine who never fired a shot on the island.
Ubert Terrell was training to be a C-47 crew chief at the Douglas aircraft plant. While there, he also went to radio school and navigation school. He had absorbed enough knowledge about the airplane and it's controls that he was able to avert near disaster while flying with an inexperienced pilot. It was only his second time in an airplane.
It was after the war had ended that David Greene was called on to try and signal a large cargo ship with semaphore. There was a typhoon warning and the sailors were frantically signaling. Unfortunately, he was a Marine radioman and his semaphore skills were a bit lacking.
As a crew chief on a C-47, Ubert Terrell and his crew spent a lot of time training with paratroopers stateside before traveling to England to prepare for the big invasion. While there, he saw some of the devastation visited on London.
David Greene recalls hearing about the atomic bombs while aboard ship somewhere between Hawaii and Japan. When he was departing for home after his turn at occupation duty, he was asked if he wanted to pick something from a big pile of Japanese rifles.
The battle hardened men of the 82nd and 101st Airborne, who had enough points to go home, were transferred into the 17th Airborne temporarily. This stuck in their craw and they refused to wear the patch and caused some ruckus on the way home. Dan McBride had a hand in that.
There were some guys who grew quite a bit while they were in the Marines. David Greene was stuck at 5', 6" and was always on the end of the left side of the formations. He was tall enough to ship out for the Pacific, though, as a radioman.
He had some brothers who enlisted after Pearl Harbor, but Ubert Terrell had to be "invited" by the president to join up. He already knew how to handle a rifle because he had to hunt to put meat on the table.
It was an M-1 rifle that he grabbed out of supply. Dan McBride found out he grabbed the wrong one, later on in a firefight. His Airborne outfit had just marched through an unknown town, dug in and were waiting for the Germans they were told were coming. What's the name of this place? Bastogne.
He was in headquarters company, so Marine radioman David Greene was the first to return to a ship after the battle was over. After getting cleaned up and getting a new uniform, he was happy to be back on board after the long ordeal. He enjoyed being aboard ship, as long as you didn't get the bottom bunk.
After Bastogne, it was a different war for Dan McBride. He finally got a shower, brief and cold though it was. His airborne unit moved around on various brief assignments and found itself in Austria at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's mountain retreat. It was there where they got some big news.
There were four boys and no girls in the family, so David Greene was experienced with laundry and cooking before he was drafted in 1943. He picked the Marines when given the choice because of a rather odd reason.