Interview with Russell Baril by Stephen Showers for the WWII Oral††† History Project, Center for Oral History, University of Connecticut, 10 March, 2000.†
Stephen Showers:† Where and when were you born?
Russell Baril:† I was born in New Haven and I spent most of my childhood in Hamden, which is right next door to New Haven.† I went to high school in Hamden and graduated in the class of 1942.† Of course by that time, the war had been on for six months.† I enlisted in the Air Force the week before I graduated and was given until graduation day to stay home.† I entered the service June 15th of 1942 and spent my first few days -like a million other guys- at Fort Devens.† I went to Miami Beach for basic training and after that was stationed various places in the United States.† I was in Atlantic City for a while and took gunnery training at Tyndal Field Florida in Panama City but flunked out because my ears gave me problems.† I attended teletype school at Salt Lake City.† I never was assigned to teletype duty, but did end up as of January 1943 in the operations section of a heavy bomb group.† I met the bomb group at El Paso, and the day after I was assigned to them, we went to Pueblo, Colorado Air Base for third phase training.† In the spring of 43í we left Pueblo, and our planes flew to England.† We took a train to Camp Kilmer and embarked on the Queen Elizabeth on May 5th, 1943í.† No escort, we went alone.† We watched for German submarines.† We never saw any, because they couldnít keep up with us, but they could relay radio position across to another submarine. We never encountered subs, luckily.† If we saw a convoy off in the distance, we went as fast as we could in the other direction.† And the ship varied course every few minutes in a zigzag pattern.† If you looked over the fantail you could see by the churning water, the pattern of a lightning streak.†
SS:† Now did your whole group go over?
RB: We went over as a group and went with three other bomb groups.† In fact when we got there, May 12th after a seven-day voyage across the Atlantic, we doubled the size of the 8th Air Force.† It was three or four bomb groups when we left the United States and we added four more groups to it: the 94th, 95th, 96th, and the 100th.†
SS: What was your rank at this time?
RB: At the time I was a private.
RB: It was a nice trip.† We almost hit an American hospital ship off the coast of England, but luckily we missed it.† The last thing I remember as far as any planes go; when we got off the coast of New York, a PBY came over and circled the Queen Elizabeth.† The next planes we saw were two squadrons of Spitfires that came out to meet the Elizabeth off the coast of Scotland.† We landed in Scotland May 12th and took a train to our particular town, which was Earls Colne, in Essex.† We were stationed at Earls Colne for one month, then we moved to Bury St. Edmunds, where we spent the remainder of our time overseas.
SS: Now do you remember before you came over what it was like to get your orders to go over seas?
RB: Well it was very exciting.† We actually looked forward to going.† I was lucky that the few days we spent at camp at Fort Dix, that I got home frequently at night and in the evening.† And I was bushed, because I would get back to Fort Dix at 1:00 oíclock in the morning and would have to get up again at 5:00.† The last night I was home I went back to Fort Dix and instead of going to bed, my whole outfit was getting ready to ship out.† So I had to get all my stuff together and we left Fort Dix about 6:00 in the morning on May 5th to go to the Queen Elizabeth.† As I was coming up the gangplank, there was a young GI standing where our line stopped.† I asked him if fellows had been coming up this gangplank very long.† He said I think that they are stepping off the other side.† Iíve been standing for two days and there hasnít been a second when a guy hasnít been coming up.† So it was pretty crowded.† We ate two meals a day, thatís all, breakfast and supper.† After they served breakfast, it took them till supper to prepare the second meal.† We got one canteen of water a day and had to shave and wash in salt water.† I didnít have to worry much about shaving, but try to make suds in salt water.† Itís next to impossible.† We slept in three shifts.† There was a state room that was built for two, which sounds great, but it had four bunks, four high in there for the three shifts.† So there were forty-eight men. We also had a swimming pool, which was loaded with barrack bags.† All the mirrors in the ship were taken down or covered over. †A lot of the luxury was gone, but at least during the day you could walk around the decks.† You could smoke.† I didnít smoke at the time, but you could smoke during the day.† You could not smoke at night.† That was out of the question.† Luckily we had the bunks from 12 to 7 or 8 in the morning, which was a nice time to have them, because the other guys were on deck during that time.† All in all it was exciting.† Just being there was exciting.† It was some trip.†
SS: Now were you guys following the events of the war?† While you were training and what not?
RB: Oh yes.† In fact, we thought we were going to North Africa.† Our original destination, when we were first cited to go overseas was North Africa.† But Rommel quit in April, and the fighting in North Africa wound down by then.† So we were assigned to the 8th Air Force instead.† We followed everything pretty closely.† I think, Guatal Canal was maybe 42í in the summer, we were following that closely.† Of course the sea battles too, there was not much land action at the time.† Our only entertainment was playing cards, writing letters home Ėwhich we couldnít mail on the ship- and when we got to England we had the Armed Forces Radio network.† We used to hear Tommy Dorsey and all the big bands.† It was a time that I would never forget.† I know that.†
SS: Now just for a second, if I could take you back, for a little bit more of the pre-war stuff.† Do you remember things like the Pearl Harbor attack?
RB: Oh!† I was sitting in the Strand Theater in Hamden watching a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby picture, the one ďThe Roads To Somewhere.Ē† I came out of the theater about six at night and there wasnít a soul on the sidewalk.† I walked four blocks home, and everybody in the house, the women were all crying.† My father and grandfather looked dumbfounded.† My mother said: ďweíre in.Ē I said: ďweíre in what?Ē† She said: ďwe are in the war, because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.Ē† Like a lot of other people, I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was at the time.† Of course when she said Hawaii, it dawned on me.† We didnít go to bed that night.† We sat up and listened to the radio.† There were also rumors, several rumors around that the Japanese would like to send planes over California.† So they had a blackout on the west coast.† The next day we were sitting in the auditorium at Hamden High School at 1:00 in the afternoon.† I had study hall.† The fellow in back of me was a friend of mine from Hamden, Joe Carbanella.† At 1:00 they turned on the loudspeaker system.† We heard Roosevelt ask for a declaration of war.† When it was over, about a 10 minute talk, this fellow in back of me tapped my shoulder and said: ďI think we are gonna go.Ē† I said: ďI know we are gonna go!Ē† I didnít see Joe again for two years and a replacement crew came in one day and Joe was on it.† He was the engineer/gunner.† We promised each other that we would go to London together when he completed his fifth mission.† He was shot down on his fifth mission, and the whole crew was lost over the English Channel that day.† So we never got to go to London together.† Thatís one of the coincidences that stuck with me.† He was a nice kid, they were all nice kids.†
SS: Do you remember the general feeling among everybody?†
RB: Well, there was a lot more unity.† Oddly enough for some reason, Iíve never been able to figure it out; the average person was more outgoing, more friendly, more trusting and happier, in the face of a war.† People were sending young sons overseas.† In the cohesion and desire to win, they were happy and that feeling pervaded the whole country.† It was a dangerous time.† A† lot of people lost a son or a brother or a husband.† People were intent; there was no divisiveness among people at all.† It was just a time when people knew what we had to do.† We came very close to losing that war, very close.† It wasnít like Vietnam or even Korea, WWII had more validity.† We knew that we were in it and if we had lost, we would have been under German domination.† Thereís no two ways about it at all.†
SS:† Okay.† I just wanted to check on something like that about the pre-war period.† So then you went through basic training.† Iím curious what your training was like?
