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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 July 16, 2007 06:00 PM