I was drafted in 1942 and sent to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.
My previous four years before being drafted were spent as a salesman giving dinner parties, demonstrating waterless cookware. When I was drafted the Army asked my experience so they could assign me to some kind of training. I expected they would send me to school to be a cook. They must have needed radio operators and mechanics more than cooks, and my IQ qualified me for this training, so off I went to Chicago to take an 18-week course in radio operation and mechanics, learning Morse code and mechanics. Just before graduating I had developed a mastoid that required an operation. I was in a lot of pain but I knew if I did not graduate with my class I would have to take this 18-week course over again and I hated this Morse code.
The graduation was held on the stage of the Blackstone Hotel. As soon as I got my diploma I went on sick call and was sent to an Army hospital on Chicago's lakefront. I had to wait about a week for the mastoid to develop to the state to operate. Dr. Hershey of the Hershey Clinic operated, and it was very successful. The week of waiting for the operation was very painful. During the time I went through all this, my classmates were shipped out. I received orders to join them in Florida and when I got there, they had been shipped out. I got new orders to go to Fort Benning, Ga. I was given training there to take flights to help jump paratroopers, from there I was sent to Fort Wayne, Ind., to join a group scheduled to get planes to go overseas.
The planes did not arrive so we were sent to Newport News, Va., to catch a boat to go overseas. This was the largest boat I have ever seen. Its name was the USS Anderson. After several days my name was called to get on the boat. I thought Air Force crews were getting preference over infantry troops, as there were thousands of soldiers waiting to go on board the boat. We were taken to the very bottom deck of this boat where we got the noise and motion from the propellers. I learned later the reason we were put on early, this was the first trip out for this boat and they were short on Navy personnel to stand gun watch, which involved going to the top deck to watch out over the ocean for enemy planes or ships or any sign of smoke. Every four hours we climbed these numerous stairs to the top deck and we were to eat, sleep, shower, etc., in our four hours off. I was sea sick from the first day out until we reached Casablanca two weeks later.
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After Casablanca we were given tents and cots until assigned to a group. I was assigned to a group in Sicily that had been overseas two years. I was a replacement for a boy named Shambrough. I was now a radio operator on a C-47 transport plane named Air-Male. We were flying supplies such as barrels of gasoline, food supplies, soldiers and anything that the troops nearer the front lines needed, and sometimes returning wounded and captured prisoners.
I have a picture of a German captain who was wounded and still carrying a brief case with some of his papers, as well as another picture of captured Germans, a picture of graves being dug up by the French in northern France as the Germans were forced to move farther north. They killed much of their forced labor rather than take them with them, as the Americans found these graves they let the French dig them up -- looking for their relatives and friends who were missing.
The picture of my plane with the wing touching the ground is when we taxied over a bomb crater that had been filled, the propeller touched the black top on the runway and ground off the tip of the propellers, causing the engine to run rough and had to be replaced.
After about three months in the European Theater, an order came through sending my group to the China-Burma-India Theater, called the CBI. We loaded all our supplies and left. My plane was loaded with a large generator used to supply electricity and weighing thousands of pounds. My pilot's name was Capt. Letts. We were scheduled to take off in a formation of three planes. After getting airborne, Capt. Letts asked our crew chief if he could see our wing planes. There was a plastic bubble in the top of the cockpit he could look out to see if they got off the ground with us. Sgt. Tracy said no, he could not see our wing planes.
At this point we were about 500 feet above the Mediterranean. Capt. Letts thought our wing planes had not gotten airborne with us and he would do a 380 degree turn and let them catch up with us and get in formation for the trip. As he banked to make the 380 degree turn our wing planes passed under us and we were caught in their propeller wash, putting us in a vertical position with the wings straight up and down, dropping straight down toward the ocean. What frightened me most was when Capt. Letts shouted G..D..n the controls won't work. We were about 500 feet above the ocean when this happened. We were about 100 feet above the water when we got leveled off.
We were lucky. Our big generator did not slip sideways when we were in a vertical position. We caught up with our wing planes and continued on our trip.
En route we landed in Egypt and visited the pyramids. Another stop we made was to visit the Taj Mahal. We landed at an airfield in India , which was to be our base. We were told we were to be loaded and would have an early takeoff in the morning and the flight would take us across enemy lines and land at a small field in Imphal Valley, about 45 minutes. The Japanese had this territory surrounded and we were to supply the British Army, which was surrounded, with supplies until they could fight their way out.
We had never flown across enemy lines and territory before and I was very nervous upon receiving this information. It was a short flight from our base, and there were days we could make two and three trips. The third day when the pilots came out to make our flights, I was told to monitor a certain frequency on the radio. About half way across the mountains, a very British-sounding voice came on the radio calling out "bandits, bandits," and gave their location, which was just ahead of us. We could see a couple of Japanese zeros escorting a larger plane on a mission. Our only defense if we were attacked was to quickly drop to tree-top level so the fighter planes could not dive at us and shoot us down without going into the ground. We took this evasive action and fortunately the zeros did not come after us. Most every day after this happened we were informed by the British of the location of enemy planes so we could avoid them. Our greatest danger was the weather as we had to fly over mountains that were covered with clouds and let down into this valley to land. Many times when the pilots would descend into these clouds to get into the valley to land, mountain tops were very close and the pilots would remark, "We were lucky again."
We never knew what our next load would be. It could be food, barrels of gasoline, clothing, mules. We attempted to parachute mules into this valley, but it was not successful as it would break their legs when they hit the ground. The mules did not want to get up the ramp into the airplane, as a picture I have will show. We had to push them on the plane, but it was no problem to lead them off the plane.
After three months of flying these missions across enemy lines, my crew and I had flown 147 missions, landed and returned safely. At this point the British Army that was surrounded had fought themselves clear of the Japanese and we received orders to return to Europe. The monsoons had almost put our airfield under water when we were leaving to go back to the European Theater. Our group had left our base in Sicily and were now flying from a field near Rome.
They were preparing to make the southern France invasion. We made two trips in this invasion. The first trip we pulled a glider and supplies over southern France and went back to our base and picked up a load of paratroopers to drop in a designated area in France.
As we approached the drop area, there was so many planes with their running lights on, flying in every direction in the same area, that Capt. Letts would not go into the area, but flew farther north over France until most of the planes had made their drops and then we went in and dropped our load of paratroopers and returned to base.
After this invasion of southern France, an order came through to ground all air crews that had 1,000 or more hours overseas flying time. I had 1,100 hours and was sent to a staging area to wait for a boat to return to the states. One of the pictures you will see is of Maj. Gen. Cannon pinning the Distinguished Flying Cross on a soldier next to me in line. The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to all crews that flew missions into Imphal Valley.
While waiting for this boat to return to take us to the states, a soldier came through calling out names. My name was called. All the names he called off had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and would get to fly back to the states instead of two weeks riding the boat. Even the highest ranking officers were bumped from the flights, giving the Distinguished Flying Cross holders their seats.
After reaching the states I was sent to Scott Air Force Base to wait being mustered out. While at Scott, I met a sergeant that was in charge of giving out passes. One day he invited me to his house for dinner. That evening, his wife, Mildred, had also invited her girlfriend, Ruth Miller. They worked together at the East St. Louis Journal. This started a romance that has lasted 62 years, as we were married on April 9, 1946. We lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, until 2002, at which time we decide, at age 80, we should move back to the Belleville area where Ruth has relatives in case something would happen to me.