Nov. 1- Dec. 10, 1944
“Nov. 1. Package from home- fruit cake. Made three pounds at cards, wrote six letters, sent out Christmas cards. Alerted.”
“Nov. 2. Led mission to Belefield- railroad viaduct. High right squadron. 96th Wing kept cutting through formation. We hit the primary- only one other squadron in the 2nd Bomber Division bombed it. Got 100% in 2000′- very good. Groups dropped everywhere from Hereford to Belefield. We went down railroad track- chased a train. Colvin flew as co-pilot- gave Stepp a bad time. I talked the entire mission- formation was perfect. Fighters at Merseberg- 400- 208 shot down. Forty-one bombers and twenty-eight fighters lost.”
“Party at night- didn’t go. But felt the results. Flares in the hut, stuff on the roof. Wallace will be getting it!”
Comment: We led ten planes in one of three squadrons. Another bomber group flew a course that kept crossing ours- lots of work for our pilots. As we made our turn toward the target at Belefield, looking down, I could see a freight train moving directly in front of us. We came down the railroad tracks and our bombs reached the railroad bridge just as the freight train did. All of our bombs fell within a radius of 2,000 feet. I thought of that poor engineer.
A major flew as our co-pilot. At some point during the mission, he panicked. We knew nothing about it until I heard Stepp say on the intercom, “Just sit there!”
Our practice and our special technique had paid off. Our squadron flew as one plane, wings over-lapping, in formation. It was beautiful.
Meanwhile, there was a massacre at Merseburg. While the Germans lost many fighters, our losses were not light- forty-one bomber crews- 410 good men.
The guys went a little crazy that night.
“Nov. 3. Package from home- Hershey’s Plain. Got paid- $131. Lenhausen down in Channel. Seeds blew up. Alerted.”
“Nov. 4. To Minden- PFF- 448th came through on “Bombs Away”- bombs went under us, ships over. Bombs dribbled through various bomb bays on the run. Results- unobserved. Col. Barnard told Stepp he flew good formation- proud. No. 10. Hemeski had 15.”
Comment: We bombed through clouds. As we came down the bomb run, the thirty airplanes of another bomb group flew above us cutting across our path. Luckily, they dropped their bombs just before they reached us. I could see the bombers crossing right above us and the bombs dropping below. Several of our planes dropped their bombs before we did- for whatever reason.
Further Comment: I’m not certain when the following occurred, since there is no notation in my diary. However: In addition to being the pilotage navigator, I was the nose gunner. This meant that, before take-off, I had to make sure that I had to wipe the dew from my turret and remove the covers of my two 50 caliber machine guns. The latter was most important, since the guns might explode if fired with the covers on. To do this, while the other crew members were doing their preliminary jobs including testing the engines, I would find a large ladder that rolled on four wheels, push it to the plane, climb up to the turret, wipe the turret and remove the gun covers.
On this particular very early morning, I must have been late, because as I reached for the gun covers, the airplane began to move forward with all four engines roaring. I grabbed the two guns, wrapped my feet around the ladder, and began shouting- to no avail, of course. Slowly, and then more surely, we taxied. In the dark, we- the plane, the ladder and I- rolled past the other planes being prepared for the mission. Finally, we came to the top of the runway and Stepp stopped the plane to make the last minute checks before take-off. I clambered down the ladder, pushed it along the length of the wing until it was clear- and then shoved it away, ran under the wing to the bomb-bay and began banging on the bomb-bay doors.
Somebody heard me, for the bomb-bay doors opened and I pulled myself up onto the narrow walkway between the bombs. I squeezed my way up to the front, as the check list was completed and we took off. There was some handshaking, but no questions were asked. When I later climbed into the turret, however, I did have a problem. The gun covers were still on. There was no way to remove them from inside the turret. We were to “test-fire” our guns while climbing into the bomber formation. Each gunner reported in turn- as did I. “Nose guns OK,” I said, but I kept my hands off the triggers the entire mission.
