Mildred Cecile Walden
There wasn’t much planning for the
future, because the odds
almost guaranteed that there was to be no future.
—Truman J. Smith
The Wrong Stuff,
The Adventures and Misadventures of an 8th Air Force Aviator
Millie Walden was born Cecile Mildred
Walden at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on February 11, 1922, but she
always went by Mildred C. Walden. She was the sixth of seven children of Lester
M. and Cecil (nee Andrews) Walden. (Lester and Cecile had a baby daughter, whom
they named Cecile May Walden, born on 11 September 1918, but she died
in infancy. She was not listed in the 1920 Census.)
The family lived at 7959 Ridgeland Avenue in Chicago. They are listed there in the 1930 census. They lived in New York City in 1935 (visiting Atlantic City about that time: Lester, Malvin, Mildred, Cecil, Helen, Bill Reardon and wife Marjorie), but at the time of the 1940 census they lived at 297 Braddock Avenue, in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Millie attended Lansdowne High School, graduating on the fifth day of June, 1940. Somewhere along the line, she was held back a grade, perhaps due to the family’s relocations.
At Lansdowne High, Millie began dating one of her classmates, Dick Bannerman. They became sweethearts. He had been known since infancy by the nickname “Dickie.”
Richard Parrent Bannerman
The Bannerman’s lived just five blocks away from the Walden’s, at 285 N. Highland Ave. Richard P. Bannerman was born in Philadelphia on 25 January 1923. He was the second of three sons born to William S. and Helen (nee Keiser) Bannerman. image William worked as a sewing machine salesman; Helen kept house and took care of the boys. Dick graduated from Huey Grammar School in 1935, Holmes Junior High in 1937, and attended Lansdowne High School. He ran track and played softball, was a member of the Student Council and the German Club. He graduated in the same class as Millie.
After graduation, they both joined the local workforce. Millie Walden found a job repairing radios at a neighborhood shop owned by Mr. John C. Holtby, a boss she always enjoyed working for and whom she admired a great deal. She kept in touch with him and his wife for decades later. For his part, Dick began working for the Insurance Company of North America in Philadelphia as an underwriter’s clerk. He worked there for a year, earning $65.00 a month, from July 1940 to July 1941.
But that summer the possibility of war with the Axis nations was increasing, and the draft was bringing pressure to bear on all American youths his age. With a Second World War raging in Europe, the United States was inevitably and irretrievably being drawn into the morass. For the first time since the Great War, the government reinstituted a national draft. And young men Dick’s age were prime candidates.
The draft became law on 16 September 1940....Every
male in the United States, including
aliens, between the ages of 21 and 36 had to register for the draft, and each was liable, if
called, for one year of active duty followed by 10 years of reserve duty. Those inducted
under the draft could not be used beyond the Western Hemisphere except in U.S.
possessions, including the Philippines. Anyone eligible could volunteer before being called.
Volunteering for regular military duty continued even after the draft passed, but one had to
volunteer for three years rather than on year....On 16 October 1940, over 16 million young
men appeared at precinct election boards across the country to register with the Selective
By the spring of 1941 Germany had overrun France, bombed England close to
submission, and invaded Russia. In the Pacific the Japanese were in Indochina and boasting
of a new co-prosperity sphere in Asia under Japan’s leadership. On 27 May 1941 President
Roosevelt proclaimed an unlimited period of national emergency. In early July American
troops occupied Iceland and extended naval patrols into the mid-Atlantic. Secret staff talks
had been held with British military officers to insure coordinated action in both the Pacific
and Atlantic when, not if, war came.
In May 1941 the Japanese moved into French Indochina. Germany invaded Russia on
22 June 1941. On 3 July [General of the Army George C.] Marshall recommended to the
president that both the geographic and the time restrictions on the use of draftees be dropped
so that the army could reach a strength of 2.3 million and be used more effectively. The
president had already authorized American forces to occupy Iceland, but under the current
law, no draftees could be used in the occupying force. At his press conference 8 July the
president approved Marshall’s request and urged action upon Congress.1
On 8 July 1941, Richard P. Bannerman, almost 6 foot tall and weighing just under 140 pounds, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in Philadelphia. He was sent to Chanute Field, Illinois, for his basic training, which was in maintenance engineering. His basic training was held at an Army Air Corp Technical School, and it was a sort of combination of a physical education class and a trade school. Upon graduation, he would simply be called an airplane mechanic. It was a catch-all name for any one of a variety of aviation jobs in the Army Air Corps (which was soon to be known as the Army Air Forces.)