RB: If you talked to an infantryman, they would laugh.† Our basic training was nothing in comparison to what infantry went through.† We were taught to use a rifle.† We had Springfield .03ís, and we trained with Enfields, which weighed about 20 pounds, English guns from 1916 or 17.† We were issued a carbine when we went overseas with a seven-bullet clip.† It was a beautiful little gun.† It would have been great to take out into the field and plink at tin cans.† Its range was very limited.† I could hit more things with a BB gun than I could hit with that thing.† We had some experience with a submachine gun, a Thompson submachine gun.† We went on several, I wouldnít say long hikes, maybe four or five mile hikes.† Thatís it.† We were exposed to some type of chemical warfare training with simulated phosgene and chlorine gas or tear gas.† It just was a very abbreviated training period, because they had to take the bulk of the fellows then who had to go to specialty training or technical school.† If they were going to make a guy a mechanic and his primary job was fixing airplanes, you are not going to spend six months teaching him infantry fighting.† You could use four of those months to try to make a mechanic out of him, and they made mechanics, radio-men, and air crews, and ordinance men and armament men out of just kids out of high school and college that had no idea of any of this business.† When I went to Tyndall Field Florida, for gunnery training, the instructor took a .50 caliber machine gun and stripped it down to its basic parts.† He put a blind-fold on, and he reassembled the machine gun and turned it and fired it.† He said you would be able to do this two months from now.† I did not believe it, not when you got 200 parts lying there.† Once in a while they would snake in a defective part or two parts.† You had to do it by feel, because you couldnít look at it.† I think the training was excellent.† No matter what they trained, they did a good job.† Our mechanics did a good job on our planes.† I dare say that we had better luck with our planes than commercial airlines have with theirs today.† And they were probably, in the long run, safer to be on.
SS: So when did you go from the gunnery school to learning about training on airplanes?
RB: After gunnery school, I was sent to a squadron, the 410th squadron, and I was unassigned at that point.† I had graduated tele-type school, so I was assigned to the 410th as a tele-type operator.† Some people arenít familiar with tele-type, but itís almost like using a computer and sending e-mail.† The only thing is that the person on the other end got it instantaneously and could answer you as if you were carrying on a conversation, like this new e-mail you have.† I never used a teletype machine, because they were short on people to work in the operations shack.† I was in squadron operations for 2 and Ĺ years.† There were two other fellows and I.† We split the shifts.† It was manned 24 hours a day.† There were no holidays.† We didnít know Sunday from any other day, and I being not Catholic ĖIím Jewish- we used to relieve the Christian people on Christmas day so they could go to the Christmas services.† I went to Christmas services myself, you didnít even think about that.† When I was assigned to squadron operations I stayed there, and when we got overseas, I was in that for quite a while.†
SS: Okay.† So when you went overseas that was your job?
RB: Yes.† Right.†
SS: You were actually tele-type, but you were in squadron operations?
RB: Yes.† The reason why I was taken from tele-type, we had four squadrons assigned to a bomb group.† Each squadron had something like four teletype operators assigned to it.† When they made groups and combined squadrons into group functions, you didnít need that many teletype operators.† So they took a good number of them and took us out of it.† Just like our trucks.† Each squadron had something like ten trucks, six by sixes assigned to them.† When they made it a group function, that meant that if trucks were disabled from one squadron, they could replace them from the other.† It made it much more pliable.† So I was assigned to squadron operations.† It wasnít a job that was difficult to learn, except for the fact that it was a lot of responsibility for a person my age.† I had no idea what the hell we were doing at the time, because we didnít have combat operations in the states.† When field orders came through, and just let me say this, the squadron operation shack was small, cinder-blocked buildings, maybe twenty feet across and ten feet deep divided into three section.† One section was the operations room itself and you had a black board there that had showed all the planes, all the crews, and what planes were assigned to what crews.† Another board showed formations.† The little office in the middle of the operations shack, opposite where you walked in, was the commanding officerís.† He had a desk and his phone in there; it was set up very sparsely.† The third room, if you saw the ďBattle of Britain,Ē was called the ďCrew Ready Room.Ē† Of course in the fighter group squadron, where you had maybe eight pilots, you had a big enough room where you could gather and smoke cigarettes and drink coca-cola and wait for your orders.† Bomb crews are so big that our crew ready room was just used as a lounge and never used very much at all really.† Like Bob Conrad said, they had 8 or 10 pilots assigned to a squadron and four squadrons had 32 pilots.† We had 10 crews of 10 men each, so we had 100 between the commissioned officers and the enlisted men.† Then as the war progressed, they found out that it would be easier to make the squadrons bigger than build new fields.† There wasnít any room to build new fields.† We went to 10 planes to eventually about 16 to a squadron.†
SS: What kind of planes were you guys working on?
RB: When we went overseas we had B-17Eís, which had the nose with the birdcage.† Then we had Fís, which had the Plexiglas nose with no steel framing.† We ended up with the G, which probably was the best model B-17 made, because it had the chin turret in front.† There were extra guns put in the nose, and it didnít have any† greater capacity, but it had better protection for the crews.† It had the ball turret, and all the positions were the same.† They took a couple of B-17Fís and they converted them to YB-17ís, which meant that they were gun-ships.† They loaded them with ammunition and machine guns, and put extra turrets on top.† They were supposed to escort the planes when we didnít have fighter escort.† The trouble was that they were so slow, that the B-17 formations had to slow down to protect the YB-17ís.† So they ended up not using them.† In the first year of operations, the first 6 months especially, our crews always used to say that we had escort both ways: we had the RAF going out and the Luftwaffe coming home.† The Spitfires only could take them to the coast of France.† Of course the Germans never bothered them when the Spitfires were with them.† As soon as the Spitfires turned around, they had German fighters at them continually all the way to the target and all the way back.† Iíve had later pilots tell me that they didnít see as many German fighters in their whole tour of duty than our crews saw in one day.† I have reports inside where they saw 200 and 300 German fighters in one day.† We lost all our original crews in the first seven weeks.† We lost, throughout the war, 47 B-17ís and 500 men.†
SS: And what was your squadron, the number?
