Eighth Air Force policy was that every crewman would be given a week's rest leave (R & R, or 'Rest and Recuperation') by approximately his 20th mission. Something fell through the cracks for our crew, because, with 23 missions in the bag for me and Beam, and 22 for the rest of the crew, we had not yet taken our R & R. We of the crew were aware of the slip-up, and hoped to avoid rest leave at that point in time, rather than taking it with only two or three missions staring us in the face. But on January 6, 1944, we left the base for our rest leave at Southport, on the Irish Sea about thirty miles north of Liverpool. Enlisted men on the crew went to Southport for the whole week, staying at the Red Cross club. Beriont, Dempsey, and Beam spent the time in London. I went to London with them, but instead of staying there, I took the Southport Express for Southport, where I decided to stay for two days and then go to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the rest of the week. During a three- hour stopover at Liverpool, I had an excellent chance to look around the city. There was little bomb damage around the downtown area, but I found out later that the dock area had suffered badly. When my train reached Southport, I took a taxi to the Palace Hotel, where I reserved a room for myself and three rooms for the other officers, in case they decided to show up later.
Informality ruled at the Red Cross club. Enlisted men and officers mingled and played together, with no rules against fraternization. No uniforms were required except at dances, which were held three times a week. There was an all-you-can-eat snack bar with real Coca Cola, which was made in England. The second day I was there, I walked around Southport, did a lot of window-shopping, and got a good view of Southport Golf Course, although I was not a golfer. I also spent some time at the amusement park, but since it was winter, there was little activity there. There was a thin layer of ice on the ground and a light rain was falling, giving rise to a slight cold which I had for several days. I liked Southport a lot, mainly because it had fairly wide, straight streets, and because it was the first seaside resort I had seen in England.
The next morning, I caught a train for Crewe on the way to Edinburgh. From Crewe it was about a seven-hour ride on a fairly fast train. A woman with a small child occupied the seat next to me and gave me my first insight concerning the Scottish people. She had originally come from southern England, but had lived in Edinburgh for several years. She told me the Scots were a very proud people, a fact which I found out later to be quite true. As we approached Edinburgh, she explained to me how to reach the Red Cross club there. When the train pulled into the station, I caught a street car along Princes Gardens street to the club. There was such a large crowd at the clerk's room that I decided to stay at a hotel instead, and was directed to one by the information clerk. The room to which I was assigned at the hotel was very simple, but it was also cheap. The hotel was run by two elderly sisters, who hinted I should use the stairs instead of the elevator when I went to my third-floor room.
It was late by the time I was established in my room, so I went out in search of a restaurant. The only place I could find without a long wait was a place upstairs along Princes Gardens. To eat quickly, I had to share a table with three British ATS (Air Transport Service) girls who were stationed in North Ireland but had come to Edinburgh on leave. They were very friendly ladies, who told me how much the British people appreciated the help America had given them during the time of the Blitz.
Finally, about 7:30 I set out for the Palais Ballroom, which had been recommended by the Red Cross people. The street car took me within two blocks, and I knew how to go the rest of the way. But two small Scottish boys suspected where I was going and wanted to show me the way, which I let them do. I gave each of them sixpence, and their faces lit up with big smiles.
The Palais was very much like dance halls in the States. It was very well lighted, and the revolving stage had a swing orchestra on one side and a Scot highlander playing highland music on a Hammond organ on the other side. The swing orchestra would play mainly American music for a half hour, and then the Scot would take over and play for Scottish folk dancing for a half hour, and so on. The Scottish people would enter wholeheartedly into the native quadrilles, squares and stomps. The people were happier and more carefree than any I had seen before at dances in England, but the Scots were also farther from the war. The only Americans in Edinburgh were a few like me who were on leave, because there were few stationed there permanently. Some of the Americans at the Palais could dance the native dances very well. I didn't participate in those dances, but enjoyed watching them. Even very old men were dancing as strenuously as the younger ones.
When the dance was over at midnight, I stood in line for my cap behind a middle-aged Scot wearing tweed knickers and a visor cap, and he asked me how I liked Edinburgh. When I informed him that I had arrived just that day, he asked me if I would like him to show me downtown Edinburgh. When I told him yes, he took me, arm in arm, out the door. At that point I began to wonder what I was getting into. But it all turned out well. It was a beautiful, clear night, with a full moon, as he walked me five or six blocks to the neighborhood of the Edinburgh Castle. As we walked around the base of the cliff that drops away from the castle on three sides, he told me much about the history of Scotland. He showed me the exact spot where one of the suitors of Mary Queen of Scots had landed when he jumped off the cliff to commit suicide.
I asked him about the rather strained feeling that I had noted between the Scots and the English. He told me it dated back to a time when the two fought a number of wars against each other. The fighting finally ended when they were united by the wedding of Mary to a king of England. Since then, he said, the Scots have resented inferences by some of the English that England had conquered Scotland. According to him, "Any Scot could lick any five Englishman." He said that Scotland disliked England almost as much as Germany, and that references should not be made to an English navy; it is a British navy.
