FW: Doing absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, just due to some human error ... of the upper, upper [officers].
SH: All the bombardiers were just there.
FW: Yes, and we left New Brunswick, I guess it was, at four-thirty for New York, "Went aboard the Queen Elizabeth, bound for combat zone, assigned main deck, M-81, twenty-four men to a stateroom," and, you know, I had to lie on the floor. Mine was on the very bottom. I had to lie on the floor, alongside of my cot, and sidle myself over to get in the bed. There were fifteen thousand men on the Queen Elizabeth.
FW: Yes, and I think we were supposed to have been [sunk]; the Germans reported sinking us at least three times on the way over. That always was a joke. It was a standard joke, but, boy, the guns that were on that Queen Elizabeth sure were [impressive].
SH: What kind of freedom did you have? Could you move all over the ship?
FW: Well, I just want to tell you what they did to me. "On May the 6th, spent AM on deck. Met Augie Martone." His dad was a tailor in Boonton, downtown, and he had graduated with me from high school, and, with fifteen thousand men aboard, in the middle of it all, I'm walking around and all of a sudden, "Hey, Wiz!" [laughter]
SH: Was he in the infantry?
FW: Yes, he was in the infantry. He was an enlisted man. ... "Met Augie Martone and talked all afternoon with him. Played cards at night."
RZ: Did he make it through the war?
FW: Yes, he did, but he died an early death. I know, in fact, ... just before last Memorial Day, he passed away. Jimmy Dunn, he just lived down the street, he graduated with me also, and he and I were staunch buddies. He was the only one left around here. I don't know of anyone around here anymore that graduated with me. Why the Good Lord let me survive, it's good, but, you know, when you see all your friends go ahead of you, it isn't good, but I don't know, that's life, I guess. Oh, here, "On May 7th, sea calmed down." They put me, even on orders, on what they called "the blackout watch," and I used to have to roam the decks of the Queen Elizabeth at night, to look for any potential light from any porthole or window, or this or that, and it's spooky. It's scary, when you're up on those decks and you don't know what is out there and it's pitch-black at night, and May wasn't the warmest weather. ... Sometimes, we'd be down this way, and then, [back], because we did [zigzagging]. This is the way they go to Europe.
FW: Yes, trying to avoid the ...
RZ: The submarines?
FW: The subs, yes. "Rained all day. Sea a bit rough, calmed down in PM. Played cards in the afternoon. Stood a four-hour blackout watch at night, seven [to] eleven. Went all over the ship." The only thing that I ever saw was a little glimmer of light from one of the side windows, and it was one of the crew, the English crewmembers, that had it, believe it or not. [laughter]
RZ: Did you go and yell at him?
FW: Oh, well, yes. Going up and down stairs, people were sleeping on the stairs, literally sleeping. They'd rather sleep there than try and get in and out of the bunk, the way that I did. ... There were so many people that were seasick, had the mal de mer, [laughter] oh, gosh, and that's awful, too, when you're in such confining quarters, but what are you going to do?
SH: Did you have to check on the enlisted men or were they further down than you?
FW: Did I have to?
SH: Check on them?
FW: No, I just checked the upper decks. ... Oh, you could never go everywhere. It's too big.
SH: I am going to put this on pause right now.
SH: We are back on. Thank you to Mrs. Wiswall for the wonderful lunch. While you were zigzagging on the ...
FW: Voyage, yes.
SH: On the Queen Elizabeth over there, were there any other incidents that you remember? You talked about, one time, finding someone who had accidentally left their curtains open.
FW: No, that was the only time. I was surprised I found that. No, there weren't. It was the usual story, as I said before, that we'd been sunk a couple of times, and that happened on every voyage, they said, but, no, it was uneventful. I couldn't believe there were fifteen thousand men onboard. Yes, I could believe it, [laughter] even more.
RZ: How long did the voyage take?
FW: I'll tell you exactly. ... When did I say we took off?
SH: I think it was in May.
FW: ... Oh, yes, I met my friend, Augie Martone, May 6th.
SH: Right. You talked about meeting this friend.
FW: "Left at four-thirty-five."
SH: On the 4th.
FW: On the 4th. "Went to New York;" yes, we got on. No, "We pulled out at six-forty-five on May the 5th. May 11th, landed somewhere in Scotland," I think it was the Firth of Forth, "Boarded a train and left for new station." That's where I became; ... what was it? The Salvation Army; everywhere that we went, to me, Salvation Army was number one.
SH: Was it the Red Cross or the Salvation Army?
FW: Salvation Army, and the Red Cross, we even had Red Cross. We had two or three of them that were right at our base. They lived right at our base that I flew from.
SH: In England.
FW: Yes, they were good, too. ... I can still remember, as a kid, walking ... holding on my mother's hand and she would never pass a Salvation Army pot without putting a dollar in it, never. So, maybe I even was brought up to be impartial to Salvation Army, [laughter] but they were always there, more so than any of the other [organizations], and I'm not demeaning any charity, charitable place, but Salvation Army always gets my ticket.
SH: Was the Salvation Army there in Scotland when you landed?
FW: [Yes], the Firth of Forth. I'm pretty sure that's where they came in. "Landed in Scotland. Boarded a train right away." I remember, we had coffee and doughnuts before we got on the train, and then, they, "Left train at Stone in England," and that's in the Midlands, and the countryside between Scotland and the Midlands is beautiful. Oh, if you ever have the opportunity to see it, you should. I know, when we went to visit our friends in England, the last time, we took a trip up through Scotland and, oh, it's beautiful country, beautiful country. Oh, yes, where is that? ... I met this little girl in Stone. She was so nice, right, and that's where I learned to ride a bicycle again, too. When you get in England, that's where you ride a bicycle (back in those days, you're on your bicycle). So, that's what we did.
SH: Where you landed, on the Firth of Forth, was there any damage at that point, that you saw?
FW: No, no. I didn't see any either going down through the Midlands, and, ... actually, Stone was a small, little, country town and there wasn't any damage there.
SH: What did they tell you that you needed to be prepared to do to live in England? Was there any, say, instruction on how to treat the British?
FW: Well, there were certain words that you should watch out to use, that were common over here that are, I don't know whether they're degrading or they're not nice words, and any word, that they have a dual meaning, a meaning ... in this country and a meaning in England. Like, you never would call a person a "bum" [a vagrant] over there, because a "bum" is not a "bum." It's a "bum," [rear-end]. [laughter] That was one of the words. I can't think of any others now, but I know there are others, and, no, I don't recall any preparation.
SH: Was there anything about money?
FW: Well, the pounds, of course, you had to get used to that. ... You know what the pound was worth, at that time? $4.035, for one pound sterling, $4.035. [Editor's Note: This exchange rate was adopted by the British Government in 1940 and held for the duration of the war.]
SH: Back then?
FW: For one pound. I know we used to have a gaming table in the officers' club and, every payday, they'd always set the darn thing up, and I'm not a gambler by heart, but you go in there and you start talking with your friends. So, they're saying, "Oh, let's go over now." So, I'd go over and they had this, a dice table, and I never played the dice. All I'd do is stand in the corner and bet one pound at a time against the dice, and I'd wait and I always won. [Editor's Note: Lieutenant Colonel Wiswall knocks on wood.] [laughter] I'd wait until I had, what was it? fifty pounds and, after I'd won fifty pounds, the next morning, I would go down to the financial department and send two hundred dollars home to my brother to put in the bank, [laughter] boy, and they didn't like me at all at the game, and my pilot happened to be one of the partners of the fellows that ran the [table].
RZ: What did you think of the British?
FW: I loved the British people. ... Mae and I went, what was it, in '82 or '83? We took a trip over to England. No, we went right to, where did we start that out? to England, and then, from England, we went on, and we went on to Pointe du Hoc.
FW: Paris, yes.
MW: And then, back home
FW: Yes. No, no, what was the original question now? ...
MW: The English people, honey. ...
FW: Oh, yes, and, when we went to England, ... the first place we went to was back at my old base, where we flew from. ...
SH: What was the town where the base was located, or the nearest town?
FW: Well, it was Snetterton Heath, [a Royal Air Force base that hosted the US Army Air Forces' 96th Bomb Group, parent group of the 413th Bomb Squadron, from June 1943 to December 1945], was the name. I don't know if there was a town, the railroad station was Eccles Road. ... What's the name of the town where the Quidenham Church is?
MW: I can't remember.
FW: I can't remember the little hamlet's name, either, to tell you the truth. ... Attleborough, is right there, Attleborough.
MW: ... A town named Diss, where our friends lived. ...
FW: Diss, yes, that's a few minutes, yes, but, anyway, when we went there, we were met by some English people that, more or less, oversee our base.
MW: They're historians, actually, like you are.
FW: And they also were there to greet us, and this one gentleman, Bert Patrick was his name, he and his wife were there, and they more or less showed us around the base. Too bad I don't have their ...
MW: Well, that was their job, honey. They were historians.
