This story, written by Vance McDonald, was submitted to
Ray Thompson, Bataan survivor, through Stanly Tokarz,
another Bataan survivor. He obtained permission from
McDonald's family to post this

 

To avoid being drafted, I had signed up for Air Crew Training which allowed me to enter the University of Washington as a freshman in the Fall of 1942. The call came to report April 1, 1943. Many other lads had done the same thing and were called at the same time. A trainload of "U of Dub" students were deposited at Kearns, Utah (Southwest of Salt Lake City) on or about April 4th for "boot camp". I particularly remember the day at the rifle range. With the allotted ten shots from
the prone position. I managed three bull's eyes and seven shots missing the target altogether.

The next stop in the "holding pattern" while waiting for crew training schools to open, was ashington State College in Pullman, Washington (located in the Southeast corner of the state). We were exposed to eighth grade Geography, English, and Arithmetic, as well as very decent food.

05-04-43 Letter:

For breakfast I enjoyed hot and cold cereal, 2 glasses of milk, 2 biscuits, 2 slices of bread with butter and jam, 3 slices of bacon and an orange.

05-22-43 Letter:

Lads over 6 feet tall and over 180 pounds would not be eligible for further flight training.

05-27-43 Letter:

Henry J. Kaiser is to be the Commencement speaker for the W.S.C. graduation. To fill the auditorium, all cadets were ordered to attend.

About the first of September, a transfer was made to the next "holding pattern" base in Santa Anna, California. Somewhere in this time period, the decision was made to become a navigator.

09-12-43 Letter:

Bought a pipe, since the stem is necessary to point out positions on the map. To get money's worth from pipe, bought some pipe tobacco.

Finally, in October pre-flight school at Ellington Field outside of Houston, Texas. In November or December, great news! Rather than San Marcos, Texas for Navigator school,
I got to stay at Ellington Field (Houston is a great leave town).

01-24-14 Letter:

Gave my regards to Texas on our last training flight when our plane dropped from 3,000 feet to 1,000 feet then back up to 2,000 feet in less than 30 seconds. I stood that okay, but then the air got so rough that even the pilot got woozy, and so yours truly gave his regards to Texas. Don't care much for the Texas braggarts - they are all for the draft. After all, somebody has to help Texas win
the war. For a rebuttal we tell them we can hardly wait to get back to the states. April 4th, 1944 was " graduation day" and orders to report to Plant Park, Florida. I was assigned to Warren Newhouse's crew.

06-26-14 Letter:

Warren and Bray (co-pilot) are making plans to move their families home. I was certainly lucky (to get a leave) as most of the other navigators haven't had leaves and don't expect to get them before going overseas.

07-08-44 Letter:

Boy we have really been flying this week. Using Tampa as Rome, Columbus, Ohio as Berlin and Memphis as an airfield in France, we did some "shuttle" bombing staying overnight in St. Louis. We fly in B-17's, which are Boeing 4 motored heavy bombers. Not a bad ship at all. Its record in combat is good.

Sometime in July, I got leave and "Hitch-flighted" (sic) across the country in Air Corps planes. I think the route was Tampa to Washington, D.C. to Dayton, Ohio (that one on a B-25), to Roswell, New Mexico (on a B-24), to Ogden, Utah to Walla Walla, Washington and then bus to Seattle.
Got back to Tampa via commercial airliner.

After a month in Tampa, received orders to get to Langley Field for Radar training. Newhouse's crew got another Navigator and headed overseas. And I got another leave! Fond relatives financed the second trip from Florida to Washington state. Two leaves in one Summer from Florida! I was well traveled.

10-20-44 Letter:

We stayed in Newfoundland about three days. It is one of my desires to stay out of poker games, but because there wasn't much to do, J. R., Charlie, Susko, and myself played. I lost a dollar.

We landed at Marrakech, which is Southeast of Casablanca, and saw Italian prisoners used as orderlies, truck drivers, and etc. The prisoners are paid $2.00 a day. We also saw Arabs dressed mostly in shapeless rags.

We came in contact with French money at this point. 2 cents is worth one franc. The bigger the bill the more pictures you get. A 5 franc hasn't much of anything on it. A 50 franc bill's about 5 times as big and upon it is pictured a man and wife with their child and an orchard thrown in for good measure. Much of the French money is printed in Philadelphia.

