HOWARD JACKSON WAS A NAVIGATOR WITH THE 454th HEAVY BOMBARDMENT GROUP IN ITALY.
Howard Jackson (1)
You can take them back with you. I can’t remember all this crap.
That just gives you the background of when they gave me my Purple Heart.
I read the bit of the Robin Neelans.
Oh, you read it?
Yeah. I know him, he’s not very well, unfortunately. Yeah, that’s the one. I’ve got the UK edition of that.
This is the OSS. My brother was the boss man of it and I did some This was written by a woman Doctor at OSS.
I’ll have to get that. I was going to go and see a guy called Albert Materazzi.
Yeah. This is what she wrote about.
Great. I’ll have to get that book. Let me make a note of it. â€˜The Company of Spies’. So she was an OSS agent, was she?
Where was she serving? In Italy or elsewhere?
She was in the (Jedburg), I think, France.
Oh, right, yeah. A great friend of mines father was in Jedburg.
You have a computer? I know you have a computer. I can give you the OSS website, and they print, everyday, (letters) and everything else, and you can put a question in if you wanted to know about the Jedburg and This is Ambrose’s book. I was in this group, and it’s written mostly about the fellow that ran for President, George McGovern. He was a First Pilot. I flew in this and he just mentioned my name in here.
Oh, yeah. He’s a good writer, Ambrose, isn’t he?
Yeah. He died just recently.
Yeah, he had cancer, didn’t he?
And this is my brother’s. He was, (of course, a member of) the OSS, and the Colonel was kind enough to give me the pages that my brother He told me I wouldn’t read it, but I do read it. Just to give you a little background.
Yeah, when you’re trying to look at the secret intelligence stuff and OSS and SOE in Italy it’s confusing because the boundary between who’s doing what is often pretty vague.
Well, you have to understand that there’s 2 types of spying. One is Psychological Operations, called PsychOps, and that’s where you use disinformation and you lie. I’ll show you documents in here of the German ambassador, where we planted stories that his wife was playing around and all this. I though you could go through some of these papers, documents, and then you can flag whichever ones you think you might be interested in, and then my wife will take them down and photocopy them for you, and then you can have it.
That would be great. That’s really kind, thank you.
Let’s see I collected all this junk and
I don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to look at this at all yet, but how I write these books is they’re a general narrative history but I like interweaving personal stories into the narrative.
Well, by doing that it shows the reality of it. We have a – you must have the same thing in England – one of the channels is the History Channel, and they go through all the old documentaries and movies and get the fellows that were actually there, like the sinking of the HMS Hood. There were only like 10 or 20 survivors out of 2000 men.
Yeah, I think the last one’s literally just died.
That was another farce. And I read Winston Churchill’s memoirs 5 times. It’s amazing how I believed everything he said in them, I mean, because he wrote beautifully. I don’t know whether he had someone writing for him or not, he must have. And then half the stuff in there is not true.
No. Well, he said he wanted to be in command of the history.
He’s the one that started the Enigma. I can’t remember his words. Let me (flick through this stuff).
Well, he certainly had his moments.
Oh, no question of that.
No question about that, but he also made some fairly big blunders as well, but who didn’t?
You know, when you do it, first you’re going to be doing the invasion of First it would be Sicily.
Yeah, I’m only going from May ’44 to the end of the War, actually.
Okay. With Sicily, a friend of mine – and I’ll give you his e-mail and everything – was the Lead Navigator bringing the glider troops over, and they got a bad heading and they flew over US Navy ships, and they were shot down.
They were shot down, that’s right.
And he was so bothered with it that he tracked down – it wasn’t until 10 years ago – he located the pilot, the British pilot of the lead glider, and he landed safely on a rocky beach or something, but he went to Germany to interview the Luftwaffe people, and finally the British War Museum or whatever it was, invited him over and arranged an interview with this guy. I’ll give you his name. But he can tell you a lot about that I never do this right. My wife went through all this crap to put it in by dates. I used to have (these boxes in front of you). I don’t think I’m crazy but how are you gonna remember all this stuff?
God, you’ve got a lot.
I get a lot.
You went (and reversed it all), did you? Of where you got up to?
[away from mic] Here’s my original thing to get in underage.
Okay. So you were only just 17 on January the 21st 1943?
I was too young to be Commissioned.
Oh, no. Not quite 18.
I was made a Flight Officer, which nobody knew really what it was. And then I got a Combat Commission on my 13th mission, to 2nd Lieutenant. I was in the Infantry first, Camp (Walters). Here’s the original regulations as an Aviation Cadet. Here are the missions that you would be interested in. Here’s the summary of the operations of the 15th Air Force from ’43 to ’45.
That would be useful.
These are the targets that I was on.
Really. You did a lot. You were on every single one of these?
I was going to say, that’s a lot.
These were taken at desert training before we went to North Africa.
I’ve got my scanner with me, actually, so I can scan these pictures.
This is a crew member of mine that was Esther Williams, the movie star.
He looks quite pleased with himself.
Oh, sure. These are my tetanus shots. This is when I trained in the 18-10. These are the orders from combat training, where we picked up the crew and trained. We flew from Topeca, Kansas, and we had to We were armed and we couldn’t use the telephone or write any letters, so we flew from Topeca, Kansas, to Connecticut, right over my house. And from Connecticut we flew to Canada, Newfoundland. Then we were going to cross the Atlantic. We took off at night, the idea being to land at the Azore Islands at daybreak. And we took off in a blizzard, and then we had a fire in the front portion of the aircraft. Two wires reached and caused a blasting fire, so we sprayed it with that stuff, fire extinguishers, and the whole aircraft was filled with smoke so I opened the bomb bay doors to vent it, and the smoke came out and the snow came in and Horrible scene. When we landed in the Azore Islands they were a Portuguese colony, and Portugal was neutral, and they had German units there and Italian units and Americans units, and the fighting was Everyone was trying to be gentlemanly, but it was a horror scene. They wouldn’t let us off the runway. We landed, got fuel, and had to get out. But we went into town and caused all kind of
So was this fisticuffs? It wasn’t
Well, we were ready, we were It was strange times.
Yeah. How bizarre to go there and see all of the enemy, and you’re not really supposed to do anything, are you?
No. I’m not trying to bore you with this stuff.
No, no, not at all. Don’t think that.
These are all special orders that moved crews around and
I’m amazed you kept all this. So where were you born and brought up?
On Long Island. It’s called the (Five Counts), it’s on the south shore. My grandma had a
farm, my father had a real estate business. He died when he was 40 and left 4 sons.
Where did you come in the pecking order?
I was the 3rd. My oldest brother went in the Service in 1939. He was in the 7th Regiment, which was a National Guard, and they Federalised it. And then he went to Officers’ training school and was a Coast Artillery Officer. They were the times when they thought the Japanese would land in California, and the Germans had these huge 400 mile guns. And then he was recruited into the OSS, and he jumped behind the Japanese lines and blew up the Yellow River bridge. I have hand written correspondence if you wish to see it, if you’re interested, and he accepted the Japanese surrender in Manchuria. And he demanded that all of the prisoners be released and brought to him. And they were the 4 (Dolittle) fliers. They’d been in solitary confinement for 3 years and beaten, and And then they had a change of heart, and instead of killing all the Japanese Officers, which is what we all wanted to do, they used the Japanese Army to keep the Russians from coming into Manchuria, and my brother commanded that unit.
What an interesting time he had.
And what about your second and younger brother?
My second brother was in the Naval Reserve, the Merchant Marines. He was an Engineering Officer. He was Navy but he was assigned to freighters. They did that north Atlantic run to England. It was horrible, horrible.
Not funny at all. So he was ay the height of the Wolf (Pack) and the U-boat war and all that?
Yeah. And then my youngest brother was in the Infantry. Tom was in the Navy, Joe was in the OSS.
So did your youngest brother get to see any action?
No, he was too young.
God, it must have been an anxious time for your mother, with all of you serving?
Well, it’s an interesting thing. One of my relatives moved and mailed me a box, and it was 4 years of letters from the 4 sons to my mother. We wrote every week, and they were all in order. I read a couple of them, but what I read in most of the letters, we all lied about what was happening, and we all tried to take actions so the youngest boy would not have to get involved.
Right. So how old were you when your father passed away?
About 14 years old. They then sent me and my youngest brother to military school, (Hargrave) Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.
Well, in those days, without a father it was considered that I was a bit of a rowdy as a youngster. I got kicked off the altar boys because I wanted a mass weddings, because you got a 5 dollar tip, and all of the assignments went to the (lace curtain) Irish kids, was what our particular parish was. So when I demanded that I get in he called me a communist and I got kicked off. And then when I went to Hargrave Military Academy, my brother and I were the only
Sorry, where was that?
Chatham, Virginia. A real gentleman’s place, I learned a lot there. But we were the only Catholics.
Did you enjoy it there?
Oh, I did, yeah. I played all the sports, and I was an Officer, I enjoyed every minute of it. I still correspond with That was the reference in that book, (William Mandelson). He was a Marine Colonel. We went to the 60th reunion and I brought my wife, and they treated her like a Southern Belle, like in a movie. And there were 4 of us, 2 Marine Colonels and a 3 star General, (Dai Hersten), and when the War broke out I went in the Service, he went into West Point, and he graduated just as the War ended. He lost his hand – or 4 fingers on his hand – in Korea, but he stayed in and became a General.
So you must have gone to Hargrave in 1938, ’39, something like that?
’41, I think.
So War hadn’t been declared at that point?
No, December 7th it was declared, and I was at school.
Can you remember that happening?
Oh, absolutely. It was in December and I was (supposed) to go to the University of North Carolina on an athletics scholarship, so I finished the year and came home
Was there a sport that you were kind of particularly..?
Baseball, football, and basketball I played. I was All-State in basketball. I came home and I went to work that summer, because I was hounding my mother to sign it and let me join, and I worked in the (Saint Alina) dry docks in the north of Virginia, working on an aircraft carrier, I was a navy inspector. And that started my whole life carrying a clipboard and not doing any work! What I’d do here, I’d make notes. And then I came home to go to the University of North Carolina, and I said to hell with it, and I went down to the local college
So you left Hargrave aged 17?
And you passed out as an Officer Cadet or something?
Yes. And then I was going to go to the University of North Carolina, and then when I went home to (Newark), where I was living with my mother, I wanted her to sign the underage. And she stalled it and then she said okay, so I joined
What was it that persuaded her to relent do you think?
Well, my two older brothers were in the Service, and I wasn’t too nice about it, I told her that I would not go to school and all this stuff. So any rate, I went down to, I was going to join The US Navy had a program where they would put you in college for a year and then in flight training as you get your wings and be an (ensign man) and so on.
So you wanted to be a Navy Pilot?
