Captain Sam Smith (Army Air Corps, WWII Veteran)
The 303rd Bomb Group, or Hell’s Angels (Might in Flight), as they were more popularly known was a storied unit known for being the first B-17 group to fly 25 missions in the European theater of WWII. The group was also known for flying over 300 missions, more than any other Army Air Corps unit in WWII. Enter Sam Smith, a young, intensely intelligent country boy from the humble town of Goldthwaite, Texas, a boy who would later be known as one of the most elite pilots in the 303rd. An unlikely hero? Not at all. Smith’s early years were exactly what shaped him, along with most of our legendary war-fighters from that particular WWII era.
Some of our most distinguished warriors hailed from the smallest of humble farming communities, some of these towns even lacking the usual one stoplight. A series of actions in Sam’s young life, a personal tragedy that forced him into a leadership role early on, and a typical hardened, farming background ensured his destiny as an aviator of the most elect model. Sam’s experiences as a B-17 pilot are very well documented. Still, his life post-war was another lifetime in and of itself and such a vital portion of his overall experiences. His civilian exploits throughout that duration were a testament to the ethics of a first-class fighter. Smith’s affection for hard work and a personal system of ethics above all else, is what led to a legacy that continued far past his time in service to country. Here’s Captain Smith.
Can you tell me a little bit about your family history?
SS: My great-grandfather, Thomas William Smith, was born in Indiana and joined the Union Army while in his teens, and served almost three years in Company C, 22nd Regiment of the Indiana Infantry Volunteers. After the Civil War, he married Nancy Mayfield, and like many young people of that time, they were possessed with the desire to move West. They settled in Kyle, Texas, near San Marcos, where he practiced his profession as a blacksmith. My grandfather, George William Smith, was the oldest son born to this family and spent his early years in Edwardsville, Indiana, and Kyle, Texas. He married Adelia Coleman, who was the youngest daughter of Samuel Coleman and Sarah Boyd. Samuel Coleman was a breeder of fast horses and it is said that when he was plowing the fields, he always had one of his speedy horses nearby to enable him to outrun any Indians that may surprise him in the field. Samuel enlisted in the Confederate Service at Camp McCullough, Texas and served in Company B, 30th Texas Cavalry Regiment, Gurley’s Regiment, 1st Texas Partisan Rangers until the war ended. The regiment participated in five battles during 1864, all were in the Arkansas area.
George W. and Adelia moved to Goldthwaite, Texas in 1903, where he worked in the cotton gin. When the gin failed, during the depression, he worked as a laborer and at odd jobs. He was known as “Uncle Bill”, by many at Goldthwaite. He always had two Jersey milk cows that he staked out to graze, on public right of way, on his way to work and they were picked up at the end of the day as he walked home. My father, Samuel (Sammy) William Smith, grew up in Goldthwaite and attended school there. He enlisted in the Army during World War I and served in Battery B, 3rd Regiment, Field Artillery. After discharge with rank of Corporal, he spent the next four years as a cowboy on the Nail Ranch near Albany, Texas. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed working on the range and the life of a cowboy. He gave up the life as a cowboy to marry Amber Langford, and became a lineman with the West Texas Telephone Company. During 1929, he joined Texas Louisiana Power Company as a lineman, and a year later was promoted to manager of the Goldthwaite office. In the spring of 1935, our family moved to Whitney, Texas, where my father served as a district manager. On Halloween day 1935, my father met death accidently while installing test equipment on a bank of transformers at Covington, Texas.
What do you remember about your home life?
SS: My earliest remembrance of life in Goldthwaite when I was three to four years of age and my family was living in a house adjacent to the city park that contained water wells that supplied the City’s water. Our kitchen was equipped with an oil burning stove, and we ate our meals in the kitchen, on a table that had a red and white table oilcloth table cover. Our family had chickens, pigs, and a Jersey milk cow. After the first frost, several men would come to help with the butchering of the pigs. When the work was finished at one home, they moved to the next home and the process was repeated until each family’s meat was processed and the meat was smoked, cured, and stored for winter. My father also hunted and trapped during winter and our barn frequently held skins that were stretched and hung to dry. Furs were sold as fur prices firmed. When I was six years old, we moved into the Company house fronting on Fisher Street adjacent to the Electric Light Plant, as it was called.
It was an easy walk into town where I could visit the stores and look at all of the candies and things that kids enjoy. Many times I would purchase five cents worth of BB’s, which were weighed, from a large container and placed in a small paper sack. On the return trip home, I passed the blacksmith shop and would stop and watch the “Smitty”, as he made horseshoes and other items of his trade. Many Sundays during Summer, I was sent to the ice house to purchase ice for the ice cream freezer. Frequently, my grandparents, other family members, or friends would join us for a visit and ice cream. After my father’s death, my mother purchased a small house on what is now called First Street and moved the family back to Goldthwaite. The house was on a large lot, of perhaps two acres, and included a garage, small barn, and corral. The entire area was covered with Bermuda grass and many days were spent with other children playing baseball, football, flying kites, and enjoying games that kids play. My chores included milking the cow, morning and evening, and in cold weather supplying the fireplace with wood, which was the only heat for the house.
The Claude Saylor family property joined on the north, and Sam Saylor and I became close friends and enjoyed building and flying model airplanes. These models consisted of a balsa wood frame covered with tissue paper and were powered by rubber bands. Many of the model planes crashed on the first or second flight, but that did not discourage us from building additional models and incorporating knowledge learned from previous failures into the latest plane off our production line. This aircraft construction, flight requirements, identification, and overall knowledge of flying was to pay dividends in later years as we both became pilots during World War II. I remember the great rubber gun battles that took place in the Saylor, Hunt, and other barns. These battles were prearranged. Friends would gather at the designated barn, choose sides forming two teams, with one team inside the barn as defenders and the second team would attack from outside. Rules were simple, you shot your opponent below the neck and he was out of the game; if an errant shot hit the opponent above the neck, the shooter was eliminated from the game. Battle continued until all members of a team were eliminated and the opposing team was declared a winner. A new battle was started by teams reversing positions. Rubber guns were constructed from scrap lumber, with clothes pins as triggers. Rubber bands were cut from old inner tubes that were donated by gas filling stations. In those days, inner tubes were cut from natural rubber and maintained their resiliency after many firings.
Spending money was earned by having a paper route, which was acquired through Hudson’s Drug Brother’s Store. I acquired the paper route at age 15. Each morning I rode my bicycle to meet the train, collected my papers, delivered them to my 35 customers, and deposited the surplus papers at the Hudson Brother’s Drug Store. At the end of each month, I collected from each patron and delivered the collections to Blake Hudson, who added these collections to the monies received from papers sold through the drug store, and we settled accounts. My earnings were between $9.00 and $13.00 per month. Many months a large portion of these earnings were spent on tennis balls, 22 rifle and shotgun shells. During this period, I purchased a share in the Mills County Hunting & Fishing Club. Annual dues were $20.00 per year and this permitted my family members to use the Club for hunting, fishing, swimming, and all Club activities. My paper route was passed to my brother during my junior year of high school, 1939. During the summers of 1939 and 1940, I worked in construction in Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. Earnings were $0.50 per hour when I was a sawmill helper, and $0.75 when I was an electrician's helper.
Can you talk about the start of WW2 and what happened in our country after that?
SS: December 7, 1941, changed the lives of most of us, as our country became a participant in World War II. At that time I was 17 years of age, and presented myself to the Aviation Cadet recruiting office and was rejected because of age, and was informed to return after age 18. After graduation from high school in May of 1942, I spent the next few months in Arlington, Texas, earning a certificate from North Texas Agricultural College as a Machine Tool Operator. I was employed by Sanford Webb Manufacturing, located in Fort Worth, Texas, as an engine lathe operator; manufacturing parts for Consolidated Aircraft B-24 bombers. After my eighteenth birthday, I presented myself to the Army Aviation Cadet Recruiting Center with my mother’s permission to volunteer along with the three letters from prominent business persons in Goldthwaite. I was accepted provisionally, but had to pass the physical examination and entrance examination, since I had no college. The entrance examination was required for all cadets without the required two years of college. The exam was eight hours duration and the minimum grade was 87. I sat with the person who was grading the examination and after my score passed 87, I did not care what the final score was.
On that day, December 14, 1942, I was sworn in as an Aviation Cadet Candidate and was told that I would be called to active duty as soon as possible. I decided to return to Sanford Webb, and when I was notified for active duty I would return to Goldthwaite to visit with my mother. Notification was received on March 18, 1943, stating that I was to report to the Induction Station in Dallas, Texas, for assignment to pre-aviation cadet basic training on April 6, 1943. I spent the month of March 1943 in Goldthwaite and departed for Dallas on April 4th, 1943. While in route to Dallas, I met Arthur Shanafelt, from Bryson, on the bus at Fort Worth. Shanafelt was headed to NTAC in Arlington for a going away party at the College. April 5th was spent visiting friends in Arlington, Texas and having dinner with my stepdad, Joy Fesler, who was an electrician working at North American Aviation. North American was building the B-25 bomber and P-51 Mustang fighter. I reported for active duty at the designated office in Dallas at 8:00 AM. From Dallas, we were boarded on a bus and sent to Wichita Falls, Texas for induction and basic training. Shanafelt and I became good friends during this time.
On one of my visits home prior to reporting for active duty, William Arthur (Ott) Cline and I were hunting and passed Lake Merritt on our way back to town, via the Comanche highway, we passed a stock tank that was covered with ducks. I said, “Let’s go back and shoot those ducks.” Ott said,”It’s against the law, the season is closed. We don’t know the landowner and we better not hunt on this place.” I insisted that we shoot the ducks, but Ott refused. He was left in the pickup and I crept up behind the tank dam. As I raised up, the air filled with ducks and I fired three shots into the flock and had ducks laying on the water and surrounding shore. I was collecting the ducks when to my surprise, I was confronted by an angry landowner who proceeded to give me a tongue lashing and remind me that the season was closed and that I had no permission to hunt on his property. He then took possession of the ducks and asked my name so he could report the incident to Hearne Harris, the sheriff. I replied, “My name is William Arthur Cline.” Shortly, I was called to active duty and heard no more of the incident until I returned to Goldthwaite after graduation from flying school, some fourteen months later. When I saw Ott, he said, “You son of a bitch, what did you tell that farmer when you shot those ducks?” Of course, I played dumb (laughs) and replied, “I don’t remember”, to that response Ott said, “You SOB, the Sheriff chewed my Daddy and me out and threatened to fine me for trespassing and killing game out of season.” This incident remained fresh on Ott’s mind and was recited to many times during his life.
After completing Advanced Flying School, I was sent to B-17 Transition Flying School in Roswell, New Mexico. Upon completing B-17 transition and receiving certification as a B-17 pilot, I was sent to Lincoln, Nebraska for processing and to be assigned a Combat Crew. After checking in with Base Personnel, I went to the Cornhusker Hotel, a watering hole for pilots, and to my surprise as I arrived Arthur Shanafelt came walking out of the door. I greeted him and asked, “What are you doing here?” He replied, “I am here to pick up a combat crew.” I asked, “What is your position?” He replied, “My classification is Pilot. Why don’t we immediately go to headquarters and ask to be placed on the same crew if you agree with that. He agreed.” We were assigned as pilot and co-pilot on combat crew 9192. The next morning we began looking for the eight other crew members. At the end of the day, crew 9192 was composed of the following:
Pilot 2nd Lt. Samuel W. Smith
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Arthur S.C. Shanafelt
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Hurcel B. Frazier
Navigator FO Russell A. Knudson
Engineer Cpl. Thomas E. Zenick
Radio Operator Cpl. Robert A. Bridgman
Tail Gunner Sgt. Jens C. Jensen
Ball Turret Sgt. Michael J. Kucab
Waist Gunner Cpl. Walter A. Geyer
Waist Gunner Cpl. Earl K. Lawson
From Lincoln, Nebraska, we were sent to Sioux City, Iowa for combat training as a complete crew. The weather at Sioux City in November and December was terrible, many days we stayed on the ground. We flew even if the weather conditions were marginal and on such a night mission a front moved in and snow and sleet followed. We checked for icing on the wings and after a few minutes we learned operating the wing deicing boots alone was not sufficient to keep the wings clear of ice. I immediately contacted the control tower and requested landing instructions. I was informed that we were short of flying time and landing instructions were refused. After a few more minutes I called the tower and reported that flying conditions were deteriorating rapidly and requested landing information, again the tower refused and I replied, “I am landing whether you provide instructions or not.” Tower gave the instructions and we immediately proceeded to land. Icing conditions were so bad that the windshield was completely covered with ice, however, the B-17 had a small window and the windshield that could not be opened by the pilot. As we neared the runway, I opened the window so I could see the ground and orders I had ignored; saw the icing conditions on the plane he called the tower and said, “Flying conditions are much worse than I expected and issued an instant recall of all aircraft.” As a result of inexperience in flying in those conditions, one of our B-17 crashed in the city and burned several homes and the aircraft and crew were lost.