During the war the AAF required four technical specialists for every man who flew. The
ratio of total ground personnel to flying personnel was nearly seven to one, and for every
man actually committed to air combat there were sixteen individuals who served within the
AAF on some noncombat assignment....In the early days of the Air Service, practically all
enlisted technicians, whether or not they were concerned directly with the maintenance of
aircraft, had been known as airplane mechanics.2
The engineering course lasted 120 academic days and provided training in airplane
construction principles; maintenance, repair, and inspection of airplanes and associated
tools and equipment; and the duties of an engineering officer.3
Historical note: A Day Which Will Live in Infamy
The attack on Pearl Harbor...was a surprise
military strike conducted by the Imperial
Japanese Navy against the United States naval
base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning
of December 7, 1941....The base was attacked
by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo
planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft
carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were
damaged, with four being sunk....The attack
came as a profound shock to the American people
and led directly to the American entry into World
War II in both the Pacific and European theaters.
The following day (December 8), the United States
declared war on Japan....Subsequent operations
by the U.S. prompted Germany and Italy to declare
war on the U.S. on December 11, which was
reciprocated by the U.S. the same day.4
Richard Bannerman graduated from his Technical School on 30 December 1941 and was promoted to the rank of corporal. During the course of his training—maybe even before he ever enlisted—he decided that he wanted to be an Army Air Corps pilot, and now he made his intentions known. With the help of his parents, he had already obtained the three letters of recommendation and his high school diploma. The Army Air Corps sent him to the Greenville Army Air Base in Greenville, Mississippi, where the 434th Air Corps Basic Flying School was located. Like many other Army Air Corps schools at this time, 434th was privately owned and was operated under a contract with the Air Corps.
Once at Greenville, he made his formal application for appointment as an Aviation Cadet on 31 January 1942. He was given a physical exam. Since he was only 18 years old, his parents had to give their written consent, which they did. Although he was required to provide evidence of his date of birth, a copy of his actual birth certificate never found its way into his file. Nevertheless, on the 20th day of February 1942, the Examining Board met, interviewed him and recommended that Corporal Bannerman, service number 13028280, be appointed as an Aviation Cadet in the United States Army.
In a stroke of very good luck, Richard caught a big break. He was assigned the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) number 658, Link Trainer Instructor. He would therefore be giving instruction to Aviation Cadets in a flight simulator. “The term Link Trainer, also known as the ‘Blue box’ and ‘Pilot Trainer’ is commonly used to refer to a series of flight simulators produced...by the Link Aviation Devices, Inc....These simulators became famous during World War II, when they were used as a key pilot training aid by almost every combatant nation.”5 As an instructor working in this MOS, Corporal Bannerman did the following:
Explains operation of equipment to trainee and demonstrates use of its controls
and instruments and difference between operating characteristics of trainer and
actual aircraft. Assigns a series of progressive practice exercises to trainee which
includes simulated cross-country flights.
During practice periods and test exercises, transmits simulated radio beam signals
to trainee and operates equipment to give him flight instructions similar to those
received in flight by radio from ground stations. Evaluates trainee’s performance
and maintains records pertaining to operation of the trainer.
Inspects trainer prior to use, and operates the controls in order to determine whether
it is functioning properly. Cleans and makes minor adjustments to the trainer.6
Corporal Bannerman now worked in a rich educational
environment. He led a life of constant flight simulation, training and
instruction, day after day, week after week. It would be a blessing for him. It
would give him a great advantage over other cadets when he started his own Aviation
Cadet training. Here, he was learning the fundamentals of flight from the
ground up. He had to know the basics very well to be able to instruct others. And
nothing encourages your own learning and self confidence like instructing
someone else. This MOS, Link Simulator Trainer, would prove to be invaluable as
he advanced in his career as an Aviation Cadet. Although his military records do not tell us when, this picture proves he was promoted to sergeant during this time.
The Honeymoon Express
All this while, Richard and Millie were still sweethearts, and they kept in touch with each other by way of frequent letters and phone calls. The exact circumstances are now unknown, but at some point, Millie left her parents’ home in Lansdowne and made her way to Greenville to be with her fiancé. What is known, however, is that Mildred Cecile Walden and Richard Parrent Bannerman were married by a minister on 7 July 1942 at the Greenville Army Air Base, located in Washington County, Mississippi. He was 19, she was 20. Both were Protestant. Millie’s older sister, Marjorie (Walden) Reardon, and her husband, William F. (“Bill”) Reardon, made the trip from their apartment at 7909 Crandon, on the south side of Chicago, to Greenville for the big event. They were the witnesses and served as best man and maid of honor.
