King and I – A “Cowboy” Roane Tribute
by Owen “Cowboy” Roane
August finally ended with a flight to Mulan les Meureaux to bomb an aircraft repair depot. The flight was cancelled as we neared the outskirts of Paris. Weather again covered the target area so there would be no random dropping of bombs over friendly land. We returned with our five hundred pound bombs. The same bombs were carried back to France on September the second with the same results. The target this time was to have been the airfield called Kerlin-Bastard. We wondered how it got its name. Finally, the bomb load we had been carring around was released on the third of September. I was leading the second element of the high squadron so we had a good view of the rest of the group.
Various stories developed concerning what actually occured on that mission. Our primary target was the Renault Works in Paris, but again the weather was not cooperative, so we headed for our secondary target, Beaumont Le Roger Airfield about sixty miles West. Before the bomb run, we were attacked by fighters while being hammered by flak. The second element of the lead squadron consisted of Victor Fienup as leader with Richard King and Charles Floyd flying his wing. I saw King’s ship hit by flak and start burning furiously midship and enveloping his right wing. As King had been my pilot back in training, I knew the crew well and hoped they would escape. As the plane continued to burn however, it pulled up and into the tail of Floyd, the left wingman, causing him to veer into the plane flown by Fienup.
A large explosion occured and I saw King and Floyd break up immediately as Fienup’s plane lurched before starting to go down. Peter Theodore went with Floyd’s crew, although he was not required to do so. As gunnery officer, he thought he should know the subject he was teaching. Theodore was killed along with the rest of the crew except the navigator and bombardier as we later learned.
In addition to that entire element being knocked out, Winkleman and Hennington were going down from the high squadron. Winkleman was on his first mission and Hennington was the first of we four early replacements to do down. Hennington was flying his plane that was recently named “Horny” depicting a charging Texas Longhorn steer. Hennington had aborted on his first seven scheduled missions due to mechanical failure. While discussing a name for his plane, some of us thought “Old Yeller” would be more appropriate.
Winkelman and Hennington shared our hut back at Thorpe Abbotts so our crew was now alone. Major Veal sent us to London on a two day pass while the goods of the two crews were being taken away. Justice had made the trip on my left wing and like the rest of our squadron returned with with moderate damage. He said it was number six for him, but he would gain one on me while we were in London.
We arrived in London late that evening in time for what remained of a night’s sleep. The next morning, we went out to see the sights but weren’t prepared for what we saw. As we were going down the subway escalator, we saw some Yanks on their way up the same escalator. It was Hennington and crew! With small difficulty, we crossed over to the upward moving carriage and soon started our reunion. We learned they couldn’t bail out because the navigator’s chute was destroyed by flak. They made it midway into the English channel, ditched their plane, crawled into dinghys and were picked up by a rather small air Sea Rescue plane of the Royal Air Force. The bomber named “Horny” had vanished into the channel, taking its bad name with it.
After being picked up, the rescue plane attempted take-off, but fell back into the drink. This process was repeated two more times with the same outcome. Hennington told the pilot to take them back to their dinghy and lighten the load. The pilot was afraid to leave them there so, taxied them all the way back to England. They were going to return to Thorpe Abbotts the next day to retrieve their stuff, so we decided to go with them. We arrived just in time to be put on alert for Stuttgart.
September the sixth found our group heading out to do damage to an instrument and ball bearing plant at Stuttgart, Germany. The flight down was across France. The weather covered the ground as we neared the target area. Suddenly, the luck that had followed us seemingly disappeared as we were hit in number two engine and a fire was started. We pulled the fire extingusher and cut the fuel to the engine. The prop was feathered, but the fire continued to burn, covering all the wing from number two engine to the cockpit. We were in tight formation and still vivid in my mind was the disaster of our last mission when King exploded, taking the others down with him. This couldn’t happen again with our burning plane to blame.
I told the crew to hang on as we were leaving the formation, and since there were several enemy fighters along to pick off stragglers, I would appear to be falling out of control. I let the plane go into a gradual spin, knowing it would soon pick up speed, hoping it would blow out the fire of the blazing wing. The gunners couldn’t have manned their guns at this point as they were simply holding on for dear life. Campbell called to announce our air speed had passed three hundred miles per hour and his bombsight was floating by his head. Stuart said the fire was out, so relaxing my grasp on the wheel, the good old Laden Maiden righted itself just as we were dropping into the cloud deck. Stipe and I loved flying instruments for a short while. Since we were still over Germany, Campbell released our bomb load and things were looking good. I asked Schmucker to give us a heading for home. He gave us a northwesterly heading and were were breathing normally again. Healy announced that he was hungry.
