Dustin Elias: This begins an interview with Russell C. Smalley, with Dustin Elias and Shaun Illingworth, on February 22, 2002, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I would like to begin by talking about your parents. Can you tell us a little bit about your father? Where was he from?
Russell Smalley: Well, my father, his name's also Russell, he was born in Somerset County, … in a home that's now called the (Bogan?) Estate, and it … has historical value, it's been so designated, … on the [Raritan] Canal off Easton Avenue. … He was one of six children. They are all passed on now and I was born right across the street, in a home that still exists there. … When Mother and Dad got married, well, they moved across the street. [laughter] They didn't want to stay in the farmhouse. Mother was born in New Brunswick. … Mother and Dad had four children. The first one died at birth; it was just called, "Baby." The second one was a girl named Doris, and she died at about three years old, spinal meningitis, and then, my sister survived, and so did I. I'm the youngest. My sister now lives in Dallas, Texas. That's about it.
Shaun Illingworth: Did your mother and father's families always live in this area? Do you have any idea how they settled in this area?
RS: Yes, we've been traced back, not to the Mayflower, but, the second ship, which was the (Ferdinand?), and my great, great grandfather came over, and I know the one record we have, … I guess he rented, which they did then, … a meadow from Myles Standish, so [that] he could farm it. … Then, they moved from Massachusetts, or where they first came, I should have brought my genealogy for that, I have it, … and then, they moved to Piscataway. That's when they had the farm. The farm was on both sides of the river, and, in fact, I don't know whether it still exists, but, there's a Smalley graveyard on the Rutgers property, across the river. It's a small, fenced-in area. … I know it was a pain in the neck to [Rutgers University]. They had to pay us, my mother, a dollar a year for the property. They were dying [to get rid of it], "Please, would you move your bodies?" whatever's there. We had no idea what was there. … I've seen it once and (that was all?). We've had a couple of, I guess, history majors from Rutgers who wanted to know more about that and they talked with my mother when she was alive. My parents are both dead now.
DE: Were either of your parents politically active?
RS: Yes. My father was mayor of Highland Park for a number of years and, of course, with that, my mother was in certain organizations, Eastern Star. … We lived in Highland Park. We moved to Highland Park from the farm and my father had business in, where would you call it? I guess it was Piscataway, a cinderblock business, which kept going … up into the '50s or '60s.
DE: How did the Depression affect your family?
RS: … Well, the business, of course, … before the Depression, … well, to start back, when my grandparents both died, they left each of the six kids ten thousand dollars, which was a lot of money in those days. … I believe that allowed my father to start the business and the business was quite successful. He was selling cinderblocks and monuments and other things. So, he did quite well. He suffered heavily in the Stock Market Crash and the Depression, but we were never adversely affected. We always lived in a very nice home and we had a car. … I know my father lost a bundle, but, there was still enough to [live well]. Like everybody else in those days, they were in the stock market. The market was like it was five years ago, ten years ago, and that's it. … I'd say he was adversely affected, but, we were not. We still owned a boat, and a house, and a house at the shore, all sorts of things.
SI: It sounds as though the family farm, before your father moved on to the cinderblock business, was doing fairly well.
RS: Yes, … as I understand, it was a healthy farm.
SI: It sounds like it was rather large, also.
RS: … I didn't think you wanted all this. I could have brought the genealogy. I have maps and other things. … One of my aunts became interested in that, years ago, … and once she got started in it, she was head over heels in it. She was traveling here and there and writing letters, … and she put together this genealogy. It was published, which was very nice, but. yes, the farm, I guess, was quite good. … I'm sure they [were] all fed well and one thing I'd always kid my parents about, you know, as a farmer, you lived off the land, and you did what you could. So, here, my father, who ended up, … at one time, quite wealthy and was mayor of Highland Park, he was on the council and everything else beforehand, but, one time, he was a garbage collector, because he used to come around into New Brunswick, it's not very far, horse and wagon, picked up garbage, to feed the pigs, and I used to kid him about that, [Mr. Smalley grumbles in an imitation of his father's response] [laughter] and that was it.
SI: Growing up so close to Rutgers, do you have any memories of coming to games here from when you were a child? Did Rutgers play any role in your life before your college days?
RS: Oh, yes. In high school, I was, how will I say it? I always had a very cavalier attitude towards education. I mean, in high school, I got letters for wrestling, football, track, fencing, whatever I went into. I could outrun anybody, and I was a track star, and so, you know, high school was fun, and I had a girlfriend, and, my senior year, I had a Model A Ford, and we used to come over here to Rutgers. … At that time, of course, there were the football games and the 150-pound teams used to play here, right here, right on this (side?), you know, at, what do you call it?
SI: Neilson Field?
RS: Yes, and so, we'd come over and watch them, and that was always fun, and the tickets, I think, were, in one area, I don't think you had to pay anything for them. You'd just come and watch the game. It wasn't the varsity. … I don't know whether Rutgers still has a 150-pound team.
RS: Well, they used to and the maximum weight of the men was one hundred-and-fifty pounds. Anyway, we always enjoyed that, and, of course, when I graduated from high school, when I finally did, I came over here to Rutgers and signed up, and, again, you know, I went out for football. I made the freshman team in 1941, and I was a halfback, and, again, I could outrun most people. … I could run a quarter mile in fifty seconds, … the hundred-yard dash in ten, 9.9 if I made a good day. … Well, anyway, I made the Rutgers freshman football team, was having a ball here, belonged to a fraternity, not belonged, pledged to a fraternity, had my Model A Ford, had my girlfriend, who I eventually married, and, again, was having a good time, but, after a year-and-a-half, they suggested I leave, [laughter] my grades were putrid. I enlisted in the Air Force, and then, the pilot training, and I made that. Anyway, I don't know how far you want to go. I'm sure we're way past my parents and my grandparents. [laughter]
DE: Were you a member of the Boy Scouts or any church organizations?
RS: … Yes. I belonged to the Boy Scouts, Troop 22 in Highland Park. I made Second Class, and then, I became bored with it. There was other things to do, so, I just kind of dropped out.
DE: I wanted to ask you about FDR, since your parents were politically active. How did your parents feel about his policies?
RS: [laughter] My parents were Republicans. I mean, if he wasn't a Republican, he was a worthless sort. [laughter] … In the old days, you were (not liked?). … Anyway, they were Republicans. As far as I was concerned, in my later life, FDR was a very, very good [president]. I read a lot about [him], I'm a voracious reader, and I have a great deal of respect for him. Did that answer your question? My parents didn't like him.
SI: Since your father owned his own business, did he ever have to deal with any of the New Deal agencies, such as the NRA?
RS: No, no, he had nothing to do with those.
DE: Where were you when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor? Did you know where Pearl Harbor was at the time?
RS: Yes. I was having lunch, it was Sunday, in our dining room. We'd come home after church, the radio was on, and that was when it was announced.
SI: How did you and your family react?
RS: My reaction was, you know, like, I guess, any kid. My parents were very quiet, … no tears or anything else, no loud cussing and swearing, … deathly silence.
SI: At the time, did you think that you would be involved in the war, eventually? Did that thought cross your mind?
RS: No. You know, some things, with young kids, … it doesn't really sink in. I guess, you know, like any kid, they live day-to-day, you know, very seldom, unless it's something real exciting, do they look way ahead to something, and the past disappears. [laughter] … I don't know, how old was I at that time, maybe fifteen or sixteen? I remember my mother looking very sadly at me and she was probably saying, "Yes, he's going to be involved," to herself.
DE: At Rutgers, were you a member of the ROTC?
RS: Yes. … I was a member of the Scarlet Rifles.
DE: Did you have mandatory chapel?
RS: … Yes.
DE: How did you feel about that?
RS: Oh, it was all right with me. I mean, … in a way, I enjoyed it, and the fact that … we had the little chits, we had to sign in and everything, didn't bother me at all. You know, [with] my parents, we'd go to church all the time, in the Dutch Reformed church in Highland Park. That was no burden to me.
SI: When you entered Rutgers, did you have any idea of what you wanted to study?
RS: … I entered, before the war, … in the College of Arts and Sciences and, really, no, no.
SI: Were your parents pushing you towards anything?
RS: No. As I said, … I always had a very cavalier attitude towards education. "I should go to school," and I did, "but, [laughter] there are better things in life." I enjoyed fishing, hunting, skiing, skating, you name it, and, no, I didn't know, not until I was overseas, in combat, did I realized that. I told myself, "If I survive this war, I'm going to get myself a formal education," and I did. I came back and … the GI Bill was available. I don't know whether I'm getting ahead of you.
