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from the journal of 2Lt Carroll 'Ted' Binder
KIA 24 May 1944, his 28th Mission,
Quentin J. Gorman Crew
(copyright ©1990, Hell's Angels Newsletter)
There was a loud knock on our door, and it was opened noisily. A moment later the lights were napped on and four sleepy combat men were blinking at a harassed looking corporal in the doorway. We knew what his mission was -- I, at least, had been lying awake for over an hour, worrying about the day ahead as I used to do before an exam at Harvard -- and so it was no surprise to us when he read off: Lt. Hofmann; Lt. Binder; Lt. Israelson. Flying with Lt. Gorman in ship 739--Pugnacious Peter. Breakfast at 0330. Briefing at 0430.
We had known, too, that Jim Gorman, a veteran of fourteen missions, would be our pilot on our first expedition. It was squadron policy to break in new crews with experienced pilots, so we had already had a week with Jim in the pilot's seat and Lt. Ray Hofmann, our regular pilot, in Lt. Calvin S. Brothers' regular spot on the right hand side of the cockpit.
The room was cold as we rolled out of our warm, comfortable beds, so cold that our chattering teeth throttled any inclination to talk we might have had. But uncomfortable as it was, I could think only of the things I knew I mustn't forget. Dog tags? Yes, I must have put them on when I first got up. I could feel that cold metal against my chest. Wallet? Yes, I'd remembered to take that out of my pocket and hide it in my bureau drawer. Money? The intelligence officer had said that English pounds could perform miracles in occupied Europe. I felt in my flying pocket suit to make sure that the five pounds I had put there were still in place. Papers? Yes, my pockets had been properly purged of everything that might interest the Hun. As far as I knew, I had thought of everything.
At breakfast it was interesting to note the different expressions on men's faces as they ate. Lt. Jack W. Watson, (of Yankee Stadium fame) who had lost two engines and bailed his crew out in Holland, then brought the ship back by himself, had so completely recovered that he was wisecracking all through the meal. Lt. John F. Henderson, who had to ditch twice in the North Sea and now went on every mission knowing that he was going to die that day (he was shot down three days afterwards), looked grim even when he asked for the marmalade. Lt. J. W. Stuermer, who had completed twelve missions successfully, looked and talked as if he had nothing more ahead of him than a practice flight to Hereford and back (two days later as we were leaving on pass, we heard a loud explosion south of the field. One waist gunner was the only survivor of Stuermer's collision with another Fort). And me, Lt. Binder, who had no idea what was coming, tried to look nonchalant and laughed nervously but loudly when ever anyone said anything.
Another cold truck ride brought us to the main briefing building where crews from all the squadrons were given all the information that could be of value to them that day. Pilots and co-pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and radio operators, each had their own private briefings, with the other gunners lumped together in one large room. After collecting my set of maps, I walked into the navigator's room where the colossal map of western Europe had already been covered with the transparent material on which our mission route was marked. Up to now I had felt the usual first mission jitters, but when I saw the target I felt a strange sense of exhilaration. Berlin was still the Great Untouchable for the Eighth Air Force, but it could not have had more interest to me than Leipzig, which I knew to be one of Germany's greatest manufacturing cities and one of the least attacked of her major war centers. I had expected a short run to a French air field, and I had been afraid. But when I found that it (Leipzig) was to be one of the longest runs yet attacked , my satisfied ambition made me forget my fears, and I knew that I wouldn't be battle shy on my first mission. From then on I positively glowed inside.
Navigator's briefing began with the reading off of a flight plan for all of us to copy. Every course, distance, drift and ETA from departure to return had been worked out by the Group navigator, and if metro (meteorology department) winds proved correct, there would be no work at all to be done on the mission.