Of course, there was no time for a real honeymoon away from the base. Richard’s days were filled with training cadets on the Link. Only in the evenings and on weekends could they be together. News of their wedding was not announced in the Lansdowne paper until four months later.
With a solid foundation of basic aviation
knowledge already established, Richard was well prepared to begin his career as
a cadet. In September, 1942, he was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, for
classification. For the next several months, his time would be spent in long
days of classes and practical exercises, all designed to produce a skilled and
capable navigator, bombardier or pilot. It started at the Classification
Aircrew Classification Centers To facilitate the processing of the
tremendous number of men needed for the aircrew training programs,
Training Command established three aircrew classification centers in
March 1942. Located in Nashville, at Kelly Field [in San Antonio],
and at Santa Ana [California], the classification centers were, essentially,
collecting points where thousands of qualified candidates for aircrew training
could be kept while awaiting their assignments. Here, would-be air force officers
received their first uniforms and faced a series of tests, the classification battery.7
Dick was designated for pilot training. His initial physical exam was given on September 16. Then the training began. “Training came in five stages. Classification lasted 1 to 2 weeks and the education and training stages were 9 weeks each....
* Pre-Flight stage taught the mechanics and physics of flight and required the cadets to
pass courses in mathematics and the hard sciences. Then the cadets were taught to apply
their knowledge practically by teaching them aeronautics, deflection shooting, and
thinking in three dimensions. Typically, cadets reported to a preflight school at San
Antonio Aviation Cadet Center; Maxwell Field, Alabama, or Santa Ana Army Base,
[Dick was at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, from 9/18/42 to11/25/42.]
The...program was a “combination of basic training and Officer Candidate School, with a thin topping of West Point tradition.” A few officers and NCOs ran the training program, but upperclassmen, theoretically getting experience in a command situation, administered most of the discipline.... Preflight training included academic subjects such as physics, math, map reading, aircraft recognition, and code. Military drill and PT helped fill the days. Aviation cadets also stood guard duties....8
* Primary Pilot Training taught basic flight using two-seater training aircraft. Performed
at civilian-operated flight schools for primary training. At peak strength there were 56
such schools in operation. The most popular primary trainers were the Stearman PT-13
and PT-17 “Kaydet,” the Fairchild PT-19 “Cornell,” and the Ryan PT-20.
[Dick trained at Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina, from 11/26/42 to 01/30/43.]
* Basic Pilot Training taught the cadets to fly in formation, fly by instruments or by
aerial navigation, fly at night and fly for long distances. Cadets flew aircraft such as the
Vultee BT-13 “Valiant” and were evaluated to determine who should go into single-
engine advance training and who should proceed to twin-engine training.
[Cochran Field, in Macon, Georgia, from 1/31/43 to 3/31/43. He went into twin-engine.]
Graduation Day, 31 March 1943
* Advanced Pilot Training placed the graduates in two categories: single-engined and
multi-engined. Single-engined pilots flew fighter and fighter-bombers. Multi-engined
pilots learned to fly transports and bombers. First they flew Trainer aircraft, then
transitioned to front-line aircraft. Those students selected for single-engine training
flew the AT-6 “Texan,” and those who went into twin-engine training flew Curtiss
AT-9 “Jeep,” the all-wood Beechcraft AT-10 “Wichita,” or the Cessna AT-17 “Bobcat.”
[Moody Field, Valdosta, Georgia, 4/1/43 to 5/28/43]
“Graduates were usually graded as Flight Officer (Warrant Officer); cadets who graduated at the top of their class were graded as Second Lieutenants. Aviation Cadets who washed out of pilot training were sent to navigator or bombardier school.” At this point in the war, graduating personnel were sent to Replacement Training Units (RTU’s), where they received proficiency training prior to deployment in the European Theater of Operations, because “a constant flow of new pilots was needed to replace those captured, killed in action, or rotated back to the United States.”9
Aviation Cadet Richard P. Bannerman completed his Advanced Pilot Training at Moody Field on 28 May 1943. He had performed so well that he was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Forces of the United States. He was now an officer, and he was given a new serial number: O-804585. His Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was now 1022: Pilot, Twin-Engine Aircraft. He was only 20 years old.
