Friday, August 31, 2007

One of the Most Important Books You've Never Read

As a writer, I often feel guilty that my book sells so well when there is a book out there that is so much more important that hasn't gotten the readership it deserves. 'Surviving the Americans' makes 99% of all books written about World War Two look pretty insignificant. Author Robert Hilliard is alive and well, still teaching at Emerson College and also living part-time in Florida, and his World War Two friend E. Edward Herman lives in Florida. These two great men, as young Army Air Corps privates, changed United States policy towards Displaced Persons in American-Occupied Germany after World War Two. In the process, they saved the lives of thousands of liberated concentration camp survivors--Jewish and Gentile. If ever there were heroes of World War Two, Bob and Ed are the epitome.

I got to know them when researching my book, Untold Valor, and was honored to attend the international premiere of a movie about them entitled 'Miracle at St. Ottilien', which has since shown on PBS, in many film festivals around the world, and is on its way to becoming a classic war documentary.

What's amazing is that this ground-breaking work, on a topic of great historical importance, is available on for just over a dollar. There is even a copy, inscribed by the author, Bob Hilliard, for sale for around twelve dollars. One of the ironies of modern American culture, when a man who was responsible for saving thousands of Jews after the war, and who stood up to no one less powerful than Dwight D. Eisenhower--and won--is a relative unknown while useless athletes and talentless actors rake in the accolades and the glory.

Following is my review of the book from Amazon:

This is an extremely important work, one that should be read by everyone who has any interest whatsoever in World War II in general, in the Holocaust and its aftermath, or in how the liberating American forces dealt with the 'problem' of what to do with the Jewish survivors of Hitler's death camps. It will make the reader reassess the accepted historical view of Americans as the saviors of Europe after World War II. Author Robert Hilliard was a young enlisted man stationed in Germany at the end of the war. Hilliard takes up the cause of helping the freed concentration camp survivors after attending a 'liberation concert' staged by Jews and hearing the speech of a Jewish doctor who has set up a hospital to care for the freed Jews. He learns that though the Jews are free, in most cases they have nowhere to go, no food, no medical care,and no clothing. Many are still wearing their concentration camp clothes months after the war ends, and some are even wearing the clothes of the hated SS guards because they have nothing else. In addition, Jews are dying with startling regularity at the hospital due to lack of food and medical supplies. To make matters worse, they must watch the 'former' Nazis who ran the country under Hitler resume their old lives, despite the evils they have perpetrated. Hilliard finds that American policy in Germany is little better than that of the Germans. Many Jews are kept in barbed wire installations, under MP guard, and have to try to live on 700 calories a day. They watch the former Nazis ingratiate themselves with the US brass through bribery, lies, and sexual favors. Hilliard and his friend Ed Herman decide to do what they can for the hospital, and this book chronicles their efforts. By the end of the book, they take their plea all the way to the top, and are instrumental in changing US occupation policy towards the freed Jews in Germany. Because of the actions of these two enlisted men, President Truman in effect reprimanded Gen. Eisenhower for his laissez-faire attitude in dealing with former Nazis and treatment of freed concentration camp survivors. The book is well-written, and could easily have run hundreds of pages. Hilliard has crafted a lean and powerful book. I hope that it will be read by many students of history, and I recommend it to any person who is not content to accept the sanitized, for-the-masses packaging of complicated historical periods.

This is one of those books that changes you if you read it. You will never look at the history of World War Two the same again. It is, literally, a must-read.

The following is a review of the important documentary about Bob and Ed entitled 'Miracle at St. Otillien':


'Displaced' tells true story of survival


"Displaced: Miracle At St. Ottilien" is a little-known "Greatest Generation" true story, about a couple of ordinary American G.I.s who showed extraordinary courage, persistence and intelligence to save some concentration camp survivors — after the war had ended.
This short documentary is narrated by writer Studs Terkel, and features interviews with the former American soldiers, two army privates named Robert Hilliard and Edward Herman, and a group of Buchenwald survivors in a displaced persons camp.

Everyone has an image of the Allied troops defeating the Nazis and setting the inmates of concentration camps free.

But what happened next to those survivors?

The Allied Commander was too busy, with mopping up after the war, hunting down the Nazi stragglers and putting the broken countries back in order, to really pay much attention to the barely-living concentration camp survivors who had been liberated. Those well enough could make their way home could but the sickly and weak, some far from home, or with no home left, were herded into displaced persons camps, often to be neglected or forgotten.
St. Ottilien was one such little camp, a former monastery, where a group of survivors huddled on the brink of starvation.

Army privates Robert Hilliard and Edward Herman were disturbed by this treatment and began smuggling food to the refugees.

When sickness broke out among the neglected survivors, the commanders thought of fencing them in, lest disease spread to the general population.

This was too much at last for Hilliard and Herman. They set out to do something about it, using their wits to circumvent the system, with a letter writing campaign. Eventually, their efforts got the attention of President Harry Truman.

The documentary's story is told through interviews with documents and archival stills.
The story is told step by step as it unfolded, leading up to the clever twist that did the trick. Survivors are interviewed along with the soldiers themselves.

The combination of cleverness, resourcefulness and determination to do the right thing, to save these strangers, makes this short documentary a heart-warming, inspiring winner.
I am continually amazed at the remarkable moral character and sense of right and wrong coupled with the brainiest and creative wit in being able to circumvent obstacles that marked this generation that grew up in the hardships of the Great Depression.

Maybe it was FDR's message of "we are all in this together" that cemented this determination to rescue the weakest and leave no one behind.

Displaced: Miracle At St. Ottilien is a wonderful little tribute, a bit belated, to some ordinary guys who did something extraordinary, just because it was the right thing to do."

Order the movie 'Displaced: Miracle at St. Ottilien here:
E. Edward Herman, Left, and Robert Hilliard, Right, were two American privates who changed US policy and saved the lives of thousands of liberated concentration camp survivors after World War Two. Never heard of them? Shame on you. Time to find out.
Bob and Ed are not only my friends, I am unashamed to say they are my heroes.
Thank you, both of you, for your courageous efforts on behalf of those who were powerless, voiceless, and alone in the year immediately after World War Two.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

B-17 'Bit o' Lace' Flies Again---as an RC Model

During World War Two, a B-17 named 'Bit o' Lace' flew with the 447th Bomb Group out of England. She flew 83 missions, and after the war, ended up in Kingman, Arizona, where she was scrapped. A talented RC modeler and RC pilot by the name of Rod Pagel built an RC replica honoring her and flew her for the first time in 2006. The model has a six-foot wingspan, weighs 7.7 pounds, and is powered by brushless electric motors. Rod Pagel lives in Marina del Ray, California. This and photos below from his website at Well worth a visit. Great photos.