Next on the platform was an Intelligence officer who had the latest information on hazards. Every flak town on our route was pointed out to us, along with those airfields which the Germans thought worth defending. At the target, we were told, there were umpty-eight guns, only umpty-six of which could bear on us if we stayed on course. As for German fighters, there were -- hundred twenty single engines, --hundred sixty-twin engine fighters within range of our course. I wondered how intelligence could say that it was sixty-six and not sixty-seven. It seemed doubtful that the best spy network in the world could cut it that close.
A more pleasant subject was the fighter support. We were given the exact points at which we were to be met by our Thunderbirds (P-47's); Lightings (P-38's); Mustangs (P-51's) and the English Spitfires, so that we would not be expecting the various kinds at the wrong times and consequently make the fatal and often-made mistake of calling an FW-190, a P-47 or a Me-109, a Mustang. The weather man was next to be given an audience. In spite of the abuse to which he had been subjected for recent mistakes, he spoke confidently of the 3/10 alto-cumulus clouds to be expected at the target, of the eighty knot wind that would complicate our navigation, of the unlimited visibility in central Germany that day. Each of us was given a weather report to be made out at a specific time to aid in the weather forecasting that night.
I was beginning to think that there was nothing else we could be briefed on when another intelligence officer took over and spent ten minutes describing how to identify the target and how to orient oneself on the bomb run. We were to follow a railway all the way down the run, so it looked like a hard one to miss. The Junkers Aircraft Works factory was certainly distinctive enough to stand out.
Navigator's briefing always lasted at least half an hour longer than anyone else's so we had little time in which to dress. Electric suits, flying suits, life vests (called Mae Wests by both RAF and AAF), and parachute harnesses were on in a matter of seconds. Equipment bags were checked to see that we had the electric shoes, gloves, oxygen masks and helmets necessary for a long flight at high altitude. Then back on the trucks and out to our planes.
We were flying a brand new ship which, for want of a name was known by its call-letter, P for Peter. (It later took on the name Pugnacious Peter.) By the time I arrived on the scene, Ray Hofmann and Jim Gorman had gone over every detail with the crew chief, making sure that all four engines were in perfect shape, that radio equipment was functioning properly, and that oxygen and gas load would be adequate for the long journey ahead of us. Gunners had done their pre-flight work, putting in their guns -- the fifty-calibers they had cleaned the night before, then hand-charging them to make sure they were ready for action. Only Shorty, the ball turret operator (Sgt Ollie G. Crenshaw), was still at work on his guns. The rest had joined the officers around the coal stove in the ground crew's tent.
Noticing that forty minutes remained until engines were ready to be started, I quickly checked my own guns, laid out my equipment, and then made for the tent and broke into the circle around the fire. It was a good feeling being together for a few minutes before going to our separate, almost lonely stations in the plane. I must have sounded like a football coach giving a last-minute pep talk, but I think the others knew I meant it when I said we were lucky to get in on so important a raid, and when I pointed out that with our fighter cover we would not have too hard a time. I don't think I was the only one who left our huddle in the best of spirits.
Outside, daylight had broken and unfriendly-looking clouds were hanging low over the base at Molesworth. We climbed into our ship, and in a moment, one after another of our engines was sputtering, and then catching and throwing out a stream of flame and black smoke.
Before long our plane was on its way down the runway, gaining speed until, the airspeed meter reading 125 M.P.H., Jim Gorman pulled gently back on the wheel and the ship nosed into the air. Around the field once at eight hundred feet, then out on a heading of 310 degrees and up through the clouds at four hundred feet per minute. Every man on the crew was at his station, straining his eyes into the mist to make out the forms of approaching planes. In eight minutes the first traces of blue appeared above us. In ten we had broken through and were skipping along the tops of the higher strata-cumulus clouds. And a minute later we were high enough to see a plane ahead of us turning back toward the field, where we were to assemble around the radio beacon. All we had to do was follow him, for his markings identified him as the leader of our own squadron.
Take-off had been at 0730. By 0835 the six ships of each squadron had taken their positions in neat three-plane V's and the three squadrons had occupied their respective lead, high and low spots in the group.
"Navigator to pilot."
