Perkinson Crew – Assigned 755th Squadron – June 25, 1944
(Photo: Ron Bean)
Shot down June 29, 1944 – MACR 7086
|William P Perkinson
|Trsf to RD for return to ZI
|William P Kelly
|Stalag Luft III
|Earl E Smith
|Stalag Luft 4
|Stalag Luft 4
|Bruce E Bean
|Stalag Luft 4
|Lewis F Cockerill
|Walter D Czawlytko
|Stalag Luft 4
|John E Haggerty
|Stalag Luft 4
Perkinson’s crew was assigned on June 25, 1944 and flew their first mission on June 28th. They were shot down on their second mission on June 29th, four days after their arrival. Prior to going overseas, 2Lt. Norman Smith was assigned to another crew and Perkinson eventually became the crew’s pilot. Corporal Damiana’s status is unknown. He was replaced at some point by Sgt John E. Haggerty, the latter being shot down with the crew on June 29th.
2Lt Meredith Moore flew on the crew’s first mission to Saarbrucken, but had a severe sinus infection which gave him trouble throughout the mission. He was hospitalized upon their return and was not with the crew the next day when they were shot down. His place as navigator was taken by 2Lt Irwin Eiring from Lt Robert N. Ruark’s crew. Moore’s sinus condition was chronic and he was removed from flying status in July 1944 and assigned as an instructor to 2nd Bombardment Division HQ in August. (See Meredith Moore’s story below)
In the cockpit with Perkinson on June 29th was 1Lt Robert H. Hannaman. It is not clear what the purpose of his presence was that day. Whether to replace a missing co-pilot, or to check out this new crew to be sure they were ready to fly combat missions on their own, is not known. Hannaman is listed as “Pilot” and Perkinson is listed as “Co-Pilot” on the Missing Air Crew Report. Hannaman was originally the pilot of Crew 65 in the 755th Squadron, but was reassigned, possibly as an Operations Officer in the squadron. His co-pilot, 2Lt Robert V. Whitlow, took over as pilot of Crew 65.
Only crew report identifiable with HANNAMAN states that he was last seen in target area dropping behind formation and losing altitude, but with all engines working. No reason known.
|LOST 2 ENG
Sgt Bruce E. Bean’s WWII Experience
The following is a transcribed copy of an original transcript written by Bruce E. Bean of his war experience in Europe from May 1943 through May 1945. The original transcript was written in June of 1985. All of the text represented here has been transcribed exactly as written, no changes to wording have been made except where noted by [ ]. Spelling and typographical errors have been corrected as needed.
December 29, 1997
Went into service Mar. 25 1943 at Battle Creek Mich. and after one week of testing for skills etc. was shipped out to St. Petersburg Fla. I was stationed in a tent city out in the boondocks for a week then moved to Pennsylvania hotel in town for basic training (Apr. 1 thru May 30). On May 30 went by train to Denver Col. at Buckley Field was in school to learn all small armament (30Cal 50Cal 70mm guns) Also use of all types of guns on the firing range. Then one week on bivouac in Tent City type war conditions. Rank PFC. Graduated in on July 24.
Moved to Lowery Field (Denver) for all types of turrets (Martin, Sperry, Bendix). Again with classes, more gunnery practice, now with guns mounted on turrets also movie types with recorders made by Jam Handy Corp. Upon completion of course I was to go to Harlingen Texas but after being tested for training on the then hot new B29 was held over while bugs were worked out of the B29. In Nov. the B29 was still not ready. I was shipped out to Harlingen Field, Harlingen, Texas, just north of Matamoras Mex.
Again more gunnery all types, lots of skeet. We also fired from turrets with shotguns, BB guns and what have you. Upon graduation was made Buck Sgt. >>> with the large salary of I believe $82 per month. The top ten men in the class were notified that they had been “selected” to go to train as instructors at Buckingham Field Fla. (Ft. Meyers). We traveled by train arriving in Tampa on Christmas Eve 1944. Again more gunnery all types, lots of skeet. We were now standing in a truck with clay pigeons coming out at random from any direction. I soon discovered I did not like speaking to a group, a fear carried since Jr. hi. (Since cured by Dale Carnegie). In Feb 1944 a need for men over seas was posted on the bulletin board and zap my way out of instructors school.