Yeah, but I took the physical and they turned me down, they said I had a bad heart. Actually it was a heart murmur but they said that I couldn’t ever qualify to fly. So I joined the Army, and I really liked it. I liked the comradeship, I liked the physical work, I liked the fact that you had leaders who told you what to do.
You joined as a Private?
As a Private. Yeah, I was a yardbird. I signed on after basic training to be a Ranger, I wanted to be a Paratrooper and all that stuff, and we were ready to go overseas when I was called in the Company Commander’s office and told that I could not go, that I was being taken into the atomic program, and I had to go to Carnegie (Czech) Institute.
Why was that?
It was a secret thing and they wanted to train people as engineers.
But why had you been singled out, do you think?
I had a high IQ and I guess And he said that the only way I could escape going there was to be accepted as an Aviation Cadet. I said, â€œHow do you do that? And he said, â€œWell, they’re giving the exam, I have it here, a 100 miles someplace, â€œAnd it starts in 3 hours. He said, â€œYou’ve got to get there and take it.
But if they had singled you out why would they say..?
Because they had priorities, the military works in special ways, I can’t explain it.
And the highest IQ guys went to be in the Air Force?
Yeah. So they laid on a jeep, and a 15 year old Captain was driving me, and we get there to this Air Force base and we know nothing about it, and they direct us to building so and so. And I was the only one going to take the test, and there was this Air Force Sergeant there and he said it would take about 3 hours. So I looked at it and it was all about aeroplanes and I knew none of this shit, and he came over to me and he said, â€œWhy don’t you let me take your paper, have a look at it. So he filled out all the crap and he came back and he said, â€œYou’ve passed. And that was my entrance into the Air Force.
When was that? That must have been ’42?
’42, early ’43. I have all the dates. And then they sent me to gunnery school. I was an enlisted man, and I graduated from that.
I’m surprised that with your high IQ why they didn’t just send you straight off for Officer..?
They had They didn’t have openings, and the Air Force had this series of crap. So anyway, I went to gunnery school, and I got my wings, and I was happy that they wanted to send me as a gunner. Then they sent me to the University of Vermont, which was like being in heaven. It was an agricultural and medical college, and there were only about 20 of us there, and we stayed in a sorority house, a women’s house – they weren’t in there, but that was our quarters’. And then when we would go into the mess hall to eat they would bring us these things of fresh butter, because they were making it there and they were treating us like kings. And we were supposed to take a course in first aid, but since it was a medical school we were taught by surgeons, and they made us sit in these things where they operated. It was my first thing with a cadaver where they showed us how you cut them up and all this crap. Anyway, and then
And you were thinking, â€˜All I want to do is be an Army Ranger’!
That’s right! And then they had us learn to fly on the (Hyper Cub). Now, it was the winter and we had to run 5 miles a day and you could wear nothing but your sneakers, shorts, not top, and you ran in the snow, it was idiotic, and you ran because you’d die if you didn’t, to stay warm. So we were flying in these Hyper Cubs, and the instructors
Incidentally, this sounds a very unusual route in, to do gunnery training first and then do
It gets worse. They had these Hyper Cubs, and when they landed you had to run out on the runway, the Cadets, and grab the wings, because the wind would flip the thing over. And they only went 65 miles an hour, and when you had a 70 mile an hour headwind you were going backwards! And you had no flying experience, and to try and make sense out of this, you know, mentally think So I had 10 hours in that, and then they sent me to the evaluator, and it took 3 days of testing, psychological, physical, and then all kinds of things with machinery, wheels, if 2 wheels are turning this way, what way is that one turning, and all this crap. And for some idiotic reason I passed there and I had my choice of what I wanted to go into, bombardier, navigating, or pilot. And they said if you wanted pilot training there was a 6 month delay, and I said, â€œWhat’s open right now? They said, â€œBombardier training. I said, â€œI’ll take it. So that’s how I became a bombardier.
No regrets on that one?
No. No, I liked it.
You wouldn’t have wanted to be a pilot?
No, I think I was too young to be a pilot of a 4 engine aircraft.
Yeah, you’d still only be 18 or so.
Yeah. But I was a good bombardier, and then I was also
What was the training for being a bombardier?
It was 12 weeks ground school, we had to learn navigation, you had to learn We were taught dead reckoning navigation and (piloted) navigation, not celestial, because you don’t use it in bombers.
Were there any concerns about joining a bomber crew? You must have realised that
that’s where you were heading.
Yeah. I wanted to go, I wanted to fight, I wanted to be in combat.
Why particularly? Was it just youthful gung ho or..?
I don’t know. I think it was gung ho. My mother used to have bundles for Britain and this was when the US was neutral, and we were killing German spies down on the docks. I can tell you stories about that.
The FBI was doing it, the New York City Police had a hit squad, and it was all the Longshoremen that would come in on the German ships, half of them were spies so they’d whack â€˜em.
And that was that. So you were aware of what was kind of going on in the War, were you?
Yes, very much so.
You listened to Ed Murrows from Battle From London and all that. Did you listen to that?
Oh, sure, absolutely. And there was a couple of others whose names I can’t remember. And then when I went to the University I was recruited into Intelligence, and I had no clue, and I had to report in writing to the – I can still remember the address – the Keystone Coal Company. And I had a make believe name and I was to report on any sabotage activities and so on. But the first night I was allowed to go into the city of Burlington to have beer (and cool off) and so on, I saw these handsome young men, very handsome, so dark skinned, with all the young girls, and they wore a ribbon, not pink but I don’t remember the colour, yellow, and they were Italian prisoners of war. They gave â€˜em all out on probation, and they worked on the farms and got paid, and they had a life, a job I wanted!
But as a teenager listening to all this stuff, do you think that inspired you to want to do your bit?
It was exciting. I mean, I had a lot of hairy things happen, but when I finished they assigned me to a combat crew training centre in Tucson, Arizona, and we flew B-24’s, and that’s where you picked up your crew members, the pilot, the co-pilot, bombardier.
And was there any choice in that or were you just..?
No, it was randomly done, but you could kick somebody off
If you really didn’t gel or something?
But you all did and that was fine, was it?
I didn’t know anybody. I still remember the I was the
What was it? Because I know in the RAF they’d get you altogether at a centre and put you in a big room and they’d just go, â€œOkay, go find yourselves.
That’s what they do, yeah.
It was the same sort of thing, was it?
Oh, sure. But one of the things, I was the Ditching Officer, in other words if you were going to ditch, I would command getting the men out alive, and our total training was a British war film made in the 1930’s, â€˜Dinghy, dinghy, prepare for ditching!’ And they all had neck ties on and pressed shirts, you know how they are in the movies, and they flew with their hats on and the neck ties, and I thought that was what it was like in the real world.
So you go down to Tucson and you’re put in this big room and that was that?
I liked it. They did it right. You flew your position with an experienced bombardier first, and the pilot flew as co-pilot with an experienced First Pilot, and then they moved everybody around.
So how long did that go on? That was while you were still in Arizona?
That was about 6 weeks.
So you don’t find you crew immediately, is that right?
No, after about 3 weeks or so. Then you started flying as a crew, then you started flying in formations, and that was hairy.
So in a B-24 what were the crews? 8?
Of course, you always used to have co-pilots, didn’t you?
Yeah. And learning to fly in formation was horror scene. You have no clue of up or down, and you look out the window and there’s a wing just
But you got through that. And then we bombed with
Did you have an opinion beforehand? â€˜I hope I’m going to be on a B-17 or I hope I’m going to be on a B-24’? It wasn’t like that? You were very open minded, were you?
Yeah, I would have taken anything that they I was anxious to go. But we bombed with cameras, and that gave navigation training, and pilot and co-pilot training formation, and crew with gunnery, with cameras and all that.
And I suppose it was a better place to train, because there were clear skies
A lot of thunderstorms, and they were hairy.
Oh, were there?
Yeah, we lost 2 engines over the Grand Canyon, and we were losing altitude, and then the third one went out and the pilot was going to hit the bail out button, and it was at night, and I looked down and there was no way I’m going to get out in that horrible place. So we got one engine back up and then we That was a pressure thing. But when we were flying formations the fighter pilots were training at other bases, and they would intercept us. And they had cameras, but you were never told when they were coming. They were vectored in on us and all of a sudden this mass of these aircraft would come after you. I didn’t like that at all. But anyway, I had to live with it.
So you weren’t commissioned at this stage, were you?
No, I was a Flight Officer. It counted as a commission, all privileges.
Right, so you could mess with the other officers, that kind of stuff?
But you weren’t actually commissioned?
No, I got that on my 13th mission. I can show you it, my Combat Commission.
So did you stick with that crew all the way through?
So who was in the crew?
I had Leo Nelson and Chuck Poland, who, that’s how I got my Purple Heart in that story. Chuck Poland, I hadn’t heard from any of them until, this was 1990 or something, and he asked me, â€œDid you ever get your Purple Heart? And I said, â€œNo, they can’t find any papers. So he wrote a letter to the Air Force, and that’s how I got my Purple Heart.
But they were the Pilot and 2nd Pilot, were they?
Yeah. We flew combat after about the 5th or 6th mission. The casualty rates were so severe they had to bring in replacements, so you were kicked out and flew up with a more experienced crew so that new people could be down in the places where they could do the least amount of harm. And the co-pilot was made a 1st Pilot, and our pilot, our 1st Pilot was made a Squadron Leader, they made me Bombardier. And then the fellow that flew with me as navigator all through training, he was moved to a (Lead Ship). He was shot down over Germany and crash landed on the Russian side, and the Russians made him a prisoner. I didn’t know any of this except he was down. And then the British Council verified that he was an American, but how they did that is beyond me, and he hitchhiked from Odessa, Russia, to the Yugoslav border. Then there was a British unit there, and then a OSS unit, and they led him to the coast and a ship came and picked him up and brought him back. In the meantime – he was gone about 4, 5 weeks – they sent me to Rome by myself for 10 days at the Hotel Excelsior, and first day I was there they assigned a PhD in history, who spoke English beautifully, and he took me to the Vatican and knew the history of every painting. I thought I was in heaven. I got back to the hotel and the concierge said that there was a ticket for me for the Royal Opera House, for the opening of Aida, would I like to go? And I had never been to an opera. I said sure. And they sat me in lone of those where the King sits, that hangs out over the balcony. I was in there by myself and they were bringing me wine and I’m saying, â€œThis is the way I want to live! I got back to the hotel and I hear this screaming, my name, and I looked and it was the navigator, Phil Collin. He had gotten back and they wanted to link him up with me right away, because (I was) getting depressed. And then he and I had a blast for 7 or 8 days. He was great guy. He was a half-assed amateur magician, so we were flying in combat and he’d do things like make your telephone disappear and all that stuff. He’d make you laugh.
I suppose you need that.