RS: The GI Bill was available, and, as I say, I had the hell scared out of me, so, I came over here and applied. … We flew back, and … they gave us a thirty-day leave, and I had orders cut … for the 20th Air Force, to fly B-29s over in the Far East, and, while I was on my thirty-day leave, they dropped the A-bombs in Japan. So, the war was over. [When I] went back after the thirty-day leave, we were supposed to get back to Fort Dix, they said, "Hey, guys, we don't need you anymore. Go home." As far as I'm concerned, [that was] the best news I'd heard in years. So, I came right home, and … my wife bid me a tearful farewell one day, and, by that afternoon, I was back again, and the world was ours again. I came here to apply and I said, "I want to apply for the College of Engineering," and they looked at my record, and they said, "Mr. Smalley, you'll not make it," and I said, "Well, I'm going to try." … They interviewed me, and then, I told them that if I couldn't get in Rutgers, I was going to go to Lehigh. So, after two days, I went back for the decision, and … they said that they would allow me in, but, I would have to start all over again, and that was 1945. I said, "All right, I'll be willing to do that," and much to the amazement of my parents and any high school teachers, if they knew about it, I graduated in 1949 [laughter] with a bachelors of science … degree in mechanical engineering. Anyway, it was … well worth it. … Our graduating class, I think, was the biggest in Rutgers history, at that time, about fourteen hundred people, but, it was well worth it. I found that Rutgers prepared me quite well, when I went out in industry, and I was very fortunate in my career. I did well. So, I retired at sixty-two. The rat race was terrible, but, anyway, they wanted to transfer me up to Boston, and, … just like everybody else does, you get out a paper and a pencil, "I have this much and I have this much coming in. … Hell, I can retire," so, I did. … As an engineer, you … worked for two or three companies, you always did. The companies would build up when they had a big job, and then, they [Mr. Smalley makes a whistling noise] swept the cape, and you were gone, and I got into management, … but, it was very stressful, … because it was a tough business. … Finally, they were going to … shut the New York office and move to Boston and I didn't want to do that. I retired.
SI: Were you interested in engineering before the war?
RS: Not really, but, … I had summer jobs. I worked as an automobile mechanic. Another job, I worked … in a place, … (Ross?) Industries. They made washing machines for engines. In other words, you take a plant that's rebuilding engines and they'd need one of these washing machines. … They'd get all these old engines, put them in there, wash them, get them all nice and clean, so [that] they'd get them out and work on them, and the Army was buying them. That's mostly for washing jet engines, when they redid those. I worked there. I had many jobs like that. I was always interested. … I worked with my hands. My hobby was woodworking, but, no, [laughter] as far as being an engineer, I always thought I'd be a dentist. Once I got into engineering, I thought, "I'd like to be a dentist." Now, there, it's an eight-hour day, you know, no emergencies. If there is, they're rare. … If you're going to be a professional, you be a dentist, [laughter] but, I never got to be a dentist.
SI: Were you interested in aviation when you were younger?
RS: Yes. I always made model airplanes. … We used to go out to Hadley Airport, my father would take me out, and we'd watched airplanes flying around on Sunday. That's when Hadley was still busy. I guess it no longer exists.
SI: What made you decide to enlist in the Air Force?
RS: Well, as I said, I wasn't doing very well at Rutgers. … They'd offered, and they were helping me, they were tutoring me, … I guess because of the football, and I would have had to go … out of arts and sciences and go into phys ed, become a phys ed major, and then, I looked down the road, and I thought, "No, I don't want to be a coach. I want to be more than a coach." [laughter] … There's nothing wrong with being a coach. I mean, today, the coaches make millions, but, at that time, that was my thinking, and the war was going on. We were all threatened with the draft and I didn't want to be drafted. So, I thought, … "Go in the Navy." That was nice, because I had been in boating, so, I knew a little bit about the sea, I knew celestial navigation, but, I had learned that, and I thought, "The Air Force." Well, so, I enlisted in the Air Force, just the … kind of choices kids make, [laughter] not much foundation, but, they do it.
SI: Did serving in the Air Force seem more glamorous than, say, the infantry?
RS: I never thought of it as glamour. It's just [that] I didn't want to be drafted [into], as we used to call it, the foot-slogging infantry. No way did I want to be that.
DE: Can you describe what your training as a pilot entailed? Did you want to be a pilot when you enlisted?
RS: Oh, yes, I enlisted. Well, everybody in the Air Force, I mean, who … went into cadet training, … was really in pilot training, and, for many reasons, I mean, people couldn't fly. … I don't want to demean them, but, for instance, some of them couldn't fly at night. You know, you're up there, and it's all black, [laughter] particularly out in West Texas someplace, no horizon, no lights, and they just couldn't do it. They would be sick, they'd puke and, you know, mess themselves up, or else they just couldn't do it. They'd go back and land and walk away. That's it. Well, anyway, for many reasons, and so, they were either sent to bombardier school … or navigation school, and, if they didn't want those, they were back in the Army. So, that's the way, and those who stayed in pilot training, one out of three made it, one out of three. [Of] all those [who] enlisted, one guy became a pilot, the other two became either a navigator or a bombardier. So, I made it all the way through. We had three stages of pilot training. One was called primary. Well, actually, with me, they sent us down to Atlantic City, where we got our uniforms, and got all our shots, and everything else, [laughter] and then, they had … more enlistees than they could handle in the cadet program, so, to smooth it out, they sent us, … me and a lot of other guys, up to Syracuse University, and that was called the CTD, College Training Detachment. So, of the group they sent up there, oh, … maybe four hundred, … depending upon the marks they achieved while they were up there, some stayed two months, some had to stay six months, but, I just stayed two months, and then, I was shipped down to what they called SAACC, which was [the] San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. I married my high school sweetheart in Syracuse. … There, you weren't flying yet, but, you were going through, you were taking courses in navigation, … a lot of PT, athletics work, get yourself in shape, [learn] code with the sender, and that lasted, oh, maybe six months, and then, you split up, and you went to primary. That was single-engine and that lasted, gee, I don't know, maybe two months. My wife joined me in Corsicana. … First, the main thing, you get instruction for, let's say, anywhere from one to two weeks, and then, you soloed. Now, if you never solo, you washed out. So, I soloed in a week-and-a-half, and then, flew around, [laughter] … very mild aerobatics. You learned all that, and then, you graduated from primary, and you went into basic training. … Primary was in Corsicana, Texas, basic was in Independence, Kansas, and, there, you flew more powerful airplanes, single-engine. … It had a radio in it and it had all sorts of stuff. So, you flew that, and that's where you first got into night flying, and you got into cross-country flying. … That's where some people, and I know this myself, you get up there, and you're flying along, and you can't see a damned thing. You're actually almost on instruments, but, if there's a moon out, that helps, and the drone of the engine and everything else, it's a lonely place. [laughter] That bothered a lot of people; it didn't bother me. … Anyway, I graduated from there, and then, that was basic. Then, you went into "advanced" and, there, I was sent to twin-engine school at Ellington Field. That's where you flew twin-engine aircraft. … That concerned me, because … I had put in [that] I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I told them, "I don't want to … have my life depend upon how ten other guys perform," or four other guys perform. "If I'm going to die, it'll be my own damn fault," … but, I talked with them, "Oh, we've got P-38s, all that." … They said, "Besides, we're not going to change it. You're here." So, I went through, and I … graduated from that, and then, … I guess they thought I was good enough, they sent me to … CIT, Central Instructors' Training, and that was at Randolph Field, I graduated from that, and I went back to Ellington to instruct, and I now had the authority to grant aeronautical ratings. That was the big thing, and, of course, I was a second lieutenant, and then, I guess they got a call for pilots overseas, and … I was the last in, so, I was first out. … I went up to B-24s in Lincoln, Nebraska, for what they called transition training, then, from there, over to Italy. That's where I flew out of a field near a town called Cerignola. We flew missions to Austria, but, [also], northern Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Balkans.
SI: You mentioned that some people could not handle certain aspects of training.
SI: Do you have any idea of what the washout rate was during each phase of training?
RS: No, no, you never really knew the count. I mean, … you know, you hear a lot about camaraderie and everything else. Maybe it was that way in the infantry, where you had a small squad and you lived together, you trained together, but, in the Air Force, you had friends, but, you didn't make fast friends because, you know, … when you went from primary to basic, you got to basic, … "Oh, hi, you made it, good, good." Those guys that didn't, you forgot about them. I mean, there are no tears shed. That's the same when you're flying in combat. You see your buddy get blown up, you don't go back to your tent and cry. I mean, it could be you tomorrow, so, just go home. … It's rather impersonal.
SI: With that in mind, would you say that there was camaraderie within your crew?
RS: Yes. That was the closest you could come to it, but, again, … believe it or not, see, the officers, we lived in tents over there. … They were the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator, they were the officers on board, then, six enlisted men. The enlisted men lived over here in a tent and we lived over here in a tent. We had our officers' club and they had their place. So, … that separation existed, and so, we only saw each other, you know, generally, when we met, you know, at four-thirty in the morning to get in the airplane and when we left the airplane, after we all checked out. … They went to their debriefing and we went to our debriefing. That was it. … When we got back after the war, we flew into Westover Field. That's where we left the airplane. We all promised we were going to write. We were going to start a newsletter. We were going to run it around. You get it, you write in the thing and send it to the next guy. That lasted about one rotation. [laughter] …
SI: As you passed through each phase of training, did you face any difficulties in adapting to the larger aircraft?
RS: No. Again, you know, as I say, you're young, you know, and the world is your oyster. It didn't bother you. You'd walk under that, you say, "This is a big sucker, but, I'm going to fly it," and you did. … I don't mean to [show off], but, that's generally about it. If it scares you, you're going to wash out. It's just like [if], … you know, you drive an automobile, I'm sure of that, and somebody says, "Look, I want you to take this big rig and drive it out on the highway." You'd say, "All right." You [would] sit in the cockpit of the thing, "Tell me how to shift gears, where everything is," and you [would] drive it, if you had to, and he'd tell you a few basic rules, and you'd do it, same thing.
SI: Were most of your instructors in training military pilots or civilians?