Incredible detail on the RC model by Mr. Pagel.

Bit o' Lace fired up and ready for take-off.

How many B-17s can you fit in the back of a station wagon? One, if it's Bit o' Lace!

This model is absolutely amazing!

The real Bit o' Lace. She flew with the 447th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, and completed 83 missions. Visit her home page here:

An outstanding movie of Mr. Pagel's RC B-17 being flown is found at this URL:

I believe the film footage at the beginning is from 'The Best Days of Our Lives'. Am I right?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Great Escape--Movie Vs. Reality--Pretty Close!

One of my favorite movies is 'The Great Escape', which is a fairly accurate rendering of the actual event at Stalag Luft III. The characters are all based on real people, and the events, other than the fanciful motorcycle jump into Switzerland, are real.
The best site about the Great Escape, for further reading, is run by at

The best book source on the Great Escape is The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill.

Another good book is called The Wooden Horse.
My personal favorite is written by Jerry Sage, who was the basis of Steve McQueen's character in the movie. His book is called simply, SAGE, and can be found on Amazon at

Sage remains one of the most fascinating characters of World War Two. Here is his biography on the Air Force Website:

"Major Jerry M. Sage was an Army Special Operations paratrooper who was wounded and captured in February 1943 while blowing bridges behind General Erwin Rommel's lines in North Africa. He posed successfully as a shot-down airman (and thus avoided being shot) and was brought into Stalag Luft III in April 1943. He was a great leader and was very active in organizing and executing escape attempts. After escaping from South Camp twice, the Germans got tired of his trouble-making and sent him to the U.S. Army officers camp, Oflag 64. He again escaped when this camp was evacuated in January 1945 and got home early through the Russian lines."

For more on the movie and reality, I am quoting below from the outstanding website article written by Rob Davis at the following web address:

"Background on the Film

The feature film of the Great Escape was made by the Mirish Company and released in 1963. The director, John Sturges, had bought the rights to Paul Brickhill's book and was well known for films such as Gunfight At The OK Corrall, Bad Day at Black Rock, and The Magnificent Seven. Filming on The Great Escape began in the summer of 1962.

The screenwriter was James Clavell (of SHOGUN and KING RAT fame) who was himself a PoW of the Japanese during WW2.

The prisoner-of-war camp was renamed Stalag Luft Nord and was built amongst pine forests near Munich in Bavaria, with interiors shot at local studios. One of the technical advisors was former F/Lt Wally Floody, a Canadian mining engineer and wartime Spitfire pilot, who had been responsible for the tunnel traps and their camouflage.

Nearly all of the incidences, both serious and humorous, which are shown in the film are completely true, although there is some inevitable telescoping of events, and many characters are rolled into one. In particular, the method of "stooging" (keeping watch for German guards and ferrets) is well demonstrated, and the method of constructing the tunnels is extremely accurate.

There was indeed Christmas Carol singing taking place to mask the sound of "manufacturing" and "building" whilst escape materials, air piping, and compasses were made, and concrete plinths pierced. (The Germans did not seem to notice that, at the time, it was nowhere near Christmas.) The trap for "Dick" in the wash-room floor is particularly well shown - the Germans never found it, because 'Dick' had a perfect disguise. In the film, whilst the escape takes place through the tunnel called 'Harry' the trap is portrayed as being in the wash-room floor, and is definitely that of 'Dick' in real life.

The camouflage of the traps used for 'Tom' and 'Harry' is again extremely accurate and reflect the advice given by Wally Floody. Manners of the guards and ferrets, and even the way some of them were suborned, is again quite true to life. "S/Ldr Roger Bartlett" gives a good impression of the driving power behind Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, but his sister said that Dickie Attenborough, who played the part, looked nothing like him. Dickie even had the facial scar of Bushell, incurred in a prewar-skiing accident (he was an Olympic skier) which often caused him discomfort."
My note---Attenborough was himself a POW during the war--RM

"Group Captain Ramsey", the SBO or Senior British Officer, has the severe leg injury suffered by his real counterpart, G/C Herbert Massey, who in real life was repatriated shortly after the escape, and who was instrumental in bringing the atrocity to the attention of H.M. Government.
The sequence where several prisoners hide in an outgoing lorry loaded with cut tree branches actually happened, almost exactly as shown; also, the piece where Bronson and Coburn try to escape masquerading as Russian prisoners is remarkably close to an actual escape attempt. True, too, is the scene where McQueen, having removed numerous bedboards, watches helplessly as a fellow prisoner crashes through his fatally weakened bunk and lands on the man below.

Steve McQueen (Hilts, the Cooler King). Likely to be an amalgamation of several characters, he has no direct counterpart, although one likely candidate is Jerry Sage. The sequence where McQueen sees a blind spot in the guards' coverage of the perimeter wire is true; this escape was by Toft and Nichols, who cut through the wire but were soon recaptured. The motorcycle sequences are pure Hollywood and were put in at McQueen's request; he did nearly all the stunt riding himself, as the long shots show. The single motorcycle was in fact a pair of 1961 British 650cc Triumphs, mocked up in German colours; the final leap is believed to have been done by the American rider Bud Elkins, as it proved impossible for the film company to obtain insurance cover for McQueen to do it himself. For the final leap, there is obviously a ramp just out of camera frame, over which the rider launches the motorcycle to get the necessary height for the jump over the barbed wire fence.