RB: It was the 94th Bomb Group of the 3rd Air Division.† I was in the 410th Squadron.† Iím not sure how many bomb groups in a division, but when they took off, you would hear them for hours.† Before they took the continent, before D-Day, they had to gain their altitude over England.† After that they could gain altitude across liberated Europe.† So in the morning, if they go up at 5:00 oíclock, by 7:00 oíclock they would still be circling to gain altitude.† Then they would all assemble and no matter where you looked in the sky there would be 30 B-17ís here and 50 over there or 120 over here.† The sky was filled with them, you never see that again.† We used to get a warning order that said maybe we would or maybe we wouldnít be on alert.† We had a code word if an alert was put on: it was ďball-game.Ē† We would put that on the black board.† I donít think anybody in the town nearby didnít know what the term ball game meant, because whether they knew the word itself, you could not prepare for a combat mission and not have the surrounding country know it.† In fact itís not only surrounding country.† In England, unlike the states where you had page fences around where there was an airbase, they plunked these fields down in East Anglia in the prime farmland of England.† There were farmers working there!† Right next to our field there were 6 or 7 farmhouses.† You could not keep it a secret.† But if we were alerted, at night, the crews would be working on the planes, the mechanics, the engineers, armament Ėchecking guns- ordinance loading guns, oxygen, radio checks, fixing the equipment, sheet-metal work on planes that had been damaged.† All this is going on at the same time.† In the states, you could not load gasoline and oxygen at the same time or do sheet metal work. Over there you had to do it.† You didnít have the time to spare.† When take-off came at 4:00 in the morning, the ground crews were through, except for operations.† We were there all the time.† Thatís when the mechanics and the line crews would go and get a nap, because the estimated time of return was at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon.† Sure enough they would be within 5 minutes of that time that they were supposed to be in.† Any plane that fired a red flare meant that they had wounded aboard, so they had priority landing.† The second priority was low on gas.† When they landed, ambulances met the planes right out at the field.† Some of the planes came back with huge holes.† You were amazed that they could even get back.† They not only brought wounded back, several times the guys had been killed.† Sometimes, one group would have a stand-down.† A stand-down is different from no alert.† It simply means that one or selected groups are not flying a combat mission the next day.† And that happened if you had a very very rough mission the day before or losses were high.† Now group operations would get on the field phone about 7:00 at night if there were a mission.† If the warning order came and there was no alert, they would tell us.† But if there were a mission, they would call up.† We had the phones where they were linked into group headquarters.† Theyíd say this is group operations, every squadron would answer, 331, 332, 334, and 410...† How many planes could you put up?† Then I would check with engineering, and the odd part about it was, I was only a sergeant at the time, but youíre dealing with other enlisted men.† Technically they should have gone to the engineering officer.† But it got to the point that after a while, the noncommissioned guys were doing the job of some of the officers, because the engineering officer was out on the line making sure that these planes were ready.† The engineering sergeant pretty well knew the status of the planes.† He would say: we could get up seven.† The other squadrons would answer.† Theyíd say okay.† They would call us back twenty minutes later and say seven isnít enough.† Go back to engineering and see what you can do.† By that time theyíd say we could get nine.† Youíd say, could you boost it a little more?† Maybe ten, thatís it.† After a while you could report to group, that you could get ten planes.† That meant forty planes out of the whole group.† Then group operations would notify 3rd division.† If that wasnít enough, they would come back down the line again, and ask if you could get anymore.† The fellow that talked at our last meeting mentioned that he didnít have many maximum efforts.† We had loads.† Maximum effort meant that every plane that was flight worthy was going to go.† I would say that a majority of our missions, up until 44í, up until after D Day, were maximum efforts.† Now our crews had to fly 25 combat missions in 1943.† Many of them never got to 25.† Most of them, I think the percentage of them, was about 7 or 8 percent that did.† Around D-Day they increased it to 30.† Then after they had pretty well knocked out the Luftwaffe, they increased to 35 missions.† I talked to some gunners the other day.† They didnít fire one shot in anger at a German fighter.† When those guys made their tour, there werenít any German fighters around.† When I started the group here, I thought Iíd be talking to a lot of guys that had flown in 43, but the sad truth is that most of them arenít around.† These guys came home because those guys didnít.† The losses were horrendous, terrible.†
SS:† Was that something, especially during 43, that was really difficult for the personnel to handle?† With all those injuries and losses?
RB: Well Iíll tell you.† The combat crews were more oblivious to it, more so, in one way.† They were primarily intent on survival.† And they all felt that if it was going to happen to somebody, it was not going to happen to them.† They had to look at it that way or else they would go crazy.† In all that time, we never had a combat man refuse to fly.† We never had a crew that tried to back out.† And I know when they went in the morning, they looked pretty normal, but inside they must have been churning.† It was very hard to deal with.† We got to know a lot of them.† The combat crews themselves knew their crews.† They were very, very close.† We got to know a lot of the flying crews.† And we knew them over a course of time.† So when a plane went down, you really felt it.† I had a friend of mine, Joe Julianno from Brooklyn New York, and we met each other in London for a pass.† He showed me something he bought for his mother.† It was called gold bullion wings.† Itís the gold thread, gunnerís wings.† He asked me if there was a mission scheduled for the next day.† I said that there was.† He said he was going to go back early and fly that last mission, his 25th.† I asked him to stay with me in London, and said we could back tomorrow.† He said no, no, no.† So I went to Liverpoolís Street Station with him.† He took the train.† The next day after my pass was over, I went back to the operation shack.† I asked if we lost any planes yesterday.† The guy said no we didnít.† I said thatís great.† He said but we lost one guy killed by a .50 caliber bullet, one of our gunners.† I said, who was the guy?† He said Joe Juliano.† So I ended up sending his mother the wings.† The coincidences and the one with Joe Carbonella was another one.† They really shook me.† I have a report that Iíll show you after.† A friend of mine was a pilot.† He would come into the operations shack and ask me if I had a cigarette.† I started to smoke about the third day we were in England, because we had an air raid.† The Germans dropped chandelier flares, which were beautiful flares.† They were taking pictures during that time and came back the next night to try to hit the field.† We had to go into air raid shelters that were knee deep in water.† There were rats in them.† Who wanted to go into those things?† Thatís when I started to smoke.† We were trapped in one of those things for an hour.† This lieutenant used to come into the operations shack and ask me for cigarettes.† After a while I finally said to him: donít they pay you guys enough to buy your own?† The next time he came in for a cigarette he offered me one.† The morning he walked out to the plane, the last morning I saw him, I waved to him.† He said Iíll see you this afternoon.† He got shot down.† His plane blew up over Rennes, France.† Iíve got a copy of a report from the German government.† When they found his body, they couldnít make identification by teeth, because there were no teeth.† The head was pretty well damaged.† The arms and legs were missing, and the body was badly burnt.† I saw that guy 6 hours before this happened to him.† Things like that, I didnít know what happened to him till about 5 years ago.† My wife said: why donít you just let it go that he got killed?† Iím sorry that I sent for this report.† So many were like that.† They just didnít die.† It was violent, extremely violent.† Coming out of a plane, the parachute didnít open or coming out of a plane, we had a plane come back that had a whole parachute wrapped around the tail.† But the harness was gone.† It ripped right off.† We had guys come back that were killed and on a couple of times I helped the medics.† We used to send a jeep out to the line to bring our lead crew back.† I used to help the medics once in a while.† We had guys actually that were killed, whose remains were really all over the plane.† It was amazing that one man standing on this side of the waist would be killed and the other guy wasnít touched.† People donít realize it but the 8th Air Force lost alone, 33,000 men, which was about the same as the German submarine force lost.† One out of every ten Americans killed in action was 8th Air Force.† It was the 8th Air Force alone was bigger than the combined air forces of many of the allied countries.† It was a huge organization.†
SS: How was the morale during this period when there was so much death?
RB: In 1943, right after we got over there, by July of 1943, morale wasnít bad with the combat crews, because we unfortunately didnít have any.† They were gone.† We had one plane and one crew left.† By July of 43, our CO brought us out into a clearing one day and said: look, Iím not going to lie to you.† We are doing lousy, and you know it.† The mechanics had no planes to work on.† There was nothing to do.† We asked him what we were going to do until we get planes.† He said if we donít get planes and crews in a couple of weeks, they might as well send us home.† Weíre worthless.† So morale on the ground was terrible, terrible.† Iíd say it was non-existent.† We had crews that had 300 and 400 hours in B-17ís.† They would go on practice mission over Pueblo, Colorado, and people thought it was a war-bond cry.† They would buy a million war bonds the next day.† It wasnít a war bond drive. They were practicing.† Their formations were so excellent, so tight.† By the time the war was over, we had pilots flying B-17ís that the only time they had in four engine bombers was the time it took them to go across the Atlantic.† We lost the cream of the crop, the very, very best, and we kept losing the very best for a long time.† I notice now when I go to meetings, the guys that seem to be in the best physical shape overall were combat officers. The second best is combat enlisted men.† The third as far as general health goes at this point, are the ground crew.† The ground crews tend to be older in many ways.† The combat crews were anywhere from 18 or 19 to 26 or 27, but a lot of the ground crew guys were in their early 30s.† There was a huge range of ages.†
SS: Do you mean the flight crews were the younger crews?
RB: Right.† The younger people.† Yes.† As we were getting older, our replacement crews were always 18 or 19 years old, so there was always a greater discrepancy between the ages in 1945 as there was in 1943.
