Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lovely Day for a Virtual Run in the Country

Hay stacks and tractor
Newly-planted fields, with Taylor Mountain in background.
Old storage shed on farm.
Anybody for snowmachining? Wait a minute...the truck and machine have been sitting there for twenty yearsStarting to climb to the top of the hill. Quiet, peaceful, except for the occasional motorcyclist.

On top, looking out over the Snake River Plain.Starting down off the hill. Notice the snow.

Looking over the edge of the hill. Motorcycles do hill climbs on it.
Trail running and target shooting do not mix. A fired, but unspent, high caliber bullet on the path.
Still life: Deer carcass with beer can and other trash.

Coming down off the hill.

Farm machinery. I almost got nailed by a car that was passing illegally right about here. *&^$%

Ah, a warm spring day...the first of the year. It's been a long winter here in Southeast Idaho, and I'm assuming some of my readers haven't been on a long run for a while either, so I took my camera and snapped photos every so often along my eight-mile jog. My destination was a large hill about four miles from my home in Ammon. To get there, I run along a series of old country roads, past cattle farms and hay farms, then climb through a new subdivision of upscale homes and onto a steep sagebrush rise. This gets progressively steeper until I reach the top, where I can see for twenty miles, all the way across the Snake River Plain. Then it's time to go back down the other side and back into town, a little sore but feeling great and reinvigorated. So lace up your shoes and come along for a run in the country.

First Flag Ashore on D-Day

While touring the Pima Air Museum, I came across this flag, which is labeled as the first American flag to come ashore on Utah Beach on D-Day.

New Purchase

Yesterday I found an M-3 Flak Helmet to add to my collection of WWII flight gear. These helmets were worn over the flight helmets and had earflaps to cover the earphones. A helmet similar to this one saved the life of my friend Lyle Shafer on a mission in 1944. Flying as co-pilot on the 390th BG B-17 'Gung Ho', he leaned over in his seat to grab his flak helmet just as a shell burst through his side window, killing the pilot.

Here are the specs on the M-3:

"Helmet, steel, T2 (Flyer’s), standardized as Helmet, M3.—This was a direct modification of the M1 steel helmet shell with an associated adjustable head suspension and cutaway on each side of the helmet body to accommodate earphones. A hinged earplate provided protection over the cutaway earphone area. Because of the immediate need for a flyer’s helmet, the T2 received extended service tests and was eventually standardized in December 1943 as Helmet, M3 (fig. 316). This helmet weighed 3 pounds and 3 ounces. Between December 1943 and April 1945, 213,543 helmets of this type were produced. During its development, it was recognized that this type of helmet was unsuitable for a number of confined combat stations where a closely fitting skullcap type of helmet was necessary."

---Source: CHAPTER XI: Personnel Protective Armor
Maj. James C. Beyer, MC, William F. Enos, M.D.,and Col. Robert H. Holmes, MC

303rd Bomb Group has Great Site for Flight Gear Photos and Information

The 303rd Bomb Group, the famous "Hell's Angels", has one of the web's best bomb group sites. After posting my photos of flight gear, I surfed onto theirs, and it's a must for anyone interested in high-altitude bomber crew flight gear.

The web page for the flight gear is:

Here is just one example:
"Photo #12 - In the above photo can be seen the 4 lines of survival that ran from the crewman's fight gear and plugged into the airplane. The large green hose is for oxygen. One black communication line runs from his A-11 flight helmet earphones. The second black communication line runs from his push-to-talk switch. The push-to-talk switch is plugged into the internal microphone of the A-14 mask. The 4th line runs from his F-3 electric suit. The lead cord or extension cord is shown unconnected. Hanging from the sleeve of the left wrist is the connector for the gloves, and just below I've opened the glove to expose the connecting points. The flak helmet is the type M-3. This flak helmet was the same as the G.I. steel pot worn by the infantry, but altered slightly with the addition of ear flaps to fit better over the flight helmets. The M-3 did not have a separate liner that slipped in and out. When you run your hand over the top of the M-3, it feels like fur. A flocking was sprayed over them to keep the guys bare hands from freezing to them. It showed up in 1944. Much of what is displayed here can be seen in the photo of 1Lt Ted Misthal. Examples of the M-3 flak helmet and a flak vests can be seen here." --303rd BG Website

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Flight Clothing for High Altitudes

A crew posing with full equipment in WWII. Note the parachute packs in foreground.