RS: Oh, yes, in primary, they were civilians, and, I remember, [laughter] I had an old Texas cowboy, I guess, [who] was my instructor, and he had some sayings, [laughter] I don't want to repeat them here, but, he would [say], "Smalley, don't sit there like a [Mr. Smalley pantomimes him cursing]. Fly this goddamned thing." [laughter] I learned. Then, finally, I remember when I soloed. We got down. He stopped the airplane in the middle of the field. He got out on the wing. He said, "Your mother will probably hate me when you die, … but, you're going to have to fly this by yourself now." I go, "Whee, I'm going to solo." [laughter] …
DE: Were bomber and fighter pilots separated during the advanced training or the transition training?
RS: No, it was during the, well, yes, well, the single-engine and twin-engine. There were two different schools and not connected. … Well, once you got over there, you know, you had the airfield, and that was all bombers, and … there was another airfield way down there, and that was all fighters. … We were covered and protected by the Tuskegee Airmen and we loved those guys. I mean, there was nothing nicer [than] to see them come up, circling over, with those big red tails on those P-51s. I mean, they did a good job, saved our necks. We shot down a hell of a lot of airplanes, you know, German airplanes, but, when they were up there, we weren't touched, but, they couldn't always be there. …
DE: What was the relationship like between the base personnel and the local Italian civilians? Were they receptive to American airmen? Was there a good relationship between the two groups?
RS: I would generally say no. The reason [is], I think the infantry did the worst damage, but, I mean, just look at it this way; suppose … you lived here, in New Brunswick, … and say your average income here in New Brunswick is, what? I have no idea, thirty thousand a year, and, all of a sudden, a whole bunch of guys from another country came in, they were literally occupying New Brunswick, and their income is three hundred thousand dollars a year. First, you would be hit with … horrible inflation, you know. They want to sell all the cars to these guys, they want to sell all the food to those guys, all the girls would fall in love with those guys, and that's what we did to Italy. Their average wage, in our money, was twenty cents a day. So, we needed workers, laborers and whatnot, you know. We were laying pipelines and … we needed pipeline walkers. We'd give them a rifle, it was a big thing (with one cartridge in it?) … and we'd give them a jacket, we'd give them clothing, and, boy, it was a big thing. We paid them forty cents a day, double. … Then, we send a whole bunch of troops in there who were getting, what? at that time, thirty dollars a month, for the infantry?
RS: Well, that was later on. Well, anyway, … the infantry, all of a sudden, they could buy … anything in the place and the girls, … prostitutes, you know, when they first went over, you know, gee, if they could get forty cents, it was good. The guys would give them a dollar tip. So, pretty soon, it's a dollar-and-a-half, and then, they still give them a … dollar tip, or something, oh, you know, big thing. … We just destroyed their economy, and that's why they didn't like us, and they still don't like us for that reason. … Now, the Germans, when they were in Italy, their soldiers were paid twenty cents a day, just what their laborers get, and, supposedly, Hitler banked the rest back in Germany. When the British came in, they too were paid [similarly]; I think they were paid a little more. They were paid, maybe, twenty-five cents a day. So, it kept everything calm. Then, we come in and, what? we got five dollars a day, or whatever it was. … We wrecked the economy and, you know, wine was [cheap]. We could buy the best wine. We bought them out of wine. Anyway, that's one of the problems. … I don't know whether you've read, … there was an older book that was written by, I can't remember, it was calledThe Ugly American.
SI: Yes, Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.
RS: Yes, whatever. …
DE: During the time in-between missions, did you typically leave the base?
RS: No. … Well, there were trucks going all the time, so, you could bum a ride into town. … The little town of Cerignola was … maybe three or four miles from us, maybe more, but, you know, transportation was [limited], unless one of the top officers was going in, because … the big Air Force intelligence group was there in Cerignola, and they're the ones that picked the targets out for us and everything, and evaluated the results of our missions. … Anyway, there wasn't much to do in there, in town, so, mostly, you stayed on the base, and, when you didn't fly, you had to censor mail. All the enlisted men's mail, you would censor, and then, sometimes, you got the unhappy task, not sometimes, but, maybe you got it, … [of] officer of the day, and that was a fancy word for, [if] somebody was killed, an officer, and for every ship that went down, there were four of them, … you had to go into his tent and rummage through all his things, his footlocker, everything, go through every pocket of his clothing and everything, and, … if you found anything that was detrimental to his character, you'd take it out and put it in a bag. … All the rest, you'd then pack his footlocker and it would go to storage. Now, I really don't know what happened to it after that, but, I assume that [it was returned to his family]. Just to diverge a little bit, if you saw an airplane blow up in the air, I mean, you could see bodies falling around and, sometimes, you couldn't. The explosion would be so violent that there was just nothing left. Then, you're pretty sure that guy was KIA, killed in action, but, others, when their airplane got hit, and it rolled out of formation and [was] diving down, of course, your crewmen were watching that, and you'd see parachutes bloom. Well, … you knew there were ten men on board; maybe you'd see four, five, six, seven, count them and, at the debriefing, you would [report this]. So, now, you didn't know who survived that, I mean, if they did. So, they were MIA, missing in action, and that's when their stuff would go to storage. … If they did get back, well, then, … it was immediately given back to them, and that bag, you know, but, that bag was always kept separately. … For instance, you'd find letters and you're not sure what his wife's name was, or maybe it's a little sexy, so, that went in the bag. I mean, it wasn't detrimental to his character, … but, you're not sure. You wouldn't want to send that back and have his parents or his wife find it. Maybe he had some nude pictures and you didn't know whether they were his wife, his girlfriend or what. They went in that bag. …
SI: In speaking with a few enlisted airmen, I have heard that when someone did not come back from a mission, their stuff would often disappear right away. People would take their jackets and boots. Was it a different situation for the officers?
RS: Well, … his sleeping bag. As officer of the day, you would roll up his sleeping bag, because you had to shake that out, too. … If he didn't fly with his .45 pistol, it was under the pillow. Well, you took that and registered it, but, … then, his sleeping bag would be aired out, and then, rolled up, and, if nobody came and if he didn't get back, say, within two or three weeks, or we got no word from him that he was a prisoner of war or anything, then, that sleeping bag would be given to a new member coming in, or somebody that had a crummy one and wanted a better one, because this was better, you know, just borrowing. It would go back and forth. … We were all given a quart of whiskey, a fifth of whiskey, a month. If there were two there, ordinarily, they would go back to the commander and he would save them and reissue them to somebody else, … if the seals weren't broken. Anyway, you know, if you think about it, we'd do the same thing. Now, I haven't heard of their shoes or anything else being missing. I mean, of all those that I did, their clothing was there.
------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE-------------------------------------
RS: … But, I have not heard of that. … I have not seen it. Whether in the enlisted men's barracks, whether they did that, I have no idea.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about your crew? What was your first meeting like?
RS: Well, actually, we met them in Topeka, Kansas. We were all sent there from all over the country, and this is where the group [formed], and … thirty crews met there, and that's where we first met, and a guy's sitting there, going down a list, "Here's your navigator, Ralph (Pierson?); your bombardier, Watson B. Smith; over here, two pilots. You're co-pilot, you're the first pilot," [laughter] on a flip of the coin, you might say, and then, the crew would come up. … Ours was a fellow by the name of (Milam?), he was our engineer and a waist gunner, and Tom Slattery was the Martin upper [turret] gunner, those … twin .50s, and (Lonnie?) Cooper was our nose gunner, that's a turret, too, and … I think he was from Atlanta, Georgia, and (Miyuski?), he was our ball turret gunner, no, … (Miyuski?) was our tail gunner, and Armkanect was our ball turret gunner. … That was our crew. … A couple of scratches, but, we all survived.
SI: How did you feel about being assigned to B-24s, as opposed to B-17s or some other aircraft type?
RS: Well, you know, again, you're assigned to it, so, that's what you do. There's no sense complaining. [laughter] … I bitched and hollered when I was taken from being an instructor [and] sent to transition for B-24s. Boy, I screamed and hollered, "I wanted P-38s." … "Nope, nope, there you go," and that was the Army, or the Air Force. You were assigned; once it was done, it was done. … Naturally, if you're flying a B-24, it's the best airplane; the B-17 is a piece of junk. I mean, that's just the way … you do it and, actually, the "24" was a … much stronger airplane. It didn't fly as high as the "17," but, it was just as fast, and it had more armor in it and could carry about the same bomb load, but, we had turrets with twin .50s, where they had free swinging guns. One guy had to stand and swing them. So, … we were much more dangerous. I mean, the fighter pilots didn't like us at all. I'm sure, had we had the B-24 in the very beginning, when … the Eighth Air Force opened up in England, a lot of those guys would have been alive today, if they had the "24" to fly in, instead of the "17," but, the "17" was romantized, and, even today, you hardly ever hear of the "24." … If you talk with people who know, they say that was a good airplane.
DE: How did you personally prepare for a mission, either the night before or the morning of?
RS: Well, you started out by tearing up all your letters from your girlfriend or your wife and you destroyed them, again, because, … you know, you didn't want an OD [officer of the day] to be reading them. It was your personal business. … You went to bed, but, you know, you just went to sleep, … [laughter] because you know you're going to be waking at four-thirty in the morning, and that was it. There was tearing up your letters and things like that. … There was nothing to get ready. I mean, you just get your butt out there and do it, oh, and you could not have anything to drink that night, no officers' club, no 3.2 beer or anything, or you left your bottle, the bottle that you were given, issued, in your footlocker.