From the castle, we went to the Scottish National Memorial, which he proudly showed me. I made a mistake by turning on my flashlight so I could read a sign more readily. He told me that if a bobby had seen me do it, he (my friend) could have been arrested for allowing me to violate the blackout rules. He showed me the art museum, and we walked through the gardens, then proceeded on to other government buildings and Edinburgh University in the central district. Each time we approached one of the very modern buildings, he would say, "You wouldn't have thought it of poor little Scotland, would you?", showing again the intense national pride of the Scots.
Then he showed me a park on a high hill, from which he told me I could get an excellent view of Edinburgh in daylight. We went to some of the back streets where there were many statues, and finally he walked me back to my hotel. Before leaving me, he named for me various places I should visit before leaving Edinburgh -- the Firth of Forth bridge, Holyrood Palace and a few other places. As we stood there, a slightly inebriated Scottish girl came past, crying that an American GI had stolen her purse. She, too, went on to add that she was proud to be a Scot. My friend told me to disregard her, and left me after telling me how proud he was of the contemporary Queen Mary, because she was of Scottish descent.
The next morning, I awakened and went downstairs to eat the breakfast of porridge, toast, bacon and coffee that came with the price of the room. Then I checked out of the hotel room and moved to the Red Cross club. I then started out in a drizzling rain to get my first real view of Edinburgh by day. I formed an impression immediately that if I ever had to live anywhere outside of America, I would like it to be in a place like Edinburgh. The streets in the main part of the city were wide and clean. The buildings in the downtown area were modern. The people were very friendly, and many of them spoke to me as we met in the streets. The Princes Gardens along Princes Street were modeled after similar parks in the States. Beyond the Gardens was the LM&S railroad, on which I had come to Edinburgh, and then, on a cliff, the Edinburgh Castle, overlooking the whole city. I walked around to the various places my friend had taken me to the night before, including the back streets, window-shopping as I went.
About 10:00 AM, I walked up the hill to the castle and joined a tour through it. As we passed through the main gate, the guard "popped to" with an extremely snappy salute that startled me, since I was standing right next to him. The castle still was used as it had been in the old days, as a troop garrison, though that occupied only a small part of it. We went through the seven gates toward the original forts at the top. All along the narrow roads were cannons, which had been used to guard the castle. We were taken through the part of the castle where Mary Queen of Scots had lived. We saw her chamber and bed, and the adjoining room of one of her lovers. The whole time, the guide gave us a running account of the castle's history. There was a museum containing old relics, and a small mascot cemetery where dead pets had been buried. At every opportunity, I took pictures with my cheap Bantam Kodak and a couple of rolls of Kodachrome film I had acquired somewhere. Unfortunately, because of the extremely poor visibility, few of the pictures were very good.
Finally, I left the Castle with hesitancy and walked to the foot of the street leading up to it. There was a shop there that had a nice assortment of handkerchiefs and plaid ties and scarves. I bought an assortment of items, without having to use clothing ration stamps, and mailed some of them back home to my sister for distribution to friends and relatives, and some to my future wife, Elinor. Then I went back to Princes Street and up to the park on the hill which my friend had pointed out the night before, but because of poor visibility, I could see little of the city.
Then, after snacking at a sandwich bar, I proceeded out Princes street to Holyrood Palace, which was King George's residence when he was in Edinburgh. It was very interesting to look at all of the art pieces there. The royal quarters were not open to the public. Then it was back to the Red Cross club for a couple of sandwiches and a couple of Cokes, and to bed, exhausted. The next day, I walked in the opposite direction to the home of Robert Burns and the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell. There was a free tour from the Red Cross club in the afternoon. When the tour bus arrived, it contained four Scottish men, who had taken time off from their businesses to run the tour. One of them said he had spent a considerable amount of time in the States and was treated very well, and this was his way of showing his appreciation to American service men.
On the way to the Firth of Forth bridge, we passed Linlithgow Palace, which was the birthplace of the contemporary Queen Mother Mary. There, we were shown through the grounds and the cemetery. There was an old guest book there which many famous people had signed, including many famous Americans. Rather than having the entire party sign it, it was decided that one person from the Army and one from the Navy should sign. Being the person from the Army nearest the book, I was given the honor of signing it. I noted that the Scottish leader of the tour had signed as "Sir Henry" something or other. A picture was taken that was to appear in the local paper a couple of days later. After leaving Edinburgh, I tried to get a copy of the paper, but failed.
After Linlithgow, we drove down country roads through the beautiful countryside, through gates of some of the large estates, and stopped at an old Norman church that had been built originally in the twelfth century. The minister went over its history. It had been partially destroyed in the sixteenth century, and had stayed that way until the nineteenth century, when rebuilding began. It had been completed in only the past few years, largely through gifts, many of which had come from Americans.