I was to be assigned to Westover Field Mass. and was given a 10 day delay in route to Detroit then to Westover Field (Springfield Mass.). At Westover was assigned to a crew of 10 on a B24 Bomber. We spend Mar. thru May (almost) becoming a unit. Then late in May were sent to camp Kilmer, N.J. and then to Port of N.Y. we then boarded the Queen Elizabeth I. On May 30, 1944 we docked in Glasgow Scotland on June 5 1944 (ed. These dates appear to be in conflict). On the following a.m. we learned of the invasion of France. While overseas I received the rank of Staff/Sgt., new pay of $96.00 per month plus 50% flight pay, also 10% I believe for foreign service.
Again more gunnery at a base in Ireland, then assignment to our base in England on June 26, 1944 at Horship AF Base (458th Bomb Gp) at ____________ in southern England [RB: this was Horsham St. Faith air base in Norwich]. I was now given the rank of S/Sgt. $96 per mo. plus 50% flight pay. Our first mission on June 28 was on Stuttgart near the French border. No fighters encountered just lots of flak–no hits on us.
On June 29 our mission was deep in Germany near Berlin (Aschersleben, I believe). We went out to our B24 at 4:00 only to find engine trouble so on to another plane. We made rendezvous with our squadron on time at 22,000 ft. alt. but our troubles weren’t over, as we passed over the English Channel our right inboard engine developed an oil leak and was feathered. Salazar, our flight engineer said turn back but our newly assigned pilot (with 23 missions under his belt) said we’ll make it.
We maintained our position with the squadron. In the ensuing time I was busy attempting to clear a jam in one of my rear turret guns. Not as easy as on the bench at Harlingen Field. The temperature was near -10 degrees and before long the metal would be the same temp. I managed to repair so one of the guns would fire. When we arrived at the target as our bombs were being dropped we were hit and lost the use of engine #4 (our right outboard). Now with only 2 engines, both on the left side, we lost altitude and fell behind formation. We did retain fighter support with P47s. They kept motioning for us to bail out by indicating our poor flight angle. As time lapsed the crew threw out all loose and excess weight finally including the guts of the waist guns. We were informed by the pilot that we were unable to transfer gas from the right tanks and most vote to ditch (land in water) in the channel or bail out. We all opted to bail out.
It was at this time a waist gun, swinging loose since the guts were missing, caught my ripcord spilling my chute out on the floor. No other chute could be found so I picked up the loose chute and bailed out thru the rear hatch. The slip stream due to our speed caught the folds ripping it from me. It opened suddenly wrenching me to a sudden stop, my foot hitting some part of the plane.
Suddenly the plane was gone leaving me to float in a very quiet sky after all the noise of our engines faded away. As I looked below it all appeared like a patchwork quilt so far below then suddenly it was more detailed as a fence was “coming up” towards me. I pulled on the chute ropes of one side as we had been taught and slid over just missing the fence.
I landed in a wheat field just yard behind a house. Quickly I removed the heavy flight boots and put on a pair of English walking shoes. Earl Smith (our radio man) and I had kidded this a.m. when we checked them out about walking out of Germany. Now that became a real possibility but even that thought was short lived as a young soldier ran up yelling “Han oop”.
In what seemed a very short time 9 of our crew were herded on to a army truck and were discussing our individual captures. Then the last of our group Robert Salazar (the engineer) was brought up and climbed aboard. We then were taken to a military base near by. Later that day after attempts to interrogate us we [were] taken to a makeshift prison an[d] put in separate rooms. Much later that day we were offered a bowl of very unappetizing soup. Then marched into a small town to a RR station. There as we boarded the train we were each given a loaf of black bread. After a bite of it we chucked it, later we would have eaten it if we had known how long until we’d eat a decent meal.
The following day we arrived at Dulag Luft (a temporary Air Force camp). Again the now standard search, and were placed in solitaire in a prison room. Late in the afternoon I was interrogated again an[d] refused to give only the standard (as trained) name, rank & serial No. When they could not convince me to talk I was released into an outer compound with other prisoners and the following day put on a train bound for a permanent camp.