"Leaving base on course, two minutes behind schedule."
A moment later, Iz (Lt. Elmer P. Israelson) was on interphone to tell the crew that we were now at 10,000 feet and would have to put on our oxygen masks. In quick succession everyone checked in -- tail gunner, left waist, right waist, ball turret, radio, and top turret. To make sure that no one succumbed to anoxia, either Iz or I ran an oxygen check every five minutes from then on, a precaution that had already saved several lives in our squadron.
Just as our squadron had joined others to form a Group, our group now took up its position with others to form the Wing, and by the time we reached the coast, the wings, too, had taken their assigned posts in the Air Division. It must have warmed the heart of much-bombed Great Yarmouth to see us in the bright sunlight, streaming eastward to avenge the wounds of the free world, and to make it possible for a new and better society to rise. But if it didn't impress Great Yarmouth to see formation after formation head out across the water, it certainly impressed me.
Half-way across the North Sea I went on interphone to tell the crew it was time to test-fire guns. "For Christ sakes watch out for planes when you shoot, and those of you who can, fire into the water." Everyone checked in to let me know the message was understood, and a moment later I could hear and feel -- short bursts fired from all parts of the ship. My own guns barked satisfyingly. It was now time to put on flak suits if we were to be prepared for the enemy coastal batteries, now only twenty miles off. It was time, also, to be looking out for our Thunderbolt escort aircraft, and for enemy fighters from fields that dotted the Dutch coast.
Iz and I helped each other wiggle into the awkward flak suits. They hadn't seemed heavy on the ground, but even at 19,000 feet, a moderate enough altitude, the eighteen pounds of protective armor had become a formidable burden. When I had finally managed to clip mine on properly, I surveyed myself a little ruefully. Holy smoke! The Luftwaffe would be the least of my worries. Flak too for that matter. My real problem would be just to move amid the tangle of wires and tubes that were necessary to keep me going -- the thick, awkward oxygen hose, the wire to my throat mike, the wire to the earphones sewed into my helmet, the plug attachment for my heated suit. Yes, it would be a battle to get through today even if I never saw a German plane or a flak burst.
"Flak at twelve o'clock low," I called nervously on interphone. An equally nervous "Roger" came from the cockpit.
It didn't look like much to worry about -- not much of it and too low to hurt us. So I forgot my initial fear and pressed my face against a window to get a good look -- that thrilling first look -- at enemy territory. Just off our right wing was Haarlem, where our pilgrims first experimented in living abroad and where they made their history-making decision to sail for the new world. On the coast near Haarlem was Ijmuiden, where a year before a dozen marauders (B-26's) had attacked and a dozen had been shot down. And off in the distance at two o'clock, bordered by rivers, canals, and the Zuider Zee, now nearly four years the capital of a nation in chains, was Amsterdam. Knowing that the crew always like to know where we were, I got busy on interphone with the latest bulletin. "Navigator to crew. We're on course just north of Amsterdam. That's the Zuider Zee ahead of us. "Let's all check in." Everyone was really on the ball now. I don't think it took three seconds for the six gunners to answer. It was a good sign.
I was just beginning to wonder where our fighter escort was when I heard Jim Gorman's husky voice on interphone. "Contrails at nine o'clock high." And sure enough, there they were. Too far out for the planes themselves to be visible -- I could make out three groups of vapor trails, thin wisps of white against the deep-blue February sky. The wisps seemed to be extending themselves parallel to our course.
I had hardly focused my eyes on the fighters to the north of us when our right waist sang out: "Contrails at three o'clock high." I could see these, too, and they were close enough for me to make out four wisps in each flight of planes, a little black speck at the head of each wisp. Let's keep our eye on these babies, " called our battle-wise pilot. At Oschersleben the Germans had flown along parallel until our Fort gunners, thinking they were friendly, began to relax. Then they had come in closer and closer, finally committing themselves and attacking when it was too late to stop them. The January 11th communique had reported: "From these operations, sixty of our bombers are missing."