Finally we reached the Firth of Forth bridge. The guide described the manner of construction of the bridge, and explained that, to the Scots, it was considered to be one of the great wonders of the world. We all agreed it was a marvelous feat of engineering, having been constructed in the nineteenth century. It was also in this vicinity that the very first German air raid on Britain had occurred. Some British ships in the Firth were the target. Spitfires had taken off from the Edinburgh airport to attack the enemy aircraft. Fearing an invasion by the Germans, the home guard was ready with pitchforks, and poles were erected in the open fields and beaches to make landing difficult. By this time it was late in the day, so we returned to the city, and all of us expressed our profound appreciation to the Scottish hosts for the tour.
On this tour, I had sat most of the way with a Major David C. Hale, who was on temporary duty in England out of Washington, where he was associated with Aviation Cadet training, and who had gone to Scotland on leave. By the time the tour was over, we had become very well acquainted, and made arrangements to have dinner together that evening. We met at the appointed time, had dinner, and talked for about two hours on many different subjects. He told me of his experiences in the first world war, when he was a bombardier in the Navy, on duty with the British RFC. He told of how the small planes of that time would bounce around because of flak bursts, and how crude their navigation was. They had no deep targets in Germany during that war. They would fly along the channel coast until just opposite the target, then turn 90 degrees to the target. After dropping their bombs, they would land on the beach at Dunkirk until the next morning, in order to avoid betraying the location of their base to the Germans. All of this was extremely interesting to me as a WWII navigator. He also had a lot of questions about navigation in the second war. Since we were both tired, we separated about 8:00 PM, after making arrangements to meet the next day for shopping. Before turning in, however, I walked around awhile outside. Edinburgh also had a blackout, but it didn't seem to be nearly as black as London's.
The next morning I met Maj. Hale after breakfast, and we went into several department stores where they had the same duty-free system as the little store I had patronized before. The idea was that if a person wanted to buy products and carry them away, he would have to give, for example, one ration point per two handkerchiefs, one per scarf, etc. If he wanted to mail the items to the States, no ration points were required if the mailing was performed by the store itself, in which case the maximum amount without paying duty was $100. I had about 12 points, which I used to buy a battle jacket, and I carried it with me.
At this point, I informed the major that I had to hurry and catch my train back to Southport. It so happened that he also had to catch his train for London, and we would be on the same train as far as Crewe. He was a very pleasant fellow, not at all the rigid military type. He was amused that I had been having trouble finding a place where I could buy a First Lieutenant insignia, which I needed in view of my upcoming promotion. The recommendation for my promotion had gone through the system just before I left the base for Southport. The Red Cross had packed some sandwiches for our trip, and we finally parted company at Crewe. He wished me good luck on my remaining two missions, and invited me to visit him any time I got to Washington.
At Crewe, I had to wait about an hour for my train to Southport. The weather there was not quite as cold as it had been a few days before. My intention was to stay at Southport two more nights to rest up before returning to the base. The enlisted men of the crew had stayed at Southport the entire week, and the first night back there I talked with them a long time before turning in. They told me about a rumor that the 96th Group had suffered severe casualties on a mission to Brunswick while we were gone. I found out later that only one plane and crew had been lost on that mission, although there had been rough fighter and flak opposition. The next morning, I took another walking trip around Southport, and in the evening had an enjoyable time at one of the three-a-week dances.
The next morning, we all got up at 6:30 to catch an 8:00 train for London. From Exchange station in Liverpool, where we arrived from Southport, it was a distance of about ten blocks to the London Road station, from where we would be departing. I had a very heavy bag, so I caught a tram, while the enlisted men walked. We all slept most of the way to London. As we approached London, we got into the heaviest fog we had seen in England. The train slowed down to a crawl and stopped several times. We arrived in London in plenty of time for our train to Eccles Road, but that train was delayed a couple of hours because of the fog.
As we waited for our train, one of those major coincidences occurred. I looked up at a stairway and saw my brother Don coming down the stairway toward us. He was also on leave, and was there to catch his train back to the 381st Group, where he was stationed. His was a different train from ours, so we didn't have a very long visit this time. Again our train had to crawl for awhile, but after an hour we were out of the fog. It was late at night when we arrived at the base and got checked in.
The next morning, we found out that our group had lost only one ship during the week we were away, although the Eighth Air Force had been badly mauled. We also found out that major changes were about to be made to our crew. John Beriont, our pilot, had been promoted to Squadron Operations Officer, and Dempsey would be checked out to become our pilot. We wouldn't have any missions for about a week, so we would have the opportunity to fly a few practice missions with Dempsey as pilot. The whole crew began to sweat, not because of a lack of confidence in Tom -- we knew him to be an excellent formation flyer -- but because of the fact that we still had several missions to complete -- two missions for Beam and me and three for the rest of the crew. The sweating period was alleviated somewhat by the fact that on January 20 my promotion to First Lieutenant came through. The basis for the promotion was that the Table of Organization called for the squadron lead navigator to be a First Lieutenant.
Beriont was promoted to Captain, along with his new job as Squadron Operations Officer. He had been a First Lieutenant for two years, having transferred in rank from the Infantry to the Air Corps. He had already started overseas with the Infantry, but this was December 7, 1941, and his destination was the Philippines. His ship was torpedoed after one day, so it returned to its port in the States. Meanwhile, his transfer came through, so he went through pilot training, transition, phase training, and most of the way through his tour of operations as a First Lieutenant. Enlisted men on the crew were also promoted one rank at about this same time.