On July 5, 1944 we arrived at a small town named Stettin (Poland) That name has been changed. [RB: The original name of the town was Stettin, and is now called Szczecin (pronounced Schtetsin), located northeast of Berlin located on the Oder River, just east of the German border – 53.25 North, 14.35 East.]The camp was Stalag Luft 3.[Based on further discussions with dad, we believe this was actually Stalag Luft IV] There were 10 barracks in a barbed wired compound, each with 8 rooms. In each room there were 6 double deck bunks with 12 prisoners per room initially, later 20 of us were jammed into the room.
It was a very traumatic change of life, we were on the way “home” to a steak dinner, now every thing was so different. Some men adjusted as best as possible, while for some it was much more difficult. We had reasonable freedom within the compound during the day but at night all doors were locked and shutters covered the windows. One day we heard a burst of gun fire and learned that one prisoner had “calmly” stepped over the warning rail and walked toward the high fence. He was killed instantly.
The camp became our horizon since we never varied in our routine. We saw the close by border of tall evergreen trees the sky, had much time to observe the west to east flow of clouds,. Gradually we adjusted to find activities to fill the hours. We made playing cards from cardboard boxes. Later these were replaced by a deck from the Red Cross.
I had found a book left in a seat on the train. It was an English story “Adam Bede”. It gave me access to trade for other books, there were a few. One I enjoyed very much was Lloyd Douglas’ “The Robe”. I also learned to play bridge. We formed a Bible study program headed by a young aspiring minister from Texas “preacher Mears” We studied Paul’s writings This relationship with God became the one stabilizing force, that plus the constant hope that the war would end and we would be free. In 1944 the constant comment was “we’ll be home by Christmas”.
One of the men in our room was handy with a needle. He used the soft tongue of the shoes issued by the Red Cross to make the cover of a very serviceable baseball. Four tongues with a ball of string equals one baseball. Salazar didn’t play ball but after much coaxing I convinced him he wouldn’t be there when cold weather came and he donated part of his shoes for a baseball. He reminded me of this one cold day.
The time passed and still the war continued. We saw the snow pile up and tried to keep warm by staying in bed a lot of the day. During the severe cold days we were rationed 15 bricks of coal for heat. Their coal apparently was made by compressing coal dust into small oblong bricks somewhat the size of a builders brick.
During December we worked to organize entertainment for Christmas celebration. We were given the permission to use the main building where the Red Cross parcels were ordinarily divided. We were amazed as we worked to form a Glee Club at the talent shown. When the time arrived it was a most touching occasion. As we sang the carols and tried to visualize our loved ones in the U.S.
Two of the guys dressed in crepe paper costumes as Spanish dancers did a beautiful dance routine. It was amazing to see with so little to use for costume material. There I learned the beauty of Ava Maria for the first time. The last carol was “Silent Night”, as we sang it many of us had tears in our eyes as we remembered past years.
As the war continued our camp had other compounds added, each with 10 barracks. In 1945 new groups of prisoners were crowded into the camp from other camps from areas further east from Stettin. Some had been prisoner since the war began.
On Feb. 5, 1945 we were told to make preparations to travel with any of our belongings. I made a pouch from a winter G.I. undershirt by sewing the bottom across and tying the sleeves to make a strap. We were told to pick a “buddy” and always stay with each other. My partner was Louis Cockrell from Arlington Va. We were somewhat optimistic that the war would end now. We felt that prior camp evacuations such as ours were due to the advance of “Joe’s boys” (Joseph Stalin).
On a very cold snowy a.m. Feb. 6, 1945 we marched out “to go to another camp”. each day we marched till almost sunset then were herded into barns to spend the night. The owner of the barn boiled potatoes for our evening meal. We brought with us what scant Red Cross rations we had. Our lunch was provided according to what we had of the Red Cross provisions.
On Feb. 13, as the light of day faded we were kept moving with a promise “a barn is just ahead”. As we continued to march on with one short rest stop with no food we began to wonder if it would ever end. After 12:00 we began to hear horns like there might be boats up ahead. It was so dark we had to walk crouched low to silhouette the man ahead in the sky line.