After Combat Crew Training, we were sent to Camp Miles Standish for final medical, equipment fitting, etc. prior to proceeding to the port of embarkation, New York City. Tom Zenick’s family lived in Morristown, New Jersey, and Tom and Kucab found an opening in the fence. Although we were quarantined to the base, his family prepared a dinner for Shanafelt and me at their home. We went through the fence and were advised that us country boys would be given a quick tour of New York City before dinner. We were shown the Empire State Building, other Skyscrapers, Little Italy, and took a ride in the famous New York Subway. Dinner was attended by all of Tom’s family and we were treated like kings. We were transported back to base before the midnight curfew.
What happened when you went overseas?
SS: Next morning, we were transported to the dock in New York Harbor along with other Bomber Crews, Paratroopers, and Infantry personnel. When we marched to the ship berths, there were two large ships docked and were making preparations to load personnel and sail. During this time we looked into one of the ships and learned that it was Queen Elizabeth. She was better looking than the ship on the other side of the dock. We learned that our bags and flight gear had been color-coded with large yellow striped and were to be loaded last. This was to permit quick access upon arrival in England as there was a critical shortage of combat aircrews. To our disappointment, we were loaded on the USS Wakefield, which was the former luxury liner, USS Manhattan, that was fitted out as a troop ship during the war and renamed. She carried 8,000 troops per trip and on this voyage, passengers included infantry, paratroopers, and aircrews. The USS Wakefield had no escort as the ship could maintain a speed of twenty-four knots. This speed and the zig-zag route she traveled, was considered to be beyond German submarine capability. As we steamed past the Statue of Liberty, Shanafelt and I discussed the fact that we were actually going into combat, and that either of us or our crew members may not see that sight again, this caused a lump in my throat. On the fourth day at sea, The Elizabeth passed us and gave us a salute as she traveled at 30 knots and crossed in five days.
We docked in Liverpool, England on the morning of our seventh day and were immediately taken to briefing and assigned to Bomb Groups. My crew was assigned to the 303 Bomb Group (H) called, “Hells Angels,” located at United States Army Station 107, Molesworth, England. The trip from briefing to Base was made by train to Kettering, England and then by bus to Molesworth. The countryside was green, but the weather was chilly and damp with an overcast sky. Molesworth was a small Village of 200-300 persons, a red phone booth, and a post office. We were informed that we were assigned to the 360th Bomb Squadron and should report to Squadron Headquarters upon arrival for assignment to quarters. The 360th Bomb Squadron was located on Site 8 and consisted of Quonset huts, three small office buildings, and two or three outdoor latrines. Our living quarters were called BOQ, Bachelor Officers Quarters and consisted of a Quonset Hut with cement floor, with a pot-bellied stove near each end. Each hut had four windows per side, on each side of a center aisle were bunk beds, approximately fifteen bunks per row. The front entry door extended into the building 6-8 feet creating space for a bed on each side of the door. These bed sites were reserved for the senior pilot and his co-pilot.
As my co-pilot and navigator entered the building, we were greeted by several persons who were resting on bunks and we were asked to select beads as close to each other as possible. This was easy to make it easy for the officer of the day to wake each one for the assigned mission of the day. As we each selected an empty bunk, a voice said, “Don’t take that one, it is unlucky, the last three persons assigned it never returned.” We acted as if we did not understand, stowed our gear, and introduced ourselves to all present. The floors were damp and musty as if they were recently mopped and we quickly learned to place our belongings on racks to keep them off of the floor. The latrine was in a separate building some 15-20 yards away. The officer's mess and shower were located about a quarter mile from our BOQ, warm water showers were available to the 360th squadron on Thursday of each week. If you were on a mission that day, no make-up shower was available, you waited until next Thursday. After we had flown 15 missions, we were the senior pilot and co-pilot and inherited the semi-private space on each side of the door.
The Bomb Group was alerted around 2100 hours that the group would fly a mission the next morning. No crew assignments were made at that time. All crews were expected to be sober and ready to fly if selected for the mission. On those days we were awakened by a tap on the shoulder and a flashlight shining in our face, at three-four o’clock in the morning. I was informed that I should collect my officers and that breakfast would be served in forty-five minutes, briefing in one and one-half hour, each crew member was given a pass to be presented to the MP at the door of the briefing room. As we presented ourselves to the officer’s mess for our mission we were surprised that we could order a special breakfast prepared for each one of us individually, made me feel strange as this was like a condemned man being fed his last meal. I asked, “You know something I don’t? “, which produced a good laugh by the cooks I was informed that his was the procedure for all crew members scheduled to fly the current mission and would be the same for each mission to be flown. This was a great morale boost, as normally we had cereal or powdered eggs and toast. Milk and powdered eggs always had undissolved solids floating on the surface and were not very appetizing. We then proceeded to the briefing room where passes were collected, and as soon as we entered the room all eyes were focused on the wall with a curtain that covered a large map.
In order to provide background information covering flying with a Bomb Group in England during WWII, the following is offered.
I was assigned to the 303th Bomb Group (H) AAF Station 107, Molesworth, England. The 303rd was also headquarters for the 41st Combat Wing, the 41st was made up of three bomb groups, the 303rd, 379th Kimbolton, and the 384th Grafton Underwood.
Each Bomb Group was composed of four (4) squadrons, however, only three (3) squadrons were used on combat missions. Squadron formation was composed of four (4) three plane Vees plus a tail end Charley, thirteen (13) planes per squadron. The Vees were staggered vertically and horizontally in order to provide maximum firepower from each aircraft. Group formation was made up of three (3) squadrons high, lead, and low, providing 39 aircraft per group. The lead squadron set the altitude for the Bomb Group and flew at the altitude set by Bomber Command. Vertical separation for the Groups in the Wing was 1,000 feet, normally the 41st Combat put up three (3) Bomb Groups permission of 117 planes.
On a signal from the control tower, planes took off at 30-second intervals, beginning with the high squadron, followed by lead and low squadrons. Instrument flying was required on most missions as the cloud layer was entered at approximately 1,000 feet the formation was formed above the clouds at 6 to 8,000 feet. On deep penetration missions formations were formed over a beacon in France in order to save fuel and time due to weather which was usually clear over that area of the Continent.
After the mission was completed and the Group returned to the Base Area, the planes peeled off at 30-second intervals when the needle on the radio compass (ADF) flipped, spacing on planes was 30 seconds. Two passes over the buncher beacon were required for each squadron landing. Airspeed from buncher beacon to landing runway was 150 MPH at 500 feet/minute let down rate. Aircraft with wounded aboard landed ahead of all other planes. The B-17G was simple to fly, indicated airspeed in level flight was 150 MPH at all altitudes Rate of climb was 150 MPH at 500 feet/minute and decent the same. Fuel on return was always a concern as approximately two-thirds was consumed from takeoff, climb, and bombs away. The remaining one-third was consumed on the return to Base. The normal fuel load was 2,780 gallons, however on short missions, like Hopston, Germany, estimated 7 hour flight time, fuel load was reduced to 2,400 gallons.
Samuel W. Smith
2nd Lt. 360th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group (H)
What do you remember about training to become a pilot?
SS: We arrived at Santa Ana on August 20, 1943, and were assigned to Squadron 32 in the Classification Center. During the train ride, our squadron met and agreed that we would be perfect soldiers and cause no more problems. Upon arrival, we were met by the 1st Lt. that was in charge of the squadron while we were to be in the Classification Center. He had seen the letter of recommendation and warned the squadron that no nonsense would be tolerated from us while under his command, he would wash out the entire group. This put the fear in our hearts and we were perfect gentlemen from then on. Classification testing began at 8:00 hours and lasted until 12:00 hours, one hour break for lunch then resumed the remainder of the day. Tests covered so many subjects, I can’t remember all of them but included vocabulary, math, multiple choice, science, color blindness, dexterity, depth perception, and many more. The test period lasted four days. Then we went to the pressure chamber. The pressure chamber was a giant circular tube with windows along each side and an entrance and exit door. Inside two rows of seats were separated by a center aisle, which permitted the instructors to move up and down the aisle. I think that the number of seats was twelve per side. The pressure inside the chamber was controlled by air and vacuum pumps which were mounted outside and were controlled from the inside.
A short movie explained the test procedure and the necessity to pass this test. The movie described the effect of nitrogen collection in the body joints causing “the bends”. The Cadets were expected to be able to withstand being taken to a simulated altitude of 16,000 feet and remain at that altitude for thirty minutes without external oxygen. From 16,000 feet, a poem was flashed onto the wall and we were provided pen and paper and required to copy the poem on the tablet provided. The pressure inside the chamber was gradually decreased simulating a higher altitude. Attendants with oxygen masks were standing by each person to administer oxygen prior to the person passing out. The test was discontinued at a simulated altitude of 24,000 feet and oxygen was given to each cadet. We then examined our tablets to see what we had written. I remember the feeling of exaltation because I thought I was the smartest person in the chamber because I could perform so well.
However, when I examined my tablet, I saw that I started well but by the time we reached a simulated altitude of 20,000 feet, my words were not readable and became a squiggly line before 24,000 feet. The purpose of this experiment was to demonstrate how the mind reacts just before passing out. After the pressure chamber, we were escorted to another building for a meeting with tow Psychiatrists, prior to entering their office, we were required to remove our shoes and shirts. This meeting lasted about twenty minutes. The doctors questioned us about our home life, school life, as well as our personal lives. Several aeronautical questions were asked and my answers were all correct, then I was asked at what age I had my first sex. I had no sexual experience at that time, however, Shanafelt and Southall advised that I should answer 15. That was my answer. That ended the testing phase and we were advised to check tomorrows bulletin board to learn our classification.
The next afternoon, we ran to the bulletin board and learned that Shanafelt, Smith, and Southall were each classified for pilot training. Our dreams were fulfilled and we left the area with happy hearts. The following day we were relocated to Pilot Squadron 62, commanded by 1st Lt. W.H Cousins, who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. We were pleased to be under the command of another Texas. Lt. Cousins uncle was the Commanding general of the Western Training Command and we were looking forward to pre-flight school and ground school. This was one more step toward Primary Flying School where we would actually get to touch an aircraft. Our days were occupied with the study of navigation, meteorology (as it pertained to flying ), physical training including cross country running, Morse code, aircraft and ship recognition, and mathematics. Other subjects were added as required to complete preflight.
Physical training required two hours per day minimum. Lt. Cousins requested squadron 62 form a track team so he could enter us in the track competition. As a result, our cadet commander called a squadron meeting and asked how many members had previous track experience and would we try to win the Track Trophy. Much to his surprise, approximately half of the squadron raised their hands. We were then advised that the meet would consist of runs and relays.Individual runs were to be one mile, 880 yards, 440 yards, 220 yards, and 100 yards. Relays were to consist of one mile, 880 yards, 440 yards, and 220 yards. The squadron with the most wins would be awarded the trophy. Our squadron had so much talent in each category, we had our own individual track meet to determine which contestants would be entered in each event. My events were the 440 and 220-yard relays. Three of us had a 100-yard dash of ten seconds and our ace held the state record of 9.7 seconds. We had that caliber of talent for each category. As a result, we won the track meet and trophy. Lt. Cousins was elated with the win as he had never been associated with a winning team.
Our next challenge was firearms qualifications, which was one of my favorites and included the takedown and assembly of the thirty caliber air-cooled machine gun, M-1 carbine, and model 11, 45 semi-automatic pistols, and 30 caliber carbine. Since we were Air Corps, qualification was only required for the 45 and carbine. Since I grew up hunting and shooting, qualifications were fun and easy. Next, we went to the beach for water training, which included instructions on water survival and terminated with a half mile swim dressed in our fatigues. Cadets that could not make the swim were dropped from Pre Flight. After the shooting range, we were transported up into the California mountains for a one-week training exercise in living out in an infantry environment. We were issued a shelter half, one blanket, one ground cover, mess kit, one canteen, (containing one quart of water), that was the water supply for the entire day and three boxes of K-rations. We slept on the ground and nights were cold and days warm.
After the first sleepless night, Shanafelt and I decided to pool our resources to determine if we could keep warm at night. We placed both ground covers on the ground using rocks to keep the thing in place and made a tent by tying the two shelter halves together and supporting them with tree limbs. The blankets were used as cover, and as a result, we were warm at night without the wind. Our days were filled with infantry and camouflage training. One of the most interesting exercises was the demonstrations of tear gas, war gases, and incendiary bombs. Four war gases were demonstrated, mustard, phosgene, chloropicrin. Tear gas was demonstrated inside a building and you entered the building wearing your gas mask. The gas mask was removed and you were required to find the exit, if you were unable to locate the exit, you could replace the gas mask, clear it and then find the exit. Each war gas has a different smell, ie. phosgene smell was like new-mown hay, chloropicrin smelled sweet like flowers. We walked through a small cloud without a mask to learn the smell.