There was indeed a group of prisoners (headed by Jerry Sage and Davey Jones) who manufactured raisin wine and distilled raw liquor from vegetables and virtually any ingredient. The party on the 4th July actually happened, although 'Tom' was not discovered on this particular day."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chicken Run--The Ultimate WWII Stalag Spoof

In a future entry, I'm going to deal with the Great Escape. I've been a student of the actual escape and a fan of the movie it inspired for many years. However, I got to thinking today about the outstanding spoof, Chicken Run, that was produced about six years ago by the same folks who brought us Wallace and Grommett. This claymation movie is about a chicken farm and the attempts of its ill-treated inmates to escape, but it is, in effect, a spoof on every WWII escape film ever made, especially The Great Escape.

Our hero tunnels in the secret tunnel in Chicken Run. Note the spoon he is using as a shovel.

The premise finds us at the egg farm of the Tweedys. The compound housing the somewhat dim-witted chickens resembles a Luftwaffe Stalag, right down to the barracks, search lights, guard dogs and barbed wire. The inmates accept their fate--all except one plucky hen, who tries to form an escape committee. She has no help from the commander of the camp, a British rooster who is a veteran of World War One who carries a swagger stick and is stuck in the past. However, things change when an American flyboy lands in their midst----the victim of a circus cannonball act gone awry. The hens are all atwitter about this new American, much to the consternation of the Brit. The American, voiced by Mel Gibson, is impressed into the escape attempts of the camp, with hilarious results.

Steve McQueen makes 'the jump' into neutral territory in the climatic scene of 'The Great Escape'.Our hero makes his own jump in Chicken Run.

If you are a fan of WWII escape films such as The Great Escape, Von Ryan's Express, or Hart's War, you will see countless visual and spoken references in 'Chicken Run'. My guess is a lot of WWII aviation students have completely missed this film, thinking it was for kids. It's not. This is parody at its best.
You can get it from Amazon for as little as three bucks for the 2001 version and six bucks for the more recent version with extras. Click here to buy:

Leonard Herman's Uniform--It's a Beauty

A collector friend of mine recently contacted me and let me know he has Leonard Herman's 9th Air Force uniform in his collection. This gentleman was kind enough to send me some photos of Len's uniform. Leonard Herman flew two tours of duty in the skies over Europe in World War Two, first with the 8th in 1943 and then with the 9th in 1944-45. He is one of my dearest friends, more like a big brother, and I love him greatly. Len is going to be 91 years old on September 8.

Leonard Herman is one of the greats of the air war, in my opinion. He was in the original 95th Bomb Group when it formed, and flew the very first mission the 95th flew, early in 1943 when only one in three men completed their tours. In the 95th, it was less than one in three at that point. Leonard flew some of the roughest missions of the war, including the disastrous Kiel mission, which nearly wiped out the 95th Bomb Group, and Schweinfurt, among others. He was wounded and his pilot killed on a mission. While in Europe, he had encounters with Curtis LeMay, Clark Gable, and Glenn Miller.

Leonard's plane, Ten Nights in a Bar Room/The Brass Rail, limps home from Trondheim, Norway, on fire and alone.

After completing his first tour, he was one of the first American flyboys to return to the States, and was part of a Bond Tour, traveling from city to city to drum up support for US Victory Bonds. He then returned to combat, flying as a bombardier on A-26s and B-26s. He flew dangerous low-level ground support missions right up to the last day of the war.

Len's story was so interesting that I decided to help him write his memoirs, in his own words. The result is Combat Bombardier, and the book was published this year. Click here to order a copy from Xlibris,

or here to order a copy from

Thanks to the collector for sending me these priceless photos of Leonard Herman's uniform.

Book Review: Tom's War by James Hammond

Veteran South Carolinian journalist James T. Hammond has written a great new book entitled 'Tom's War: Flying With the Eighth Air Force in Europe, 1944', published by iuniverse in 2007. James' father, Tom Hammond, was the son of a small-plot farmer in Greer, South Carolina. Young Tom was fascinated by airplanes and when war broke out, he went into the Army Air Corps and became a B-17 pilot in the 95th Bomb Group. This book follows Tom through 'Tom's War', from training to combat and the eventual joyful return.

Shortly before he leaves for duty, Tom meets a young neighbor named Callie and the two maintain a correspondance throughout the war. The letters begin as friendly pen-letters and turn into love letters over time. One of the things that makes the book so poignant is Hammond's reliance on these letters back and forth between Tom and Callie. In addition to chronicling Tom's war and Callie's difficult job at a shirt factory, where she buttons Army shirts all day long, the letters allow the reader to witness a young couple falling in love with each other.

When author Hammond delves into the personal lives and feelings of his characters, this book really soars. It bogs down a bit in the mission-by-mission details, especially if, like me, you have read hundreds of accounts of the air war. However, for a layman, who knows little of the planning and execution of missions over Europe, this would probably provide valuable insight.

Tom was a co-pilot who flew with the same crew for all thirty-five missions, give or take a couple of make-up missions. By this time in the war, crews were required to fly 35 rather than 25 missions, in part to speed the end of the war and in part because of the decreased risk of the depleted German Luftwaffe. By mid-1944, the main threat was the highly accurate German flak.

James Hammond tells the story of Tom's joyful return, his long recovery at a hospital in the Miami Beach area after nose surgery, and his reunion with the woman he loves.

Tom Hammond's next war will be waged against dementia, lung, and heart ailments that eventually claim him in his early eighties. Son James' story here is powerful and compelling in its universality. The titans who saved the world at age 20 are now leaving us as old age accomplishes what fighter and flak failed to do. By the time Tom Hammond passes away, one feels a bond with the scrappy farm kid who grew up in the South during the Depression, and one feels a real sense of sadness that is mitigated only by the selfless care given to him by the love of his life, his wife Callie.

Hammon ends the book by tracking down his father's crewmen. It's interesting to see how time has treated each man. Some have become successful, others have never really got the gears turning.

This is a fine tribute to a member of the Greatest Generation. I recommend it to anybody who has an interest in World War Two bomber stories.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ball Turret Gunners---- A Breed Apart

This is from my personal collection. It's an ad from a magazine during World War Two advertising Nash-Kelvinator and their role in the manufacturing of ball turrets. This is my favorite shot of the ball turret.

The ball turret gunners were a breed apart. Suspended in their pot-metal cacoon on the underside of the B-17 and B-24 bomber, these men had to deal with three of man's main fears---heights, enclosed spaces, and death---while at the same time defending their ship from intense enemy attack.

An Army Air Corps schematic of the Sperry Ball Turret.

