(This is my father's story, in his own words, of his time flying 50 missions, as a tail gunner, in a B-24 Liberator during WWII. This is from an interview he did for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in downtown New York in 2003. My father passed away at the end of January and I am posting this as an homage to him, and to all the others who sacrificed so much for me and my country. The quiet courage on diplay is awe inspiring.
From time to time I will add some comments in parentheses and italics; all the rest is my father's voice. I can hear him still.
The first post in this series can be found here and all the posts in this series have now been collected in the Earn This archive.)
We were sent to bomb the Moosbierbaum oil refinery in Vienna. We got there and it was the most brutal flak and fighters we'd ever seen. It was loaded. The smoke from the fire and the oil was over thirty thousand feet high. We were flying at twenty thousand feet. And we had blasted it. And I'm sitting there going over the target when all of a sudden just below me the guy blows up. I start to press my button (to radio the crew what had just happened) when my pilot says, “The guy in front of us just blew up.” I turn around. This guy starts getting flames, it starts to spin down, and this guy just turns on his back and falls all the way down in less time than I'm telling you. Like boom, boom, boom, boom, and it's over. And we are alone, because from being in the number seven spot, we're now all by ourselves. Stragglers are dead meat. My nose gunner calls in, “Fighters coming in twelve o'clock high.” So we get prepared for twelve o'clock. I'm at six o'clock, if you look at it. (If you think of the airplane as superimposed on a clock, the nose gunner is at 12 o'clock, the tail gunner at six o’clock.) They start coming. My … my tail gunner … my nose gunner, my ball-turret gunner yells, “Fighters at six o’clock low.” And I look and I see fighters coming up six o'clock high, six o'clock level, and six o'clock low. And we're alone. So I yell, “Fighters at six o'clock high, level, and low.” They came around and they lined up and they started to make a pursuit curve at me and I started to shoot. I didn't think my bullets were going out fast enough. They were three-second bursts, and I felt I wanted it more than three seconds but I knew I couldn’t afford to. They get so close that the first plane … peeled off. I saw him hunched over in his plane. He had come in and then he went just like that, and they all broke up. I had killed … I got them. I got them. Don't ask me how or why. I think God watched me because I couldn't aim. They were coming in like crazy, but he was the lead. And I realize now, you know, years later, if I was the pilot and the guy in front of me got hit, I'd pull away. How do I know I got him? Because my ball turret gunner and my waist gunner said he went straight into the ground. My pilot had pushed the RPM to fifty-three inches, which on a B-24 is like you blow your gaskets, and he pushed it so we, we pulled into what was left of the group. And that was probably the most frightening time I had of all. To see those four guys go down so fast, it was mind boggling. And I don't care what anyone says, you see a bunch of fighters like that, it's not like one comes and you're shooting and another comes in like in the movies. They were lined up. There were twenty of them. It was scarey. And we got home, we got home with thirty-five holes in the plane, but we got home.
Once I started shooting, boy, I was right there. That was the difference. When you could do something, you were there. I felt I could get them back. It was that kind of a feeling. And there was no fear. They said I saved the plane. I don't know if I saved the plane. I think everybody saved the plane. Everybody shot. Everybody was doing it. And we got in under the group so that the other people could shoot also. And they put me in for a decoration and, of course, there were no pictures. If you don’t' have pictures … the fighter pilots, they get credit because they have a picture. They took our cameras away. They used to do that. They took the bombsight away. Our bombardiers, we used to call “targetiers” … we only had a bombsight in number one, number two, and number five.
It was never “bombs away.” We go to the target, and the engineer would start to pull the pins out of the bombs that were ready to be dropped, and he'd go back and he'd watch. And when the first lead plane dropped the bombs, he would drop the bombs. Nobody ever said, “Bombs away.” He would say, “Let's get the hell out of here,” and the word wasn’t “hell.” That's how we knew he dropped the bombs. “Let's get … get the fuck out of here.” Yeah. “Let's get the fuck out of here.” And that's what we would do. And we'd just pick ourselves up and just move. And that was my … my roughest time, I think, was that time. It was the most scary thing.
I think that when my father told this story during the interview for the museum, he was there again. I watched the tape and I saw an intensity and engagement I never recall seeing when my father would tell his war stories to me, and later to my sons when they were young. His comment about God was interesting. My father never was particularly observant as a Jew. He was at best an agnostic but I don't ever recall him having much to say about God one way or another. “No atheists in fox holes is a cliché”, but this comment was long after the incident in question. I think my father, at that moment of recollection, believed that God was looking out for him, and when you are one of 7 out of 390 who come home, it is easy to see why God's presence would be a bit more real.
To be continued...