World War II Memories
Taken from letters written to Will Lundy
and "Pete" from Gene
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel to you for putting me in touch with Ed Hornberger. We had a nice visit (even though by mail). We all seem to have fallen into jobs so far from our young dreams. Gosh, I came out of a brass foundry - Bos would up as a one Mississippi farmer!!
None of us gunners were, but the others were very close to Bos. He came from a wealthy family and had this thing about enlisted men. Then, too, we teased him constantly and I realize now that he was a little self-conscious, as he was an F/O during most of our time over there. I've searched my mind since you called my attention to it, but I can't remember who took the picture - it had to be either Bos, but I think more likely that it was Joe Barber, the radio operator. Joe was the best-looking fellow on the crew. In fact, he was often chewed out by someone or other for wearing his hair too long with his hat under the epaulet on his coat or shirt. You know the type. He handed me an oxygen walk-around bottle so I could release a bomb hung up in a rack, that was hung up (the racks could be released with a nickel or something like it, a dime, and the bomb was on its way. Sometimes the arming wire came loose and I would have to release it, and there would be good, old Joe Barber - he would have a freshly charged bottle ready for me to return to my position.
When not under attack from fighters, I sat on a flak suit and laid another across me, laying, the whole mess was covered with flak suits. I also hung several around the compartment and the little skullcaps instead of the "pot." The heavier the flak got (some were real heavy from time to time). It would sound as though someone was beating our poor old ship with a baseball bat, and you could smell the damned stuff as it penetrated the ship.
But I started to tell you about our radio operator. He was from the Cicero area north of Chicago. I was in Retailing at the time and bought for four departments. This required me to go to New York twice a year. One time I managed to get Joe on the phone - he as studying to become a funeral director. But then the planes began to fly directly to New York non-stop and that was the last time I was in or through Chicago. I couldn't call or see him. He was probably the best liked by all the EM. He combed his hair all the time. Oh, well, he was (is) a great guy! Hugh May - my buddy in the nose, and I had a very long childhood - I have only grown up a little the past few years.
I hope the next time I write I'll be in better shape. Stanford is a great school, but you must wait your turn and this takes time - but I'm more patient now. If you ever see Ed Hornberger, I'm afraid you will find him quite gray. I'm afraid that old May and I put that gray there.
Enough for now. Take good care of yourself. Gene Kelley.
[Gene had cancer and died in 1985]
Letter to Will Lundy from Edwin Hornberger regarding Gene Kelley
Dear Mr. Lundy:
I want to thank you for writing me concerning Gene Kelley. It has been about twenty years since I last made contact with him and at that time he was living in New Orleans. As you probably have found out, Gene was a real character and in his day quite a lady's man who played hard. You might say he gave our crew lots of things to talk about. He was sort of the old man on the crew who knew all the ropes on how to get by while in he service. We had a great time together.
I have visited Bos and his family in Summit, Miss. Several times in the last few years and we never fail to reminisce about Kelley and May (another real character on our crew). I still hear form our copilot, who stayed in and became a Bird Col. before he retired several years ago. O'Bier is now living in Tucson, Arizona. Our tail gunner, Tom Ferris, lives in Houston, and I had a nice visit with him last month. He has been working at NASA in Houston for about twenty years.
This past summer, my wife and I went to England and during our stay we went up to Norwich and spent the day. We went out to Shipdham and found that the old hangars are still there. They are filled with fertilizer and farm machinery. That area was a farming area before the war and our airfield is now planted in some kind of grain. The control tower is still there, but it is in very bad condition. If you can remember, it was made of concrete and bricks so the main structure is still very sturdy. The taxi strip running in front of the tower is still there, but the main runways are gone. There is a small private airport operating in the area where we used to park the bombers, but they use grass runways now.
The living quarters are all gone but there still appears to be some of the old buildings that housed operations and the briefing rooms. I didn't see too many places in Norwich that looked familiar except the old dance hall known as the Muscles Palace. It is still in operation and is open every night just like it was during our stay at Shipdham.
I guess I have rattled on long enough so will close. I will write to Kelley and try to cheer him up. Maybe some day our paths will cross. If you are ever in Houston, give me a call.
66th Squadron Gunner
Highlights of Gene's Experience in World War II
All I can say is I was scared as hell.