By the weekend, we were dirty, smelly, and ready for a bath. On Friday, a track meet was held and the winner could swim in the adjoining lake. This was music to our ears, as we easily won the track meet and enjoyed the swim. We returned to base on Saturday in order to begin normal class work on Monday. Classroom instruction was operated under the West Point Honor Code and ended with a weekly test on the subject of the week. As one completed the test, we were required to sign a document stating that we had not given or received information. Any cadet violating the honor code was immediately washed out. The squadron was notified that the Air Corps was initiating a new pilot class with the RAF (Royal Air Force) and graduates from that class would win wings from both the US and Great Britain. Applications were being received at headquarters. In order to receive consideration for this class, the applicant must have a grade score above 90. My grade score permitted me to qualify and I submitted my application. I had an interview with the board and was notified a week later that the positions were filled with students that had over one year of college.
We were notified that our class was due for final inspection at the end of the week and that we and our barrack should be spick and span for this event. We spent all day Thursday putting the barrack in perfect condition and were putting final touches on the upstairs section that evening when Lt. Cousins arrived, slightly inebriated. He told us that we were the best squadron that he ever commanded and that he wanted to assist in the final clean-up and display the trophy for the inspectors. He took the water hose upstairs and the before the upstairs personnel could get it out of his hands, the upstairs was drenched. The end result was that by the next morning when the inspection team arrived things were not dried and we flunked because of water damage. After the inspection team departed, Lt. Cousins came to the barracks and apologized for his performance, and that he had arranged for a new inspection as soon as we dried out. We passed the second final inspection with flying colors. Our preflight training was complete. Shanafelt failed his final Morse Code test and was held back to graduate with the next class. Southall and I went to PRIMARY flying school.
Tell me about Primary Flying School.
SS: From the classification center at Santa Ana, California, I was sent to primary flying school at Visalia, California as a member of Class 44-F. I learned that 44-F meant that I was scheduled to graduate from advanced flying school as a second lieutenant during the month of June 1944. My buddy, Arthur Shanafelt, failed to pass the 10 words per minute Morse Code requirement and as a result, he was reassigned to the class of 44-G. My other pal, E.J. Southall, was sent to primary flying school in California. Upon arrival at Visalla, I was assigned to quarters with four other cadets. Bunks were the same as used in Army barracks, stacked two (2) beds high with a lone single bed. Roommates were from various states, one Arizona, one California, two texas, and one Army sergeant. The sergeant took the single bed. In addition to the bunk room, a study adjoined the sleeping area and bathroom. Our quarters were first class, more like a country club.
We began our training routine the next day. The routine included classes consisting of meteorology, navigation, map projections, aircraft and ship recognition, and physical training, approximately 50% of our time was spent in ground school studies. Each flying school instructor had three students. Our primary trainer was the Ryan PT-22, and most of our flight training was conducted at satellite auxiliary fields that were located some 10 miles from the headquarters area. All solo flights were conducted on the headquarters field in Visalia. My solo flight occurred after I had completed five (5) hours of instruction and was during my sixth hour of flying.
I had made a landing and my instructor said pull up to the parking area, he unbuckled his safety belt and asked if I was ready to SOLO. My reply was, “Yes Sir." He then climbed out of the plane and replied: “Okay, she is all yours. Let’s see what you can do.” I taxied out to the runway and lined up and the tower gave me a green light to take off. I immediately advance the throttles and the place began gathering flying speed and with that, I was flying. “What a thrill!” I landed and taxied to my instructor who said, “That looked good, make another pass.”
After solo flying, training shifted into high gear and I was taught how to stall and spin the PT-22, then how to recover from these maneuvers in order to prevent a crash. After that session, we were introduced to aerobatics, which included chandelles, loops, rolls both slow, rolls and snap rolls, then upside down flight. Since the engine fuel on the PT-22 was not pressurized, the engine would stop after a few minutes. The procedure for restarting the engine was to roll the plane to the normal flight position and go into a steep dive that would spin the propeller and restart the engine. From that time forward we would be permitted to fly solo and tear up the sky, this was great fun. Since Visalia Dinuba was a civilian school, we had to demonstrate our flying skills to Army Air Corps pilots at regular intervals. Final training included two cross-country flights using only map and compass. Each flight was a distance of approximately 80 miles round trip, one to Fresno, and the second to Lemoore. Total flying hours at Visalla was 65 hours, that included 25 hours with your instructor and 40 hours solo. After the final check ride with the Army, pilot was passed, we were sent to Basic Training.
Information from the pilot’s manual covering the Ryan PT-22 that I flew in primary at Sequoia Field, Visalia, California.
Pilot Class 44-F
Fuselage, simple monocoque with thick Alclad skin. Fuel system, simple tank mounted forward of the front cockpit. Fuel is gravity fed to the carburetor. Oil system is dry sump type with oil storage in a tank in front located on the firewall in the upper section of the fuselage. Wing flaps are mechanically operated from a lever located on the left side of each cockpit. Adjustable elevator trim using trim tab is controllable from a hand wheel mounted on the left side off each cockpit. Hydraulic brakes are provided for each wheel and are controlled by the rudder pedals in each cockpit.
Crew 2 (1-student,1 instructor) Performance
Length 22’-5” Never exceed speed-190 MPH
Wingspan 30’-1” Maximum speed-125 MPH
Height 7’2” Cruise speed- 100 MPH
Wing Area 134.5 Sq. Ft. Stall speed flaps down-62 MPH
Air Foil, NACA number 2412 Stall speed flaps up-62 MPH
Empty Weight-1,308 pounds Range 231 miles at 1,560 RPM
Loaded Weight-1,860 pounds Service Ceiling-15,400 feet
Useful Load-552 pounds Rate of climb-710 feet per minute
Maximum Takeoff Weight-1860lbs. Wing Loading 13.6 pounds per sq. ft.
Powered by a single Kinner engine developing 160 Horsepower
Basic Flying School-Lemoore Army Flying Field
Aviation Cadet Samuel W. Smith Serial Number 128242173
From Visalia we were transferred to the basic flight training at Lemoore Army Field. All Cadet training was conducted by Army Air Corps pilots and Ground School personnel, who considered that our primary training was at the Visalia Country Club. We were permitted to leave the base for one day every two weeks. I was assigned to Group 2, Squadron 15. Our collar insignia was removed and could not be worn until we soloed. Our trainers were BT-13 and BT-15 aircraft manufactured by Vultee. The trainer was larger, twice as heavy and its engine developed almost three times the horsepower of the Ryan PT-22 and the 450 horsepower engine was fitted with a variable pitch propeller. Flight training was more complex and included instrument, night flying, formation flying, and Link trainer.
The training consisted of two hours per day and covered navigation, meteorology, including warm and cold fronts, Morse Code, and aircraft and ship recognition. Also included were photos of aircraft and ships from Germany, Japan, England, and the U.S. Recognition photos were flashed on a screen at one-thousandth of a minute. We were required to pass the recognition test with a grade of at least 90. Ground school objective was to produce pilots that could meet the military’s requirements. The Link trainer resembled a large toy airplane. In modern-day terms, it would be called a simulator and would be infinitely more sophisticated. The Link trainer was fitted with short wooden wings and a fuselage mounted on universal joint bellows. During WWII, the Link trainer became the instrument trainer for military pilots and was called the “Blue Box”. It was standard equipment in the United States and Allied Nations Air Forces. The trainer effectively simulated all flight instruments and controls. Also, it modeled common flight conditions, such as pre-stall buffet, over speed on the retractable landing gear and spins. It had a removable opaque canopy which could be used to simulate blind flying conditions and was particularly suited for teaching navigation and instrument flight training.
Instructions were provided by the flight training instructors sitting at a table. Mounted on the table were instruments, controls, and printers used to monitor the entire flight. Communications between pilot and instructor were by radio. The BT trainer was radio equipped and it was necessary to learn its use to communicate plane to plane and with the control tower. It was also necessary to memorize and use the international alphabet code in these communications in order to identify individual aircraft. The international code used at that time (WWII) was: A-Able, B-Baker, C-Charley, D-Dog, E-Easy, F-Fox, G-George, H-How, I-Item, J-Jig, K-King, L-Love, M-Mike, N-Nan, O-Oboe, P-Peter, Q-Queen, R-Roger, S-Sugar, T-Tear- U-Uncle, V-Victor, W-William, X-X-ray, Y-Yoke, Z-Zebra. After WWII, the International Code was changed to make it easier for foreign pilots to be able to pronounce the words.
My assigned roommate was from San Francisco and was Chinese. I had never been exposed to Chinese and we had many discussions about our family life while growing up and as well as school requirements. On our days off, he would return to his family and as a result, we did not become close friends. Across the hall was John E. Smith from Arlington, Virginia, and we became very close. We both liked to hunt and fish and were raised in the Methodist Church. The main difference was that John attended a high school that offered ROTC and he was completely familiar with marching military and close order drill, which was very much needed by me. As a result, we spent most of our free time together. Since most of the time at Lenmoore was spent on the base, our Colonel arranged visits from entertainers from Hollywood, among those were Jack Benny, Dennis Rochester, and Phil Harris, together with their starlets, as well as current movies. One evening, Joe Lewis and his sparring partner put on a boxing show. I was amazed at the power and quickness of Joe Lewis’ hands.
Physical training and fitness had more emphasis and more time was spent in being certain each person was fit. Calisthenics and running were emphasized and games were only played on certain occasions. Cross country running time was increased to 4-6 miles per run, twice weekly. I usually finished in second place on the cross country runs. My squadron had a cadet whose name was Carlos G. Salinas, from Laredo, Texas, who could run cross country like a deer. He always was the first to finish. The physical training was very tough. However, another cadet and I set the Lenmoore base record for the best time in the 300 yard shuttle run, our time was 46 seconds. Base headquarters recognized this feat and we both were presented a silver identification bracelet at the Lenmoore graduation ceremony. The total time spent in Basic Training at Lenmoore was nine weeks. During this period of time we logged 82.5 hours of flying time. Flying time included: Student Dual-29 hrs., Solo-37.5 hrs., and Instruments-16 hrs. Flying time included formation, day and night instruments, and cross-country flights. In addition, we each logged 10.2 hours of Link training time, Then it was off to Advanced Flying School at Pecos, Texas.
Upon completion of Basic Flying School at Lemoore, California, 62 of us were boarded on a troop train bound for the Advanced Flying School, PAAF Branch of the U.S. Army Air Force located at Pecos, Texas. We were attached to the 3027th AAF Base unit Section B, Commanded by Col. Oren J. Bushey. Our assignment was as student pilots that we were to be trained in the twin-engine UC-78 and AT-178. My friend, John E. Smith, was also among the cadet in this group. Upon arrival at Pecos we were assigned to Squadron 17. Our barracks were a single story with windows and tar paper-covered walls. Pecos was a small West Texas town, population 450. We were permitted to visit the town on our days off. However, after one visit to town, there was nothing new to be seen. The line to the movie theatre was so long that only a small number of cadets could be admitted to see the film.
Col. Bushey recognized that the town was too small to provide entertainment for a bunch of wild cadets and arranged to open a theatre on base. In addition, he contacted the USO and arranged live programs on stage weekly. This eliminated problems with the local citizenry. Ground school, aircraft and ship recognition, and Link training became more advanced. Flight training became more advanced and included instrument, blind flying and weather flying. The firing range was introduced and included pistol and skeet shooting. Based on my hunting skills, visits to the shooting range were one of my favorites, and I qualified as an expert on the 45. My skeet shooting was also above average as I hit 23 out of 25 targets on my first trial. Since the 45 was the sidearm that was normally issued to pilots, we learned to assemble and take apart the 45 blindfolded as part of the firearm training. At this time in our training, less time was spent in calisthenics and more time was spent on games such as football, basketball, volleyball, and baseball. The object was to teach teamwork and cooperation to achieve a goal-win the game. Flight instruction included emergency landings using one or two engines, stalls, spin recovery, and dead stick landing. The UC-78 was a peculiar airplane as due to its lightweight and high horsepower. One could actually fly the aircraft at 30 miles per hour in a nose high altitude. Flight training was much more sophisticated and we were assigned to various instructors in pairs.
Instrument, as well as blind flying, included flying under the hood, as well as visual flights. These flights included location of the designated airport location, both visual and under the hood (blind) flights. Upon completion of this training, an instrument test ride was performed by a different instructor to determine if one was qualified to receive his instrument card. In accordance with Air Force regulations, a cadet without the instrument card rating could not graduate as a pilot. Flying at Pecos began on April 25, 1944, and ended on June 25, 1944, as graduation for Class 44F was scheduled for June 27, 1944. A few days prior to graduation, we were provided a document asking what combat aircraft we wanted to be assigned after graduation, and three choices were allowed. My instructor advised that he knew we thought we were “Hot Pilots” and that we would select fighters.