During the period of January 13-28, Dempsey was in the process of being checked out as a combat pilot, which in his case consisted of making a couple of landings and takeoffs with a Major as check-pilot. None of the checkout was at night or with a full fuel and bomb load ; his first combat mission as pilot would be his first time for that!
Our waiting period finally ended on January 29, when we were awakened about 3:00 AM for a raid on the Frankfurt marshalling yards. This target had been a jinx before. This next-to-last mission was very notable for our crew, for a number of reasons. It was the first mission for Dempsey as our pilot, and the first time he would make a takeoff before daylight and with a full load of gas and bombs. Also, it turned out to be the last time we would fly together as a crew.
As we expected, there was no reason to sweat out Dempsey's first takeoff as pilot. His confidence made all of us confident. He started the engines, warmed them up, and taxied to the proper place in the takeoff line like a veteran pilot. There were probably a few gulps from the crew when he gunned the engines for takeoff. But it was a very good takeoff -- straight down the takeoff strip with no wavering. It was as good a takeoff as any Beriont had made. There was some trouble finding our proper location during assembly, primarily because of bad visibility. A lot of red flares around us suggested that other pilots were having the same problem. We first attached ourselves to a nearby group, and then, when we found our own group, we joined it as the number two ship in the high squadron, as we were supposed to do. The whole crew jubilantly congratulated Tom on the takeoff and assembly operation. Now he was in a familiar situation ; previously, Beriont had always made all of the takeoffs and landings, daylight or dark, and left Tom to do almost all of the formation flying.
We were fairly far back in the overall wing formation, and, as a result, there were many condensation trails around our group. A lot of course-changing had to be done to avoid these trails, which were, in effect, heavy clouds. As a result, at one point we were almost twenty miles off course, and missed our fighter support. While one of the groups put up by the 96th was hit hard by savage enemy fighters (a total of five bombers were shot down in the other group), the group we were in had no casualties. The German FW-190 and ME-109 fighters attacked from a direction they had not tried before -- straight down vertically from above. This frustrated the top-turret gunners, because they could not elevate their guns that high.
We dropped our bombs with no trouble. Dempsey's copilot on the mission was a former pilot who had screwed up on a landing some time before and was down-graded to copilot. But Dempsey reported that he had done a good job of helping him on this mission. The trip back to base was a sort of sweating time again, thinking about the coming landing. But again, sweating was not necessary. At the base, Tom peeled off nicely, entered the landing pattern confidently, and made an excellent landing. So now, Beam and I had but one mission to go!
It didn't take long for my last mission to come along. In fact, it was on January 30, the day following the Frankfurt mission. Beam and I were called early for the pre-briefing, and were told that we would be assigned to a different crew for this flight. We felt bad until we were told that it would be a raid on the Rocket Coast, which we expected to be an easy one. But by the time of the main briefing, the target had been changed to aircraft factories at Brunswick. We resented the fact that we were being deprived of the opportunity to fly the last mission with our own crew. Since Beriont was now the Squadron Operations Officer, we went to see him after the briefing to express our unhappiness. He told us that our only other option would have been to be held back to fly at a later date with a Mickey crew. Beriont had actually talked Group into making this arrangement for us. So we flew with this new crew, who were on their 15th mission.
Takeoff and assembly were normal, and the pilot seemed to be competent, so Beam and I relaxed somewhat. The mission itself was fairly easy, with relatively light flak and no fighter opposition, although we had had much fog and drizzle at the base. We led the low squadron. During the mission, which was flown at 31,000 feet, we kept our eyes on Dempsey and the crew's plane, and were somewhat alarmed when he started to fall back from the group. We found out later that he had been having engine trouble and had to fall in with a later group. On this mission, Lt. Bevers, who lived in our barracks, had to abort just before the target and return to the base alone. On his way back, he unintentionally flew over a large German city, and, to avoid flak, he had to take violent evasive action, but he safely reached the base, flying at low level.
Beam and I began complimenting each other on an easy final mission. As we left the French coast, we looked back as if saying good-bye to a familiar friend that we had no desire to see again, at least under these circumstances. On the way over the North Sea, the #1 engine went out, so at the English coast we left the formation to land early. Since we were coming from the northeast, the proper direction for landing, the pilot called the tower for clearance to land when the field came into view. He was told that no other ships were in the pattern and we were the first plane to land. So the pilot started a long shallow descent, and was about 200 feet off the ground when Beam happened to look down and saw a Fort just under us, also landing. He screamed over the interphone to the pilot, who jammed the throttles forward. With the #1 engine out, the plane veered to the left. The altimeter showed 50 feet altitude and the air-speed meter indicated about 100 miles per hour, which must have been near stall speed. We skimmed over rooftops and just missed the steeple of St. Andrew's, a church in Quidenham, a small town near the edge of the base. There is now a memorial chapel and window in St. Andrew's that is dedicated to the 96th Group. As we passed over it now, I could only think, "What a way to end a combat tour."