Yeah. There was one thing that always stuck out with me; on the radio they had different channels where one would be Air/Sea Rescue, and that was call sign, that was â€˜Big Fence’. You’d say, â€œHello, Big Fence. And you’d count to 10, and they’d theoretically be able to give you a heading. And then they had intercom for the aircraft, and then they had short range VH for Squadron and Group, and then they had one channel called the Command Channel, and only God could use that. You were absolutely fucking forbidden to touch it. And we stared at that thing for about 10 or 15 missions, and all of a sudden, when you pressed down the button on it, it shuts out every single transmission and everyone is on the air, just has to listen to it. I’m not saying who did this but somebody belched into the thing and it caused hysteria in the air, everyone was hysterically laughing. And then this voice came on, â€œThis is General (Drop Dead). Whoever did that is going to be court marshalled, and all this crap. And when we landed they had the Military Police at the runways, â€œDid you press that button? â€œWhat button? You know. But it was a (flew together thing). And then towards then end they would bring in young officers from West Point, non-flying officers. These were men that were clean-shaven, had haircuts, they didn’t smell like we did. And I landed and this guy comes up to me – I outranked him, actually – and he said, â€œYou’re a disgrace to the uniform. What is all that stuff all over the front of you? I said, â€œAsshole, it’s blood! You know, bleeding. He said, â€œI want you to present to me the safety pins you took from the bombs, because we understand some of you fliers are not arming the bombs. Well, I never saved a safety pin in my life. So we all had to get in line and he was going to count the pins, and I said to him, â€œIf we don’t have â€˜em does that mean we can’t fly any more and we can sit in a tent or maybe even be confined to like a warm room? So when my turn came up, the guy pushes me and he said, â€œOh, Lieutenant, you dropped these. And he handed me a handful. It was a Crew Chief, and he set â€˜em down. But my very first mission, I couldn’t wait, and I got an old box camera, one of the old Kodak ones that you pulled it out, looked down like this. I had no clue what I was doing. I flew as a 2nd Bombardier because I had no experience, it was my first mission. So I got everything ready and I put my parachute up in the position up front and everything, and we took off. And I’m listening to the tower, and I hear this voice yelling out, â€œWhat dumb fuck dropped his parachute out the plane?! And the parachute fell out the nose wheel door, bounced, and opened. And that caused chaos because we took off every 30 seconds, and it was my â€˜chute, and I flew the whole mission without a parachute. And when I came down they again had the Military Police there, and everyone had to walk through with their parachute. We had chest packs, and I didn’t have one, of course, and I’m floating in the line figuring they’re going to shoot me or something, it’s my first mission. And again this Crew Chief, took care of the aircraft, said, â€œLieutenant, you dropped this. And he hands me a chest pack.
So you got away with it?
Yeah. Upon reflection, what could they really have done to me?
Yeah, you’re fully trained, they’re not going to send you back. So how long were
you at Tucson for?
About 8 weeks.
And was that when you went and shipped overseas?
I flew over, yeah.
But it was after Tucson? You were considered trained and ready to go?
There was about a week leave.
So you went home to see your mother?
I did it on a train, and trains took about 2 years, so I was only home for 2 days then I had to get back on a train. But at least we got home.
Were you apprehensive about going away? I mean, when did you hear that you were going to be shipped overseas? Presumably there wasn’t anywhere else you could go,
really? When you left the States did you know where you were heading?
No, the orders could only be opened in the aircraft and only to your next station, so we just knew from Topeca, Kansas, to I can’t figure the name of the airfield in Connecticut. And we were all in summer clothing, because we thought we were going
Did you take the B-24 you’d always been training in?
That was your plane?
It was a brand new aircraft.
Did you christen it?
Yeah, we had it through the whole War, and we flew it back home. It was called â€˜Ball of
Fire’. It’s on the internet. So that was the thing, and
So you went from Kansas to Kansas or Kentucky?
You went from Kansas to Connecticut.
Connecticut to Newfoundland, Goose Bay, Goose Bay to the Azore Islands, and from the Azores we went to North Africa.
When did you know you were going to North Africa? When you were on the Azores?
Yeah. We were handed the secret
And for all you knew you could have been going to England and joining the 98th and all the rest of it?
The ones that went to England went to Shannon. And we didn’t know, we didn’t know where the hell Morocco was. You know, what are you doing in Morocco? So went to Tunis, Algiers
Can you remember – when you went overseas you must have been 18 or 19 I suppose, still pretty young – were you excited, apprehensive? Any of those kind of â€˜will I ever see home again?’ thoughts?
No, I learned – in fact I wrote an article on it – the difference between fear and terror. Fear is healthy, and your hormones (jive) with survival, and you’re teed up and you’re focussed, and terror is when you just crack out and you just go I’ve seen that many times, the guys who just crawl under a blanket in the aircraft and wouldn’t look out. And I said I would never do that, but I was scared in the sense, when you’re being shot at. It’s not like in the movies, I mean they hit people.
And you don’t just go â€˜Aghh’ and fall over, you know, bits fall off.
Your head gets blown away, it’s a horror scene. No, I was pretty stable.
You signed up to join the Forces aged 17 because you wanted to do your bit and all the rest of it, so was there a sense that when you finally went overseas you thought, â€˜Wow, this is it! This is for real!’ Or was it just you’re young and..?
Well, you have to understand the military. The military is hurry up and wait. I wrote, when I first joined You know what a commuter train is? It’s just a shitty train with (wicker) seats. Well, we got on those, on them for 4 days and 4 nights. We had one boxcar that was chow line, you went through, you got fed twice a day. We couldn’t raise the curtains or open the windows because the spies would know we were (in the middle) of where the hell we were going. The only time was, we stopped in New Orleans and we exercised on a pier, and I though we were going to be put on a boat. Instead we get back on the train to Venereal Wells, Texas. We called it – not Venereal Wells, Mineral Wells, Texas. It was a Freudian slip – and we get there about 6 o’clock in the morning, and the sun is just coming up, and there’s maybe 3 or 400 of us, and nothing else. It’s just a single rail, and they take us off the train after we clean â€˜em like slaves, and then we’re all milling around. And nobody comes for us. We’re there 6 hours, we have no idea, it’s in the desert. And finally a truck comes by and this Sergeant says, â€œWhat the fuck are you people doing here? You’re not due â€˜til tomorrow! And then he turns around and races back, and it was another 4 hours before a convoy of trucks came to get us. I mean this is the kind of stuff that we And there’s nothing you can do about it.
You’ve just got to put up with it.
And they line you up according to height, â€œYou’re in A Company, you’re in this Oh, this is our new baby dog we just got. Here comes my wife, (she’s brought the lunch).
That’s very good of her.
Max! Heel! How’s our Maxy? This is Jim.
Nice to meet you. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you go to so much trouble. So how old is Max?
9 months. My son was in Florida, in an apartment or something, and this fellow had this dog and it never went outside and it had a radio operated collar, and it just was in the hallway. So he felt sorry and now we have it. Our other dog I had put down in June. It was also a (Tibetan Terrier). Pam thought she had peace and now this maniac dog, like a teenager, you know, eats everything, brought in a dead bird, all the good stuff!
It’s nice having a dog about the place. We’ve got a dog, chickens, rabbit. But England’s about to be hit by avian flu, so I think that will be the end of our chickens, probably, because they’re free range, they just wander about the field.
It’ll affect a lot of wild birds, too. When we finished our tour, the War ended May 7th, and we all signed up as a crew to go to the Pacific and – actually, to China – and then fly B-24’s against the Japanese.
You didn’t think you’d done enough by then?
Well, we got half way, we got to Cairo on our way over there, and they cancelled the orders and we flew free as birds back to the United States, as we wished to go. Any fuel, we went, we could fuel up. It took us 8 days, or something, to get back.
So you went from the Azores to Morocco?
Yes, and Tunis and Algiers.
And can you remember when that was, roughly?
I can give you the actual dates. I got sick in Algiers and they diagnosed it as pneumonia, and they took me to the field hospital, which consisted of about 200 men laying on the ground, all with pneumonia, trembling, shaking. Then the crew came to visit me and said they were leaving the next morning for Italy. And I said, â€œNot without me! So I went AWOL. They wrapped me in blankets and carted me to the aircraft, and I recovered apparently alright.
So when was this picture taken?
This was desert training in (Midland), Texas, in bombardier school.
Right. I’m interested to see you wearing your tin hat. I didn’t think you had to bother with that sort of thing.
Yeah. They punished you. (Just sort of canned goods) laying on the ground. We were not good campers as fliers.
Yeah, you look like Army guys, you don’t look like
Well, it was Army Air Force, that was the
Of course. It wasn’t a separate service as it is now. So where did you fly into in Italy?
Flew non-stop to (Shardinola).
Southern Italy, to a former German base. We lived in little tents, and it was winter, it was awful, the mud was a horror.
When was this? The winter of..?
The winter of ’44, late ’44 into ’45. (The bombs were) all strewn out in a field, and that’s where they held the movie. They played one movie, the same John Wayne movie 10 days in a row, and we sat on these stupid bombs smoking. And they had the screen, was like sheets, and it was so terrible that we memorised all the lines, and when the show would come on, â€˜directed by so and so’, we’d all stand and applaud and yell and carry on. [Talks to wife re: dog] Yeah, we flew from The 4-54 Bomb Group was in We weren’t actually in the town at Shardinola, we were like 2 miles, 3 miles out, in the olive groves, and we were given one helmet of water to wash in a day, cold water. And the drinking water was the (lister bags) with the bugs floating in, so we bought a keg of chianti and we used to drink that rather than the water. I flew combat while I was there only one day.
Yeah, the casualties were so bad they had to put 10 men in each ship. Then, because the radar was not what it is in the movies in those days, it worked every week or something, the British had a G-Box that was as big as (this whole picture frame), it would fit in the nose. I flew a couple of missions with that thing. It never worked right.
The targets weren’t just in Italy, were they? I mean it was all over the place.
Oh, no. We did Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia.
Most of the attention was coming from the ground, presumably?
Yeah, but we were hit by the first (jet ME-262’s), and the Germans, with the flak batteries, the 88mm, they used coloured flak that would have the smell of burning fuel in it, and you’d think there was a plane exploding in front of you. Then they used phosphorous, which when it hit air it burns, and they’d come up in sheets of this crap. And in military as such, if your heading is 320 degrees at 22500 feet, you can’t vary that. And the Germans knew that, and they would beds of flak exactly at that level, and you had to fly through it. If you were alone you could go down lower or evade. You were not permitted to evade or break formation.
Well, the precedent. Or because it maintained the integrity of the bomb patterns, the tighter you were, and you also could bring more weapons to defend yourself with. The Germans go after stragglers and kill them. I mean that’s what we were told, why we had to do it, and on each mission we were briefed The thing is, when you were a navigator or a bombardier, we had to go to pre-briefings at night, about 11 o’clock when the word comes down from God what the targets were.