FW: Yes, I know, I know that. Back to where our old quarters were; I found the old bomb disposal place, no, bomb shelter. It was still there, too, exactly the same. It was right practically on top of a Nissen hut where I lived, and we got some pictures of that, ... but most of the area around there had been taken over by farmers. There are a little bit of the old runways left. ... There's one hangar that's left, but most of it's gone, and a big racetrack has been built in that same area where our field was, for automobile racing.
SH: Is this in East Anglia?
FW: East Anglia, yes. If you know East Anglia, or if you know Norwich, we're ... about eighteen miles south of Norwich, due south. ...
MW: The English people are wonderful, to answer your question.
FW: Yes, but, anyway, we made staunch friends with the Patricks and their daughter. We invited them over to the United States and she took a fancy to Jeff, oh, boy. [laughter] ...
MW: But, he's a bachelor, [laughter] and wasn't going to get caught.
FW: ... Well, no, he has some very nice girlfriends, ... but he just doesn't get serious with them. So, she went back home and ...
MW: Got married.
FW: She married and, believe it or not, Jeff went over to her wedding. We all did. We all went over to Jill's wedding.
MW: And he's godfather to her first child.
SH: How nice. Let us go way back and start with Stone. You said there was someone that you met.
FW: Oh, Stone, yes. ... (Dixie Sutton?) was her name. That's what I came across before [in the diary], but I don't see it now. No, that's not it, but, anyway, she showed me around Stone, which is just a very little town, and there wasn't any damage there at all. "Up early. Lecture on security in AM. Changed my US money to pounds in the PM. Had a date with Doris," and then, I have, in quotes, "'Dixie Sutton' at night. She comes from Kent, darn nice girl." She was a very nice, lovely person.
SH: Was she in the military up there?
FW: No, no.
SH: Kent is quite a bit south of East Anglia.
FW: No; yes, they're all in uniform down below. "Took a hike in the AM. Lecture in PM. Had a date with Dixie at night. We took a walk. Went to the Crown Hotel." I remember, that's where I had my introduction to the bitters, [laughter] bitters, "arf and arf," [slang for "half and half," a mixture of mild and bitter ales], yes, and then, I drew a bicycle. ... Then, my buddy, the fellow that was the steerer, or the pilot let's say, on the bomb trainer for him and he was the one for me. We were cadet partners. He was in the group that went over with me. He and I took a long ride.
SH: It was just the two of you that wound up together then.
FW: No, we were all, the twenty-eight of us, we were all still together.
SH: Were you really?
FW: Yes. You know, well, we hadn't been a place where you'd be assigned or separated.
SH: You basically went over there as a replacement for whatever crew would need you.
FW: Right, and that was, "We left Stone on May 19th. Visited London in PM. ... Had an air raid at night, my first one. Met Colonel Black, A-1, in AM. Slept in PM. Filled out pay papers. Good food. We live in Quonset huts;" oh, I didn't even know how to spell it. I didn't know what a Quonset hut was. I had here, "C-O-N-E." I'm trying to figure out what I'd meant. Now, I know. [laughter]
SH: Who is Colonel Black?
FW: That was his name. I don't know who A-1 [was]; I don't even remember what A-1 is, and I don't remember Colonel Black. [laughter] I just put it down here because that's what it was. "Quonset huts covered with metal, far better than I expected. Bruce and I wandered around (Mark's Hall?) in AM. It's an old castle. Slept in PM. Got packed at night. We leave again tomorrow. Got our orders and left and went by truck to;" it's Bovington, and I have Bobbington, ... "B-O-B-B," but I know it's "B-O-V-I," and I didn't even know the ... name of the place. "Our new post. It's a combat crew replacement center, not a bad place at all. Looked over the English Halifax in the morning. Wrote letters in PM. Went to bed early. Start training tomorrow," and then, we started combat training classes. "Eight hours of lectures." I don't know how I stood that. "Very interesting and helpful material. Classes all day. Took a three-hour hop in a B-17E at night." Now, that was the first time I'd been in a bomber.
SH: This was just to train.
FW: Just to get flying in one, really. "My ears clogged at two thousand feet, hurt like," you know what, "enjoyed the hop nevertheless. Went to classes, intelligence test. Both of my ears are clogged up. Went to flight surgeon." We went over this part, didn't we? "Classes all day. Flight surgeon three times."
MW: Yes, we did.
FW: ... "Classes in the AM, PM. Left ear clogged up. Went to medical. Played cards at night."
MW: I think he read some of this. ...
SH: We had thought this was down in Texas.
FW: Classes? Well, ... all these classes were, they were learning all about the B-17, what it was and what it could do and what it couldn't do, and that's what that actually meant, "Classes all day," when I say that, a little bit of everything. "School in PM. Had final test. Turning in early." Oh, "Went to bed early, deaf as a post." I'm talking about myself. [laughter] I wondered what it was all about. Now, I have it correct, yes, "Left Bovington in AM. Went to London. Room at Mount Royal Hotel. Bruce Quinten;" well, we met up with some of our other twenty-eight there.
SH: What kind of damage did you see when you were in London? You talked about being involved in an air raid. Did you go down in the subway or was it a regular air raid shelter?
FW: Let me see. ...
SH: Prior to this, you talked a little bit about it. I just wondered what you remembered.
FW: Oh, I can remember a lot about the damages around, in England and London and all of them.
MW: Well, tell her about them.
FW: Well, bombed out skeletons of buildings, fire burned buildings, streets dug up. ... We never got on the ground, but you take a place like Hamburg, Hamburg was "hamburger-ized." It was [the case that] if any other target was open in that vicinity, or closed, rather, excuse me, Hamburg was always open, because there's always smoke coming up from it, always. The English would hit it at night and parts of the American forces would hit it in the daytime. So, it was just ... like a skeleton.
SH: How had the German bombing of London been? Was it the same kind of devastation in London?
FW: In parts, in parts. I mean, like, they never really got close to the Tower of London area, or, if they got close to it, they didn't hit anything. I know, one time, one of my buddies and I, it wasn't Harry, but who was that? oh, my navigator, Bob Hockins; we were walking down near Piccadilly Circus, going over toward the officers' club. The Circus was here and we were going over here, and a "buzz bomb" [a V-1 rocket] hit over here and blew us both into the bomb shelter, right down the stairs. I ripped my pants and everything. I can remember that, but they were scattered, but it wasn't real [concentrated devastation], like, I never saw a real concentrated part of London, and I know there were. I never got to the outskirts, but I know there were [badly bombed areas], and Cambridge, oh, Cambridge was hit very heavily. We'd pass that on the way down, from a distance, which was right near our airbase. Well, if you can just imagine, you've most likely seen pictures of the devastation that the Luftwaffe did.
SH: How were the air raids received when you got there? Were they taken in stride? Was there panic or was it more like, "Okay, this is part of the night's routine?"
FW: Well, with those, with the buzz bombs and with the V-2 rockets, the V-2 rockets, well, you never stood a chance, because those went up and they came down and you never heard them until they blasted, but, with the buzz bombs, they would roar as they were coming in, and then, all of a sudden, the engine would cut off, and you knew that it was going to go like that, but you didn't know where it was going to go. Those are the things that scared the devil out of you, and from what the English told us when we got over there, that in the earlier days, when the British Air Force was practically depleted by the Luftwaffe, the Luftwaffe, more or less, had its free range. ... They could run up and down any hamlet street and just go with their machine-guns wide open, "Boom, boom, boom," I mean, no one there to stop them. So, it was pretty rough on a lot of the British people, I'll tell you. I always used to say, and maybe I should retract it now, but I often wondered what our country would have [done], how we would have held up under those circumstances that those people lived through. I mean, people back here were complaining about oleo margarine and no gas for the cars, and those people were pleading for their lives every day, you know. ... The Americans always seemed to bear out anyway and, most likely, we would've, but ...
MW: Well, when they knew a raid was coming, did they go quietly to wherever they were supposed to go or did they all get excited?
FW: You want me to tell you what they did?
MW: Seriously, yes.
FW: They ran like hell for the bomb shelters, and a lot of people, the Underground [subway] was used as a shelter, and a lot of, especially the elder people, you'd go down in the subways and people ... had their cots and beds and everything. They were sleeping down there. They didn't even leave them. They were frightened, scared to death, and I think I would have been, too, if I had to live under the conditions that they did. ...
MW: Well, you did while you were there.
FW: Well, I wasn't living in London.
MW: Well, that's true. ...
FW: No. Well, we even had a [raid]; the Luftwaffe came over our field one night and dropped flares, and we knew it was a photo section of the Luftwaffe. They'd come over to take pictures of our airfield, but they didn't drop any bombs, but I know I saw, or could hear, bombs being dropped in Norfolk. ... I also saw, one time, where the guns in Norfolk shot down a Luftwaffe plane, ... but they never hit our base while I was there.
SH: Were you getting newspapers or radio reports about how the war was going?
FW: Well, we would get the Stars and Stripes.
SH: Did you know what was going on in the Pacific, too?
FW: Yes. I think that we most likely did, but, to be perfectly honest, I think, ... at that time, I was paying more attention to where I was and what I was doing, ... because I knew it was absolute rough living no matter where you were, no matter where you were.
SH: In the beginning of June, you still had not been assigned to a crew.