Do you recall the little ½ theatre, ½ pub? I remember it clearly. It was cold as hell. I had a favorite table made out of cable spool, where I could sit and see the bar. Over the bar they had a damned sign. First it would read "Stand By," and then came "Stand by" and I'd get white knuckles - and double my order. Also, I had a canteen full of "mission whiskey" to go. Then soon would the sign be changed to "Alert," which, of course, meant that we would send the group out in the a.m. I would rather stay in bed, but I would get on my bike and make for the 66th and the picket post where the rosters were posted with the names of the crews that were flying. We were usually ready for a sleepless night. I would finish my canteen, arrange my "biscuits" and lay down till the truck came to pick us up. What a life - but we made it.
I washed out of cadets, and after 30 months of driving a 6x6 in Oklahoma, where I drove the executive officer and the 1st Sgt. Crazy, I was finally sent to Tyndall Field for gunnery school. But we all wanted to be pilots - until our first mission which was Magdeburg, which was a home for the Abbeville Kids and those Germans knew how to hurt a guy. But it cured us all of wanting to be pilots - and I yearned for my truck back in Oklahoma.
42-110030 - over 90 missions. UO+. Here she is in all her battered Glory. Notice the new bomb bay doors. We had three sets while I was on U+ -- two sets we lost because our navigator would urinate in the bomb bay for some reason and freeze the servos as that generally happened over the target and the doors would tear loose adding to the noise of the gentle pitter-patter of the flak hitting the ship.
One set I was responsible for we flew the low-level supply mission in March in support of Monty. We were about 50' high and looking for our ground drop I.D. panels on the ground. The nose gunner goofed and dropped our bundles without opening the bomb bay doors and the bundles wedged themselves, jamming the bomb bay. The doors were supposed to come loose with about 100-lb. pressure, so I had to squeeze myself into the bay and jump on the bundles till they came from [loose?]. Eventually, the doors broke off and I cleared the bomb bay and sat on the walkway and started sweating. We carried no armament but our .45s and that was useless in his situation. I rode the empty bomb bay most of the way back.
I did see an angry (French?) farmer fire at us with a shotgun. We had many holes when we returned - rifle, pistol, etc.
Letter to "Pete" dated 2 June 1984
I hope you don't mind my calling you "Pete." I was, after all, only an enlisted gunner who "washed" out of cadets with an eye problem. Pilots were and are my hero's from boyhood up (I knew that I could fly and I earned my private pilot's license in 1946 under the Bill of Rights. I only have 943 hours in single engine land and water ratings, but it costs too much now just to bore holes in the sky and I was disabled in Viet Nam and can't get by the medical anymore, so my days of flying as a pilot are over. But I still look up at the sound of a prop - many highly modified Stearman dusters around here - but the jets leave me cold).
I was a recalled reserve in 1949 and back I went to Davis Monthan only this time I was assigned to B-50s instead of my beloved B-24s and in SAC under LeMay. It was an Air Force I never knew and didn't much care for. We had the bomb, of course, and an assigned target. The B-50 was a great plane (although cramped stations) and it had Pratt-Whitney engines (actually two of the 3340 engines of the B-24s back to back (one backfire and they changed the engine) rather than the mouse-powered Wright engines used on the B-17s and B-29s.
Under LeMay - paranoia seemed to have set in and no one appeared to be happy. Every other person was OSI - and strong security even in the clubs and downtown Tucson. We didn't make many friends outside of our own crew - not even with our crew chief and the other mechanics. Hell, we had to be careful even with our crew as we never knew for certain who these internal spies were. A chance to volunteer for Korea came after awhile and I jumped at it. Korea was and still is a strange place and much different from World War II. We had no big targets (we did - on the other side of the Yale but that was a no-no dammit. We could see the masses of troops, supplies, tanks, migs, etc. but we could not touch them). We flew mostly low level sorties instead of missions (Tactical Support rather than strategic) sometimes three or four times a day.
Living conditions were grim for the AF, but when we weren't flying there was that old camaraderie I so missed back in the states - the end finally came for me and with the usual junk I picked up a star for my wings and two Purple Hearts. I came back and was assigned to tankers at Castle AFB. Being a reserve with an indefinite enlistment, I decided I wanted out. I knew I wanted no part of those flying gas tanks and in due course (1953) I was released (not discharged) from active duty. My future enlistment in the Army (helicopters) is personal as was Viet Nam. Suffice to say I had a long childhood.