I have been impressed by these men since I first interviewed two of them for my book. Frank Coleman and Bob Capen were both ball turret gunners in the 95th Bomb Group. I spent hours interviewing Frank and Bob sent me several hours of taped memories. These became the basis of my chapter 'Ball Turret Gunner' in my book, Untold Valor.

The caption on this photo says this is a gunner from the 95th. However, he looks a lot like Clifford Puckett, the ball turret gunner on 390th Bomb Group's 'Betty Boop/Pistol Packin' Mama' and I'm willing to bet it is.

By necessity small in stature, these men were long on courage. When I met Frank and his wife in Salt Lake some years back, I was impressed with how much his experience had impacted him as a human being. He still suffered from hours at fifty below zero, curled up in the ball turret of a B-17, often unable even to relieve himself for hours at a time. Frank anguished about the people the bombers killed on the ground in Germany. A strong Mormon, he came home from every mission, and the first thing he did was go to a nearby farm where he could be alone and pray. He would ask God's forgiveness for what he'd had to do, knowing at the same time that somebody had to do it to keep facism at bay.

The American poet Randall Jarrell wrote a sobering poem about ball turret gunners. Here it is:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,

And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,

I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.

When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

No glamor here, just sudden death and the end of dreams for one young gunner.

The following is from the Commemorative Air Force website:

"Flying Fortress crew members considered the ball turret the worst crew position on the aircraft. The confining sphere fastened to the underside of the aircraft required an agile occupant immune to claustrophobia and brave enough to be without a parachute close by.
The turret revolved a full 360 degrees, providing an extraordinary vantage point and covering the aircraft against attackers from below. Ironically, thought of as being the most dangerous position in a B-17, it turned out to be one of the safest-as far as suffering battle wounds. The gunner, curled up in the ball in a fetal position with his back against the armor plated door, had less of his body exposed to enemy fire than the other crew members.

The turret was stowed with the guns facing rearward for takeoff and landing. Once the aircraft was airborne, the turret would have to be cranked by hand to position the guns straight down, revolving the hatch inside the airplane. The ball gunner would then enter the turret, fasten his safety strap, turn on the power and operate the turret from inside.
The ball turret gunner would be hunched, legs bent, with his feet in stirrups on each side of the 13 inch diameter armored glass panel. His face was about 30 inches from this panel, and suspended in between was the optical display of the computing gunsight. A pedal under his left foot adjusted the red sight on this display and when a target framed within, the range was correct. While sighting, he would be looking directly between his knees. Two handles projected rearward above the sight and controlled movement of the turret. At the end of each handle was the firing button for both guns."

Finally, I salute my friend Les Poitras's grandpa, Leslie Moore, who also served as a ball turret gunner in the 100th Bomb Group.

Lest we ever forget the sacrifices of these brave men.

If you'd like to read a website by one of these true heroes, I recommend Andy Anzanos' website at this location: And while you're at it, order Andy's SIGNED biography about his experiences as a ball turret gunner in the 390th Bomb Group. Check it out. You will not be disappointed!

390th Ball Turret gunner Andy Anzanos holds a copy of his book about his experiences. You can order it, signed and inscribed by this living legend, at the address above.

B-24 gunner receives Purple Heart for heroism in WW II

Staff Sgt Roy E. Talbott is shown third from left in the bottom row with fellow crewmembers during World War II.

by Robert Goetz

12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

8/22/2007 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- The scene in the rotunda of Randolph's Taj Mahal Aug. 21 probably seemed like too much hoopla to one former Army Air Corps staff sergeant. But all the TV cameras and reporters there to capture the moment, the remarks by an Air Force major general and the admiration shown by servicemembers and civilians alike more than fit the occasion -- a long-overdue ceremony to honor a true American hero. With one of his daughters at his side, Roy E. Talbott, 84, a self-effacing veteran who once served as a B-24 gunner with the 72nd Bomb Squadron of the 13th Air Force's 5th Bomb Group, received the Purple Heart for injuries he received in an attack by Japanese fighter planes in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

"The majority of his life has been about one thing only -- service to his country," said Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski, Air Force Personnel Center commander. "We look up to his generation. His generation taught us what we should be like." The general said that "because of actions like his," Mr. Talbott and the Airmen of his generation "created today's Air Force." "It was a time of duty," General Przybyslawski said. "The whole nation was mobilizing, and Mr. Talbott stepped forward."
Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski stands with Roy E. Talbott after presenting him with a Purple Heart Aug. 21 at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

Mr. Talbott volunteered for the Army Air Corps in October 1942. The Missouri farm boy subsequently was assigned to the 72nd Bomb Squadron, which moved from base to base as Pacific operations against Japanese forces progressed. On that fateful morning in May 1944, the squadron was based on Los Negros Island in the Admiralty Islands chain. He and his crewmembers were returning to their base after completing a bombing mission on a Biak Island airfield when Japanese "Zekes" ambushed their B-24 and others engaged in the mission.

"We got hit by antiaircraft fire," Mr. Talbott recalled prior to the ceremony. "Everything happened so fast you didn't have time to think about it. There was a lot of dirt and dust flying." The crippled bomber managed to limp to New Guinea, which had just been invaded by American troops. It crash-landed on a dirt runway -- originally placed there by the Japanese -- near an Army field hospital, where the crewmembers were treated for their injuries. Mr. Talbott suffered shrapnel wounds to the thigh during the attack and a broken wrist and a knot on his forehead during the crash landing. He said he was fortunate compared to some of his crew mates. "Other personnel were hurt pretty bad," he said. "But we all survived. My injuries were minor compared to what the others' were. I was what you call a walking casualty."

Mr. Talbott left the South Pacific after a month and spent some time convalescing in an Army hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was later reassigned to Combat Crew Training School in Pueblo, Colo., to train B-24 and B-29 crews. He left the Army Air Corps shortly after the war ended but re-enlisted in the Army about three years later and retired as an Army sergeant first class after a 20-year career.

