Main | August 2007 »

July 16, 2007

Stories from a Tail Gunner in a B-24

Edited and transcribed events related by Mr. William Hess. Plane they flew was Teepee Time Gal. -- 15th Air Force, 455th Bomb Group, 743rd Bomb Squadron

Late November, we had to fly our first missions with another crew, each guy, like I flew mine with a crew that just came back, they had been shot down. I flew mine with Richards crew and each one of us had to fly one or two missions with another crew.

And Bob Helbig, our pilot, his brother was there when we got there. That was Jack Helbig. The officers, the navigator, bombardier, pilot and co-pilot were in one tent and the rest of us in another tent. We were close by, but were in different tents. The tents were good, very nice tents. We were replacement crew. In fact, the one, when we moved into our tents, we had to take down the trappings of the crew that we replaced, you know, like they got shot down on their 13th or 14th mission. And they had different sutff on the tent wall, so we moved into their tent.

There were a couple of trips we made, we didn't get credit for our mission if it wasn't a bombing mission, we didn't drop the bombs and didn't hit what we supposed to, it didn't count. They were very tricky about counting the missions. We all flew most of 'em all together after the first one or two that we each flew with somebody else. I think everybody was a little bit shaky. Good plane, it was. Everybody thinks the B17 was the main plane. Really wasn't, it was the B24. There was twice as many B24s.

Flight escorts -- Tuskegee Airmen most of the time, we had P38s, though they were flying P51s. I don't remember their number, but we lost our plane, the plane we were going to come home in, somebody crashed it up in Rimini, North Italy and I met a friend in the Sheriff's department, his mother still lives in Rimini, it's a small world.

In the plane -- In the front part of the plane, there was George Winkleman, he was from Philadelphia, nose gunner. he was from Perryville(?), Missouri, Charley Van Doren. And John Wade was from Mississippi, he was upper turret and engineer. And I think I told you Gerry Graham was the waist gunner, who stayed in and became a jet pilot in Viet Nam and Korea. And then Emil Kirschbaum (Chicago) was our tail gunner and Martin Schwab was the co-pilot. And Ed was the navigator and Walter Heidmous was our bombardier. I think I mentioned to you that Walter's two sons graduated from the Air Force Academy.

Somebody borrowed our plane, we had it all shined up to bring home and somebody wanted to get their time in, so it was loaned to another crew and they cracked it up. The war ended May 7th so we didn't fly any missions after up until then that was the end of the war over in Europe.

It took a while to get back on the boat. I remember it was August 15th when the war ended in Japan. We were on the USS Joshua Handy, which every time it went over a wave, the propellers came out. Brought back ten air crews on the USS Joshua Handy, the guys without planes. We got shot up pretty badly a few times, but we never -- we always got back. Every one of us got back. And none of us got hit. We had all kinds of bullet holes and flak holes, but none of us ever got hit. We were lucky.

Targets -- We hit the Vienna, Regensbrug, Linz. I think that's the last mission that we flew before the end of the war. And we got shot up pretty badly that day. They had concentrated all the anti-aircraft down around Linz at the end of the war, shot them through Brenner Pass.

One more story, we always passed Berchtesgarden and we often all wondered why we didn't just go over and knock it off and we were always told oh, that's a British target, they agreed that it was a British target. Then we found out later after the war that the 9th Air Force, they hit it instead of us.

Posted by keefner at 06:00 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2007

WWII Knives

nichols-smaill.jpgNice writeup on Nichols war knives out of Nebraska. Our dad carried one in Italy. WWII Nichols Fighting Knife. The blade is 7 3/8" long. The handle has a 1936 Buffalo head nickel inlaid in the pommel and the word "Nichols" above that. The guard is marked "Jesse B. Smith" and "872-20-82". It also has the original wrist thong. It comes with a Alfred Cornish scabbard that is marked with the same info that is on the guard. This exact knife is pictured on page 199 of Mike Silvey's WWII Book..

Sunday, June 17, 2007
Nichol's Knives

God. Gone too long. The curse of being lazy. I'm also going to blame the Willamette Valley's prosperous grass-seed industry. The ryegrass is pollinating so, for the past few weeks, my nose has been strictly decorative and my eye sockets have felt as if they should have tiny boy scouts sitting around, them toasting marshmallows (the wife didn't get that joke).

The subject of today's mindless prattling is the man pictured above. Floyd Nichols was a metal sculptor in David City Nebraska prior to the second world war. He speciallized in the small western-themed bronzes you can see on the shelf above him. I suspect they were less kitchey back in the thirties.
At the beginning of America's involvement he, along with many known and anonymous knifemakers, blacksmiths and home handymen, responded to the call from San Francisco's "Save a Life With a Knife!" committee. Along with his fellow Nebraskan, Frank Richtig and Bo Randall he produced some of the most drop-dead gorgeous knives of the war.