DE: You said that there were different briefings in the morning, one for the navigators, one for the bombardiers and one for the pilots.
RS: No, there was … one briefing for the officers and whether the enlisted men had one or not, I don't know, but, that's when we found out where the target [was], where we were going, and … we got weather reports, and we all set our watches. We lived by our watches when we were in the air. Timing was most important, because you've got a squadron coming up from over here, you've got a squadron coming up from over there, you're here, and you're all going over the target. One's going to go this way, one's going to go this way, one is going to go this way, and you're going to be two minutes apart. … So, when those guys down there are shooting their guns at you, you know, [laughter] … they don't know whether to shoot at this one, or shoot at this one, or shoot at this one, because, if you can imagine, you're up there at top speed, 160 miles an hour, and you're going downwind, of course. You never cross the target upwind, because, up there, … a hundred mile an hour wind at that altitude was not unique, and so, I mean, this timing was so important, that he hit his IP, which is the initial point, that's when he started his bomb run, and we hit it, and they hit it, and there's, maybe, three thousand feet between us. So, he goes, he goes, we go, and the poor gunners down there are burning up their barrels trying to load and fire, but, … anyway, I'm getting off the track.
SI: When did you begin to learn how to fly in formation? Was it difficult?
RS: Not in training, don't ask me why. We never got [it], even in transition. We got a little bit of it, but, mostly, when you get overseas, then, you fly in formation. … It's not difficult. … Now, with the fighters, I'm sure they learned, because they'd take off in formation, they'd fly all the time [in formation], and they'd attack according to a prescribed sequence of leaving, peeling off, and all of that. So, I'm sure they did more of it, but, we didn't. When we got overseas, that's when we flew [in formation]. We always took off individually. We had two runways. We took off two minutes apart and we would join up. I mean, the lead airplane would take off, and he'd fly just straight out for ten minutes, and everybody else was flying and taking off, and so, … they're two minutes apart. They're climbing, too, but, they're all in a straight line. Then, he just starts a big, slow circle to the left and they all just short circle. … Pretty soon, they're all together. That's the way they formed up. …
SI: How often did you see accidents in training or overseas?
SI: Mechanical failures and so forth.
RS: Oh, well, … mechanical failures, we would … push engines [in] just horrible fashion. I mean, we pulled power on everything that they had. I mean, remember, … [it was] nothing like there is today. … When I look back and think about it, and I look at a modern day jet, even a commercial airliner, again, what we used to fly … [was] just limited. We got up, our maximum altitude was, maybe, twenty-four, twenty-five thousand feet, and, when you're flying at twenty-five thousand feet, … the airplane is just sluggish, and the air is so thin, and the throttles are full forward, and you're just using a thing like this, which regulates the boost from the superchargers, and you're flying formation. … Of course, if this fellow gets hit, sometimes, he goes into the next guy. That's a mid-air collision. Sometimes, one fellow's not paying attention, and he chews your tail off, and you both go down. Those things happen, … particularly if the flak [is heavy]. You roll on to your IP, and you look out, and you see nothing but these black puffs, and you can almost walk on it. What they're doing [is], once they determine that you're on your bomb run, they start laying that stuff up, so [that] you have to fly into it. They're not aiming at you particularly, and so, then, people get shaky. I mean, we had one fellow on our crew, I never knew who it was, but, he'd press the mike button down, and [Mr. Smalley imitates deep, panicked breathing] you'd hear that, and I'd say, "Goddamn it, somebody's breathing in his mike," [laughter] and he'd let go. …
DE: What kind of equipment did you wear to deal with the high altitudes?
RS: Oh, yes. … After the briefing, we'd go down to our, what did we call it? I guess a flight room. We had to wear a uniform, because, if you were shot down without a uniform on, you were a spy and they'd shoot you. So, you wore your uniform, and then, you put on a heated suit, and over the heated suit, you put on a pair of fleece-lined pants. … You took your shoes off and put on fleece-lined boots. The temperature in the cockpit would be about minus twenty-one degrees, … with the heated suit and everything else, and you carried a .45 pistol, and a knife, and an escape kit. The escape kit, they'd issue that to you and you'd give it back when you came [back]. If you tore it open, you were in trouble, but, in the escape kit were four morphine … syringes, a bunch of Benzedrine pills [that] would keep you awake for at least twenty-four hours, a silkscreen map of the area that you were flying, and forty-two dollars in single dollar bills, American. We were not allowed to have American money over there, … but, everyone knew the American dollar. … So, you had forty-two, so, you had seven pockets, so, you put seven dollars in each pocket, so [that] you'd never have to pull out your whole roll if you're going to try to buy something or bribe [someone]. … I mean six pockets; can't multiply anymore. … So, they'd give you one of those, and then, … you got your parachute, and you always opened the back of that and looked at the pins, because there was sabotage going on all the time. [If] somebody'd take a pair of pliers and bend that pin [in]to a "U," you'd … never be able to pop that chute, and niceties like that. They put landmines in the wheel wells. So, before … flying, everybody would go out and look up [their wheel wells]. Everyone was issued a flashlight. So, you went all through the ship yourself. … As I say, heated suit, you wore a … helmet with an ear set in it, … you had an oxygen mask, and that had a microphone in it, as well as you wore a throat mike. Down at around sea level and everything else, the throat mike was all right, … but, when you get up [to a] higher altitude, there was very little air and your voice got squeaky, but, anyway, that's when you used the mike, … and you wore goggles that had … little wires that would heat the lens, and then, when you went over the target, you wore a regular GI helmet and a flak suit [that] you put on in front of you. … So, you wore a backpack, you carried a .45 in a shoulder holster and you carried your shoes that you took off. You'd tie the laces together and you put them on … a clip that you clipped to your [parachute]. You put them next to you, so [that] if you had to go out, jump, you'd clip those to your parachute harness, so [that] when you got down, you had a pair of shoes, because those boots would go. When the chute opened, those boots … [laughter] would leave you, but, you had to have those, and you carried the .45 in a shoulder holster, because there wasn't enough room. You couldn't carry a pistol on your hip. You'd get caught going through [a hatch], and, … over the target, you'd put on a flak suit and the goggles, because, [if] the windshield got broken, that blast of air would freeze your eyeballs in nothing flat and freeze your face. So, [with] the oxygen mask, and the goggles, and the helmet, your face was covered.
SI: Between the confined space, extreme temperature and cumbersome clothing, you operated in a very inhospitable environment.
RS: Oh, yes, yes. Well, one of our problems was frostbite. If you got hit, the first thing you did was turn your heated suit off, … help the blood coagulate, and, if necessary, we had morphine syringes outside of the escape pack. … We had a tail gunner that … got hit, and we bound him up, but, we had to leave him in the turret. It was necessary, and I gave him a shot of morphine in his butt, and we found out, later, I didn't get through to him. [laughter] … He was wondering why it wasn't helping with the pain, [laughter] but, the second one I gave him in the arm, so, it was all right.
SI: You mentioned sabotage earlier. Do you know if Italian partisans or German spies were responsible?
RS: In ours, it was an American sergeant. He was getting fifteen hundred dollars an airplane, because, … you know, we had guards around the field and everything else. … One morning, we started to take off, and the first ship brought his wheels up, and he blew up, and the second ship took off, put his wheels up, and he blew up. He was only a hundred feet off the ground.
SI: We were discussing the saboteur.
RS: Yes, and so, they called … a stand down. We got word from the tower, "Everybody stand, inspect your airplanes." We went out and that's when we found [that] one other ship found a landmine in the wheel well. We didn't; ours was clear. … Boy, they had a big investigation. They had the guards, they checked them, the guards. Oh, they were alert, no sleeping, everything was good. "How in the hell did somebody get in with [landmines]?" and then, … they searched the area, and they found a little cache of these landmines, and they were secreted someplace, and they watched them, and they found this sergeant going in, and he picked up two, and he was caught. They arrested him. They shot him. He was getting fifteen hundred dollars an airplane. He killed twenty men, and he was going to kill another ten, you know, but, anyway, that was the only [act of sabotage]. The fighters, I know they had some problems and they got rid of them. … Somebody was pouring paraffin in their gas tanks, and that paraffin would get to the carburetor, and the venturi throat was cold, and the paraffin would solidify and clog the carburetor. The airplane would go down. … They'd take a beer can and crimp it in a certain way, so that they could take the cap off the gas tank, fill the beer can with gasoline, and sink it in the tank. It wouldn't go down in the tank, it was hanging, then, put the gas cap back, and, every morning, they'd come out, they'd take those out and examine them, look for the cans, and some of them had wax in them. They protected themselves that way. That's just ingenuity, but, again, you know, they searched and searched, and I think they finally found an Italian that was doing it.
SI: I get the impression that most airmen who served in England or France did not have to deal with these issues, in addition to dealing with aerial combat.
RS: Well, … you know, we had one bad egg out of how many thousands were over there, and you've got one Italian who was trying to get rich with the fighters, and the one I knew was true; the other one, I just heard about. …
SI: Was the sergeant only doing it for the money?
RS: Yes. That's generally what [it was]. You mean loyalty to Germany? I have no idea, really. … All I know is, he was being paid fifteen hundred dollars an airplane.
DE: Do you remember where you were on V-E Day?
