Special Topics

US Eighth Air Force, US Army Air Forces

70th Anniversary of the Eighth Air Force's Air War in Europe

Activated in February 1942, the Eighth Air Force flew its first mission from bases in England in August 1942. Considered the symbol of the US Army Air Forces, an estimated 350,000 Americans served in the Eighth Air Force throughout World War II, flying thousands of missions over Europe.  Flying B-17s, B-24s and fighters, these men would suffer the highest casualty rate of any American unit during the war. Many New Jersey residents and Rutgers alumni interviewed by the Rutgers Oral History Archives are included in this number and are listed below.  Click on their names to read more. 

  • Lee Eli Baar

    Information
    Military Occupation: Ball-Turret Gunner
    Final Rank: Staff Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "...Berlin was [protected]. It was like what we would protect if they were going to bomb Washington or New York City, and there was always a huge [amount of flak]. There's quite often Luftwaffe in the air, but the flak was [terrible]."
  • Robert Billian

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: Second Lieutenant
    Air Force Group: 316th Troop Carrier Division
    Air Force Squadron: 61st Troop Carrier
    Interview Quote: "...somewhere around four hundred feet, we broke out of the clouds and around three hundred feet, we could start seeing what was going underneath, and we looked down, and there was another B-17 coming in the opposite direction. And, I just pushed the airplane over so we were scooting along the ground and he went over us and we went under, he went over us and we went under him. But, ... that is filed in the book of memories as close calls in England, for us, weather-wise. ... Weather took a large amount of casualties over there."
  • Forrest S. Clark

    Information
    Military Occupation: Waist Gunner
    Final Rank: Technical Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "...we bailed out and, as I was coming down, I remember thinking that you?ve got to free fall, so [that] you don?t get tangled in... those big stabilizers...on the B 24."
  • John Dowling, Jr.

    Information
    Military Occupation: Radar Mechanic
    Final Rank: Technical Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "We would drop equipment to all of those people [Resistance Groups] and it was a very interesting type of thing. The people that did this work were called Joes [OSS Agents]. The man going behind enemy lines, he didn't want anybody to know who he was, and so, everybody was Joe. ... There was a hole cut in the bottom of this great, big B-24 airplane, and it was covered with just a plain piece of plywood, and that we called the Joe Hole... we would get to where the person was to do his sabotage, blow up a building, blow up a bridge, blow up an ammunition dump, or something like that, and would take that off, and he would fall out the Joe Hole and parachute to the ground."
  • William H. Epstein

    Information
    Military Occupation: Military Police
    Final Rank: Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "[On VE Day] the English people were dancing, and singing, and shouting, and crying, and very emotional and American soldiers were glad, too. But then you started thinking about, "When are we going to Japan?"
  • Francis M. Farrell

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: Captain
    Interview Quote: "Toward the end of my time there, when things were going pretty much our way, we had air superiority. In other words, we had fighters that went all the way with us and all the way back. We did see some ME-262s, they were the German jets, but, for the most part, we saw ME-109s, FW-190s. I guess, on occasions, there were JU-88s that'd dive-bomb us."
  • Charles Getty

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot/Operations Officer
    Interview Quote: "The most uncomfortable thing about the flying we did was, [at] about 10,000 feet, 12,000 feet, you had an oxygen mask, and, if you had any long periods, as I say, that one mission, we were ... on oxygen for eight hours, your perspiration, or whatever, your breath coming out of the oxygen mask, would freeze, and, pretty soon, you'd have a thing of ice that went right on down your front."
  • Donald M. Hillenmayer

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: First Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "The Germans had placed four-gun .88 batteries along the coast to give you a little welcome. Their job was to try to take the lead plane out. There was one four-gun battery at Abbeville, France, we used to call them the "Squirrel Shooters."
  • John F. Homan

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: First Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "The Germans had placed four-gun .88 batteries along the coast to give you a little welcome. Their job was to try to take the lead plane out. There was one four-gun battery at Abbeville, France, we used to call them the "Squirrel Shooters."
  • Donald R. Jenkins

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    Military Occupation: Navigator
    Final Rank: First Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "I don't think anybody got shot down, but, boy, a lot of them got shot up."
  • James T. Kenny

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: Captain
    Interview Quote: "I can remember them giving me an itinerary, and it said at such and such time we'd pick up the fighter escort for us, the 51's, and I looked up above me and there they were up on top of us."
  • James W. Laubach