Suddenly, what we usually wished for happened. The overcast ended, leaving us sitting high and dry. There we were, cruising along on three engines in broad daylight at around ten thousand feet, feeling rather foolish. I announced I would get us out of that situation by losing our surplus altitude. We leveled off at about fifty feet above the terrain and continued on our heading. A large city was ahead so we went fair to the right of it. Schmucker said the city was Antwerpen. Campbell allowed that several chickens in the area would not be laying for weeks. Healy was looking for military targets to expend his fifty caliber ammunition on, but I told him to not stir up the ground defense people too much as we had to depart the area over water soon and there was no place to hide out there.
We evidently left the continent near the border of Holland and Belgium. I decided to skid the aircraft to prevent a good marksman from potential costal batteries from lining up on us. At that low altitude, I couldn’t bank the plane because the wings were clipping the waves. Fortunately, we had no action against us, so in a few miles we started our climb, turned on our IFF, and cruised home at about three thousand feet. We saw the balloon hangar at Pullam and joined some of our planes in landing at Thorpe Abbots. At debriefing, we found that no one reported our departure from the group as there was plenty of other information to occupy their reports.
After we left, our group was divided and ten went back to bomb Conches Air Field in France. At that point, the Luftwaffe attacked again and shot two of the Fortresses down and three more were knocked out of formation. Sam Turner went toward Switzerland. Sumner Reeder was limping back toward England and Woodward and crew also headed toward Switzerland. Further, Arthur Vetter and crew were lost from the formation rapidly losing altitude and heading for the English Channel. The Walter Grenier plane was seen to nose down through attacking fighters with engines number one and three dead. Grenier had just shortly arrived at Thorpe Abbotts and being lost on his first mission, he was referred to “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” In all, six planes were taken out of the hundredth formation by enemy action with three, including our own making it back to England. Vetter and I had only aircraft damage, but Reeder landed at the first base in England, with the co-pilot Harry Edeburn dead and three other of his crew gravely injured.
Of King’s crew, we had the report that only Engineer, Trafford Curry survived. This information was brought back to Thorpe Abbots by Curry who had bailed out early and was able to evade. I was very sad about the fate of the rest of the crew as I had become close to the whole bunch before I went with my own crew.
At our reunion in Dayton, Ohio in 1986, I saw a man that I had thought was dead. Edward Hovde, the bombardier of King’s plane was standing in the lobby of the hotel. Of course, I asked him what happened as I had seen their plane explode. He said he wasn’t sure, but he regained consciousness while laying on part of the wing of a plane. He was able to pull his ripcord in time to cushion his fall. He said he must have had his left hand on his left knee at the time of explosion as they were both severed and he was bleeding profusely. He was immediately picked up by German troops and taken to the hospital where he spent about three months in recovery before being repatriated to the United States. He told me the navigator, Anderson bailed out successfully and was taken prisoner. “Andy” came to the reunion at Long Beach and the three of us spent some time reliving the incident. They told me that Barney Sutton was not on the flight as he had returned to the States for pilot training. Barney came by to visit me at my home in Valley View, Texas in 1985. I also learned that gunners Heber Hogge and Jim Sides made it out of the plane and were taken prisoners. They were released after the Germans surrendered.
Meanwhile, back at the station, we were called into the briefing room on September the seventh to make a run over to France and bomb the Airfield at Watten again. It was an easy run that took only four hours.
We celebrated Italy’s surrender on the ninth of September by flying again over France on some kind of scare tactics. We hit the Beauvais airport that morning with much success. That afternoon, we went again to an airfield near Arth, but could not drop our bombs because of overcast conditions. When we got back to the base, Doctor McCarthy told us he had gotten a three day pass for our crew. He looked at me and said, “You won’t be going though, because of your ‘color’. You will probably get a long rest in the regional hospital.” I had somehow managed to contract Hepatitus, or as we called it at home Yellow Jaundice. I told the crew good-bye and God go with them, but Stuart told me “I am not flying with anyone but you, Cowboy.”