RS: Sure. That's the day the Colonel, I was up in the officers' club, … came up to me and it was, "You, you, you, you, come … with me." So, we went with him, and we went down to the motor pool, and he said, "I want every rotor out of these jeeps [and] trucks." So, we … opened them up and took the distributor cap off, took the rotor out, and put the distributor cap back, noted where we got the rotor from, what car, what jeep, what truck. We went back to him. He said, "Okay." So, then, he went back and announced that we were declared non-operational. "Oh!" Everybody got a little soused. I mean, we drank every bit of beer that was in the place, we drank all [the liquor]. The other thing that we could get was gin and juice, gin and grapefruit juice, we got that in the officers' club, and you had your bottles, and it was a ruckus night, but, we were no longer going to fly combat. Took it about a week or so, and then, we got in our airplanes and flew home. So, you know, … I knew V-E Day. I also knew V-J Day, because I was here, in the States, on leave, but, … V-E Day, we knew it was coming, because, when we flew on a mission, the Germans, as they were retreating, they were doing the "scorched earth," and the Russians, as they were advancing, you couldn't particularly see them, but, they were driving herds of cattle behind the troops, and every time they stopped, they'd slaughter a bunch of cattle and feed the troops, … but, the cattle made a big dust. Anyway, … as you flew up, you could see the big lines of fires, smoke. … Next day or so, you fly [over] … and they're in closer, they're in closer, and so, you knew that the Germans were coming, and we never got to see the … Western Front, through France and Germany, but, yes, … we knew what was coming, and we were very pleased, and, as I say, we felt that we had a great part in it, because … our whole objective over there was to deny the Axis Powers the ability to wage war. We were told that over and over; that's what we were doing. So, we bombed oil refineries. We never bombed a city. We bombed oil refineries, to deny them fuel and lubricating oil. … We bombed chemical plants, to deny them the ability to make ammunition and powder. We bombed power plants, so [that we] denied power to his factories, and marshalling yards, to wreck his ability to transport heavy equipment, and the fighters would escort us up, and, when we were going back, now, we were lightly loaded, and, anyway, the [German] fighters would hardly ever hit us going back, … unless there was a stray, and they'd [the American fighters] go back on the deck, and they'd shoot up anything they'd see. They see a locomotive come, they'd blow it to hell, and trucks, or anything like that, they'd destroy them, and we did. Towards the end, they weren't able to use their tanks; there was no fuel. The flak was decreasing tremendously and we didn't get as much from the enemy. The last two or three weeks, we never saw a fighter and, as we found out later, they didn't have any. … Anyway, we did what we were supposed to do and that was our whole mission. Those were the missions we flew.
SI: Can you tell us about your first mission? What was the target?
RS: Yes, Sarajevo, I'll never forget it.
SI: What was your target?
RS: … All I know [is], it was Sarajevo and the navigator and the bombardier, of course, knew it was a marshalling yard, probably, (hidden?) there. … Yes, that was my first experience. …
SI: What was the entire experience like?
RS: … You know, I'm not a hero. I wasn't a hero. I mean, I got the Air Medal, yes, and a whole bunch of clusters on it, because … you got that medal for staying alive. I mean, you flew five missions, you got an Air Medal. You flew another five and you got a cluster on it. So, I got an Air Medal with two gold clusters on it, which means I flew thirty missions. Actually, I only logged twenty-nine, but, I flew thirty-three. I've got my records with me, if you'd care to see them. … I remember staring; all of a sudden, a hole appeared in the airplane, here, and [I thought,] "That's all right." I looked, and … the console was here, and I was flying as a co-pilot, my first mission, and I saw a little scrape there, and I looked around for the piece of flak, but, I couldn't find it, and that was it. It wasn't until later [that] I thought, "Christ, you know, I must have come that close to being hit," but, nothing to get excited about. Let's put it this way, you could not let it bother you. … Now, everybody that went through it, there's a portion of your mind that you can shut off, and that's the portion that … provides you with fear, and you just become cold. I mean, you become numb. … If you can't do it, you're in trouble. … I couldn't do it again, but, you see, … it's just a strange experience, [I] never want to do it again, but, I'm proud I did it, never aborted once, never cried. We had people that would cry. We had people that would pray. I had a co-pilot that [prayed]. Flying one mission, I looked over at him and there he is, praying. I hit him on the shoulder and I said, "You keep your eyes open." I said, "If anything happens to me, you got it." … That was the last mission he flew. He was sent home.
SI: There were people who …
RS: Broke up, … even then, yes, and it was funny, the psychology of people, you know. In training, you had guys, in the United States, drink like a fish, chase anything with skirts, and then, they get overseas and get in combat, [laughter] no more drinking, no more women. I mean, they become Christians and the guys that were the Christians over here go to hell over there. They're drinking and they're chasing women. [laughter] It was a funny, funny thing. That's just an odd observation.
DE: Would you agree that the pilot was responsible for more than just the plane? What were your other in-flight duties? Did you have to check on the other crewmen?
RS: Oh, yes. … First, you had to fly the airplane and … you were in formation all the time. You had to do it, right. You had to run an oxygen check about every twenty minutes. You'd get on the radio and you'd just say, "Pilot to crew, oxygen check," and each one would come in and say they were okay, and there was an order in which they came in, from all the other nine men, and so, that was a control. If you were hit by fighters, you had to keep them calm. You had to talk to them, say, "All right now, here you are, you guys. We've got bandits out there. They're a bunch of sons of bitches. All they want to do is knock us out of this air and you're the guys that have to get us home. Now, you're trained, you're doing this." You talk with them. If they start jabbering too fast, say, "Slow down, slow down, … do your thing," and, if one hit and he shot down a fighter, … "Great, great, great. … Let's see [if] you get a medal for this." "Now, now, calm down, let's get some more," and you had to do that, and, of course, if there was damage, you had to see what you could do to keep the airplane in the air. I mean, we were flying over Augsburg one time; again, I was a co-pilot, because I was flying … in the lead airplane, and the Captain was the pilot, first pilot. We got a shell. It went right through our wing and, all of a sudden, we had gasoline pouring down inside the airplane. The bomb bay doors were open. We were getting ready to drop our bombs and the gasoline was pouring down inside. … It was blooming out over the wing, under the wing, and our wingman said, you know, "Move out, he's liable to blow," and the Captain says, "No, we're not going to blow," [laughter] and I looked back, and all I could see was this gasoline flowing down, but, I kept watching the gauges, all the gauges, because that was the co-pilot's main responsibility, to watch the engine gauges, and, of course, you were equally able to fly, and so, the engines kept purring along fine, all four of them, and, finally, I asked the navigator to give us the time and hours we were to get back to the field. We dropped the bombs, and we peeled off, and we were still all right. So, I asked the navigator [for] the time that we would get back home. I had the engineer grab an oxygen bottle, and come up forward, and check the sight gauges, and tell us how much gasoline we had left. We carried three thousand gallons, but, each of those engines burned a gallon a minute, believe it or not. How'd you like to pay those gas bills? [laughter] Actually, your parents did, you know, but, so, anyway, it was 240 gallons an hour that all four engines burned. … We found [that] we had about between six and seven hundred gallons, which wouldn't get us home. We had two alternatives, which you thought of; one, we were lightly loaded. We didn't have any bombs; we'd dropped them. We could shut down two engines and feather them, the two outside engines. That would cut our gas consumption, supposedly, in half. We can have the gunners fire off half their ammunition; that would reduce the load on the airplane about a ton. Would that stretch us the three hours that we needed to get home? … The first pilot, we gave him all the alternatives, and I kept telling the men, you know, "The engines are fine," because all they know is, … you know, they're back there, and, "Bang," and gas [is] flowing all over the place. So, I kept telling them. So, they knew what was going on, that the engines were running fine, but, we lost a lot of gas and … what our judgments [were]. So, anyway, we landed at a British fighter base, right up behind the lines in Italy, and we made it back. We had somebody come up and inspect the airplane, and the engine is here, and the turbine, there's a turbine wheel back here, about this big around, and that turns over. … That's powered by the exhaust gasses out of the engine, and that runs about 36,000 RPM, and that turns the blower up here, which is forcing air into the engine. … Otherwise, at that altitude, you could never get an engine to run and … the shell went through the wing about that far behind that turbine wheel. If it had hit the turbine wheel, or been in front of it, we'd have blown up, and I wouldn't be here today, but, [laughter] we stayed alive by that much, and they're shooting at us from five miles away. We're at twenty-five thousand feet, roughly five miles. … We made that and they're the sort of things and damage control that you do. … The side of that airplane looked like somebody stood there and fired two shots at it with a shotgun full of buckshot; not a man was touched. They were hit, but, they had their flak suits on, they had helmets on, you know, because we were … on our bombing run, but, not a scratch. Then, we got home. We slept in the mess hall of the English fighter squadron that night. The next morning, they gave … us a thousand gallons of gasoline, and the Captain had to sign for it, I had to sign for it, [laughter] and it was something like, I don't know, twenty-five thousand dollars, I don't know. It was at least two-and-a-half dollars a gallon, [laughter] I don't know, or more, I forget, but, it was a hell of a bill. We probably gave it to them to begin with, the gasoline. So be it, but, … that was called "being shot down." The definition of being shot down in the Air Force was that you didn't get back to base. The other, of course, is the most drastic kind, if you blew up in mid-air. So, therefore, on my record, I was shot down once.
SI: Was that your closest call?
RS: Yes, yes.
SI: Were there any other close calls?
