Interview with Charles Lanham, by Steve Showers for the Voices from the Second World War: An Oral History, Center for Oral History, University of Connecticut, 2 February, 2000.
Steve Showers: Today, Charles and I are going to talk. The first area I always ask about is general background.† Iíll start with an easy question about where and when you were born.
Charles Lanham:† I was born in India.† My parents were missionaries from America for the Methodist Church.† I was born in India July 4, 1923.† It was interesting to be born in India, which was under the British flag, on American Independence Day.†† Anyway, my grandparents got notice by cable of my birth, and they got the information July 3 that Iíd been born on July 4th, which was always interesting to me.† My dadís health gave way and we left India in 1935, a little bit before my 12th Birthday.† We came to Oklahoma and lived there for about four years while they tried to find out what was my dadís problem. It ended up that in 1939 in June, after surgery for a brain tumor, he passed away with pneumonia.† My mother and my brother and sister and I were planning to move to Kentucky at that time.† Dad and mother had bought a house a little earlier in the year because they wanted us to go to Asbury College, and they wanted to be nearby and so forth.† We packed up and sold that house in Bethany, Oklahoma and went on to Kentucky.† I started as a sophomore in high school there.† I finished high school and had a half a year of college when the Air Force called us up.† I had enlisted on Veteranís day, what we used to call the Armistice Day November 11, 1942.† But they didnít call me until the following January.† We loaded up on the troop train and started heading where nobody would tell us, and finally, we ended up down in Miami Beach.† Iíd been figuring weíd be in these barracks, but at Miami, the basic training being done was by cadets, or future cadets, who were housed in these real nice hotels, and weíd have our calisthenics on the beach and go take a quick dip even if it was January or February.
SS:†††††† Yes, if youíre in Miami!
CL:††††† We went through all the basic training stuff and then the Army Air Corps decided to split up all the people interested in being cadets.† I think they had too many in the pipeline to train them all and handle them all. They took about half of those waiting and sent them to what they call the ďCollege Training Detachments.Ē† I was in that group.† They sent me to Katoba College in Salisbury, North Carolina.† They split that bunch of cadets into five groups.† The first group stayed one month, the second two months, three, so on.† I was in the fourth group, so I was there four months. That slowed down my training and so on.† In fact the man who was my instructor at the advanced multi-engine training had been in that same group starting out at basic training.† But he had gone through, finished several months earlier, had gotten his wings and commission, and now he was my instructor.† So thatís how this kind of stuff worked out.† But the delay, I think, contributed to one of two things:† it contributed to my being late getting overseas.†
SS:†††††† This was in 1943 or Ď42?
CL: †††† Early Ď43.
SS:†††††† Just to go back for a second, at the beginning of the war, do you remember what was going on, like around the country and in your area at that time?
CL:††††† Well I remember keeping pretty close track in the news, the papers, and the radio of what was happening.† The American armies had been starting their move.† Theyíd landed in Italy.† D-day hadnít happened until later on.† Then little by little, they just kept pushing Hitler back.† We used to hear about the buzz bombs and the German flights over in London and that kind of stuff.† But their involvement over London was pretty much passe about the time I got in and got active.
SS:†††††† Do you remember Pearl Harbor?
CL: †††† Oh yes, sure.† I remember Pearl Harbor very clearly.† December 7, Ď41.† I enlisted November 11, 1942.† I felt always that we had to do something to stop Hitler primarily but Japan as well.† I felt that they were just way out of line and causing a lot of harm and problems and difficulties.† So I didnít even want to wait to be called up and drafted.† I really felt that I wanted to be a part of that whole experience of trying to stop that.† I didnít play much of a part, but I wanted to be a part of it.
SS:†††††† Did you find that to be the general attitude among your friends and neighbors and town folks?
CL:††††† I think it was mixed.† I think you had a certain number of people who didnít want to go unless they were drafted and made to go, and then you had a lot of those who were enlisting.† Then a lot of those who were drafted, I mean it was O.K., they were willing to do it, but they didnít want to do it until they had to.† My co-pilot told me a couple of years ago after I finally found him after many years, he said he enlisted not to stop Hitler, not because he thought the cause was right, but just simply because he wanted to learn to fly.† That was his story.† But I donít think there were too many in that kind of a situation.
††††††††††† †So after Salisbury College, they shipped us to Nashville for our classification tests, physical aptitude tests and that sort of thing.† After having gone through that they posted the names of people on the bulletin board of people who had made the pilot training and the navigator, bombardier, whatever, then those who didnít.† Most of them went to gunnery school.† I was selected for pilot training and they sent me to pre-flight training at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.† We were there for about three months.† The purpose of this was to give you a little taste of what it would be like if you had gone to West Point.† The military training, the sitting up straight, eating square meals, the upperclassmen hazing you a little bit, all just to let you know what it was all about if you were going to be and officer.† I went to my primary flight training then in October, middle or late October of Ď43.† This was down at Lafayette, Louisiana, for our primary air training.† The first plane that we flew for the Air Force was a primary trainer, Pt-21.† I think Ryan Aircraft Corporation produced that.† Open cockpit, I went out and as many times as you fly, any airplane, for the first, time more advanced or just different, itís always great.† But the biggest thrill was that first solo. [laughs]† Here you are, and youíve had a few lessons.† Now you go and youíre taking off, youíre flying around, now youíve got to come back and youíre landing it yourself.† You do it, and wow, what a sense of accomplishment it is.
SS:†††††† How old were you?
CL:††††† I was twenty by that time.
SS:†††††† How many times had you gone up in training before you made your first solo flight?
CL:††††† Well, in the primary training the basic procedure was about eight hours of instruction.† Then you soloed.† If you solo, thatís your first big step.† If they feel youíre competent to do that.† And then through the rest of that period you learn how to do different things with your aircraft, some introduction to acrobatics.† Thatís what we called them back then.† At one point somewhere through there, they check you out with a check pilot to make sure you are learning all the things youíre supposed to learn by then.
SS:†††††† Are you still in the same plane through this process?