FW: Well, that's my next thing to come to here. "Mark's Hall, reported in and out. Orders, Bruce and I will ... be together," my co-partner, yes. "Willie Q and Jimmy (Wilmont?) will leave us." "June the 11th, reported to 337th Squadron Group in AM. Sent to the hospital for my cold and ears," [laughter] and that was the 96th Bomb Group.
MW: You should get your mission book out now, maybe.
FW: '43, oh, yes. ...
FW: Oh, yes. So, on June 11th, we moved to Snetterton Heath, where the 96th Bomb Group ... was installed. They moved, too. "Nothing much doing, Bruce and I. Twenty-four ships out, four ships missing." That's forty men. "Went to the movies at night." Now, in these days, we weren't assigned to a crew and we were just sitting around, doing nothing, absolutely nothing.
SH: How demoralizing was that? You do not have your own crew yet, but you know that many planes have been shot down.
FW: Yes. [laughter] Well, you still wanted to go, but they wouldn't let us go on a flight, because we weren't on a crew, ... and no one wanted the responsibility of ... saying, "Yes, all right, go." "Wrote more letters at night. Ground school in AM, ditching. Practice mission called off. Got my first mail from home." "June 16th, target identification, Brest. Full practice mission in PM. Darn near got sick, air plenty rough," but I never actually did get airsick, to tell you the truth, no. "Went to ground school in AM. Took a sunbath." When is it? Oh, well, it'd be after; we sat, I know without even looking through all of this, because ... all I know was, I flew, so, it would be way on. Bruce got assigned to a crew before I did. There, again, you're in the right place at the right time.
MW: That's right
FW: Because, ... I'll come across that later, he was shot down right on our left wing, and I was sure that he was killed, but he wasn't killed. He was a prisoner of war for the balance of the war.
FW: We got together. When I was recalled for Korea, I drove down to Hamilton, or not Hamilton; what is it, in Virginia, right near where ... Langley Field is? ... I had to report in at Langley Field, and what's it? Hampton Rhodes. There's a little cafeteria, a luncheonette-like deal down there, in Hampton Rhodes. ... Driving down, I got down there early in the morning, very early in the morning. I knew the place, because I had been assigned to Langley Field during World War II. I went in there to get something to eat for breakfast, and, as I walk in, "Hey, Wiz," and there's Yarwood sitting there, ... my partner from Aviation Cadet days. He got recalled at the same time as I did, and he was a prisoner of war, and I hadn't seen him since I saw him shot down.
SH: My. His name was Yarwood?
FW: Yarwood, yes.
SH: Where was he from?
FW: Cleveland, Cleveland, yes. No, he passed away. He's gone. ... Everybody I read about, darn it, is deceased. All right, now, here we are. "Bruce was transferred to 338th as Lieutenant Pelosi's bombardier. Lucky break," I have down here. So, there you are. Then, in the 14th; no, no, that's not the 14th. That's the year before. "Transferred to 413th Bomb Squadron in PM. Alerted on Lieutenant Shelton's crew. Shelton's bombardier back. So, that's no crew for me as yet," but he wasn't back. I don't know why I [wrote that]. It turned out that he wasn't, because he was shot down. Shelton, they were on a mission and they got hit by flak, and, no, it wasn't. That wasn't the time they were [hit]. The life raft, there's a life raft on a B-17 that's on the right-hand side of the aircraft fuselage, and it came out, must have been hit by flak. ... It came out and wrapped around the stabilizer and they went into a dive and, between the pilot and the copilot, they could pull it out of the dive, but, in the meantime, Shelton had given the order to bail out and four men bailed out. ... They had bailed out into the North Sea and they were all killed, including the bombardier. So, that's how I got my crew. I was assigned to his crew, and Shelton was a real great guy, pilot. "On July 19th, moved into new Quonset hut. Assigned to Lieutenant Shelton's crew. Read at night. Nothing doing during the day. Read at night. Nothing doing much at all." I was most likely stomping [chomping] at the bit by then. [laughter] "Went flying in PM, did some buzzing around. Slept in AM. Checked AFC [automatic flight control], automatic pilot. Checked equipment at night. Our crew test hopped a plane in PM. Wrote letters at night. ... Went to July 26th briefing," 28th, no, this is my day, on the 28th. What did I [do], 26th? no. Every now and then, I'd skip a page. [laughter] I'd write in the wrong spot. "On the 28th, off for Germany at six, 0600, six in the morning. Ran into about sixty German fighters, forced down over North Sea. Got home on three engines at a hundred feet. Radio operator wounded, and I had to take care of him." You know, it was that he'd been hit in the leg several missions before, by shrapnel, and he was in the hospital and had it taken care of. ... On my first mission, he got hit in exactly the same leg, in the same place, and the bombardier was the medical officer, also, onboard. So, I had to go back and sort of tend to him, put in the sulfa drugs and whatever. ... [Editor's Note: Sulfonamides are a group of drugs used to kill bacteria. Powdered sulfa drugs were included in US Armed Forces first aid kits during World War II for use in preventing the infection of wounds.]
SH: Did you have medical training?
FW: No. I knew what medical equipment was there, what was onboard. So, that was it. ... I couldn't call myself doctor, now, could I? [laughter] That'd be the day. ... Oh, let's see, "On the 29th," 28th, I flew my first mission, I just told you about it, "in the morning, alerted, tomorrow, mission. Took off for Kassel, Germany," and Kassel was in the middle of, if I'm not mistaken, the Ruhr Valley, and that was the most heavily-defended spot, in that Ruhr Valley, because that's where all the metal and all the [coal] that Hitler used came from. "Back at twelve o'clock. ... Only three of our planes, 413th Squadron, went over the target. Bruce is missing-in-action, (near you?)." He had just gotten in on this other crew, Pelosi's crew. "I fired twelve hundred rounds. Really a rough mission."
SH: Were you able to bomb your target?
FW: Well, in those days, I was a togglier, [a bombardier who toggled the bomb release switch on cue from the lead bombardier]. ...
FW: Sure, sure, oh, yes. You can quote me anytime, as far as that's concerned.
SH: We are looking at the navigator's log.
FW: Well, I just used this book.
SH: You used the navigator's log as the bombardier, in question.
FW: Yes, yes, right. Now, see, in here, where we were leaving from, that was Eccles Road, which is the same as our base, Snetterton Heath, the date, what type of plane we're in, what its number was, who the pilot was and who the navigator was and the length of the mission, and here are all the crew members. ... There's only two that are left, and I'm one of them, and the other is a fellow by the name of Staples wasn't on here then. ...
SH: Were they all from all over the country?
FW: All over.
FW: Well, they're all up in heaven now, I'm sure.
SH: Good, good.
MW: Well, I hope that's where they are.
FW: And then, I wrote, just what you have on that piece of paper that I gave you is written in here, and I did that for even missions that we aborted on, same thing.
SH: What was the most memorable mission that you were on?
FW: Regensburg, [a city in southeastern Germany].
SH: Why is that memorable?
FW: Because, well, as a rule, when we went out on a mission, we turned around after we dropped our bombs and went back home. This one, we were after ball-bearings, and that was in ...
SH: Is this the log we are looking at right now?
FW: No, I'm not looking at that one.
MW: Well, find that one, honey, and maybe you can read it
RZ: It is right here.
FW: Regensburg. Yes, well, they want to see the book, I guess. I don't know. What date was that, anyway?
RZ: August 17, 1943.
FW: All right, I've already passed it. That's (Wessling?), France, August 12th; come on, Wiswall.
SH: What date, Roger?
RZ: August 17th.
SH: We are on the 15th here.
FW: Abbeville-Poix, [France]. Oh, I thought you said; here's Regensburg. ... I think it was the First Air Division, we were in the Third Air Division, went to Schweinfurt, which is also ball-bearings, and we went to Regensburg, which was also that. The fellows that went to Schweinfurt turned around and went back home [after bombing Schweinfurt]. We didn't. [Editor's Note: The August 17, 1943, mission to bomb ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt and aircraft factories in Regensburg was an early Eighth Air Force experiment in shuttle-bombing and diversion tactics. The plan was for the Third Air Division to strike Regensburg, then, proceed to bases in North Africa, drawing out the Luftwaffe and confusing the German defenders by heading south. The First Air Division would then follow on their heels to strike Schweinfurt, taking advantage of the fact that the German fighters would still be on the ground refueling after attacking the Third Air Division. However, weather delayed the First Air Division's takeoff and they were also heavily intercepted by the German defenders.] On their return trip to the United Kingdom, I don't have a map here to show you, but what we did is, from Regensburg, we went over the Brenner Pass in Switzerland, and down into the Mediterranean, Italy to our left, and went on into Africa and landed in the desert, and that's why it was a little bit different. Well, we lost one engine. ... Part of the engine was shot out and one other engine was acting up. So, these other fellows in the First Air Division; ... no, the fellows in our division, the Third Division, that still had flyable planes, when they left Africa a couple of days later, they bombed Bordeaux in France, on the way back home. We couldn't, because we had two engines. One was shot out and the other one was bad. So, we went with our plane over to Marrakech, on the western side of Africa, and we had to wait, when we were there, once again, for engines to be flown down from Casablanca. So, while we were waiting, what they did is, they ... let our crew go to Agadir, [Morocco], which is right on the coast. It's a rest home and we stayed there for a couple or three days and there wasn't anything there, because anything worthwhile, the only thing was some wine, I think, the Germans had taken everything the people had there, and, if they didn't take it, they despoiled it. ...