SS:† I see.† Then the flight crews from 1944 and 1945 had a higher survival rate?
RB: Oh much higher.† Yes.
SS: Over the 1943 guys?
SS:† What about just among the troops, say especially in 1943, how did you guys deal with all this death and destruction and casualties?
RB: I donít know.† When a crew went through a particularly rough time, they would send them on flak leave, which meant that they went to a rest home.† It was usually some beautiful English manor that had been donated or given by the English.† The crews were almost like living on a vacation for a week.† They played ball.† They went swimming.† They did what they wanted to do, which brought them back somewhat.† I know some fellows that there was a visible difference in their outward behavior then when they had started.† They didnít like to think or talk about the guys that went down.† It was an odd thing.† We among ourselves talked about them a lot more.†
SS: The ground crews?
RB: Yes.† Donít forget, you might be in a plane here, and your best friend is on a plane only 100 yards away.† You would see this huge flash in the sky, and not only your friend is gone, but the nine other guys that he was with.† They are gone.† There is no two ways about it.† They are gone.† When you see this happen once, itís horrible.† But letís say you see this happen ten or fifteen times, I donít really know how they survived as sane human beings.† Iíve got a report upstairs of psychiatric study of 8th Air Force crews in 1943.† They did a lot of work with the men.† Some of these guys would get out to the plane and vomit.† They would crap in their pants.† Thatís how afraid they were.† But they went.† They wouldnít let their other crewmates down.† I donít know if we could do that today.† The ways things are today are a lot different.† They believed in what we were doing.† Thatís all I can say.†
SS: Now you said the ground crew got to talk amongst yourselves.† Do you think that helped you guys deal with things?
RB: I think so to a great extent.† We did have two planes collide on the runway and twenty guys got killed.† We were finding remains near the flight line for maybe a week after that.† That was horrible.† But the crews we lost yesterday fade a little when you lost a crew today.† Each day you lose another crew, the poor guys you lost long before that, you accepted that they are gone.† You never really accept losing these guys.† You dealing with guys that are young fellows, high school graduates and college graduates, nice guys that came from good families and parents.† Iíve got letters that would break your heart to read some of them that said my son was such a good boy.† Iíve got one that this one pilot that I told you about, his mother wrote a letter to the president.† Whether Truman or Roosevelt ever saw it or not I donít know.† She said that losing one son was bad enough, but losing another son in the Navy in the Pacific, that no mother should lose one son, let alone two.† It was a dismal.† There was just melancholy dripping from everything for weeks at a time.†
SS: Now because you were in operations did you see these letters as they were going back and forth?
RB: No.† I actually got those letters when I wrote reports for people that wanted to know what happened to a relative.† When you get a report like that, you get everything.† Everything is in that file.† Some times it cost you twenty-five cents a sheet.† There could be 100 sheets.† I asked them down there if they could take out the sheets that are unimportant.† There could be scrap of paper in there, and the officer I talked to said we canít take sheets out, because the sheet we think is unimportant might be the sheet that you are looking for.†
SS: Was that during the war or later?
RB: No.† This is within the last ten years.
SS: Oh.† Okay.†
RB: Most of that information you couldnít even get then.† I was up at Oxford when the B-17 came up three years ago.† I talked to two ladies there.† They asked if I could show them where the radio room was.† I showed them.† They said they lost their brother.† He was a radio operator.† She said we are dying to know what happened.† I said I could send away for a report but that it would take four or five months.† You canít call up.† You have to send.† Eventually the reports came back, and the week before they came back, one of the two sisters died.† The other one by that time didnít even know her best neighbor.† Now Iíve got this report, and I gave it to a personal friend of theirs.† He said that he was glad to have it.† But they never got to see it.† I know this fellow that owns a hobby shop in Clinton called Wings and Wheels.† The fellow wants to buy my squadron patch, which Iíll show you afterward.† I said no.† He offered some merchandise.† I still said no.† I said I wouldnít get rid of it.† He said a doctor from New London comes in here, and he lost his uncle who was in your squadron.† I asked what his name was, but he didnít know.† He said heíd have the doctor call me.† So the doctor called me.† He is an ophthalmologist.† He said his uncle was Harry Simmons, who I knew.† He was an engineer gunner.† He was on one of the planes that went down on May 29, 1943.† The same day that pilot went down, but on another plane.† He came down to the house from New London one night.† We walked into the room inside, which Iíll show you, and the only crew picture hanging up there was this guyís crew.† Thereís his uncle (in the picture).† I corresponded with this doctor.† He came to our group.† In fact, he himself is a Vietnam Veteran.† He was a Navy pilot.† He made over 400 missions in Vietnam, and he made 100 carrier landings at night!† So heís got quite a record himself.† His uncle was engaged to be married, and he kept in contact with the young lady even though she married someone else.† I suppose that first love is always there.† Itís weird.
SS: So many coincidences.
SS: Iím curious about what your job was.† Could you explain it?
RB: Okay.† We were the last link that combat crews had with the ground.† If there was a practice mission, it was our job to get the crews together to give them their assigned slots in the formation.† The operations people made that up.† All copies of all the paper work had to be sent to group headquarters.† We used to go out to the planes, and after we lost some fellows because their parachutes had been damaged by flak and the guys had nothing to jump with, so they went down.† We started to load three extra chutes in every plane.† When we went over we had a small chemical toilet in each plane right near the waist door.† We had to take those things out so that we could store extra chutes.† Every morning before a mission, I would take the lead crew out to the planes, and I had just learned to drive not too long before that.† It was our job to do everything that we could to make sure that the combat crews were adequately prepared, not equipment wise.† We did have an equipment officer, and they went to check out their equipment.† When the order came in for a mission, the only time they would give us was breakfast.† No matter when the mission was, the meal was breakfast.† Even at 1:00 in the afternoon, the meal was breakfast.† After that, everything happened automatically after breakfast, because 45 minutes later was briefing.† A half hour after briefing was station time, which meant that the crews had to be at their planes.† Twenty minutes after that was taxi.† Fifteen minutes after that, at intervals of thirty seconds, was take-off.† Itís rather difficult to explain.† The best way to put it is that when the crews got ready for a mission, the first place they would go to after briefing was the operations shack to get their assigned slots.† We did not make that up.† Group headquarters would get information that we necessarily would not get like load machine guns would be: five high explosive one, tracer.† It would be 5-1, 5-1, or five high explosive two, incendiary one, tracer, 5-2-1 and 5-2-1Ö† They got that information.† Usually they sent that directly to the armament.† Once in a great while, we would get it and send it to armament.† The bomb load, we very seldom dealt with that.† The only thing we did know, after a brief time, was that if you had a heavy bomb load and a light gas load, it was inclined to be to France.† Heavier the bomb load and the lighter the gas load could also mean a ďmilk runĒ too.† It was our job to give the crews all the material support we could just before they took off.† On a day when there was no combat mission, there was ground school.† We helped with those; gunnery school, radio- of course we couldnít help too much with, but the radiomen conducted those.† If it was an aircrew thing, we had to get the crews together.† On D-Day, the day before it came was June 5th and there was an alert.† It was scrubbed because the weather was so terrible.† At twelve oíclock at night, we [interruption] Ėtape change-
SS: Okay.† Great.† Sorry about that, I just had to flip the tape over.† You were taking about planning and operations and getting ready for D-Day.†
