(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.)
Interestingly, I met a man who was a prisoner in the concentration camps. They took the Jews in Vienna and made them clean up where we had dropped bombs, and he remembers my group—he didn’t know who it was—but he remembers that day. And he said, “I hope you dropped the bomb on me.” He told me that. He had a cleaning store here in America. And I said, “I'm glad I didn’t get you.” But interestingly, when I became a psychoanalyst, I was interviewed by this woman (in order to be accepted for psychoanalytic training) and she had a real accent. They were all Viennese, but I didn’t know they were all Jewish, you know. And she said, “What did you do in the war?” and I told her. “Did you ever bomb Vienna?” I said, “Oh, yes, I bombed Vienna.” And she says, “I hope you got my house.” And I just felt so good.
You have to understand, we're a bunch of kids. We were kids. I wouldn’t do that today. (He was here referring to the entire experience of flying B-24s in WWII; I don't know how anyone could get into the plane day after day while their friends are disappearing all around them, but these young men did it.) I got to be meshuga. But a bunch of kids? We would take a watermelon up there so it would be ice cold when we landed, you know. We'd wrap it in a towel. It was that kind of thinking. And we would land and of course we got priority, because if you had wounded abroad or something you landed first. And then we got down and we got to the base and then we went to the Red Cross where they gave us coffee and donuts. My missions were so terrifying, between you and me, that for years I couldn’t take donuts. I could never take … eat a donut and have coffee together because that was the first thing they gave you was coffee and donuts. (I never knew my father couldn’t eat a donut and coffee; he never spoke of it. I do know he never liked flying and would hold on for dear life on take-offs and landings.) And I remember coming back from a mission over Ploesti. We couldn’t make Ploesti because we'd lost an engine—half my missions were on three engines—and that's why I say my pilot was good. And we landed. We got … I don't know how many holes in the plane. We're miserable. Unshaven. We fell out and we dropped our bombs. We didn’t know where, but we dropped them somewhere in a farmland somewhere because I saw them go. And we're going down and my bombardier is saying, “Oh, we're crossing the Blue Danube. We're crossing the Danube.” I looked down and said, “Oh, Shorty, that’s not the Danube.” He says, “Come on, what are you talking about?” I'm doing dead reckoning. We didn’t have a navigator. I said, “Shorty, that’s not the Danube. The Danube is dirty brown. That's got blue water. That's not the Danube.” It was a river near Sofia, which was right over a thirty-five-fighter base for the enemy. What do I have to say? I'm sitting there listening to Bing Crosby, because we would always be able to fool around with the radio. We could listen. The Germans loved to play Bing Crosby records. But then I hear, “B-vier und zwanzigvierzehntausend fusse.” I said, “Oh shit, that’s us.” We're down to fourteen thousand feet. So I yelled to my pilot, “They have us. The B-24 at fourteen thousand feet.” Well, he pulled up. They took off, and we got into the clouds and we flew in the clouds. And thank God they got so bollixed up they never … they never shot us down.
I came home September 1944. When I came home they sent me for three weeks to Atlantic City for a break, and then they offered me another stripe if I would go out on a B-29 or become a gunnery instructor. At that point I felt I had pushed my luck a little too far. I said, “I'll take the gunnery school.” And so I ended up being a teacher anyway when you think about it. (Dad was referring to becoming a Professor at Queens College after he got his PhD in Psychology after the war. He loved teaching and was a natural at it.) And I went through gunnery school, gunnery instructor school quite well. I had no problems with it, learned it cold. And that's when I had the only anti-Semitic thing I had in the service.
To be continued...