SH: When you went over the ball-bearing factory, that was where you lost your engine, and so, you just went ahead and came on south.
FW: Right on, yes, that's right, and let's see, what was I going to say now? I digressed. ...
SH: Did some of the other planes come with you to North Africa?
FW: Oh, yes, well, anyone that could fly. Well, you see, some of them had to ditch, in the First [Third?] Air Division, had to ditch into the Mediterranean, the ocean, because they ran out of gas. See, that was our concern. Everyone was really sweating. That was quite a feat that we pulled. It was the first shuttle mission of its type, and it was while we were there that the navigator and I came upon the wreck of a German fighter, and you know that in a German fighter plane, they have a piece of three-quarter-inch armor behind them, in there, and it's, you know, where the head comes down, and then, like so, and that was loose in that German fighter. So, the navigator and I took it and we got some other fellows to help us carry it, because it was heavy, and we got it up in our B-17 and put it on the floor of the nose, see. ... Then, when we got back to England, we had that bolted, so that no matter what happened, it couldn't move from the floor, and, at that time, there wasn't a bombsight, because we were a brand-new crew. There was no bombsight for us yet, and then, you just have to bear with me. You're asking me questions and I'm telling you the truth. What we would do was, like, a target in Bremen, [a city in northern Germany], the flak that was shot up at you from in Bremen, you could get out and walk on it; literally, you could. It was so thick, and, of course, that was bursting at all altitudes, under you, alongside of you, above you. ... So, Hockin and I figured out, when we hit a target like that, I'd get up in front and hunch over on this armor plate and he'll crawl up my back and put his arms around me and we'll ride it out, in other words. [laughter] ... My first thought was, and as I always said it, "Now, what if the Chaplain or what if the Colonel ever were to stick his nose in here and see you and I in this position? Where would we be? Ho, ho, Lord." [laughter]
MW: They always could laugh about something, right.
FW: But, we didn't laugh about it.
MW: Not then, no.
FW: We were very serious, ... and the one time that I got hit by a piece of flak it didn't even break the skin, so, I was never wounded; it was a flake about like that. It was a flake of flak. ... The A-2 jacket that I had on, it just went halfway through it, but it had gone through the side of the plane and it lost most of its strength in there. I thought I lost an arm there, and I didn't lose anything, but, I mean, it's the way flak can hit you. Now, when we became a lead plane, when we were capable of leading the group, we had to take this thing out of the front of the nose.
FW: Because you got a bombsight in there. The Norden Bombsight was put in there, so [that] I could drop bombs; no more free rides, no more free rides. [laughter] ...
SH: You kept the same plane. After all the damage, they still let you keep the same plane.
FW: Oh, yes. Oh, boy, those ground crews, you can never say enough for the ground crews, you really can't, because, what did they call them? the unsung heroes. They work all night, every time, ... all night, all day, if necessary, because we always had a goal "twenty-one aircraft available and up," and you'd be surprised how many planes had come back shot up. So, those ground crews were fantastic.
SH: Did your plane have a name?
FW: Short Stride. That, my pilot named that. Apparently, it wasn't his wife-to-be, but I think it was Collett's girl. I forget, now, how that came about; one of them had a girl that always took short steps. This is back in the States, before I ever joined them. I got the story later on in life, and so, they named it Short Stride, the plane, and I think that, before we finished, we went through about six Short Strides.
SH: Okay. That was what I wanted to know.
FW: Yes, yes.
SH: Surely, you could not have kept that same plane flying all that time.
FW: No. Well, we went to two airfields in France. You'll see in the log there that I gave you, Abbeville and Poix, and I think they were in the western coast of France, and we had over a hundred flak holes or bullet holes on the side of it, all over it, and nobody got hurt. No one got hurt, not hit or anything, but, no, you get shot up. ... The plane that I got to be a member of the crew of, I should have dug out one of those pictures, when they brought that plane back in and landed at Snetterton Heath, ... the number two engine, this is the plane, and the number two engine, they couldn't stop it from "wind milling." What they usually do is turn the prop [propeller], and, usually, a prop will be like this, so that it bites the air as it goes around. When they say they "feather" it, they turn the blade so [that] it cuts through the air. Well, they couldn't do that. So, it was "wind milling" all the way back from the North Sea, when the other fellows bailed out, and they hit the ground and after, when they hit the ground, the prop flew off and went halfway through the nose of the plane, just missed the navigator, Hockins, who was still alive, and I ... have a picture of that plane, and that's what I joined. That's the fellow that I replaced in that plane, but God was with me, that's all. So, that covers that. Now, where do we [go]?
SH: We are talking about August of 1943. How long did it take you to finish?
FW: March the 3rd, I finished.
SH: March the 3rd. You actually finished your twenty-five missions before D-Day.
FW: Yes, twenty-five missions, yes.
SH: What do they do with you after twenty-five missions?
FW: Oh, well, that was interesting. Well, they told me I could go home. You, ... but I was single and I was young and I said, "Well, it's up to you," and then, they asked me if I would be interested in staying on and training other lead bombardiers and new crews coming over, the bombardier and the crew. I said, "Sure." So, I stayed on as [a trainer], and I had already been made squadron bombardier and gotten my captaincy. So, I stayed on and trained new crews that came in, and I came up with this idea of; we carried Pathfinder equipment. [Editor's Note: Pathfinder aircraft were aircraft outfitted with the H2X radar system; in a B-24, the ball-turret was removed and replaced with a radar dish.] Pathfinder equipment was H2X equipment, it was radar, and the radar, so many times, when we flew over the Continent, we had ten-tenths coverage [a hundred percent cloud coverage] underneath. You couldn't see, and, sometimes, you'd have breaks in the cloud formation and you could see, and, in more than one instance, you couldn't. It was all radar, and radar was a hit-and-miss proposition. All you see is just your PPI scope, plan position indicator, [the radar display screen], and it'd go around. ... If it hit anything, it gave a return that would bounce back and show up in this scope. I assume that all radar is like that, even today, I guess, but more refined, of course, and so, there was a lot of interpolation. I mean, do you reply? You look at your chart and there's a city here and that gives a return and this one gives a return, but it was interpolation, and then, you had to navigate yourself by these reflections that you saw come back in the radar scope, but the radar was trying to solve the same problem as you were with the Norden Bombsight. ... The main thing that you have to do is keep on track, the pilot keeps the airspeed constant, too, altitude constant and the course constant, until the bombardier takes over, and then, he just regulates the airspeed and the bombardier will fly the plane, [the Norden Bombsight controls the plane in accordance with the bombardier's adjustments]. ... When radar is doing it, I guess they did the same thing, but I never; radar was very difficult, but I imagine they would still be trying to do the same thing. ... What both of them were solving, or trying to solve, was that there's a point in the sky at the altitude you're flying, at the airspeed and in the course you're on, there's a point which is called the dropping point, with the type of bomb that you're carrying and the airspeed you're flying. See, when you drop the bomb, the bomb'll follow the plane, like so, and then, go in what they call a parabolic curve down to the target, or to the ground, or wherever it's going, and, if he's trying to solve that problem and ... I have got the bombsight all set up, ready to take over, in case there's any opening in the clouds, ... why can't I clutch in the bombsight and keep following and look for an opening in the sky? ... If I look for an opening in the sky and he's anywhere near the course that we need to go to get to the target, I can take over, because I can see that break in the sky. He can't. He's still looking at the radarscope, but I can see the target; I can take over with the bombsight and bomb visually, instead of going by the poor H2X guy in the back, because that was very unreliable, that bombing. I think we dropped ...
SH: Were you able to convince them to let you do that?
FW: Oh, yes.
MW: He got a citation for it. I'll show you.
FW: Yes. I got the Legion of Merit for that. That's about one of the proudest things I have, [laughter] ... but I presented it to the Eighth Air Force Headquarters and they bought it and it was used on D-Day. ...
RZ: Did you or your crew ever shoot down any German fighters?
FW: Oh, yes, yes. I thought I got one. I don't know whether I have that in here or not. Yes, I do.
SH: Can I put this back on?
FW: Oh, yes, sure.
SH: My question is, what was a Pathfinder group?
FW: Well, you see, if there was strictly all cloud cover underneath, all the way, when the Pathfinder decided that his equipment had picked up that point that I told you about, they would drop a flare. ... That flare was, more or less, like, it was hanging in the clouds, was most likely. I forget how they got it to stand still, but they did. Maybe that was a chute and, when the rest of the planes, passed over that flare, they would drop their bombs.
SH: That was the way you first started out as a bombardier. You would bomb by visualizing or seeing that flare.
FW: No, no, if I was; as a bombardier before I got the bombsight, you mean?
FW: Oh, yes, before I had the bombsight, I was no different than anyone else. I couldn't pick up that point.