CL:††††† Yes.† You have to learn the cross-country flying, how to navigate.† Thereís a lot of ground school that goes with it too.† Then we went to basic training, which was a single-engine aircraft.† I was sent to Walnut Ridge, Arkansas to learn to fly the BT-13, the Basic Trainer 13.† I think that was made by Volte Aircraft.† They check you out again with an instructor for about eight hours.† Then you start learning a little more advanced things.† First of all, this was twice as powerful an engine.† After you learned how to handle it, then we started to learn how to fly formation with more advanced acrobatics and night flying.† So you go through this training and more advanced ground school for the engines, weather, meteorology and so forth.†
SS:†††††† Were you learning instruments at all by this time?
CL:††††† Yes, there was some basic instrument flying. Also there was a lot of time spent in what we called the link trainer.† It was a little mini-aircraft on the ground that you sat in and you would fly certain patterns under this hood.† It would mark where you were going on a piece of paper to show how well you were doing what you were supposed to do.† So you learn those procedures.† You learned what to do in case of emergencies. If the engine is out, how are you going to handle it?† What do you do to try to start it up again? If you canít, how are you going to plan your landing in a safe place and get your sense of timing?† All of that was part of it.† Then, when you graduate from that school you choose whether you want to go on to single engine advanced training or multi-engine.† Iíd always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to fly the biggest.† That seemed to be a lot more appealing to me than to fly the fastest. So I signed up for that, and I got it.† So they sent me to Blytheville, Arkansas to the advanced training center, twin-engines.† The basic plane that we were assigned to fly, they had both AT-10s and AT-9s at the base. About half the bunch flew the AT-10s and the other AT-9s.† However, those of us who were training in the AT-9, for our instrument flying, we went to the AT-10s.† Iím not totally sure why.† It may have been because itís just a more stable airplane.†
SS:†††††† Were you already designated to be a pilot by this time?
CL:††††† I was selected for pilot training before I started Primary Flight Training.† You go through all these different steps and if you keep passing and advancing then at the end of this period you get your wings and youíre commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.† It was after this advanced training when that would happen.† We were in advanced training again, this was the first plane we had where you had landing gear you had to raise and put down.† Then you learn how to fly with one engine, how to turn the plane on one engine and this kind of stuff, and feather your props.† One day a cadet friend of mine, Philip Leathead, we would take turns so that an instructor wouldnít have to be with us all the time.† One day or half that period of flying, Iíd fly pilot and heíd fly co-pilot, and then weíd change seats.† So youíre still getting more experience while the other personís handling the plane.† We were out flying, I was in the pilotís seat flying formation, going out to the practice airfield where we were going to land in formation.† There was an instructor in the lead plane.† I was flying; I think it was right wing.† As we got ready to go in to land the first try, my wheels wouldnít come down.† I called the instructor and told him he said: ďwell, pull out of here and go call the tower and theyíll tell you what to do.Ē† So you have mechanical procedures you follow, how you can pump the gear down, if the hydraulics arenít working right and so on.† My co-pilot was sweating like crazy trying to get those down.† They wouldnít come down.† So we flew out to a certain area they sent us to and a Major, a former combat pilot, who was now an instructor and a check pilot down at the air base, joined us.† I forget, maybe 5,000 feet he pulled up underneath us, checking the landing gear, and they wouldnít come down.† They said: ďdive, try to pull up quickly and shake them down.Ē† We did all these things for about an hour and a half.† Nothing we did was working.† We would fly by the tower and let them look with the binoculars. No, the wheels were not down and locked.† Well, finally after weíd tried everything they said, ďYouíre going to have to land without your wheels, but before you do weíre going to have to call the base commander and get permission.Ē† We laughed.† What are you going to do about it?† The wheels are not coming down.† They said, ďNo, you can land, youíre going to run out of fuel pretty soon,Ē but the Base Commander had to okay it.† Anyway, we spent another twenty minutes while they got hold of the Base Commander and got his O.K. and came down and landed.† It fortunately turned out really great.† This airplane, the AT-9 was very tricky to land.† I almost washed out trying to get that down right.† It had a heavy wing loading.† It was a tail dragger.† As you came down you couldnít just stall it out as you did most tail draggers as you touched down.† You had to, just before touchdown, give it a little extra throttle to overcome that sudden drop off.† But if you gave it too much then youíre going to balloon out.† So itís learning how to coordinate how much, when, and at what altitude above the runway.† One day Iíd do that pretty good and the next day not so good.† I thought I was doing pretty well, but my instructor was really concerned about me.† So anyway, it worked out all right.† So when I came in and made that landing it just worked out so beautifully.† The fire department and ambulance and everything were there waiting.† We could hardly take our seat belts off and they were right up on the wing checking us out.† We went back to the base and they said: ďYouíve got to go to the hospital and get checked out.Ē† Neither of us were hurt or anything, we were perfect. ďYeah, but youíve got to do it.Ē† So they sent us to the hospital.† Our instructor, we both had the same instructor, he was out that day with some other cadet on some project.† Well, we finally were released from the hospital, went back to the front line and he was there.† He was just beaming all over about what a good job we had done, and said: ďIf youíve got any demerits up here, any stars against you Iím going to erase them,Ē and all this kind of stuff.† He told us that while we were in the hospital an AT-10 couldnít get its wheels down, and they had an instructor on board with a cadet.† So he came in with no wheels, and he was flying it instead of the cadet.† And when he came in to land it he ground looped.† So I felt real good being a cadet doing a better job than the instructor.† But my instructor was told by the other instructors that we had forgot to put our wheels down.† He was livid!† Until finally he got the truth and he was real thrilled.† Just one little sideline, I got an infection on the top of my foot.† I donít know where from, about the size of a nickel.† Looked like it could have been from a high octane burn or something but I donít remember anything doing that.† They decided to put me in the hospital.† Now I was almost through training and we were about ready to graduate, and Iím in the hospital.† Iím in there for two or three days and I donít know why.† Then my instructor shows up and asks how Iím doing.† ďIím fine.Ē† He said, ďWell, look.† You have to get out today so you can take your final night, cross-country flight tonight.† Otherwise you canít graduate with your class.Ē† So he went to talk to the big shots there and they let me go.† So we went out and flew from Blytheville, Arkansas to Kansas City, Missouri.† While we were there, he treated me to dinner that night.† We flew back to Blytheville and when we landed he said to me, ďWell, you have just taken the last flight by a Cadet, of this AT-9.† Theyíre grounding all of them now, and theyíre not going to use them any more.Ē† So I had the distinction [laughs] of flying the last training flight of the AT-9.† Then they went all to the AT-10s at that point.† The AT-10 was a much nicer plane to fly, a lot more stable.
