I entered the Army Air Corps in October 1940, and after the war was declared, I was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. I went through all my training, and my final assignment was to B-17s. Our crew arrived in England in September of 1943, and was shot down on my fifth mission (the crew’s fourth) when we were over Munster on October 10, 1943.
The Bremen mission on October 8th was a rough one. One of my best friends, Frank Meadows, died right in front of me. He was in Phartzac. It looked to me like a fighter flew right into his nose and there was nothing left of that plane after the explosion. I always thought that everyone was killed on that plane, but I later learned that two had parachuted to safety. When we go back to base I noticed a hole in the cockpit just inches behind my head. That night has been a particularly haunting one for me. We were the only ones from our squadron that wasn’t shot down and the emptiness of the barracks that night has stayed with me.
Our Bombardier, Richard Cooper Dodson, was always telling us that he was going to be killed. The night before Munster he told us, “Fellows, if I go down tomorrow, I will be happy because I have had a steak.”
On the Munster mission, the B-17 above us lost control and dropped down, cutting off our vertical fin, cutting us in two and sending us into a spin. When I saw that our plane was lost, I gave the command to bail out. Wallace, my co-pilot, was lying on the floor and I thought he was sick from the spin, but just after I located my parachute, which was too small for me, I was blown through the escape hatch and the chute opened.
Lt. Oss climbed out the nose of the plane after it had come out of the spin over the target at 1500 feet. Sgts. Higgingbotham and Murphy bailed out before the ship went into the spin. Sgt. Brumbeau was thrown from the plane when it broke in two and Sgt. Murphy was wounded by a burst of 20mm just as he and Sgt. Fetherston were about to jump. Fetherston was probably killed by that burst. Oss saw Lt. Dodson lying in the nose of the plan and believed him dead or mortally wounded.
After bailing out, I thought I was headed for an open field, but when I looked down, I was headed for a house. I hit the apex of the roof and broke my leg, then I rolled down the steep roof and landed flat on my back with shingles from the roof falling around me. I’d left a hole in the roof where I hit.
I was not afraid. The people came out of the house bringing a gun, and I motioned that I was unarmed. I was completely exhausted and so thankful that I had not died. I saw Oss, who I thought had left before I did, and he was just coming to the ground.
Then some youth came after us and tried to take us to jail, but I couldn’t walk because of my broken leg, and both Louis and I had been shot by flak. The youth were so afraid, and in their anger, they kicked me on my broken leg. Louis and another fellow helped me to walk. When we reached a building, I sat down to rest, but an SS officer came in and he said, “Achtung!” Louis said I’d better get up, so I did and fainted from exhaustion.
When we finally arrived at a hospital in Musnter, it was quite late into the night and coming into morning. When they needed a blanket that I was using as a prop under my leg, they yanked it out from under me. What pain! Finally a Catholic nurse came in and looked at my leg. With a jerk, it was set.
After time in the hospital and the usual time in solitary confinement, Louis Oss and I rode in a box car to our final destination at Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany, where we shared the same barracks.
All through the years, I grieved over that fact that five of our crew were killed, but I know that I could not have saved them.
*This article was sent by Mrs. Thelma Walts.