He developed a style unlike anyone else's as you can see. A cast brass pommel in a sort of "swan's neck" profile and a steel cross-guard with the intervening space being taken up with tightly-wrapped brass or steel brazing rod. His blades tended to be swept-point Bowies of a shape that other folks have called "Persian". Whatever.
His sheaths were beautiful as well, being made for him by Alfred Cornish, an Omaha saddle maker. He signed his work with the name "Nichols", and simply stamped each letter individually - I love that - into the brass and would occasionally braze a nickel onto the pommel (see bottom photo).
He may not have built the most functional blades although they
would certainly cut and/or stick. I've always wondered about the lanyards hang from kind of random places, but so what? They're pretty ("Very pretty, Colonel. Very pretty indeed. But can they fight?" I think that's a Donald Sutherland line from "The Dirty Dozen") Got to rent that again since that quote goes through my head every time I see a knife I think of as "pretty".

Okay, I've prattled to the end of my tether. I'm going to toss out a few Nichols knife photos and another shop pic. And, what a shop. I could fit three of mine in there.

The final picture is one I found on a "Memories of Nebraska" website, labeled "Dale Nichol's Knife". I know that Dale was his Dad's name, so I assume he made it for Pop in 1947. An appropriate note, I think, to end with on Dad's Day (My day! WooHoo!).

Posted by Oliver Hart-Parr at 12:55 PM

Posted by keefner at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2007

Plane and More information

tail-image-183.jpeg Background info from Dave TW including probable plane art and name for Dad


Dave Ungemach here (davetw1 on My dad, Bill Ungemach, was a co-pilot with the 742nd BS before he was shot down and taking POW. He's doing well at 89. His service got me interested in researching the 455th BG. I'm not a historian - strictly amateur - but it's only a 3-4 hour drive to the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. They have the records for the Fifteenth Air Force, and the 455th BG.

It's just an educated guess, but I think your dad was part of a very successful crew. I checked the records that I have, but haven't been able to find much. Most of the data from the archives is about crews that were shot down. On my next trip to Alabama, I'll see if I can find out more.

I take it from your posts that you've found Craig Ward's site. His dad was with the 740th BS, but he had passed away some years before. The BG history is a fantastic resource, and I'm glad he put it online:

The emblem of the 455th BG was "Vulgar Vulture" (a drooling vulture perched on a bomb). Each squadron was represented by a different colored bomb, and the 743rd's was generally red.

The B-24 tails are famous for their color schemes. Each group was assigned a different set of markings to make it easier to identify them in flight. For the 455th BG, the lower part of the tail was painted yellow, and the upper part was marked with a diamond (see attached artwork). In addition to the diamond, each squadron had a different symbol. The 743rd used a diagonal bar.

I'm not sure which aircraft is in the Helbig photos. It may have never been named, as not all of the aircraft were given nose art, and were only referred to by the last three digits of the serial number. With so many losses, crews moving around, aircraft down for maintenance, etc., sometimes they never had a specific crew to name them. It's also possible that the nose art was on the other side! The photographer may have asked them to stand on the left side for better lighting. It's impossible to tell, but two candidates for 743rd aircraft are "Red Hot Ridin' Hood" or maybe "Snuffy Smith and the Yard Birds."

Sorry for the information overload! I'll let you know if I find anything else. If you should find any more info about your dad, let me know - it might be a clue.


Dave Ungemach
Warner Robins, GA

PS You may want to repost the question about the pistol, carbine, and ARS information from your dad's file on the "All Hands Club & Canteen" section of (it may generate more response). Good luck!

View high res image

Posted by keefner at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2007

Ed Keefner Airforce picture 455th 743rd Bomb Squadron

dad_helbig-120.jpg Nice picture of Edward Keefner and crew in Italy. Served in 15th Airforce, 455th and 743rd Bomber Squadron.

Here is full image. Click on view.
View image

Other interesting links

  • 455th Association, Web site, Reunion details

  • 455th Discussion Board

    More information:

    Other crew member names are: Emil Kirchbaum, tail turret gunner; John Wade, engineer; George Winkelman, radio operator, waist gunner; Gerry Graham, waist gunner; William Hess, belly turret gunner, armorer; Charles Van Doren, nose turret gunner; Robert Helbrig, pilot; Martin Schwab, co-pilot and Walter Heidmous, bombardier.

    Go to There's tons of stuff about the 455th, including roll call and pictures of all the crews in each of the 4 squadrons (740 thru 743). Download the squadrons and go to page 241 of it.

    And read some of those emails on the 455th site. There's guys on there that know tons of stuff, especially a guy named Dave. Think he has an picture of the 15th Insignia with his name.

    Posted by keefner at 01:19 AM | Comments (0)