“Nov. 7. This should teach me to keep a daily diary- Can’t remember much at all. Hemeleski’s brother-in-law, Dave, came in at 0315 last night. Bill flew and then saw him after the mission. Gave him a letter for the folks. Received a package of Hershey’s Almond. Boyd’s a first.”
“Nov. 8. Pass. Stepp, Waldrop and Loutsch stayed at the Savoy. Richardson and I at the Jules. Ate at Savoy. Went to Magyar Club…Made date with Pamela. Blue Lagoon- Elsa Graves, Joe….Henry DeBray.”
Comment: The Jules Hotel was much less expensive than the Savoy. The Magyar Club was now my place to visit. I saw Pamela and arranged for a real date in two days. And then again, a group of us went back to the Blue Lagoon. Henry DeBray was impressed with the fact that I came from New Jersey. Clearly he thought that meant that I had mob connections. He introduced me to Elsa Graves, a well-faded British female stage actress (who was being supported in an apartment by a US general) and Joe Something, an army supply sergeant who offered to help me smuggle some scotch back to our base. I played a part straight out of the movies.
“Nov. 9. Haircut- needed. Ate at Grosvenor House. Got four bottles of scotch- Henry BeBray. Saw ‘Merry Widow’ – JP, Rich, Loutsch and I. Cast not good, play good. Nurses dance, with Hammack and Rich. Acted in traditional American style- jitterbug….”
Comment: Grosvenor (pronounced ‘Governor’)House was a special restaurant for higher ranking officers. Somehow, we lower ranks were allowed in. As I sat eating breakfast, I was approached by a well-decorated major. “Lieutenant,” he said, “What outfit are you with?” I wore only my wings and bars. “The Eighth Air Force, sir.” I replied. “Aren’t you proud of the Eighth Air Force?” I hadn’t thought about it that way- nor could I think of any reason to be particularly “proud” of the Eighth- but it was clear what my answer had to be. “Yes sir, I am.” “Then you should be wearing the insignia of the Eighth Air Force!” And he walked off. Where do these guys come from?
Henry DeBray took me to a small, dusty book store. To the bespectacled proprietor, he said, “This is Joe’s friend.” The little man went in the back and brought out a brown-paper-covered package. He recited some exorbitant price, which I paid. I thanked Henry and brought the scotch back to my room at the Jules Hotel.
That afternoon, four of us saw the operetta, “The Merry Widow”. In the British theatres, you could eat at your seat, with the food being brought by the ushers. It was very elegant and the music was good.
When Richardson and I returned to the Jules Hotel, the lady in charge caught us. She was very excited: We were needed to help in an emergency. A British school of nurses had scheduled a dance to which a British army unit had been invited. Unfortunately, the army unit had a change in plans and now the nurses had no one to dance with. The dance had already started. Could we please help out? In the lobby, we found my bombardier, Hammack , and one more GI. We grabbed a cab and went to some large building. Walking in, we saw a huge dance hall, a completely empty dance floor, a band on a stage, playing, and- along one long wall- about fifty young nurses sitting in folding chairs. “Let each man do his duty,” one of us said. We walked to the nearest end of the line of chairs and asked those four nurses to dance. As the rest watched, we danced- a very strange feeling. When the number ended, we escorted our companions to their chairs and took the next four. By this time, I no longer gave a damn about appearances-the dance number was a good fast one- and we jitterbugged. Just about as this number ended, reinforcements began to arrive. This was most fortunate, since I had no idea of how the four of us would ever get to those last girls.
“Nov. 10. Shopped with Loutsche. Saw “Hail the Conquering Hero”- very good. Took Pamela to “Blithe Spirit”- excellent. Magyar Club, dance, home, date.”
Comment: This was a truly wonderful day. I bought some good books, including Spinoza’s Philosophy. The afternoon movie was good. But the evening was pure romantic magic.