So long as the sky remained cloudless and visibility unlimited, I knew that I had no need to worry about navigation, so I put my maps aside and strained my eyes out into the distance, looking for a speck that might prove a fighter. Occasionally my glance would wander to the ground, or rather to the water of the Zuider Zee. It was now possible to make out a convoy of small ships making their way up the stream shore.
The country of the Zuider Zee was flat, honeycombed with canals, and covered with light snow not quite deep enough to reflect the bright sunlight. There were brilliant flashes now and then, though. They came from the guns at Zwolle.
We had left the Zuider Zee fifteen minutes behind us when I called the crew to report we were now in Germany, four minutes behind schedule. I had worked out a hasty ETA for the initial point and target, now told the crew how much longer we would be carrying our bomb load. "In another hour and forty minutes, we'll be getting the lead out of our pants," I said, and for a reason I cannot now comprehend, I felt quite witty and proud of myself.
Moving across to the other side of the nose, my eye fell on my log, and I noticed that I hadn't had an entry in fifteen minutes. Pacing off roughly forty-five miles with my glove-covered fingers, I looked for a landmark that would pin-point me quickly. There was a good one about fifty miles from my last check point, a big forest with a railway along its eastern edge. I looked out my left window, and there it was off our wing. We were going faster than I had calculated. "We're now over the Teutoburger forest," I called on interphone. "A Hun named Herman licked the -- -- out of the Romans here."
"What is this, a Cook's Tour?" moaned the bombardier.
"O.K., I'll shut up. Just wanted to let everyone know we're in fighter alley now. Let's all stay right on our toes because for the next two hours we'll be in range of the Berlin fighter defenses. The chips are down, so let's give 'em hell."
A minute later the bombardier spotted two fighters at eleven o'clock low. By the time I had picked them up, they had attacked the group ahead of us, peeling off and diving just before they reached the lead plane. They were a mile below us, well out of range, before we reached the scene of battle. Iz fired a couple of hopeful bursts their way, but I confined my activity to entering two silver Focke-Wulfs in my log. We were now crossing the Weser river, so I took advantage of the lull to work out a good ground speed and a new ETA to the target. Just a – – secretary, I thought to myself.
Then an exciting thing happened. Three Mustangs that had been circling high above us dived on the planes on our left. The odds were even numerically, but the Jerries high-tailed it for home, two of them dodging away from their faster pursuers. The third exploded with a bright yellow flash, leaving a cloud of black oil smoke where he had been. So thorough had been the explosion that not a fragment of the plane was visible, and I knew that little pieces of Hans would be floating down river to Bremen for days. It was two minutes after twelve when I entered Hans' demise in my log. Fifty minutes to the target.
Fighters were all around us now, most of them attacking other formations but still near enough to shoot at us if they veered toward us for ten seconds. How I cursed the flak suit that weighed me down as I followed planes from side to side.
The group ahead of us really seemed to be getting it now. One Fort dropped out of formation with a wing on fire. Seven chutes came out of it before a blinding explosion finished off the plane and crew. Another “Seventeen” which must have had a hit in the gas tank exploded while still in formation. Fighters, too, were going down; a few from Fortress guns but mainly from combat with other fighters. Our Mustangs seemed to have the upper hand, pursuing FW's and Messerschmitts right down to the ground and then climbing up for more action. There weren't enough of them to keep all the vultures off us, but they could break up any attempt at a mass attack. That was what really mattered. So long as the Jerries couldn't sit out of range and fire rockets into us, or queue up and come in simultaneously from several directions, we were fairly safe (especially when they were concentrating on someone else). It was strange how detached from the whole battle I felt. I experienced no more emotion when I saw a Fort with ten men in it blow up than I used to experience when such a scene was enacted in the movies. I just couldn't feel I was part of the drama going on in the arena around me.