I convinced Lewis, my “partner” that we should try to escape. We made an agreement that we would try with the understanding that if one felt we should give up, his vote made it unanimous. So we quietly dropped into the deep ditch beside the road. Our group marched on and we crept into the woods unseen. Much to our surprise the sound of our group did not fade completely away. They went around a bend in the road and camped in an open field.
Louis and I tried to sleep but found it was too cold. We buttoned our overcoats together and used both our wool blankets. When it was daylight Lewis said “my vote is to give up” so we sneaked up to the campsite and back into the group without being missed. Soon we were marched up to a river and on to a ferry then across. We learned that the Russians had cut us off and by ferrying us across we were kept prisoners.
Each day was similar to the previous, we marched through towns and countryside all strange to us. one of our guards rode a bike ahead of us. I assumed that he contacted the farms where we slept with some form of orders to assure barns were available and that our standard fare of boiled potatoes was ready. Their supply of food was low at this point in the war, so our small serving each night was a strain on their supply.
At one point we were put in boxcars like cattle and traveled a short distance but spent more time on sidings than in motion. We welcomed the change when we were back on the road again. Weeks went by as we continued to move in a westernly direction. Many of our group were sick with dysentery, we had stopped for 3 days in one barn. Most of the time there we were very hungry and thirsty. This came about as a result of a mob type situation one evening when food arrived as we pushed forward toward the wagon. No pre-planning was made to form a line. The pushing and jostling to get close to be served angered the guards. The[y] stopped serving and took the food away, we received no food during our 3 day stay at that barn.
During March we arrived at prison camp somewhere in west Germany. It was for prisoners from all branches of service. There were even less facilities than in our camp at Stalag Luft. We slept in tents but at least each night we knew where we would sleep. While we were [there] we saw a sample of G.I. ingenuity at work. Parts of the camp was where pea hay had been harvested. Also tree stumps were uprooted. We found men had made small fire pots with bellows from tin cans. They obtained chips from the unseasoned stumps for fuel to cook the hay peas. Our pallets unaccustomed to any variety, found them to be very appetizing.
The normal routine every day was to fall in line and be counted, usually at least 3 attempts were required before they were satisfied that all were present. One a.m. we were told to fall out to be counted with all our things. After we were counted we were off again on our trek west.
We could observe our formation of bombers now on their daily raids into Germany. Every night we could hear the distant noise of large guns or bombs. Then we began seeing American fighter planes, this was proof that we had moved from the Russian front to the Western front (U.S. & English). One afternoon while on a break we were mistaken for German troops and were strafed by a P47, Thunderbolt. Fortunately no one was injured except from fright, this included a group of pigs in an adjacent lot who ran amuck with loud squeals.
On April 8, 1945 we arrived at a small village in the west of Germany and stayed for three days. Here we were give[n] cooked barley in sufficient quantity that some was not eaten. I began collecting and storing some excess food. I used old empty tin cans as a precaution for the day when there might not be any food. On April 12 we learned of the death of Pres. Roosevelt. The following day we were to move again.
Our Air Force guards had been replaced with a motley crew of old and cripple[d]. Their uniform was a greenish color and faded. The Air Force guards had trained guard dogs which they loosed in the barns upon departure to search for possible escapees. We were constantly warned that those attempting to escape would be shot. The new guards did not have any dogs so I determined to try again to escape. Louis did not want to take the risk. I moved my food and bedroll up on a high loft under some hay. When they called everyone out to count I hid in the loft. This was the only time when one count was sufficient and the column moved away without me.
Two days went by then another group of prisoners came into the barn for the night. They were traveling east too apparently away from the English/American front. Three of this group decided to stay in the barn as I had done. The following day the group marched away. On the next day we heard much noise of trucks and tanks moving east through the town. I lifted the red clay tile roof shingle enough to see that the tanks bore a big star.
We became very excited as we realized this must be allied troop (American) tanks. we went outside and to our surprise, the people living at the house where we had hidden were surrendering to us. They appeared happy about the whole thing, but based upon our previous treatment by them we were skeptical.