However, the Air Force was short of Heavy Bomber pilots and he said, “If you do not wish to be assigned to fly as co-pilot, you should request Heavy Bomber." I took his advice and my choices were B-17 and A-20. I was assigned to B-17 transition at Roswell, New Mexico. My mother attended the graduation ceremony and pinned on my wings. Behind the scene at one minute prior to midnight of June 26, 1944, I was discharged as an Aviation Cadet, serial number: 18 242 173 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant serial number 0 780 750, pilot twin engine 1051 at June 12, 1944. After my graduation, I accompanied my Mother to our home in Goldthwaite, texas. After a few days at home, my orders required that I proceed to Roswell, New Mexico for B-17 Transition. Bus and train schedules were terrible, however, an old family friend, Floyd Fox, had a truckload of lumber that he was to deliver to a construction site in Roswell. I was able to ride with him and reported to the B-17 Four Engine Transition School as scheduled.
Talk about your relationship with your co-pilot, Arthur Shanafelt.
SS: It's interesting how Shanafelt and I became crew members. This story began as me, Shanafelt, and Southall were sent to Santa Ana, California for testing and classification. This entailed four days of rigorous written examination, eight hours each day. Upon conclusion of the written examinations, we were tested for color blindness, depth perception, night vision, and coordination. Next, we were subjected to the pressure chamber to determine the effect of high altitude. Cadets had to be able to withstand a simulated altitude of 16,000 feet for thirty minutes without oxygen. Finally, we met the psychiatrist, before meeting the psychiatrist, we were dressed in Army fatigues and had to remove our shoes and shirts. This interview took about thirty minutes and all types of subjects were discussed. This concluded the testing phase of classification.
The next day posted on the bulletin board were the classifications of the cadets as pilots, bombardier, or navigator. Me, Shanafelt, and Southall were classified as pilot cadets and we were elated. We were then transferred to a pre-flight school for more training, which included aircraft and ship recognition. We had to be able to identify friendly and enemy aircraft at speeds of 1-100 of a second. We qualified with the 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Also included in the training was Morse Code. Cadets were required to be able to send and receive 10 words per minute in order to pass. Shanafelt had difficulty meeting this requirement and was held over to the next class which was 44G. Smith and Southall were sent to primary flying school as members of graduating Class 44F. As graduation approached, Sam’s instructor advised, “There is a critical shortage of heavy bomber pilots in the Air Corps. I know you all think you are “hot pilots” and think you want to fly fighters. If you do not want to be assigned as a co-pilot on someone's crew, you should request heavy bomber.” As a result, I graduated from twin-engine advanced flying school on June 27, 1944, while Shanafelt was beginning his advanced training.
At the time of graduation, pilots were issued a three-line request form, stating the type of aircraft they wished to be assigned to fly in combat. These assignments were frequently ignored and pilots were assigned to aircraft that were most needed by the military. Sam took his instructors advice and requested that he be assigned to B-17, B-17, and B-24, as three requests required. Sam was lucky and his request was honored and he was sent to B-17 transition at Roswell, New Mexico. Meanwhile, Shanafelt was completing twin advanced flying school and Sam wrote a letter passing the advice his instructor had given. Shanafelt wrote back and stated that his flying school was famous for fighter pilots. No graduate had ever been assigned to bombers and that his request would be P-51, P-51, and P-51. That was the last communication Sam had with Shanafelt for some time. Upon completion of B-17 training, I arrived in Lincoln and checked in at headquarters and was assigned to BOQ. I then learned that the most popular meeting place for pilots was the Cornhusker Hotel Bar. I set out for the Cornhusker to see if I could find friends and as I approached the entrance to the hotel, out of the door came Shanafelt. I called to him and we shook hands and returned to the hotel for a beer. I asked, “What are you doing in Lincoln?” He replied that he was in Lincoln and assigned to a combat crew. I asked, “What is your classification?” He said, “I am a co-pilot on a B-17.”
I immediately told him that I am a first pilot on a B-17 and am in Lincoln to pick up a crew and asked him if he would like to be the co-pilot on my crew. At that moment we went to the orderly room and explained our request to the officer in charge. He said that he would forward our request but could make no promises. In a couple of days, the crew assignments were posted on the bulletin board and to our surprise, our wish was granted. We were assigned to Combat Crew 9192. We set out to locate the rest of our crew. Once we had a complete crew, we were sent to Sioux City, Iowa for Combat Crew Training. Upon completion of our training at Sioux City, we returned to Lincoln, Nebraska to complete preparation for overseas duty. All immunizations were completed, new equipment was issued and we were fitted with new oxygen masks, heated suits, and all other items that we may need in a combat zone.
At that time, we were notified that all bombardiers on even numbered crews were being reassigned, and our bombardier, Hurcel B. Frazier, was sent to a B-29 crew. When these tasks were completed and all items were checked and double checked to be certain that we had all of the necessary items, we were sent to Camp Miles Standish for transfer to another theater. A few days after our arrival at Miles Standish, we were ordered to ship all items of summer gear to our homes, so we knew that we were not being sent to the Pacific Theater of operation for combat duty. December 8, 1944, my crew was scheduled to fly a training mission involving navigation. However, my navigator was in the hospital and the mission was scrubbed. The next mission assigned was an air to ground gunnery mission at Yankton. When I reported to operations, the aircraft assigned to my crew was only equipped with blank ammunition and no other planes were available. Since we needed to log some flying time, it was decided we should fly a trip to Mount Rushmore and return to base and practice co-pilot landings.
My co-pilot, Arthur Shanafelt, was flying from the right seat and made a normal landing. The tower instructed us to make a left turn at the end of the runway and taxi around for another takeoff and landing. Just prior to the end of the runway, Shanafelt asked me to unlock the tail wheel and I started to complete the after landing checklist. Shanafelt asked me to pull up the flaps and I pushed the wheels up switch instead of the flaps up switch and all of a sudden, the propellers were wrapping around the engine cowlings and the plane settled to the ground. I was in shock at what was happening and was trying to determine what went wrong. Crew check indicated no injuries. I sat in my seat and with Shanafelt and engineer Zenick, we tried to determine what happened. After a few minutes, Zenick pointed to the landing switch which was in the up position. We double checked all switches to be sure they were off and we were ready to exit the plane. As I sat in my seat, I tried to concoct a story to clear my stupidity but realized that the first thing that maintenance would do was to jack up the plane and recycle the landing gear. This test would prove the gear operation to be correct.
As I stood in the rear door, Colonel Dawson was standing on the ground waiting for me to deplane. At his side was a Captain, and as I stepped down the old man said, “ Captain get in there and be certain all switches are off and see if you can determine what caused this mess.” In my best military posture, I spoke up and said, “Sir, all switches are off and I can tell you exactly what happened.” Col. Dawson said, “Dammit, Captain do as I asked.” Then he turned to me and replied, “okay, Lieutenant, let’s hear your story.” I replied, “My co-pilot made a decent landing and as we were about to turn off the runway, he called for flaps up and I pulled the wheels up switch instead of the flaps up switch and the wheels retracted.” Col. Dawson replied, “ As of this moment, you are grounded until we have a hearing an accident report. Get in my staff car.” I was devastated but followed his instructions. “Lt. Shanafelt, get into the second car and your crew will proceed to the third car.” I was then driven to Headquarters for interrogation and questioning covering the details of the flight and accident. I was informed that I would be informed of the decision of the accident board within 3-4 days.
I was called to Headquarters and informed that I was back on flying status. At the accident hearing, Col. Dawson advised that during his career, this was the first time that a 2nd Lt. had the guts to tell the truth about what really happened. His recommendation was that I would be given a check ride by the senior officer in the flying school and if the check ride was passed I would return to the squadron and complete our combat crew training. At the time of the accident, my crew was the number one crew on the base and we were five training missions ahead of the next crew. I committed one of the first laws a pilot should remember when you think you are too good to obey rules, you are in serious trouble.
With news of this accident, I made the Air Corps magazine entitled, “BONEHEAD OF THE WEEK," and my picture was on the front page of the magazine. This accident and the resulting problems put my feet firmly on the ground and reduced my big head. I was contacted by a Major and he advised to meet him at operations at 1400 hours for my check ride. We met at the appointed hour and he said, “Okay Lieutenant, let’s see what you can do with this plane.” We started out with simple flight maneuvers, then complex flight patterns. He seemed satisfied and said, “now get under the hood and you show me what kind of an instrument pilot you are.” He gave me several complex instrument landing patterns to fly and then said, “Okay, take me back to base and land.” As we deplaned, he said, “Lieutenant, tell me how a pilot with your flying skill can manage to have an accident and wreck a plane?” My answer was, “Major, I guess there is a time in a pilot’s life that he is shown that he is not the best in the world, and this week proved that in my case, that was true.” He said, “you passed the check ride with flying colors and I will recommend that you complete your combat crew training and graduate with the class.”
On the morning of February 4, 1945, we were up early for transportation to the dock in the New York harbor, along with many other Bomber Crews, Paratroopers, and Infantry personnel. When we marched to the ship berths, we saw two large ships that were making preparations to load troops. During this time Shanafelt and I walked down the ship berth to look at the ships. We could look into one of the ships and spotted a person on the ship and asked her name, he replied that the ship was the Queen Elizabeth. She was much better looking than any other ship. Prior to being moved into the dock area, our bags and flight gear had been moved to the dock by special transport and as it arrived we could see that it had been painted with large yellow stripes on items. Then we were informed that the Eighth Air Force had a critical shortage of flight crews and our luggage was color coded so that would be loaded last, in order to permit quick access upon arrival at Liverpool, England. To our disappointment, we were loaded onto the USS Wakefield, which was the former luxury liner USS Manhattan that had been converted to a troop ship during the war and renamed.
She carried 8,000 troops per trip and traveled unescorted because she could cruise at 24 knots per hour. At this speed and by using evasive zigzag action along the assigned travel route, it was believed that she was beyond German submarine capability. Since we were officers, we boarded after all of the infantry, paratroopers, and enlisted personnel were aboard. And as we boarded, we were given our stateroom assignments. The staterooms were set up to accommodate four persons and since my crew consisted of only three officers, we were joined by a navigator from another crew. Loading was completed very efficiently and we were moving out of the harbor before noon. Shanafelt and I went out onto the deck in order to watch the departure. As we steamed past the Statue of Liberty, we were surprised at her beauty and realized that we were actually going into combat and that either one of us our crew members may never see that sight again which caused a lump in my throat.
Since military regulations required that an officer be assigned to each company of enlisted personnel that was below deck and as a result, I was assigned to a company of paratroopers. I was required to be present in their compartment 12 hours per day, one daylight shift and one night shift. Our compartment was at the bow of the ship and once could feel the water parting the waves as we streamed along. Aircrew officers were selected for this service because of their flying skills and the shortage of paratrooper officers to comply with the regulation. My job was to be certain that no trooper that became sea sick or ill was taken above deck to receive medical attention. The sergeants were always teasing me about, “You flyboys get all the glory and we do all of the fighting.” My response was, “You better be careful, I may be assigned as the pilot that is to take you to your drop zone. I may drop you a few miles from the correct one. (laughs)” During the seven day trip, I had to send several troopers above deck for medical attention and by trips end, I established a great comradery with the paratroopers.
On the fourth day at sea, the Elizabeth passed us and gave us a salute as she passed. Her speed was 30 knots and her crossing time was five days. Also, on the morning of that day, the crew of the USS Wakefield had a firing session with the five-inch guns aboard. This was fun to watch. During the trip, while I was with the paratroopers, Shanafelt had our enlisted crew members come up to our stateroom for a shower. This was a violation of orders and some officer reported the incident and as a result, Shanafelt was called to the Captain Bridge. The Captain asked why the order was violated. Shanafelt said that our crew members were hot, sweaty, and almost seasick cooped up in their quarters and that the shower would help them be more comfortable the remainder of the trip. The Captain replied, “I appreciate your looking after your crew, however, as punishment, upon arrival at the dock you are in charge of the unloading of the air force personnel equipment.” The USS Wakefield docked on the early morning of February 11, 1945.
As it turned out this was a great advantage for us because Shanafelt was able to place our bags and equipment on top of the load so that we were the first crew to leave the ship. We were met at the dock along with several other crews and transported to the 70th Reinforcement Depot, AAF Station 594 on February 11, 1945. On February 12, 1945, we received orders assigning us to the 303rd Bomb Group (H). The 303rd was AAF Station 107 located at Molesworth, England. My crew was assigned to the 360th Bomb Squadron along with 4-6 other crews, most I knew from B-17 flying schools. We were sent from the depot by bus to Molesworth. Molesworth was a small hamlet comprised of about ten houses, a red English telephone booth, a post office and one Pub, located in Bedfordshire, England. We were located in sight 8 and consisted of several Quonset buildings (huts), three office buildings, two or three outdoor latrines, and an open field. Our living quarters were called BOQ, Bachelor Officers Quarters. Each hut consisted of a center aisle with a pot-bellied stove near each end and approximately fifteen bunk beds per row. We approached a Quonset building and the driver said, “This is the Smith crew location, officers on the right and enlisted in the Quonset across the street on the left. Unload your gear, go inside, introduce yourselves, and pick out a bunk. This will be your home for the duration of your tour.”