SS:†††††† Was that your last flight, too, before qualifying to be a pilot?
CL:††††† That did it.† And so I graduated with my class, we got our wings.† I got the Second Lieutenant commission.† We had a couple weeks off for the first time since I had been called up.† And my friend that was with me in that belly landing, he came from Michigan and picked me up in Kentucky.† His folks had given him a 1941 Chevy convertible for graduation.† So he picked me up and now weíre going back to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, at the airfield there.† Thatís where we did what we call your ďtransition trainingĒ because thatís where you learn to fly your combat aircraft.† So we got there in July and had about three months of learning how to fly the B-24.†
SS:†††††† Was that assigned to you after you graduated, the B-24?
CL:††††† Yes, it could have been the B-17, it could have been something else, but thatís what happened.† I was just as glad.† I didnít mind the B-24. A lot of guys had a lot of stuff against the B-24. It wasnít quite as beautiful as the 17, this kind of stuff.† But I did have a chance to fly the B-17 once for an hour and a half, later on when Germany surrendered.† What I remember about it was that it handled in the air about the same, but just one take-off and one landing doesnít tell you too much that way.†
SS:†††††† Was that in 1944 now that you made it to Alabama to fly the B-24?
CL:††††† Yes.† That was Ď44.† The summer of Ď44.† And three months doing that, and when you finished that, then they sent you to your ďphase trainingĒ center.† Well, you may or may not do all your phase training there, but it happened I did.† They sent me to Westover Air Force base in Springfield, Mass.† We were assigned our crew- members, all the different guys on the crew.† And then some of the crews were sent to different training areas, but we stayed there to do our phase training.
SS:†††††† The whole crew?
CL:††††† The whole crew, where you practice doing things together as a crew.† In the meantime the pilot is getting more experience flying the B-24.† A lot of night flights, and the navigator had to learn how to do his celestial navigation at night.† The bombardier had to practice his bombing.† The gunners practiced their gunnery on the aircraft out over the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island.† They had a certain designated area where everyone was supposed to stay out of there.† Youíd go down, stay fairly low down over the water, and theyíd shoot at the white caps, just practicing the handling of their guns at that point.† One of my friends that I† had, I guess at basic training and then advanced training, he was out flying one day with his crew and never came back.† And we never heard what ever happened. We donít know.
SS:†††††† How did people react to things like that when accidents happened or you lost people in training?
CL:††††† It hits you, but youíve got to go on because youíre living in a situation where anything can happen and you know that.† Now some guys, if they let that get to them, then it messes up their effectiveness.† Somehow, probably with my background and my training, I was planning to go into the Ministry and the mission field actually, beforehand.† But I had always felt that if things didnít work out, O.K.† I wasnít afraid if I died.† I was confident of what things would be for me at that point.† I didnít want to, but if it did, it did, because that was part of the cost of being in the service and fighting for freedom.† You canít go through this kind of stuff without people losing their lives.† Now I personally just dealt with it.† I have read stories from other pilots who have been there and finished their missions, who talked about how they were in fear all the time.† Maybe if I had been shot up and that kind of stuff, more than I had, I might have, but I kind of doubt it.† I think it would have been the same.† When you come over the target area, and the anti-aircraft is shooting up at you, you keep going.† You know.†† Or if the fighters are attacking your formation, you know it could be fatal.† You see pictures of it.† They show you.† They tell you about it.† So its not that youíre shutting it out, but itís just the different ways different people dealt with it.
SS:†††††† Right.† Did you get a sense of how people on your crew were dealing with it?
CL:††††† We had limited experience over there, but in the short time we were there, if any of them were going through a lot of difficulty and fear so that it was impacting on the way they functioned, I didnít see it.
SS:†††††† Even in training, you didnít see it?
SS:†††††† Now even by this time, you were the pilot, so you were in charge, right?
CL:††††† Youíre the plane commander as pilot.
SS:†††††† What made up a crew on the B-24?
CL:††††† We had ten crew members, you had the pilot and co-pilot.† Then you have the navigator, the bombardier, the nose gunner, the top turret gunner.† You have the belly gunner, you have a waist gunner, you have the tail gunner, and you have a radio operator. He usually didnít man the guns, but I would assume that in a real difficult situation where you had a lot of enemy fighters coming at you, that he could join the waist gunner and take one side of the plane in the back, instead of the one gunner going back and forth from one side of the plane to the other.† My engineer was the top turret gunner.† So when you got into that sort of a situation heíd be in the top turret.†
SS:†††††† How many of them were officers?
CL:††††† Four Commissioned officers: the bombardier, navigator, co-pilot, and myself, and the rest were enlisted personnel.
SS:†††††† Then you guys would stay together during the rest of training?
CL:††††† We went through the training at Westover together and went overseas together.† Before we went overseas, we were sent to Mitchell Air Force Base on Long Island, which I think later became Roosevelt Field.† While we were there waiting, I found out that my engineer, who was an enlisted man, a sargent crew chief, and some of the other enlisted men got together, unknown to me, and they worked out a swap with a nose gunner on my crew for another nose gunner.† They just didnít like his attitude somehow, but nobody ever told me.† Now they just came back and told me Base Operations had taken him to go out with another crew.† Then they were giving us another one.† So thatís what happened there, but weíve lost track of him.† I donít know where he is.†
SS:†††††† How did he work out, all of a sudden taking over for another guy?
CL:††††† He was okay.† Another interesting factor is that when we got overseas and were getting ready to go on this mission.† When we ended up in Sweden, that nose gunner had a cold or a sinus problem.† They scratched him from that mission and gave me a substitute nose gunner.† And that was his first time with us, and he ends up in Sweden.† He ended up with a cut on the top of his head, but nothing serious.†
SS:†††††† How did it feel to get those orders to go overseas?