Airmen flew in extreme weather conditions. At 20,000 feet, the air could be fifty below zero, and nearly devoid of life-giving oxygen. Both the B-17 and the B-24 were unheated and unpressurized. The photos below were taken at the 390th BG Museum at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson.
Exhibit at the 390th Museum at Pima Air Museum, Tucson, shows the full flight kit of a bomber crewman. Flying in temperatures down to fifty below zero at altitudes nearly devoid of oxygen, the kit includes, top to bottom, leather flight helmet with built-in headphones, flight goggles, throat mike, oxygen mask, shearling leather flight jacket, Mae West yellow life jacket, parachute harness, shearling leather flight pants, shearling leather gunner gloves, and shearling boots. The parachute is at the feet of the airman.
A vintage shot of a crewman with much of the same gear, though he is wearing clothing for slightly warmer conditions.
This electrically-heated 'bunny suit' was used by early air crews. Plugged in to the aircraft's power supply, the suit had a tendency to overheat or short out, causing burns, and many stopped using them because of this.

This flak jacket and helmet protected airmen from the dangers of jagged, red hots shards of flak.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Box in the Barn: Finding Dewayne Long

He was a young airman with a worn instrument case, and when he showed up to listen to the popular British dance band, instead of dancing like everybody else, he sat in front and listened. Finally, he got up the courage to ask if he could sit in with them. He took a battered trumpet from his case, and a mouthpiece from his pocket, and started to play. "We were just gob-smacked," remembers one of the band members. "He was an awesome player."

So began the young man's gig with one East Anglia's top bands. Occasionally, he would ride his bicycle twenty miles to join them for a gig. He dated a local girl, and then, as with all the American airmen who descended on Fortress Britain in the dark days of World War Two, one day he was gone, back to the States. The band missed their trumpeter, and an English girl missed her former boyfriend. The trumpet mouthpiece stayed behind, and is now in the 95th museum at Horham.

Sixty years later, 95th Bomb Group historian James Mutton was given a small cardboard box that had been found in a local barn. Inside the box, there was an 8th Air Force shoulder patch, some V-for-Victory matches, a container of aspirin, and several identification cards for one Dewayne Long. Intrigued, Mutton decided to track the young man down. Long had served in the 95th Bomb Group as a cook, and hailed from Martin, South Dakota. After sleuthing around for some time, he was able to locate Dewayne at a nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona, only a short distance from Tucson where the 95th Bomb Group was holding its annual reunion.

Dewayne made a surprise appearance at the reunion, accompanied by relatives. Frail and in a wheelchair, he is still sharp of mind.

"I never met an English person who wasn't beautiful," he remembered in a short speech at the reunion. He remains a huge devotee of the great Glenn Miller, "way ahead of his time", and told the assembled vets and their families that "War is hell. It may even be worse than hell. I don't know. But I don't want to find out".

Dewayne Long prepares to speak at the nightly fireside. Assisting him with the mike is moderator Tom Cozens, son of 95th pilot Bob Cozens.

Dewayne Long, thanks for your service, for the music you gave while in England, and for making it to the reunion.

Dewayne Long holds his trumpet mouthpiece. At left is James Mutton, the Englishman who tracked him down, holding the box; center is Englishman Alan Johnson, also a 95th BG historian; right is Long's son.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

95th Bomb Group Reunion, Tucson, Arizona

Today there was unlimited visibility in the American West, allowing one to see all the way to the horizon. Above is the Grand Canyon from 32,000 feet.
I took this on a one-hour break on Saturday, just a short distance outside of Tucson.

A proud 95th vet, who was also a Prisoner of War, also makes a statement for peace with his bumper sticker at right: "War is NOT the Answer". I never did find out whose car this was.
Technical wizard Art Watson figured out a solution to a troubling issue with the B-17s superchargers. As a result, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.
B-17 Pilot 'Lucky' McGinty proudly wears his flight jacket.
Charlie Gallagher models his A-2 jacket.
My dear friend Bob Capen, who was in my first book, checks out his old "office"--the ball turret, for our mutual friend Brad Petrella, Jr., whose dad Brad Petralla was in the 95th.