RS: Yes. … Well, the slug that came through, you'd call that close, but, no. We lost engines, but, you know, we had three more.
SI: Were there any targets where, if you were in your briefing and they revealed the target, everyone would say, "That is suicide."
RS: Yes, yes. We had a couple of targets. One of the most dangerous was Vienna and, believe it or not, when you flew over that target, no matter where you went, there were at least two hundred guns that could bear at you. … When you turned on the IP, the target over Vienna, the air was just filled with flak. … If you were the first group coming over, it wasn't so bad, but, if you were the second and third, my gosh, it looked like you could walk on it. That was a very dangerous target. Another one was Augsburg and that's where we got the one through our wing. … They said they had a gunnery school there, for instructing the German gunners, and they were good, because, when we got hit, they were laying it [on], just four guns, that was all, just, "Bink, bink, bink, bink," … every five seconds, "Bink, bink, bink, bink," right on target. I remember, the Captain looked at me, and he said, "We've got to go through it," and that's when we got hit. …
DE: Can you tell us exactly what the IP was?
RS: Well, the IP, called the initial point, that's where we started our bomb run. So, two or three things happened; you'd be in formation, but, if you were flying the lead ship, let's say, otherwise, you're just following everybody, … you've got the bombsight in your ship. So, you turn on the IP and you tell the bombardier, "It's yours." Now, when he plugs in the bombsight, the Norden sight, it connects with the autopilot, and so, he's literally flying the airplane, but, you … also are over-controlling, because you want to stay on altitude, because … you've got to drop from a certain altitude. He's got that in his calculations before[hand], and that's called his dropping angle, and you never really get over the target, because, at five miles up, you're flying this way, the bombs have a velocity, forward velocity, of 160 miles an hour. So, when you drop them, they're going here. Once they're out of your ship, you're going this way. So, you never go over the target. You can see it, and you can see the bombs fall, if you're in the lead ship, because you don't have other airplanes in your way, and they look like they're going like this, [like] they're staying right even with you, and then, as they get down here, they seem to go this way, because, now, they're passing something that (they've got a perspective?). … No, you never really get over the target. You're dropping, I don't know how far back. I expect you're dropping at least a mile or so … short of the target, maybe more. I mean, [if] I had my slide rule, I could figure it out, [laughter] but, you know, you never went over the target, and you're always going downwind, so, you had an initial velocity of 160 miles an hour, so, you could be [at] 260. So, you might drop three or four miles short and the bombs would get there. … A lot of the other ships wouldn't have a bombsight and what they'd do [is], the bombardier's sitting there, he said, "All right, I'm going to drop a tenth of a second [afterwards]. Every bomb is going to go a second, tenth of a second, or whatever, half second." So, he's got the trigger in his hand and he's watching the lead ship. The minute he sees those bombs come out, he triggers his. So, maybe the lead and deputy lead have sights, because we were short. … Anyway, that's the way we would fly. As I say, that IP, the time we reach that IP is set at briefing that morning. … The navigator has to get us at that place in the air when he's supposed to and, always, we're a few minutes ahead of time. We're maybe, oh, ten, fifteen minutes ahead of time, always. So, he's flying off big doglegs like this, back and forth, and then, he'll fly straight again, and then, he'll fly off like this, … so that he can hit that IP when he wants to. … They keep giving instructions to the pilots, you know, "Please turn this [way]."
DE: If something happened to the lead plane and the deputy lead plane, would the mission be scrubbed? Was it uncommon for something to happen to both planes?
RS: No. The odds were, … the fighters would go after the lead plane and the deputy lead. They knew that they [were in command], but, … I have never known when they both went down, no, and, if they did, I don't know what you'd do. I suppose what you'd do was, you had alternative targets. I suppose you'd pick one and just drop by [visual targeting], you know, look out and say, "Bomb now," but, I was never on a mission when that occurred.
SI: Did you ever fly lead?
SI: How many times did you fly lead?
RS: … Oh, I don't know, maybe seven or eight. … I had reached [the rank of] first lieutenant. The lead, they were all captains and a couple of majors. You either flew with a major or a captain when you flew as lead or deputy lead and they always needed a co-pilot, because they didn't have a crew, so, they would (secund?) a crew and they'd say, "Hey, you're flying with me today." [laughter]
SI: Which was worse, flak or fighters?
SI: Not only in terms of the actual threat they posed, but would you say they struck the most fear, maybe not fear, but intimidated you the most?
RS: Well, see, the "24," … as I say, as far [as] fighters are concerned, it's a dangerous airplane. As I say, we had twin .50s in the nose, twin .50s in the turret up above, in the center of the airplane, the top, it was called a Martin upper. We had twin .50s in the tail and twin .50s in the ball turret. Now, the ball was that, literally, a ball. A man'd get in it and we could drop it down and, now, he could cover, you know, up and down, all around. When … we were flying in formation and we saw fighters coming in, they're coming in this way, they're going to fly a pursuit curve and come down at us like that, this airplane would drop, this airplane would hold, that's the lead, and this guy would raise up. Now, all of a sudden, there's three guns in each plane, at least the Martin upper and the waist gun, so, he's got nine .50-caliber machine guns aiming at him and we've got a tracer for every four. So, he's seeing these things curl at him. Nine times out of ten, they'd say, [laughter] "I'll try this another day," and … they were losing so many, … this we found out later, that they changed tactics. They wanted the fighters to come up behind us and … two of them would come up behind us, and they're, maybe, two or three hundred yards apart, and they're coming up behind us, and, of course, their speed is, you know, twice ours, two or three times ours, and the tail gunner's sitting there and he says, "Which one am I going to shoot at?" So, whichever one he picked to shoot at, that one would pull off and this one would bore in.
----------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO---------------------------------
DE: You were discussing the German fighters and their tactics.
RS: … Well, so what the tail gunner would do is, he'd throw a quick burst at that one, and then, come over to this one, and that one'd tail off, this one'd bore in, he's looking right down his throat. He'd let go with everything he had and we were shooting fighters down like you wouldn't believe. Tail gunners were scoring, … and so, I guess they did that for awhile, the Germans. I guess the German High Command was kind of stubborn or dumb and they kept doing that for the longest time and we kept shooting them down. Our squadron, I think, shot down some eighty fighters.
DE: What types of fighters do you remember encountering? The Germans had developed the jet by this time; I was wondering if you encountered any.
RS: … No, we never saw it. Mostly what we saw was ME 109s, but, some fellows, not in the missions that I flew, … the burpers, which were the ramjets, you know, that, again, is something the Germans developed … and the thing was horrendously fast, I mean, it was seven or eight hundred miles an hour, or whatever it was, I mean, very, very fast, you know, in our speeds, not like the jets today. … We called them burpers, because they're leaving little smoke puffs after them, a ramjet, but, … by the time they got off the ground and got up to altitude, they had about two-and-a-half minutes left.
DE: They used up a lot of gas.
RS: Yes. I mean, … their fuel consumption was horrendous and that was the same with the German jet. We heard about that, a twin-engine jet, I don't know, with a top speed of seven hundred miles an hour or something like that, and I can't remember the name of it, [ME 262] but [we said], "Boy, we're in trouble if we see them," but, then, again, by the time it got off the ground and got up to altitude, it, too, had just a few minutes. So, I never saw them, but, some people did, said they saw them, but, all they did was see them.
SI: Did you ever fly a mission where you were directly assisting ground troops?
RS: Yes, we did. At the end of the war, in fact, I think the last four missions I flew, they were called the Po Valley missions, and our troops were lined up on one side of the Po Valley and the Germans were on the other side, and they'd been staring at each other for months, and so, as far as, I guess, our strategy was concerned, it took very few people here to keep a lot of people there occupied. So, that's what we were doing, but, now, as the war up north [progressed], that we could see, by the fires, as I said, and everything else, and the British were … bombing the hell out of Berlin, and they were dropping incendiaries and they were actually causing firestorms and you get a town burning like that and it sucks all the oxygen out of the air and everybody around it suffocates. They don't have to get burned. … Finally, we got the orders that we were going to [attack]. We came in one morning to briefing and they told us, "All right, now, you're not going to be able to say anything to anybody. … You're going to fly the next four missions and you cannot tell anybody what you're doing," and the other people in the squadron and I [agreed]. … What we did [was], we went up and we flew in echelon, every airplane we could put in the air, the whole damned 15th Air Force, and we flew in … long strings of airplanes and we flew in. The infantry put out big panels on the ground, white material, big crosses. We also passed a radio beacon across the whole isthmus of Italy and, when we flew through that beacon, there's a blinker up on the panel and that thing would blink, and so, you knew you were past that. … The bombardier looked at those crosses, the main thing is, we didn't want to drop short, because we're dropping close to the troops, but, we dropped what were called proximity fused, fragmentation bombs. They were in clusters of four and when I looked at them, maybe they weighed two hundred pounds a piece. So, each cluster weighed, say, four hundred pounds and we had, I think, six of those clusters and, when we dropped them, the clusters would break open on leaving the airplane, and then, these two hundred pound bombs would go down south. They were proximity fused, in that they had a little radio that was sending out pulses and, when they got an answer back, it blew. So, they were bursting thirty and forty feet off the ground, so that [they hit] the German soldiers in foxholes. So, we flew … two missions to the Eighth Army, two missions to the Fifth Army and the Army just walked up the peninsula of Italy. [Those were] the last missions I flew. So, there we were; those were the only times we actually flew in direct support of troops. That's the only time we ever dropped those proximity-fused bombs. They burst up in the air and, as you know, the bomb, it has a certain velocity this way and the epicenter of that explosion continues on, so, when it blows, … the shrapnel goes like this, just like the spray of a hose nozzle. … Some goes this way, but, the majority of it goes down. … I never knew what the body count would be or how successful they were, but, we did know [that] the armies just walked right up the peninsula after that, northern Italy, it was up in northern Italy, the Po Valley.