CL:††††† Well thatís what we were aiming for all the time, to get in and do the job.† So you feel like you are finally graduating.† You are ready to go up and do it to help out.†
SS: ††††† And where did you guys get orders to go to?
CL:††††† We were sent to England and flown over there by another airplane and crew, and landed at Prestwick, Scotland.† Then we went by train from there down to Attle Bridge Air Force Base, north west of Norwich.† It was the base where the 466th Bomb Group was stationed.
SS: ††††† And that was where you were finally assigned?
CL:††††† Yes.† That was where we were assigned.† That was it.†††
SS:†††††† What was the time frame?† What year was this now?
CL:††††† We arrived in England at this air base on March 15th in 1945.† The winter in our phase training we spent at Westover.† That training span was supposed to be three months.† It ended up being five months, because of the real bad winter we had in 44í and 45.í† A lot of flights were cancelled and delayed.† They kept delaying everything.† Finally, they took fifteen bomb crews and sent them down to Havana, Cuba in late January, just so we get in hours of flying.† Weíd done all the required training stuff, but we didnít have enough hours yet.† So we went down there and just flew around for a week to get the hours we needed.† Then we went back up and we were ready to be shipped out.†
SS:†††††† All this time, were you keeping track of the events of the war and how things were going?
CL:†††† Oh yes, sure.† We were just seeing how it was going and cheering them on.† Pattonís army was in Europe at the time and going and going.† I remember reading about the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.† I have met a bunch of guys that were involved with that since that time.† That was a pretty tough time, but we came back and made it.† Iíve heard people talk about what it was like to be on the ground, some of our guys, when our big formations would fly over on their way to targets.† Some of those larger formations where you had six hundred or seven hundred or even a thousand bombers, if you are on the ground and you are watching a thousand bombers coming over you, it might take an hour for them to all get by there.†
[pause for tape change]
SS:†††††† Well, pretty much, we were at the point where you had gone to Cuba and had gotten your orders to go overseas.
CL:††††† Yes, at Attle Bridge.† We had two weeks of pre-combat training.† A lot of it was ground work, but we did some flying.† The biggest challenge, I felt, was when you took off from your air base in England, there were so many other air bases around that you could very easily go to the wrong one if you were just trying to do it visually.† So I learned very quickly that I had better tune in on my radio frequency to the home air base and use that to make sure Iím going to the right place.† So we had about two weeks of that final preparation, a lot of lectures, movies, what to do in case you have ditch in the North Sea, and a lot of those kinds of things.
SS:†††††† Were there a lot of planes there at that base?
CL:††††† A lot of planes, yes.† This 466th Bomb Group had four squadrons.† Each wing usually had somewhere around sixteen airplanes at full strength.† So that give you an idea of what a whole group would consist of and thatís if you had all the planes.† Sometimes some of them would be shot up or lost and you wouldnít have them all on hand.† There might be twelve and the challenge of the ground crew all the time was to repair and fix, not just the mechanical problems with engines and pumps, but battle damage and that type of thing.† And they did it, a beautiful job.
SS:†††††† Did you guys get along well with the ground crews?
CL: †††† Yes.† We didnít have a lot of dealing with them, because I wasnít there that long.† But still, you depended on them very heavily.† What Iíve heard about and read about, was that when you had been there for 25 or more missions and you had the same ground crew assigned to you, you developed a very good bond there.
SS:†††††† So what were the conditions like on the base at that time?
CL:††††† Quonset Huts and coal heaters, if you had enough coal to keep it warm enough.† We were coming through the worst part of the winter.† At the end of March it was getting better but there was a lot of rain and muddy roads.† It was relatively a primitive type of living, not as bad as the guys in Italy had where they had to live in tents and things.† We were able to benefit from the advances that the British had made, culturally and other ways versus a lot of the locations in Italy.† Of course the British people had been involved for a long time already and they had a pretty good idea of what was needed and not needed.† There was good cooperation with the British Air Force.†
SS:†††††† How long did it take before you went on your first mission?
CL:††††† Two weeks.
SS:†††††† Oh.† Right after that two week period?
CL:††††† Yes.† I was assigned a plane, our crew was.† It was an old plane.† It was pretty well battle scared, but that was the plane they assigned us to.† Our target was to be a German battle cruiser in the harbor at Copenhagen, Denmark.† We took off with a maximum load that day of eight one-thousand pound bombs, full fuel, full ammunition, and full crew.† This was my first try with everything loaded that heavy.† In all of our training, we never had maximum weight.† We never had eight thousand pounds of bombs.† The runways were pretty short, but as I taxied out in order to follow the plane I was assigned to follow out, everybody ahead of me was getting off the runway.† I said if their doing it, I can do it.† You had to stop at the end of the runway and set the brakes.† You rev up the engines full throttle, as far as theyíll go, and when you feel theyíre really going, then you release the brakes.† And you start rolling down.† Hopefully before the end of the runway, you get air speed enough so you can get off the ground.† Then you keep it low till you build up more air speed and you go out and meet the first group in the formation, a group of three or four.† Then you take your position.† You find them at a certain altitude and take your assigned position with them, and go and join another two groups of four at a different altitude and location.† Then they go up to a higher altitude and find the other group.† This is how you assemble all these planes.† You go to different altitudes for each stage of it.† They call it staging.† On this occasion, my first time, we got up to about 3000 feet and even before we got into formation† my number three engine quit.† With a maximum bomb load, we were really sweating it out keeping our altitude and aborted our mission.† So I called the tower and got permission to go over the North Atlantic and drop the bombs.† We didnít really quite get all the way out to the designated area.† We were having trouble keeping our altitude, so we just dropped them and headed back to the air base.† My co-pilot and I, as we lined up on the runway approaching the landing, both of us had to use all our physical strength to keep that plane lined up with the runway.† Now with the inside engines out it is easier to steer and control the airplane than if itís one of the outboard engines.†† We still had a hard time, but we managed.† Two days later, we were assigned a mission to go to Denmark.†
SS:† †††† Was that on the same mission?
CL:††††† To go to Denmark, not Sweden.†
SS:†††††† Was that on the same plane?