95th Bomb Group pilot and fellow writer John Walter checks out the living quarters at the 390th BG Museum at the Pima Air Museum. "Ah, the memories!"

Just got back tonight and then had to work till now getting ready for another week of teaching day and night school. Am I ready? No. Hopefully, I learned a thing or two about "winging it" from all the tremendous WWII vets I met and interviewed at the Reunion in Tucson the past few days. It was a wonderful experience and I'm posting just a couple photos tonight. A full report will follow as time permits.
These men only confirm what I already knew--they ARE the Greatest Generation. God bless them all! Without them and thousands like them, we would not be free.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Corgi Toys Releases Die-Cast Model of 95th BG B-17

Corgi, a British company that makes die-cast collectable models of all types of vehicles, including aircraft, has released a new die-cast of a B-17F "Zoot Suiters" from the 95th Bomb Group. It must be pretty nice, because it sells for nearly $200.00.
Here's the info on this model:

CGAA33310 Boeing B-17F - The Zoot Suiters, 412th Bs/95th BG, Horsham 1943 - Sights and Sounds Corgi Classics / Aircraft
Size: 1:72 Scale

Boeing B-17F - The Zoot Suiters, 412th Bs/95th BG, Horsham 1943 - Sights and Sounds - Featuring special interactive lights and sounds 'bombing mission' base unit

Going to Tucson to Work on 95th Bomb Group History

The official heraldry of the 95th Bomb Group (H)

A shot of the city of Tucson, Arizona.

This Thursday, after taking the shuttle bus from Idaho Falls down to Salt Lake City, I'll be flying to Tucson, Arizona to do interviews and research for a new book on the 95th Bomb Group (H) that was commissioned earlier this year. This is a daunting task, and a mission that I do not take lightly. The 95th BG was one of the great bomb groups of WWII, flying 334 missions during the war out of bases in Alconbury, Framlingham, and finally Horham, East Anglia. The first mission was on May 13, 1943 to St. Omer, France and the last mission was on May 25, 1945. The group suffered heavy casualties, especially early in the war. 554 men were killed in action, 805 were Prisoners of War, 162 were Wounded in Action, and 64 were interned in neutral countries.

The group also won three Distinguished Unit Citations, more than any other bomb group. These DUCs were for the August 17, 1943 Regensburg Mission; the October 10, 1943 Munster Mission, and the historic March 4, 1944 Berlin Mission, where the 95th became the first daylight bomb group to bomb Berlin.

The story of this legendary group has been told in an outstanding oral history coordinated by 95th BG vets Leonard Herman and Ellis Scripture, and then finalized by Ian Hawkins, entitled 'B-17s Over Berlin' (Potomac), and also plays a major role, along with fellow 13th Wing groups the 390th and the 100th, in Ian's book 'Munster: The Way it Was', (sometimes called Munster: Before and After).

With so much good material already out there, it will be important to create a bomb group history that is unique and covers the entire 95th story from both an operational and personal standpoint.
I look foward to meeting many of the men I've corresponded with over the years at the Tucson reunion, and hearing their stories in person, trusty notepad at the ready, as well as getting to know as many other 95th vets as time allows. We also will have several interesting tours to places like the Davis-Monthan aircraft boneyard. I've had several excellent mentors who have taught me much about the history of the 95th, including Ian Hawkins and the late 95th BG Historian Ed Charles. Numerous contacts and friendships with members of the group have ensued over the past eight years.

In early June, I will continue my research for the 95th history in East Anglia, England, with a side trip to London, to get a feel for what life was like on the base, how the locals interacted with the young Americans who descended into their midst in 1943, and retrace the tracks the young men took while on their precious leaves in London. I'll also get the chance to collaborate with my friend historian Ian Hawkins, who will be sharing billing on the writing on this project.

I feel a close tie to the 95th and its men, and I will give nothing less than my best to make sure their story is told well, so that what they did can live forever in the pages of history.