He now lives in Sedalia, Mo. General Przybyslawski, who also described the details of the attack by reciting a report filed by the squadron's intelligence officer that day, said the veteran didn't request the Purple Heart. "His generation wasn't in it for themselves ... but he most certainly deserves this recognition," he said. It was through the intercession of Mr. Talbott's daughter, Army Col. Donna Talbott, who is assigned to the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, that his heroism was acknowledged. She enlisted the help of the Air Force Personnel Center and the Military Order of the Purple Heart to ensure that he received his due. "He never would have done anything," she said. "He feels he was just doing his duty. But I heard him talk about his experiences the more he got older, and I realized he needed to be recognized as well."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Teaching and Writing

During the school year I am a public high school teacher. The reason the number of posts has declined in the past week is that I am back on the job. This year, I have 140 14-year-olds--high school freshmen. I love my job but would be lying if I said it wasn't hard, with long hours. This has limited my blogging.

I am trying to juggle two careers. One is my teaching career, now in its 23rd year. The other is my writing. These do not co-exist together easily. I have set as my goal to make my living at writing within the next five years. This summer I completed the novel I had set myself to write. This year I am working on the 95th Bomb Group history.

I am thankful to my friends who have encouraged me to keep pushing. I am very thankful for all the vets who stuck with me while I wrote Untold Valor. And I am thankful that I count a few fellow writers as people I can bounce ideas and frustrations off of. It's not always easy. I've worked multiple jobs for so many years now that I am wearing a little thin.

Hang with me, folks. The best is yet to come. And thank you, my friends, for sticking with me.
With my 'Step Into Reading' book, Herb Alf's "Petals of Fire" for staff photo at Eagle Rock

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

WW II Airman's Body Found 63 Years After Mountain Crash

A glacier in Kings Canyon National Park, where the remains of a man believed to be a missing World War II airman, is seen. The second set of human remains were found in a high alpine region of Kings Canyon National Park on Wednesday, no more than 100 feet from where climbers spotted the ice-entombed body of Leo Mustonen in October 2005. National Park Service photo via Associated Press

Credit: Steven Rubenstein, SF Chronicle (CA) Staff Writer
Monday, August 20, 2007

The frozen remains of a missing World War II airman have been discovered on a remote glacier in Kings Canyon National Park, not far from the spot where the body of his apparent crewmate was discovered in 2005, it was announced on Monday.
A hiker discovered the remains on Wednesday at an elevation of 12,300 feet near Mount Darwin inside the park. The remains, which were accompanied by a World War II era uniform and parachute, were being taken on Monday to the the Fresno County coroner's office.
Because of the cold temperature at the recovery site on the Mendel Glacier, the remains included skin, hair and soft tissue, according to Army Major Brian DeSantis of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii. The command will work to identify the body once the coroner releases it to the military.

"This body was found 100 feet from where the last one was found,'' DeSantis said. "We're hopeful it's from the same incident.''

On Oct. 16, 2005, an ice climber found the body of a man later identified as Leo Mustonen, 22, one of four fliers aboard an Army Air Corps AT-7 plane that took off from Mather Air Force Base on Nov. 18, 1942, on a routine training mission and was never heard from again. The plane was believed to have crashed in a blizzard.

After Mustonen's body was found, searchers scoured the area, looking for other remains, but were hampered by the thick snowpack.

This summer, however, the snowpack at the site was about one-third of normal, DeSantis said.
"Basically, the snow and ice receded enough for the remains to become exposed,'' he said.
DeSantis said a military forensic anthropologist is on his way to Fresno to assist authorities in identifying the remains.
A parachute is seen wedged between rocks on a glacier in Kings Canyon National Park. Hikers discovered the remains of a man believed to be a missing World War II airman on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, not far from the spot where a missing aviation cadet's body was found two years ago. National Park Service photo via Associated Press

Monday, August 20, 2007

Listen to Author Marilyn Walton's Interview about Rhapsoday in Junk

A PBS station in Ohio recently interviewed my friend and fellow author Marilyn Walton about her excellent book 'Rhapsody in Junk'. Please see the archive for my review of this book, which I highly recommend.

To listen to the interview, click on this link, find Rhapsody in Junk, and click on the segments of the interview one at a time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jimmy Stewart--B-24 Pilot and Actor, Gets a Stamp

Jimmy got his stamp last week. The price has gone up to 41 cents, but the stamp is the same.

The great James 'Jimmy' Stewart was honored with a United States postage stamp last week. Stewart is best-known and loved as a Hollywood film actor, but he was also a B-24 pilot in World War Two and flew twenty missions over Europe. His men remember him as a regular guy, humble and approachable. One of my friends, Sam Mastrogiacomo, flew in the same squadron and remembers the day Stewart was aboard to give his pilot a check ride. All the crew found a reason to work their way into the cockpit for a peek at the Hollywood legend. Sam found Stewart to be genuine and approachable to officers and enlisted men alike, and a very fine superior officer.

Stewart flew with the 445th Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, out of England. He was a command pilot on many of these missions, and one of his planes was 'Four Yanks and a Jerk'.

Stewart posed for this LIFE cover in the town square of his home town of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Stewart was already a famous actor when he volunteered for duty. He ended the war as a command pilot and stayed in the Air Force Reserves until 1968, when he retired as a Brig. General. His last mission was on a B-52 Bomber.

Jimmy Stewart was a true American hero and we can honor his memory by using his stamp till it is sold out. I will use no other until then.

Jimmy Stewart's leather flight jacket is on display in Dayton, Ohio.

God bless you, Jimmy!

Remembering Our Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Today I'd like to reflect on the heroic job our soldiers are doing over in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a war every bit as nasty and endless as Vietnam. I'm a working class dog, so I know a lot of guys who are serving. Four of my buddies are getting ready to go over to Iraq for the third or forth time this fall. They each have wives and children and all are in their thirties. They do so uncomplainingly, whatever their personal feelings may be. All saw death of comrades in their other tours, so I'm sure that's on their minds.

I got an email from a good friend today that got me thinking hard. It had a photo of his grandson, who served in the First Gulf War, and who has suffered the effects of the chemicals of thousands of burning oil wells and who knows what else after Kuwait was liberated from Saddam. As a country, supporting the troops MUST mean more than slapping a two-dollar yellow ribbon magnet on the bumper our our cars. It must mean making sure our troops get the best care after they return, whether they have been infected with Agent Orange, lost their legs to a roadside bomb, or just need a little assistance getting their lives going again.

