In a few days we boarded the ship and all of the officers with the rank of 1st Lieutenant and higher were assigned to state rooms and were assigned seats in the dining room. Since I was a 2nd Lieutenant and Lenny was the same, we were assigned to cots that folded down from the wall and we would eat our meals standing up.
I couldn't wait for the ship to dock. This we did after about five days at sea. We came into Newport News, Virginia. As soon as I was off the ship I ran to a telephone and made a collect call home. My mother answered and she did not seem as excited as I had anticipated. It seems that she knew that I was alive and coming home from the information that she had received from the army.
She told me that she had received all of the mail that I had sent her. She also told me that I had been promoted to 1st Lieutenant about a week after I had been shot down. Too bad that I didn't know about the promotion when we had boarded the ship to come home. I could have had a more luxurious trip, but then again I would have had to leave Lenny Koos.
I was home within a week and spent two months on recuperation leave. I had a great time and found everyone at home to be well and very happy knowing that I had made it.
While I was at home during this period the Japanese surrendered and at my mother's request, my Army days came to an end.
Looking back, I can understand some of the seemingly erratic and strange behavior of the pilots who had been with the squadron from the beginning. The daily stress of going into combat every day was enormous. No one wanted to admit that he was scared, for that would be unmanly. However, a good psychiatrist would have had a field day watching what was supposed to be normal behavior.
My flight leader, Stanley Shaw, was a good example of this. His daily routine was to fly a mission and return to base in order to get stoned drunk on anything that was handy. He would be out all evening and stagger into our hut and sprawl over a chair or on the floor and pass out. One of the ground officers in our hut and I would take his shoes off and throw him into his bed. His eyes were red and bleary and I'm sure that he had no idea of where he was.
In the morning he awakened with the same red eyes and swollen head. He would reach for his wine bottle and take a few swigs and that seemed to make him feel better and able to face the day.
We escorted him to breakfast and then to the flight line. He was poured into the cockpit and from that time on he became the great pilot that he was. He would on occasion be called on to lead the three squadrons into combat, and he never missed a checkpoint. He was extremely aggressive and had already shot down five Germans when I arrived at the squadron.
He was considered one of the leading combat pilots in the squadron, but he was never promoted to the rank that he deserved because of his heavy drinking.
This existence went on from day to day until he completed his missions, and then he seemed to return to a more normal way of life, even joining in with the rest of the squadron at mealtime and relaxing in our hut to read or write letters. The day that I was shot down was the day that he was scheduled to leave for home. He said goodbye to me and made me promise to be careful and stay out of trouble. I wonder what his thoughts were when he learned that I did not return from that last mission.
When he left England for the states, that was the last that anyone ever heard from him to this day. Joe de Shay, a hangar chief from my squadron and now from south Florida, who discovered that I was alive, also was able recently to find Stanley Shaw's widow. Stanley died fairly recently and I wrote a letter to his widow.
Most of the old timers had quirks and seemed very strange. The new replacement pilots all seemed more normal. It was probably just a matter of time until the peculiar behavior would set in.
Some of the behavior I am certain was provoked by superstition. Thinking that if a change was made that it would change their good fortune to be alive and they would be killed.
I know that I had the feeling that if I wore a different pair of shoes that my luck would run out. Therefore, although I had several pairs of shoes I would only wear the same pair on every mission. We would get away from reality. It was sort of living in suspended animation until the war was over.
I suppose that everyone has a lucky charm. Here it was your life that was on the line, and therefore the charm bit was a great deal more serious than using it to get a good grade on an exam.
I did spend numerous sleepless nights after the war reflecting on some of the incidents, fantasizing what would have happened if I had zigged instead of zagging in each instance. I had some cold sweats thinking of dying if it were not for a very small difference in time, position, or thought process that changed the outcome of the episode. On the flip side, I wonder if instead of following the instructions of my flight leader to climb above the clouds, and instead had flipped my aircraft over on it's back in what we called a split S, and into a dive which might have put me in a position to shoot down two more aircraft, I might have returned to base. I might have saved the pain and anguish of getting wounded and spending those awful months in the prison camps. I would also have enjoyed flying the remaining missions and returning home as a hero.
I did have the ultimate pleasure of returning home and continuing my life.
It is now over fifty years since the war. Some of the scars are still there. I have some pieces of shrapnel in my head, particularly one piece which is embedded in the lower rim of my orbit, about half an inch from the socket. My feet are holding up pretty well considering what I put them through. The swelling is still there, particularly my right ankle. I still have pain when the weather is bad, but all in all, I am doing quite well physically. The flashbacks are still there, but I have learned to cope with them. On occasion I get a violent one, but I feel lucky to be without worse after effects than these.
I also feel that the experiences made a better man of me. I am probably more tolerant of our former enemies than most of the people I know. I realize that the soldiers were fighting for what they thought was right without knowing all of the political background. They were fighting for their country, and they were leaving the politics to the professional politicians. Sounds kind of screwy, but I believe that we did the same thing, even though we had the benefit of probably knowing more of the politics than they did.
We were killing off the most productive, the best physical specimens, the bravest, and probably the most intelligent on both sides.