The pilot managed to climb back to 1000 feet and re-enter the traffic pattern. We were able to relax enough for me and Beam to fire a flare apiece to celebrate the end of our tour of operations. We were in no mood to buzz the field and fire a number of flares, as most crews did on their final missions. This time the pilot landed easily, and the two of us began to feel the elation of knowing it was all over. As I took my gun apart to clean it, I nicked my hand on the gun and it bled slightly. This was the closest I came to an injury of any kind on all of the 25 missions. When we had parked, we couldn't wait to plant our feet on solid ground, certifying the end of our combat tour. A photographer from Public Relations snapped our picture, which would appear in my home town paper.
There is no question that the few days after completing my 25 missions were some of the happiest in my life and, I am sure, Beam's also. Almost immediately, we began to enjoy a new freedom, even at interrogation after Number 25. We immediately sought out our own crewmen, and the envy showed on their faces, since they still had one raid to go. This raid just completed turned out to be an easy one for them after all ; they were able to stay up with the group we had seen them join. The feeling of elation was difficult to imagine or explain. It was something like the feeling of relief after a painful infection was lanced. The men whom we knew in the group would mutter, "Lucky bastards!" when we met one of them. During the next few days, we went around to visit most of the men we knew well in the group and talked to them about going home. They would tell us what they would do when they got home, and we would smile smugly as if to say, "It's a great life!" Actually, it was somewhat of a damper on our joy to remember that these good friends still had many risks yet to take. Some of them were married and had children, in some cases children that they had never seen. Actually, I was somewhat over-smug, because, instead of being sent home immediately after completing the missions, I was "volunteered" (without my agreement) to transfer to a long-range transport group for several months instead. The story of that assignment is discussed in the section of this Website called Journal of Long-Range Transport Flights.
In the barracks we had a phonograph that one of the Savoie crews had picked up from the Special Services Officer in Bangor, Maine, on our way overseas. It was to be delivered to the Recreation Officer at the base where we would end up overseas. But instead of delivering it, he held on to it and brought it with him to our barracks. Among the fifteen or so records that came with it was one of the pieces from the "Oklahoma Suite", that was recorded by Bing Crosby and Trudy Erwin, with a title "Oh What a Beautiful Morning." The day following my 25th, I woke up when the orderly came in to awaken Dempsey. I got up long enough to start that record playing, and lay and listened to it for an hour. I still have a warm spot in my heart for that record and, in fact, have tried unsuccessfully a number of times over the years to find a copy of it. Then I went to Operations in time to talk with the members of our crew before their mission took off. It was different being on the other end of the picture, sweating out the return of my crew of very good friends. Bill Comfort jokingly asked me if I didn't feel like I should fly the mission with them to see them safely home, and I told him I would do so if he would fly with McCann on the missions he still had to fly. For some reason he wouldn't take me up on the offer.
The Dempsey crew finished their 25th mission (to Wilhelmshafen) successfully, and I was there to meet them at the debriefing when they returned. Now the whole crew was finished except for McCann and McKelvey, who still had missions to finish. The others were a very happy group of men, especially Dempsey, after his second mission as first pilot. One of the members of the crew had obtained a bottle of liquor and wanted to throw a party. I went to the party, but did not drink.
Most of this story has spoken much more about the pilot, copilot, bombardier and navigator than the six enlisted men on the crew. This is because the four of us lived together in the same Nissen hut and spent much time together, while the enlisted men lived together in another hut nearby. This slighting of those members, of course, is not fair, because the successful conclusion of 25 missions was due to the efficiency of the entire crew. Every man on the crew was an expert at his job, and the crew worked together as an effective team. I am not aware of a single discipline or friction problem among the men on the crew at any time. In general, interaction between the officers and enlisted men on our crew was very informal, with little stiff military formality, but with much mutual respect. Each member of the crew did his job well. Below are some general comments concerning individual members of the crew. Ranks shown are those held at the end of the tour of operations.
John, from Linden, New Jersey, was, as one might expect, the most military-minded person on the crew, probably as a result of his experience in the infantry prior to transferring to the Army Air Corps. There was a very informal relationship between him and the other commissioned officers on the crew but not between him and the enlisted men. He was never completely familiar with the navigation process. Once while we were circling and climbing during assembly, he saw a small town through a hole in the clouds and asked me what town it was. I told him I would run calculations based on continuously varying navigation data and give him a semi-educated guess in a few minutes if he really needed to know the identity of the town. He sighed and told me to let it go. Whatever he lacked in his understanding of the navigation process he more than made up for in flying ability. He was one of the best pilots in the group, and had the complete confidence of every man in the crew.
He was deeply interested in philosophy and philosophers and liked to quote them, particularly Nietzsche, the German philosopher. He liked good uniforms ; he had at least six pairs of shoes of various types. His best friend was Frank Berry, another pilot who lived in our barracks. They were an amusing pair when they were together. He was 25 years old.