World War II
But back to the reserves - You and I were in the 66th at the same time and must have flown many of the same missions. My pilot was Lt. Ed Hornberger, copilot C. J. O'Bier and a real boy named Bos for a navigator. We flew most of our missions in old U+. We kept getting new bomb bay doors as they often failed to open and over that low low level mission to Wesel when "Monty" was crossing the Rhine the load of bundles was salvoed before the doors were open and I had to go out in the bomb bay and jump on them until they broke through the bomb bay and scattered the load. I sat on the catwalk and saw an enlisted man fall to his death from a plane next to us. I didn't know at the time, but I learned later that hew as from Waterbury, Connecticut about 30 miles from my home town of Derby, Connecticut.
Interesting mission. We returned with rifle damage from some disturbed German and later coming across France or Belgium an outraged citizen farm type was banging away at us with a shotgun. We could see him and the gun and hear the shots very clearly. I presume we had frightened his cows or chickens or something if he had any left after the Germans withdrew.
Another crazy one that remains in my mind - great annoyance - no smoking - but the Germans had some well-fortified submarine pens on the coast of France - bypassed as our troops moved inland. I believe it was at St. Gironde, but we were sent there and guns they had. We were carrying what was supposed to be one of the first times that napalm had been sued. Anyway, in place of the usual bomb casings, the napalm was in fighter belly tanks and fused with some jerry-rigged the varmit. Anyway, we were going in at 6,000 feet and of course, some of the plugs on the belly tanks worked loose and we had this greasy, soapy mess al over the bomb bays. Talk about white knuckles and clinched jaws. My rosary beads really got a work out. We had been warned that the slightest spark might set this stuff off and we were worried that the servo's might arc when we opened the bomb bays, but we got it off all right and the nose gunner and I worked till midnight steaming and scrubbing those bays to clean the residue. What a life no one can ever convince me that there were things called "milk runs."
I lost a lot of good friends and drinking buddies there. I remember Podojil's plane going down. We watched it, helplessly, and our anger when we returned after the mission to find that some ground prowler had ransacked their gear - bloody grave robbers. I can remember sitting in our club "unwinding" with cider-beer and stolen canteens full of "mission whiskey" filched from the debriefing and morbidly watching the sign over the bar as I pretended to read - change from "stand down" to "stand by" followed almost always by "alert." I remember, punchilly, flying seven out of nine days all of us full of Benzedrine from the Picket Post.
I think one of the worst times for all of us was "forming" in the pale of early morning - with everyone looking for the leader's flares and planes sliding over you and under you - all choreographed by some joker in a Black P-47 or Mosquito yelling "close it up," "close it up," or his command set - and the air filled with B-24s and an occasional B-17. It all looked so disordered and reminding you of hornets and bees after their hive was disturbed. How we survived all this and made an orderly, though monitored, approach and crossing the Channel I will never know. I recall vividly one crossing when we were socked in tight and preparing to test fire our guns, when here came a RAF Lancaster returning from a night over Germany. But here he was at 12:00 level, heading right for the 44th. Our formation broke and scattered and as this apparition passed, we could see that apparently all asleep. Those "Brits" were awfully hard to love, but I'm certain we all respected them. What a war they fought.
Gosh, I'm a long-winded bugger. I don't very often get into "war stories." You usually wind up playing "Can you top this," and no one really cares about old soldiers and their memories. They would have had to be there.
I apologize for the length of this "thank you note," and you are to be congratulated for staying with me as long as you must have to get this far.
I hope you are able to find a couple of "Eight Ball" patches for me. I have written to M. Cohen and sent a check to become a member of the Association.
Thank you for writing. Gene Kelley.
P.S. One last thought (I promise). I will carry to my grave our briefing before a mission and the involuntary goop which always came when they drew open the drapes covering the map, splotched with red and revealing the target - always too far away to come back from. Kelley.
Letter dated 6/5/84 to "Pete" from Eugene Kelley
Somehow or other I remember the "Glory Bee R+." Going in we had a target down south - Cologne or Ashaffenburg or somewhere. Old Glory Bee apparently suffered some damage over the target and couldn't keep up with the stream. She as about ten to 15 miles behind us when she was jumped by a couple of 190s and a 263 jet. The damned jet overshot Glory Bee on one pass and nearly joined our formation before he pulled out. Glory Bee went down - no chutes. I guess I remember because we knew the EM.