DE: Are there any books or movies that you feel really depict what you went through?
RS: I haven't seen any. … Not many books were written, but, the movies were all romanticized. … It just wasn't true to life. In the movies, you have heroes and they're doing this and they do things that are impossible, but, in true life, we were just all people doing our thing.
SI: Did you ever feel that, being in the Italian Theater, you were second best, in terms of getting supplies and so on, to the Northern European operations?
RS: No, no.
SI: You got the same amount?
RS: As far as I know we did. I mean, we didn't seem to ever lack for anything. We always had fuel; gasoline was, of course, very important to us. As far as I know, when we took off, we always had enough bombs. … The gun belts and canisters were always full and we had oxygen, we always did, couldn't fly without it.
SI: You mentioned that you were short on bombsights.
RS: Well, yes, there was a shortage of those, but I'm sure there was a shortage of those in the Eighth Air Force as well and all the others. … It was always nice to fly in the lead ship with a bombsight, because those ships were the newest. So, they were bright and shiny, [laughter] with all the latest [things].
SI: Were there any superstitions involved in flying? Did men keep rabbits' feet, anything like that?
RS: I suppose there was, but it was up to the individual.
SI: You did not have any superstitions.
RS: Well, you got a little bit of religion. You used to say your prayers every night. Oh, I don't know, but I'm sure that other people might have rabbits' feet and all sorts of things. I have no idea. … They didn't talk much about those things.
DE: You came back to Rutgers after the war. You said that you wanted to pursue your education further and that you were more serious. Can you tell us about your experience at Rutgers after the war?
RS: … Well, there were a number of us GIs, people here on the GI Bill, and we were, what would you call it? … a dedicated bunch. I mean, we all knew what we wanted and … I've heard a professor or two, say that it was very rewarding to teach us, because we were interested in learning. We were all much older, you know. I was probably twenty-one … and I was here to get an education, totally different from the time before. In fact, you know how stupid we all are, I went up and got a football uniform, went out and met the coach, told him I was [on the team] in '41. He went back and got out a book, "Oh, yes, good, … glad to see you here," and everything else, you know, and I thought about it and I thought, "Smalley, what in the hell are you doing here? Go home," and I did, took the uniform back and I knew, you know, … being out of school for as long as I was, and then, getting back, trying to get back, remembering what math I knew, my English and all the other things, that freshman year was a B-I-T-C-H. Talk about eighteen-hour days, I mean, that was it. I was just catching up and not only that, as I say, I had a cavalier attitude towards it when I was in high school. So, I really had to sweat bullets, but, I made it and there was only one big fight I had with Rutgers and that was in my junior year. I was carrying about a middle to high average, enough; I was passing, no ball of fire, and, all of a sudden, I was put on probation, because what they did [was], they said, "Well, before we can graduate you, we've got to consider every grade you ever had in Rutgers." So, they got all my pre-war ones, all those sixes and fives, and put them all in. Oh, boy; I demanded an audience before the board and I stood up and told them, "Look, I flew thirty-three missions in a bomber … to get here." I said, "I'm here, I'm serious about this and, now, you're tying things that when I was a kid … I did." I hemmed and hawed and I debated and debated and, finally, they said, "Well, we'll have to see what your next grades are," and I said, "I'll tell you, if you flunk me out, … I'm going to write a book about you guys." Next grades come in, I never heard another thing. I graduated. [laughter] I won't tell you who they were. I know some of their names, but, it wouldn't be of any advantage to do that, but, I mean, that was a shock, oh, boy.
SI: I have heard, from one or two other engineers in your class, that, apparently, Rutgers took in too many engineers and, after awhile, they started to cut people using any excuse.
RS: … Rutgers, even before the war, … was an open institution. You wanted to go to college, come on, sign up, pay your money and you're in, but, Rutgers knew that half the freshman class was going to flunk. … There were no entrance exams or anything. Rutgers was an open school, so, … they gave everybody an opportunity, … but I can just tell you about my case, but, I don't think they were looking for a way to flunk you out. I know that, as I said earlier, … our graduating class was fourteen hundred, it was the biggest in the history of Rutgers, at the time; look at it now. Unlike when they let me in, … one fellow said, "Well, we're going to let you in, we'll give you a try. You do it." I said, "Well, good, thank you." He said, "Don't thank me, … Rutgers needs the money." [laughter] You know, during the war, they had a lot of students here, but nothing [like today]. … I had never been aware of that statement.
SI: Did you get married before or after the war?
RS: When I was in [the] College Training Detachment in Syracuse, we were married. It was during the war, but before I … went overseas.
SI: When you were here at Rutgers, were you living up on University Heights?
RS: No. My wife worked here, in the student union, and, on the GI Bill, I got 104 dollars a month while I was in school and she made something, I don't know, but, at that time, you could rent an apartment, a real nice apartment, for forty-five dollars a month, and food was cheap, so, we got along. We had an automobile, an old 1937 Buick. We used it. We traveled all around the country in it, when I was in service. … When we transferred from base-to-base, I could get gas tickets, coupons, but, we had to make train time, so, many, many times, we drove twenty-four hours, two hours on, two hours off. The only thing that stopped us is when we'd get low on gas. We'd pull in the gas station, put a sign up, "Wake us, we need gas, when you open," [laughter] but … we had that. I'd say, "Pass everything in the road but a gas station." … No, we managed all right. … Of course, summertime, … I always got jobs and Peggy would work here all summer long and we managed. …
DE: Were there any clubs or organizations that you joined at Rutgers after the war that you were not involved with before the war?
RS: No. … I'm just trying to remember. … I gave up the fraternity, gave up sports. I just plain studied. I mean it was [that simple]. The only sports I did, I used to play tennis, get a little exercise. No, I wasn't a joiner, because, as I say, from going to dummy to smarty was a rough path. [laughter]
SI: What was it like to have veterans, who were twenty-three, twenty-four and had been through a war, mingling with kids that were just coming out of high school? Did you notice anything?
RS: I didn't notice a thing, no, just mixed in, no problems, not that I noticed. I mean, we were just a little older than they were, that's all. We never got together and swapped war stories, [laughter] if you want to call it that, nothing like that, never tried to impress them. … I don't remember many of them, I'll tell you this, I don't know how many were here, but, in the engineering school, I don't remember many, or I just didn't know that they were. The only way you could tell us [apart] was, a lot of us were wearing … ex-uniforms, the trench coats for the officers and some of the others, you'd see the old GI pants and other stuff.
SI: Did anyone ever talk about the war at Rutgers, or was everyone tired of dealing with it?
RS: No, not that I know of. No, this is the first, you know, that you've done here. Of course, I don't know that anybody wanted to know what we did.
SI: When you got together with other students, did it ever come up?
RS: No, no. … Once again, as I say, once you were over with it, you know, that was set aside. I mean, "Let's get on with this now." We were not heroes. [laughter] We just made it.
DE: Did you have any favorite professors here at Rutgers?
RS: Yes, and they weren't … favored because they were easy going, they were favored because they were tough but fair, and some of them, you didn't think too much of, but, we won't talk about that, but, I think the one that [I favored the most was] Professor Grant, in mathematics. I think he was probably of British descent or something, but, he was … a very good professor and the other was Professor (Dockerty?). He was in, we used to call it "heat power," but, it was thermodynamics. He taught thermodynamics. He was … a good teacher, tough but fair, but, I flunked his course. I had to go to summer school, but, he was willing to help me and, when I got through it, that became my best study.
SI: Could you tell us a little bit about your career?
RS: Well, I graduated from college and I got a job at three hundred dollars a month. Oh, boy, that was [great]. I was so tired of not … having two nickels to rub together, but, boy, three hundred dollars a month was great and it was the high salary. … I knew a lot of the people who were playing football and they were all [making] one hundred-and-fifty and I went to work rating. They call it "rating," but, it's the thermal design and mechanical design of shell and tube heat exchangers and furnaces and pressure vessels, and I went from there to another company for a raise, from eight thousand dollars a year to sixteen thousand dollars a year. Boy, that was big money. I can remember thinking if I ever earned ten thousand dollars a year, I'd have made it for life [laughter] and, now, you'd be poverty-stricken. … Then, I went on and I got out of engineering. I then made a couple of developments, the companies took the patents, but, then, I got into marketing, and then, I went from selling heat exchangers and air-cooled heat exchangers and pressure vessels to selling (turnkey?) jobs. These are big contracts. You're going to build an oil refinery or a chemical plant. I think the highest priced contract I ever sold was seven hundred million, but, anyway, I was getting a very fine salary. … I offered to work for a one percent commission and I told them, "You give me three percent and I'll run the whole office," but, no, we were on salary, [laughter] wouldn't allow us to get a commission. Anyway, [they] treated us well, we went through that era, went through a very, very low era, and then, went through an era of high inflation, and, at that time, I was making very good money. … I think I was banking at least a thousand dollars a week and putting it in accounts and getting twelve percent interest, twelve, thirteen percent interest. Boy, that thousand dollars went like this. … Then, the IRA came in, so, we plunked into that everything we could; it wasn't much, but, anyway, we did that. They had stock options and we grabbed all of that we could. So, we did quite well through that very trying time, you know. It was tough. You get twelve percent interest, you know, money was tight, but, to us, it was just all gravy, and my wife and I took advantage of it, because we knew that I had changed jobs a couple of times, so, you know, [my] pension was nothing, and I think I changed jobs once at seven years, and once at eight, and that was it, and we knew we had to provide for our own pension, … which we did. I bought an annuity, which we're very grateful for, and Social Security, and then, our so-called nest egg. … So, we're very fortunate, but, I became a manager. I did a lot of public speaking. I did a lot of presentations at symposia and professional meetings, got fired once. The guy who did it thought I deserved it; I didn't think so. [laughter] So, I got a job the next day.