SH: No, but, before, you were the bombardier, with the rest of the other bombardiers, dropping at that site. Does the bombardier not take over the plane when the bombs are being dropped?
FW: Oh, no, actually, the bombardier takes over; this is a map, this is the target, and we're coming in like this. We turn [on] this initial [point], the turning point, right, that point; from here on, if you're bombing with the bombsight, you go on automatic pilot and the automatic pilot is attached to the bombsight. So, the pilot, ... all he has to worry about is maintaining the altitude and the airspeed. The bombardier, or the bombsight, is flying the plane. Does that answer your question?
SH: What if you are the plane without the bombsight?
FW: You're just watching the plane that is either going to drop by bombsight or H2X. ... If it's even on a mission where the ground is visible, the target's wide open, you're just watching the lead plane, and, when his bombs dropped, you drop. You have an intervalometer, [a timing device used to count intervals in time], over here that'll tell you how many bombs to drop, or give you a spacing in-between each bomb that you drop and they'll click right out of the plane, but you let those bombs go when you see the lead plane ... drop his bombs. Did I answer that okay?
RZ: Were there any special formations?
FW: Oh, yes. See, there's usually twenty-one aircraft in a group and they fly in this, this, this, here, here and here and here, "tail-end Charlie," [the last and most-vulnerable aircraft in the formation].
SH: It is kind of like a spread.
FW: I wish I ...
SH: It is hard. We are trying to define this for the audio recording.
FW: ... I don't know whether I have a picture here or not. I know I have a picture of a formation and, if you saw the formation; I don't know whether I have it here or not. It sure isn't there. ...
SH: After you finished your twenty-five missions, before you go with the Pathfinder group, did you get an R&R, or were you required to take an R&R?
FW: Usually, it was about the halfway mark, rest and recuperation, and it was their idea, I guess to give us a break and get us away from everything. ... There was a big, it was almost like a castle, but instead of going up, it was spread out. I have a picture of it. I don't know where it is now, and I don't want to take your time to look for it, but it was a big, big, typical British place, and all you do is just go there and rest and recuperate. I mean, there wasn't anything to do, really. There's nothing to do around and you're way out in the boonies, really, ... but it was a chance just to get away and relax and do whatever you wanted to do.
SH: It was like a regular rotation.
SH: Was there ever a time when you saw crew members, not necessarily yours, but others on the base, who just had had it and just could not go up again, mental fatigue?
FW: I'm trying to think. ... I don't ever recall seeing one, and it would be real, really, a last resort for anyone to do that. I don't know, ... I heard that one of our group, one of the twenty-eight that went over with us, flew, I think it was two or three missions, and he refused to fly again. Now, I wasn't there, I didn't see it and I don't know, but I heard it and I heard it several times. So, I believe it, but I couldn't prove it and I would never state it, because I don't know that it's a fact, but, yes, I've heard of it. No, you can go bananas.
SH: How long was a flight, usually, a bombing run? I know the targets varied. Obviously, the one to North Africa was the longest. [laughter]
FW: Yes. Are you talking about the average length of ... a combat flight or just the bombing run?
SH: Just a bombing run. [Editor's Note: A bombing run is the distance from the initial point to the target.]
FW: Oh, well, there, again, there's various factors. It'd depend on your altitude, most likely, depend on weather conditions and how big the target was, whether you're bombing a city or you're bombing a small building, which, sometimes, we did. There was one, Watten, [France]. ... It was right over the English Channel and it was a big; we didn't know what it was, [a V-1 rocket launch site], but it was just a big block out there, and we went in and bombed that, bombed it at twelve thousand feet, but I don't know what it was, but that wouldn't be too long a run.
SH: What was your position when you would come under enemy fighter attack?
FW: Well, my position would never change. It would always be the nose gunner, and the navigator, who sat right to my rear, he had a gun out this way. Before I had a bombsight, I had a gun out the nose and I had a gun out this way. Right behind me, right behind the pilot and copilot, was the engineer and he was standing in a turret which had twin machine-guns and he could go around. The only thing he couldn't do is shoot through the tail, of course, and then, there were two waist gunners, the one that shot from either side of the aircraft. ... They each had the single fifty-caliber machine-gun and the tail gunner, in the back, he had twin fifties.
RZ: What about the ball-turret?
FW: The ball, oh, yes, can't forget him, no. He had twin fifties, too, and he was underneath and they would ... swing that around, but I don't know, my position, we didn't have that, really, in a plane.
SH: When you would go out like this and come back, what was the procedure for a bombardier? What were you required to do?
FW: ... After you landed, coming back from a mission, there was a truck there to pick you up and carry you back to the briefing room. ... We would all sit around the table and there would be a briefing officer there that would query us on the entire mission, anything we had to report. ... "Did we think we got a fighter?" or this and that, and one thing and another, and, "Did we see any planes go down?" If you saw a plane go down, "Did you see how many chutes got out?" I mean, ... to me, these would be natural questions that they would ask. ... No, I was going to say, if you saw a plane go down in our group, "Did you notify [the navigator], or did the navigator know of it, so [that] he could make a position report right away? Did you see chutes?" because, then, if you saw chutes, "Was he over a place where anything could be done about it?" Those are the questions that we would be [asked], really, a very good interrogation.
SH: Then, you were free to just go back and sleep.
FW: Well, after you were finished with that; no, we got it, at first, the first thing you get when you get in there is, they come around with a little tray and in each tray is a shot, and, sometimes, ... you really felt good, and I'm not much, ... I wasn't in those days, of a straight drinker. ... Beer was my drink, not booze, but, sometimes, it was good to have. That was the first thing ... you were greeted with, and then, they would question you, and, sometimes, ... you'd see, over in somebody else's crew, that somebody would be a little shaken up. You know, have you ever watched Twelve O'Clock High, [a 1949 film]? Well, if you have it, I've got it loaned out to a friend of mine who has two or three boys that are interested, ... that's the best movie, as far as I'm concerned, that was ever put out about ... what a crew goes through during the war. I've seen a lot of them, and some of them are glamorized to the point where, to me, they're sickening, just to sell [tickets], to make money. They don't tell a true story at all, but Twelve O'Clock High is factual, as far as I'm concerned, and then, the terrific actors in it, too. So, if anyone wants to know what it's like ... or wants to get a good idea of what it's like, tell them to go out and rentTwelve O'Clock High.
RZ: Were you superstitious? Prior to a mission, did you do anything, like keeping charms or saying a prayer?
FW: Oh, I'll tell you one thing, ... and I still say my prayers before I go to bed, ... when I went on a mission, I said my prayers when we were taking off on the runway, on the way up. I'm not ashamed of that at all.
RZ: Did you keep any good luck charms?
SH: Were there standard little rituals that you would go through, like touching a door?
FW: No, no. [laughter]
SH: We hear all these things from people.
MW: Only his prayers.
FW: No, no. ... I was a little superstitious about, not superstitious, but I always wanted to say my prayers and that, which I did.
SH: You have shown us some wonderful photographs. Sometimes, the crew would include someone who was taking photographs.
FW: ... Well, we had a group photographer. ... Whether there were other planes that had a whole array of ... ways and means to take pictures, I don't know, but we never [did that]. No, you were too busy to really take pictures, and you weren't concerned, in the pictures, if you're going to take any pictures, it was the plane you were shooting at going down, and you didn't even have time to take a picture of him.
SH: I just wondered if, sometimes, they sent somebody from what we would now call the press corps?
FW: Well, they might have. ...
MW: Well, how did you get your pictures then? They must have.
FW: Oh, from back in the group, I just said.
MW: I know, but these actual pictures, you must have had a photographer take them from the plane, right?
FW: Oh, no, not from our plane, no, didn't have to be from our plane. They could be from any plane. ... A lot of the pictures that I've shown you, like this one picture of the planes going over the Brenner Pass in the Alps, on the way to Regensburg, and we swear that that one plane is us, but it's just that far away that you can't discern the [tail number]. ... One B-17 looks a lot like the other. [laughter] ...
SH: Were there USO shows and things like that for you in England?
FW: I know that I saw a couple of shows. ... I remember [British Foreign Secretary] Anthony Eden coming to our place.
SH: What did you have to do for entertainment?
FW: And I think ... a boxer came one time, but I never saw anybody like Bob Hope, but they might have come and I didn't catch them.
SH: What about the Big Bands?
FW: Well, Big Bands, none ever came to our base, that I know, because, if there was, believe me, I'd have been there, but, no, I can't ever remember a Big Band. I think I was over there at the time that Glenn Miller was there, but I don't know of any other Big Bands that came while I was there, to tell you the truth.
RZ: Did you play in any bands? Did you bring your trumpet?
FW: No, not over to Europe, no, no. I might have been playing a harp, maybe practicing up, you know, [laughter] but, no, I didn't.
RZ: The bugling days were past you. [laughter]
SH: You really did give up the bugle then, at that point, when you got to England.
FW: The bugle. [laughter]
MW: The bugle and the trumpet, right?
FW: No, I didn't bring that with me. No, I was past that point. ...
