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Adventures of an Airman

By Anthony T. Schimmel
Splasher Six Volume 33, Fall 2002, No. 3
Cindy Goodman, Editor

Ken Parsons, Jr., has a column in the Pine Bluff (Arkansas) News “A few weeks ago I proposed a ‘War Story Club’ for veterans, with dues being one written story about life in the military service. The Number One membership card goes to my longtime friend, Anthony T. Schimmel, who sat down and sketched out his military career in relatively few words. While HIS service life was unique, it is also somewhat typical of the millions of young men who were uprooted and sent off to fight a war. Tony is our guest writer today. He begins as a boy in the 1930s.”

Model airplane building was a great way to spend nights and weekend with neighboring boys of my own age.

Six of us “kids” worked on the rubber-band-powered flying models from 10 years of age to about 15 or so. The Gypsy Moth, Hell Diver, Falcon, and SE-5 were favorites. Balsa wood, glue, paper, and wheels were put together . . . and they flew! Bend the rubber and it would go in a circle and land in the living room. Release the Hell Diver with a nose cone and it would power dive onto the floor, then fall to its wheels and take off!

In 1937, reading about the YB-17 in Seattle, I kept up with the newer models as Boeing built them.

I tried to enlist . . . Navy submarines, Coast Guard . . .but failed because of color blindness, so waited until I was drafted in 1943 and chose Air Corps. After my mechanic’s work and model building and hunting was on my record, I was sent to Amarillo after basic at Miami Beach.

I volunteered to unmask at 35,000 feet in a pressure chamber, counted down to 15, and passed out. Full “oxy” brought me back still counting. Shot 24 of 25 birds on Clay Pigeon Road …and had a live shell left. Shot a sleeve AND an AT-6 full of holes with a camera gun. They told me to “lead” the sleeve.

I had a 15-day Delay En Route furlough from Las Vegas to Tampa, only I spent FIFTEEN days at home in Wisconsin. My punishment for being AWOL was to miss the first replacement group and go with the second group, a big B-17 group.

We got caught in a slip stream taking off right behind another plane and was looking right at Tampa at sea level. Co-pilot took the plane to the right, almost dipping a wing into the water. After climbing, the tail-gunner said, “Get this thing up, my feet are getting wet!”

Searchlights caught us in Savannah and co-pilot dove right at them to about 3,000 feet, pulled out to level, and lost the lights over the sea. We pulled back home, a night flight to New Orleans, no sweat, only the navigator would NOT get lost so we could land there.

New York City, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, Elizabeth City, and then on the Billy Mitchell transport over the North Atlantic. Submarine drills and as can explosions, cargo ships with P-38s lashed on deck, all but under the smoke stack. War ship riding like a cork. Finally the “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” England. A night at Stowe and then assignment to Thorpe Abbotts, the home of the 100th Bomb Group. We didn’t’ know where to bunk. Sergeant said wait till 5:00 p.m. There were a lot of vacancies that night.

Practice missions for a week…the milk run on North Holland coast. Flack was light, but to a B-24 behind and below it was too much. A burst of flame and it was in four pieces – wings and body in different directions, the tail section slip-sliding downward. No chutes.

Number Two was Schweinfurt – flak thick enough to walk on. Left waist gunner hit in toe. Co-pilot with large piece stuck into the windshield right in front of him. Number 3 engine hit and feathered. Flat tire on landing and did a big loop on the grass without touching a wing to the ground!

On runway running up engines I noticed a white stream behind Number 1. Pilot slowed 1 and 2, and with my stubby screwdriver I opened the gas hatch and saw the cap hanging off the tank. Turned it on tight, relocked the flap, turned loose and slid off the wing and away we went.

One morning on take off as we left the runway we felt a shudder. We checked and the tail wheel lock pin was sheared off. Before landing I crammed a plier handle into the lock pin hole. On removing found the handle was almost sheared in two.

We got lost in the clouds over Regensburg and followed a B-24 till he left us behind. Before the Channel came into view, I transferred several gallons of gas from the outboard to the inboard engines, trying to keep the tanks even. When we touched down and rolled to the strip, Number 4 quit. We taxied in with the inboards. Neither engine would have run another five minutes.

One trip to northern Germany left us with a bomb after the drop. The front shackle turned loose but the back one didn’t. My chest pack looked like the bomb would catch it, so it went to my upper turret. I put in a pin to keep it safe and with my right arm lifting the nose while leaning over an open bomb bay at 3,000 feet I turned the shackle with my stubby screwdriver and down it went. Everybody, including me, gave a sigh of relief!

The pilot went to PFF and I was put to ground crew. After a few weeks of learning the ropes I became crew chief of the same crew I had flown on.

My pilot said he was sure his plane would be in A-One shape with me checking it. Lock nuts always needed replacing on exhaust ports. Gas hose was needing replacement. Supply house was fresh out. Using the Captain’s jeep for transportation, I visited the Overhaul Hangar. A four-foot piece of hose and my Jeep went to my airplane. I never needed to ask supply for any more.

Two more air crews went through my hard stand. First plane went down in Holland amid the tulips. No injuries, all men home. Second crew made 35 trips over German and all went home.

Third crew made a few combat trips, then at war’s end shuttled men to Casablanca, picked up some oil at Oran, then back to England. I had to go as engineer. Then a trip to Germany with airplane parts, pick up French prisoners to go to Nice. Commandeered a truck and went to Marseille. Home again to make a food to Holland. Then was flight chief of six B-17s to keep them ready with daily start-ups and check-ups.

One morning, all six were gone. A.T.C. flew them off. Books and all parts. Turned in my tool kit and waited for the USS Enterprise to take me west.

The CV-6 was full of brass bands as we boarded the most decorated carrier in the U. S. fleet. The Galloping Ghostnewspaper I helped mimeograph earned me an associate membership. I visited one member in Montana in 1992.

So, I was Army Air Corps AND Navy at the same time. Also, I was air crew man, ground crew chief, and like my brother said, “He’d give his right arm to be in my shoes.”

Sgt. A. T. “Tony” Schimmel