CL:††††† No.† Different plane.† This one was a little newer, but it had seen quite a bit of action, but not as old as the first one.†
SS:† †††† Whatís a typical day like when you go on one of these missions?
CL:††††† Okay.† They wake you up very early in the morning, and it depends, sometimes they might get up at three or four in the morning.† But in this case we were up at about five oíclock and got dressed and went to the mess hall, got our meals, then you go out to the flight area and go to the briefing room.† The officers would go to one area and the enlisted men to another area.† Theyíd show you the target and what you might expect or not expect and where emergency landing fields might be if you needed them.† You get your position behind other planes where you were lining up to taxi for the take off and this kind of stuff.† That day the weather was so bad that they kept postponing it and postponing it until finally they called it all off together about lunchtime.† We had just finished lunch and over the PA we heard: ďall you guys get back here.Ē† I didnít know if all my crewmembers heard that because the enlisted men ate in a separate mess hall.† We got out there and all the guys were there except my co-pilot.† Iím wondering what am I going to do now.† I maybe could fly this thing by myself, but I shouldnít.† I was about ready to call the tower.† We had about two minutes to go to get in line.† And he shows up.† We were buckling up and checking stuff out and we finally got out on the taxi strip and made it.† I had him take the controls soon after we got off the ground and we were on our way to assembling.† He took the controls for a little bit while I had a prayer over the intercom.† I had decided Iíd like to do that and nobody on the crew objected.† We didnít have any Jewish crew members, the majority was Catholic, but they didnít care so we had the prayer.† Then I took the controls again and we went on through the whole thing.†
SS:† †††† Then what was your designated target for that day?
CL:††††† The designated target in Denmark was German fighter planes and fighter fields.† The Germans had occupied Denmark and had made bases out of these fields so they could attack our planes.†
SS:† †††† How was that going to Denmark?† Did you form up this time?
CL:††††† Yes.† We had, I donít know the exact number, but a large number of bombers on this mission.† I think at least a couple of bomb groups on it, if not more.† It covered quite an area and it took a long time for us to get together and we are out there assembling that.† When we got to the target area about three and a half hours later, they aborted the mission.† They called it back, because the weather had not cleared out of the way.† They wouldnít let us bomb through the clouds.† The target area and our bombing techniques were not sophisticated then, and being over an Allied country, we didnít want to take a chance of injuring the civilians.† Today you could do it, but not then.†
SS:†††††† And how long did it take you to get to the target?
CL:††††† I know it was at least three hours.† It was probably four hours counting the staging, the formation, and getting to altitude.† The distance was around three.† We left around one oíclock, took off about one.† And we were probably over that area, nearing the target area at five.†† Then I had the engine out, and got permission to head to Sweden, that was an hour flight to southern Sweden, then maybe a half hour flying further.
SS:†††††† So the engine went out after the mission was aborted?
CL: †††† Just as we were aborting it as a formation.† That went out.† Just before I landed in Sweden, the second engine went out.†
SS: ††††† What was that like for yourself and the crew when that happened, when you lost that first engine?†
CL:††††† Well, we initially figured we could make it back to our base in England.† The plane was doing well anyway.† We were holding our own.††
SS:†††††† Was this an inside engine or an outside engine?
CL:††††† This was the outside number one engine, the left outboard engine.† But it trimmed up good, and after we dropped our bombs in the North Sea, the other planes still had their bombs. They still had their heavier loads, so we were able to keep up.† I would say I donít know how long we could have, but at least initially, we were keeping our position in formation.†
SS:†††††† Did you come across any enemy flak or fighters?
CL:††††† No.† At one point our escort fighters, P-51ís, we could see them way off in the distance.† All of a sudden we saw them take off all across in front of us, real fast like they were chasing somebody.† But I never heard one way or the other.† They had nothing on the radio.† At that stage of the fighting they were a little bit more free to talk over the radio than they had been earlier, because the Germans had been pretty well whipped anyway.† Their air force had lost a lot of its punch.† By flying over the North Sea the whole time, we avoided a lot of the anti-aircraft.†
SS:†††††† So how did the flight proceed then, once you lost your first engine?
CL:††††† When I got permission to go to Sweden, because we had an extra crew member on board -not a regular crew member- he had been with other crews and had trouble with air plane crashes and getting shot up really bad, he began getting pretty psychotic at that stage of things.† He didnít have any reason to except we had that trip over the North Sea.† He was threatening to bail out over the North Sea with a one-man life raft and just leave the plane.† Of course that would have been deadly for him.† He would have landed in the North Sea on April 2nd, so my crew members in the back were getting really uptight about his behavior and what he was talking about doing.† So I called the flight commander and told him.† Right about that time, my second engine, the number two engine, the second inboard engine on the same side lost oil pressure and then quit.† The combination of those two things, I felt rather than flying two or three hours over the North Sea and heading back to England, it would be better to head to Sweden.† It was a very difficult decision, because it was my first mission and I was a little concerned about what people would think.† And then after all, I was there to fight the war, not get out of it.† But I felt it was the best thing to do, and it turned out it was, because we ended up crashing with two engines out.† The second engine didnít quit right away.† We still had it working with the loss of oil pressure until we were over Sweden and about to land, just a little while before that the second engine stopped.† We had to feather the second engine.†
SS:†††††† But you got permission from the flight commander?
CL:††††† To head for Sweden, yes.†
SS: ††††† Now why Sweden.† What was your thinking there?
CL:††††† Well, Sweden was a neutral country.† It was the only relatively safe place to head for in that whole area.† You had Norway occupied by Germany.† Denmark was occupied by Germany.† Poland had the German occupied area there and on the other side, Finland was occupied by Russia, so Sweden was the only place.† When you were in southern Europe on missions, people would go to Switzerland when in trouble, because that was a neutral country.† But they had a lot of stories about crew members heading for these neutral countries just to get out of combat.† In fact the Discovery Channel on TV has played up some stuff on that.† I think way out of balance.† I think they hurt a lot of innocent airman and crew members by implying that just about everybody that went to Sweden or Switzerland were chickens and trying to get out of combat.† It wasnít true.† Iíve met a lot of those guys, since then too, and I would say none of them really knew anybody who came there under those circumstances.† Nobody is saying that it didnít happen, but it didnít happen the way it was portrayed.†
SS:†††††† It didnít seem to be the case in your flight.