Pamela: She was seventeen, about 5’4″, large dark eyes, dark hair, lovely face, low melodious laughing voice, a trim figure. She enjoyed everything. After the play, we went back to the Magyar Club, where we danced. When Dinah closed the place, I walked Pamela home, hand in hand. We sang songs and danced under the gas lamp lights.
“Nov. 11. Armistice Day- Remembrance Day- poppies. Took all day to get back. Ate at Red Cross, Norwich. Five guys moved into hut- very crowded. Three are fresh meat- Smith, Porter, and Weisert. Two from the 446th- Bungay- Locker and Marx.”
Comment: On the anniversary of the end of the World War in 1918, we all bought poppies to wear in memory of those who had died. Our war did not have a name yet. Getting back to our base and reality was a slow and quiet business. We were in a meat grinder. I had by now been through enough to call new arrivals “fresh meat”.
“Nov. 12- 17. (Excerpts) Hemeleski has nineteen..Boyd went to hospital… Paint came- changing color of the hut…. Fresh meat- Smith, Porter, and Weisert- moved out. Other two from 446th- Fulmer and Camp, moved in. Stepp, Bridgeman, and Richardson began painting hut…. Flew cross country at night in 241T- going to name her “NICKIE”…. Hut is now baby-blue… Bauman- engine feathered- bailed crew- crashed… Candy from Uncle Saul, cookies from home. Picture of Belefield on front page of “Target Victory”…Crew’s hut is pink, blue, red, and green…Reading Hitler’s Generals- good. Also, A World I Never Made by Farrell- same old stuff. Reading the New Testament.”
Comment: We finally were able to name our own plane. Nickie was Stepp’s girl friend.
“Nov 18 to Dec.10, 1944. Two missions- to Munster (Wing lead when GH went out- real teamwork, Farwell on Mickey) and Bingen (contrails and prop-wash) squadron lead. Makes twelve. Crew has thirteen. Hemeleski- twenty-three. Boyd, fifteen, JP- sixteen, Fulmer- twenty-eight- two to go.”
Comment: Three bomb groups flying together made a “Wing”- 90 to 108 planes. On one mission, the 93rd was the lead group of the wing. We were leading one of our group’s three squadrons. However, when our group lead had to abort, we took over both the group and wing lead. There was great cooperation as the necessary mid-air adjustments were made. I had the job of pointing out the target for the bombardier, all the planes dropping their bombs with us.
“Nov. 18 to December 10 (continued). On pass to London, took Pamela to see ‘Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?’- risqué British play- and “Fantasia”- as good as in 1941- her fourteenth time. Ate in Junior Officers’ Mess- first steak in Britain. Evenings at Magyar Club with Dinah, Freida (piano) Loutsch…Bad News: The deaths of Ben Jagiello and Chic Sale- both 1sts in Italy, and Tony Galioto (B-24 in California). Russ Reed is MIA- Merseberg, Nov. 2.”
Comment: My dates with Pamela were just like being at home, light and romantic. She answered the telephone at the London American Red Cross office, rolling her “r’s”. She had a limited formal education. For example, although she had seen Fantasia many times, she had no idea of the size of dinosaurs- picturing them about the size of dogs.
Ben Jagiello and Charles “Chic” Sale were Montclair State schoolmates. Ben was a wonderful athlete, had a twin brother, Matt. Chic Sale was the close friend of my Big Brother, Sonny Hoehl. Tony Galioto was a fellow Social Studies major classmate. Russell Reed- missing in action- was a B-17 pilot and a very close Montclair State friend.
“Nov. 18 to Dec. 10 (con’t.) Hemeleski’s a papa. The crew finished a bottle of “Four Roses” on the occasion. Sent money to Hill for anniversary and Christmas present.
Comment: Iva and Bill Hemeleski’s first child was girl, named Candy. Betty Hill, a good Montclair State friend, had offered to find suitable presents for my parents for Christmas and their 25th wedding anniversary. She did buy a beautiful set of glasses and a handsome glass lazy Susan.