In a short time the street was lined with twenty or thirty ex. P.O.W.’s celebrating at the top of our lungs as English soldiers in the passing vehicles tossed candy and C rations out to us. We were experiencing the happiest time of our lives. Being free had been our dream for so long and now at last we were able to do as we pleased.
WE stayed in the little village for the night by selecting a house where we could sleep and eat being treated like special guests by the local Germans. Upon arising the next a.m. we learned of a place in Celle, Germany with established for housing repatriated and freed P.O.W.’s. Individually we started hitching rides back to Celle. There I found a center set up by the British army on a college campus to begin the process of assembling ex P.O.W.’s preparatory to ship them back home.
Here we could get a bath (such luxury), a hair cut and a G.I. uniform. Also I read a newspaper learning the status of the war—Germany was on its last legs, expected to surrender at any time. Hitler was not in control and a naval officer was doing the negotiating. I read the name of our new president for the first time-Harry Truman and the details of Pres. Roosevelt’s death. Just to go to a mess hall and have such a feast of only normal food which before I took for granted. Now just to have salt on potatoes was such a delicacy.
After the first couple of days no real progress appeared for the Americans at Celle. The British soldiers were being flown from a nearby airport an<d> back to England the same day. Constantly we were promised tomorrow there would be a plane for us. As days passed and nothing happened we organized and elected a spokesman who made demands to the commander in charge that we have equal access to flights out of Celle.
The following day we were taken to the airport, there we waited but no plane arrived At dusk we were told to load up on the trucks that the plane was not coming. Again we rebelled, determining to camp at the airport and thus be aware of what came and went. They told us there was no food or a place to sleep but we had seen far worse for months so we persisted.
When we could not be persuaded, suddenly they “found” a camp mess hall and before long we were in line to be served our dinner. Before long we were in line to be served our dinner. Before we could be served two planes landed. Food meant little as we ran toward the plane and embarked for the short flight to Brussels, Belgium.
There we went by truck to a tent city, Camp Lucky Strike manned by the U.S. troops. Here we went through more phases of orientation, the establishing of records, being deloused and all that was necessary to reestablish us again as soldiers in the U.S. service.
Other more important matters we could eat all the doughnuts and milkshakes we cared to wait for- free in the long line at the Red Cross canteen. Next too was to attend the first movie in months or years. There we <stayed> in normal day rooms with radios (no T.V. in 1945) and pool tables. One G.I. over indulged on Red Cross doughnuts and died.
About May 15, 1945 we went by train to Paris and had a 7 hour layover with an opportunity to do some sight seeing of the city. The subway system was not too great a challenge so I saw the “Arch de Triumph” and a got the small feeling of the look of the city. The people were very helpful and friendly.
From Paris we went to the port at La Harve on May 17 and boarded a medium sized ship. We sailed to North Hampton, Eng[land] to pick up a convoy. There were many problems still from Nazis submarines. We sailed the following day.
I volunteered to serve gun duty on the ship. Normal food fare on troop ships is notoriously scant. Yet Navy personnel eat well, so by serving gun watch I at in their mess hall and gained back many of the pounds lost in prison camp.
Our ship, the George Washington, we learned was an old vessel obtained from Germany at the end of WWI. Some ships in our convoy may have been even older. The ship immediately to our rear, we were told, had loose plates. The sea was very rough, this ship due to the loose plates had extreme difficulty staying up with the convoy. Its prow would rise so high then drop almost under the water. This slowed us down considerably.
We arrived in N.Y. harbor on May 29. It was a thrill to see the Statue of Liberty. So much had transpired since May 30, 1944, now one year to the day I disembarked to N.Y. We went by train to Ft. Sheridan in Chicago. There I received a 60 day furlough and home to Detroit at last.
I look back after 40 years in retrospect, I would never want to relive the experiences again. I do prize some of the values learned during those years. First of all that our country with its free society is by far the best the world knows. I also learned never to take for granted the many material things we have every day. Far more than any of these I learned that if we place our trust in God, He’ll see us through any circumstance.