CL:††††† It certainly wasnít.
SS:†††††† You lost an engine and were on the verge of losing another engine.† What was the condition of that other crewman that was getting really upset at the time?
CL:††††† I didnít have a chance to see him or talk to him at that point, because I was just too busy trying to keep the plane going.† But he seemed to settle down as soon as we started to head for Sweden.†
SS:†††††† What was his job by the way?
CL:††††† He was a spare gunner and was going to man one of the waist guns if needed.† The airfield that we were looking for, for the emergency landing was in southern Sweden, Malmo, Sweden.† The navigator did a good job.† We had cloud cover the whole time, and I flew the B24 down from 18,000 feet to 1000 feet before we broke out of the clouds.† [pause for tape change]††††
SS: ††††† Sorry to interrupt.† I just had to change the tape.† So you were talking about just coming down through the clouds.
CL:††††† Yes.† We broke out at 1000 feet.† I wasnít going to go any lower, because I didnít know for certain what was there.† If we were where we wanted to be, it would have been farm-land, but we didnít know for sure.† I told the crew we would go down to that altitude, then if we didnít break out, I was going to go up and we would just bail out at that point and take our chances.† Well, we broke out of the clouds then.† We were about ready to land after a little while at a small airfield we could see, which was used by gliders.† It was on the west coast of Sweden.† We followed a radio signal up to that point, and that was the only thing that was there.† We said we better do it.† We were getting low on fuel.† I was on the approach for the landing with my wheels down when a Swedish fighter plane zoomed up in front of us and wagged his wings to follow him.† So we pulled up and went along with him.† Now we didnít know what the Swedish insignia was.† It was a blue circle with three yellow crowns.† We knew that wasnít German.† So we said maybe itís Danish or Norwegian that the Germans are using.† We were taking it very cautiously.† I said to the crew: ďdonít shoot first, if they start shooting, then you shoot.Ē† This pilot of the fighter came up along my wing, then he gave me the wave.† Now I said okay, thatís great.† He headed us in the direction he wanted us to go, and shortly another fighter joined us on the other side.† They took us over Gothburg to Save` where they had their fighter base and showed us the airfield to land on.† He buzzed the runway, because we had no radio contact, and if we did, they didnít speak English and we didnít speak Swedish.† He showed me which one to land on, and I started a landing pattern when the second engine quit.† The only way I might have been able to make it was to land down wind on this real short runway.† I just felt with it being built out of the hills and rocks all around that it would be pretty tricky to try and get in there down wind.† So I chose not to do that but to try and find another place.† All we saw were hills all around us.† The airplane kept turning to the left with all the power on the right.† I couldnít straighten it out.† I knew it was stupid to circle over hills right there.† It kept turning about three quarters of a turn to the left, then it started going straight.† We didnít do anything differently and now finally we were going straight.† All the time we were losing altitude.† When we got down preparing to land, but before that, I asked the crew to take their emergency landing positions, just in case.† They didnít know that I wasnít landing at the airfield.† I wanted them to do it in case the breaks failed or whatever.† We were losing altitude even though we were finally going straight and all we could see were these hills around us.† Iím flying as slow as I can in order to stay up as long as I can.† But Iím just above stalling speed in order to stay over these hills.† Finally we were about down and the co-pilot was looking down at the hills and said: ďthis is it.Ē† I wasnít sure. †I knew one thing was that I wasnít going to go head on into it.† I would land belly on it.† As we got to the hill the left wing, which was hanging low, lifted up and went over that step that was on the hill and the landing gear went over the lower step.† Then right in front of me was this farm field.† I never had seen it before and didnít know it was there.† We had maybe 100 feet of altitude to try and get better control of the plane.† The co-pilot cut the engines on the other side.† I dipped the nose a little bit, just about long enough to dip it and get maybe about five miles an hour more speed, and I had to pull it up again to come in for the landing.† When we came down the left wing tip and left landing gear hit first, because that wing started to droop again.† We bounced up and then we started to spin, because the left wing tip had hit.† The engine power having been on that other side, when we came up the airplane just spun around to the left about three quarters of a spin.† It came down, and we went through two stone fences and came to a rest.† When we stopped sliding, I opened my eyes at that point and the cockpit window just blew right out!† Poof, just like that.† I looked out and the left wing was on fire.† The co-pilot was shaking his head.† He bumped it, but he was okay.† He was going out his side, and I started out my side.† I saw my engineer/radio operator going out behind me, but there was no exit there.† Never the less they were getting out of there, stumbling out of there like a giant shoved them right through the wall.† My parachute harness got caught on the landing gear.† I finally got loose and thought Iím not going to try that again, Iíll go out the way the co-pilot did.† As I went out there and slid the ground, I heard crew members counting, and I was number ten.† That meant there was one man still on board, that extra person we had on board made 11 men.† While Iím taking off my parachute and my Mae West life jacket, I figured someone had to get in there and find him before this thing blows up.† Two or three of them went back in and found our tail gunner unconscious in the back and dragged him out.† We all got far enough away so if the plane blew up, we would be at a safe distance.† He was unconscious and pretty much stayed unconscious till the ambulance came.† The Swedish fighters had sent their fire fighters, fire engines, and ambulances out there.† By the time the fire trucks had got there, the fire had gone out by itself.† That was good.† The ambulances took three of the guys to the hospital.† My belly gunner had a cut over his right eyebrow.† The nose gunner had a cut on the top of his head.† My tail gunner had been knocked out.† They found out that he had a broken shoulder bone.† That was it.† They had those three in the hospital for a couple of weeks just in case.† They took us into the Swedish air force base at Save` and checked us out.† Then the next day I went out and gathered up our shoes and other kinds of personal belongings that I could find in the rubble.† The day after that they shipped us up by train to Falun, Sweden, which was our area of internment.† We were staying in tourist homes.† They said donít leave here except during the day.† Donít go for more than twelve miles away from here.† But they had no guards or anything at this stage of things.† Earlier on in the war, the first guys that were interned there were in stockades for two or three weeks maybe.† But then they gradually changed that, relaxing with us.
