by John A. Miller
John, who has been out of touch with the Group since the War, writes that he’s stuck at home because of "my damned arthritis" and trouble with his heart. He says," I’m just overflowing with things to say and to ask my old Bomb Group. It was the greatest thing in my life and getting in touch this way after all these years has given me the opportunity to say and ask these things before it’s too late." He concludes, "I’m full of affection and sentiment for the old "Horrible Hundredth." Following are excerpts from John’s letters.
About "Mo," the burro brought from Africa by Cowboy Roane – on ration day, Mo would come around to the hut and kick on the door. "That’s Mo," someone would say, and we’d open the door and, sure enough, Mo would be standing there licking his upper lip! He’d do that when he wanted candy or a goody. That winter of 1943-44 it was raining and chilling damp cold, as you know, and Mo came to our door. He was in bad shape. We were all very concerned about him and tried to keep him in our hut. Well, you know that didn’t work. Mo was soaking wet and smelled like an out-house and to, he wasn’t exactly what you’d call house-broken. He thrashed around and stuck his wet nose in our faces when we were trying to sleep, so Mo had to go! We took him over to the wash house and put him in there. I guess that didn’t work out either for whoever took care of that place. Next thing Mo was dead. He couldn’t take that English weather being from the desert. We really felt bad about him, but we did try.
Well. I don’t recall which "No Ball" it was, but those flak gunners, all 6 or 8 of them were PhD’s. They were real sharp shooters. We had a new CO in the 100th (Colonel Robert Kelly) and bang, down he went and then we lost McQuire’s 17. I was flying right waist and noticed a fine line across the top of my plexiglass. At first I thought it was some kind of reflection, but then I put my face up close to the glass an looked to the rear and to the front. The line wasn’t on the glass; it was a fine stream of smoke coming from the No. 3 engine on a B-17 that had pulled out of formation and was heading back in the opposite direction. When it was directly in front of me at 3 o’clock, there was a puff of smoke. I reported, "it’s detonating!" as fast as I said that, it went puff, puff, and blew all to hell. The right wing snapped off and it cracked in two, like an egg, at the waist. It was a huge ball of fire and a ‘chute popped open in that fire. It burned immediately. The was that 17 went down, the gyrations, how could a bombardier, of all people, get out and live to tell about it. John Jones, wherever you are, you’re a walking miracle. I did not see any other chutes.
Our new CO, Colonel Jeffrey, was tough, but he was there! He went to Berlin (I hit Berlin 6 times – never got over it). Have you came across anybody to survive more than 6 missions to Berlin? He went to Russia with us and I’m continually amazed they have never made a picture of this. I’m going to write the story, if someone else doesn’t soon. (sic) We lost half our force that first night on the ground.
Now just recently I’ve read somewhere about another 17 being hit over the target that day and making it to Italy alone. My question: since we had to make it alone from the target, where was this other B-17? We should have made it together. It got kind of nerve-racking when another B-17 with markings never seen in the 8th Air Force did show up. He came up on my side and got a couple of feet higher than us. I reported to the pilot immediately. Now the plexiglass on the nose, flight deck and top turret of our 17 was smoked from the smoke bomb and we were having enough problems, what with the pilot and co-pilot taking turns sticking their heads out their side windows and flying as best they could, and acid didn’t do the engines any good, either, I guess. Townsend said, "keep your eyes on that guy and if he starts anything funny, blast the hell out of him." As soon as that 17 would hint the he was trying to slide over us, I’d sing our and Townsend would slip away. I was hunched down and had my 50 sighted up to the strange plane. It was very emotional thing. Just the thought of firing at a B-17 would make you sick, we loved that airplane so much! They were alive to us. Each had her own feelings and personality and she would never let you down if she could help it. But, it looked like we were going to have it out like a couple of battleships in the sky. We couldn’t raise that 17 on the radio, but still we couldn’t be sure since we were in strange territory and that 17 might be from the 15th Air Force.
It would try and move over and we would slide away. We had been playing the game of "chicken" for a long time and I had told myself that this 17 was full of "Krauts" and should be shot down and I was tired of this game. The next time it made a move I was going to open up and the top turret would too, the best he could. The strange B-17 peeled off to the right and headed back from whence it came. Then we were mad we hadn’t blasted it. It was full of Krauts.
A Russian officer had flown with us in the nose to study the way we navigated. Top turret and bombardier could talk with him, so that is why he flew with us. They didn’t have high altitude flying clothes and when we saw him in his Eskimo outfit, we didn’t the think we could get him in the airplane, let alone in the nose. We asked the Russian what he thought about the mission and he said he was glad to be back on the ground!
…In Ed Jablonski’s book "Flying Fortress" he stated that some gave credit to Bennett for straightening out the 100th. The men who put it together were the C.O.’s, …either the one we lost on the No Ball or Jeffrey…We bitched but it was for our own good. We had great respect for Jeffrey…
During my time in the Air Force, I missed going down with five different crews and sure death with three of them! I was the only one to complete his missions and return to the States. When we took off on the Russian Shuttle mission the limit was 30 missions. When we returned I had 32 missions. Thank God, I had made it! Then they gave me this stuff that it was raised while we were gone and that I had to do 35. I said, "no way," as they will prorate it like when it was raised from 25 to 30. I was called into Group Operations and the officer I talked to said I would have to fly three more missions. I objected. He said, "its Bennett’s order and you know how he is." It looked like either the Krauts or Bennett was going to get me for sure. I flew three more and Townsend had a couple more to go. They went down on their last mission…
One of the worst things to happen to me in the 100th was this: I was in the spare gunner’s hut in the 349th. Lt. Cowan had a gunner in the hospital and I knew his crew for we had been in the same hut, so I flew with him, replacing his gunner. We made the first daylight raid on Berlin. You never saw such a tight formation as there was that day. Then someone ran us into clouds…After three missions with Cowan, his gunner returned to the crew. The next day was…March 6, Berlin and we were wiped out. Lovin, a gunner from Reeder’s crew, I believe, and I were the only two left in our hut. Lovin rotated back to the states a day or two later. I was alone in that hut for 15 days and was going nuts. Finally one day Capt. Reeder was walking past squadron operations and I stopped him. I told him I couldn’t take it anymore. "Take what?" he asked. I told him my problem…he told me to take a three day pass to London…