We saw one curious thing when coming back from the P.X. in Marrakech. A fairly beat up oxcart hitched to a mule with some dried up native driving it. Seated at his left was a big pompous man all decked out in a white well-fitted uniform with plenty of gold braid and brass buttons. He also wore a brilliant red fez. A beautifully kept beard and very important facial expression completed the picture. He was saluting all the American officers and we thought he might be some general in the native army. No, he was just an auxiliary policemen.

I haven't told you much about the crew. Paul Brenneman is 32, been married 7 years and has done about everything. He is the Engineer.

Vince Manzella is the Assistant Engineer and gets along swell with the Italian prisoners. He can speak Italian almost better than English. Incidentally, why the Italian prisoners are paid $2.00 a day beats me. They won't do that to the Germans, and some of the Gunners on the crew aren't making that much.

Berger is the Radio man and comes from Philly. He is the youngest at 18.

Binder is the Tailgunner and big boy of our crew. He weighs in at 185 lbs. and is well over 6 feet. He hasn't been married too long.

Bert Bunnel is the smallest, been in the Army 5 years and got married just last July.

McDeavitt is the other Gunner and replaced a lad by the name of Dempsey that caught sick just before we left Langley. He is rather quiet.

Ryan was married in May and is much older than I thought he was. He is 26. THE PILOT.

Susko, the Bombardier is 29 and sort of a man of the world, only doesn't seem to show it. I'm learning a lot from him.

Kinkead, the Co-pilot, has been in the service for over 3 years and used to be in an Army band. He can pull some of the damnedest cracks sometimes.

Enclosed is a 5 franc note ($.10) that was not made in the U.S.A.

10-30-44 Letter:

"Somewhere in Italy". Charlie and Ryan are playing checkers. Susko is in town as are most of the boys. We still haven't arrived at our ultimate destination. At present, we are living in tents. Food is good, but I surely miss the milk so I've resorted to my old standby of half a cup of canned milk and half a cup of coffee. The Army's coffee over here stands up and walks by itself. I am eating heartily and for quite a while now have been averaging 10 hours of sleep a night. I still weigh 146 pounds and can't seem to get any heavier. Charlie also eats well and stays at 150 pounds. Ryan has
my liking for milk so he uses the half canned milk, half coffee system, but is able to gain weight.

In November, 1944, I was transferred to the 97th Bomb Group, 340th Bomb Squadron. I flew 16 missions. A beautifully crafted hard cover History book produced by the 97th Bomb Group Association has this to say about the mission flown on the 16 February, 1945 (my 16th mission):
" 1st wave bombed Bolzano, Italy and reported intense, heavy, accurate flak. A/C (380) received a direct hit over Bolzano. 340th Squadron M. I. A. - 1st Lt. Robert G. Foster, Pilot; 1st Lt. Gerald J. Flannik, Co-pilot; 1st Lt. Theodore S. Zemenick, Nav.; 1st Lt. Harold Smith, Bomb.; 2nd Lt. Vance R. McDonald, Nav. (Miki - Radar Operators - seemed to be always listed as nav.); T. Sgt.
Harold Weber, R/O; T. Sgt. Thomas I. Wilkins, Bomb.; S. Sgt. Asa E: Dunhoe, Gunner; S. Sgt. Robert L. Albright, S. Sgt. John M. Vincent, Gunner."

Flannik and Wilkins didn't make it. All others bailed out. The flak burst was between the #2 engine and the bomb bay just before "bombs away!" There was no bail out order. It wasn't needed. Weber, the R/O, thought about going out the bomb bay, but flames were too intense. His
face was badly burned but he recovered.The plane was at 22 - 23 m ft, so I didn't bother with an
oxygen bottle. I figured on free falling for a while. I think I fell 10 m feet. I managed to maneuver myself on my back (I had a chest pack) and pulled the ripcord. When the chute opened, the tops of the trees seemed about level with my altitude at that moment. I think I saw the plane hit the mountainside.

Finally looking down, two power lines were ready to greet me. Pulling frantically on the shroud Lines, I landed between them in brush about three feet high. The landing was soft. Two seconds later, I couldn't stop shaking.