From here, he would begin Four Engine Training (Pilot) at Hendricks Field in Sebring, Florida. It was the largest B-17 training facility of the war. Mr. and Mrs. Bannerman (she was only 21 herself) arrived there on the first of June, 1943. Dick’s task now was to master the monstrous the B-17, a plane so massive it was hard to believe it could actually lift off the ground and fly. Eugene Fletcher, also a cadet in pilot training over in Roswell, New Mexico, describes his first encounter with this plane.
The 95th Bombardment Group
“The 95th was one of five new B-17 Groups to become operational in
May 1943, greatly increasing the power of the Eighth Air Force (the number of
available crews rose from 100 to 215 on 13 May). Its first mission was an
attack on the German airfield at St Omer-Longuenesse on 13 May. Its first loss
came on the following day when an aircraft was shot down during an attack on a
Ford and General Motors factory at Antwerp....
“In July 1943 the group began to take part in longer range raids against strategic targets in Germany. Most of the group’s raids for the rest of the war were part of the strategic bombing campaign.
“The group was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was for its role in the attack on an aircraft factory at Regensburg on 17 August 1943. The second was the Munster Mission of 10 October 1943. The third was won during a raid on Berlin on 4 March 1944 when the 95th was one of a small number of units to actually reach Berlin (others diverting to secondary targets or returning to base after encountering terrible weather).
“The group also flew a significant number of tactical missions. It attacked coastal defenses in Normandy during the D-Day campaign, supported the American breakthrough at St Lo in July 1944, dropped supplies to the isolated Poles during the Warsaw Uprising (18 June 1944), attacked German transport links during the Battle of the Bulge (to prevent reinforcements or supplies reaching the advancing Germans). It also supported the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945.
“The group’s last combat operation was an attack on marshalling yards at Oranienburg on 20 April 1945. It was then used to drop food to the starving Dutch and to move POWs and displaced persons from Austria to France and Britain. The group returned to the USA in June-August 1945 and was inactivated on 28 August.”16
The Group air base, officially designated Station 119, had been built near Horham and
was originally intended for Royal Air Force use. It was provided for the Eighth
Air Force in 1942. The 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), a unit with all B-17
aircraft, relocated there from Framlingham, England, on 15 June 1943.
“The 95th was located in East Anglia close by the small village of Horham. East Anglia is the bulge of England which lies northeast of London. Directly across the English Channel to the east is the Netherlands.
“The base was typical of the many bases in the area. It had been hastily built shortly after the war started. In order to conserve resources, to make the field less conspicuous from the air, and less susceptible to bombing damage, little earth moving had been done. The runways had the same rolling nature as those of Dyersburg. In order to disturb things the least, a small road was not relocated but was allowed to cross the main runway. Further, the barracks and other supporting buildings were well scattered about the countryside in order to make them less likely to be damaged by any German bomb coming that way.
“This arrangement required more than a little getting used to.”17
Replica Nissen Huts and Control Tower at the National Museum of the US Air Force
Lt. Bannerman and crew went to the 412th Bombardment Squadron, which, along with the 334th, the 335th and the 336th Squadrons, comprised the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy). This Group was part of the 13th Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy), which was part of the 3rd Bombardment Division of the Eighth Bomber Command, commonly called the Eighth Air Force. They arrived on Friday, February the 18th, just two days before what would come to be known as “Big Week.” It might as well have been called “Hell Week.” It must have been unnerving for a fresh new rookie pilot who had just appeared on the scene and who was supposed to be in command of a B-17 and his aircrew. “During Big Week, the Eighth Air Force lost 97 B-17s, 40 B-24s, and another 20 had to be scrapped due to damage.” Big Week began just two days after he arrived at Horham. That was Sunday, February 20. Before he had even settled into a daily routine.
“Between February 20–25, 1944, as part of the European strategic bombing campaign, the United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) launched Operation Argument, a series of missions against the Third Reich that became known as Big Week. The planners intended to lure the Luftwaffe into a decisive battle by launching massive attacks on the German aircraft industry. By defeating the Luftwaffe, the Allies would achieve air superiority and the invasion of Europe could proceed. The daylight bombing campaign was also supported by RAF Bomber Command, operating against the same targets at night.”18
Sunday, February 20: The 95th Bomb Group (Heavy) sent 38 aircraft on a mission to bomb Rostock, Germany. 36 completed the mission. Two aircraft had to abort their sorties because of mechanical problems. Three others were damaged by flak and/or German fighters. But all planes returned safe and all air crews were accounted for.
