On April 27, 1944, our group was scheduled for a short mission over France to attack some installations the Germans were building to be used for launching a new type of weapon that was to be used against the English. At the time we did not know just what it was or how it functioned, but it later proved to be what is now referred to as Buzz Bombs. These were actually a bomb with wings attached and a crude type jet engine to drive it. Now, this mission was only to last about four hours, so I would be home at the base for lunch with another mission to my credit and a little closer to that magic number 25 we were all hoping to reach before our luck ran out.
When we reported for briefing prior to the flight, I was advised that I would be flying with another crew and in the bombardier position because it was a new replacement crew and these two positions would be filled by experienced men, the same as our crew had been handled. The reason I was assigned to the bombardier position was due to the fact that I had been trained in the bombs, fuses, bomb racks, shackles as well as the intervolumeter (the unit that controlled the sequence of the bomb release) so the armament-trained personnel was used to compensate for the heavy loss of trained bombardiers, who were officers. These men had heavy losses because we were experiencing concentrated frontal attacks from the German planes as well as a lot of flak damage to the nose of the plane. We also had breakage of the Plexiglas in the nose due to the falling shell casings from the machine guns in the formation. Many of the guns ejected the spent casings out of the plane. The Plexiglas was extremely cold and brittle and the impact of the casings caused it to shatter, resulting in shards of fractured material engulfing the two men in the front section. The bombardier got it full in the face while the navigator had a better chance of receiving the blast on his side or back where he had some protection.
This would be my first time to fly in combat in this position so I looked forward to the flight because it was to be, as they would say, a "milk run." After all we were just going across the channel to France near a town called Rouen. We would get real eggs for breakfast and just keep my lunch hot because I will be back in about four hours from takeoff and the rest of the day will be mine and I will use it to catch up on some sleep.
When I got to the plane and met the crew I was to fly with, I found out that this was to be their first mission so they were nervous about the whole affair. I have since found out that the man I was to be with in the nose was 2nd Lt. Oscar Iezman; he was the bombardier for the crew and would fly the navigator position that day. He asked me just what I usually did regarding the flak suit and the parachute. I told him that I wore both just prior to reaching the coastline of France because I felt that if they were needed there would not be much time to put them on in an emergency. He decided to take my advice and do the same. It turned out that we were both from Detroit.
Soon our turn came to take off so we assumed our positions and away we went, up through the overcast and formed up into our squadron and then into the group. As soon as we were over the Channel, I went to the bomb bay and set the fuses on the bombs as instructed in briefing, came back to the nose and test fired the chin turret guns to be certain they were in working order. I then put on the flak suit, the chest chute and tied my G.I.-issued shoelaces together and set them aside. We made the coast of France and proceeded to the target area. The lead plane opened his bomb bay doors so our pilot did likewise. I set up the intervolumeter unit to salvo (drop all at the same time) the bombs and I waited for the lead ship to drop so I could jettison our load. It was at this time that we came under the most intense flak attack I had ever seen. I had been in others but this was the most accurate. They had our altitude and speed right on the nose. I moved forward to try and gain some protection from the chin turret and, in doing so, I pulled my head set loose but I did not know it. Just as I got into position and made certain I could reach the toggle switch to release the bombs, I felt someone pulling on my leg. It was the lieutenant and he was pointing to his head set. I looked down and saw I was disconnected so I plugged in to hear the pilot saying, "Bail Out, Bail Out," over and over again. I motioned the lieutenant to get ready to leave, secured my shoes to my harness, released my flak suit as well as the lieutenant's and we started to leave the plane through the front escape hatch. We never made it as the engineer came down, followed by the co-pilot, and the pilot followed him. The plane was now filling up with smoke so I assumed we had been hit in an oil line instead of a gas line. Frankly, if it had been a gas line we more than likely would have gone up like a Roman candle. I glanced at the instruments and saw we were at 18,500 ft. and going down at a steep angle. We now worked our way to the hatch and as soon as the lieutenant was out, I followed. We were too high to open the chute immediately and we also were going too fast, so I decided to free fall with the idea of opening the chute at about 10,000-ft. I think I fell much farther than that and would estimate I opened about 8,000 ft. I had a good free fall and the chute opened while I was upside down, which meant it opened between my legs and I took the force on my shoulders instead of my crotch.