SS:†††††† So even earlier in the war, they would hold men there for a while then ship them back to England?
CL: †††† Well, ďofficiallyĒ they wouldnít ship them.† What happened was after guys had been there maybe six months, some up to a year, they would work it out so they would send in B-24ís around Norway.† They would come in to Sweden from the north and then send them back up around Norway to England.† Now if you do that, those guys were not supposed to enter combat again.† I heard one case where it happened anyway.†† Most of the guys would be given other jobs to do or sent back to the states or to the Pacific.†
SS:†††††† Okay.† So what was your feeling after you guys crash landed and were now in Sweden?
CL:††††† I guess in a way there was a sense of relief that we wouldnít be facing anti-aircraft fire or enemy fighter fire.† It wasnít quite as difficult as it might have been earlier in the war, because we knew that Germany was about done.† They surrendered about five weeks later.† This was the 2nd of April, 1945 that we landed there and they surrendered mid May.† Then they picked a skeleton crew from us.† We had the engineer/radio operator, pilot, co-pilot, and navigator.† They asked us to fly some of the repaired B24ís to England, now that Germany had surrendered.† So we made two flights of those, and then they gave us orders to stay there. †Then we came home.†
SS: ††††† So you were in Sweden then that whole time?
SS:†††††† Oh.† Okay.† Then you wound up flying these B-24s back to England?
CL:††††† Yes.† Then we got some fresh parachutes after the first flight.† When they took the parachutes that we took with us, that had been in Sweden during the time that those airplanes had been interned, some of them were stuck together.† Some of them had slits in their canopy.† We were glad that none of us had to try to use one!† So we got some fresh one to take back with us.†
SS:†††††† What was it like in Sweden?
CL:††††† Itís a nice country.† I had a chance to take a couple of trips down to Stockholm from Falun to see the military attache down there to give reports and things.† Also to Vesterous, there we met at the airfield to fly these repaired bombers back to England.† People were very good and kind to us.† It was a little difficult, because relatively few Swedes spoke English.† When I went back to the reunion of the air force personnel who had lived there, interned, in the war in 1987, many more Swedes spoke English.† They were teaching it in all the schools.† It was easier to get around.† People asked: ďwhy are you doing this?Ē† They paid for us to be there for a week.† We had to pay transportation, but other than that they covered nearly all expenses.† I asked why they did it.† They said they never had a chance to thank the Americans.† Germany surrendered and everybody disappeared.† A lot of them were already gone by now.† So they never had a chance to thank the Americans for saving their hides from Hitler.† That was it!
SS:†††††† Thatís great.
CL:††††† So they treated us very well for that week.
SS: ††††† But it wasnít until Germany surrendered that you got shipped back to England?
CL:††††† Thatís right.† There were guys that all during the war, probably about a thousand airmen interned there, around 100 bombers during the whole course of fighting.† When I was there towards the end, there was only about 100 Americans around.† That means about 900 had been shipped back one way or the other.†
SS:†††††† How was that like that once Germany had surrendered and you knew that part of the war was over?
CL: †††† It was a big relief.† We were looking forward to getting home and also anticipated weíd be going to the Pacific and joining the fighting against Japan at that point.† They gave us all a classification of ďprisoners of war,Ē the internees.† American and international law put you in that same category.† We felt a little guilty about it, at least I did, because we had not been mistreated the way the prisoners of war had been in Germany or Japan.† But we had been held against our will.† Anyway, they put us in with escapees, internees, and POWís.† We were lumped in that category.† We came back on a Liberty Ship, a ten-day trip over the ocean to home.† They gave us a sixty day furlowe, everybody.† As that time was nearing the end, they sent us a thirty-day extension.† Then Japan surrendered.† I was ordered to go to San Antonio, to the airbase there and report for classification for discharge.† I had just gotten there when we saw a list go up on the board that said if anybody wanted to take a train to North Carolina, you could be discharged within three days but if you stayed there in San Antonio, it might be six weeks.† So I signed up for that and went to Charleston and was discharged from Greensborough.† In the mean time, I had gotten married when I got back from England.†
SS: ††††† Okay.† Had you heard about the atomic bomb in Japan?
CL:††††† Oh yes.† But most of that was when we were back in the States then, while we were on furlowe.†
SS: ††††† How did that feel?
CL:††††† A big relief, to know the war was over and that things could be getting back to normal and you could get on with your life.† So I went on to finish college.
SS:†††††† This was after the war now that you went to college?
CL:††††† Yes.† I started in January of 1946.
SS:†††††† Did you use the GI Bill?
CL:††††† Yes.† You bet.† It was a good thing, a big help.† I finished college, at Asbury College in Willmore, Kentucky.† I got my AB Degree and started my seminary work at Asbury Seminary.† I had one year there and then went to Hartford, CT to the Hartford Seminary Foundation where I finished my theological degree and joined the New York East Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and I served churches and the conference since then till I retired in 1987.† Now Iím serving interim churches almost ever since.† Itís been twelve and a half years and Iím enjoying it.†
SS:†††††† Did you ever fly again?
CL:††††† I have flown on and off.† Many years went by without flying.† Itís pretty costly to do that, and so that was the main reason.† I started to fly again in 1990 and 1991.† I did quite a bit of flying and then we moved to Florida for four years.† While I was down there, I didnít really pursue it too much, although a friend of mine had a plane.† I went up with him a couple of times just to try some acrobatics.† Then I came back up here, and in August a year ago, my twin granddaughters on their 7th birthday, I took them up to Oxford Airport and took them for an airplane ride.† I had done that a little earlier with some of the older grandchildren too.† That was the last time Iíve done it.†
SS:†††††† Did you fly yourself or was there someone with you?
CL:††††† I had an instructor with me, because I wasnít certified, but I did all of the flying.† My medical had lapsed and I didnít redo it, because what was the point of paying the money for the physical and Iím not going to have the money to fly anyway?† But every time that the All American, the B-24 bomber and the ďNine O NineĒ††† B-17 bomber come to Connecticut, Iím usually there.† Earlier when I was living in Shelton, I would go to meet them down in Bridgeport, but since Iíve been up around here, I either go up to Oxford or up to Danbury and spend a few days with them.† I enjoy telling people about it and answering questions.†
SS: ††††† Does it feel good to look back at the plane that you flew during the war?