RB: Right.† When the alert came in, group operations said breakfast is 1:30, so I had a cigarette and laid down.† It dawned on me that if he had meant 1:30 in the afternoon, it would have been 1300.† I heard airplanes, and it was the RAF going out.† I called the fellow in the other operations shack, and he asked if I was getting loading lists for crews done.† I said no.† I was taking a nap.† He said: ďyou dope!† One oíclock is an hour from now!Ē† I said, ďthatís right!Ē† I kept thinking of that 1300.† We could not scare up our combat crews, because some of them left the field and had gone to town to have a beer.† We sent Jeeps into town to get some of these guys.† In fact, some of them were conducting little affairs in improving British-American relations.† We interrupted some of those fellows to get them back into the field.† Take off was something like 2 or 3 in the morning.† Our crews made three combat missions to the coast and invasion beachhead.† After D-Day, things started to taper off as far as losses.† There were many, many missions with no losses.† Then you would have one and not have one for another month.† It wasnít like every other day you were losing 3 or 4 planes.† It was still bad for the crews, because although the German fighters were gone, they still had a lot of flak to deal with.† Iíll never forget Christmas Eve of 44í most of the fields were shut down for ice storms, so they couldnít land.† A lot of the division planes landed at our fields that day.† And if the German had decided to attack our field that day, they would have wiped out half the third division.† They were parked nose to nose on the field.† At the end of the war in 1945 it got easier and easier for the ground crews as well as the air crews, but they came to find out in about March or April, that the American and British armies were advancing so rapidly that they had to be very, very careful.† Because sometimes, the third Army with Patton especially racing like hell, so by the time of May of 43 came they had knocked out all railroad marshalling yards, submarine pens, industrial plants, and thereís one thing I can say, civilian terror bombing was not done.† I saw strike photos and they talk about accuracy.† I saw pictures where they tried to take out a plant and the damage to the surrounding homes was minimal.†
SS:† What about if we could jump back a minute, even pre-1944?† Do you remember some of these big operations, like the one called ďBig Week?Ē
RB:† Yes.† In February of 1944, it is one of the worst months to fly.† Thatís where all our training fields were, out west, because itís beautiful out there.† The winter months in England are bad, and Feb of 44 they caught a break in a lot of the weather.† I think that about 28 days in Feb, there was something like 18 missions.† They really knocked out a lot of German productivity then.† It was well worth it, and the losses by that time were not all that bad.† In 1943, near the end -I may be off- they did start to use P-47ís to bring them in, and eventually they got the P-51 with the auxiliary tanks and could bring them right to Berlin and back.† It made a big difference.† They found out that the B-17 alone, no matter how big the formation, just could not protect themselves.† It was impossible.† ďBig WeekĒ was really a big contribution to eventual victory.† The whole month of February was really crucial.†
SS: Did you guys have confidence in your commanders and how the war was going?
RB: Yes.† There wasnít the criticism that you might find more today than you did then.† What they said, we trusted that that was it, and our immediate or group commander, was always very conscientious.† Some of them were West Point graduates.† As far as the 8th Air Force goes, we had General Ira Eker, General Doolittle, third division had who was later to become General Lemay, he was Colonel then.† We had no qualms.† We disagreed sometimes.† When the war ended, our group was assigned to occupation duty in Germany.† We thought that was terrible.† We all had enough points to get out.† You had to have 85 points.† We put up a fight and said that other groups who were never even here go to Germany.† They rescinded that and we didnít have to go.† If we had not complained, we probably would have gone.† I think that our group never went. I was assigned from the group to come back with the 56th fighter group.† That was Zemkeís and Gabreskiís outfit.† On my discharge papers it reads 56th fighter group and I asked the major if I could have it changed to my own group.† He said that I wasnít discharged from my group.† I argued that I had spent the whole war with them.† He said that they could put it on the back of the discharge that I was there.† So my discharge reads 56th fighter group, but the group did come back to this country in November of 1945, then it was disbanded.†
SS: Now through that period, say from 1944 into 1945, how was the moral of the men?
RB: I think as time went on, for a while in 43í and 44í we could not visualize the war ever being over.† I thought it was going to be perpetual, that we would be in there till we died of old age probably.† It just didnít seem like it was ever going to end.† You got more homesick as time went on.† Plus the fact that by this time, we had seen the loss of hundreds of guys.† That didnít do our morale any good.† You just did the job that you had to do and tried to not think about it too much, but it was getting to you after a while.† The fields themselves and the conditions under which we lived was like living in a hotel compared to living in Italy.† Some American fields were RAF permanent bases, which meant that the men had permanent dormitories.† We had tents and Quonset huts, and we had a potbelly stove.† We got one bucket of coal a night.† You could not chop wood.† They did not the wood cut down, because England wanted the trees saved.† They wanted to sort of hide the fields in a way.† The one-bucket of coal we would not use as long into the evening as we could.† Once it burned out, you were done for coal for the day.† It was always cold at night, especially damp all the time, summer and winter.† It was very cold in the wintertime, and you would stay in that bunk as long as you possibly could.† Even then, you could feel the moisture.† I was very seldom there at night, because we were out at the operations shack.† One night I remember distinctly crying because we had been up for 72 hours.† The head non-com in operations said why donít you go back and grab a couple of hours sleep.† I was going to take a bicycle and he said take a jeep.† You are liable to fall asleep driving it.† So I took the jeep back.† I fell asleep in a couple of seconds.† I wasnít asleep for more than a half hour and a guy came in and said that I was wanted up in operations.† There was a mission.† I actually laid there and cried.† I was so bushed.† Your physical shape was not good.† You didnít eat the way you should.†
SS: So you were talking about morale.
RB: Iíd say overall, the morale never, outside of that brief period in 43í, the morale never suffered as much as you would think it would have.† We were tired of it.† We wanted to get back to the states.† England wasnít that bad compared to the guys in the Pacific.† We had no language barrier.† We could associate with the English people with no problem of linguistics at all.† They accepted us pretty well.† Most of us got to make very good friends with English families.† You could go to London about once every six weeks, which was stupid in a way, because you were probably in more danger in London than you were at the field.† For a while in 1943, the Germans did drop butterfly bombs on our field.† Butterfly bombs were like mines, and we lost a couple of mechanics who were riding over them on bicycles.† You didnít know where they were.† After a while they stopped dropping them completely.† But we were strafed a few times, thatís a frightening thing.† Thatís about the extent of our actual involvement with anything.† We were strafed and they dropped bombs.† They tried to hit our field but were not too successful.† The strafing is frightening because you donít know where to run.† One thing I do remember, the Quonset huts had corrugated sheeting and one night some guy took a mess kit and rubbed it along.† It sounded just like machine guns.† Everybody jumped.† I donít think he ever did that again.† We had mail.† Mail was delivered everyday.† Some guys in the Pacific wouldnít get mail for months.† We had it fairly rapidly.† Officers had to censor their own mail.† Our mail, we had a censor, but you knew what you could say.† The meals were not good.† We had a lot of mutton.† I could not take it.† Even the powdered eggs, the combat crews were fed better than the ground crews.† A lot people think itís because these guys were putting their lives on the line.† It wasnít that at all.† Nutrionally, you could not fly at high altitude with some of the stuff that we were fed.† I guess the powdered eggs had a bad effect.† They gave them fresh eggs.† We had powered.† Outside of the fact that they sliced like jello, they werenít too bad to eat.† We had spam, and spam has become a fairly popular item and food.† So the food wasnít all that bad.† One of my favorite parts of the whole day over there, when I was off duty, I would go to the NAAFI, which was the Navy Army Air Force Institute canteen.† It was like the American Red Cross.† They had a few English girls that worked there.† We would go there and have coffee or coke and sit around and talk about what had happened during that day.† I found out that a friend of mine was a mechanic in another squadron.† When I met him at night, he would tell me things that happened with aircrews that I didnít even know about.† So we learned a lot from each other about what was going on.† We used to sit there for maybe an hour.† Itís funny.† I met this guy.