I had seen Magdeburg as we passed it – I'd even remembered that it was the laws of Magdeburg that German settlers carried to eastern Europe centuries ago and retain to this day. I'd seen Berlin off in the distance to our left, and wondered when we would be going there. (It would be exactly sixteen days later.) But it was only when we had turned south toward Torgau that I realized how quickly the time had passed.
Hastily I called the bombardier and pilot to tell them we were now ready to turn on the “initial point,” then I made sure that the waist gunners were ready to throw out the chaff because I'd been told by old combat men that it did wonderful things to the Jerries below, hampering the aiming their flak guns.
The lead group, a little ahead and to the right of us, was turning. A moment later we were swinging sharp right to keep pace and regain our position. There were no enemy fighters to harass us now, so it was easier for the pilots to concentrate on getting into bombing position. A lot depended on concentration of the formation during the bombing pattern. From the minute we turned at Torgau it was possible to see Leipzig off in the distance. Smoke had risen from the city to well over 15,000 feet, a black cloud foreboding future evil as well as recording previous disaster. Fresh streams of smoke poured from every part of south Leipzig, good evidence that the fires started in the night's R.A.F. raid were still blazing. I found myself hoping that we could do as well.
Bomb doors on the lead ship were swinging open now, followed moments later by the doors of all the other planes.
“Five minutes to the target,” I called on interphone. “Let's start throwing that chaff out now.”
Waist-gunners came back with quick “Rogers.”
I had hardly spoken when I realized that it was well I hadn't put off the signal any longer. Not far ahead of us, at the bend of the railway line we were following on our bomb run, I could see distinctly the outlines of our target, streamlined looking factories in a group just north of the city. And directly above the target hung a seemingly impenetrable wall of flak, an almost solid cloud of little black bursts. My flak suit didn't feel so heavy after all.
Everyone was tense now. The lead ship, which had been doing mild evasive action, now settled down to a straight and level course, making only one perceptible correction as the bombardier picked up the target in his bombsight. We were sitting ducks for the flak gunners and we knew it.
I don't believe I'll ever live a day that seems as long as those last two minutes before bombs away at Leipzig. The bulk of the flak had lowered, forming a kind of floor of black puffs below us, but our chaff had not had its effect on several batteries, which continued to pump quantities of lead into our formation. “Easiest thing is not to look at it,” I thought to myself, so with unaccustomed zeal I proceeded to record heading, altitude, and air speed. I didn't envy Iz, who had to sit up front with his eyes glued to the lead ship lest he miss the moment of bombs away. But then my curiosity got the better of me, and I leaned over Izzy's shoulder to get a good look at the target. Yes, it certainly looked as if we were heading right for it. But of course it was impossible to tell at this altitude.
Just then came the long-awaited moment. A swarm of bombs streamed out of the lead ship, and almost before they had cleared the plane, Iz had flicked his toggle switch and our own bombs were on the way. His relieved voice called triumphantly “Bombs away” on interphone, and a minute later Berman (S/Sgt Seymour Berman, our Radio Operator) called to report that the bomb doors were closing.
Meanwhile the group leader, who had almost run into four flak bursts as the bombs were released, had swerved off to the right and led us through evasive actions so violent that it was all Jim could do to keep us near our squadron. In less than three minutes we had drawn out of range of the last 88 millimeter guns and were all heaving a sigh of relief, so heartfelt that even Pugnacious Peter must have sighed with us. It was only a matter of seconds before we had tightened up our formation and turned our course for home. The temptation to feel that the danger was over was almost irresistible even though I had a flight plan in front of me that told me we still had two hours and a half over enemy territory.
For half an hour after the target we plowed south and west toward the Rhine river without encountering a single fighter, friend or foe. Then, just as the undercast was beginning to break a little, Blakeney (S/Sgt William R. Blakeney – our Engineer and Top-turret operator) spotted four, then eight black specks in the distance. We watched them carefully as they approached, climbing to get well above us. According to my gun-sight they were just over a mile away when they flipped over on their sides to give us a good look at them. They could hardly have been mistaken. They were our own lovely P-38's.
