War II Odyssey -
Pennsylvania Dutch Farmboy
Becomes 8th Air Force B-17 Navigator
Author details surviving 30 bombing missions and three crashes. New details on the planning formations and successful combat tactics.
Comprehensive, useful historical reference.
Here are a few excerpts
broke out from the clouds, I sighted the Thames River. Thank heavens! We were flying south
across it and it was easily recognizable. I turned us back straight north to keep us away
from metropolitan London to our west. The question now was where were we along the Thames?
With the lousy visibility I could not determine where we had crossed the river. Everyone
was put on alert by the pilot to look for any airport and to have their parachutes handy
in case he had to go higher for us to bail out.
Either the bombardier or I yelled into the intercom, "At 300 degrees, an
Jack started an oval route around a runway to get in position for landing. We were so
low that he had to evade a tall smokestack and he also lost sight of the runway terminus.
Why didn't they turn on lights for us? Based on the location, we knew it had to be an RAF
base. Then, on the second try going around, two fires appeared on either side of one end
of the runway. Jack still had trouble finding even those fires when he tried to get us
around in the necessary pattern, but he slipped the plane in abruptly on our third circuit
and we landed.
We wondered why no planes were in sight on the ground. We soon learned. Our position
was Romford, a northeast suburb of London, and this site was an abandoned, non-active RAF
Air Base. It was now occupied by a barrage balloon unit of the RAF.
My First Crash
On July 26, we were taking off
on an orientation run, with some small practice bombs on board, on one of the two short
runways and disaster overtook us. Whit and I were in the nose, as usual, sweating out the
lift-off and watching a farmer on an old tractor mowing grass beyond the end of the paved
strip. I laughed and pointed to the farmer; he had jumped off his tractor and was running
away full-tilt. He knew what he was doing even though I did not.
Our landing gear struck the tractor and we were soon plowing through the adjacent woods
and taking down sizable trees. Luckily, the pilots kept the plane from flipping over, but
the tail section sheared off during our cruise through the trees, across a gully, and
finally into a field of ripened wheat. Whit and I exited through the nose section since
the Plexiglas enclosure and lower gun turret had been knocked off. Meanwhile, oxygen
ignited further back in the plane and Bernie MacKenzie was severely burned, even though he
had been thrown out when the aft end was broken off. Bernie spent some painful days in a
regional Air Corps hospital and was returned to the U.S. later for further treatment and
Those of us who had exited form the forward section of the plane watched it burn to
nothing but a residue of oxide powder. Once the fuel and oxygen had ignited, fire
retardants were useless. When the belts of .50-caliber shells that we had in the guns and
in storage started exploding, we vacated the vicinity. No one knew whether they would have
a destructive trajectory and we didn't wait to find out. After Bernie was taken away, the
crash crew rounded us up and hauled us to the Base Infirmary to see the Flight Surgeon.
Long distance travel was mostly
by railroad. Superhighways did not exist except for a section of today's Pennsylvania
Turnpike that opened in the late 1930s. Airplanes were mostly a source of curiosity for
these farm people.
At our farm, we bottled our milk and delivered it raw (unpasteurized) every morning of
the year to the front or side porches of houses in the town of Honey Brook, Pennsylvania.
My first salary was $1.00 per week for helping in milk delivery along with Scotty, the
horse, who knew each stop along the two-hour route. As I aged, salary was increased when
expertise was developed in milking cows (by hand), in milk bottling, in firing up the
steam furnace for bottle washing and sterilization.
Many diagrams and photos. 1997. 234
Cloth hardbound ISBN 1-883912-03-2 Price $30.00