SH: You have to forgive us for asking. We had to ask, after reading pages and pages of your diary, "Going to bugle practice." [laughter]
FW: ... Well, I'm glad they gave me something to do. It's better than sitting around doing nothing, because time gets heavy on your hands after awhile, you know; at least it did on mine.
RZ: Was there any competition between the fighter pilots and the bomber crews? Was there any animosity? I know, up on a mission, everybody is on the same page, but maybe on the base.
SH: At the officers' club?
FW: Oh, no, no. I never saw any personal animosity, if that's what you mean, no, never. In fact, we always welcomed the "Little Friends." We had P-47 cover. When I first started flying ...
RZ: "Little friends" is what you referred to the fighters as.
FW: When I first went over there, the only thing we had were the British Spitfires. They could go across the Channel and just bring us to the enemy coast and they'd have to turn around. They didn't have the range to go, and then, for awhile, we had P-51s and P-47s that would take us a portion of the way, and then, how far they could go would depend upon whether they were hit by enemy fighters or not, whether they had to protect us, in which case they would use more gas. No, they didn't have the fuel to go all the way, but, then, later on, the '51s and the '47s got extra tanks, ... what did they call them? "Tokyo tanks," and we would get cover all the way around, all the way around, but I didn't. I wasn't able to be so fortunate, because I finished up ... in March and I don't think they had the range to go all the way in those days. ... To be honest, I don't really remember, but I don't think I got roundabout cover from the fighters, but, no, ... we loved to see the fighters come in, whew. [laughter] ...
SH: When your twenty-five missions were over, in March of 1944, were you aware that the invasion was going to take place in just a few short months?
FW: Well, yes, I think we all were. I think we all were, because it couldn't all be done the way we were doing it. We could soften things up and make it awful rough on Adolf, but it had to be.
SH: Did you see a buildup of personnel, Navy, Army and Air Corps?
FW: ... One time, I was riding in a taxicab in London and I was just looking around, because you ... couldn't go very fast, even though they were crazy drivers, on the wrong side of the road, you know. ... I look over and I saw this fellow, in fact, it's the fellow; no, no, it wasn't. It was Lou Drable. It was our stable sergeant from the 102nd Cavalry, who was over in Great Britain, and they were based down in Exeter, the southwestern portion of England, if I recall it correctly, where all the buildup for the invasion took place. That's how we knew. Common sense'd tell you that ... it was the only way and you knew they were there and what was going to happen, but I remember, I told the taxicab driver, "Stop." ... He pulled over to the side and I ran out and it was ... Lou Drable was his name, and he was a sergeant. ... The last time he'd seen me, I was a private, "to be a private in the horse cavalry," and I ran up to him to shake his hand, as a captain, and he's looking at me, "What's wrong here?" [laughter] but I remember, yes.
SH: That was your real clue that the buildup was starting.
FW: Oh, you know, the buildup was there and what were they doing there? ... They were sitting there, because a lot of my old buddies, I never knew it at the time, but a lot of them had ... come over on the same Elizabeth that I did, [RMS Queen Elizabeth].
FW: Yes. ... With fifteen thousand people, you could never pick them out, no way. I was fortunate that I found the one fellow from Boonton.
SH: When you finished your twenty-five missions, you had an R&R for just a few days, and then, you started with the Pathfinder.
FW: No, I think our R&R, I won't try to look it up now, but our R&R was before I finished.
SH: Okay. There was no break between finishing your twenty-five missions and starting ...
SH: Your training of the other crews.
FW: Oh, no, that was right away.
SH: When did you become the lead bombardier? This was when you were still doing your twenty-five missions; approximately when?
FW: Well, I would only want to guess it to tell you. Let me see this. ...
SH: Would you tell us again? I saw that you were just reviewing that, but I am not sure the recording picked it up. This was a flight over Munster.
FW: Yes, mission fourteen, on October 10, 1943. According to my log, "The mission lasted four hours and thirty minutes. We led the group for the first time. We were carrying twelve five-hundred-pound demo," demolition, "bombs. We led the group. Tom Hiens, the group bombardier, did the bombing." I make no mention of what he hit.
RZ: You were not the lead bombardier.
FW: ... I didn't do the bombing. I often wondered about those things, and I queried our group bombardier about them, why so many of the same men did the bombing. Now, Tom Hiens was one of the first over and he was part of what they called, "The Old 96th." In other words, there was the elite, which were the original crews, and then, all crews afterwards, and I only came over there a week or so after they did, but, then, there were ones that weren't trained in Walla Walla [in Washington State] and out West, one thing or another, and then, flew overseas. They were here and anyone that came after were down here. ...
MW: Were you ever lead bombardier?
FW: Oh, yes, after that. ... You've heard me talk about the "Old 96th" and the "New 96th," and it just burned me up. [laughter]
SH: I can see why that might be. Here, you wrote, "On November 3rd, we lead the 96th on a Pathfinder."
FW: ... "On a Pathfinder;" well, we already knew, from the intelligence given [to] us at the time of briefing, that the Continent was closed. In other words, yes, we were all right at twenty-five thousand feet, but don't look for the ground, because you won't see it, and the cloud thickness was that much where, in those days, you weren't going to drop down to twelve thousand feet and bomb, or I would have bailed out. [laughter]
SH: You are talking about good fighter cover here, in November of 1943 and December of 1943. That was good.
MW: You had fighter cover.
FW: All the way, yes.
SH: You said you had good fighter cover at this point.
FW: [You] always have a secondary [target], just in case the first ... target was obscured from vision, no chance, and if you didn't have the Pathfinder with you, then, there'd always be a secondary target and you'd hope and pray that there was going to be an opening to that target.
SH: You had to drop your bombs before you could land; is that not true?
FW: Well, some planes did. ... There, again, it would be depending upon what type of bomb that you were carrying, whether you wanted to take a chance or not, but some crews did come back with their bombs, but most of the time, they got rid of them.
SH: Here, you wrote, "The biggest thrill of this mission was the buzz job Jack Ford gave the base."
FW: He's still alive. ... Jack Ford was one of the original crews and my pilot, Shelton, finished up before me, in fact, I mentioned it, when he finished, before I was. So, I had to finish up with another crew, [to] get my twenty-five [missions] in, and they assigned me to Jack Ford's crew, because his bombardier, who I replaced as is squadron bombardier, "Polecat" (Miller?) was his name, he'd gone home, but we led the group on that particular mission. ... We had Colonel Old flying in the right-hand seat, and he and Jack were good, old friends from the good old, days in Texas and out West. ... Jack asked Colonel Old if he could buzz the field, meaning that you come down and you fly right off the ground; [laughter] don't get in the way of the prop wash, and I was riding in the nose. ... Jack asked the Colonel if he could do that and the Colonel gave him his permission, and I was riding in the front and, all of a sudden, I saw us coming down at the ground. ... As I said, I swear, if he had his wheels down, we would have landed on the ground, ... and then, you pull the plane up and you go, "Oh, boy." [laughter] I had a little tickle, but I always remember that, and I still kid Jack every time. I haven't seen him [in awhile]. ...
SH: How often did you have a colonel flying with you?
FW: Depending upon the type of mission, usually when the group was leading a division.
SH: Why would that be? What would be the difference?
FW: Well, if it was to be whether ... you're leading a division or leading three or four groups, or if it was not a mission that's going to be hair-raising if we were a success or a failure, ... and if the "old man" wanted to ride along, he would ride along. Otherwise, you'd have an operations officer, or some other ranking officer, would always be in the right-hand seat.
SH: Really, always?
FW: Yes, always, oh, yes, ... when you're a lead, yes. When you're a lead, they do that. They always did it. ... I always figured it a compliment, more or less, if you had a colonel, a full colonel, riding along there. He retired, finally, as a lieutenant general, and so, he got his wish. [laughter] ... I remember, when I first reported over there, I came over with a seat pack type of parachute, which ... was issued to me at Salt Lake City, and most of the parachutes that were handed out, once you got in the combat zone, were the ones that went on in the front [chest pack]. ... The minute that he heard that I had come over with a seat pack, because he used to love to fly the P-47; ... here, again, the Colonel can fly anything he wants, ... he asked me to come over to his cabin and, when I came, to please bring the seat pack. Oh, boy, so, that was taken away from me, which I didn't really care [about], because you couldn't have used it much anyway, and then, when I had to clear the base to come home, I had to be cleared of that. So, I went over to his quarters to knock on the door and handed my clearance sheet to him, and I said, "Colonel, when I first reported in here..." [He said], "I know, Wiswall," [Lieutenant Colonel Wiswall imitates him scribbling], didn't even get up out of the chair he was sitting in, just signed it off. [laughter] "Have a good trip home." Oh, gee, I can remember that. "Rank has its privileges," the old story. [laughter]
SH: RHIP. What about in 1943, when you started working with these training crews?
SH: In 1944. How long did you think you would be there working with these crews for, the duration?
FW: I had no idea. I would have stayed the duration, but I guess, after awhile, they finally figured, "Well, you've had enough," or it was Joe Turner, the one that decided that I would go home, you know.
MW: ... Good, old Joe.
RZ: When did that happen?