10 April 1985
I'll never forget Grennock, Scotland and the funny trains they loaded me on and off to Shipdham and the real world. Damn all Quonset huts and our biscuit mattresses. I held pretty close to our hut. Then I bought a bicycle and radio and spread myself out. The officers, as I recall, had to buy two bottles of run for one bottle of scotch or whatever and my "officers" generally gave the crew the rum. We made a deal with the cook (about five miles away) and we always had Spam or something in the hut. We even got a Brit girl to clean up, make coffee and protect ourselves from the sleezeballs who, being around the tower, would rush the barracks to steal our A-2s and whatever. Anyway, Will and I have been swapping war stories and I'm surprised at how much I remember.
Does anyone remember the little ditty we would sing after a mission or whenever they would _____ it after "Bless them all." It led to al couple of discussions about squadron groups. It went sort of "...My name is Col. Snavely - I'm the leader of the group. I brief you on flak and fighters and give you all the 'poop'."
It was quite famous and led to a number of fights in England and a pip I was in in London. _____ we were getting V1s and V2s and a man needed a Piccalilli Commando to help.
I'll finish in a moment - with medals, etc. I was discharged in November 1945 at Sioux Falls and returned home (Connecticut). My wife and I had just finished lunch at the old Hotel Taft and were walking down Chapel Street and there were couples ahead of us and, of course, not a uniform in sight when some clown in a truck got out of time and began backfiring. My young wife kicked me with a "What the hell?" I got up from my position in the dirty slushy snow and there were only about six men standing. We flak happy and ground under had hit the dirt immediately. I caught hell, of course, with my new top coat and suit just dripping. I really never had the same problem in public life after Korea and Viet Nam. But I feel we all carried the scars of WWII. Enough!
I didn't mean to drift so far. Will sent me a couple of 67th Eight Balls and we found that with careful cutting and pulling thread they had red noses of the 66th. If, however, you still have some of the 66th patches, I'm still interested.
I will never forgive you for passing Gilroy Pacheco and not calling. I would have come rushing and perhaps we might have stolen a ½ hour for coffee and dessert and a lot of B.S. Don't ever do that again. The VA and DAV Chapter. 11 could give you my number.
Have fun in Rapid City. The best for all of us. Gene Kelley
P.S. That Will Lundy is quite a guy. Oh, when the new Roster is printed, I'd like to buy a copy.
Eugene F. Kelley
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your letters and cards, especially the news of my old crew. I'm really proud of Tommy Farris and C. J. O'Brien and I had a nice, newsy letter from my pilot, Ed Nornberger. I wish that I had been able to attend the meeting. It looked as though I may have stopped the cancer thanks to the wonderful programs at Stanford University and the V.A. I've really lucky and broke, of course, but I've got a good gal and a lot of real friends. People are really nice.
Thanks for the Eight ball patches. I picked the yellow out and they look great. How much do I owe you? I'd like to buy another one of the small ones if you could tell me where to write. I'm going to (if I get one) have it sewn with the appropriate metallic thread and wear it on an old blazer that I have.
Writing to you jogs my memory and I thought of a real stupid mission. Towards the end, our ship was in the middle of the lead elements and we were going into old Rubr to Dortmund or Esson or one of those mean target ones. Thank goodness we all felt that there was a really heavy undercast, though the flak was heavy and scary. Suddenly, two FW190s joined us (they were Goring's own with checkerboard noses and many had seen combat in Spain.) They were stationed near Abbeville and we called them the "Abbeville Kids." Anyway, what they were doing was calling off our air speed, type, altitude, etc.
After about five minutes (or five hours it seemed) the Martin Upper turret cut loose. No big deal as it was a no deflection shot and he knocked one of the FWs down. His buddy climbed to over 30,000 feet and above through the formation knocking down our high high right and the low low left with one roll through us. He was firing rockets and six machine guns and really hurt us. Oh well, it brought the war closer to us watching those two B24s going down in flames and pieces. The bar was crowded that night and we sand (?) "My name is Col. Snavely, I'm the leader of the group. I brief on flak and fighters and give you all the poop etc.
Enough for now. Good luck.