So the next day you’re going to be doing whatever?
Yeah. But they’d give you 3 targets for security reasons, and you had to brief on the 3, and then at 4:30 in the morning when you went down to the briefing they’d pull the curtain and it would be target C or whatever the hell it was. And, you know, your head is spinning and you’re not remembering any
And you’re not getting much sleep if you’re constantly..?
No, you get no sleep. They would give us a sleeping pill at night and they would give us Benzedrine in the morning. And, tell you what, when they give you that Bennie
Can’t be good, really.
Well, it’s what they had to do. Try sleeping when you’re freezing, I mean it was (crazy).
So it was really, really cold in there?
Well, it’s damp and rainy, and we had some snow in southern Italy, not much, but mostly cold rain and mud. Pam, I got him Irish beer in honour of his heritage. [Wife away from mic] I’ll put this stuff away and then we can have lunch. [End of interview (1) – 1:02.45]
Howard Jackson (2)
Well, I would love copies of this, I must say.
[Wife] You can browse through this. These are some [Stopped]
[Wife] How come? Why?
I never grew up, that’s the thing.
[Wife] What man does, James?
Uh, none! Never. That’s our prerogative.
[Wife] These are letters from the brothers’ to their mother in their original envelopes, and I don’t know if they’re still in date order but they were. Maybe (it’s a whole other deal). I’ve been trying to get him to write, he went to one editor locally and then it’s died. If I could just
It takes time to organise it. One day though.
My attention span is about 30 seconds.
Tell me first of all about when you got over to Italy, we were talking earlier about where you were staying and stuff and being in tents and things.
I could tell you about one mission that you might be interested in.
Yes, please do.
It was a black mission, it’s called.
What does that mean?
We were assigned to bomb a target in northern Italy, and the night before we got intelligence that the Germans had moved in flak batteries. So they picked 9 aircraft. I was in the lead of the second wing, and we had to go and bomb the batteries and get the hell out of there before the main (flight of) aircraft came over and bombed or they would have bombed right through us. So the boss man led the 9 planes, and they were in formations of 3, diamond formations, and he couldn’t find the target. And the second group couldn’t find the target. And we were the last one, following. So he orders us to get the hell out of there because the planes would be over in about 5 minutes, at which point, out of the corner of my eye, the Germans made a fatal mistake; they shot at us, and I saw the flash of the weapon 25,000 feet down. And I ordered the pilot to break formation and go over after the And you never break formation in the Air Force, that’s like (cardinal), and there was a Colonel leading, you know, and that’s worse. So anyway, I just reacted and the crew went along with me and I dropped the bombs. And then we got back down and we got hell for breaking formation and I was at fault. And then they wanted to blame the pilot. And then the aerial reconnaissance people came in with the photographs, and it turns out that I hit and destroyed the flak batteries, at which point – they don’t admit it – at that point they, you know
Turned out you did a good job.
I’ll tell you another story. When we first went over it was cold and the losses were terrible, and I had to fly every other day, these long, terrible, cold missions.
They were all daylight, weren’t they?
Yes. And we could never get the tent to work, so we just had it laying on the ground and we’d crawl in to get warm and sleep, and they’d wake us up at 3 o’clock in the morning and I’d go back and do my thing. So one day we land after a terrible mission to Vienna
What was bad about it? It was just rough, lot’s of flak?
It was awful, and planes were shot down, guys dying and everything, and I get out of the plane and this smart-ass Lieutenant comes up to me, the one that said I had shit all over my uniform and I’m a disgrace to the Service. He said to me, â€œWhere’s your neck tie? And I said, â€œWell, I generally don’t go formal when I’m flying in combat. I had a scarf on and a microphone and all the crap you’ve got to wear. He said, â€œI want you to have this. I inspected your quarters. The quarters being the collapsed tent that I was living in. And he had all this shit written down that There was dirt on the floor and we had no floor, things not in an orderly manner and folded, equipment strewn about, and generally disorderly, and he said, â€œYou have to report to the Wing Commander. That’s like going in front of almighty God. So I told him to go fuck himself. I didn’t change my clothes, I had my flying things on and all the crap all over my And I hitchhiked over to Wing Headquarters to see the General, the Commanding General, and I walk in and the General’s secretary is a full Colonel. So I walked in and he said, â€œHoward, what the fuck are you doing here? And I said, â€œI want to see General Disorderly. Because that’s what the guy had written on the bottom of this sheet. And he said, â€œYou know there’s no such person. So he took this sheet and he went into the General, and I can hear him screaming, and he says, â€œJackson! Get the hell in here! So I come in, and the General said to me, â€œWhat do you want me to do to that son of a bitch? So I said, â€œI’ll take care of it. He said, â€œOh, okay. Have a drink. So we popped down a few and I went back. And the following morning I went down to the flight line to supervise the putting in of fuses on certain kinds of bombs. When you weren’t flying you had to do it ordnance work and that sort of thing. And I spotted this guy, and I had my pistol and I took it out and I ordered him into the aircraft and made him put on a parachute harness. And we strapped him into the bomb bay with the parachute harness things. And the Flight Surgeon was going to fly. He had to fly 4 hours a month to get his 75 dollar a month flight pay, and he was so petrified he was drunk. So he was the pilot, and he had like this 15 year old kid with big thick glasses flying as co-pilot, and I went up with this guy strapped in the back. And it’s this kind of thing, it’s driving like a truck, you know, you wouldn’t want to be there. So I told the guy I was going to throw him out, I opened the bomb bay doors, and I was going to let him go. And he started to cry and everything else, so I felt sorry for him and I pulled him back in and I said, â€œAre you going to behave yourself now? He said, â€œYessir! Yessir! So when we landed he ran like a maniac and I thought he was going to get the gendarmes, but no one ever saw him again.
And that was that?
That was it. When I was wounded they gave me a shot of morphine, which I don’t remember, and my memory and the crew’s memory are a little bit different. I remember biting part of the shrapnel out of my hand, and it
What happened? Where were you flying?
We were flying over (Regensburg) in Germany, and it (flew out from the front) of the aircraft and I got shrapnel in my hands and in my leg.
When was that? That was just before the end of the War?
Yeah. We lost 4 planes the day the War ended. Oh, that was a terrible thing to see. So it was about 40 below zero and the thing froze in my hand, the blood and everything else. So it didn’t hurt me
Because the Perspex had gone. Were you strapped in?
No, no. I was free, I had to walk, I was Armament Officer and then I had to check the oxygen for each station in the aircraft and whether the guns were working right, plus navigate up front and then handle the bomb site. So I stood the entire mission. I had no place to sit. So any rate, I land and
So what bit of the aircraft was actually hit? Was it a flak burst?
Yeah, right in the front, and it came in. We were hit a lot of times with flak coming in, and also bombs from other planes would over fly us and drop and come through, and one went through and landed in our own aircraft. And a guy calls me, the (waist) gunner calls me and he says, â€œJack, there’s a bomb loose in here, what should I do? And I said, â€œThrow the fucking thing out the window! And that’s what he did. I couldn’t get back there, because you had to crawl and there was a 9 inch wide catwalk, and when bombs would get stuck
So literally you just had a plane on top of you and the planes would all come out of the bomb bay, and one of them would hit you and go straight through the roof?
Yeah. It was only a very thin – we had no armour or anything.
So why didn’t it detonate on..?
Just very, very lucky.
Some of them had proximity fuses that were supposed to detonate at a certain altitude. Some were detonating on contact.
Obviously that wasn’t one of them.
No. It was just luck. But any rate, I landed and they took me to the local half-ass hospital and they cut out whatever they did, and I was kind of groggy from the morphine. So I went to bed in my cot, and then I wake
In the hospital?
No, no, I wandered away back to my tent. At 4 o’clock the following morning I get someone shaking me awake, and it’s the orderly and he says, â€œLieutenant, you have to fly today. I said, â€œI can’t fly, I was wounded. He said, â€œNo, it’s a direct order, you have to fly. Now be nice and get up. So I got up and went down to the briefing, and the Flight Surgeon was there, Dr Death we used to call him. And I said to Dr Death, â€œI can’t fly, I was wounded yesterday. He said, â€œIt’s not here on the report. And then he said, â€œUnderstand something; you’re a flying Officer and that means you have to fly, and the only way you can get out of it, not fly, is if you’re dead. And you’re not dead so you’ve got to fly. And I flew the next day, another mission, you know, with this thing swollen up and
God, I’m amazed. I always thought the whole point about the US was they had a lot of reserves of manpower and you could (sit it out).
Yes, but when What happened is the press was starting to bitch that we were hitting the wrong targets, that we couldn’t (trouble with) target identification. It looks nice in the movies and it looks nice when someone hands you an 8×10 picture and shows you a rail yard, hit it. Well, they all look alike, so they started to cram 3 navigators in the lead ship, and the deputy lead, and 2 bombardiers in each so they would not fuck up the target identification. The Germans knew that and they’re the ones they would shoot down. As soon as that happened you were short 6 navigators, 5 bombardiers, and that’s why people that were alive had to keep going up, and up, and up.
So how many combat missions did you fly?
25 I got credit for, and there was maybe another 10 that we were recalled or had accidents, or And they wouldn’t give you credit for them.
Right, so it was after 13 you got commissioned?
So give me a kind of typical day in the life on a mission, if you got a mission that day. Woke up at 3 or whatever it was?
If you were in a lead you had to go to pre-briefing.
And that was the one that was at 11 pm?
Yeah. And then you had to be there an hour early for
When you say you were in the lead what do you mean? You’re in the lead squadron?
Well, the lead aircraft, you’re flying in a formation of, say, 7 aircraft to a squadron, and there’s a lead, lead bombardier, lead navigator, and deputy lead who takes the place if this guy gets shot down. So those people had to go earlier, and then you’d go over the whole mission, and then you’d break up into the navigators and bombardiers for their briefing.
Right. So you’d have your pre-briefing at 11 pm, then you go to bed, try and get some kip, woken up at 3:30 or whatever..?
And then you go to the mess hall and you get powdered eggs and lukewarm coffee, and then you
And the mess hall was in a building, was it, where you were?
A (cast iron) hut, yeah, it was a hut.
So you slept in tents but there were buildings?
Mostly metal, yeah. But 90% were tents.
So you went to the mess hall, had some breakfast
Yeah, and then you got in a jeep. No, then you went to the equipment room and you drew your weapons and your parachute.
What weapons would you have?
We carried .45 calibres in shoulder holsters.
And you’d always put them back in at the end of every mission, would you?
Yeah, because of suicides. You’d hear â€˜em go off at night and you knew that some guy killed himself.
Had that happened quite a lot?
Yes, quite a lot. 3 or 4 times while I was there. You have to understand it; everyone can’t take it, and when you’re doing it every single day over and over
It’s that kind of protracted tension as well, isn’t it?