The latrine was a small stone building about ten yards from the Quonset building. The front entrance to the Quonset hut consisted of double doors which extended 7-8 feet into the building, creating space for a three-sided bedroom on each side of the entry. We learned that these spaces were reserved for the senior pilot and his co-pilot. We were greeted by several persons who were resting on their beds or were reading. We were requested to select beds as close to each other as possible in order to make it easier for the officer of the day to wake each
person assigned to the mission. As empty bunks were selected a voice said, “Don’t take that one, it is unlucky, that last three persons assigned to it never returned.” After hearing that several times, we made our selections, stowed our gear, and introduced ourselves to everyone present.
The floors were damp and musty. We quickly learned to place our belongings on racks. The officer's mess was located in the Communal Site, located about a quarter mile from our BOQ, and was a large building that also contained the recreation room, bar, PX, latrines, and a few offices. Warm showers were available to the 360th Squadron on Thursday of each week. However, if you were flying a mission that day, no make-up shower day was available, you waited until the next Thursday. The PX was open several days each week for four hours. You could purchase toiletry items, cigarettes at five cents per package, allowance was two cartons per person per week. I usually purchased my allowance of cigarettes for crew members, candy bars, no Hershey, Babe Ruth or Snickers, only Payday or other lesser known brands. I purchased an English bicycle from one of the pilots who completed his tour for six pounds ($24.00). The bike was abandoned when we were sent to the States.
The bomb group was normally alerted around 2100 hours that the group would fly a mission the next morning. No crew assignments were made that evening. All crews were expected to be sober and ready to fly if selected on mission morning. On those mornings, we were awakened by a tap on the shoulder and a flashlight shining in our face at three-four o’clock in the morning. I would be informed, “Lieutenant, your crew if flying today, breakfast is in 45 minutes and briefing will be in one and one-half hours. Here are your briefing passes.” As we presented ourselves to the officer's mess for our first mission, we were informed that each one of us could order a special breakfast cooked to order. This made me feel strange as it reminded me of a condemned man being fed his last meal. I asked the cook if he knew something we didn’t and this produced a good laugh from the cooks (laughs). They replied that this was common procedure for all crew members that were flying today’s mission. The procedure would be the same for each mission to be flown. This was a great morale boost. As normally breakfast consisted of cereal or powdered eggs and toast. The milk and powdered eggs always had undissolved solids floating on the surface, which was not very appetizing. As our mission numbers increased we had more and more times when we could choose what out breakfast meal was on that morning, such as two over each fried eggs, ham, bacon, buttered toast with jelly, and tea or coffee.
We then proceeded to the briefing room where passes were collected as we entered the door and all eye immediately focused on the curtained wall that covered a large map. Most persons were laughing and chatting until “ATTENTION!” was shouted which signaled the entry of Group Commander, Colonel William S. Raper, and his staff. Colonel Raper made a short speech about the importance of the mission scheduled for today and turned the detailed mission briefing over to our Intelligence Officer, Major McQuaid for the detailed briefing. Major McQuaid then pulled the curtain open which exposed today’s target and the route to and from the target. The colored lines and dots on the map told the story of the expected difficulty on the mission. The flight route was discussed in detail, as well as the number and type of bombs, bomb aim points selected to maximize target damage, length of time to and from the target area, airspeed and bombing altitude, landmarks, expected flack concentration, and enemy fighter types and numbers expected. The number and type of friendly fighters assigned to the mission as well as the time when they join the bomber column was also discussed.
Target weather data was supplied by the Group Meteorologist. The briefing session was then turned over to the individual squadrons who conducted their own briefing, High Squadron, Lead Squadron, and Low Squadron. Individual briefings were held for pilots navigators, bombardiers, and gunners. Normally, three squadrons of thirteen aircraft were assigned for each mission. Pilots briefings included assigned aircraft name and number, element position, start engine and taxi times. At the conclusion of squadron briefings time was allowed for a short visit with the chaplain. Crews were reassembled and transported to their assigned aircraft where guns were installed, ammunition load and bombs inspected, fuel tank and oil levels checks, props rotated three revolutions each to be certain that none had accumulated in the cylinders. During this time pilots were performing their walk around check of the aircraft. Pilots inspection included tire pressure, breaks, tailwheel, plane surfaces, supercharger bucket wheel, pitot tube cover removal and a discussion with the Crew Chief and his staff regarding any recent maintenance or minor defects that require discussion.
Upon completion of all of these preparations, the crew boarded the plane and made their final preparations and adjustments prior to take-off. At the appointed hour the red signal flare was fired and the roar of starting engines echoed around the field. The air was filled with excitement and misgivings as the planes moved into their assigned positions for take-off. The two lead aircraft from each squadron took off immediately in order to position themselves for squadron formation. The order of takeoff was High Squadron, Lead Squadron, and Low Squadron. This sequence was established to use the least amount of time for Group formation. Normal Molesworth weather was to hit low clouds between 1,500 and 3,000 feet and break in the clear at 6,000-8,000 feet. Formation was made above the cloud layer. Squadrons were separated as each squadron assembly was conducted at its own radio beacon and frequency. The two lead aircraft would circle their beacon and fire colored flares for their wing aircraft to locate and join the squadron as it circled. The takeoff interval between aircraft was thirty seconds. Soon as each squadron was formed, they located the group's lead squadron and took their position to form the 303rd Bomb Group. As soon as the Bomb Group was formed the Group took their position in the Bomber Column. My average flying time for my twenty-four mission was 8.41 hours, the longest bomb mission was 11.5, the shortest was 5.42 hours.
What was that first mission like for you?
SS: Bomb Group check out for replacement crews required that the pilot of the replacement crew would fly his first three missions as the co-pilot for an experienced combat pilot. At the same time, the co-pilot of the new replacement crew would fly co-pilot with the combat pilot. Since this was my first combat mission, I was assigned 1st Lt. William W. Brown, who was co-pilot from pilot Samuel Tyler’s crew and Arthur Shanafelt, my co-pilot flew as co-pilot on the Tyler crew. Our assigned position in the squadron formation was on the left wing of the squadron lead aircraft whose pilots were Col. Raper and Capt. Stouse. On this mission, the 303rd was leading the 41st Combat Wing. Air Force regulations required the base Commander fly in the lead plane as the leader of the combat wing. Captain Stouse was the lead pilot for the 303rd Bomb Group and actually flew the plane.
Take-off was made by Lt. Brown, who chose to fly in the right seat, and not the left seat since he was more comfortable in flying from that seat. Squadron assembly was made over the Harrington beacon as usual. Squadron and group assembly was made slightly ahead of schedule. As we proceeded toward the point at which we would cross the English Coast, we began the climb to the assigned bombing altitude of 26,500 feet. Crews were placed on oxygen as we reached an altitude of 10,000 feet. The rate of climb was set at an airspeed of 150 miles per hour, at a climb rate of 500 feet per minute. As the Bomb Group crossed the coast and were over the English Channel, formation relaxed to permit test firing of the guns. As we reached our bombing altitude of 26,500 feet we were informed that target weather had deteriorated and the target was covered by 10/10s cloud cover and that bombing would be conducted by radar. Meager flack was expected in the target area. Flack burst began to appear, however, the bursts were usually inaccurate as predicted, with an occasional burst close enough to inflict minor damage. No aircraft were lost.
The number 2 engine began to surge, this occurred several minutes prior to the turn on to the bomb run, called the Initial Point (IP). Manifold pressure and RPM approached their red lines and engine control was unmanageable. This high propeller RPM could cause prop failure and damage the plane or prevent feathering. These gyrations in speed became unpredictable and difficult to control which made it difficult to maintain our slot and altitude in the formation. It took one pilot to continually manipulate the engine controls. At this time my pilot became scared and was having difficulty in maintaining formation position. He said he thought we should abort the mission. My reply was, “No, let’s see if we can’t manage this situation since we were so close to the target.” He replied, “ OK, but I do not know how to fly on three engines.” I immediately called Zenick, my flight engineer and asked, “Tom, do you have any suggestions?”
He said, “The only suggestion I have is that we have a spare alternator on board that I can exchange in a few minutes.” I told him to proceed. The spare alternator was installed but did not correct the problem. Brown was ready to abort and I refused. He asked me, “What's your plan?” I replied, “We'll shut down the engine, feather the prop, put the other three engines on Emergency Power, and after the bombs away and we are out of the combat zone, we will leave the formation and return to base alone. That'll allow us to complete the mission.” At those suggestions, he became quiet, as well as scared and let me know that he was married and only had three mission till he could go home to his family.
He stated, “I can’t land the plane on three engines.” At which point Zenick said, “Sam can land on two engines blind-folded (laughs).” He became calmer and I informed Zenick to alert the crew and I proceeded to shut down the number two engine, feather the prop, put the three engines on War Emergency Power, and asked Zenick to record the time on War Emergency. About the same time, we reached the IP and held our position in the formation and dropped our bombs with the squadron. As usual, when bombs were gone, the group made an abrupt turn and started a shallow glide to get away from the target area as soon as possible. As we crossed the Battle Line, I contacted Col. Raper and advised of our engine problem and requested that we be permitted to leave the formation and return to base unescorted. He replied, “Permission granted.”
The aircraft was immediately placed on long-range cruise power and speed control in order to conserve fuel. The three remaining engines were “babied” as much as possible.
I replied that this was one of the emergency items that we practiced in transition. As we approached the French Coast, I contacted Bridgeman, our radio operator, and asked him to implement the radio procedures to permit us to cross the English Coast without incident. We arrived at the base without further incident and landed. After the plane was parked, we visually inspected the engine to try to determine what caused the problem and found a small flack hole in the cowling of the number two engine. This could have severed an electric line which could have caused our problem. It would be up to the crew chief to find and fix the problem. However, due to my performance on this mission, my crew members and I never had to fly with another pilot in control.
Do you remember ever being scared or nervous on a mission?
SS: Hell yeah, I was scared up there sometimes. I never thought about not making it back though. I just was worried about getting the airplane out of the area immediately after we flew a mission so we didn’t end up as Prisoners of War. I heard too many stories about POWs and I had some friends who ended up as POWs. That was my biggest fear. I did not want to ever be a Prisoner of War so we did everything we could to avoid that. But, I remember sometimes when we got all shot up to hell and one particular mission where I got back to ground and wanted to kiss that beautiful ground.
I remember walking into the doors in briefing and they’d offer you two shots of Old Taylor or Old Grand Dad 100 proof whiskey to help you with your nerves. I’d never take it because I always said to my guys, “Listen guys if I have to drink that damn whiskey to calm my nerves I don’t have any damn business flying that airplane. Give that to someone else.” Out of the 9 guys I had on the crew I always had 2 who would be more than happy to take that whiskey (laughs). They liked their drink and they liked it a lot. They always loved that I didn’t drink it (laughs). As soon as I cleared the battle area, I wasn’t really scared anymore.
Do you remember when General Doolittle came into command?
SS: The Air War in Europe was completely changed on January 1, 1944, when Major General James H. Doolittle replaced General Ira C. Eaker as Commander of the Eighth Air Force. Until Doolittle’s arrival, the fighters operated under the phased escort concept, which meant that the fighters joined the bombers at a predetermined time and stayed with the bombers until their fuel ran low. Doolittle issued a new directive changing the way escort fighters protected the bombers. Doolittle ordered the Commander of Fighter Command to remote the Headquarter sign, which stated, “THE FIRST DUTY OF 8TH AIR FORCE FIGHTERS IS TO BRING THE BOMBERS BACK ALIVE.” He replaced the sign with, “THE FIRST DUTY OF EIGHTH AIR FORCE FIGHTERS IS TO DESTROY GERMAN FIGHTERS.” This change delighted Fighter Command because this directive eliminated the handicap that fighters were operating under, and permitted them to engage and destroy enemy aircraft when encountered. They became “Hunters” and not the hunted.
What’s the most important part of piloting?
SS: One mission our plane got shot up pretty badly. I was pretty nervous about making it back on that mission but I looked around me and hell, everyone else was calm and collected. My whole crew looked completely prepared so I knew I had no business losing my cool in that scenario. I said, “Well shit, if they can stay calm I sure as hell can.” We met the interrogation officers after every flight and they interrogated us with the intelligence officers to make sure we hadn’t seen anything strange up there that didn’t make sense. Most of it was pretty routine to me and I was scared that one mission but it never knocked me out of my focus or made it to where I lost my cool. Keeping calm is the most important part of piloting in combat.
