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
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.
Lads over 6 feet tall and over 180 pounds would not be
eligible for further flight training.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 $2.00 a day beats me. They
won't do that to the Germans, and some of the Gunners on
the crew aren't making that much.
Berger is the Radio man and comes from Philly. He is the
youngest at 18.
Binder is the Tailgunner and big boy of our crew. He
weighs in at 185 lbs. and is well over 6 feet. He hasn't
been married too long.
Bert Bunnel is the smallest, been in the Army 5 years and
got married just last July.
McDeavitt is the other Gunner and replaced a lad by the
name of Dempsey that caught sick just before we left
Langley. He is rather quiet.
Ryan was married in May and is much older than I thought
he was. He is 26. THE PILOT.
Susko, the Bombardier is 29 and sort of a man of the
world, only doesn't seem to show it. I'm learning a lot
Kinkead, the Co-pilot, has been in the service for over
3 years and used to be in an Army band. He can pull some of
the damnedest cracks sometimes.
Enclosed is a 5 franc note ($.10) that was not made in
"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!
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 -
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.
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,
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.
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!".
a T. I?"
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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