Yeah, that’s right, and you fight it during the whole mission and then you get a let-down, generally when you were coming back, and the Germans always shot at you coming back, at odd places. Maybe just one burst, enough to alert everybody in all of What they’re shooting at and that sort of thing. So then we went to the briefing
And that would be what sort of time?
About a half hour. And the target would be
And what sort of time of the day would that be?
In the mornings. I’ll give you an actual copy of what’s called a â€˜flimsy’, which tells you the timing, and then you can see it. Then this target, like in the movies, is on the wall, and then they pull the curtain and everybody yells, â€œHubba, hubba, hubba! Why they yell hubba, hubba, hubba, who knows. And we booed when the chaplain came, and all this.
So every time the curtain went back you always went, â€œHubba, hubba, hubba!?
Yes. And generally the officer conducting the briefing was a combat pilot, so he knew, he didn’t take it seriously like they do in the movies.
It was always a bit of a laugh?
Yeah. He knew it was beginning. And then we would lug all our crap and go down to the aircraft.
Would you get a jeep or something?
Yeah, 10 guys on one jeep. We got in terrible accidents with those, because we had these maniacs that drove them, you know, they’d hit poles and cars would go flying off. It was just part of the whole thing. And then we’d load up and we had to wait until they fired a green flare, and that would be â€˜start engines’.
So there was quite a lot of hanging around, waiting to go?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. The engines are blowing the smoke, and the smell and, you know, all that other stuff.
But you were talking about the difference between fear and terror; that time while you were waiting to go, did you always get nervous?
Yeah. That’s when a lot of guys tried to get out of some planes. They just couldn’t take it. See, the British had a different theory than the Americans did. The British said that if you had fear you were a coward. Well, think about it. You’re scared shitless and you can’t talk to anybody about it because you’ll be called a coward, so it’s all inside, and they were having more suicides than we ever had, and more guys crashing.
Yeah, we used to call it LMS.
Yeah. Nobody understood it. But since we were always commanded by combat people. The Colonel would say how scared he was, and right away they’d say, â€œWell, if that shithead is scared there’s nothing wrong with me. That’s alright then. And then we would take off every 30 seconds, and you had to climb in formation to get to altitude in these curving circles. And then you kept going higher and higher until you got up to about 25,000 feet, and you were all in formation if you were lucky. A lot of screaming, â€œGet that fucking wing tucked in! Where is Number 7? He’s lost! And then some guy yelling over the radio he was running out of fuel, and the Commander saying, â€œHow could you run out of fuel? You just left! You know, all this crap you’re hearing. And then you head towards your target, you’re flying This is one of â€˜em, this is, these are flak locations.
Oh, wow, look at that.
This called a flak map. We navigated with these, but keeping in mind that His Majesty sets the course at the briefing and you can’t deviate from it. And all these little things were where
This is Yugoslavia?
Yeah. Well, I just happened to pull that one out.
Right. So you’d try and avoid all those, presumably?
Well, yeah, but you can’t if you’re ordered to fly this particular heading.
Why don’t you just go like that?
Well, you got 500 aeroplanes, every time you turn one Way back there you (strugglers)
to keep up. And there’s traffic control. It’s really like being over an airport.
Yeah, I’m sure. God, what a great map.
This is another one. You can have this. Here’s a date on it and everything. But we would pick these up before each mission.
Munchen. God, I was there last week.
Munich, yeah. I bombed the
Thanks. Are you sure you can spare this?
Yeah. I bombed a target at the (Brenner) Pass. We came in at 23,000 feet, and we didn’t realise the flak guns were 12,000 feet high, so they only had We flew the hell out of this smart-ass But here’s the one. This will tell you.
I hadn’t really pictured how close Balzano is to Munich or Innsbruck. Yeah, there’s this whole corridor. There’s just one big That’s amazing. So if you’re going to Munich and you’re coming up from southern Italy, you’ve just got to go straight through that and that’s just tough?
And presumably, after you’ve done a handful of missions, you know..?
When to expect it.
And are you just sort of bracing yourself?
Yes. The tension builds, the blood pressure goes up.
Does your heart race?
It only raced with me one or two times, when you hit an air pocket and you dropped like 500 feet at once, like an elevator out of control. And all the crap that you’re working with flies up in the air and then you come back up and you whack your head. That bothered me.
That happened quite often, did it?
Well, at least once or twice every mission, because you’re flying at these terrible altitudes.
And you would seriously just fall out of the sky for 500 feet or whatever?
Yeah. And when you dropped your bombs, you’re carrying 4 or 5,000 pounds of bombs, the plane shoots up in the air. So you’re thinking about inflammation, all the planes going up like this, and if you’re not alert, the pilot, it’s bad news, things happen.
Did you ever see aircraft crashing into each other?
Yes. What we did, when we weren’t flying and our Squadron was up, we would go down at the runway when they were due back in and watch, you know, count the planes like they do in the movies.
Have you seen the Memphis Belle?
Yeah. They had all the pressed uniforms. I thought they were in Britain. But the plane was coming into land, we were watching it, and out of nowhere a second bomber came and landed right on top of it. And it hit and they both exploded. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen anything like that. Now, there’s 20 men in there, in the burning thing, and we ran over with these grappling hooks on ropes and tried to throw â€˜em in to grab a body. It was horrible. So they came with bulldozers and they just ploughed â€˜em, because they had bring the other aircraft in. That’s the kind of stuff that you think about. Did you take the photocopy of the map?
Yeah, I put it over here with that report.
Okay, good. Now, I want to give you a list of all of the targets, and then you’ll be able to, when you write, you’ll have a
Yeah. I just wondered if you knew anyone who had flown in the mission over Trieste in September ’44? Or maybe you could put me in touch with someone?
I’ll see if it’s on our list and I can tell you. By dates The target was
Oh, did I put it down here maybe? Hold on. Is this it?
Yeah. Look for the date.
Yeah, Trieste. 10th of September, 1944.
Go in the 4-54th and then ask, and someone will There’s a historian who will tell you the crews. It’s hard for me to remember. But this was my 5 cent drink slip at the airbase in Tunis.
Great. You didn’t use them all up?
Oh, they had terrible alcohol.
Yeah, I was wondering what you did for kind of light relief?
We drank. Here’s me sitting on a 500 pound bomb smoking a butt.
Can I get some scans of these?
Yeah. And this is Phil Collin, the guy I met in Rome.
Is this your plane?
Yeah, that was ours. We flew a mission in that one. And these are all flak holes.
And you’d just patch them up, basically?
Just try not to look at them. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Allied currency, but that’s 10 lira. And this is a picture of the secret (northern bomb site). If you never saw it you can have a copy.
Oh, yeah. And did it work well?
In spite of what anyone may have told you, in theory I could hit in a hundred foot circle and put a bomb in it. In theory. That meant that the plane had to be flying straight and level, at the proper airspeed. We had to adjust for temperature, airspeed, altitude and wind drift, and you locked your crosshairs on your target and it would move away, and the bombardier flew the aircraft with these I don’t know if you can see them or not, the handles on the side. These things. And the pilot just kept the airspeed. So now you factor in rough wind, flak, being shot at, the aircraft moving quickly to avoid the wing of this other guy hitting you, and the bombardier screaming to keep the fucking plane level. And you’re locked in, and then you take your head and look out, because you’re not sure whether you’re really at the right target. And you have to make maybe 200 calculations on the bomb run. You try to preset it and anticipate, but it never happens that way, no matter what they tell you. And all of a sudden there maybe a cloud appear, and if you go into clouds it’s like in layers, and even in the summer, if you go through a cumulus cloud there’s ice in it, and you have hale. I mean it’s bizarre. And you come out and the sun is out. So they’re the kind of things you’ve
You’ve got to think about.
Let me see Lot of piss and crap here Oh, these are after action reports from the intelligence people. And this called a â€˜flimsy’. And this is the order of the battle, the aircraft, who the aircraft Commander is. And then over here it tells you what time you start engines – I’m reading this upside down – takeoff time, time of rendezvous. And then these are the call signs for the fighters, and they change all the time. And they had this other weird thing where they’d give the name of a city – I’ll make it up – St Louis, and that would be the codename for Munich or something, so we could get locations. This is one of the This is an after action report, tells you how many people were killed to date, how many sorties were flown. Again, I’m reading upside down. What fuses we use, what altitude we drop, and the results of the bombing mission.
Did you ever lose any of your own crew?
No. Only the fellow in that picture, that I met in the hotel, in the Excelsior Hotel, in Rome. Otherwise we all got through. Now, we went I told you our stories about not being able to camp out like Boy Scouts and fix this fucking tent up. We couldn’t do anything practical like that, so we finally moved into a tent because everyone in that other tent was killed except one guy. And he used to sit, he had a pair of RAF – I remember this – flying boots, and he’d sit on his cot with his pistol in his lap and mumble. And he finally shot himself. It was not pleasant. I wasn’t physically there, we were out flying when he did it.
And who was that guy?
He had walked away from a crash and he refused to fly. All his crew was killed and he was blown out the side, or something. So not like the British and call him a coward, they just gave him ground crap to do, you know, mail or whatever. But he really needed psychiatric care for I don’t know the right wording, but he shot himself.
So this number here, it says â€˜sorties – 18’, it’s got 2 columns. So this is a figure
Uh, that was how many, I think, that day, and this is
Yeah. Early returns are We had one crew that was on next to their last mission, and they 3 times reported engine trouble, and we knew it wasn’t, they were chickening out. You see, engine failures.
Really. Did you ever have engine failure and have to go back?
Oh, yeah. Well, with 4 engines, only God can make them work perfectly, I don’t know. You couldn’t drive your car the way we had to do it with these aeroplanes. And you had to get the propellers pitched to coordinate, 4 of them, you’d have to get the number of revolutions otherwise they’d pull against each other. And if one goes out or catches fire, you have to fix the engine so the propellers are not flat, you have to turn the propellers this way. If you don’t they rip off and tear the aircraft apart.
There’s a heck of a lot to think about, isn’t there? What’s amazing is that even more people didn’t get killed, or
It’s amazing how they learned it.
Yeah. But it seems to me like there’s an awful lot of things that can go wrong.
Yes, absolutely. I had occasions when you’d drop the bombs, the bomb bay has a little catwalk 9 inches wide – I took Pam, in Florida, they had a B-24, I almost cried – and on either side they had racks, and the bombs are hung on these racks. And they open up like this and the bomb drops. And one of the safety wires is actually hooked on, so that when the bomb drops it pulls the safety wire and arms the bomb. And the propellers on the fuselage spinning. And occasionally I’d get the call from crew engineer or somebody, â€œHey, Jack, you got a little problem in the bomb bays. And I would say, â€œWhat’s the matter? â€œThere’s one hung up. And I’d say, â€œWell, take care of it! Then they’d say, â€œNo, that’s your job! And we’re at altitude, so I had to hold my breath and crawl in. We had a 2 minute portable tank, and the engineer would give me a (whiff) and I would have to tie a rope, swing out, hook my legs around the bomb, and chop the shackle until it broke. And the bomb would drop and he would pull me back in.