1Lt Meredith Moore
Excerpts from Meredith Moore’s life story….
About mid-term of my sophomore year at Purdue, I had to register for the draft. Instead, I enlisted in the Army Air Force and on Jan 31, 1943, was sent to Kessler Field near Biloxi, MS for basic training. After four weeks of basic training, I was transferred to Indiana Central College in Indianapolis for six weeks of C.T.D. and then on to Kelly Field in San Antonio, TX for Aviation Cadet Classification.
Upon arrival at Kelly on April 17, 1943, I requested assignment to navigation school and was accepted. I was assigned to Ellington Field in TX for navigation pre-flight training (May 11 – Jul 15, 1943), then on to Harlingen Field for aerial gunnery school (Jul 15 – Sep 5, 1943) and finally to Hondo Air Base near San Antonio for advanced navigation training (Sep 5, 1943 – Feb 5, 1944). On Feb 5, 1944, I was commissioned as a 2nd Lt, got my wings and was sent to Westover Field near Holyoke, MA for R.T.U. There I was assigned to a B24 crew even though I was restricted to flying in low altitude medium bombers because of my chronic sinus problems. I should have been assigned to a B25 or B26 crew, but that was just the way the Army did things in wartime.
At Westover, we flew several anti-submarine missions. One of those missions took us to Bermuda. A ground force General hitched a ride with us on that mission. It was common practice for them to fly with the bomber crews because they could get cigarettes and liquor in Bermuda for about half the U.S. price.
This mission turned out to be quite an experience for the General. About half-way back to the States, we lost an engine. We were beyond returning to Bermuda at that point, and this made the General (and the crew) pretty nervous. A short time later, we lost a second engine and had to drop our depth charges because we were losing altitude pretty fast. Not long after that, a third engine started missing, so we had to throw all non-essentials overboard just to maintain altitude, including the General’s cigarettes and liquor. Obviously, he wasn’t too happy about that! He got on the crew intercom and asked “Now what do we do?” S/Sgt Roberto Salazar, our flight engineer, replied “You’re next, General.” The General grabbed my compass cover and threw up in it. When we finally landed, Salazar caught up with the General, saluted him and said “General, I think you forgot to take the compass cover and clean it. I’m sure you know the government regulations. If you use it, you clean it.” The General went back to the plane, got the cover, cleaned it in the restroom of the hangar and returned it to the plane. I’ll bet he never even thought about hitching a ride on a B24 again!
Standing: Norman Smith – P, William Perkinson – CP, William Kelley – B Meredith Moore – N
I had one other unforgettable experience while flying out of Westover. We were trying to return to the field after a practice mission, but the entire east coast from Maine to south of New York City was completely socked in. To make matters worse, our radio and compass were not working. We flew around for about two hours trying to find a hole in the clouds until we finally saw the mercury vapor lights of New Haven, CT, located our base and landed. On the ramp, we were greeted by all kinds of vehicles and escorted to the briefing room. It seems that we had flown over Hyde Park three times, which was a no-no. We later learned that President Roosevelt had been there at the time. We had been tracked by the Westover tower, but we could not be reached because our radio wasn’t working. Normally, fighters would have been sent up to shoot us down, but it was too overcast for them to take off. Search lights were put on us, but we never saw them. The tower finally decided that we were friendly, so thankfully we weren’t shot down.
Just before receiving our overseas orders, Smitty (our pilot 2nd Lt Norman Smith) was assigned to another crew. A Major who had already flown 15 combat missions, Edward Turner, was assigned to our crew as Smitty’s replacement.
At noon on June 1, 1944, our crew along with about 7000 other servicemen left New York City on the Queen Elizabeth. It was the world’s largest cruise ship at the time, but its normal capacity was only around 2000, so it was very crowded. After zigzagging across the Atlantic for 4-1/2 days, we dropped anchor in the harbor near Glasgow, Scotland. The next day (June 6, 1944; D-Day), our crew boarded a train bound for Stone Recreation Center in England for E.T.O. orientation. After a couple of days there, we were sent to Ireland for a course in pathfinding. When we completed that training, our crew was assigned to the 458th Bomb Group, 755th Squadron at Horsham St. Faith near Norwich, England.