The New England Journal of Medicine has a photo essay on wounded vets that is so graphic that I will not reproduce any photos on this blog. However, if you care to see the types of hideous injuries our soldiers are suffering on a daily basis, mainly to explosive devices that they never even see or have a chance to defend themselves against, I highly recommend you go to this site:

If it does not sober you and make you reflect on the price our troops are paying for us, then nothing will.

The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review has an excellent graphics page on the war in Iraq, and a visit there is worth the trip.

Want to do something to help support our troops? Go to the Defense Department website for many suggestions. I personally write to several and send things that they need that they can't get over in Iraq or Afghanistan. Here is that site:

It's easy to forget what our men and women are doing over in Harm's Way from our cushy lifestyle here in the States. Let's all resolve to do more to support the troops--whatever we may feel about the war they are dutifully fighting.

Friday, August 17, 2007


First real rain in weeks today in Ammon, Idaho. Added benefit, a beautiful double-rainbow.

Another Great WWII Bomber Blog and New Book by South Carolina Writer

A few weeks ago I came in contact with a gentleman by the name of James Hammond, a journalist in South Carolina who recently published a book about his pilot father's time in the 95th Bomb Group in England in 1944. The book is called Tom's War, and I just received my copy yesterday and will dig into it with gusto this evening.

Jim also has a good blog at this address:

He covers stories about World War Two airmen, same as me, and his stories are interesting and unique. I highly recommend readers check out Jim's new blog and his book, which I will review after finishing it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Enola Gay Restoration Update

Enola Gay: The Plane that Helped save Millions of Lives in the Pacific by dropping the A-Bomb in 1945. This picture can be super-sized by double-clicking.

Thanks to my friend Jay Buckley of Colorado for sending me this story.

Beautiful restoration for one of the most historic aircraft of all time.

Compared to today's aircraft, it seems small - - - but in the latter part of WWII the B-29 was the biggest thing flying. The Enola Gay has led a somewhat checkered life, and it was only in 1960 that it was dismantled and finally put under cover (and security) at the Smithsonian's Paul Garber facility. Up until that time it sat at various storage sites, open to souvenir hunters, animals, and the weather.

At last count, about 300,000 man-hours have gone into recovering from that situation, as well as researching and removing 'official' modifications made to it after the flight from Tinian in 1945 when she dropped the atom bomb on Japan. Now completely reassembled and staged at the new Udvar-Hazy Museum at Dulles International Airport , Enola Gay is externally complete. She still needs much avionics restoration work inside. That work will continue over the next few years. Although the public will not be allowed inside the plane, devotees of this famous aircraft have closely followed the restoration philosophy to make sure that it follows the effort expended to restore other aircraft in the National and Air Space Museum (NASM) collection, even to the point of ensuring that the electronic equipment donated for the effort has vacuum tubes with the correct date codes. Happily for the thousands of folks who began to tour the new museum when it opened on 15 December, NASM is planning an interactive virtual tour of the interior of this aircraft - and it will also be accessible from the web.

A virtual treasure trove of historic aircraft at Dulles Airport, part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Collection.

B-24 Veteran of Fifth Air Force, Australia tells his Story

I don't believe this photo shows the fiery crash described below. Gus's Bus must have had more than its share of mishaps!

Ashland veteran survived fiery B-24 crash in WWII

By Ron Simon T-F staff (Ashland, Ohio)

ASHLAND -- Jerry Eugene Wilson, 83, still has a yellowed copy of that telegram his mother received in October 1944.
"We regret to inform you that your son, Jerry E. Wilson, was slightly injured in action Oct. 11, 1944, in the Southwest Pacific Area."

"It scared the hell out of my mother," Wilson recalled. But if she had seen what was left of Gus' Bus it might have been worse.

Wilson still wonders how he and the other crew members of a B-24 piloted by Major Gus Connery survived after the bomber stalled on takeoff from a field near Darwin, Australia, then crashed and burned.

Wilson, a belly gunner and combat photographer, got out on his hands and knees.
"Then I was up, and that's when I found out that I should have been a sprinter," he said. "It was every man for himself."

One man died. Most crew members were injured. Wilson's ears show damage to this day from the fire that singed them.

"The rest of the crew got to go home, but I had to finish my time. I admit the next time I flew, which was out of the Philippines, I was a bit queasy."

Especially during takeoff.

Wilson flew 38 missions with the 380th Bomb Group of the 530th Bomber Squadron of the Fifth Air Force in the South Pacific.

"I wasn't a member of any one crew or plane, but joined crews where needed," he said.
His unit flew out of Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines. Bombing targets included the cities of Hanoi and Saigon in what was then called French Indo-China.

Wilson said the targets were enemy shipping, oil refineries, oil fields and mines.

His job was to operate the belly gun, but he was equally proficient with the other gun positions, particularly the waist guns.

"My job as a combat photographer was to snap the lens after the bombs dropped to record whatever damage we did," he said.

Working from bomber to bomber, including the doomed Gus' Bus, Wilson had his share of aerial combat.

"We fired at a lot of fighter planes. They came at you so fast you barely had time to react," he said. He has no idea if he ever shot an enemy fighter down. "I didn't have time to look."

He thinks his unit's most important raids were against the oil refineries and harbors of Borneo.
While many bombs were dropped from great heights, some of these raids were conducted almost at floor level.

"We might come in at just 500 feet," he said.

He recalls one bomber that delivered its load at the end of a near vertical dive. Unfortunately, Wilson said, the bomb skipped off the ground and hit that same bomber, killing that plane and its crew.

On a bombing raid to Hong Kong, Wilson said his pilot lost his way and cruised up and down the China coast before finding Hong Kong to drop his bomb load. "We got home flying on fumes," he said.

He recalled that before raids on Formosa, crews were warned that if they had to bail out, the Japanese on the ground were not taking prisoners.

"Nobody loved us," he said.

Wilson recalls taking homemade green beer on raids just to get it nice and cold for the men when his plane got back. "It's pretty cold at 16,000 feet," he said.

A native of Bryan, Ohio, Wilson's father was an engineer, specializing in railroad bridges. So the family moved around a lot. He graduated from LaPorte High School in Indiana in 1941 and joined the Army Air Force in March 1942 after working a few months in a munitions plant.
During the war, his family lived in Bellville, and that was where he was, on furlough, when the war in the Pacific ended.

