June 29, 1944 Rescue
Captain Mark Stepelton, 364th Fighter Squadron
This date, June 29, 1944, is one of the most memorable of my combat tour against the Germans. Our mission was called RAMROD, which meant we would provide fighter protection for B-17 heavy bombers who will attack targets in Leipsig, Germany. The target was heavily protected with flak and German fighters.
Arriving in the target area, German fighters attacked our bombers in force, trying to score victories. Our fighters followed the Germans leaving the main bomber force unprotected. After talking to crews of our bombers, pleading with us for fighter protection, a few of us climbed to the area where we could see activity. The few of us had split up. I destroyed a FW 190 and decided to escort bombers until my fuel became quite low, at which time I headed toward England.
Upon reaching our base at Leiston, England, I was immediately picked up and taken to operations where our Squadron Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. John Storch, announced that he had just received an urgent message that a B-17 bomber is down in the North Sea off Holland, where some German fighters are firing at the crew of ten men.
Col. Storch asked if I would refuel and immediately takeoff and receive flight instructions from our base locator section. I took off alone and was contacted by the English Air-Sea-Rescue unit for further directions.
As I approached the area where the aircraft was just slightly in view, I saw men in their dinghy's (small life rafts). As soon as the German fighters became aware of my approach they evidently thought that more than one of our fighters was enroute, because they immediately ceased firing at our crew and headed east toward Holland.
I remained with the men until I observed the Air-Sea-Rescue team approaching. I returned to my base at Leiston feeling that we saved the lives of ten bomber crewmembers. Between the Leipsig mission of 4:35 and the Air-Sea-Rescue mission of 3:10 hours, my total flight time for that date was 7:45 hours.