We arrived at Horsham St. Faith on June 25, 1944, and were assigned a new B24J. Much to our astonishment, the living quarters there weren’t the Quonset huts that we were expecting, but nice two story brick houses that had originally been built for RAF pilots and their families. Eight of us lived in each house. We flew a couple of practice missions and were cleared for combat duty. The next two days were spent in briefing sessions. Since Maj Turner was already experienced and seemed to have a lot of pull with the C.O., he didn’t attend these briefings. Instead, he took a joy ride in a P38, crashed and was killed.
On June 28, 1944, we were scheduled to fly our first combat mission. Robert Hannaman, a 1st Lt with 22 missions under his belt, was assigned as our pilot. Our target was the railroad marshaling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany. We were one of 750 B24’s on that mission and were flying deputy lead for our 12 plane squadron which was very unusual for a new crew. Once we entered enemy territory, we encountered some light flak which bounced the plane around a bit. By this time, we were at 23,000 ft and had been in the air for nearly three hours, and my head was really hurting. At that point, I wasn’t sure whether I would live through the mission or if I would even make it to the target to drop the bombs because my head hurt so badly. After encountering heavy flak and taking a lot of evasive action, we finally reached our target. It was heavily defended with very accurate flak. Someone said it was so accurate that one gun would aim at a plane’s No. 1 engine and another at its No. 3 engine. Luckily they didn’t pick on us!
We made our bombing run, I dropped our bombs and we headed for home. On our missions, the navigators dropped the bombs when the lead plane dropped theirs and the bombardiers manned the nose turret guns. I was barely hanging on because of the severe pain in my head, but I managed to keep going until just before leaving enemy territory when I passed out. It seems that sometime during our bombing run, flak hit the oxygen tank supplying my mask. No one else on the plane was hooked up to that tank, so no one was aware of the problem until I passed out. Our bombardier, 2nd Lt Bill Kelley, finally saw me slumped over, noticed that I didn’t appear to have been hit, and then saw my oxygen gauge on zero. He immediately gave me oxygen from another mask until I came to. You don’t realize that you are suffocating at high altitude, so you have to keep a close watch on your oxygen gauge. I guess I learned that the hard way!
This mission was also memorable because of something else that happened. During our return to England while flying on the right wing of the lead plane, we noticed another B24 with our wing’s markings flying about a half mile to our right. Our radio operator, S/Sgt Earl Smith, contacted the plane and was told that they had encountered a problem and had to drop out of formation before reaching the target but were OK now. We both continued on toward England. However, when we reached the channel, they did a 180 deg turn and headed back toward Germany. We reported this at our debriefing and were told that the plane was probably one that had crash landed behind enemy lines, been repaired and was being flown by a German crew on the flank of our formation to radio our speed and altitude to the flak installations. No wonder the flak guns were so accurate!
After our debriefing, I went to the flight surgeon’s office to have my sinuses cleaned out like I did before and after each high altitude flight. I also told him about the oxygen tank hit which caused me to pass out. He sent me directly to sick bay to have my sinuses checked more closely. He thought that I may have passed out due to the extreme pressure in my sinus cavity caused by the sinus blockage. X-rays didn’t show any damage, but he grounded me for a few days anyway for further tests. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Our crew was scheduled to fly the next day, so a substitute navigator, 2nd Lt Irwin Eiring, was assigned in my place. During that mission, on June 29, 1944, our plane was hit and went down in enemy territory. I later learned that all of our crew had survived and spent the rest of the war as P.O.W.’s. About two years after the war, I saw Bill Kelley. He told me that the crew had lived together on a farm, did farm chores and were treated and fed well. He added that every day they would watch our bombers fly overhead to their targets.
A couple of days after I was grounded, the flight surgeon called me in and told me that the C.O. wanted to put me back on flying status. He naturally followed orders even though he felt that I should be reassigned to a low altitude bomb group because of my sinus problems. He told me to try again to see if I could withstand the pain. I flew two more high altitude missions, one to Berlin and the other to Hamburg. Of course, I had to have my sinuses cleaned out before and after both missions, so after the second mission the flight surgeon reported to the C.O. that I should be transferred.
