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The wild blue yonder5597 Reads  Printer-friendly page

World War IIIt was the fall of 1944. I was fresh out of USAC basic at Keesler Field and was assigned to B-29 gunnery training at Buckingham Field, Fort Myers, FL As a lot of good "cadets" did then, I chose this instead of "on the line" training. Within the first week at Buck Field, I was fitted with a parachute harness and "invited" to take an orientation ride in a funny-looking B-24.
I was told later that it's peculiar look was due to the fact that it had been retrofitted with B-29 gun stations and turrets for our training.

I found myself in a group of 12 very green students crowded into the waist section of this bomber. In 1944, after three years of the draft, the USAC, as well as the other services, were scraping the bottom of the barrel for warm bodies. Some of this group of warm bodies had never been to town, much less in an airplane. The excitement was high.

Being young males, we were all very confident that we were invincible. We all had our chest packs (parachutes) securely snapped to our recently fitted harness – we were prepared! Our "prepared" world suddenly became a bit smaller when a sergeant told us to remove them and secure them in a rack on a bulkhead. It became much quieter after that. We settled down, jostling nervously to get as close to our chutes as possible. We had been given a quick course in intercom function and use which consisted primarily of dire consequences if we said anything at all. From listening to the banter between the crew members,I determined that we were flying with a crew that had finished their tour in Europe and were awaiting re-assignment. This was to be a 3-hour mission. If anything caused it to abort, it would have to be rescheduled. They were not about to let this happen! I may have been only the first to see oil streaming off of the trailing edge of the wing opposite the No. 1 engine. In spite of the warnings about using the intercom, all twelve of us hit the talk button at once.

We didn't even get the courtesy of an answer from the crew. We did hear the crew chief telling the pilot not to worry, "We have plenty of oil." When smoke began to appear where the oil was, we all hit the parachute rack as one, in spite of the threats and protests from the sergeant. In his haste to retrieve his parachute, one yard-bird grabbed the red handle (the rip cord) instead of the OD handle. The silk immediately filled the waist compartment and with the gun-ports open there was, to say the least, a lot of wind. An open parachute billowing around in a confined space with twelve nervous novices did nothing to calm the near panic. The sergeant was, by then, thoroughly pissed at everyone. He did show a moment of "kindness" by assuring the offending yard-bird that "the plane is probably going down and you are the only one without a parachute!" The "yard-bird" in question spent the rest of the mission with that chute gathered up in his arms standing by the port.

The pilot finally killed the No. 1 engine, feathered the prop and extinguished the fire which allowed him to complete the mission. As we were approaching the field there was a lot of conversation between the pilot, crew members and the tower; but I heard clearly in a break the pilot say, "OK, let's do it." At that point, the No. 1 engine mysteriously started smoking heavily again. The last thing I heard on the intercom was laughing at all the activity that we were causing along the runway. Every fire truck, ambulance and other vehicles on the line were chasing our plane down the runway.

That crew, those bastards, were crazy! I'll admit, however. the crew handled the situation professionally but they never even entertained the idea of aborting the mission because that would mean re-flying it. Their war-time mind-set meant they would have continued on two engines if necessary.

This is the closest that I ever came to wishing that I had joined the infantry instead.
Note: By Sgt. Joe B. Tillery.


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