Monday: 30 aircraft were sent to Hannover, Germany. Nine had to abort and return to base, their sorties incomplete. Two aircraft went unaccounted for. They were simply gone, lost in the fog of war. They might have been either shot down or simply crashed on their own, their crews killed or taken Prisoners of War. Or, the planes could possibly have glided north across the Baltic Sea and made it to Sweden, a neutral country. Or, they may have gone down in the ocean, their crews’ bodies never to be recovered. The crew members of these planes could only be listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Most of the time, no one ever really knew what happened to them. Sometimes for months, sometimes for years, sometimes forever. Although it happened frequently, it was a nagging source of dread for everyone. There was no closure. All the crewmen of the other nearby ships could do was count the number of parachutes they saw leave an aircraft going down.
Even official records were often inadequate. In the heat of battle, with the anti-aircraft guns booming and the German fighters coming at you, maybe with some of your own crew—or you yourself—wounded, it was all you could do to react to your own circumstances. That was your priority. The big picture was painted by someone else. Each Group had an Assistant Operations Officer, assigned to sit in the tail gunner’s turret of the Group Air Commander’s lead plane on a bicycle-style seat and track his Group’s activities, but even he could not see everything. It was all he could do to write down what he witnessed, as it happened. Later, at the base in Horham, the Intelligence officers would do what interviews were appropriate and he would write up a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) for the Group’s records. But that’s about all that anyone could do. It was something, it was more than had ever been done before, but it was never enough.
Tuesday, February 22: 38 aircraft went to Schweinfurt, Germany. 24 completed the mission; six were damaged. None were lost. Wednesday was a day of rest—no missions for the 95th. Thursday, the Group again had a mission to Rostock, home to two German attack fighter plants. 27 aircraft went out, 26 returned home safely. One was lost.
Then came Friday, February 25: Lt. Bannerman was assigned to fly his initial sortie as co-pilot for an experienced commander. In this case it was Lt. Shirley L. Calloway. This would give the Group assurance of his flying and leadership abilities, and he would get his first taste of combat. They were going to Regensburg, Germany.19
It was an enormous operation, called a “maximum effort.” The Eighth Air Force dispatched a total of 707 bombers along with hundreds of fighter escorts. A total of 290 B-17’s, from various Bomb Groups, were sent to Regensburg alone. On that one day, 83 of the B-17’s were damaged, 12 were lost. Four crewmen were confirmed as Killed In Action, 12 were Wounded in Action, and a staggering 110 were Missing In Action. Terrifying. Impossible to forget. And this was just his first sortie. However, Lt. Bannerman had the Right Stuff, and he successfully finished his first sortie. He was signed off to fly First Pilot from that day forward.
There was another First Lieutenant Pilot, a Truman J. Smith, who would also be assigned to the Mighty Eighth Air Force in April of 1944. He was even younger than Dick—only 20 years old. He went to another Bomb Group (the 385th) located in Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England. Truman and Dick may not have known each other, but they flew some of the same missions over Germany. And in this war they were all a band of brothers. They experienced much the same things in combat.
Long after the war, Lt. Smith wrote a book which he called The Wrong Stuff. It’s very intense and highly readable. It details his wartime adventures and misadventures as a combat pilot in the Mighty Eighth Air Force. His writing gives us, in gripping detail, a glimpse at just what it meant to be in a combat crew on these missions, flying at 20,000 feet (“20 angels”) and higher, in an unpressurized and unheated airplane. Oxygen masks were required, and a leak in the hose meant you were dead in 30 seconds if it went undetected. So little air and so much noise, the only way to communicate was by way of an intercom system, known as the Interphone. Electrically heated flight suits, the precursor of the electric blanket, were an absolute necessity. The temperature of the air they were flying in was more than 50 degrees below zero. Then there was the constant threat of FLieger Abwehr Kannonen (“Flak”) from the ground and from an assortment of attack fighter from the air, including the Focke-Wulf 190, which the Germans called their “Butcher Bird.” And, these threats increased exponentially as the Fortresses neared their targets. To make a bomb run, they had to leave the stream formation of their Combat Wings and break into individual Group formations, thus losing much of their safety in numbers. Each group was now on its own, playing for very high stakes. Kill or be killed. A running battle with attack fighters could break out at any time and last from 30 minutes to three hours. The most critical, and very scary, time was the actual bomb run itself, over the target. It started at a predetermined Initial Point (IP) in the sky and ran for perhaps ten to twenty miles in a straight line, ending at the Rallying Point (RP).
The reason the bomb run was so frightening is the vulnerability the crews felt.
For five to ten minutes, the planes would be flying straight and level. To insure
accurate bombing, absolutely no evasive action was allowed on the bomb run.