But you do it.
[Wife] Are you talking about peeing?
This not for the Queen Mother to hear, but sometimes you get desperate, and no one thinks in the Air Force that you ever have to pee. It’s okay to go up 9 or 10 hours. So we would make a (statement), and we would go in the bomb bay at high altitude, 50, 60 below zero, and pee our initials. And it would freeze as it came out, like an â€˜A’, like an â€˜F’. And then when we would start to land it would start to melt, and we would open the bomb bay doors when we flew over, all the crap would go down on our own field. That was our (test).
Your little revenge. But we were talking about your typical day, day in the life, and you were saying you go out in the morning and
Okay, so you had
You’d do the mission
You’d do the mission, and then coming back, you came back We had the (dog leg) going
Did you ever take any snacks with you, or coffee? Nothing? No chocolate bars?
Only in the movies do they have that. But, no, the answer is no.
But for 10 hours or however long the mission was you’d just..?
And you weren’t supposed to pee. This is the truth. So when you’d land you’d get 2 ounces of whisky, and we had a whisky officer, who was a drunk. And we would pick numbers. There were 10 of us, and whoever won would get everyone else’s shot in one of these big canteen cups. We would go up to the whisky officer and we’d all take our pistols out and cock them and point them at him so the whisky would go exactly to the top and we wouldn’t get cheated, and he would be shaking. And then we’d give it to the guy who won, and he’d take it all down, and then we’d go in for the briefing with the intelligence officers. And we would all shut up and let the guy who had the whisky answer the questions. And they knew after a while that we were doing it, (enjoying this). But it was a way of releasing the tension.
Yeah. So you did have some humour there?
Oh, yeah. That was the only thing that kept us alive, was trying to be funny.
Did you ever have time off the airfield? Could you get away and get to the nearest town? What was the nearest town?
Oh I’ll think of it in a minute. Shardinola was the town, and once a month one of the officers from the group had to be officer of the day and be armed. And they had a group of Rangers who did the actual stuff. I went on raids with them.
Well, you’re in charge. You’re the absolute governor of this city when you’re officer of the day, and you have to maintain order. So the first thing you did was inspected the local whorehouse, because the Sergeant who actually ran everything, the Ranger Sergeant, said, â€œDo you want to have some fun? I said, â€œSure. He said, â€œWell, you’ll have to check the whorehouse to be sure there’s no Allied soldiers in there. It has a big sign on the outside, it has an X, Allied soldiers are not permitted there. There’s a penalty of death. So I went in there, it was big, like a warehouse, and they had a little table and a bed – there must have been 20 or 30 hookers in there – and they had a mayonnaise jar with this white liquid in, and you’re supposed to put John Henry in there and swish it around before and after. And the Sergeant said, â€œYou can pick any one of these. And they were these awful looking women with the hairy legs and armpits, and they’re (pitiful). And I said, â€œNo, I’ll take a pass on that. So that was one of the things. And then we had to raid a house for black market They were stealing from one of the supply bases.
So you used to have a whole load of Rangers based in that town there as well?
US Army Rangers?
Yeah, yeah. I commanded the Ranger Group when I was on duty. So the Sergeant said, â€œWe’re going to hit this house. He said, â€œYou can stay out. I said, â€œNo, I want to go in. So it’s just like you see in the movies. We busted into the thing, and I went in right with them, and there was no one in there – it was a one storey building – except a donkey and an 80 year old old lady, who was trembling. And they didn’t care, these soldier, they just expected it and then left. And I felt terrible, I gave her 50 dollars, because I And apologised. And when I went out and talked to the Sergeant, he said, â€œWell, you have to go in that way because if there’s a German in there they shoot you, they don’t wait. So you must be prepared. If there’s any movement you have to use your weapons. And for a half-assed flier who never does anything but smoke and drink, it’s hard to take. But I
But did you have much to do with the Italians at all?
Uh, no, we really didn’t. Except in Rome.
Did you hear of I mean, presumably if there were whorehouses people didn’t go around taking advantage of local women or anything?
No, but what happened is that all of our missions were compromised. They knew we were coming, they knew the target, and the only way they could know it, if they had on-ground people. And they employed the Italians in the kitchen and cleaning the grounds, that kind of stuff, and if anyone came near that crap we would shoot them. Because what if they put a bomb in there or something else? So you were on this borderline all the time.
So do you think you had Republican spies on the base the whole time?
Yes. We had to, because how could the German fighters – which were scared to come up after a while – come at a certain time, at a certain location.
I don’t know. Radar or something?
[Wife away from mic]
I was officer of the day on May Day. I didn’t know what May Day was from a hole in the wall, but the Communist Party wanted to take over the government of Italy. This went on even after the War. And they had, their symbol was a sickle, and I was in the piazza, in the little building that was our guardhouse, and then there was this big courtyard, and they marched in there with the sickles and the screaming and everything else. So I turned to my friend, the Sergeant, and I said, â€œWhat do we do? And he said, â€œLieutenant, you’re the boss. So I took my pistol out and I chambered a round, and I walked up to the guy leading it, I pointed it at his head. I said, â€œDrop the fucking sickle and disperse or I’ll kill you. And he did. And they backed away. And I turned around and behind me was the Sergeant, 8 men, with Thompson submachine guns, all cocked. It wasn’t me that was scaring them, it was the fact that they would’ve opened fire. I wasn’t aware of it in that sense, but And the reason I did it, I saw a 1932 British movie, in Singapore or Hong Kong, or maybe even in India, and there was a million (slopeys) coming at them and this British officer took his Webley pistol out and pointed it, and they all dispersed. I think that’s the thinking, that instead of running like I should have and called for back up
How funny. It’s funny, you sort of think we’re kind of influenced by the movies
now, but even then as well.
Well, in North Africa, I’ll tell you something else we did; we stole ammunition from the British (Morgan) Line in Italy, and we bootlegged it and flew it to Palestine at nights, to, I think, it was (The Hoggenah), and I think I met (Manakham Begen), who looked like a little gangster. And then we’d fly back and then fly missions the following day. Now, not everyone did that, but the British had closed their eyes to the fact that we were roaming around the yards stealing ammunition and so on. They had to know.
But did you ever have bad people come and steal stuff, you know, looting from the Italians or anything like that?
Yes. We shot them.
Your own men?
Sure. Anyone that was not authorised. You had to do it. The whole purpose was keeping the flying crews alive and the aeroplanes functioning so they could go into combat. Anything that got in the way of that had to be
But what I meant was you didn’t have any of the air crews going around looting from the Italians?
No, no. Oh, no.
Because you wouldn’t need to? You had it?
It wasn’t that. We used to take collections, there was an orphanage in Shardinola, and each squadron would donate to that, and a couple of guys would lug the thing to the nuns. And we’d take our own food and rations and give them No, there was none of that. I’m not saying it didn’t happen in other places, in Germany maybe, but The people that were in the flying portion of the Air Force, most of them were regular people from regular houses and so on. Maybe there was some criminal element. We used to steal the morphine. We carried these 2 syrettes of morphine, plus 48 dollars in gold, a compass that you put in your rear end, a little tiny ball, and that picture I carry This is the front portion of it. This is in Russian and the others were in Slovak and Italian on the backside of it. I think I got a copy of one of those if you want it.
Yeah. It’s great, isn’t it.
Those (were some manly men) right there. You know what I hated about British fliers? We hade a Spitfire group that flew support with us.
Yeah, and they always had the men with moustaches that came way out and up, and I could grow nothing but the little patches of crap. And they would have these things waxed and longer.
Did you have much to do with them at all?
Yeah. Well, they used our club. We had a (camp fire), and there’s not much socially you could do. But what happened, in the (port of Barry), the Germans bombed it and they bombed the supply ships for our group, so we had no blankets, food, we had to borrow it. So we lived on spam for maybe 6 weeks, and the British had bully beef, and they thought spam was like caviar. And we had the bully beef, you add a little pepper to it, so we would switch back and forth. But we got along well with them. Some of the guys that flew that were like from the Midwest in the United States, or from the Deep South, would accuse the British of having an accent, instead of that we have the accent. To them the British had the accent.
So where did all the rest of your crew come from? They were all over, were they?
Where they come from Firstly I wanted to show you that flimsy, because they’re marked â€˜secret’, these are secret documents. If you don’t have one that’s marked â€˜secret’ I’ll give you one here. Let’s see what one this is
I’ve just got these photocopied ones, I think. Oh, yeah, secret. Here we are.
That’s an after mission report. These are what you get at the briefing, the navigator and the bombardier. These are secret documents that you could have. I don’t know where the target was. I tried to have the After action report.
So were you doing some stuff with OSS as well?
Is that still secret or are you able to talk about that?
Oh, I can I have to deny it, that’s all I can tell you. These are a (silk map) that we carried for escape. I want to tell you what we got at a briefing. We were bombing the oil fields outside of Vienna, and the intelligence officer tell us, â€œIf you crash, go to downtown Vienna, get on the trolley car and go to 35, (Wistful Lover) Boulevard and knock 3 times on the door. And we all believed this crap. Can you imagine a guy with..? So these were folded into a ball, and it showed you some of the escape routes. That map is a real And these were the German coastal defences so that we could (see through) to get Now this is Aida opera, when I went in And these are the (ads). The ads are funny, if you think about it. And this is my visit to the catacombs. We actually were looking for the bodies of hidden airmen when I went to Rome, because Rome was neutral, but there’s a lot of bad things and good things happened. And they wouldn’t let me take a flashlight in, you had to carry candles. And they had these monks taking me around, and I got a little angry. I (shot) one of the candles. But these are the plans.
There’s a lot of them, aren’t there?
They’re supposed to look. How the hell would I..? Firstly, it’s pitch black, they’re all (stalagmites), hundreds, hundreds of them, and you couldn’t tell. How would I know if it was an American airman in there? You know. I went down and I had a few drinks, and I did it.
But that OSS stuff, was that flying or was that doing stuff on the ground?
No, it was on the ground, and a lot of it was after the War, I was in the Reserves. I was never discharged from the military. Let me show you something. I have it here So I was subject to call on weekends.
And did you get called?