CL:††††† Yes.† You develop a very sentimental attachment to those.† I donít care who it was and what airplane they flew.† It was such a major part of your life.
SS:†††††† How would you assess your experience during the war?
CL:††††† First of all, I was able to work at doing something that was my part, even though it turned out that I didnít do much.† But I was doing the training and deployed and on a mission anyway.† I had a big sense of accomplishment that all of us in America were together working, whether it was manufacturing or shipping or maintenance or supply or flying or whatever.† It was tremendous teamwork all over the country.† The B-24 plant in Detroit, in Willow Run, was built in record time.† Henry Ford was given authorization to build B-24ís.† He applied the mass production procedures he had been using for automobiles.† At their peak in Willow Run, they were putting out, every 55 minutes, one new B-24.† No other place did that much.† Most places it might be four or five a day at best, but he was doing it one every hour, actually less than an hour.† There are video-tapes that show the whole process.† In fact I happen to have one.† The team work, the planning that went into just that kind of thing and getting all their parts from where they needed them, and then they had to assemble them in subassemblies in different places.† Then they had to bring all the subassemblies together is how they could do that.† It was a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and I felt it personally.† It gave me a lot of self-confidence to know that I could get into this area of flying and to accomplish it and not wash out.† To get my wings and my commission and to be a bomber crew commander and to do the things that we were expected to do.† A lot of guys werenít able to do it for different reasons, sometimes just a physical reason, eyesight, or heart, or some other kind of thing.† Others who were physically able for some reason, whether it was coordination or just some wish of a mamby-pamby instructor, because they werenít all perfect either.† So if they were having a bad day, they could take it out on you.† So to accomplish all of that was very uplifting for me as a person, and it gave me a lot of self-confidence.† I appreciated that.††
SS:†††††† How do you think the war is portrayed today?
CL:††††† For the most part those who have any awareness of it, of course a lot of us who were living then are gone now.† I remember it as a great national effort and accomplishment.† I notice that in the Waterbury American newspaper that every day there is a minimum of one to five or six veterans who die.† They show it by putting an American flag by their obituary.† You can just take a quick glance and see.† I saw a figure just recently there was 40,000 that died in a span of time.† I donít know if this were a week or a month.† I know it wasnít a year, veterans of WWII who were dying that frequently.† You see that happening.† Iíve lost two of my crew members, one to a heart attack, the other had Parkinsonís.† One fellow I have lost track of and never found him.† The rest of us are feeling the affects of aging, one way or the other.† A couple of my crew members wives have died.† I feel that we did the right thing.† It was a just cause, and it made me very proud of this country in what we were able to do and accomplish.† Everybody pitched in.† There were always peace-nicks, protestors, and pacifists, but they were such a minority then that it didnít matter.† I could have gotten out as a pre-ministerial student and not have to go, but I didnít feel right about it.†
SS:†††††† Do you think today people understand what your generation had to go through?
CL: †††† No.† No I donít.† I think those who lived through it do pretty well, but I think that my kids and grand kids generations really, probably the majority of them, donít have any idea of what it is or what it was like.†
SS:†††††† Why do you think that is so?
CL:††††† Well it hasnít been presented to them.† They havenít been given the chance to learn.† Many had no interest.† It was ďoldĒ history.† A lot of the guys in my age group who are veterans wouldnít talk about it.† They had very bad experiences.† Iíve run into a couple of them myself, so itís just easier to forget it, because if you bring it up and start reliving it again, you canít sleep or anything else.† Since Tom Brokaw wrote his book, The Greatest Generation, a lot more people have begun to talk about it than was true before.† I think that book did a great service to that generation, but I think our parents were the ones who trained us.† They need to have a lot more credit.† We didnít do as good a job with our kids as our parents did with us.†
SS:†††††† So what do you think the legacy of World War II will be then?
CL:††††† Well if people take the time to read about it and learn about it, I think the legacy is the courage and determination to do everything that you had to do in order to accomplish it and to work together.† The military strategies and those procedures have all changed anyway.† With new technology, you donít see an enemy plane in your sights and shoot .50 caliber machine guns at him.† You pick him up on your radar and let your rocket go.† The formation flying is out the window, except maybe fighter planes in small formations.† You send up a B-52 bomber and they drop their guided missles from thirty miles away.† They carry a lot more munitions than we did, and they can do a lot more damage.† Even the A-6 Intruder, a Navy fighter attack plane, they carry more bombs than our B-24 did.† With the jet engines you are able to do that, because you have more power.† The technology is the thing that is changing it.† That whole scenario will never be the same.† Thatís why I want to give you a copy of that paper I got about all the different elements that were involved in the war, of building the factories and getting your machine tools, getting workers and training them, producing all the different things that you needed to produce.† Not just airplanes, but tanks, trucks, jeeps, munitions, and all the support stuff, and the medical personnel you needed and their equipment and then getting them places and keeping them supplied was just an amazing job.† People havenít the foggiest idea, and I didnít and I lived though it till I read this compilation this man had put together.† It just made me even more appreciative.† This nation has the ability to do so many things if weíll really work together on it, and I think it takes a crisis to do it.† Otherwise everyone has their own ideas and their own agenda and they think that they are right and everybody else is wrong.†
SS:†††††† I guess the last thing that I would ask you then: is there anything else that you would like to add to the story?
CL:††††† Probably not to that.† Just a P.S.† Iíve been in the ministry of the United Methodist Church since then and retired in 1987, but after the first one and a half years, Iíve been serving churches as interim pastor since then.† I enjoy it and I love it.† People seem to appreciate what I am doing, and I feel that is a lot more satisfying than sitting around reading all the time, and I do a lot of reading.† Just twiddling my thumbs or playing golf or fishing or anything else all the time is all just totally self-serving.†
SS:†††††† Well I certainly appreciate the time that you spent with me and Iím glad to have talked to you.†
CL:††††† Iím glad to do it.†
SS:†††††† I really appreciate the time.† Thank you very much.
CL:††††† Youíre welcome.†
[end of tape]†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††† ††††