Can you talk about one of your toughest missions?
SS: The morning of March 20, 1945 found me and my crew on the practice bombing range. I was being trained to become a squadron lead pilot. We were bombing the targets by both visual, (using the Norden bomb sight) and radar (Mickey). After completion of the practice session, we returned to the base and parked the plane on the ramp. Capt. Logan Hatch, the 360th Squadron Operations Officer, sped up in his Jeep and signaled to me to open my window. I obliged and Hatch said, “Smitty, we have a mission scheduled this afternoon, would you like to volunteer?” The thought ran through my head, this is late, and takeoff would be before 1300 hours. Normally we don’t fly after dark, this must be one of those milk run flights to the battle line and return. My crew need one of those easy missions. I said “Yes, sign us up.”
Hatch said, “Great, lunch is in 45 minutes, briefing 1-1 ½ hours and takeoff will be about 1300. I sent my engineer Tsgt. Tom Zenich to round up the remaining crew members while my co-pilot Shanafelt and I completed the aircraft shutdown procedures. After lunch we went to the briefing room. Everyone was joking and visiting while awaiting the briefing to begin. Then “Attention” and the Group Commander, Col. Raper and briefing entourage entered. The target map was unveiled and the room became quiet as the target was revealed. The mission was to be Hamburg. All revelry ceased and everyone sank in their chairs. My theory of a milk run evaporated as we realized that this was going to be a difficult mission. Intelligence briefing stated “The 8th Air Force mission today will be concentrated on two targets. (1) Submarine building yard of Duetsche Werft, (2) Oil Refinery : Olwerke mLIUS Schindler. Today the 8th Air Force will dispatch 900 bombers, 470 bombers will be assigned to the Submarine Building yard, and 430 bombers will be assigned to the Oil Refinery. The 41st Combat Wing will supply two groups for this mission, (1) 384th Grafton Underwood, code name, “Cowboy Able”, (2) 303d Molesworth, code name, “Cowboy Baker”, (3) 379th Kimbolton, is held down due to aircraft damage and maintenance problems.
Can you talk about that 10th mission in detail?
SS: The flight to Germany was flown over the North Sea and through the Baltic Sea lane prior to turning toward the coast of Europe and toward the target, Hamburg, Germany. Flack was encountered as the group turned over Helgoland Island prior to heading into the continent of Europe. As the Bomb Group crossed the coast, flack increased in intensity. The closer to the targeted oil refineries and submarine pens, the flack intensity increased even more and bursts began to hit our formation. I slid out of formation so that I could take evasive action by “juking” my plane. This probably had no effect on the flack batteries but made me feel as if I was doing something and it also increased crew morale. Flack intensity remained heavy, however, as soon as the bombs were dropped, and as we cleared the area, flack stopped. Then we were suddenly attacked by 15-20 Me-262 jet fighters. We were startled by the speed of these aircraft and they pressed their attacks coming at us from all directions.
I observed several bombers from other groups catch fire and explode. My squadron lost a plane to the 262’s and his aircraft exploded as it fell, we saw no chutes. At this time my tail gunner called out “Bandit 6:00 o’clock” and headed for us. I called out to my ball turret, “Mike, get on him !” and at that instant my tail gunner Jenson began firing as well as Kucab in the ball turret. I felt the plane quiver as those 4-50’s fired. Mike yelled, “Jens, you got him!” The 262 fell into two pieces. Immediately after this incident I spotted a 262 headed toward us and called “Bandit 12:00 o’clock, level, everyone get on him .” The 262 was almost level and had us in his sights. I realized that only top turret engineer Zenick was firing and if I did not do something we would be hit with his four cannons. I guessed at the time the 262 pilot would commence his fire and pulled back all four throttles and pushed the yoke forward dropping the plane out of formation. My estimate was perfect and the 262’s cannons lit up and the tracers from his guns came straight at my nose and curved up over our plane. As the 262 pilot turned under us, I could see his face turn to see if we were hit. The return to base was uneventful and we landed after dark.
And you ran mission number 11 the next day?
SS: Yes, once in the Squadron Area, we were notified that the 303 was alerted for a mission the following morning. My crew members approached and said, “Sam, please do not volunteer us for another of your milk runs. (laughs)” I was awakened at 0400 and was informed that my crew was assigned to fly the mission this morning. This was 303, Mission number 342, March 21, 1945, my mission number 11. The assigned target was Hopsten, a major German jet air drone. The Intelligence Annex to the Field Order stated that the purpose of bombing these bases was to neutralize the German Air Force jet fighters on the Western Front, as well as to destroy the flack batteries on the fields for protection of future ground forces.
Bombing missions were to be coordinated with our fighters so that after bombing finished , fighters would strike the airfields to destroy any aircraft on the ground. My squadron, the 360th, was the lead squadron for the 303 on this mission. My crew was assigned to the 4th flight and bombing altitude was 22,000 feet. Hopsten was one of the major targets and it was reported that this was a major operational airfield for single engine fighters and jets. Intelligence reported there were 57 aircraft on the ground, of which 16 were me-262’s, the other 40 were single engine fighters, plus one jet bomber, an Arado A-234. In addition to Hopsten, some 12-14 other airfields were all scheduled as targets for the 41st combat wing this day.
The Eighth Air Force planned to destroy 80-90 German airfields this day. Our bomb load was 38 clusters of anit-personal bombs banded to a steel rod by metal bands, each weighing 120 pounds. The fuel load was 2,400 gallons. We were briefed that flack was expected to be meager, if any. This proved incorrect for the lead squadron. The first flack burst ws about 25 years of my right wing and was dead level with our plane and the aircraft was jostled by hits. Bombs were dropped and we cleared the area and started home. Major flack damage was inflicted on five planes, and eight others suffered minor damage. The return flight to base was slowed so that damaged planes could keep up with the formation firing red-red flares, to land immediately, signaling wounded on board. Normal landing procedure followed. As my plane touched the runway surface it made a hard abrupt sharp turn to the right. I sensed that the right wheel or undercarriage was damaged. I hit the left brake and at the same instant lifted the right wing using aileron to raise the damaged wheel from the runway and run the aircraft on two wheels. The left brake pressure was maintained to decrease speed and keep her on the runway. As the speed decreased , the right wing would not stay up and both brakes were applied. I literally stood on the brakes to slow the plane to a safe speed in order to turn onto the grassy area parallel to the runway and bring here to a complete stop and at a safe distance from the medical teams assisting the wounded.
Runway clearance was imperative because planes landing behind might be damaged, or be low on fuel and unable to circle and make a second pass. As I cleared the runway, I glanced over my shoulder to see the rest of the squadron planes rolling down the runway. As soon as our plane came to a stop, we scrambled out to survey the flack damage. From the radio compartment to the tail, all of the plexiglass was gone from the right side and along the right side of the body of the plane, including the stabilizer and rudder, were numerous holes, too many to count. Miraculously not a crew member was injured. I then went to the front undercarriage area to determine what caused such a problem landing. I found a flack hole about the size of a grapefruit in the tire and wheel and further inspection revealed numerous holes in the wing. I was thanked by my crew for insisting that they stand on flack mats and wear flack suits and helmets.
I was truly proud of my flying skills and handling of the aircraft. The next day we learned that the right wing gas tanks were replaced. As a result of my performance on this mission, 65 years later I received the Distinguished Flying Cross. It seems incredible to me that a collection of boys in their teens and twenties from all walks of life and from diverse corners of the United States, could be assembled, trained, and molded into combat crews that could meet, battle, and overcome the best of the Luftwaffe over the skies of Europe. My crew was fortunate to have been included in that group of “Elite Eagles” who participated in these experiences, some dreaded, some fun, some sad, and some fateful. I will always remember these experiences when boys became men.
Can you talk about the Continental Express?
SS: A week or so after V-Day, May 8, 1945, Sam and Arthur Shanafelt flew three missions called, “The Continental Express.” The purpose of these mission was to show the intelligence personnel and the ground crews what their participation in the air war contributed to the defeat of Germany. Our crew for these flights was made up of Pilot, Co-Pilot, Engineer, and Navigator. We were permitted to fly at low altitude 500-1000 feet and visibility was good. We were asked to fly over Paris so all aboard could see the Eiffel Tower and fly down the Champs-Elysees. The next major city was Cologne so we could demonstrate our bombing skills as the famous Cathedral was still standing in all of its glory. The attached photos show the devastation around the Cathedral. The large bridge across the Rhine River was laying in the water. The other two photos show what the area looked like when Mary Ann and I visited during 1980. Every area was rebuilt exactly as it was before we destroyed the rail depot. From the air, Brussels, Belgium is one of the most beautiful cities.
Can you tell us about your planes and their paint jobs?
SS: After searching for over fifty years for a photograph of the nose art on B-17G, serial number 43-38563, without success I was surprised to receive a phone call from Bud Miller. He asked, “Are you Samuel W. Smith who was a pilot attached to the 360th?” He and Merrill had determined that we had flown on four missions together. Merrill had the nose art painted on “Jackie." I asked how to contact Merrill and was informed that he took his last flight the week of January 19, 2009. I asked if there was a photo of the nose art and learned that Bud had a photograph given to him by Merrill. He said he would send a copy as well as the story behind the photo.
Prior to the Eleanor Roosevelt visit to the 8th Air Force Air Base in England during the war, nose art was considered a status symbol. When an aircraft Commander was assigned to an aircraft that had no nose art, it was his privilege to name the plane. In keeping with that tradition, I selected a Varga Girl pinup that appeared in the Esquire Magazine to be painted on the nose of the plane. I named her ‘Home Buster” and had an artist paint “Home Buster” on the back of my A-2 jacket. I selected the name because of her looks and the thought of falling bombs on a target would certainly be a “Home Buster”. The war in Europe ended and I never had an opportunity to name an aircraft and have nose art painted. Near the war’s end, I married a beautiful lady who was raised in a small Central Texas town and had many of “Mrs.” thoughts. She was embarrassed when we were walking together in public and I was wearing “Home Buster”. Some years later the jacket needed repairs and she volunteered to be in charge of the repairs and refinish of my A-2 jacket. While the jacket was in her possession, she handpicked “Home Buster” prior to having it repaired. After years of marriage, she apologized for ruining the jacket and asked that I have the painting repainted. The old jacket still hangs in my closet as she left it.
Merrill Stiver’s B-17-G flying fortress was severely damaged over Euskirchen, Germany on December 27, 1944. Due to excessive damage to this plane it was retired to become a “Hanger Queen” to be used for spare parts. After flying several other planes, Stiver was assigned a new B-17G, serial number 43-38563, that had been flown a few hours as a command aircraft and had no name or nose art. Stiver hired one of the talented mechanics to copy a photograph of his wife, Jacqueline, and paint her on the nose of this plane, and the name “Jackie” was born. Many of the older planes had pinups, nudes, and nose art that was unacceptable to Mrs. Roosevelt, so “Jackie’s” picture was modestly clad in a swimsuit.
“Jackie” was assigned to Master Sergeant Carl P. Tarr, from North Anson, Maine, who with his crew provided superior repair and maintenance. We were fortunate to have his crew in charge of our plane and never could have completed our missions without them. The first mission we flew in “Jackie”, he asked my age and I told him I was 20. He said, “Good Lord, they get younger every day!” He watched us very carefully and after a few missions invited us into his tent for coffee. He especially liked the way we handled the engines. He confessed that he was proud that each engine had over 200 combat hours since the last overhaul. I said, “Let’s shoot for over 300.”, which put a grin on his face. We had flown “Jackie” on six or seven mission when one of the new replacement crews flew the plane. After the mission was over M/S Tarr came to me and said, “Lt., you go tell Capt. Hatch that no other pilot can fly our plane.” From that day on my crew flew “Jackie” on our remaining missions. By the end of the war in Europe, we had logged over 300 combat hours on each engine. After Stiver completed his tour, “Jackie” was assigned to several other pilots who continued to fly her in combat, Logan Hatch and Samuel W. Smith, to name a few. By the end of the war in Europe, B-17-G, serial number 43-38653, had been flown on 83 combat missions. “Jackie” was returned to the States after WWII ended and was scrapped at Kingman, Arizona.
Do you remember some stories from your time in England after the war?
SS: We left Molesworth, England, site of the 303rd, on May 21, 1945, and reported to AAF Station 591, 70th Reinforcement Depot Control Center for processing and equipment check out. Each officer on the crew was allowed 40 pounds of equipment and luggage, and each enlisted man was allowed 30 pounds. Shawnie and I gave all of our excess items to a group of children who came up to the fence and asked for candy and cigarettes. On the 27th of May, we transferred to AAF Station 590 Burtonwood, England, which was under the control of the Air Transport Command. Since Air Transport Command had a different set of requirements and regulations, we spent several days in ground school to familiarize ourselves with these regulations. Each leg of the flight to the States was discussed in detail, using maps, and photographs. Emergency landing strips were located in case weather forced us to land in a field along the route. Cold weather survival was covered in great detail since our flight route took us over Iceland and just south of Greenland, and on to Labrador.
