June 6, 1944, D DAY. This
is it. This is what it is all about. COMBAT. I was assigned to another
crew for my first flight. It was not a standard practice, but the
crew that I flew with was short their regular navigator that day,
DNIF (duty not involving flying), or something.
The Army had set up a special
fund to buy fresh eggs on the English black market. Only crew members,
flying combat on that particular day, were served fresh eggs, two
each. Everyone else ate those horrible powdered eggs.
Have your two fresh eggs
anyway you want them. I have seen near fights when Cookie didn't
cook them just right. It was jokingly called "The Last Breakfast."
I ate my first "Last Breakfast" and went to briefing.
When you walk into the briefing
room, it is just as they show it in the movies. A curtain covers
the wall behind the podium. The Command Pilot for the mission mounts
the rostrum, and the curtain is dramatically removed showing a map
of the Continent with our day's work laid out. The C.P. announces
the target, the way we are to get there, also, the pit falls and
dangers. Flak areas are shown in red. Aircraft and positions in
the formation are assigned.
The Weather Officer guesses
at the weather, and the Chaplain performs the Last Rights. Good
Scared, you better believe
it. Preflight, engines started, taxi into position.
"Off we go into the
wild blue yonder . . . ." (The Air Corp Song)
D Day morning, the wild blue
yonder was anything but blue. There was an overcast at about 200'.
The 95th used Horam buncher for our climbing pattern. Our pattern
intertwined with the climbing pattern of a nearby B-24 base. Take
off, IAS 155 mph, and climb 500'/minute to altitude. In the soup,
it was impossible warn the pilot of approaching aircraft, instead
you said, "There went a B-24 at 11 o'clock."
Just getting to altitude
under such conditions was a hairy task, at best. We broke out on
top at 19,000', rendezvoused and headed across the English Channel
for our target, Falaise, a French town just inside the Normandy
Through rare breaks in the
clouds, we glimpsed the armada in the Channel below us. It looked
as though you could have walked across, stepping from boat to boat.
Our orders were visual bombing only. Nobody knew what was going
to happen on the ground. We were there to support, not jeopardize
our ground forces.
Every available plane was
in the air that morning, and traffic was ONE WAY. At navigation
school, we had been told that fighters in the air resembled a swarm
of bees. Sitting in the nose of the B-17, I kept pointing out swarms
to the Bombardier.
With each new appearance,
same question, same answer. I'm not nervous. My course in aircraft
identification at Selman Field was a complete bust. I know that
Bombardier was glad to get his regular navigator back.
Our target was socked in,
so we turned, flew down the Cherbourg peninsula, turned and started
for home. "DO NOT LAND WITH ARMED BOMBS. GET RID OF THEM OVER
THE NORTH SEA." We got rid of ours.
We landed safely, and now,
I am a combat veteran.
Bitch, if you must, about
flying combat, but a nice warm bunk, and hot meals are waiting for
you if and when you return. The Red Cross girls are serving hot
coffee and doughnuts to men that have braved the skies, today.
Think of those poor bastards
on the ground, on the beach head. Warm bed, hot meals, hot coffee
and doughnuts, girls. GIRLS!