SI: How do you think your education at Rutgers helped you?
RS: I thought it was very good, as I said earlier. I found that Rutgers prepared me quite well. I didn't meet any strangers. … I started out with heat transfer, as I told you, and then, got into thermodynamics, … and I could go into a drafting room and I could understand it, see everything that they were doing and understand it, and I had no trouble dictating letters. Of course, I can remember my English teacher here saying that my writing was artless. [laughter] In engineering, you know, you write as you speak, so, you speak in very short sentences and very short paragraphs, no flowery words. So, it worked fine. Anyway, I felt quite well prepared. I had no trouble. Of course, your learning curve is never over with, you're always learning, but, I always felt I had the background. I had some foundation. …
DE: Where were your children born?
RS: They were born after the war and after I graduated. Peg and I, I knew that we were reluctant to have children, because, first, … I didn't want to leave Peggy with children when I went overseas, and, when we came back, you know, we were poor and I didn't want to, again, burden Peggy with children, but, once we got a job and once we … bought a home and, as my father said after the war, I said, "Gee, Dad, you know, homes are expensive." He said, "Look, I don't care what it cost, get into a house," and he was right, because that house, … the price went up like this, and so, we had our children. We had a son and we had a daughter. That's what we have.
DE: Did any of your children go to Rutgers?
SR: No, no. Oh, and did I fight with the high school people, … the schools in Paramus, New Jersey, that's where we lived once, and then, in Berkeley Heights. Russell was like me in so many ways. He was a gay blade and … I used to lean on him and, being careful not to make school a drudgery, but, you know, [I was] trying to get him to do well, and … he was doing all right, but, he was also a November baby, so, … he was young in his class. I remember, in his senior year, … or his junior year, I tried to get him left back, in Berkeley Heights. "Oh, cardinal sin, you're going to ruin him for life. You're going to give him all sorts of phobias." I couldn't get him left back, even though his grades were not passing. That's the way they ran schools. … You know, you got through whether you did it or not. Diane was all right, she was sharp, but she didn't want to go to college, so, we sent her to a school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and Russ, he did go. We did send him to college, in Virginia, Wesleyan, and he just got down there and had a ball, and he was short on money, so, he was driving a school bus. I heard about that and I … [told him], "You're supposed to be spending that time studying." Well, anyway, he came back with his tail between his legs, … but we did get him to go here, to Union College, to get an associate's degree and he's been doing very, very well, working for Xerox, since. He's one of the few people that can go in and repair these big, computerized copiers. There's only, I think, three of them here in the United States. So, anyway, he did not go to college.
SI: Is there anything that we skipped over or missed?
RS: No, I think I've talked your ears off. [laughter] I apologize for that.
SI: No, this was great. Thank you very much.
DE: Thank you very much.
RS: Yes, you're welcome.
I was just going to show you something … that we do once in awhile. See, this is what we make. … There are the missions that I flew, but you'll find that they're not all there.
SI: We are looking at a framed display. Did you make this frame?
SI: It has the 15th Air Force patch, his wings, the ribbons for the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and I believe that is the European Theater Ribbon.
RS: Yes, with five Battle Stars, yes. …
SI: It says, "Based in Cerignola, Italy, 15th Air Force, 484th Bomb Group, 826th Squadron."
RS: … These are the combat missions and these are the hours that I amassed, seven hundred and some hours. Anyway, I just put that together to hang on the wall, next to my diploma from Rutgers.
SI: I have never seen a 15th Air Force Patch like this.
RS: Oh, well, they were fancy. Over in Italy, they made everything fancy. … That only shows twenty-nine missions, where, actually, I flew thirty-three, but, as you got towards the end, you stopped counting, because it seemed that the odds were getting longer and longer. "Oh, … I've flown twenty-nine times and I've gotten home all right," you know, and they stopped counting, but, anyway, my record shows thirty-three.
SI: When I asked about superstitions, some men thought that the last mission of the tour was the worst; forget the thirteenth mission.
RS: Oh, yes, that was when the odds were the longest.
SI: Bad things just seemed to happen.
SI: You were in the Air Force Reserves.
RS: Well, yes, you see, … we weren't discharged after the war. … We were separated from the service, and so, … I wasn't discharged until, oh, 1950, '51. … After I graduated, I went down to Trenton and got my MOS changed, and your MOS is, … we used to call it modus operandi, but, they've got another thing, … because I wanted to change from pilot to engineer, and I know the Major down there, [he] says, "What?" He says, "You want to make pilot a secondary MOS?" engineer being the first. "Why would you ever want to do that?" I said, "Well, you know, the Korean War's going on," and I said, "You want to call me in, we'll dicker for rank, but, as a pilot, you know, I'm in and out there, a first lieutenant, that's it, but, if they want to pull me in [as an engineer, forget it]." Oh, there's just some stuff, … that's the records, when you can see whether a mission was combat or "T" for training. Sometimes, we'd get up in the air and they'd have to abort the mission because of fog or rain or cloud cover up there. See, we couldn't fly if there's cloud cover. We had to be able to see the targets.
DE: Did your plane have a name?
RS: Some people gave their planes names, but, no, … we never did, because we didn't always fly the same airplane. In the early days, you flew over … in your airplane. That was your airplane, you flew it. We flew every other day, we didn't fly every day. … I didn't know whether you needed any authentication or anything. [Mr. Smalley is referring to the records he brought to the interview.] I didn't know what you were looking for. No, we didn't give it a name. Normally, you see, they'd paint figures on the side and everything. Those were just the very early ones. … We didn't get over until late. When we got over, when I got over, the fighter … pressure was reduced quite a bit and … the effect of our bombing was causing problems for the Axis. They were getting short of everything, and then, when the British developed the Mosquito bomber, and … they were just [on] a vendetta. They were going to destroy Berlin, because the Germans fired those rockets over indiscriminately, bombed London and anyplace else. Well, the British did that and they [used] incendiary bombs. [As] I say, they caused firestorms and just horrible damage. … Yes, I'm in my eightieth year and I've made it. … [laughter]
SI: When you were being transferred from Europe to the Pacific, before the atomic bombs were dropped, did you have any apprehensions about going to the Pacific?
RS: No. Again, we were ordered. I mean, you can scream and holler, stomp your feet, [laughter] but, you might as well shout at that wall.
SI: Did you have any idea of what air combat would be like in the Pacific?
RS: We'd already been through it. It couldn't be any different. We were going to fly a B-29, instead of a B-24, which is a much bigger airplane, flew much higher and flew faster, carrying a much bigger bomb load and had better armament, so, you know, we were going ahead; we were moving forward.
SI: What about the long distances over water?
RS: Yes, it doesn't make any difference whether it's water or [land]. We just flew back across the ocean, you know. [laughter] We flew all night long, we never saw the ocean, … except in the morning. We hit the coast about sun up.
SI: Did you take the southern route or the northern route?
RS: We went from Italy to Genoa and that's where … we had a bad airplane. We complained about it, they gave us a brand-new airplane, and, from Genoa, we went to Marrakech, … [North] Africa, and then, from Marrakech, we flew out to the Azores, and we landed there, stayed overnight. From the Azores, we flew to Westover Field, Massachusetts. Yes, we knew we'd come into Newfoundland. I think we flew over Newfoundland, and then, came south. Yes, that's the way we got back. Going over, we didn't … fly over. We went by Liberty liner, theHoward S. Kelly. There were trucks and jeeps and stuff in the back and, again, you know, the thirty crews, the three hundred men up front. … We went over in convoy. It took us twenty-nine days to get over there or something like that and we were armed. They had guns in front, guns in the back, and we had a string of twenty-five toilets across the upper deck and that was for us. They were in a little shed-like thing, but, one day, they were going to have gunnery practice, and so, they wanted some of our men, our enlisted men, to go up and help and they trained them, and then, the guys in the rear gun would shoot a burst out and it would burst in black paint, the guy on the front gun would shoot at that burst and make more bursts. Well, in doing that, they cracked five toilets in the front. [laughter] "Why's there water running all over the place?" …
SI: You were sent over as a replacement crew.
RS: Yes, we went to the so-called Repple Depple, replacement depot, (Gagliano?), and, from there, … we were delivered by truck to the airfield, given a tent and told, "Okay, you're here." Okay?
SI: We will conclude again. [laughter] Thank you very much.
DE: Yes, thank you very much.
RS: You're welcome.
--------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-----------------------------------------
Reviewed by Ryan Smith 12/12/02
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 6/22/04
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 6/25/04
Reviewed by Russell Smalley 7/4/04