If there was flak, even flak so thick "you could walk on it," so be it, they flew right
through it. Flak over a target was the worst because the crew could see the dark
puffs of the flak up ahead, they knew that the gunners down below had the right
altitude, and yet they had to fly right through it on the bomb run.
Sometimes on the bomb run it wasn't flak but fighters that got to the crews.
Once on the bomb run the bombers would have their bomb bay doors open and the
enemy fighters could see that. They would then know that the bombers were on
their bomb run and would be forced to fly straight and level making them an easier
target. On some missions, when the bombers were heading out to hit a very
important and heavily defended target, they would encounter both flak and enemy
adding to the stress was the fact that there was no chance for effective medical
aid for anyone seriously injured or wounded. These ships were
hours away from a hospital. In the event of a serious casualty, the only
alternative was to actually heave the crewman out of the aircraft, in the hopes
that his parachute opened properly, he didn’t die of exposure or shock on the
way down, and that he would land on some compassionate farmer’s land, where he
might receive aid. (Of course, he could just as likely be pitch-forked to
death.) If he lived, he would probably become a Prisoner of War. As Truman
Smith put it, “Now it might seem hopeless that some Germans, who had suffered
unmercifully from American bombs, would care enough to save the life of a Yank
airman, yet, they did it! Yes, they did! ”21
The flights these men made were almost surreal in their horror. This was a brutal and unforgiving place, an ice cold Hell. There was terror at every turn, and sudden death hid in those fluffy white clouds. It was the stuff of nightmares and post traumatic stress. And it was all true. For this, a 1st Lieutenant was paid $240.00 per month in combined Flight Pay and Combat Pay. Enlisted men, a lot less. Of course, there was always the Life Insurance for your beneficiary.
On Saturday, 8 April 1944, the day before Easter, Truman Smith and Richard Bannerman—along with a host of others—were assigned to a bombing mission over Quackenbruck, Germany. It was Dick’s 12th sortie. He had already been awarded the Air Medal for completing his first five sorties, and an Oak Leaf Cluster attachment for the next five. But this was Truman’s first sortie. In his book, he gives us his thoughts as he flew toward Quackenbruck. His first visit to Hell.
“The B-17 ‘F’ model has twelve .50 Caliber machine guns. The B-17 ‘G’ model has thirteen .50 Caliber machine guns. The way the aircraft are staggered in formation reduces, but does not eliminate, the chances of shooting into each other. So with 30 aircraft put up for the Quackenbruck mission, we had almost 400 machine guns for protection—as long as we maintained ‘Group integrity’; which meant keeping the ‘herd’ packed together in tight formation.
“The key word was ‘together.’ But having been given twenty-seven tons of an old war-weary ‘bucket of bolts,’ I doubted we could even get her up to our assigned altitude of 27,000 feet and keep ‘together’ with the others.
“And if that wasn’t enough, we were also expected to ride this slow and heavy ‘flying bomb’ just five miles above Germany for most of the day in order to drop our three tons of bombs onto a well-defended target before they could blow us up.
“It didn’t take a lot of experience to figure out just who the odds favored. At the time, I didn’t know whether three tons of bombs made a bigger bang than ten tons of 100-octane fuel. But then, it really didn’t make much difference since I was riding right in the middle of it all!
“Another worry on my mind was that we were going to try to do this tricky job at only a hundred-and-fifty miles an hour. I wondered, ‘Do these people really know what they’re doing?’
“Of course they didn’t. It was all an ‘EXPERIMENT’! The British had already proved to their satisfaction that daylight bombing could not be done. So, it was no wonder that the Eighth Air Force had the highest casualty rate of all U.S. Forces.”22
On another mission, the young Lt. Smith tells us about a potential life threatening configuration of his equipment, “I discovered another paradox when I tried putting on my flak vest, because the vest fits over the parachute harness. This meant that the vest would have to be removed before I could snap the parachute onto the harness, which was necessary before I could use the parachute. All of which would have to be accomplished during a panic when disaster struck and the ‘G’ forces inside a distressed airplane would throw everything out of kilter.”23
Truman Smith flew yet another sortie a few weeks later. On this mission, his Group sent 28 ships up. Seven did not return, their crews Missing In Action. His graphic narrative:
I took the opportunity for a "Crew Check" and each station from
tail to nose acknowledged. We were all in good shape — so far.
HOLY SHIT!!! The goddamned twin fifties in our top turret, their
muzzles just inches above my head, cut loose!