Two or three Italian men came to get me and led me to their house and I was shown a seat just outside the door. I was offered what looked to be a glass of water. I gulped the whole glass. A second glass was offered. I gulped that. Both glasses were white wine!

Sometime later, I was escorted to the Bolzano jail and after some ranting and raving at me by the German Commandment, I was deposited in a cell with Gunners Dunhoe and Albright. "Incredible!" they said (or words to that effect). "How did McDonald manage to get so drunk?"! Well, for one thing, the glasses were tall - and full!

I think it was by the next day, the rest of the crew had been collected and a young Non-Com officer named Hans took control of us with the help of three Wehrmacht (sp?) or "Home Guard" soldiers - men in their 60s and 70s. Hans left arm was in a sling and we learned he did not intend to get it medically treated, to do so might get him transferred to the Eastern (or Russian) front.

After fifty years, details are hazy, but I seem to remember travelling in a truck fueled by gas created by a charcoal burner. The device took up a huge part of the truck bed. The truck sputtered along quite well. Hans arranged stops at several "soup kitchens" to get us fed. The soup was closer to a hearty stew of potatoes, cabbage, and some sausage. Brown bread was also available as well as tea. The kitchens seemed to run twenty-four hours a day and open to any person needing a meal.

We eventually arrived at a railroad station. Hans left to make arrangements for our continued travel. I believe we were in Munich. Soon, an angry civilian crowd gathered around us. The guards were as scared as we were. The guards had their orders, but they weren't going to fire on their own people, either. Hans returned, shouted something in German, yelled "Heil Hitler" with a Nazi
salute, and the crowd dispersed. We got on a train. Would the train be strafed or bombed, we wondered? We arrived at a prison camp near Frankfurt. There were several experiences that happened on the trip to Frankfurt. I don't remember the sequence.

While Hans was leading us to a soup kitchen through a railroad marshalling yard at night (to avoid angry civilians, I think), we needed to climb over some flat cars. I could climb up on the car, the guard couldn't. Arthritis, maybe. I offered him a hand. Not knowing what to do with his gun, he threw it up to me. The butt landed right in my armpit with my finger almost on the trigger I
put the gun down helped him on to the car and we exchanged friendly smiles. It would have been a big, big mistake to shoot. Besides, remembering my rifle range experience (three bulls-eyes - seven misses of the target) I might have missed at point blank range anyway.

We were interrogated at a facility near Nuremberg. the interrogator spoke English with a Brooklyn accent. I gave him name, rank, and serial number. He asked me to identify the tail markings of the Bomb Group (or was it squadron?). He must have known I was giving an honest answer when I shrugged my shoulders. I had no reason to know and besides, my eyes were in the "scope" most of the mission. Thinking back on it, because I didn't know, he probably surmised I was the Radar Operator. That was the end of the questions. I was put in a single cell where I stayed in solitary for three days.

One fellow (not on Foster's crew) was in solitary for seventy-one days. He stayed sane by creating a deck of cards from toilet paper and played, appropriately enough, solitaire.

The crew had been separated by this time. at least I don't remember our arrival at Frankfurt together. Just about all the P.O.W.'s were air crew members from the Army Air Corps or the Royal Air Force. I don't remember any ground troops.

One evening, Late, we heard the rumble of airplanes. An Australian remarked, "They're coming over!". We went outside. The Australian shouted, "They're droppin' T-eyes! They're droppin' T-eyes!".

"What's a T. I?"

"Target indicator!"

One was drifting close to the compound. Fortunately, only one. A few miles away the night sky was bright as day with T. I. flares. Spotlights from the ground were searching the sky. Ack - Ack guns were firing and bombs were exploding. Most of us were, by this time, behind a small knoll, heads over the top, our eyes mesmerized with the show. I think it lasted an hour with wave after wave
of bombers.

The Allies were advancing. Our captors decided to move us. We were loaded onto unmarked box cars. A train was made up with some cars in the middle marked with a Red Cross. I think it was the second day we heard an airplane engine and machine gun chatter. A single P-51. His first pass took out the train engine. Somehow we got the box car door opened and started to "bail out". We weren't soon enough. The Pilot was on his second pass, and as I was going out the door, I was looking straight into his firing guns. The fellow behind me was killed.