Instead of being transferred, on July 7, 1944, I was reassigned to another squadron in the 458th that flew low altitude missions. I flew 20 so-called non-combat missions for which I received no credit toward discharge. The first five were out of Glasgow, Scotland ferrying German prisoners to Spain to trade for U.S. P.O.W.’s. I then returned to Horsham St. Faith and flew 15 fuel missions. These were as scary as high altitude bomb runs because we were constantly being hit with small arms fire from the ground. Several planes were blown up when they were hit in the bomb bay where the specially designed fuel tanks were installed. I don’t recall how many gallons they held, but I know we were always way overloaded because several planes crashed on takeoff due to the excess weight and the shifting of the fuel load in the tanks. The pilots had not been trained for this.
The day following my 15th fuel mission, I was ordered to report to the Eighth Air Force headquarters for reclassification. That unit was undermanned so, when I arrived, my reclassification was put on hold and I was assigned several miscellaneous jobs like officer of the day and mess officer. I knew nothing about being a mess officer, but I could get lots of food, even steak, anytime I wanted so it turned out to be pretty good deal. While I was mess officer, actor Mickey Rooney and singer Bobby Breen were assigned to K.P., not as U.S.O. members but as Air Force personnel, and were subjected to all of the normal enlisted men assignments. I was instructed by the C.O. to make sure that the mess hall staff didn’t hassle them too much, and I gladly obeyed much to the chagrin of the staff!
After it was determined that my stay at headquarters would last for three weeks instead of the expected one week, I was assigned to a group that kept track of our men who were trying to escape from the enemy via the underground. This was really interesting, especially when we picked up the trail of Walker “Bud” Mahurin who I had lived with in Cary Hall at Purdue before the war. Mahurin had enlisted in the Air Force about the same time I did, and became a fighter ace before being shot down over Germany. I was able to track him through France for about two weeks before I lost him. I later learned that he eventually made it back to England.
I was finally assigned to a group returning to the states on the Santa Paula, a converted cruise ship. About four hours after leaving England for New York City, we ran into a sunken hull and had to return to port for repairs. It took about two weeks to complete the repairs. Once underway again, we were joined by a convoy of destroyers and three British aircraft carriers. About midnight on the second day out, we sailed into a tremendous storm with waves so high that they broke across the decks of the carriers and tipped our ship over to the maximum on the gauges. The storm lasted an entire day, and the water stayed moderately rough for two more. I would guess that 90% of the guys on board were sea sick and didn’t eat for a couple of days. I was one of the few that didn’t get sick, so I ate like a fiend and gained so much weight that when we finally docked in New York City I couldn’t get my coat buttoned!
Upon arrival in the States, I was immediately assigned to a train bound for Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh, IN. There I was offered either a promotion to join the reserves or an honorable discharge. I accepted the discharge and on Jan 5, 1945, I was a civilian again. It was really great to be home. I’ll be the first to admit that I had it pretty easy compared to many guys, including some of my friends. During training, on the ships to and from England, and at Horsham St. Faith, I had good food and lodging, but it still wasn’t like home.
Footnote to the above…..
After my discharge from the Air Force, I returned to Purdue and graduated in 1947 with a BS in Civil Engineering. I operated Moore Construction Co. in South Bend, IN until 1962 and then worked as a project manager for Geupel DeMars, a large construction management firm in Indianapolis, IN until retiring in 1987. My wife Norma and I live in Lebanon, IN and have two grown children and one grandson.
(Text & photo courtesy: Larry Moore)
1Lt Robert H. Hannaman
Portion of the 755th Bombardment Squadron Narrative for June 1944…
Crews Missing in Action – May and June
Lt Hanaman, who failed to return from the mission of 29th of June, was the junior partner of Major Jamison and Captain Ollum. Well liked by all officers and enlisted men, with whom he came into contact, he was a good sport and proved he could “take it” in more ways than just piloting. On his 24th birthday on the 13th of June, he shyly condescended to a spanking in the operations office – taking all 25 of the hard hits.