World War II Memories
You probably got my story from Navigator William Newbold. We were fellow POWs in Stalag Luft III. Nothing much happened in POW camp except when we were marched away on a very cold January night because the Russians were coming. A paperback book and various accounts of that march have been written by others. These accounts are accurate because I checked them against my diary of the move to Mooseburg, Stalag VIIA (near Munich). General Patton's army freed us on 29 April 1945.
I came to England as a copilot on a replacement crew. When we got to Shipdham - the 44th was already in Africa. We flew (Hagers) to Africa and joined the 44th just before the Ploesti raid. As a rookie crew with a new B24 - they "grounded" us by taking our plane. We didn't go on the Ploesti raid.
Our crew was scheduled for the Foggia mission. As we were awaiting takeoff, Pimentel (?) ran over to our plane and informed us that the commander didn't want an "all green" crew flying this mission. That's how I joined Henderson's crew. Pimientel was killed in what was my seat. (I met my pilot later in POW camp and he told me about it. The exact details have escaped my mind over the years.)
We lost an engine enroute to Foggia and had to abort. On the way back, we dropped our bombs in Bari Harbor. Soon afterwards we returned to England and I remained as Henderson's copilot.
I flew a total of five missions with Henderson. We got along fine. He was the epitome of what a dedicated pilot should be. If he hadn't been, I wouldn't be alive today.
The 44th returned to Africa in September, ostensibly to aid the Salerno landing in Italy. The Salerno crisis was over by the time we arrived. The mission to bomb the Folke-Wulf aircraft factories in Wiener Neustadt was the only one scheduled before our return to England.
Here's a couple of anecdotes for your information.
The following happened after the Foggia mission (16 August 1943). Henderson, myself, and flight engineer Cooper were ordered to transfer a B24 from another squadron to the 44th. (Jack Benny was going to perform that night at our base). It was twilight before we took off to return to our base. We were about 100 feet high when I smelled smoke in he cockpit. Not wanting to needlessly alarm anybody, I turned and asked Cooper if he smelled any smoke. Just then, smoke filled the cockpit.
The landing gear was already up. I didn't know whether Henderson was going for altitude or to crash land. I put on my chute preparing to take the wheel if we were going to climb in hopes of jumping out.
Henderson decided to crash land. We dove downward and just before we hit, he pulled back on the wheel and pancaked in. I remember the nose wheel coming up through the cockpit after we hit. Cooper was knocked unconscious. I crawled out the window and onto the fuselage. Henderson got to Cooper and handed him to me through the top hatch.
Cooper returned to duty the next day after spending the night in the hospital. Neither Henderson nor I were injured. Remember how high a B24s fuselage is? I stood next to the plane and I could see over it. It was compressed over half its original size. We had crashed in a muddy salt flat that was our salvation. It also put out the fire. We missed Benny's act.
Our plane's name was "Count Bruga," although it wasn't pained on at the time of our last mission. My leather jacket had the name Count Bruga imprinted above the pocket.
At my first preliminary interrogation by the Germans, they looked at my jacket and coupled with my name, asked, "When did you leave Poland?"
At POW camp my fellow inmates asked me (after several days) if I was a Polish "count." I should have lied. It would have made a better story. This odd name came from a novel of the same name by Ben Hecht (novelist and Hollywood screenwriter).
Again, I wish to thank you for sending the crew list. Memories... "When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight."
P.S. After I returned to the States, visited Henderson's parents and his younger brother in Dallas, Texas. His wife was teaching school in New Mexico and she wasn't present. I told them of the last mission and that I was alive because of his actions. He was somebody!