It was only now that I dared relax enough to check in the crew on oxygen, something I hadn't done since the target. All seemed to be well.
Then I noticed two things almost simultaneously. One was that I had to screw up my face in a funny position in order to breathe – had, in fact, been doing it every since Magdeburg. The other was that I felt terribly tired. Checking my oxygen mask, I found that all I had been breathing for the past hour had been the thin air at 19,000 feet – my facial contortions had not let me breathe through my mask, but around it. The mask itself had frozen solid and not a pinhole was left for air to come through.
The realization that I should now be in a state of collapse made me twice as weak as I had been before I'd thought about it (like people who faint an hour after donating blood). I suddenly found that my flak suit was more than I could carry, so I sat down. Knowing that the air at that altitude was not enough to keep me going, I made vain attempts to break the ice out of the sponge pores in my mask and to suck air through them. And knowing that I must now be in a state of collapse, I looked at my fingernails and found them blue.
By now I was just sitting still, breathing hard but thinking little. But I finally got the bright idea of tapping Iz on the shoulder and showing him my predicament. As on every other occasion in the air Iz knew what to do. We had an extra mask, and he tried that. It turned out to be a high pressure type mask, did no good with our low pressure oxygen system. So Iz reached for the outlet hose, held it to my mouth, and turned on the emergency handle. The pure oxygen that poured into me was so effective that within a minute I was transformed from a useless grinning idiot into a navigator reasonably able to keep up with his job – as able, at least, as he had been at the beginning of the mission.
It had taken much “wind” to describe all this, but it was only a matter of six minutes from the time we saw the first P-38's to the time I was back on my feet again. The rest of the mission I was as good as ever, gulping pure oxygen for a minute or two and then breathing this air until I felt too weak to work.
It had seemed like much more than that, but according to my watch it was just an hour and half after bombs away that we had another brief visit from fighters. We were crossing the Rhine, just north of Koblenz when we saw half a dozen ME-109's queue up just out of range. A flight of P-38 Lightnings saw them too, and they were on them in a matter of seconds. One Jerry dived for the ground, two 38's on his tail. We saw him explode less than a mile below us. Two others also dived, then flipped over as the German pilots bailed out. The planes spun to the ground, and were out of sight before they crashed. Meanwhile, the remaining three ripped through our formation, under fire of both our Fortress and Lightning guns, and while they may have been hit, they showed no sign of it as they disappeared to the south.
The rest of the trip seemed terribly dull after what had gone before. Just inside Belgium we were met by swarms of Thunderbolts, and from then on we were always in sight of at least a dozen of them. Occasionally, too, we caught a glimpse of Spitfires which, three miles below us, were keeping a constant patrol around German fighter fields.
A layer of strata-cumulus clouds lay on the ground, so we got only an occasional look at Belgium. Only at the coast did we get a good view of the ground, and what we saw was a fitting climax to an exciting day. Below, and a little to the left of us, were the beaches of Dunkirk, spotlighted by the afternoon sun shining down between the clouds. I looked carefully, and I could almost visualize armies of half-dead men hiding behind the pathetic little sand dunes as they waited for the next boat –or the next bomb. Occasionally I could see the flash of a flak gun, but it only served to emphasize the contrast between the hammer blows Germany was striking at our side in 1940 and the puny little pot shot she could take at us now.
There's no question that the German flak guns were ineffective that afternoon, but nevertheless I felt mightily relieved when, Dunkirk safely behind us, I was able to call the crew and announce that flak suits could now safely be discarded.
“Hallelujah,” said the tail gunner.
“Amen,” said the left waist.
And the others echoed similar sentiments. I myself felt as I used to feel after putting down my canoe at the end of a long portage, so light my feet hardly seemed to touch the ground.