Yeah. I did a couple of black missions with my brother, who was then a Colonel. We were delivering atomic, nuclear codes to a submarine. It was New Years Day, and we’d get in the car to drive from where I was in (billet) with him. It was about an hour and a half drive, something like that, I forget where we were staying. We both (got handed) a pistol and we drove to was then the Brooklyn Army Base, Navy Base, it was called. We drove down to a certain pier where we were met by armed police. [Phone] I thought she said 5. Excuse me, I’m losing my grip. And this was courier work, and you didn’t know whether the codes you were giving to the submarine were the right codes. They’d have 3 different couriers, so if they’d been followed they would not know.
[Wife away from mic] Is there anything I can take down to photocopy?
No, I’ll take notes and I’ll take the address and he can shoot pictures of whatever he wants. Can you do that?
[Wife] Again, if you end up wanting to photocopy, because between 2:30 and 3 you should Howard picked you up?
Yeah, my car’s at the ferry.
[Wife] Okay, you could always buzz by the office, and I can Photostat anything you want to. You want me to take her?
No, I’ll watch the dog.
[Wife] You’ll take her in the car with you?
Yeah. Jim’ll watch the dog while I drive, sure.
[Wife inaudible] Because he won’t remember.
Don’t describe me in the third person.
[Wife] Howard, again, take a pad and make notes and I’ll do anything you want.
Okay, well this is the pile here. But I’ll try and photograph it.
[Wife] Okay, it’s up to you, but anything you don’t get to.
Well, how long would this take to photocopy. It would take a little while, wouldn’t it?
If you just write down your address in England and we’ll mail anything.
[Wife] I don’t want to interrupt, because you’ve got to finish up, but
I forget everything you’ve said.
[Wife] I know, just mark the pile, and if you want a copy anyway, that’s fine.
That’s great, thank you. And thank you for lunch as well. It was nice to see you. I’m sorry it was so brief from my point of view.
I’m sorry you keep telling him
[Wife] Howard’s trying to get me over there. I’ve never been over to… I’m the only one
of my family that hasn’t been.
Well, a trip to England I think is in order.
I was staying in the Claridge – I think it was the Claridge – near the Buckingham Palace.
Claridges is near there, quite near, yeah.
Yeah, and I had a mild load on from this single malt I was drinking in those day, and I took a walk to Berkley Square to sing the song.
Yeah, Claridges is very near there.
The dog’s asleep. Why’s she whispering? Oh, doesn’t want to wake up And I sang it, â€˜A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square’. And all the Bobbies looking at me like it was another drunken American, and I wasn’t doing anything evil. And most of them were Let me see. I have this
Oh, yeah. Bill Donovan.
Wild Bill. Am I boring you with this crap?
No, not at all. It’s fascinating.
I had a federal pass to demand any weapon I wanted.
Really. But that wasn’t full time, was it? You were doing your becoming a Vice President of a bank and things?
Well, that was a great cover.
But was it a cover?
I actually worked in When I went out, when I had to take care of the children, (with) the bank, they would give me assignments. Like I appraised the Statue of Liberty for the federal government, and they gave me a 10,000 dollar fee to do it. And what could I do? I made it all up and But as long as I had the report in triplicate. Here it is. I just wanted you to see this. Hope you can read this. This is something that is not usually available.
Wow. â€˜The person who was identified by this document is acting under the direct order of the President of the United States’. So you could just flash that and you were absolutely fine?
Something useful if you’re ever speeding in your car or something.
But people don’t think these things exist, and they do.
Yeah. It’s like something out of the movies, isn’t it?
It’s like a James Bond movie.
So were you actually working in the bank? That was your job?
But also you were doing this for..?
Yeah, I was a Reserve Officer, indefinite, subject to recall without notice, and usually I’d get a telephone call or I’d get an assignment from a dummy corporation to go to Puerto Rico, to appraise a hotel or something. Mostly you follow money, money trails, and since I was a real estate appraiser and was valuing these hotel resorts
So you were doing that for a bank, were you?
Yeah, but it was mostly made up. But it was a cover, because you were there and you (knew what you had to do).
But your main job when you were working for the bank was as a real estate appraiser, was it?
Yes, absolutely. I was the youngest Vice President and the only Catholic in the banking business in New York City, and I was the first one to be made a Vice President. I was 30-some years old, and I was on the fast track. And then when my wife died I had to quit all that. Because the banking industry in those days was, like, hypocrites, like the Royal Family thing. You couldn’t be caught drinking or getting laid or anything, although they all did it.
You just couldn’t be caught.
Yeah. And I couldn’t play that game. Not that I would do anything, I wouldn’t, but I just didn’t want anyone to have that kind of power.
No, sure. I can understand that.
You know, they wanted my
So when was your stint in Rome? That time when you caught up with that other That friend of yours. You said you were getting tired (at it) and were given a break.
Uh, I’m not sure when you mean. What was I talking about?
When you went to see Aida. You had that week off.
Oh, yeah. And I’ll tell you how I
Was that while the War was still going on?
Oh, absolutely. But what I found I hope I don’t screw this up. Oh, shit. I look at it I went on the Austrian This is a report from the Austrian Air Force about a B-24 bomber that crashed. The Russian lines had just about hit Austria, and they listed names, and I looked and there was the guy.
That’s the guy you met up with in Rome?
Yeah. But I didn’t get this until I got here, back in the Because everything now is on the internet, and they named the bomb group, the squadron, the type of the aircraft, the number of the aircraft. They had the names of each of the people. I don’t know where it is here, but Airman See? I’m glad I found that for you. I wish we had more time, we could sit and read this stuff.
Yeah, it’s often frustrating. So you lost 4 guys on the 8th of May?
Yes. We bombed the Hermann Goering Tiger Tank Works. I think it was (Linz), Austria, if I remember. If I had any brains I’d memorise all this crap, but I don’t. I can’t remember. There’s a writer, (Brady, James Brady), and he was a Marine in Korea, and he wrote some novels about it. Really good, I enjoyed them. And he started to get criticised on these talk shows and everything, and he made a statement, he said, â€œIt was my war and I’m going to tell it the way I felt it, and screw the historians. Like he focussed on the terrible cold, and he missed one date when it wasn’t cold or something, but you don’t think of that when you’re freezing cold. Let me see. Where was I. I don’t have it here. I think the Hermann Goering Tiger Tank Works near (Bologna). And then the War ended and these guys in this plane were just shot down.
And was there much talking to other crews and stuff?
When it ended?
No, just generally. Would you mix with other crews, or did you tend to stick to your own crew?
We stayed together and made no friend, because you wouldn’t have the friends 3 days later, 4 days later, you know. [Phone] Let me get that. Hello? Yes, dear. I’ll see that Jim has bottles of water to take, and a sandwich, and a cake. Okay. Yes, dear. Thank you. Phew. I have to fix a sandwich for you to take, and water.
Oh, that’s really kind of her. But you were saying the ground crew wouldn’t talk to you either?
Only the Yeah, none of the ground They had things like administrator officers, supply, mess officer. Uh, I can’t think of the other things, operations officers – who were fliers – tower control people, intelligence officers, none of those were fliers. And they’re the ones that drew the barrier, because they would see crews come in and get slaughtered. So we thought they just didn’t like us, so we were isolated, and it got a little nasty about it sometimes.
But actually it was just a defence mechanism?
Yep. But they had permanent quarters, and they had the mechanics build these half-ass heating systems. We used to 90 octane, 55 gallon drums, steal it from ourselves and puncture a hole in it, and then put an oxygen tube in it and bring it into your tent and put our helmet down, and squeeze the end of the tube. And it would spurt in and we would light it. And that was our heat. And if I told you the number of explosions and shit that went on, you wouldn’t But it was so cold. And I
So you were in a tent the whole time?
I mean that’s just amazing.
And the ground, the troops that were in the ground and the mud and shit, thought we had this great
I mean did you have shower blocks and so on?
No, we had nothing. The Germans had a shower house. We were allowed to go there twice a month to take shower. Course, a lot of guys cheated, who was going to check. And it was lukewarm water, it was never really hot.
And that was all you had? Two showers a month?
A shower once a fortnight?
And then you had your helmet, which you You were supposed to shave in, but I, wearing an oxygen mask and having sinus trouble and the stuff would freeze and bleed, and I’d have to keep taking the mask off and crush and shake the ice out. But my face got so raw that I couldn’t, you know, shave, and these fuckers that didn’t fly said you were sloppy. Well, try shaving with, you know, and the blood coming out. Those were the things that I didn’t like, but I stood up for it and nobody really would clash with me, because we carried weapons and, you know, were probably half crazy.
And there were still quite a lot of targets in Italy, as well, that you were doing?
Yep. We did, we flew close-support missions for the Russians. We saturated also Gee, I wanted to give you that piece of paper from General Alexander. If I can find it I’ll give it to you.
Oh, yeah. While we’re talking I’m just going to get my computer out so I can scan these photographs.
Of course. Do whatever you have to do. I rarely get to talk to anybody like I’m speaking to you, and I catch myself talking too much.
No, not at all. No, don’t stop.
This is an actual log that I had to keep on a mission. I’ll show you some of the I was dual navigator and bombardier.
But you had a navigator as well?
No. When the casualties got so high, the navigators were killed off, the bombardier had to become the navigator. So I had to do both jobs. And you had to arm the bombs when you got airborne, meaning that you removed the rear and the front safety pins. The bomb has been armed. It has an arming wire, which is released when they drop out. And you’re taking these things out, and you’re bouncing up and down, working, hanging over this open bomb bay.
Had you had navigation training then?
Yeah, I was, I have a sheet that God made me a combat navigator. But this is an actual
But did you do that before you got to Italy or while you were there?
I did some but not much.
Right, so you had to retrain a bit while you were in Italy?
Yes. While you’re there. I don’t want this printed in the British papers but we had a full bomb load of 2,000 pound bombs, 2 of them, and they were so big they didn’t fit in the aircraft, so they’re kind of like tied on the wings. We were going to bomb bridges. We get out over the Adriatic Sea and we’re recalled. For some reason they cancelled the mission. So we made a u-turn to come back and the tower said, â€œOh, no. You have to burn off 5 hours of fuel. You can’t land with full gasoline and 2, 4,000 pounds worth of bombs. Because they’d never landed an aircraft with these things tied on the outside. So we said, â€œScrew you. We put it on autopilot and everyone went to sleep, because the (off sense) is still on and it’s a nice day and no one’s shooting at us, so we have it on automatic pilot. About half hour I get a call on the intercom from the pilot, and he says, â€œJack, where are we? I said, â€œHow do I know? You’re driving the ship! He says, â€œNo, I’ve been asleep. You’re the navigator! I had no clue. I looked down at the flight brief. (Mars). There was nothing. So I’m struggling, trying to find a town, a railroad, anything, and way in the distance I see a city. So I tell the pilot to head for the city. Now, understand this logic, and I said, â€œWell, fly low and maybe I can read a street sign or something. Well, we fly low and we get shot at, and it turns out it’s Athens and the Germans, of course, have occupied it. And I knew then to get a heading to go back to Italy. You don’t see that in Hollywood movies. It was the truth and God is with you on these
Yeah, yeah. Amazing. And so when you weren’t flying on a particular day, I mean
how would you spend the day? Then you’d have to do this other stuff, and check things, and..?