While Tom served as a copilot during his first 23 missions, he took over as first pilot when Beriont was promoted out of the crew, and flew two flawless missions to end his tour. He gave the rest of us the impression of being an overgrown kid, playing tricks on others and being willing to have tricks pulled on him. He was handy with tools, having been a carpenter before entering the service. He was also a good cook, which came in handy for the crew at various times, such as at holiday time. He was ingenious when there were special problems to be solved, like finding a Christmas tree. He was married, and a baby was born while he was in combat. At one time he was learning to draw, under the instruction of John Bedell, and was progressing very well. He was also one of the closest buddies of Lady Moe, the donkey mascot of the group. He was 25 years old, and his home was in San Jose, California.
Nev bragged about being the laziest man on the crew. He liked getting along doing the least amount of work he could get away with. It upset him when Beriont made him gunnery officer, which made it necessary for him to oversee the care of the guns. He was quite medal-conscious, and would have liked to earn the Purple Heart medal if he could have done so without having to be injured too badly. He could "shoot the breeze" on almost any subject that came up. He liked to talk about the big money he made in civilian life, until we found out he had dipped chocolate for the Hershey Company in his home town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He was 28 years old and was married, with one child. In one respect I envied him, because, as a married man, he earned more money than I did. Beam was credited with an assist in the destruction of a German fighter.
I entered the service from graduate school at Northwestern University, where I was a "tutorial fellow" in mathematics. In a way I was a draft dodger, because my acceptance in the Army Air Corps was finalized only two weeks before the draft board would have grabbed me. As an Aviation Cadet for 15 months, my first experience was in pilot training, but this ended when I "washed out" from the advanced school after 145 hours of flying time. I then switched to navigation training, which had actually been my first choice ahead of pilot training anyway. Under the very difficult conditions imposed by war, this crew was a joy to be a part of. I enjoyed the close friendship of each of the other members. I was 24 years old at the time, I was single, and my home was at Orient, Illinois.
Armand, at 23 years of age, was the leader among the enlisted men and a real help to all of the officers. One of his duties was to make sure that the enlisted men performed their miscellaneous duties, such as attending ground school classes. He did much to calm the other crew members during periods of danger, even when his voice betrayed the fact that he was just as scared as the rest of us were. From Queens, New York, he was the tallest man on the crew, and probably the shyest.
Ross was married, and a child was born while we were in phase training at Dalhart, Texas. He returned to base a week late from our last leave before going overseas, because of the birth of his baby. As punishment (for show), he was reduced in rank to private for six weeks, and then returned to his original rank. He was about 25 years old and lived in Miami, Florida. He and McCann frequently called me "Marsh", Beam "Nev", and Dempsey "Tom", except when John Beriont was around.
"Beaver", or "Shorty" (so-called, for obvious reasons), who was part Cherokee Indian, was about 20 years old and from Oklahoma. He was the life of the crew ; to listen to him on the interphone was sometimes quite amusing. For awhile during missions, Beaver had a serious problem whenever a crewman whose station was farther toward the nose of the ship than he was had to use a relief tube. At that time, he would have to make certain he was facing the tail of the airplane, to avoid having his visibility severely interfered with by a layer of ice on the Plexiglas of his turret. So a routine was developed to solve the problem ; whenever one of the men had to "go", he would call Beaver and ask him, "What do we think of Germany, Shorty?" His answer would be, "P--- on it," and the man would say, "That's right, Shorty, turn around." Problem solved! There have been cases when a Fortress would have to belly-land without being able to lower the landing gear. Normally, in these emergency situations, the ball-turret gunner, who was located on the underside of the plane, could point his gun straight down and exit the turret into the cabin through a door in the back of the turret. But there were occasions when the turning mechanism could jam, placing the gunner in harm's way. For that reason, much special attention was paid to the operation of the turret during ground check-out. Beaver was credited with an "assist" in the destruction of one enemy aircraft.
McCann, about 20 years old and from Greenwich, Connecticut, helped McKelvey at the radio whenever it was necessary. He was one of the two men on the crew to have suffered physical injury on a mission. Their injuries consisted of frostbite around the oxygen mask, caused by the thin air at 60 degrees below zero blasting through the open waist windows at 150 miles an hour. In those days, wind chill factor hadn't even been heard of; it would be interesting to know what the factor would have been in this case. This injury caused completion of his tour of operations to be delayed by several weeks. McCann was credited with an assist in the destruction of one aircraft.
Al was about 22 years old and from Ohio. He was the only man on the crew who received full credit for destroying one enemy fighter. In addition, he received credit for one assist. A1 was also frost-bitten, but to a much less extent than McCann. On rare occasions, he traded places with Dwyer as tail gunner.
Joe was 24 years of age. His home town was Indianapolis, Indiana. As mentioned before, he occasionally traded positions with McCann or Everhart at the waist gunner position.
When ten men are packed together in a space as small as the inside of a B-17 for periods of time ranging from six to ten hours, under a blazing wartime situation, time after time for months at a time, it is unavoidable that special relationships develop among them. When one of them is in danger, all of them are in the same danger at the same time. If one of them is injured, probabilities are great that at least one or more of the others will also be injured. In a worst-case situation, all of them will suffer the same fate at the same time. It must be the same kind of situation among crews of a submarine or a battleship or an infantry battalion under combat situations.