I now had tine to look around so I tried to spot our plane. It was below and off to the left, smoke pouring from it and in a steep dive. At about this time it exploded with a tremendous roar and it must have blown the bombs from the racks because I noticed subsequent explosions on the ground. I turned my attention to what was happening below and noticed a lot of activity but at that height it was hard to make out just what was going on or who was involved. It was so quiet and peaceful and there was no sensation of falling whatsoever. This tranquillity did not last for long because I became aware of the fact I was being shot at with some degree of accuracy. I could hear the bullets whistle by and they had my name on them. To combat this, I decided to swing the chute and present a difficult target for the Germans. This proved not to be the best thing to do as I swung too far and slipped the chute, causing it to lose air and start to collapse. I dropped like a rock for about 50-ft. but luckily it filled again. I continued to swing but not so wildly. They continued to shoot but my luck held and I reached the ground in one piece.
I landed in an orchard with my chute draped over one of the trees. I hit so hard, I was shaking like a leaf and had a hard time getting my hands around the chute to pull it from the tree. I knew it would be like a beacon for the Germans and I wanted to try and escape. Because I could not get my hands to work properly, I wrapped the shroud lines around my arm and ran with it, pulling the chute from the tree. Now that I had it, and I might add, yards and yards of it, what was I going to do to conceal it? I looked around and, near a small cliff type rise in the ground, I spotted a good size pile of tree pruning. So I bundled up the parachute the best I could and ran the 50 feet or so to the pile. I dropped to the ground and worked my way into the middle of this pile, dragging the chute along. The material was white and I felt it could be easily seen through the branches of the pile I was in, so I gathered it together and laid on it, thus covering most of it with my outfit which was a dark green color. I was wearing a new type of heated suit and the outer pants and jacket covered my uniform; this must have blended in well because the Germans did appear twice that day at the top of the hill, looking for me, but they never did spot me through the branches although I could see them perfectly. The odd thing was that although the Germans did not know where I was, the local French people surely did. I had been hiding for maybe three hours when a man cane walking by, paused by the pile, stooped down, looked me in the eye and said, "reste la," which means "stay there" in French. Now, we had been shot down about 10 a.m. so I knew I had a long day ahead and that I must stay right where I was if I hoped to succeed in getting away from the area without getting caught. I really had no firm plan. I would just have to play it by ear.
The day was indeed long and I was frightened and hungry and wanted to be just about anywhere but there. Nothing further happened the rest of the day except trucks kept going up and down the road near me all day, and I assumed the soldiers were very upset about not being able to locate a man they absolutely knew had landed in the immediate area. They must have concentrated their search in another direction or in barns and buildings in the area and probably gave the local French people a bad time. The next time I saw anyone, it was dark. A man came to my hiding place and told me to come out and follow him, which I did, and we proceeded to his farm house, which was not far away, so I thought I must have been in his orchard. We never discussed this so I never really knew for certain, besides I was having some difficulty with the language even though I had studied French for two years in college. The man took me inside the house, gave me something to eat and offered some clothing. I asked him what would happen if the Germans caught me and I was out of uniform. He replied by running his index finger across his throat in that all-nation, time-honored gesture indicating curtains for me. At this point, I thought it best for m to go it alone and see what would happen. I felt that the best thing would be to get out of the immediate area as quickly as possible and just play it by ear. I declined his offer of clothes and struck out on my own. There I was, walking in the dark, in a strange land, no certain safe haven, and not really sure of just what to do. I kept walking, going through several villages and keeping out of sight because I knew there was a curfew and how could I explain what I was doing or where I was going, let alone the fact that the minute I opened my mouth it would all be over.