These are the scars that still hurt. We may not have had some of the problems that face our planet today if some of these men had survived. We may have killed a Solomon, or a budding Einstein, or some other well endowed individual who could have left us with a great invention or priceless art form. We also could have killed Jerome Jacobs and anything that he might leave to posterity.
We almost never kill the worst people involved in these wars, the perpetrators. We were never certain that Hitler was dead, and Hirohito was still alive at the end of the war. There are still some bad ones around from more recent wars.
I believe that one of the difficulties that was almost as bad as the living conditions was the fact that we did not know when if ever we would get out of there. In a civil prison there is a sentence, and the prisoner can look forward to leaving the prison when the sentence is over. As a prisoner of war you are at the mercy of the enemy, and there is no guarantee that there ever will be any freedom. This was particularly true when there was a rumor that Hitler ordered all of the Jewish prisoners killed, and that if the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe hadn't interceded this possibly could have happened.
The hunger was probably the worst problem. There never was a minute during the time that I spent there that I was not hungry. The hunger overshadowed all of the other physical and mental agonies that we encountered. It was relentless and probably still has left a mark on my behavior.
I have spent all of the years since the war trying to help mankind instead of doing my best to obliterate it. I sleep well at night now, and sometimes even during the day. That wasn't always the case. I had many months of sleepless nights when all that I could think about was the war. I don't know if it was due to the nearness of death or because of guilt feelings for what I had done, or both.
The cost of the air war is unbelievable. The fuel for one Mustang carrying 500 gallons was about $1500. Multiply this by the 750 fighters in the sky each day and the 1000 or more bombers burning over four times this amount of fuel. Add the cost of the ground crew including the mechanics, the armorers, the support personnel, and of course the air crews and their training, and the cost of the equipment itself and the price is staggering.
This money could have easily supported the health care for the nation for many years, or could have been used for so many other humanitarian things.
I have written this material for my children and their children. There is some importance in knowing about your ancestors. I miss not knowing about my own. I also want my descendants to have a love for this country and know that at least one of their ancestors had put his life on the line for it. They should also know that if I hadn't made it back, they might never have been born.
For anyone else who might read this true story either in this or some future generation I hope that there might be some historical value in what I have written.
A few years ago we had the fiftieth reunion of the 357th fighter group at Long Beach, California.
My old buddies Ozzie Howes and Matthew[Jack]Martin were there along with some other of my old friends, and of course Chuck Yeager and Bud Anderson were present.
Naturally Ozzie and Matt and I spent much time together reminiscing and renewing our old friendship. It was great!
There also was a surprise for me! While on a bus transporting the group to a small airport in Chino where a dozen Mustangs were on display, I overheard a conversation between three of the men sitting in front of me. They were talking about a video tape that they had seen in the hotel that morning. It seems that while we were in England during the war one of the ground crew had "borrowed" a 16mm gun camera from one of the grounded Mustangs and had been busy filming some of our day to day operations. One of the scenes showed two Mustangs taking off together in the usual formation. The aircraft on the left dropped it's right fuel tank in front of the aircraft on the right. They were amazed that the aircraft on the right had survived and they were applauding the pilot of that aircraft for remaining cool and continuing on with the mission.
I tapped one of the men on the shoulder and explained that I was the pilot of that aircraft and that I remembered the incident clearly. I also explained that I had no other choice but to continue on my way particularly since I had not hit the tank and that I considered it a good omen and that nothing could kill me that day if it had not already happened.
That evening at the reunion I was introduced to the man who had taken the footage of the event and he congratulated me for living through the near catastrophe. He told me that the footage would be part of a movie that he was making and that I would receive a copy of the tape.
A couple of the men also remembered the Tirpitz story and I felt good about that.
The men of the 357th are getting older. In a few years it will all be over except for some of the books and movies, and there will be no more personal experience stories to be heard. This is another reason for me to write as I have done.
At the last Group reunion in Myrtle Beach, four rebuilt Mustangs with our group's markings on the nose were flown in from different parts of the country and were to fly together in formation as we did when we were in England during the war. Chuck was to fly the one named after the Mustang that he flew in combat; Glamorous Glen.
Bud Anderson flew Old Crow, the Mustang that he flew in WWII.
Before allowing any of the aircraft to be started, Chuck did the pre-flight on all four of them, checking them with love and respect. I was impressed with his knowledge of the aircraft, even after all the years away from them. He knew every nut and bolt in the Mustang, even knowing hiding places in the airplane that the present owners did not know about.
The Air Force should be congratulated for promoting this man to General. They certainly got their money's worth!
One more final note:
Having spent some time in a prison camp I can fully appreciate the much more inhumane and brutal treatment that the prisoners in the Japanese, Korean, and the North Vietnamese camps suffered. Also, the amount of time spent by some of the prisoners in all of these wars in some cases was counted in years, not months, as in my case.
I truly don't know how they survived. These men and in some cases women should be treated with all of the love and care that they deserve.
I did try to contact Ann Glover when I arrived home, but I could not find her. I know that she had married and had left Sarasota sometime during my internment. If she had sent letters to me to my address in England, the letters probably were returned MIA, Missing in Action.