    Information
    Military Occupation: Bombardier
    Final Rank: Second Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "...There was a long train ride, ... maybe a good part of a week or so, to the prison camp, no, very little, food. The only thing we could look forward to was a cold shower. You know, you're dirty, you don't smell well, you're uncomfortable, you're hungry."
  • Simon Liberman

    Information
    Military Occupation: Radio Operator
    Final Rank: Staff Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "I remember, everybody was shooting at this German plane, and they hit the American plane, and the American plane exploded. You know, they didn't hit the German plane. They hit the American plane and I saw that, which was shocking."
  • Alexander Nazemetz

    Information
    Military Occupation: Waist Gunner
    Final Rank: Staff Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "The enemy aircraft flew right through our squadrons, right, and they made us into very ragged and dislodged formations. Everybody was trying to get out of the way. We didn't know who we were gonna hit, and everybody, of course, was shooting in every direction, even me."
  • Eugene Polinsky

    Information
    Final Rank: Navigator
    Air Force Group: 801st/492nd Bomb Group
    Interview Quote: "I felt careful, not terrified. If I were terrified, I don't think I would have been able to work at all."
  • Albert S. Porter, Jr.

    Information
    Military Occupation: Ball-Turret Gunner
    Final Rank: Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "...the Germans very quickly found out, early in the war, that to attack a B-17 from the bottom is not the way to do it, because they realized that that turret gun was the most accurate gun on the plane and they didn't want any part of it."
  • Gordon D. Prout

    Information
    Military Occupation: Navigator
    Final Rank: Second Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "Then our last mission, our ninth mission, we had dropped our bombs down at Ludwidshafen, Germany, and we were coming back and we had some mechanical problem, so we were all of a sudden, all by ourselves again, and we were heading back across France, heading towards England, and a couple of German fighters, Messerscmitts, intercepted us and started shooting at us, and we were down around 1500 feet altitude when the pilot said, the plane had gotten hit, "bail out,"
  • Martin Sherman

    Information
    Military Occupation: Radar Operator
    Final Rank: Second Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "We went to a town called Julich. I'll never forget that thing. The only thing standing was a chimney. Everything else, we could tell, people were walking and there was nothing higher that their waists, just rubble."
  • Jerry Shulman

    Information
    Military Occupation: Armorer
    Final Rank: Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "I believe it was on January 3rd to Hamburg, Germany. That was a good mission. It was a terrific mission in seeing the bombs actually hit and really wreak havoc."
  • Alfred V. Sloan Jr.

    Information
    Military Occupation: Signalman
    Final Rank: Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "[Jimmy] Stewart was, number one, an excellent officer, excellent leader.??Number two, he was brave.??He was fair- minded.??He did not let his Hollywood fame, or whatever it was, stand in the way of doing his job."
  • J. Talbot Smith

    Information
    Military Occupation: Radio Operator/Gunner
    Final Rank: Technical Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "We took a direct hit with an .88, between the number two engine and the fuselage, and it didn't explode. It went right on through the leading edge of the wing, and it probably exploded above us."
  • John E. Soehl

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: Captain
    Interview Quote: "The guys could find their bomber group and we'd fly about five thousand feet over the bomber group, so that we had altitude, and you convert altitude into airspeed. That's why you're way above, and you can see, of course, ... if somebody's coming up to attack your bombers"
  • Chester Szarawarski

    Information
    Military Occupation: Pilot
    Final Rank: Second Lieutenant
    Interview Quote: "During the briefing, ... they would tell you what the weather's going to be, what ... type of fighter opposition you can anticipate, ... what sort of flak you can anticipate, but when that curtain was moved, and you saw the screen, their would be a huge map on the wall, which means the target was Merseburg, you could hear the groan ..."
  • Paul R. Van Duren, Sr.

    Information
    Military Occupation: Radio Operator
    Final Rank: Staff Sergeant
    Interview Quote: "We had lots of holes in the plane from anti-aircraft and some from fighter planes on other missions, but nothing damaging enough to, you know, not even to put one engine out. Those planes could fly on three or even two for a while. They were really rough, tough I should say."
  • Frank A. Wiswall

    Information
    Military Occupation: Bombardier
    Final Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
    Air Force Squadron: 301st Air Refueling Squadron
    Interview Quote: "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."