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Home >> The 464th in WWII >> Our War Stories >> Bittersweet Recollections - page 1

Our War Stories

Bittersweet Recollections

by Art Rawlings (778) — as told to Elise Rawlings

      I was drafted on February 26, 1943. This was World War 11 and had been going on since December 7, 1941. I was granted a deferment from Central High School in Nashville approximately May 1st, having received my diploma early.

      I reported to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia for induction into the Army Air Corps. From there I reported to Miami Beach, Florida for basic training, which took approximately 6-8 weeks, before I reported to radio school at Sioux Falls, South Dakota and on to gunnery school at Laredo, Texas.

      From there I was sent to Randolph Field for primary training in aircraft and on to advanced training at Kelly Army Air Field. I spent about 6-8 weeks in each location. Then, from there, I was sent to Davis-Monthan field in Tuscon, Arizona. My purpose there was to familiarize myself with the B-24 and to fly with a full bomb load.

      The gunners all operated their gun positions on the aircraft and would shoot at a towed target. Each gunner was assigned a color and that color was inked to match the ammunition and when it came time for that particular airplane for each gunner to fire on the towed target their scores would be calculated for each gunner to the number of color painted bullets that passed through the target. Also, we dropped bombs on the bomb range, each bomb was loaded with white powder to indicate where the hit was.

      From Davis Monthan Field I was assigned to Lincoln Nebraska Army Air Field where upon the crews were formed. Each airplane had ten crew members, including the pilot, all trained in different locations. After all of our training and assignments the Army Air Corps gave each member a 30 day delay enroute to go home and see their families, some for the last time.

      After the 30 days had elapsed we had orders to report to Topeka, Kansas. That is where I was assigned to a new B-24 airplane, which we flew from Topeka to Hanover, Mass. and from there to Gander, Newfoundland and on to Lagens Field at the Azores. We landed in Marrakech, North Africa. We flew only two missions while in Marrakech.

      The landing field at Pantanella, Italy was being built by the U.S.Army engineers and as the steel matting was laid on the ground the squadrons of the 464th Bomb Group 776, 777, 778, and 779 planes began to land and take their respective positions according to squadrons. There was no housing for any of the men and so tents were thrown up that held ten men each. That was to be our quarters for the duration of our stay.

      I was a small town farm boy from Joelton, Tennessee who had never been away from home, had graduated early from high school and couldn't even drive a car...now, after two months training I found myself in a full fledged war and flying a B-24 called the Liberator.

      At Pantanella we were allowed to shower once per week, outdoors, with hoses connected to two water truck tanks, one hot and one cold with a pump on each one. The mess hall was a huge tent. Everything prepared there was dehydrated and mixed with water.

      There was no privacy and our toilet consisted of a long narrow trench. But, everyone was issued their own roll of toilet paper. A steel pot with hot water, G.I. soap and a washboard handled our laundry. Most of the time I slept with my clothes and shoes on because the temperatures were unbearably cold.

      We built a stove out of iron pipes welded together, heated with 100-octane aviation gas. It afforded a little heat and occasionally we would cook dried beans in our helmet over our homemade stove. Some of the tents went up in flames but we were one of the lucky ones. Indeed, somebody up above was looking over us. The purpose of our stoves was to afford a little heat and warm up a bite to eat.

      A typical flying day we were awakened at 5 :00 A.M. by the CQ ( Charge of Quarters), we would don our flying suits including our flying boots, go to the mess hall, eat and drink something.

      Afterwards we would go to briefing, which was held in a closed area with no lights showing from outside, secured by military police who were armed with live ammunition and allowing no one to enter except the flying crews.

      Briefing was simply the target area and the CIA (Central Intelligence) would update the crews on the location of the flak guns in and around the target zone. Intelligence would also give us information as to the immediate target area and alternate target area if that happened to be smoked over. The Germans set out smoke pots to obscure the targets.

      The average flight was between six and eight hours, some more and some less and all at high altitudes 24,500 feet to 26,500 feet, and we would be on oxygen at all times. Getting back to the field at night we were lucky if you could get out of the airplane without help. Some had to have help due to sitting in the same position for so long. After a fashion I did everything like a robot — without thinking, weary from flying all day long without rest or bladder relief. It became a natural feeling that each time I would fly out that I wouldn't return because so many of us did not return.

      Each crew was taken to the briefing room for a debriefing, giving each person in the crew a chance to tell what they saw; flak guns, moving aircraft, objects on the ground, German troop trains, enemy convoys, etc. reporting damaged aircraft of ours and general information that was of vital interest to every phase of this war, including our well being.

      After debriefing we would try and scurry up some food and hit the PGA (150 proof Pure Grain Alcohol) mixed with grapefruit juice.

      Early in my war career we were flying over Vienna, Austria, the target being the marshalling yard (railroad yard), when we had a direct hit by flak in the #3 engine (destroyed). Over the target our plane lost total control and we bailed out at 26,000 feet.

      I picked up a three-minute oxygen bottle, took a last long breath of air and bailed out; held my breath, fell free fall to about 13,000 feet without pulling the parachute cord. When my chute opened I landed directly in the target zone. I bundled my chute up and climbed into a storm sewer where I stayed until the bombing was over. All of my crew was captured with the exception of my waist gunner, Raymond Taylor, who we believe was killed or went down with the airplane since his family nor anyone else ever heard from him since that fatal day.

      Not wanting to be conspicuous in my green flying suit I waited until it was dark and found a railroad worker whose size appeared to be the same as mine. I left him in a prone position, roped and tied sans his outer clothing that I took and donned over my flying suit. I was in enemy territory and evading for my life, all my energy and focus had to be on survival.

      Mission information was given each airman for that particular flight, as to ground movement of troops, German fighter planes, the flak, and they would tell us if the Germans had any new aircraft.

      On the morning of take off on this mission we went to a briefing, which was at headquarters, and they had all the newest information from the CIA. We were told in the event that we went down in the vicinity of Vienna that the #23 cable car would take us to the furthest point south from Vienna. The CIA said there would be no money charged for cable car rides. I boarded and a German soldier boarded also and sat down beside me.

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      Published with the permission of Art Rawlings, Jr., (464th, 778).
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