FW: July of '44. It was some time in July that I was told to go, and then, I came home on the [USS] West Point,which was the former [SS] America, and the story there [was], I always have a story for everything, there was a fellow from Mountain Lakes, Jack Morris, that was one of the officers onboard, and he never knew I was onboard and I never knew he was onboard. ... He said, "Wiswall, why didn't you get in touch with me? You could have had your mess with us, you could have done everything. I would have shown you this [or that on the ship]." I said, "Now, you tell me." I didn't know he was on there. I met him in Mountain Lakes and, when I heard that he was on the West Point, [I said], "Gee, I came home with you." [laughter]
SH: You came back in July 1944. What were you assigned to do?
FW: ... Well, the first thing that I'd do is, ... I forget how long it was, I had a nice leave at home, and then, I was supposed to report in for redistribution at Atlantic City, and, about a week or two before I was set to report to Atlantic City, I got advice that Atlantic City was full and that I'd have to go to Miami Beach. So, I went to Miami Beach for redistribution, and I went through health tests there, and this and that, and the next thing [I know], ... I find out that I'm assigned to a rest camp in Lake Lure, North Carolina. ... To me, that was a "flak shack," and there's nothing wrong with me. [laughter] I didn't want to go there. ... I made friends with a major that got the same assignment and neither one of us wanted to go to a flak shack, nothing wrong with my nerves, but they figured I should have a rest ... and he should have a rest. ... I know, when we got up there, ... beautiful place, Lake Lure, North Carolina, way up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, first thing we did is report in and say, "Send us back." "Oh, no, you're here. You're going to stay here." So, we were, more or less, independent individuals. So, we drew a couple of bicycles and we went for a ride down the highway from the resort and we found a little beer shed, stopped in there and parked our bicycles out in front, went in and we sat drinking beer. ... Oh, it must have been a couple of hours later, a couple of Red Cross girls came in, looking for us. The CO [commanding officer] had sent them out looking for us, finally, to get back to the base. Well, the Red Cross girls came in and joined us drinking beer. [laughter] ... We had a good, old time, until we went back to base. ... Oh, I tell you, the friends that I made in the service, you never ... make friends like that again, and you make a friend there and it's a firm friend. I don't know, seems to be something about that camaraderie that just sticks.
RZ: How long were you there on R&R?
FW: At the R&R [Lake Lure]? I think it was three weeks. ... There, again, I could tell you exactly. If you have any questions that you want to know ... let me know and I'll look it up. I mean, if it's of any importance to you, I'll be glad to look it up. I don't mind.
SH: I think Roger is talking about when you said you were assigned to the "flak shack." How long were you at the flak shack?
FW: Oh, at the flak shack. I think it was twenty-one days, [laughter] and then, another thing, one of my buddies at Miami Beach, Joe Cronin was his name, he was from Brooklyn, and I told Joe where I was going. He said, "Oh, boy," he said, "I wish I could be going there with you. We could have so much fun, you know," and I said, "Well, why don't you just go back up into the medical department and start a show?" [laughter] ... When I came back, he was still there and he had just gotten out of the hospital. ... He did exactly what I told him, "Oh, I need a rest," ... and they put him in the hospital.
SH: To describe it for the recording, Mr. Wiswall is doing a bit of a contortion with his body.
FW: You know, shaking and blinking my eyes, making believe that I am "flak happy," but, anyway, he was ready to kill me. He'd been in the hospital the whole time I'd been up there and he couldn't get out. They couldn't find anything wrong with him at the hospital. I just told him he was a good actor, "Don't blame me." [laughter]
RZ: Too good.
FW: Yes, oh, boy.
SH: Then, where did they send you, back to Miami?
FW: Well, I'll tell you, no; yes, from the flak shack, I went back to Miami and, at Miami, my orders were already waiting for me. In fact, I've got a copy of the telegram [that] was waiting for me down there, that my old CO [commanding officer] from the 96th, Colonel Hand, and the group bombardier, had put in for me to be sent to Langley Field, because there, ... at that time, once again, Uncle Sam had sort of misled himself, I guess, they had so many pilots, brand-new pilots, they didn't know what to do with them, second lieutenants. ... They had no place they could send them or anything else. Now, we're talking about, what? the latter part of '44 and things were really softening up. In fact, they changed the number of [required missions]. ... I don't know whether it was doubled then or not, but they almost did, doubled everything of what you had to do and you could go home. ... I digress; every time I digress, I lose my train of thought.
MW: Too many pilots, sweetie.
FW: Oh, too many pilots. ... Thank you, dear; what they wanted to do with all these pilots is, they wanted to put them through, I forget the length of the term, [it] was bombardier training, navigation training, and then, send them out someplace as "triple-headed monsters." They could be a pilot, a bombardier or a navigator, and so, they started this school at Langley Field, and they put me in charge of the bombardier-ing section. ... It wasn't too exciting, but, then, ... my group bombardier from [the] 96th Bomb Group had been transferred to MacDill Field, and, at MacDill Field, they had B-29s, which was the "grandmother and grandfather" of the B-17. ... They had an opening there for, what did they call it? something bombardier; in other words, in charge of the bombardier-ing section, and they called me down, had me transferred and [to] report down there for duty, which I did. Oh, instructor-bombardier; that's what they called it. No, that isn't it either, but, anyway, that navigator that I knew, his desk was here and mine were here. We got along fine, and you know who he was? ... He was Captain Colin Kelly's navigator, Joe Bean, Joe M. Bean, ... if you look up in the Congressional [inquiry]. Remember Colin Kelly? Maybe you wouldn't.
FW: Colin Kelly, ... he was a thrust in the hearts of people right after Pearl Harbor. He was supposed to have been flying a B-17 and dove down and right into the stack of a Japanese aircraft carrier over in the Pacific.
FW: ... I wish I could find ... the Congressional inquiry. They had a Congressional inquiry afterward, because that wasn't true, because Joe Bean gave me the whole story. He bailed out of that B-17, and, while he was in the air, the Japanese riddled him and caught him in his legs, ..., but we became fast friends, too, and, when I reported for duty at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan, who's the first person I bumped into? It was Joe Bean. [laughter] I had such good fortune in that. ...
SH: We need to back up and talk about Langley.
MW: Langely Field.
SH: Where you were training the "triple-headed monsters."
SH: How long were you there? Were you there until the end of the war in Europe?
FW: Oh, no, no. I got called out, don't forget. They called me down to Tampa to ... get on this instructor's training board for the B-29 bombardiers.
SH: You were down in Florida for the B-29 training.
FW: In Tampa, right, right. I got shot all around there.
SH: Then, what happened at Langley; not Langley. In Florida, how long were you there?
FW: In Florida? Well, until the war ended.
SH: Were you? What kind of a celebration did you witness when the news came that the war had ended in Europe?
FW: I don't remember any. When did that one end, in Europe?
RZ: May of 1945.
FW: May '45. Was that the Japanese surrender, or just the war in Europe?
RZ: No, Germany surrendered.
FW: Germany surrendered. Well, there must have been some whoopee. I don't know. ... To be honest, May of '45, you don't remember the date? Do you remember the date? [Editor's Note: V-E Day was May 8, 1945.]
SH: Where were you when the war ended in August of 1945?
FW: Tampa, MacDill Field, yes.
SH: You were still in Tampa.
FW: Yes. Oh, big parties and everything then, I remember that, that the war was over, and then, Uncle Sam started pushing ... to get people out of the service and home. ... I was part of the regular Reserve and I wanted to stay in, which I did, ... in the Reserve, and then, the minute I got out, I tried to reenlist in the regulars, but, at that time, they had no place for me, because I don't know how many people tried to [reenlist]. Well, I loved the service, I really did. ... Even from when I was recalled, I wanted to stay in then, but I had to make a choice, because I was in Strategic Air Command, and, in those days, you had long periods of flight every year. You were going to be away from family and one thing and another, and the wife couldn't come with you. ... I had to make my choice, it's going to be my family or the Air Force. So, I stayed in the Reserve, but I got out of the regular Air Force.
SH: When you were turned down for reenlisting in the Air Force after the war and you stayed in the Reserves, you came back to Boonton.
FW: Came back to Boonton. ...
SH: Is that when you bought this house? Did you think about using the GI Bill?
FW: Well, I'd already bought this house, in '45.
RZ: Did you use the GI Bill to buy this?
FW: I used the GI Bill as a backup for my [mortgage]; oh, I got really stuck on this. I think I paid something around six thousand dollars for it. [laughter] I'm not kidding, and I could have had it for at least two thousand dollars less, only a very good friend of mine in Mountain Lakes was ... in the real estate business for the woman, I can still remember her name, who was his boss. So, he talked to the next-door people there, because they're the ones that told me that I could have had it for about two thousand dollars less, but the real estate people told them they could ask, should ask, for more, which they did and they got it, because, even at that, it was a buy, because everybody was looking for a house in '45, if you recall, boy.
SH: What job did you come back to?
SH: Back to the bank?