Those of us who could, hit the ground running toward a culvert and some trees. The fellow ahead of me stumbled, got up and ran by me as though I were standing still. We got to the woods and he collapsed. He had taken a ricocheted bullet right up his spine. The Germans took him to a hospital and we heard that the bullet had been extracted and he had recovered. I hope that was true.

The German guards were trying to round us up. The P-51 did not make another pass, but was circling around. We were in no hurry to be reassembled. I don't think the guards were too anxious, either. I ambled to a culvert and there met up with Hal Smith, the Bombardier, the crew had long since been sent in several directions.

There was a high ranking officer, an American Colonel, I think, among the P.O.W.'s I suspect he was responsible for persuading the Germans to march the P.O.W.s to the next stop, wherever that may have been. The marching column contained two thousand P.O.W.'s. While by the culvert, waiting for the P-51 to go home, (he finally did after many anxious moments) Hal and I became friends with John Wade from West Virginia, a downed P-47 Pilot and Art (last name forgotten), a downed P-51 Pilot from Massachusetts. The four of us stayed as a foursome for the entire march-actually all the way to New York.

The first night or so was miserable, pouring rain. One night, we were herded into a village and dispersed into churches. I remember trying to sleep on some steps - rather a step only one step to a man - leading to the belltower. The next day, about the Fourth or fifth of April, was beautiful, sunny and pleasant. The weather held for over two weeks!

The fighters had gotten the word about the marching columns. Occasionally one came in low near the column and wiggled it wings in salute. We would wave back.

Every so often, Army GMC trucks with Red Cross markings would come by with Red Cross food parcels. I remember the distribution of the parcels being efficient and fair.

By this time, our night stops were at farms and the columns stretched for miles. We generally found some hay to sleep on.

Bartering was rampant. Guards would go ahead to the next estimated stop and buy up the eggs and potatoes from the farms. These were then sold for cigarettes and candy bars that were in the Red Cross parcels. Potatoes and eggs were cooked in "Kreigie" stoves. These stoves were fashioned from food cans from Red Cross parcels. The evening meal was usually a delightful affair, consisting
of the aforementioned potatoes, eggs, plus spam, canned fruit, a candy bar, tea and/or instant coffee, and a cigarette. Sometimes German brown bread was on the menu, depending on our bartering success.

I don't remember many bombing formations. Maybe the 8th Force was going mostly East and the 15th mostly North. Living was good on the march. The pace was slow and there were many rest stops. The area of our route had escaped much of the bombing because it was rural and Spring had
made it quite pretty. German shepherd guard dogs appeared every so often to make sure we stayed more or less in column till the war was over. After two weeks or so, the column straggled into a stalag in Munich.

Talk about "old home week"! one or two pals from high school, several from navigation school, and MacDill Field and, of course, a great number from the 340th Bomb Squadron. Interestingly, I never did catch up with any of the rest of Foster's crew. Just disappeared into the humanity.

One night, there was an eerie silence. The guards had left. The word came - stay in the compound. Next morning, General Patton came through in his jeep, pearl handled revolvers and all. What a sight! After a few brief words (mostly four letter) about how brave we were, a credit to our country, etc. he finished with something like, "I got a war to fight!" and off he went.

I didn't see all of this too clearly. I had been blowing on some twigs to start a fire in my "kriegie" stove, and one of them went in my eye. My eye was smarting! Later in the morning, a Red Cross "Coffee Truck" arrived. One English lad wolfed down a dozen doughnuts and became dangerously ill.

A few days later, C-47's started shuttling us to "holding camps" to check our health, draw some back pay, get new uniforms, etc. The camps were named after cigarettes. Art, John, Hal and I were still together and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike. Music came over loud speakers: Bing Crosby singing "Don't fence me in."

G.I. boots were in short supply, so I opted for some English plain-toed oxfords. I arranged for a pass to Paris. I stayed two days and returned to base. The shoes were murder on my feet. G. I. boots were somehow obtained about the same time orders were received to get on a boat.

The boat was a Navy transport and very comfortable. The transport crossed the Atlantic in six days in beautiful weather and set a speed record for that type of ship - or so we were told. We entered New York Harbor about mid-morning and the "lady" never looked so good! There was a tear in just about everyone's eye. The ship docked in New York, we walked across a wharf for a ferry to a New Jersey processing center. Arrangements could be made almost immediately for some back pay, leave orders, and transportation home.

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