† We had a trail that we had to walk through that stretched from about here (Cheshire) to Route 10. [Approximately Ĺ mile].† It was a narrow trail through the woods to go to the mess hall.† We had to take our own mess kit and canteen, because they gave us coffee in that.† I was going through one day and it was raining.† It was muddy all over.† I came across this guy that had fatigues on.† He was stooping over tying his GI shoe.† I stopped and he said heíd be done in a minute.† I said to take your time.† He introduced himself as George King from the 332nd.† I told him who I was and we became very good friends.† We used to meet each other at the hall.† I called him up two years ago.† His wife answered and his wife said she would try and get him to the phone.† Five minutes later I heard him huffing and puffing.† He said I used to walk all over the field and now it takes me five minutes to go from the living room to the kitchen.† I got a letter from her not too long ago.† He died.† It was a nice time.† One of the things that I think a lot of the guys miss is the sense of camaraderie and trust that you developed with the other guys in your outfit.† You donít have that today in civilian life.† You may be close friends.† This was actually an affection.† It was a deep affection really.† Of course now today people would laugh and say thatís a little weird.† But it wasnít weird then.† We really loved each other as brothers.† Even guys that you were not that with personally you would feel a certain kinship with.† I used to go to London.† You saw a guy from another squadron, any American; I donít care what squadron he was.† You were friends with him right away.† I use to try and go to an American Red Cross place that didnít have GIís.† I asked a girl in London, in Rainbow Corner.† I was looking for a Red Cross club where there were no GIís.† She said: ďthere is no such place.† I could send you to a place where American sailors go.Ē† I said: ďgreat!† Do that!Ē† I was the only GI there, so they treated me like a king.† Here I was in a sea of blue for a couple of days.† They had come over on escorts or had a ship that had to be worked on.† They were there for maybe a week or so.† You went to London.† That was the most exciting place in the world for me, because you could stand on Picadilly Circus and see uniforms of every allied country in the world.† It was like a parade.† The Bengals, the Suddnese, the guys with the big sabers -the Turks- Canada, Australia, and free Polish, free French, free Norwegian, so you got a good mix.† Of course there was just seeing the place too.† To me, it is still my favorite city above New York even.† I met some nice people there.† In the villages, like in Bury St. Edmunds, where our field was (about three miles away) we used to send several trucks in at night.† We called them ďliberty runs.Ē† We got that from the Navy.† They would drop us off in town.† There would be a pick-up at 10:00 at night and another at 11:00.† If after 11:00, if you had to get back, you walked.† We did that on many occasions, walked back to the field.† You went to the pubs and got to know Englishmen.† The pub wasnít a place where a guy went to get drunk.† It was more of a social club.† You would learn that you didnít sit in a certain place, because there was a table there.† There wouldnít be anybody sitting there.† These four or five Englishmen had been there every night for the last thirty-five years.† That was their table.† After a while, you got to know them and you would be invited to sit with them.† Youíd play darts.† You could nurse one pint of beer all night.† Nobody would come along and ask if you wanted another one.† I think the pubs closed at 10:00 at night.† There were little teashops you could go to.† There was a Woolworth in Bury St. Edmunds.† It was a small city.† I would say probably about half as big as Wallingford.† It was on the Ipswich Cambridge road.† To go to London, you would go to the train station in Bury St. Edmunds and in an hour you were in London.†
SS: Did you get along with the pilots and the flight crews the same way?
RB: Oh very well.† We werenít as intimate with them.† They really had a lot of respect for the ground crews, especially the guys on the flight line.† You had ground people also working in the kitchen.† They had nothing to do with the mission what so ever, but these guys had to be fed.† You had finance.† Group headquarters was a huge Quonset hut with different wings.† Then you had the quartermaster, who took care of the clothing.† A lot of the people that you never even think of made it a self-contained city.† We had our own fire trucks.† We had our own fire department.† The military police on the field were not 94th bomb group.† They were military police assigned to that particular area.† So you had a lot of people.† If you needed something to function you had it.† The combat crews thought highly of them.† They thought highly of people like parachute riggers, which is important.† You never saw them out on the flight line.† They would be rigging parachutes.† There were people that performed jobs that you just donít even think about.†
SS: Now you guys had some entertainment now and then.† Did that pick you up?†
RB: Yes.† We had, very frequently; we had small USO groups, nobody big.† We did have on several occasions, Glen Miller and the Army Air Force Band with Dinah Shore.† We had Bob Hope and Jerry Cologna and Francis Langford.† I talked with a friend of mine in the Pacific, and they never had any of this, because they couldnít hit every island.† We had movies twice a week.† If a picture came out here this month, we had it over there probably two months later.† If the projector didnít break down, you had a movie for two nights.† Then we also had dances.† English girls would be brought in for the dances.† We had parties for English kids where we would contribute food.† We kept stuff that was ours that we would give to the kids.† I got to be friendly with an English gentlemen in Bury St. Edmunds, and he finally said that he knew me well enough to bring me home to meet his wife.† After I met his wife, they had a son who was 17 and she was worried about him going into the army.† She was more worried about him doing duty in Ireland than she was in Europe itself.† He never went in.† He was lucky.† I went down and saw them.† I was on my way to London and would stop there.† She said why go to London when you could stay here.† I didnít have the heart not to stay.† So many times when I could have gone to London, I didnít.† I used to pick her up in a jeep and take her shopping.† The burst of pride when she got off and it was very difficult for her to get in and out of a jeep.† There were these lines, what they called ques, like at the fish stores.† She would get out of the jeep, and I would wait for her and bring her home.† One day I came back to the field and the squadron executive officer said he wanted to thank me for bringing the jeep back.† He said he had a meeting this morning and I asked where.† He said at group headquarters.† I asked how he got there.† He said he walked, but he never disciplined me.† Bury was a nice place.† The first month we were there we were at Earls Colne, which is outside of Colchester.† Colchester barracks was one of the biggest, like Devens is to us.† We were at Earls Colne just after B-26 groups had left, which I think was the 332nd bomb group.† In any case, Flak Bait, the one thatís in the Smithsonian Institute, was on our field.† We didnít know it.† They were sent to another field.† Our field was not big enough for B-17ís comfortably, so we were sent to Bury St. Edmunds or Roughamís Village.† Our planes were to go up on a mission that morning, June 13th or so.† We moved during that time and they landed when they came back from the mission at Bury St. Edmunds.† We were there for the remainder of the war.† I know we came down from Scotland the first night on a train, 9:00 at night we just crossed the English Scotch border, and England is beautiful.† It is like Disney World with its color.† I looked out at the tracks and saw a railroad worker.† I said my watch must have stopped.† I have 5 after 9.† He said thatís what time it is.† We are on double daylight savings time.† The farmers got more daylight hours.† If it got dark at 9:00 at night, at the longest day of the year, it was 10:00 there, which was a big, help to our ground crews too.† On one occasion, I threw some cookies from one of the c-rations out to some kids at a railroad crossing at night.† The kids that went by threw it down on the sidewalk.† A dog picked it up, and he took a bite out of it and dropped it!† He walked away.† That wasnít too popular.† We used to get cigarettes once a week.† We used to go to the PX once a week.† Iím not sure if we had a card or not, but you got 7 or 8 packs of cigarettes a week and two or three Hershey bars, shaving cream, razor blades, and toothpaste.† You could buy a toothbrush if you needed it.† We had free postage.† So we were kept in supplies pretty well.† The one thing they did gives us, and I think anybody would have to say this, they gave us about the best equipment and clothing you could buy at any price.† I got a field jacket upstairs that was issued in 1943.† I didnít have it then, but that stuff lasts.† It was built to last.† Everything they gave us was top quality.†
SS: Now what about as the war was winding down, were you guys aware of the fact that it was going to come to an end?