I almost jumped out of my skin and my heart seemed to knot and
I was staring straight forward at the leader of the Bandits in his
fucking FW-190! Pink flashes on his wings meant he was shooting at
ME!!! He wasn't firing at our Group, Squadron or our ship. The
sonnovabitch was trying to kill me personally! I naturally wanted to
shoot back, but all I had was a damned steering wheel.
I grabbed my chest, because I heard what seemed to be glass tinkling
in the pauses between the bursts of the twin fifties.
PUNK ... BANG ... TWANG ... THUMP!!
We were in a hail of fifty-caliber spent shell casings spewing out of
the ship above us. Only four inches long, the hundreds of falling brass
casings from one of our own ships punched holes into the leading edge
of our wing, engine cowlings and shattered our plexiglass nose. What
I thought was breaking glass was brass casings from our own turret
spilling into canvas bags attached below each gun to catch them.
The attacking Focke Wulf was long gone before I checked to see if
my hand-to-chest had collected any blood.
It had not.
I checked on my feet and the rest of me. I seemed to be okay.
Although millions of times larger than the exploding twin fifties,
the distance and thin air muffled the sound of the exploding B-17 just
ahead of us.
FIREBALL RED against the white clouds! BLACK oily smoke! A
PROPELLER by itself spun and slashed toward us like a giant whirl-a-
gig, which fortunately missed our wing.
A DOOR! I ducked.
A BODY tumbled toward me and barreled past me!
AWESOME ... !
It happened so fast that we flew right into the middle of the
explosion and out the other side within fractions of a second!
Only by trying to replay it in my head in slow motion could I
begin to understand its impact. But there was no time to dwell on it,
because the Bandits were pouring in on us; guns blazing and us shooting
back. It was truly a goddamned WAR! 24
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air
Force): Mission 298: 917 bombers and 819 1. 341 B-17s are dispatched to hit aviation
industry targets at Sorau (108 bomb)
fighters are dispatched in 3 separate forces to bomb production centers (primarily
fighter aircraft factories) and targets of opportunity in N Germany; 64 bombers are
lost, one of the heaviest single-day losses of World War II. The bombers also drop
2.4 million leaflets. Details are:
and Cottbus (17 bomb); 127 hit Stettin, 20 hit Trechel, 16 hit Dobberphel and 23
hit targets of opportunity; they claim 12-2-3 Luftwaffe aircraft; 19 B-17s are lost,
3 damaged beyond repair and 190 damaged; casualties are 12 KIA, 13 WIA and
2. Of 302 B-17s dispatched, 172 hit Rostock, 52 hit Politz, 35 hit the industrial
area at Arnimswalde and 15 hit targets of opportunity; they claim 34-20-19
Luftwaffe aircraft; 33 B-17s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 153
damaged; casualties are 2 KIA, 9 WIA and 330 MIA.
3. 274 B-24s are dispatched to hit aviation industry targets at Oschersleben
(121 bomb) and Berenburg (99 bomb); 9 bomb aviation industry targets at
Halberstadt, 9 bomb Eisleben and 5 hit targets of opportunity; they claim 27-2-1
Luftwaffe aircraft; 12 B-24s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 63 damaged;
casualties are 5 KIA, 9 WIA and 122 MIA. Escort is provided by 124 P-38s,
454 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47s and 241 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51s;
the fighters claim 51-5-25 Luftwaffe aircraft in the air and 65-0-67 on the grounds:
no P-38s are lost; 7 P-47s are lost and 16 damaged, 7 pilots are MIA; 9 P-51s
are lost and 13 damaged, 9 pilots are MIA.
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air
Force): Mission 298: 917 bombers and 819
1. 341 B-17s are dispatched to hit aviation
industry targets at Sorau (108 bomb)
Meanwhile, Captain David E. Olsson, the Group’s Assistant Operations Officer, was trying to keep tabs on the entire Group, as best he could from his position in the tail gunner’s turret of the Group lead’s aircraft. He was constantly on the interphone, reporting to Lt. Col. Mumford what was happening inside (and outside) their Group. And he was manning the machine guns. And he was making notes, trying to keep track of almost 30 ships. So much was happening all around him, it was difficult to keep up. (Hubbs told his interrogator that evening that the “Sky was full of chutes.”) Olsson did, however, notice that Heaven Can Wait was in trouble and had pulled out of formation. He wrote,
A/C had a hole in the right aileron
and another in the right wing
where the main gas tanks are located. A/C winged over to the left
and back in a slicing dive....