Yeah. We occasionally went to town, but you could not go in any of the buildings. Allied personnel were forbidden to go in any food store, anything. You could go to the church or We behaved. You know, you have to see the devastation. They had nothing. We test-fired guns at 20,000 feet.
You were very conscious, were you, that the Italians were having a bad time?
Yes. We I never saw anybody bully them or The first night, or second night – it doesn’t matter – try to understand that that there’s no lights permitted. Nothing. So you’re wandering around, tripping over tent posts and all this crap. And I was heading towards the mess tent, and I heard the voices singing; â€˜I used to work in Chicago, I did, but I don’t anymore’. And I go over there, and it’s 4 Italian boys that worked in the kitchen. And their uncle or something had come from Chicago and taught â€˜em this song. And that was just one of the oddball things. How do you scan? What do you do?
You just bung it in here and you just press â€˜go’.
And it just comes out on your screen?
Yep. No, it just stores it as a kind of, you know Good enough to be reproduced in a book.
We got to get you airborne. It’ll take you 2 and a half hours to get to If you have a half hour, you know, so we’d be delighted to have you stay, if you want.
Well, that’s really kind, but sadly I’ve got to get down to (Bullington).
There’s (tons of) houses that we could put you up in.
That’s really kind. I have to say I wish I could but
See, here’s my field commission. â€˜You have clearly demonstrated your fitness for commission grade by outstanding performance in combat. I hereby temporarily appoint you to 2nd Lieutenant in the Army of the United States’. Only wimps get that kind of stuff!
So that’s you and the pilot?
That’s Phil Collin, the guy that was shot down.
Oh, that’s the guy, yeah.
Also, when you tell these kinds of stories, you can’t tell it in a vacuum. It doesn’t work that way. You say, What is it like on a combat mission? Well, it’s a years training, it’s a job you’re maybe not capable of doing, or you don’t think you can. And new equipment. The British had what they called a (G-Box). We were never trained in it, it just appeared in one of the newer models and I was assigned to that aircraft. And nobody tells you how to work the fucker. I mean it was a load of dials and I played with it anyway.
So you just have to work it out?
Yeah. They say, you know, â€œYou’re the navigator, you do it. You’re an officer, you should know. Yeah, sure.
But I’m amazed by The one thing you always think about the Americans is, you know, that they’ve got these amazing reserves of manpower and equipment and kit, you know, everything You know, it sounds like you were in pretty primitive
Yes. I think when the War broke out they had something like 8,000 rifles. What can I
tell you, but within a year we had 8 million.
Yeah, I know about the beginning. When I was doing that book, I mean one of the things that just never ceased to amaze me was that Congress gave the go-ahead to raise another cavalry division and purchase 20,000 horses, and this was in March, 1941. So what’s going on?
I know. And then each of the Services was fighting for their piece of the apple, and all the Admirals and General hated each other. And I think Montgomery and Patten had terrible fights in the invasion of Sicily.
Yeah, they hated each other’s guts. But did you ever come across Alexander? What did you make of him?
Yeah, I’ll try to find Oh, he was tough. I didn’t believe in the cult of personality, I mean the newspapers made that up. Either an officer was a good officer or he was no good, and they all had limitations just like everybody. But the Air Force had mostly young officers, and were fliers, and they knew what, you know, went through. And they were not totally overly concerned about your shoes being shined or the See, Pam makes a lot of fun of me. I did a whole mission on the back of this thing. When (Pam saw it)
Amazing. So those are your notes, are they?
Yeah. Actual combat notes.
Wow. That’s amazing. Let me So this one here, that’s your regular B-24?
Yeah, that was the regular No, that was just a B-24 that we flew this particular mission in.
Okay. Why would you have done that?
Well, either maintenance See, I even had my teeth examined in 19 60 years ago. I had no social diseases. See, here’s my certificate of navigation. You can have one. This will tell you how many combat hours you’ve got flying it Oh, I know what I can give you. I have the original copy of this Stars and Stripes. See, this is the original newspaper, look. I don’t know how you preserve these things, but
Wow, that’s amazing. Pretty flimsy. â€˜(Rescue famed) enemies of Hitler’.
2 lira to pay.
That’s amazing. Fantastic. Stars and Stripes, did you regularly get that?
You’d read it? You knew what was going on elsewhere in the War pretty much? You were kept abreast of things?
Yes. We had a situation room in each group, you know, the map where the line was, we kept watching as it got closer and closer. When we bombed in front of the American or British lines, they would shoot flak at us in red that would explode 5,000 feet below. We knew that when we passed that we were free to bomb. But they’re not that accurate with the altitudes, and some would go 17,000. We were in at, I don’t know See a line of red fluorescent panels, spaced 10 feet apart, a quarter mile intervals. This is the exact thing when you bomb I mean, 18 year old kid reading this shit, under fire, runny nose, 40 below zero, has to pee, and you just saw this thing?
Yeah. There’s just too much to think about, isn’t there?
Well, you get it done.
Do you find For example, when I’ve spoken to fighter pilots or something, they’d
say, â€œYeah, you’d be really scared beforehand, but once you got in it, you’re in the middle of the mission, you’ve got 101 million things to think about, you haven’t got time to be scared. Do you go along with that to a degree?
No, that’s right. The word is fear, and I keep trying to I gave a talk a couple of years ago to the local Cub Scouts here, and I was fascinated at the attention that they paid me.
Well, they were really interested, and I told them about fear and they were not to be concerned about it, it’s okay to be frightened. It’s when you don’t perform.
But you saw people struggling with shear terror and unable to perform?
Yeah, I took my pistol to a couple to get in, order them in the aircraft.
Did you? Guys on your crew?
But then I gave them a blanket and I put them in the back of the aircraft, and I told them to keep themselves covered and keep their oxygen mask on, and (we’ll watch over you). These are the addresses of the crewmembers. That’s where we signed up to fight. Pam thinks I keep lousy records, but I I suppose I do.
I just wondered whether you had the rest of Because these only go up to April. I wondered whether you had the rest of your (flights there).
She’s taken the time to go through this. I have it loose in boxes, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to go through this. It brings back some not too pleasant
Yeah, I was going to ask you, do you find yourself thinking about this much?
I had nightmares for Well, I got one the other night again, and it’s always the same thing. I can smell the cordite, which is the explosion in flak, and it’s that close, you smell it, you know, you’re getting hit. Again, if you haven’t been through it, you don’t understand it. And it happens subconsciously when something troubles you, I don’t know why. The doctor was trying to explain it to me, but
And it’s always the smell, is it?
Yeah. I’ve been in 3 crashes and blown out the side, and I know what it’s like. It’s horror.
It does sound like you can’t get through that many missions without having some fairly major close calls.
This is signed by General Donovan for my brother, from the White House. I wish I could find it. I could When he was in Manchuria he freed a French citizen who was captured, and he made him the first secret agent in China. And I met the guy some 25 years later in Monaco, where he was some big shot, and he was a double agent for the French Secret Service. Yeah, I’m trying
So when did you eventually get back to the US?
Uh, I think October or November of ’45. I was a wreck. Oh, I drank and I wasn’t alone, there were like 10,000 other guys in the same position. But a lot of them when they drank, they would get aggressive, you know, go for fighting and all that. So we were lovers, not fighters. This shows you the flak. What’s the matter, Max? These are more of these actual maps. We navigated on these. But I had several experiences of, in Czechoslovakia, bombing a bridge, I think to keep the Germans that were retreating Whatever the reasoning was, and we made a big circle, found the road, saw the bridge up ahead. And we’re going to the bridge, and on top of it was this building with this big, red cross on it, and the Colonel commanding us ordered us not to bomb. So we said we’ll make a circle and come back. And you never go over a target twice. And we did, and we lost 6 aircraft because they were waiting for us. They had our altitude, our speed, and our heading, and we went right into in and they opened up, and that was a disaster. And had he bombed it and there were kids in there or something then we would have been the bad guys.
Do you find yourself thinking about it much? You were saying you still have the odd bad dream, but
I think about it a lot, yes.
Is that more so as you get older?
Yes. You don’t forget it, and there’s nothing glamorous, although it was a defining moment in my life, I have to tell you that, because I had no girlfriend, I had no teenage years, when I got out of the Service I didn’t have a girlfriend. I mean, I had oddball women during the Service, but nothing of any consequence. I used to envy the American fliers from California. They were all 6 foot tall blonds, and the women would just flock to them. Us lower class like didn’t score and I make jokes out of this stuff, because it’s easier for me.
But when you got back did you make the most out of the (GI Bill) or anything? Did you go to college?
Uh, no, I went to work for a bank as an appraiser, because my mother and father were in the real estate business, and the President of the bank put me to work. And I became a junior appraiser, a senior appraiser, chief appraiser, and then Vice President, and I thought I had it made. And then my wife got ill with cancer, and it was a horror scene, and the children. I made a choice that my job was to take care of them, and that’s what I did, you know. It’s other people that join country clubs and had this big social life. I never had that.
Do you feel bitter about that?
No, I feel stronger about it, because most of them were shallow. They had a
I guess something like that does make you appreciate what’s important in life.
Yeah. It’s an artificial friendliness. It’s not
What, the country club scene?
Yeah. And they drink and gamble. I didn’t gamble, mainly because I never had any kind of money to gamble. But then even when they played golf, they played so much a hole and so much a stroke, and I couldn’t and I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to play and have fun. If you’re playing once a week or twice a month, you can’t be a (scorecards), you know, miss the hole 400 times in a row, and the one time you sink it, that’s what you remember when you leave. And that’s what my theory was in life. And then I really believed in honour and duty and that sort of thing, but I’m not someone that can be ordered around, and I question. I was kicked out of classes because I wouldn’t answer the question when the nun would I would like get it half way out, and I was a pain in the ass, because I demanded constant. And they took that as disrespect, and it really was boredom, because I had to be fed this, you know. And when I went into military school and we had these small classes and good instructors, and they sensed it right away and they brought out in me this stuff I never believed. Excepting in the religion class, which was taught by Creeping Jesus, we called him. And they made a big thing because I was Catholic and had the (Dewey) version of the bible, and they had the King Henry, or whatever the hell it was, and the only difference was the thees and the thous and all this horseshit. But I would argue the point with the teacher, and then he would make me leave the classroom, get a full pack and a rifle, and I had to pace up and down for punishment, until graduation time. And he came and he thanked me, he said, â€œI learned a lot from you. I thought he was, you know, going to fight me. Let me get you ready.
Are you sure it’s okay to..?
I’m conscious I meant to photocopy, but I didn’t have (time).