RB: Yes. †Especially after they crossed the Rhine.† At that time they were starting to move very, very rapidly.† Like I said, our planes couldnít keep up with the advances being made on the ground.† I think our last mission was April 24.† There were no targets left.† They had done such a thorough job, there was nothing left to hit.† After that, we had about two weeks where we did practically nothing.† Of course then, the war was over.† Now the only other really critical time besides our first four weeks there was when the Battle of the Bulge came, because they came to us and asked if anybody would contribute.† We had two blankets on the bed.† They asked if anybody could contribute anything because the guys had lost their shirts over there.† A lot of guys gave their combat boots, because they had two pairs.† They gave one and some guys gave their overcoats.† Then the week after that, they started to take young guys from the ground crews and give them infantry training.† They were trained for one week.† One of our ambulance drivers was taken.† The guy was killed January 1st.† He started in the Air Force.† He ended up in the infantry because their casualties were so great in the Battle of the Bulge.† Our planes could not take off.† The Germans had it timed beautifully.† Our planes couldnít get off the ground for a week.† When they finally could, thatís when the tide started to shift.† That was a critical time.† That winter of 44í was murder.† A friend of mine who was in the Battle of the Bulge said he had never warmed up since then.† When cold weather comes, he dies.†
SS: Do you remember V-E Day when Germany surrendered?
RB: Yes I do.† We had small outhouses, and I was in one of them.† Three or four guys were shooting flares at the outhouse in celebration.† They didnít know anybody was in there, but I didnít dare walk out for 15 or 20 minutes.† I didnít want to get hit with one of those things.† That was an exciting time.† The only other thing that tempered that was the fact that a lot of guys werenít going to go home.† They still had Japan to deal with.† There was always a possibility of bomb crews being sent from Europe to the Pacific.† The only good thing about that was that they would have had to stop in the States to re-equip for the B-29ís.† The B-17ís wouldnít have made it.† We didnít know how long the war with Japan would last.† Nobody had any idea, so a lot of guys were sent home.† They were reassigned to the Pacific, but before they could go, that one ended.† Everybody was so thankful that it was over.† Like I said, it didnít seem like it would ever be over sometimes.†
SS: Do you remember hearing about the atomic bombs in Japan?
RB: Just after they were dropped.† Some people say did you know about it?† But nobody knew about it before.† The closest we ever came to knowing anything was when they sent a B-29 over to us so that it could land at our different fields and the guys could see what they would be working on in case they were sent there.† But no, after it was used, then we knew it and not before.
SS: Did you think that you would go over to Japan?
RB: We did, but as I said, our group was assigned to occupation duty in Germany.† So that sort of eliminated that.† A lot of the other groups were going to go.† They only needed 3 or 4 bomb groups in Germany.† The rest of them would have gone.†
SS: Do you remember hearing about things such as the concentration camps and what was going on there?
RB: No!† Not until it was over.† No.† We knew about things like the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.† We didnít know anything about Japanese atrocities either.† We didnít realize at the time, and I know in the spring of 42í I would go down to the drug store in Hamden and get the Register.† Americans troops were falling back on Corregidor.† American troops retreating.† It was a very, very dismal time.† We didnít realize that these guys were tortured.† We thought they were just being taken prisoner and put in the stockade.† We didnít realize the Death March was going on or anything like that.† The Germans, from all the guys Iíve talked to, treated them humanely.† Some of the medical care that Art got in the hospital was as good as what the German soldiers got.† We didnít know that any of that stuff was going on.† We didnít know about the loss of some of the big ships with hundreds of men on them.† We didnít know about that.† Itís not that we werenít interested in what was going on in the Pacific, but you were so preoccupied with whatís going on where you are that just didnít get it.† The Pacific was not 10,000 miles away; it was like 15,000 light years away.† Iím sure the guys in the Pacific never thought much about Europe either.†
SS:† What about when it was over then?† What did you do once the war ended?
RB: Once the war ended we still maintained a semblance of our regular duty days.† Our crews were still flying.† They were flying practice missions in the anticipation of probably going the other way.† It wasnít a time when you had a big fat vacation.† It wasnít like that at all.† I have a copy of a teletype that said tomorrow will be V-E Day and this headquarters considers it a normal duty day.† So outside of combat missions being flown, we had the same routine.† They had ground school.† They did it mainly to keep the guys occupied, because nobody knew how long they would be there.† Most of the ground crews had 85 points.† You got points for how long you were overseas and how long you were in.† Our aircrews had participated in 5 campaigns in Europe.† We got the 5 battle stars but we never left the field.† Each one of those battle stars was worth 5 points.† So we all had above 85 points.† I think I had 89 points.† We were dying to get out.† Up until the time we got orders to leave, you see infantry outfits in the First World War came back as a body, as a group.† They had these parades in New York.† A lot of the guys in WWII didnít come back that way.† They came back as individuals.† We were assigned, like I was, to another group.† It means that half of the guys in the 56th group werenít even there because they were gone.† There was no group adhesion that way.† When we came home, it was not like coming back to a celebration.† The only celebration was, I came in on the Acquitania, but when we came home girls were taking pocket mirrors and flashing the sun off them.† People were cheering on the docks.† We left that morning to go over, they had an Army band from Fort Dix; they must have loved us, having to get up at 4:00 oíclock in the morning.† They played selections on the pier, as we got ready to sail.† They played popular songs.† They were playing ďStars and Stripes ForeverĒ and ďOver There.Ē† We got into Scotland and the Scottish 42nd Regiment, I think itís the Black Watch, had a bagpipe band there to meet us.† They were two exciting times.† I never got back to my field.† A lot of guys did, because Iím not in love with flying.† My wife says Iíll never be able to get into an airplane again.† I was on pamphlet dropping detail over Germany after the war.† I volunteered to help.† You had to cut bails of pamphlets and drop them.† The plane developed smoke.† There was a fire in some equipment.† A gunner said to me; ďput on this parachute.Ē† This was over the North Sea.† I had never used a parachute.† I had never been trained to use one.† I couldnít swim for more than from where I am to where you are.† I can now, but I couldnít then.† I figured that if I got to jump out of this thing, I wouldnít even remember to count to ten.† I was completely panicked.† At that moment I said to myself, I would never in my life get caught in an airplane again, because there is no place you can run.† At least if the car breaks down, you can get out.† That had stuck with me.† We got back to the field that afternoon.† We found out that just before he was going to have us bail out that the radio transmitter had a short.† They found it.† I said to myself when we landed, never again!† I know a lot of guys that flew combat missions, thatís what they were afraid of.† They just never had the interest to get into an airplane again.† That pilot I told you about in Vietnam, I asked him if he ever had the yen to get back.† He said no, not at all.†
SS: So what did you do once you got back to the United States?
RB: I started to go to journalism school in Trenton, New Jersey.† I didnít stick with that.† So I came back to New Haven under the GI Bill and I became an apprentice watchmaker.† Luckily for me, it didnít appeal to me that much, because within the last 30 years watchmakers were gone with the digital watches.† You donít need watchmakers anymore.† I dropped that and went to Southern CT. and eventually became a teacher.† I taught in New Haven in middle school for about 33 years.† I got my Masterís at Yale.† I taught for almost 35 years.† I retired in 1988.†
SS: Was it difficult to adjust to civilian life after the war?