A/C had a hole in the right aileron
and another in the right wing
MACR REPORT #
HEAVEN CAN WAIT
42-39869 Delivered: Long Beach 25/9/43; Gr Island 6/10/43; ass 412BS/95BG
[QW-R] Horham 15/10/43;
Carlson, Waist Gunner:
Chas Skully, Tail Gunner: John
Backowski; Enemy aircraft, crashed Dummersdtorf,
B-17 Master Log - Dave Osbourne
Two weeks later, back in Lansdowne, Millie’s mother Cecil, a very good artist, was heading home after her art class. She had just finished her latest painting and was bringing it home with her. She intended to send it to her daughter, Shirley Crandley, who lived with her husband Joe and their children up in Cranford, New Jersey. When Cecil let herself in, she found Millie sitting on the couch in the living room, teary-eyed, in shock. Millie showed her mother a telegram she had gotten from the United States War Department. After reading the telegram, her mother felt so sorry for her that she changed her plans and gave Millie the painting instead.
Millie always had terrible feelings about that painting. Not for the painting itself, but for the memories it brought back each time she saw it. Years later she would send it to Shirley herself.
The usual way for the Army Air Force to notify the next of kin that their loved one was killed, wounded or missing in action was by telegram, hand-delivered, to be followed up later with an official letter. Whenever the telegram delivery boy came around, descending on a neighborhood like the grim reaper, everyone knew what it meant, and it always caused a stir. For whom would the bell toll? This day, the grim reaper had stopped at the Bannerman home. Panic stricken and bewildered, Millie had gone to the Walden home to tell her mother.
The telegram itself was a horror. Since the War Department rarely had any details about the incident they were reporting on, no additional information was given. Just a stark couple of sentences in frank, unflinching language. To those who received these telegrams, it came like a dagger to their hearts.
1. George Q. Flynn, The Draft, 1940-1973 (1993), p 18, 21, 49-50
2. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II;
VI Men and Planes (1955, reprinted 1983), p. 628
3. Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings, A History of the Aviation Cadet Program (2005),
p 47 (www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-026.pdf)
7. Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings, A History of the Aviation Cadet Program (2005),
p 36 (www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-026.pdf)
8. Dr. Bruce Ashcroft, We Wanted Wings, A History of the Aviation Cadet Program (2005),
p 42 (www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-026.pdf)
9. Wikipedia: Army Air Forces Training Command
10. Eugene Fletcher, The Lucky Bastard Club, A B-17 Pilot in Training and in Combat,
1943-1945 (1992), p 209-201. First Lt. Fletcher was assigned to the Eighth Air Force,
Third Air Division, Thirteenth Combat Wing, 95th Bombardment Group (H), 412th
Squadron. This is the very same squadron to which 1st Lt. Bannerman was assigned.
They flew on some of the same missions.
11. Wikipedia: 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing
12. Wikipedia: Army Air Forces Training Command
13. Roger A. Freeman, Mighty Eighth War Diary (1981), p 2-4
14. Truman J. Smith, The Wrong Stuff, The Adventures and Misadventures of an 8th Air
Force Aviator (1996), p 83
15. Truman J. Smith, The Wrong Stuff (1996), p 12
16. Rickard, J (17 October 2012), 95th Bombardment Group (Second World War),
See also the 95th Bombardment Group’s website: www.95thbg.org/
17. John C. Walter, My War, The True Experiences of a U.S. Army Air Force Pilot in
World War II (2004), p 114. John Walter was also in the 95th Bombardment Group.
21. Smith, The Wrong Stuff, p 44
22. ibid., p 22
23. Ibid., p 45
24. Ibid., p 90
26. Eighth Air Force Historical Society
Also, see also the website of the website of the 95th Bomb Group, Horham, Heritage
Association (www.95thbg-horham.com/) for an extensive collection of images of the
95th Bomb Group, including the nose art of “Heaven Can Wait.”
The original documents pertaining to this and many other missions of the Eighth Air Force during WWII are
in the custody of The National Archives at College Park, MD
Some images created at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, GA (http://mightyeighth.org/)
and at the National Museum of the US Air Force (http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/)
Outstanding images of the interior of the B-17G “Sentimental Journey” can be found at the website of the Commerative Air Force, Arizona Wing, Aviation Museum in Mesa AZ (www.azcaf.org/pages/sentjourn.html)
Nissen hut, designed by Peter Nissen in the 1930’s. See http://rhruins.blogspot.com/2010/11/british-military-huts-and-sheds.html
See YouTube video of a bombing run: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEm49EgG1hs