Capt. Piccolo sent this to me to post. It is another excellent read:
[b]During a period of unpleasantness that occurred in the first part of the 1940s, a young man that was a pretty happy-go-lucky jazz musician found himself in a dilemma of sorts. It looked like he was going to be drafted. Of course, he wasn’t alone, but unlike most, he had some imagination and wondered if he would have the balls to aim a rifle at another human being and pull the trigger. He had his fears.
But in his mind, he thought that he would have enough balls to pull the trigger on a man in a machine. Besides, he’d heard all the stories about Eddie Rickenbacker and the famous ‘Hat in the ring’ squadron. This along with the exploits of the Arizona ‘Balloon Buster’ named Frank Luke, both of WWI fame.
He took a battery of tests and found that he qualified for fighter pilot training, so he joined the Air Corps. He shed the zoot suit of the musician of the times, put on a uniform, trained hard, climbed into an airplane, and became one of the men of the Mighty Eighth Air Force that lit up the skies over Europe.
He went through the tough training and passed everything until he got to fighter training. Half way through fighter training, he pulled some rat-shack stunt, buzzing a herd of cattle. The cattle stampeded and the irate farmer called the base and he got booted out of fighter training. His mistake there was getting caught, as most of the pilots of the time were young and prone to rat-shack racing and other stunts.
They also replaced that shiny gold bar of a Second Lieutenant with the blue bar of a Warrant Officer. Years later, he told the story of the humiliation of losing the gold bar, but said that inside a couple months he realized that he had gotten himself a pretty good deal when he considered that Warrant Officers had a whole lot less crap to deal with than commissioned officers did.
His young man found himself being sent to school to become a bombardier, and shortly after graduation, was sent to England to fly B-17 Flying Fortresses.
During one raid deep into Germany, the crew of his plane did their job and did it well. The man was flying as second bombardier, but as second bombardier, he had to go through all of the procedure that the lead bombardier went through. If the lead bombardier had problems, the second bombardier was expected to take charge of the formation during the bombing run.
Prior to arriving to the Initial point, the formation could take some evasive action, and did. But from the IP to the target, the formation had to stay tight and fly straight and even. Generally through flak so thick you could walk on it.
A ‘Fort to the right of them took a hit, the left wing fell off and the plane started to fall out of the sky. The bombardier counted four parachutes. This meant that six more men were trapped inside the falling airplane. They were too near the IP to for the bombardier to watch the falling airplane go all the way down.
At the IP, the bombardier stuck his eye into the Norden bombsight and took charge of the airplane. At the word of the lead bombardier, the entire formation ‘toggled the leader’…dropped their bombs… and the formation started heading home. The planes, lightened of their heavy load, seemed to lurch straight up for quite a ways.
As soon as the bomb bay was clear, they could close the bomb bay doors. The bombardier scurried back into the bowels of the plane and made sure there were no bombs hung up in the bomb bay. There were none. Last mission there was one, and the bombardier had to kick it loose before they could close the bomb bay doors.
(That errant bomb was to plague the bombardier’s conscience for years. That evening Axis Sally broadcast that a stray bomb had clobbered a hospital. For over twenty years the bombardier had borne a terrible feeling of guilt until the mid ‘60s. While he was watching a TV documentary with his son he found out that the bomb had come from a later formation that went after a different target in the same area on the same day. The son was too young to share the relief the bombardier felt. He did notice, however, that dad was more apt to ‘let him off the hook’ for minor mischief for quite some time.)
From this point on, they were no longer flying for Uncle Sam; they were flying for themselves. Their evasive moves took them all over the sky as they snaked around trying to evade the 88s and their murderous flak.
A moment later the ‘Fort took a pretty nasty flak hit and the port inboard engine died and the propeller started to windmill. The pilot punched the red feathering button, and the prop feathered. They were still able to keep up with the formation.
Some time later the starboard outboard engine quit and they were forced to fall out and leave the protection of the leave the protection of the tight ‘combat box’ formation. This meant that they were on their own, and were easy prey to enemy fighters. Oddly enough, they were able to hold altitude on two engines, but most of the crew clipped on their ‘chutes in case they were forced to ‘hit the silk’, or bail out.
They were over occupied France moving along well. The flight engineer calculated that their fuel would hold out and they’d make it back to England. The men broke out their cigarettes and smoked the way nervous men of the time were wont to do. The entire crew looked nervously around. Just about the time the men on the crippled ‘Fort started showing signs of hope, the tail gunner reported ‘Bandits at 6 O’clock high’.
Messerschmitt fighters, ME 109s were coming up behind and gaining on the crippled bomber at an alarming rate.
All of the gunners fired a quick burst to ‘clear the guns’, and the crew waited in fear, expecting the worst. The ball turret gunner rapidly scrambled back into his tiny claustrophobic sphere and spun himself around into position.
The bombardier had keen eyesight and saw it first. He reported ‘Friendlies at 12 O’clock high, coming in fast and hard.’ The flight engineer in the top turret spoke next and reported that it looked like the friendlies would arrive first. As the crippled bomber was headed toward the friendlies and away from the bandits, it was clear that the friendlies would arrive first.
The enemy fighters saw the friendlies first and decided that the three of them were no match for six US fighters and took headed back to their base as fast as they could. Four friendly fighters gave chase and two peeled out of formation and came alongside the ‘Fort, flaps down to dirty the airfoil so they could fly slow and not overtake the crippled airplane.
The whole crew did a double take. The fighter pilots were colored! The men in the crew were astonished. They heard that there were a few colored pilots, but didn’t think they were flying fighters.
(Incidentally, the term ‘colored’ was a respectful term of the time.)
The colored fighter pilots escorted the crippled bomber back to England and they landed safely.
Seven missions later, the bombardier was on another mission and found himself being escorted back by the same colored squadron, but without incident. After the second time, the officers on the ‘Fort decided to go to the ‘O-club’ at the base where the colored pilots were stationed and thank them by buying them a drink.
They pulled passes, and ‘liberated’ a jeep and arrived at the fighter base right around ‘cocktail hour’ and were promptly refused entry into the club.
The club was segregated.
The bombardier finished out his required missions, thusly earning himself a membership into the ‘Lucky Bastard Club’, rotated home, and his commission was reinstated. He left the service wearing the silver bar of a First Lieutenant.
Continued . . .