But what happened to the aircrews after their missions were completed and they were released from their combat organization? Generally speaking, the crews broke up and were transferred on an individual basis to other assignments in the Air Force until time came for their discharge from service after the war, late in 1945. In some cases this reassignment involved volunteering for additional missions in either the Pacific theater or the European theater. Some of the individuals remained in the service after the war, making it a career until retirement age. In my case, after completion of my missions, I was transferred to a long-range transport squadron as a navigator, where I made round trips to the Middle East and to the States. This part of my service is covered in another section of this Website, Journal of Long-Range Transport Flights.
Did members of the different crews keep in close contact with each other after the war was over? In many cases they did, holding sub-reunions in connection with annual reunions of the Eighth Air Force Association or the various group reunions, or holding individual crew reunions. The members of our crew as a whole, unfortunately, did not keep in close contact with each other.
For many years Nevin Beam and I wrote back and forth by mail until he died of cancer in 1989, but we never met again in person.
In 1994, I was pleasantly surprised by a long-distance call from Bill Comfort, who lived in Del Rio, Texas at the time. He had found my name in the directory of the 96th Group Association. Since then, we have communicated with each other regularly by postal mail, e-mail, and telephone, and my wife and I visited with him and his wife in Oklahoma a few years after he initially contacted me. Sadly, his wife, Betty Mae, passed away from cancer in September, 2000. "Beaver" is one of the veterans of WWII who returned to service after the war, and had an illustrious career in the Air Force, travelling all over the world until retirement.
In 1997, I had a telephone call from Tom Dempsey, who lived in San Jose, California. He had found my name and address by computer, and I began conversing regularly by telephone, postal mail, and e-mail with him and his wife, Veda Mae. Tom became a building contractor after he left the service. He was slowed down, but not depressed, by two replaced hips, arthritis, and other ailments. Both Tom and his wife passed away in the spring of 2003. He and I never met again in person.
Albert Everhart lived in Springfield, Ohio. While on vacation in October, 1998, my wife and I stayed overnight at a motel in Springfield. I called him on the phone and had quite a long conversation with him. However, he had a number of physical disabilities and wasn't feeling well at the time. Since it was late in the evening when I called him, we were not able to meet in person. Al was discharged after the war, and for many years managed a circus. In late 1999 I received a message from Al's wife, telling me that he passed away in July, 1999.
In March, 1999 I received e-mail messages from three of Armand Cetin's sons -- Chris, Phillip, and Kevin. They reached me through this Website, and Kevin informed me that his father had passed away in February, 1981. Subsequently, I heard from two more of his children, Debbie and David, and from his widow, Fern. In October, 1999 I was fortunate enough to spend an enjoyable afternoon with Fern, Kevin, and his wife, Teresa at Kevin's home. I still occasionally communicate with members of the Cetin family, particularly Fern.
I have also communicated with a number of John Beriont's children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, who also located me through this Website. Most of my correspondence has been with his son, John Jr. John passed away in November, 1965 at age 47.
An unusual situation came up in the case of waist gunner Ken McCann. I had been told, by a source I had confidence in, that Ken had passed away. Early in the year 2000, my wife handed me the telephone and told me it was someone named Ken McCann who said he was on my crew. I told her, "I thought Ken was dead", and Ken overheard me say it. It's embarrassing, each time we talk together, when he reminds me, "I'm still alive".
The other two crew members, Joe Dwyer and Ross McKelvey, to the best of my knowledge, have passed away.
In early February, 2008, we received the following message from the family of Kenneth McCann:
On January 19, 2008, Kenneth McCann, the left waist gunner of
The Crew, passed away, leaving Bill Comfort, the ball turret
gunner, to be the "last one to take a drink from the bottle".
Each of these men are heroes and our families are very proud
of who they are/were and what they did for the United States
In March of 2013, we received word from a family friend that
William Comfort, the last remaining member of the crew, passed away
on December 9, 2012. Even though all members of the crew have now
left us, we will never forget the great sacrifices that they made so
that we might all live in freedom today.
My crew achieved a record that, I am sure, was not surpassed by many other crews in the UK. It is a record of survivability! We flew 25 missions in the European Theater, some of them very easy and some of them (such as Schweinfurt, on "Black Thursday") extremely difficult. We had no personal injuries and no damage from enemy action that affected performance of the aircraft. Some of the components of this unique record are as follows:
For these blessings, the ten members of our crew were eternally thankful.