On June 3rd, I was notified that I was to report to Headquarter of the Aircraft Receiving and Delivery Operations Office. Upon reporting to the officer in charge, I was informed that my crew was being assigned to a new B-17G, serial number 43-39412, and that it was necessary for the aircraft commander to sign the delivery requisition for the plane. This was a shock as I looked at the dollar amount of the requisition, $238,000.00 I had never imagined that I would be entrusted with the responsibility for anything that cost that much money during my lifetime. It was explained that this was the procedure followed by the Air Corps to pay for the plane. I signed the requisition. That evening Shawnie, Walt and I decided that we would visit the local pub for a few beers. While enjoying our beers, we learned that a carnival was in the area and decided to stroll over and enjoy the carnival. We had been there for a short time when one of our crew came running up and said, “Sam, you guys better come with me. Mike is in a fight with a limey sailor and it looks bad.”
When we arrived at the scene, the sailor (who was backed by many in the crowd) was saying, “Come on Yank, let’s see what you can do.” We quickly grabbed Mike and removed him from the scene, much to the objection of the crowd who were ready for a fight (laughs). Shawnie and Walt left to see if they could commandeer a jeep. I stayed with Mike. A paratrooper sergeant from an Army airborne unit came up to me and said, “Lieutenant, here is what you need.” And he produced a roll of dimes. He said, “You wrap this roll of dimes up in your hand and when you hit someone, they really go down. You say the word, and I will call my squad and will trash this place.” I replied, “Sergeant, do not do a thing, we have the situation under control. We are scheduled to go home in a couple of days and I don’t want to do a thing that will screw that up.” About that time, Shawnie and Walt came up with a jeep and we loaded Mike into the jeep with us and headed for the base. We had no repercussions from the event.
Talk about the POWs you picked up.
SS: On June 6, 1945, all crews in the flight were ordered to assemble and fly the planes from Burtonwood, England to Valley, Wales. Weather permitting, the flight was to depart for Iceland the following morning. That evening after dinner, Shawnie and I were in our bunks resting. Charles A. Skidmore, an old Texas friend, came by and said, “You guys need to meet these two fellows.” Two captains were introduced and told us that they had come from Camp Lucky Strike on the coast of France. We learned that Camp Lucky Strike was an assembly station where liberated prisoners from German prison camps were assembled to be prepared for their return to the USA. These men were thin and drawn, their new uniforms were too large for them, and their faces bore testimony to their 18 months at the mercy of the German prison camp system. We were startled when we were told that they wished to hitch a ride home on our plane. Many of the 65 planes in the fight carried 10 ground personnel, with their tools, in addition to their own crew. Skid said that their plane already had 20 people on board and that they could not take the two captains. We visited with them for a few minutes more and they left without one word of commitment from us. We did not provide the location or number of our plane.
When our crew arrived at the plane the next morning, June 7, 1945, we found the two men sitting under the wing of the plane. They had spent the night on the plane. I asked the crew to make their inspections and prepare for departure Shawnie and I held a private conference to decide how to handle this problem. Stalling for time, we decided to ask for travel orders. Then men’s travel orders read that they were to proceed to the Zone of the Interior (USA) by the first available surface craft and report to Fort Sam Houston for a medical checkup. I said to Shawnie, “I have a close friend who was a fighter pilot, was shot down and became a prisoner of war. If he was standing with the two captains I would take him in a minute.” Shawnie said, “I agree because I have a friend in the same situation.” We walked back to the two captains and told them that they were flying home with us. At that moment they tossed their musette bags, (which carried their meager possessions), into the air and ran around the plane jumping for joy. Watching them made me feel ashamed that I had not been more receptive to their situation from the beginning. I then explained the matter to our crew, and all were in total agreement with our decision. The crew was reminded that our passengers had to be “stowaways”, and if their presence was discovered along our route, we were all to say that we were surprised to find them on board after we were airborne. I then said to the captains, “The weather is going to be cold at out assigned flight altitude, and we do not have sufficient warm FlightGear for everyone. Before we load up and depart, we must have an understanding of procedure and priorities. My crew comes first in case of an equipment failure that could cause us to have to abort the flight. We have only eleven parachutes on board, and that means if we have to abandon the plane, one of you will have to go down with the plane. There can be no argument or discussion.” Their reply was, “Lieutenant, you must be a good pilot or you would not be standing here. We trust you. Let’s go.”
We completed the preflight and warm up procedures and took off for Reykjavik, Iceland, some 973 miles from Valley, Wales, about a 6 ½ hours of flight time. The crew divided up their warm clothing and shared with the two passengers. The flight to Reykjavik was over water for most of the entire route. Shanafelt and I followed our regular mission combat flying procedure by alternating the time we were at the controls by flying at twenty-minute intervals. The weather cooperated and allowed Russ, our navigator, to use his celestial navigation skills. As we approached Iceland, we encountered a weather change and had to make a descent through the clouds over Iceland. As we descended through the cloud layer, we were able to pick out the briefed landmarks and found the airfield to be directly ahead. We landed at 1400 hours and taxied to the ramp area, parked, and reported to the Air Transport Officer (ATC) for further instructions. The plane performed perfectly and was ready for refueling. Pilots, navigators, and radio operators were sent to a briefing. Our flight engineer, Tom Zenick, stayed with the plane to supervise the refueling and to check oil levels in the engines.
We were sitting in the second row of the briefing room. The ATC briefing officer was a Lieutenant Colonel. As o our briefing for the trip from Reykjavik to Goose Bay Labrador proceeded, he would stop and say, “If you have any undeclared personnel aboard your aircraft, put their names on your load list now!” This message was repeated several times during briefing and it seemed as if he was staring directly at me. I was feeling guilty about the stowaways on our plane but decided not to add their names to our load list as I was afraid of the consequences. Perhaps our trip would be canceled or I might be subject to a court-martial. The briefing was thorough and excellent, and the emergency landing area in Greenland and its approach was covered in detail. The approach to the airfield was very tricky and had to be made at low level flying through a fjord. The landing pattern had to made from a certain side of the fjord in order to make the turn onto the airfield. The landing field terminated at the base of a mountain and space was such that you could not make a second pass. The landing had to be made on the first approach-period! After the briefing, we were sent to the mess hall for a warm meal. I purchased food for our passengers and sent one of our crew to deliver the food to the plane since we had left them with the plane.
The takeoff to Goose Bay, Labrador, a distance of about 1,534 miles and 9.75 hours flying time, began at 21:30 hours Icelandic time. We started our preflight check and during the run-up, Shawnie reported that the VHF radio was not working on the prescribed channel. We pulled out of the take offline and parked. The tower was contacted and a radio repair technician was sent to our plane, and after some time, the radio was repaired and we made preparations for taking off. It was still daylight due to the long hours. After about three hours, operations alerted us and said the Stateside weather had indeed improved and that we should assemble our crews for a briefing. The departure for Windsor Locks, Bradley Field Connecticut would be 1230 hours. The briefing was short since the remainder of the flight ( about 5 1.2 hours, 968 miles) would be over the United States, and the weather was clear, permitting the use of visual flight rules. We were only provided with a partial fuel load, 2,200 gallons, and were instructed to conserve our fuel by flying long-range cruise power setting and at an indicated airspeed of 150 miles per hour. The gross weight of the aircraft at takeoff was 56,000 pound and the fuel load, 2,200 gallons, would provide the required fuel for the 6 ¼ hours flight, plus sufficient fuel for an emergency landing at another location. The B-24 pilots complained about flying at 150 MPH since the B-24 engines RPM was higher than the B-17’s and their most efficient cruise speed was 160 MPH.
The ATC set the cruise speed at 150 MPH. As soon as briefing was completed, we started to assemble the crew. Since our plane was the last member of the flight to land, we were scheduled to be the first to take off for Bradley Field. We were assigned a flight altitude of 6,000 feet and the aircraft were spaced at one-minute intervals horizontally, about 2 ½ miles and 1,000 feet vertically. As long as the assigned cruising speed was maintained, flight spacing and safety was assured. We were flying under VFR (Visual Flight Rules). After takeoff and when we reached cruising speed and altitude Zenick came up to the jump seat located between the two pilot seats and sat down. Zenick’s home was Morristown, New Jersey. He said, “You will never guess what happened at Goose Bay while the plane was being refueled. The driver of the gasoline truck was from Morristown, and his name was Joe Murphy, and his father is a policeman in Morristown. I got excited during the conversation and dropped my screwdriver in the number two engine oil reservoir.
Do you think that will be a problem?” I replied, “You did what?” He repeated saying, “I dropped my screwdriver in the number two engine oil reservoir. Will that cause a problem?” I considered the effect and hoped the screwdriver would become lodged and not reach the oil pump. And I said “It has not caused a problem so far. If it causes engine failure, we will feather the prop and shut down the engine and continue the flight to Bradley Field. We will not return to Goose Bay.” I felt confident that we could reach Bradley Field using the three operating engines. Due to flack damage, we had experienced the loss of the same engine during our first combat mission and were able to complete the bomb run and return to Molesworth from Hamburg, Germany using the remaining three engines. About an hour after takeoff, we dropped down to 4,000 feet in order to enjoy the sights along the flight route. The flight along the Atlantic Coast was like pictures we had seen. There were small fishing boats, sailboats, docks, and houses along the coast. Our flight route had to be changed, as we encountered a huge thunderstorm about two hours out of Bradley Field. This change was necessary since we were flying under visual flight rules and had to fly around the thunderstorm.
About 5 ½ hours after we left Goose Bay, we were approaching Bradley Field and I reported to the tower saying, “Hello Bradley, this is B-17 9412. We are approximately fifteen minutes from the field and request landing information.” The tower replied providing atmospheric pressure, visibility, runway number, heading, wind speed, and direction. Immediately after my transmission ended, a B-24 radioed the tower asking for landing instructions. He reported his position as entering the downwind leg of the traffic pattern at a forty-five-degree angle, which is prescribed military procedure for entering the landing pattern of an airfield. This both startled and angered me, and I realized that if I followed the same procedure the B-24 would be the first plane to land. This meant that the pilot of the B-24 had increased his airspeed above the 150 MPH set out in the ATC flight orders, in order to be the first plane on the runway. Since I was scheduled to be the first plane to land, I would not let this pilot take my position and land first.
I called to Bradley Tower and said, “Tower this is B17 9412 requesting permission to execute a combat peel off landing.” The tower controller replied, “What is that?” I replied,”Just ok the procedure and I will demonstrate the landing.” The tower replied, “Sounds great. Procedure approved.” This permitted me to fly over the field parallel to the runway. During the turn, airspeed was decreased, wheels lowered, and 15 degrees of flaps were set. As soon as we were lined up on the runway, flaps were lowered and airspeed was decreased to ninety miles per hour. I made a decent landing with no bounce. By this time the B-24 was on final approach to the runway. We were met by a jeep with a sign saying, “Follow me”. We taxied behind that jeep that led us to the receiving station where we shut down engines and prepared for deplaning. As we exited by the rear door a band was playing and we were met by the reception party of officers and staff. Among them were the best looking WACS we ever saw (laughs). They were dressed in the sharpest uniforms and greeted us with smiled saying, “Welcome home!” During the confusion with the reception party, true to their words, the two captains exited the plane through the front hatch and were last seen walking across the field with their musette bags hung over their shoulders on their way to New York City. No member of my crew has ever heard from or had contact with either of them since that day. I have, so many times, regretted the strict precautions we took in preventing possible trouble for me, but sadly, eliminating any opportunity of ever seeing or speaking to them again.
How excited were your mom and step-dad when you got home?
SS: My mom was just glad I was alive (laughs). She was an old-timey lady from an old ranching family. She was happy that I was finally home. I was the man of the house because my father had died when I was young so she was glad that I got back. We didn’t talk much about the war. My step-dad was actually away on a job at the time I got back. He’d fought in WWI and saw combat with the Marine Corps. He grabbed me and hugged me but we didn’t talk about the war either. We played a lot of cards in the evenings when I got back. I ended up meeting the girl who turned out to be my wife when I got back. We’d grown up together and went to school together. She was a sophomore and I was a senior and she was kind of short and chubby.
In those days, sophomores didn’t date seniors so I never really thought about her while I was in high school. I remember going to the drug store to get a malt after I got back from WWII and I see this gorgeous, tall young lady in the drug store. I asked her for a date and she told me that would be okay. We dated almost every day. By the time my 30 days of leave was up we’d become engaged. I left and we went to Ft. Sam then on to North Carolina. North Carolina was where we were supposed to make the new Air Force. Our orders got canceled when we got to North Carolina though. That was July of 1945 and they sent me as a B-17 instructor to the armpit of the United States, Hobbs, New Mexico (laughs). I’d been in Greensboro and they gave me about two weeks to get to Hobbs. I called up Mary Anne and said, “Why the hell don't we just get married now?” She said, “Well, I think that’d be okay.” I said, “Well, let’s meet up in Ft. Worth and we’ll buy whatever clothing we need to get married when we get back home.” She said, “That sounds good.”