After he joined the Army Air Force, Wilson went through a long series of training centers, ending up as a gunner.

"I thought I'd be headed for North Africa," he said. Actually, his destination was Oakland, Calif., where he boarded a troop ship headed for Brisbane, Australia.

"We hit a typhoon along the way. Everybody was sick. I was the only one that showed up on the chow line," he said.

From Brisbane he traveled up the Great Barrier Reef on what he termed "a banana boat" to Port Moresby, New Guinea.

At his first base in New Guinea, he was assigned as a bomb loader. It took a lot of protesting to finally get a crew assignment.

"I came to fight, not load bombs," he said.

While he was in the South Pacific, Wilson obtained a saxophone and played in a Glenn Miller-style band between missions.

He still plays the saxophone and enjoys swing, jazz and the more reserved music he plays at his church, St. Timothy Lutheran Church on U.S. 42 in Madison Township.
My thanks to friend Maurice Rockett of Massachusetts for sending me this story.

Gus's Bus Crew.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Norris King--Shot Down by the Swiss

Norris King stands beside a piece of the wreckage of his B-17 'Sugarfoot', shot down by Swiss anti-aircraft October 1, 1943. He was given the piece, which shows part of the naked lady painted on plane and comes from the nose section, fifty years after the war by a Swiss friend.

In Norris wartime log and journal, two pictures of the remains of his plane and a cartoon of his plane he drew while in captivity.

Saturday I had a great visit with Norris and Marilyn King in Arvada, Colorado, just outside Denver. I’ve been corresponding with Norris and Marilyn for a number of years, ever since I did the researched a chapter on Swiss internees for my book Untold Valor: Forgotten Stories of American Bomber Crews Over Europe in World War Two. Norris was one of the earliest internees in Switzerland after his B-17 bomber was shot down, not by the Germans, but by Swiss anti-aircraft guns, killing seven of the ten men on his crew.
The many photos in this article are just that--photos--and do not have the quality of a scan. I did the best I could with what I had available, but some are a little blurry.

A little history is in order concerning Swiss internment. By international agreement, a soldier from any warring nation who ended up in neutral Switzerland during the war was to be held as an internee till war’s end. These men could still draw their monthly pay and conditions for many of the internees, though Spartan, were not overly harsh. 166 U.S. aircraft landed in Switzerland during the war, and 1,500 Americans became internees. American airmen interned in Switzerland were sent to one of three small resort villages high in the Swiss Alps—Adelboden, Davos or Wengen. They lodged in stripped-down resort hotels. If they signed an agreement not to escape, they were allowed to go hiking, visit the town, and even ski. If an airman refused to sign the no-escape agreement, his movement was limited. And if an airmen attempted escape, punishment could be very harsh. Some escapees ended up in the Swiss federal prison of Wauwilermoos, a prison for the worst criminals in Switzerland run by a Swiss Nazi who was charged with war crimes after the war.

The main reason allied aircraft diverted to neutral Switzerland during the war was because the planes were severely damaged in combat and were unable to make the return trip to bases in England or North Africa. Other reasons for diversion to Switzerland included low fuel or the need for immediate medical treatment for severely wounded crewmen who would have died before the aircraft could make it back to base.

German airmen were also interned in Switzerland, at least according to the agreement. However, most were allowed to return to Germany. Over seven hundred German airmen actually refused repatriation and remained in Switzerland of their own accord.

October 1, 1943 is a day that Norris King will never forget. The 19-year-old waist gunner from Colorado and his tight-knit crew took off from the 99th Bomb Group’s isolated airstrip at Oudna, Tunisia. Their target for today was a Messerschmitt factory in Augsburg, Germany. The mission was the longest of the war for the group, over 1,800 miles round-trip.

The crew, led by pilot Burton C. English, was “a fun-loving, compatible crew of officers and enlisted men who trained together and played together”, remembers Norris. Today they flew a B-17 named Sugarfoot. They’d inherited her from another crew, and had only recently commissioned one of their ground crewman to paint a naked lady on the side.
Shortly before her fateful final mission, Sugarfoot's crew had a naked lady painted on the front of their B-17. This piece was retrieved from the wreckage of the plane by the man who shot her down, Colonel Ruegg, and he kept it in his home as a war trophy. Norris's piece fits directly below the piece shown here.

The formation became lost in the clouds and by the time the navigators were able to get a fix, they were way off target. The planes were ordered to drop bombs on targets of opportunity. A swarm of German Me-109 fighters jumped the formation and a fierce firefight erupted. The American bombers tightened their formation to protect against fighter attack, and while so engaged, the American bombers drifted into Swiss air space.

Flak Detachment 21 at Ragaz-Beul was only three miles from the Swiss/German border. It was commanded by Swiss Colonel C.S. Ruegg. Ruegg ordered his battery to open fire on the American planes.

Sugarfoot had already taken some serious hits from the Me-109 fighters in two passes. The pilots struggled to keep her in formation. “They hit us with everything they had,” remembers Norris. “I think I hit one, at least I saw one go down after I shot it.”

Suddenly, the aircraft exploded. It had taken a direct hit from Ruegg’s anti-aircraft guns.

Norris found himself floating down to earth like a leaf in the severed waist section, which had detached from the front and tail sections of the aircraft. He simply had to roll out the waist door. “I think we were at about twelve thousand feet when we got hit,” he remembers. “By the time I got out and got my parachute open, I only had time to make one swing in the chute before I hit the ground. I landed in a tree, kind of fell through the branches onto the ground. I sat under the tree, head spinning. I had a concussion. A soldier came up to me. I assumed he was German and put my hands up. But he identified himself as Swiss. He was very, very friendly.”

Norris was taken to Villa Flora Hospital for treatment of his injuries. While he was in the hospital, he was surprised when Swiss President Gisen came to visit him and two men from another crew who had also been wounded. “President Gisen was very friendly,” says Norris. “He was an American sympathizer. The Swiss civilians seemed to be pro-American. The military people were more pro-German”.
The Swiss president, President Gisen, who visited Norris in the hospital after the demise of Sugarfoot.