FW: And then, I found that, I still have a copy of my letter of resignation to the bank, too, upstairs, that I was using more of the money that I had put away for the future than I counted on, and I just couldn't make a go [of it]. ... You know, banks just don't pay, and, at that time, everything had gone up, your railroad fares had, your maintenance fares, you know, while you're in the city, had gone up. So, I was riding the ferry boat every morning and ... this one fellow, Paul H. Doodey, he was ... in the Navy and he had a Navy officer's coat on, and so, we got to talking every morning, every morning, every morning. He worked for a Dutch steamship company, Royal Netherlands Steamship Company, and he asked me if I would be interested in trying to get a job with the steamship company, because they were looking for someone in their accounting department. ... I said, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained, because I'm not going anywhere with the bank," and so, I wrote that letter up; no, first, I went over there. I was nervous as the devil, I'll never forget it, and the man that hired me later became the numero uno of the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company, in Holland, and he put me right at ease. ... Well, he knew I was an ex-serviceman, anyway. He offered me a good [salary], way far ahead of what the bank was paying me, and so, I started work the following Monday morning with them and the bank, well, I'm not bragging or anything else, but they were almost pleading with me, "You have a good future here. Don't leave us, don't." "I can't, I can't. I can't afford to stay here." So, I left the bank and I went into the steamship business, but I maintained my affiliation with the Air Force. I got in a Reserve outfit. I became a ready Reservist, with a wartime or an emergency assignment out of Washington. I used to go, what? one night a week and two weeks a year, and I did that until, well, I had over thirty years of service in. ...
SH: Was it a shock to get called back for Korea?
FW: Well, I certainly didn't expect it, to tell you the truth, but I said, "There they are," and they never said a word. ... The steamship company accepted it right away, wished me well and one thing or another, "And your job will be here when you come back."
SH: Where were you sent when you were called back during the Korean War?
FW: Oh, no, Langley Field. I mentioned that before, when I walked in the luncheonette in Hampton Rhodes and there was Bruce Yarwood. Oh, boy, that was a great day.
RZ: They had called you back as an instructor.
FW: As a bombardier. I was assigned to Fifth Air Force, and that was a whole thing ... there were a whole bunch of bombardiers called back and ... we went through the first day of class work, and then, the program, it was deleted, because they had found that there were better means of bombing in the Pacific, and that type of warfare at that time, via radar. In other words, they would have a radar station here and a radar station here, and I don't know whether there was a third one up here, but those beams would tell you where to drop the bombs, and it was more accurate than the bombsight. So, they discontinued the school and we sat around, and I forget ... what ourper diem was a day. ... They were paying me, I don't know, more money than I was worth, I know that, for sitting around, doing nothing, and then, ... finally, they had a lot of pilots down there that were training in the [A-20] Havoc, which was a sister ship of the B-26 Marauder from World War II, that they were going to use to do this type of bombing. ... What they were using us for was just sitting in the right-hand seat, the copilot's seat, to raise and lower the wheels and do this and do whatever the pilots want us to do, [laughter] and I wasn't any pilot, but we did that for awhile. ... Then, finally, we were all transferred to Strategic Air Command at the field in Louisiana, Barksdale Field, Louisiana, in B-29s, and, at first, [I] was going to be ... a bombardier in B-29s and they took the whole bunch of us and sent us over to air refueling, where they cross-trained me into radar. So, I was a radar operator there. ... Well, every now and then, I'd get officer of the day on the base and one thing and another, and I'd made some good friends there, and then, finally, they needed [me]. There was one pilot that had a bombardier by the name of Boswell. He was an artist and the commanding general at Barksdale wanted a mural painted in the headquarters. So, they commissioned this navigator to do it. In the meantime, that crew had been assigned for a secret or confidential mission to Guam and they needed a navigator, a radar navigator.
SH: You are it. [laughter]
FW: So, but, I made out well with that crew and we went to [Guam]. The funny, the crazy thing about it was, in-between all of this, ... a B-29 had to be flown over to Okinawa as a replacement plane for them and they needed a crew to do it, and then, they were coming right back to the States. So, I went on that crew as their radar navigator, went from San Francisco to, no, what? Travis Air Force Base, wasn't that [it]? That's near San Francisco, maybe; to Honolulu, Honolulu [to] Kwajalein, Kwajalein to Okinawa, Okinawa [to] Yokota Air Force Base, dropped off the plane at Okinawa, and then, we were flown on another flight to ...
FW: Yokota, Yokota. ... That's where we dropped the plane off, was at Okinawa. You can't rush me. [laughter] So, then, I came back to the States and I no sooner got back to the States, then, they told me that I was going to be on this crew that was going back to Yokota. [laughter] ... So, then, I had to drive the car home and I had very little time to do it, and I tried to do it all in one day. ... I remember, I got to some place in North Carolina, I think it was near Fayetteville, and I stopped in for a cup of coffee, it was early in the morning, had a cup of coffee, got back in the car and it was the last leg home. The next thing [I recall], I woke up and my head was right down on the wheel. If I'd ever taken off in that car, I never would have made it home, never would have made it. ...
MW: His prayers were always answered.
FW: [laughter] So, then, anyway, back to Yokota, and then, from Yokota, we had to go on this mission to Guam. So, I got to see Guam and ... the Japs were still in the boondocks down there. ... You've read about them, I'm sure, that they didn't even know the war was over.
RZ: They were snipers.
FW: Yes, and, boy, ... "Stay away from the boonies," they say. I got to see the "lover's leap," the big, what's it, a high mountain or hill? overlooking the ocean there. I forget what ocean that is off Guam, on the, I guess it was the west side. The Japs were always after the Guamese ladies, women, and so many of them would ... take the "lover's leap." That's why they called it lover's leap; they'd commit suicide before they would commit themselves to the Japs. Oh, I never had any respect for the Japs anyway. They're brutal people, brutal. Of course, that's yesterday's [attitude]; it's all over now, but, sometimes, it's hard [to forget].
SH: What was the secret mission? Did you ever find out what that secret mission was?
FW: Yes, but I don't ever know that the secrecy about it, most likely, has been reduced, but, if it has been, I don't know.
FW: So, I don't know, but I know it had something to do with something going to ... I mean, I know what it was, but I don't really know that [it is still kept secret]. I'm sure that it must be no longer secret, but I don't know it.
SH: I would not ask you to overstep any bounds.
FW: No, no. [laughter]
SH: That is for sure, for either one of us. [laughter]
FW: But, what else do you want to know from me now?
SH: When you finished delivering everything to Guam, were you then released to come back?
FW: No, we went back to Yokota, to finish off the tour there. I was in air refueling and we had to refuel other B-29s and other aircraft, but that's like flying in a flying bomb, really. You're loaded ... with gasoline, ... but I didn't mind the duty. It was all right, and then, I went back to Barksdale and, well, I had no other alternative but to opt out, which I did, and I have no regrets, no regrets.
SH: Did you stay in the Reserves then?
FW: Oh, I stayed in, yes. I stayed in until [retiring]. ...
SH: Were you assigned to the same kind of duty?
FW: No, no. I wasn't happy with the duty, but I wanted to stay in. I loved the affiliation and the people. I was in transportation.
SH: Out of McGuire Air Force Base? Is that where you would report?
FW: Well, no. In fact, I would go [to] a different place. I went to Dover, Delaware, many, many times, for two weeks of duty every year, [or] MacDill, and with my friend, Colonel Dennis, ... we were studying transportation of paratroopers, and he happened to have a transportation squadron, some place down South, I forget which [base]. So, he had a training mission set up for him to go to MacDill Field to pick me up and brought me back down there, and then, took me on this mission down in around in Georgia someplace, where they were going to drop paratroopers and that was very interesting and very helpful to the study I was in at that time. Otherwise, it would have been a little; well, it was better than transportation.
SH: When did you retire?
FW: ... '97, '87? ... Take a quick look.
SH: Okay. I want to thank you for talking with us and for being such a wonderful host. I hope you preserve all these wonderful diaries and logs that you have kept in a good fashion and I hope that you will stay in touch.
FW: Well, I'm sort of, what is it? honored to be interviewed by you.
SH: Thank you.
FW: And it'll help me remember a little bit more when I greet the eighth graders next week. [laughter]
MW: September 12, '79.
FW: September 12, '79, yes. ...
SH: That was when you retired.
FW: Yes, that's when I would have been, I guess, sixty. I think they kicked you out when you were sixty.
MW: Sixty-two? I don't know, I forget, yes.
FW: No, I know I was sixty, ... sixty, I think, yes, but I enjoyed the service. ...
SH: It sounds like they had a jewel.
MW: Yes, I think so. [laughter]
FW: Well, they had a clown anyway, if they didn't have anything else. [laughter]
SH: Thank you, thank you.
[Editor's Note: Lieutenant Colonel Wiswall received the French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration bestowed by France, at a ceremony at the French Consulate in New York City on Veterans Day 2009.]
-------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW---------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Stephanie Student 10/14/09
Reviewed by Steve Park 10/14/09
Reviewed by Catherine Dzendzera 10/14/09
Reviewed by Mitch Gilson 10/14/09
Reviewed by Kristie Thomas 10/14/09
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 10/27/09
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 11/14/09
Reviewed by Frank A. Wiswall 4/8/10