RB: Yes.† It was for me.† I used to live in Hamden.† I donít know if you are familiar with Hamden at all.† Do you know where the Strand Theater used to be?†
RB: Well, do you know where the Shop Tower Plaza is?† Itís at lower Dixwell Avenue. †Itís just above Highwood.† Thatís about 2 and 1/2 miles from Hamden high school.† At night, I didnít have a car when I first got out.† I would walk and walk.† I kept thinking about what we had been in over there.† I would take a walk and probably walk for three hours.† I didnít this for months and months.† I just could not get used to being home.† I was glad to be home, but it was such a different world than we had known.† Then you keep thinking of the guys you were with, but now no longer.† You were with these guys for 2 and 1/2 or 3 years.† Now thatís all gone.† Some of your friends werenít home and never came home.† You had your parents, but you didnít, like me have a girlfriend at the time, and you cannot express the emotions you felt unless somebody experienced the same thing.† My mother would ask me how was it.† I didnít have the gift of English that well that I could make my feelings known.† Some guys could do it.† They could write it and you know what exactly what they mean, but not me.† Itís kind of hard to make people understand just exactly how you did feel.†
SS: Do you remember how you felt about the enemy, about the Germans and the Japanese?
RB: We had a lot of respect for the Germans, not the Nazi aspect.† The Germans conducted themselves with a certain code.† We adhered to the same thing.† There was no hating.† Maybe in the Pacific, that feeling did develop.† There was a terrific hatred of the Japanese.† Some guys never got over it.† In Europe it wasnít that way.† You had respect for them.† You were afraid of them, but they had respect for you too and were afraid of you too.† It never got to the point where you wanted to kill every German.† Thatís not what happened in the Pacific.† They wanted to kill every Japanese that they could.† Like the old expression: the only good Jap was Ö† We never developed it.† Even our guys who had been in prison camps and escaped in one way or another and got back to England through the French Underground.† They never said anything that would imply that they werenít treated as fairly as they could have been.† So there was no feeling of hatred.† The only time it did happen, I remember very distinctly, that during the Battle of the Bulge at Malmadie when they summarily executed about 100 American prisoners.† That wasnít a wide spread thing.† I just read, not too long ago, some of the GIís got up and tried to run.† A couple of the guards fired at them.† When the other soldiers saw that, then they all ran.† Even if that was perpetrated, and they think that maybe it was, it was an isolated incident.† Now we had crews shot down near German cities.† They were taken prisoner.† The Germans would march them through the railroad stations of these towns like Essen or Kiel.† They would announce that this is one of the crews that bombed your city this morning.† The people didnít even throw rocks at them.† In fact German soldiers told some of our officers that if you have to defend yourself, you grab my gun.† Our crews did not like to get captured by German civilians, especially women.† We had guys pitch forked to death.† They didnít want to get caught by the SS.† The German army or the Luftwaffe.† The Luftwaffe actually had air force infantry that was assigned to each field. They were not mechanics or radiomen.† They were infantry.† If they were captured by them, they were treated well.† If the Luftwaffe captured them, they were treated pretty good too.† So we never had the feeling of animosity that they developed in the Pacific.† No.†
SS: So now getting back to some of the post-war stuff; after teaching and retiring, what ever made you start the Army Air Force Roundtable?
RB: Well, I was thinking one day that people didnít generally know what the preparations were for a mission.† They had seen a lot of this in movies about the aircrews.† So I asked Cheshire Library if they would like a talk on preparation for a combat mission in the 8th Air Force.† They said: ďoh yes!Ē† ďWe would like it.Ē† So it was set up for one night and I gave a talk, very similar to what weíve been talking about here.† After it was over, maybe about fifteen people came over to me and asked if we could start a group to meet once a month.† I said we could try.† We approached the Cheshire Library and asked them.† They said we could have a room one night a month.† The first few meeting were 25 people or so.† I thought that if it went three meetings, it would be a lot.† Now itís almost ten years and we get 75 or 80 people.† In fact I had a Marine League guy tell me that you canít get people to leave at night.† They like that time when they can talk.† This has been so therapeutic to so many of these guys.† Some of these guys would never talk about this stuff.† In fact some of them would say to me, Iíd ask them if they would talk, and they said; ďoh no, I wouldnít want to do that.Ē† Iíd say okay and forget it.† Then after they come to meetings for a few months, they got to know some of the guys, they would come up to me and say they were thinking it over and would like to give a talk.† Some of these guys havenít mentioned these things to anybody.† One guyís wife told me she didnít know what had happened to him until she heard him talk about it at the meeting.† Iíve got guys that are going out and buying uniforms so we could talk in schools.† These guys are 75 years old.† Itís been a wonderful experience.† Plus, the fact that to a certain extent, we have brought these experiences to some of the younger people.† We have young people in the group that are your age, women too!† Iím very, very happy that the group started.† Iím going to give up some of it.† I want to sit down with the people and enjoy it.† Jerry is going take over.† I never thought it would go this long, never.†
RB: Is it working?
SS: Yes.† It looks to be working.† Like I said, I really appreciate you talking to me.† I feel like I have learned a lot about the ground crew and the planning of missions.† My last question would be simply: is there anything that you would like to add to the story?†
RB: Other than the fact that you remember these guys so well, if I could draw Ėand Iím not an artist- I could draw the faces of guys I havenít seen for fifty years right down to their eyes, their nose, everything.† They never leave you.† Itís like living with ghosts all your life.† Itís an odd sensation.† These guys paid the price.† We are here today because they arenít.† And our nation is here today.† Iím sure that under any other circumstances, we would be speaking German today.†
SS: How would you rate your overall experience of the war?†
RB: I would put it the way so many other guys do it.† I wouldnít do it again, and I was never in a bad situation.† But I wouldnít take a million dollars to have anybody else go through it again.† I wouldnít take a million dollars.† I wouldnít take a million, but I wouldnít give up that experience for a million either.† You know when you get to be 76years old and the high point of, this sounds funny; the high point of your life was when you were 19 years old.† Everything after that, including getting married, is anticlimactic.† That was the defining moment of your life.† Unless you actually, and Iím sure a lot of guys were successful in business and made money, to them even, that was the pinnacle.† It was an experience that a lot people didnít have to go through.† Thank God they didnít have to.† But having gone through it, you would never forget it.† Thatís about it.†
SS: Maybe just to end then, what do you think about how the war is portrayed today?
RB: I think that there are two pictures that stand out in my mind as being fairly authentic.† One is ďTwelve Oíclock HighĒ and the other was ďCommand Decision.Ē† The best war pictures going are anti-war pictures.† My daughter thinks that war pictures are all this red, white and blue glory stuff, like some of John Wayneís stuff.† No.† ďA Walk in the SunĒ showed, to me, a battleground like the Battle of the Bulge.† Things like that, like ďAlls Quiet On the Western FrontĒ shows how terrible war really is.† This latest one, ďSaving Private RyanĒ I think those kinds of pictures, they show what it was really like, and nobody would leave a theater and say, oh jeez I wish we had a war.† They did with some of the others.† In WWI, guys marched off in England, France, and Germany like they were going on a picnic.† And it was glory.† I donít think thatís right.† If we get that point across to the kids today when we give our talk, we will have accomplished something.†
SS: What do you think the legacy of WWII will be?
RB: Well, I think that winning WWII gave the American people and Europe in general, a period of peace.† I know it wasnít tranquil.† There has been little wars, but we never had anything big thank god after that.† Maybe because of the nuclear business, but I think it provided the world with 30 or 40 years of relative stability.† Coupled with our winning the Cold War, it was a relative time of peace.† Unfortunately there were so many little things popping up.† I think it provided a fairly stable atmosphere, for the American people anyhow.†
SS:† Again, I want to thank you really very much for your time.† Iím glad that you talked to me.† I learned a lot from our time that we spoke.† Thank you very much.†
RB: I enjoyed it.† Thank you.
SS: I appreciate it.† [end of tape]†††††††††††††