|Mission Number||Date||City||Target||Length of Mission
|1||Sep 16, '43||La Rochelle (La Pallice), France||Submarine pens||10:30|
|2||Sep 23, '43||Kerlin-Bastard, France||Luftwaffe airfield||06:10|
|3||Sep 26, '43||Rheims, France||Luftwaffe airfield||06:00|
|4||Oct 02, '43||Emden, Germany||Submarine base||06:15|
|5||Oct 04, '43||Saarbrucken-Saarguemines, Germany||Marshalling yards||06:15|
|6||Oct 08, '43||Bremen, Germany||Seaport||06:15|
|7||Oct 10, '43||Munster, Germany||Railway junction||05:45|
|8||Oct 14, '43||Schweinfurt, Germany||Ballbearing plant||09:15|
|9||Nov 03, '43||Wilhelmshafen, Germany||Shipbuilding company||06:20|
|10||Nov 13, '43||Bremen, Germany||Seaport||07:30|
|11||Nov 17, '43||Rjuken, Norway||Hydroelectric plant||10:40|
|12||Nov 19, '43||Gelsenkirchen, Germany||Military target||06:40|
|13||Nov 26, '43||Bremen, Germany||Seaport||07:05|
|14||Dec 05, '43||Bordeaux, France||Military objectives||08:05|
|15||Dec 11, '43||Emden, Germany||Submarine base||06:30|
|16||Dec 13, '43||Kiel, Germany||Shipping base||09:00|
|17||Dec 16, '43||Bremen, Germany||Shipbuilding company||08:00|
|18||Dec 20, '43||Bremen, Germany||Mastredt Focke-Wulf factories||07:30|
|19||Dec 22, '43||Munster, Germany||Rail gateway||06:15|
|20||Dec 24, '43||Pas de Calais, France||V-weapon sites||06:00|
|21||Dec 30, '43||Ludwigshafen, Germany||I. G. Farben Industry chemical works||09:00|
|22||Dec 31, '43||Paris, France||Ballbearing factories||06:45|
|23||Jan 05, '44||Bordeaux, France||Luftwaffe airfield installations||08:10|
|24||Jan 29, '44||Frankfurt, Germany||Marshalling yards, aircraft plants||07:10|
|25||Jan 30, '44||Braunschweige (Brunswick), Germany||Aircraft factories||06:30|
Total Combat Missions:
If enlisted men meander
And indulge in rape or slander,
It's their airplane commander they defame.
If his officers are lazy,
Or alcoholically hazy,
And, in fact, a little crazy, he's to blame.
If they don't salute their betters,
If they fail to pay their debtors,
Or write censorable letters, or get stewed;
If they get back late from passes,
Or decline to go to classes,
You can bet it's not THEIR asses that get chewed.
For the pilot has his uses.
He's the one that makes excuses,
Answers charges, takes abuses from them all;
Though a flyer of acumen,
He's considered less than human
If he cannot keep his crewmen on the ball.
When a gunner's finger freezes,
Or the navigator sneezes,
Or unprintable diseases ground the crews;
It's the pilot's fault they're dying.
(If they aren't, they should be flying.)
And don't argue - for you're lying in your shoes.
If, returning from a sortie,
When the gas is down to forty,
And three engines abort, he brings them down,
Is the crew more understanding?
Sympathetic? Less demanding?
No! They criticize his landing with a frown.
Yes, it certainly is tough
For the hero of this ditty,
But don't waste your tears of pity on this fool;
For although he's nurse and mother
To Joe Blow and Joe Blow's brother,
He'd trade places with no other, the dull tool!
Can't write a thing - the censor's to blame-
Just say that I'm well, and sign my name.
Can't say where we flew from, can't mention the date;
Can't even mention the meals that I ate.
Can't say where I'm going, don't know where I'll land.
Can't even inform you if I'm met by a band.
Can't mention the weather, can't say if there's rain.
All military secrets must secrets remain.
Can't have a flashlight to guide me at night,
Can't smoke a cigarette except out of sight.
Can't keep a diary, for such is a sin,
Can't keep the envelopes your letters come in.
Can't say for sure now just what I can write,
So I'll just close this letter and tell you good-night.
I'll send you this letter to say that I'm well,
Still hoping and praying, and fighting like hell.
Oh, Hedy Lamar is a beautiful gal,
And Madeleine Carroll is, too.
But you'll find if you query, a quite different theory
Amongst any bomber crew.
For the loveliest thing of which one could sing
(This side of the heavenly gates)
Is no blonde or brunette of the Hollywood set.
It's an escort of P-38s.
Yes, in days that have passed, when the tables were massed
With glasses of Scotch and Champagne,
It's quite true that the sight was a thing to delight us,
Intent upon feeling no pain.
But it isn't the same nowadays in this game,
When we head north from Messina Straits,
Take the sparkling wine - and just make mine
An escort of P-38s.
Byron, Shelley, and Keats ran a dozen dead heats
Describing the view from the hills
Of the valleys in May, when the winds gently sway
An array of bright daffodils.
Take the daffodils, Byron; the wild flowers, Shelley;
Yours is the myrtle, friend Keats.
Just reserve me those cuties - American beauties -
An escort of P-38s.
Sure, we we're braver than hell; on the ground all is swell.
In the air it's a different story.
We sweat out our track, through the fighters and flak
But we're willing to split up the glory.
Well, they wouldn't reject us, so heaven protect us,
And until all this shooting abates,
Give us courage to fight 'em - and one more small item -
An escort of P-38s.