We sailed from Boston in December, 1944, landing in Liverpool shortly before Christmas. We were newly arrived at our base in England and had been in the barracks about 3 days when early one evening the CQ, charge of quarters, came through the barracks and asked for a radio operator for the next days mission. The veteran crew members jumped up and told me "Take it; you'll be ahead of your crew by one mission." I said "I wouldn't know what to do. I have not had any training on procedures here; I am not familiar." They said, "You don't do anything, you just monitor the assigned frequency." "No, I better not volunteer." The said, "You are afraid to go!" "Yes, I am afraid because I would be lost."
A veteran radio operator volunteered to go. Would you believe that the plane was shot down? If I had jumped at the chance of getting ahead of my crew by one mission, I probably would not be telling you about the incident. I feel that I would have panicked, and chances are that I would have been lost. Several weeks later the crew did make it back, luckily. They went down over Belgium and the ground troops overran the location where they had gone down and the crew was liberated.
About half way into our tour, we took off on a mission, to bomb an airfield. We were to carry fragmentation bombs. This particular type of bomb was different from the general purpose type. They were strapped together, like a small bundle of sticks. Best I can remember, there were about 10 or 12 small bombs in the bundle. My job over nth target was to keep nth bomb bay doors opened. The doors on the B-24 were hydraulic and sometimes the pressure would not keep the bomb bay doors completely opened. They would creep down and the bombs would not release. A crew member was assigned to keep the bomb bay doors open during the bombing run.
We would be on the initial point heading for the target, and the bombardier would say "hit the handle again." The hydraulic system would squeal, and the bomb bay doors would retract until the bombardier would say bombs away.
On this particular mission, something went wrong. When the bombs were released, there was a flash, a loud noise, and suddenly gasoline was spewing from the gauges by the entrance to the cockpit from the bomb bay.
There was no intercom communication, so I pulled on the engineers leg and pointed to the problem. He quickly came down from his turret and did something to shut off the spilling gasoline.
The radio command set had a vacant position that we could go to in case of emergency when we lost intercom communication. One of the waist gunners was seriously hurt in the waist of the plane, and the pilot detailed the bombardier to go to the waist and see what he could do. The pilot had to drop out of the formation and usually a stray plane was an easy target for enemy fighters. We lucked out and made it back to base. The pilot lined up the plane with the runway pretty far out, because he did not have control of the plane with the controls. He could only control the plane with the throttles. All in all, the pilot made a pretty good landing.
The injured gunner was taken to the hospital right away, and afterwards we counted 180 holes in the plane, from a pencil size hole to some pretty good size ones. We will never know what happened. It could have been a direct hit from enemy fire on the ground, or it could have been some malfunction of the bombs that we were carrying. The injured gunner, Eddie Gerson, never flew combat again. We visited him a couple of times in the hospital before he was sent back to the states.
The officers on the crew were: Pilot, Capt. JC McLeod, from Mobile, Ala. The co-pilot was Lt Nicholson from either Nebraska or Minnesota. The navigator was Lt. Joseph Zapel from Brooklyn, NY and the bombardier was Lt. Edwards from Bridgeport, Conn. The engineer was Ivo Greif from Worthington, Iowa. Over the target he manned the upper gun position. I was the radio operator from SAT. The nose gunner was Charles Bailey from Brooklyn, NY. The tail gunner was Edward Birochak from Old Forge, PA. The ball turret gunner was Kenneth Ray from Hope Mills, NC. Left waist gunner was Eddie Gerson from Brookline, MA. Over the target I was supposed to man the right side waist position but I was later detailed to keep the bomb bay doors open.
When the war ended in Europe, we only had 21 missions to our credit. We didn't complete our tour, which was 35 missions. Six months after we sailed to England we were back, headed for the Pacific with the 20th Air Force. In the summer of 1945, August the 6th, the first A bomb was dropped on Japan. When that second A bomb was dropped, that changed everything.
I was inducted on active duty on September 20, 1944 and discharged November 7, 1945. I remained in the reserves until 1958 when my position was abolished and I was forced to get out.
Today I am still active: I am a member of the Memorial Services Detachment at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. On Fridays we do "Honor Guard Duty" for funerals. There is a different group for the other 4 days of the week. This is very much needed, and we are all very proud of the service we do for our veterans.