Norris found that he was one of only three survivors from his crew—himself, left waist gunner Marion Pratt, and ball turret gunner Joe Carroll. The other seven, pilot Burton C. English, co-pilot Donald M. Prentice, bombardier Irving B. Patten, navigator L. Stanley Finseth, flight engineer Peter B. Machiodi, radio operator Charles R. Burgett, and tail gunner Elmer Wheedon were all dead. “Wheadon was even younger than me,” remembers Norris. “He was only eighteen.”
A wooden piece of Sugarfoot's radio room, the first piece of the plane Norris received from a Swiss friend, who had recovered it shortly after the plane crashed.

Another B-17 had also gone down that day, shot down by German fighters before crashing in Switzerland. Five men died on that crew. It had been a disastrous day for American airmen over Switzerland. Thirteen young men had lost their lives. The Swiss held a full military funeral the next day, attended by the Swiss president and the US Military Attache’, General Legge. Each coffin was draped in an American flag, and the thirteen airmen were buried at a small cemetery with much pomp and circumstance. Only seventy Americans were interned this early in the war, and all attended the funeral, with some acting as pall bearers. Norris was too badly injured to attend the funeral, but his fellow crewmen Pratt and Carroll were there, and made the front of the Swiss newspapers and magazines getting condolences from the Swiss government officials.
First photo, below, one of the coffins from the tragic October 1, 1943 downing of two B-17s over Switzerland. American internees serving as pall bearers.
Second photo, below, flag-draped coffins in the church and at the cemetery.
Third photo, below, Norris's two surviving crew-mates, Carroll and Pratt, at the funeral. Norris was still in the hospital recovering from his injuries and did not attend.

Above, Norris's wartime log, given to him by the YMCA in Switzerland. He kept records, pasted in articles and photos, during his long and often boring stay.

Norris still has his wartime log, a thick scrapbook given to him by the YMCA after his internment. With little else to do, he spent a lot of time writing in it, drawing pictures, and pasting in various photos and souvenirs of his stay in Switzerland.
Norris, above, holds his wartime log. He covered the log with fabric from his parachute--the chute that saved his life after he bailed out of the waist section at 12,000 feet.
In the front, he has a memorial page to the seven men on his crew who died that day. Each man is listed, along with his position. A poem accompanies the memorial:

“These are the falconers who fly
Grey hawks of terror in the sky
How quietly the new dead lie.”
The memorial page, above, and Norris's graduation photo from gunnery school, proudly holding his .50 caliber waist gun.

Norris and his fellows were taken to Adelboden, where they stayed in a Swiss resort hotel that had been converted into a dormitory. A reception was held for them when they showed up. “We were treated like celebrities,” says Norris. “We couldn’t have been treated better.” The commandant in Adelboden was a man named Captain Kramer. “He was a former pilot,” remembers Norris. “He was one of the first to fly over the Swiss Alps many years before. He was a heck of a good guy.” Captain Kramer, Commandant of the Swiss internees held at Adelboden.
Below, Norris stayed at the Nevada Palace Hotel while interned. This is an advertisement for the hotel from the time period.

The cover of a Swiss photo weekly shows the first American internees captured in Switzerland.

Unlike his unfriendly welcome to Switzerland, Norris’s actual internment was quite pleasant. He had no desire to escape, and spent the time hiking or visiting in the town. He collected wildflowers and pasted some of them, including Edelweiss, into his YMCA scrap book. However, as the war dragged on, he became bored and together with some other internees, decided to attempt an escape.
Below, wildflowers Norris picked and pasted into his wartime log sixty years ago.
Below that, two pages from Norris's log showing pre-war advertisements for the resort town of Adelboden.

Below, Norris's identity papers as a Swiss internee. Above, Norris made these aerial gunner's wings from Plexiglas from the nose a crashed bomber. Above the wings is his leather squadron patch from the 99th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force.

“We left Adelboden in a strange car that had a wooden stove as a motor. There were five of us. We paid off the driver. He took us to Lucerne, and we got on a train to Geneva. We stayed in Geneva at a safe house for three or four days, then we each got a passport for France. The ‘Makis’, members of the French Resistance, picked them up and smuggled them to a safe house in France. “The Maki leader reminded me of Captain Easy in the funnies,” laughs Norris. “He gave me some kirsch that knocked me on my ass. A Jeep came and took us to an American Army camp. This was in September of 1944. And then an airplane came from Italy and flew us back to our base, which now was in Foggia, Italy. From there we went to Naples and then home on a liberty ship, the USS Athos.

Norris and Marilyn returned to Switzerland in 1993 for the 50th anniversary of the downing of the first American plane in Switzerland. The Swiss feted them and treated them like celebrities, even having a parade. Norris found himself riding in the same Jeep in the parade with an elderly Colonel Ruegg, the very same man who had shot down Sugarfoot years before. When I asked Norris if Ruegg seemed apologetic for killing seven of the ten men on his crew, Norris shook his head. “No. He was proud of it.” Though Norris couldn’t bring himself to shake Ruegg’s hand, he did give the old man a B-17 belt buckle. A Swiss friend later sent Norris a photograph (shown in this article) taken at Col. Ruegg's home. Ruegg still had a piece of Sugarfoot that he’d kept as a war trophy in his garage. It showed the top part of the naked lady the crew had painted on the plane shortly before her demise.

On a later trip, Norris was presented with a piece of Sugarfoot as well. Marilyn wrapped the one by two foot piece, which has the naked woman’s painted rear end and thighs on it, in a plastic bag and then wrapped it in clothing and put it in her suitcase. “It was very fragile, and I didn’t want it to break”, she says. Amazingly, the piece made it home safely, and is now displayed in a shadow box in the King’s computer room.
The buttocks and thigh section of Sugarfoot's naked lady, now on display in Norris's computer room. He got it fifty years after the war. Compare it to the one in Ruegg's home higher up in this article.

Norris, now 83, looks young and fit, and remembers his time in Switzerland with fondness. However, he still misses his brothers from his crew, young men who were robbed of their futures by the guns of the neutral Swiss.

Marilyn and Norris King and Rob Morris in the King home, Arvada, CO, Sunday August 13, 2007

This story is copyright 2007 by Rob Morris. Contact him for permissions.