So, that’s what we did but I had to leave her because there were no accommodations in Roswell, New Mexico for a family on the Airbase. I finally found a place in someone’s home in Hobbs and I rented a bedroom with bath and kitchen privileges. That’s where we spent about two or three weeks. I went to a number of meetings and all of the meetings were based on handing out new assignments. I couldn’t qualify because they all required a minimum of two years college. I had no college because I’d gone straight from high school into the Army Air Corps. That pissed me off. I said, “I’ll tell you what Mary Anne. I need to go back to school to get my education so we can have a good life.” She said, “Okay, Sam.” I wrote a letter to the commander of the Air Force base at Hobbs and requested to be sent to the discharge center. I turned out to have the most promotion points out of everyone there so they discharged me into the Reserves in Amarillo. When I got back the first week of September, the semester had already started at Texas A&M so admissions suggested I start that following year in February of 1946.
What do you remember about those first years of marriage with Mary Anne?
SS: Marriage was good and of course we had our struggles in those early years too. We had to get adjusted to each other and when we got to A&M we had the same damn problem of not being able to find a place to live. We ended up renting a local house in Bryan and we got a room with kitchen and bath privileges. We put up with that for awhile but we didn’t like our landlord very much and especially his wife. Our landlord was a high class carpenter but he fell down and was confined to a wheelchair. He had a wife that took care of him and had the job for the family. She was very bossy and she felt like she’d been given the short end of the stick because he got hurt. I finished up my first semester and one of the first course I took was a mechanical drawing class.
Before I’d gone off to war, I’d been working with drawings and making airplane parts. I knew how to read blueprints. I remember when I built our first house which was a 24’ x 24’ house. I told Mary Anne, “We need to build ourselves a little place so we can stay there.” I found a lot that we could buy and I went down to Bryan Building & Loan. I asked them for a $3,000 loan so that I could build the house. They looked at my records and came back with an approval. I got a bunch of my Aggie friends to help me build the house because I didn’t know shit about pouring a foundation or any of that.
I had friends that were in civil engineering so they knew how to do all that. I nearly failed out of school because I spent too much time working on that damn house. It had one bedroom, one bathroom, and a combination kitchen/living room. It was all we needed. My payment was $71 a month and that included the house, electrical, and all other utilities. Back at A&M they’d taken a bunch of old Army barracks and they’d converted these barracks into living quarters. They were $25 to rent and we sold our little house and made about $800 and moved into those old Army barracks. We spent $500 and bought a used Buick and that was our first car. It was a 1943 Buick, very little mileage, no chrome, and it was OD green. Up until then, we hadn’t had a car. We walked, hitch-hiked, and rode the bus to everywhere up until that day.
What do you remember about your wife as a person?
SS: My wife was a grand lady. She was smart, had been to business school, beautiful, and a lot of fun to be with. She and I got along really well. Her father was an old farmer and he’d gone broke. They moved to Goldthwaite when she was six years old so I’d known her almost my whole life. She was a delight to be with and I had her for 69 years. We had two children and our daughter married and had a baby. She had a problem with the birth and when she was 25 she passed away. We were 55 at the time my daughter died so we inherited a baby and it was our job to raise that baby along with her husband. That granddaughter of mine is now 40 years old and her name is Mary Anne just like my wife.
She’s married and lives in Carrollton which is a town right outside Dallas. I saw them on Thanksgiving but they decided with the world as screwed up as it is they’re not going to have kids (laughs). She got her degree from A&M in business and now she’s in nursing school. My son graduated from Texas A&M in Petroleum Engineering. He was doing well at Getty but damn Texaco bought Getty and he didn’t like them at all so he finally went to work with a consulting firm in Austin. He does really well there. About ten years ago the owner of that company sold it to my son and another engineer. He does alright there as you can imagine. He and his wife have a child who’s 17 years old so that’s my great-granddaughter.
What are the differences between today’s culture and the culture in your day?
SS: One thing that’s missing in our young people’s lives is religion. We were brought up in church when I grew up and pretty much everyone was brought up that way. When we were in combat during WWII it was a luxury to be able to go to church. Religion kind of held us all together. My wife and I both taught Sunday School and we raised our kids in that. Young people nowadays are lost and they don’t know much about Christianity. They also aren’t taught much about life by their parents or anything substantial that will anchor them. People nowadays kind of just float around and do whatever makes them “happy.” When I was young, boys respected girls and there wasn’t hardly any of this mistreatment of women going on. If you raped a girl back in my day you got your ass hung and there was no talk about it.
You just knew that was going to happen if you did something like that. If you mistreated a woman you paid the price and there was no question about it. You can’t tell anybody anything nowadays and it’s constantly about “me.” It’s not about society as a whole or making America a greater place. It’s all about “me, myself, and I.” That’s not the right way to live and it will never be. I think it’s a damn shame. I don’t know how we're going to correct this country, but if it happens it’s going to take a long time. Personally, I don't think it’ll ever happen but a lot of it’s due to all this atheism. People don’t have an anchor or anything that grounds them in faith. They don’t believe in service of a greater being. Kids nowadays don’t have their feet on the ground. They just want to do whatever and they float along with no understanding of commitment. It’s all based on short-term happiness with no real knowledge of the long-term outcomes.
Can you talk about post-war and your jobs as a civilian?
SS: My degree was in chemical engineering from Texas A&M. I took a job in Sulfur Springs, Texas and they manufactured firebricks which are used in refractories and ovens that run at high temperatures. We had four salesmen at the company and I did a good job in sales for them. They were calling about four or five people a day, which in my eyes was pathetic. I was calling on about eight to ten people a day to make sales. My boss called me and said, “How come you’re not spending more time on your calls?” I said, “Hell, I don’t need more time.” I got a whole bunch of orders doing it that way (laughs). I decided I didn’t have a future at that company so I resigned. The reason I resigned was due to a call I had with a brewery in San Antonio. Their Chief Engineer tried to hire me right on that call and so I decided to leave for San Antonio.
About 6-8 months in I got sideways with their Chief Engineer. He was about to retire and what happened was he went on vacation, so one day I was in charge. The brewmaster had a load of barley coming in from Kansas City. It was a hot, hot day. You know how San Antonio can be during those harsh summers. The guys were about to perish in that railroad car unloading this barley. We had these big fans in the engineering room and he asked if I could loan him a fan. I loaned him two because I knew if these guys were comfortable they’d work faster. During that period of time the Chief Engineer showed up and he was all pissed off because I’d moved those fans. So that put a bad taste in my mouth.
Then, our sales team had built this big model of a beer bottle. It must’ve been 8-10 feet long and they asked me to design a trailer so I said, “I’ve never done that before but I think I can.” I designed a trailer for this rig and it was really popular all over the country. That pissed the old man off again (laughs). So, I decided right then and there I didn’t have a place at that brewery. I found a job in Houston at a small engineering firm and I went to work there in 1951. I was doing good there but I had a Chief Engineer who was hired away by an independent refinery. I learned a tremendous amount while I was at this plant and I took all that information after four years, and moved on from there.
A friend of mine from Goldthwaite who went to the University of Texas and got his degree in chemical engineering called me up, “Sam, why don’t we start our own chemical engineering company?” I said, “Hell, I’m all for it but I don’t have any money to finance a company with.” He came over one day and told me, “I’ll finance it Sam. What we’ll do is that I’ll become the president of the company and you can be the vice president. We’ll open the doors from there.” He had 65% and I had the remainder of the company. It was February 4, 1955 when we opened that company. We got a job right away with a refinery that needed a lot of services performed. From there on, we had that company 27 years and we built 95 plants around the United States, South America, and Mexico. We didn’t go beyond 27 years because we had two groups in Houston who were trying to buy us out.
By that time, we had a really good reputation and we’d bought eight acres of land with a huge fab shop and it was all ASME Coded so we could work for all of the big boys like Exxon. We had 54 employees and we had every type of engineer you could have within that company. A group from England heard about us and they wanted to buy us out. Then a computer company from Houston came to us and wanted to acquire us. They got in a bidding war with this company from England and we elected to go local and choose the Houston company. That land that we’d bought for the fab shop was bought by the acre. During all those years I-10 came up alongside our plant. We sold that land by the square foot, so needless to say we made a little bit of money (laughs).
We’d bought an airplane and my partner liked being in charge of that plane. The engineering company that bought us had someone higher up who liked that plane. One of the main engineers had a brother who’d been a former naval pilot, and he liked the plane too. They ended up getting sideways with my partner and firing him (laughs). Then, strangely enough they got out of the engineering business. Norton Company, who is famous worldwide for their abrasives, had a small engineering department. They took care of refinery parts and they made a group of items that enhanced the abilities of a fractionating tower to separate products. They came along to my company and said, “We don’t want any of your personnel except one guy and we don’t want any of your fab shop. Sell every damn thing and we’ll take four or five of your engineers and Sam Smith.”
They agreed to pay all the expenses and move the engineering department to Ohio. I said, “I’m not moving to Ohio.” They replied, “We don’t need you to move. We want you to be in charge of all sales in the southern part of the U.S.” I said, “Well shit guys, I don’t know about any of that sales crap. I’m a damn engineer.” They replied, “You have more smarts than anyone else here so we want to put you in charge of that group.” I agreed to it and they gave me good compensation for that move (laughs). They wanted to extend my contract quickly thereafter and I said, “That’ll be fine.” My first three years were up and they put me in charge of the entire United States sales team.
I did that for about three or four more years and I went to their management, “Look, guys, our sales are now at $18 million annually. I know we’re a company steeped in tradition over the past 100 years but I want you to consider some new things. I want to put all my salespeople on commission. There will be a base salary and then I want anything above that in sales to be a part of an incentive program. We can pay them 5-10% on every sale over that mark.” After six to eight months they decided to trust me with that. What happened? A couple years later our sales are $35 million annually (laughs). Our company headquarters in Massachusetts was in shock. I told them after a while though, I need to retire and do some other things with my life. They let me retire. It was only going to be a three-year contract but that turned into nine (laughs).
What do you remember about the guys you served with?
SS: One of the guys I served with became a school teacher after the war. He was the first to die. He went over to Africa to teach kids over there and he came back with an ailment and died. He was the first guy I lost and his name was Walter Guyer. He was one of my gunners. He had double duty on my plane because he was also a togalier. By then we had such a shortage of bombardiers that instead of carrying a bombardier on each plane like we used to, we had two bombardiers on the two lead planes. After the bombs dropped on those lead planes, the rear planes would follow suit. Our togalier punched his buttons and effectively became the bombardier on our plane.
My radio operator was the smartest guy on the entire crew. He’d had the most education and had gone to the Citadel for his schooling. He wanted to be an officer in the United States Government. My tail gunner was a Danish guy named Jensen and he had a ranch out in Montana which is what he wanted to do. My navigator got a job with a major airline company and he was a navigator for them for quite some time. My co-pilot went back to his family ranch up near Ft. Worth and my Flight Engineer whose name was Zanick, had a sewing business up in New Jersey. He sold that and went to work for the people in New Jersey who conducted the lottery. He became one of their managers. When we were leaving the states to go to England they removed all the even numbered bombardiers to a crew going to the Pacific. I had a couple of waist gunners and one of those boys was from Michigan. He started a garage out there and ended up owning about eight or nine service stations and making quite a bit of money for himself. His name was Earl K. Lawson.
One of the more refreshing parts of covering warriors from the WWII era is their ethical approach to life. Their attitude at war was not some minor section of their overall experiences and exploits. Behavior was no different throughout their pre-war and post-war lives. Integrity, humility, honor, duty, personal courage, and a litany of other upstanding attributes were the foundational qualities that led these men to be hailed as the “Greatest Generation.” They earned the moniker by living a consistently authentic lifestyle devoid of behavior that would bring shame to their family name. Captain Sam Smith’s legacy has long been cemented, but his lifestyle now is that of a man continuing to live the only way he knows how, honorably. The model set by Sam is one that will continue to serve as a reminder to warriors both present and future.
It is incredibly difficult to describe what it means to spend a day with these monuments of men. The feeling of the interview is almost that of some time-traveling process where you're cast back into a different age with a completely different status quo. To say the experience is inspirational, would be an understatement in many ways and actually almost insulting in simplicity. There is the inevitable chill when entering the room and finding the realization that these titans are wholly responsible for many of our existing liberties. Then, there is the realization that these stories weren't created as an over-exaggerated script for some Hollywood blockbuster. These stories are the truth and many of them are almost indescribable in their shocking violence and raw authenticity. It is no overstatement to state that coming face to face with our fading generation is to come face to face with our freedoms. Sam Smith is an expression of this reality.