Across the channel to Clacton, our point of entry back in England, we kept a constant look-out for planes, but we knew that the fighting was over. The day when Hun intruders could wait for tired Fort crews over England had long since passed. A Spitfire or a Mustang was now safer than a Focke Wulf over Brussels, let alone London. So we joked on interphone all the way across the water, stopping only occasionally to call off Thunderbolts or Spitfires. By the time we reached England we had dropped to 7,000 feet, so oxygen too was no longer necessary. The mission was all over but the shouting, and we munched sandwiches the rest of the way home.
We were back over the base at 1715, on the ground ten minutes later. We piled out of our planes like a football team leaving the field after a great victory – very tired but very happy. A moment later a truck was whisking us away to interrogation in the main briefing room, where our yen to tell the world about our mission was satisfied by an intelligence officer with a lot of questions to ask. Sipping coffee or tomato juice, or gulping the shot of Scotch issued “for medicinal purposes only,” we chattered like high school girls, telling all we knew and more, about flak, fighters, enemy installations, and bomb damage. Shorty, (Sgt Ollie G. Crenshaw) who had never spoken an intelligible word from his ball turret, now had some astounding information to reveal. He had seen the bombs hit “right on target,” no small feat when the target was covered by clouds when our bombs hit; he had seen rocket-firing JU-88's, unobserved by anyone else; and he had counted a hundred enemy planes, while others had been so blind to see only twenty or thirty.
Interrogation finished, we piled back on our truck for the rough ride back to the plane. It was only now that we got a chance to look over Pugnacious Peter. With extreme pride we counted those nine flak holes! Yes, we'd really been in combat. And with what astonishment we surveyed the fifty-caliber hole in our horizontal stabilizer! But it was when we found out what had made the hole that we really got excited.
It appeared that when we were experiencing fighter attacks in the Magdeburg area, a Focke-Wulf fighter had come in on us from about four-thirty low–out of range for the tail gunner but a perfect shot for the ball turret, and a fairly good one for the right waist. However, the ball turret guns were not operating, and when Sgt. Jensen found that he was the only one firing, he kept “peppering” until the attacker peeled off a hundred yards out, and in tracking, Jensen failed to notices that our tail surface was dangerously close to his line of fire.
What disgusted us was not Jensen's understandable over-enthusiasm, but Shorty's unforgivable failure. We knew that, barring cold conditions not even approaching that day, guns would operate if properly cared for, and we were furious to find that Shorty had never succeeded in firing a single round from either gun, even more furious to see that, far from apologizing, he was now strutting like a peacock, telling the ground crew what it was like to be fighting the war. Under normal conditions, at least one of us would have taken a crack at Shorty's too-active jaw, but we were so tired that we let it go at a warning that a similar incident had better not take place again. Shorty said something about our always picking on him and sulked off to remove his guns.
In ten minutes everyone had taken his equipment out of the aircraft, piled it on our truck and climbed in himself. After a brief stop to deposit our guns at the armament shop, we took another and final truck jaunt to the equipment room.
It didn't take us long to change clothes. We were in too much of a hurry to get to our first meal in fifteen hours (unless two ounces of chocolate and a jelly sandwich can be called a meal.) It was only a matter of minutes before we were in the chow line pleading with the K.P.'s to give us good pieces of chicken. But regular Sunday dinner had been held an hour before, and all that was left for combat men was necks and backs. We made all kinds of profane remarks about paddle feet, but they did no good. So we had to be satisfied with a good dinner of vegetables.
It was 2015 when we finished our meal, and for pilots and co-pilots that was the end of the day. But Iz and I, like all other gunners, still had guns to clean. We found the armament shop too crowded to do them immediately but within a half an hour our guns were stripped and we were busy with brush and gasoline. By 2200 hours we were back in our room undressing.
I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life when I finally climbed into bed. But I was
happier than I had ever been, too. I knew that at last I was part of a war I had wanted to fight every
since the International Brigade first stopped the Fascists at Madrid, Spain. And, almost equally
important to me, I had a feeling that I was not a coward.