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Texas Invasion
Dalhart, Texas
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Bloody 100th
In The Mood
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Russians Load Bombs
Goering's Lament
Code Of Conduct
C.B. (Red) Harper
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Second and Third Phase Crew Training

The addition of a navigator and copilot to the crew added a new dimension to the next two and final phases of bomber crew training. We were able to expand our boundaries and travel greater distances away from the training base by using the expertise of the navigator. Also, it was a much more comfortable feeling to fly with one’s own copilot rather than depending on using the pilot from another crew as we were having to do in first phase training. 

One evening we were scheduled to fly a night celestial navigation mission from our base at Dalhart, Texas to Lincoln, Nebraska and return. The sky was a thin overcast at about 4000 feet altitude which was ideal for the navigation mission. The pilots were briefed to not use any radio navigation on the flight, only celestial navigation to the target and back to give the navigator some practice. 

We made a normal take off at the appointed hour after dark, climbed to our assigned altitude and circled the base, flying about 1000 feet above the overcast. I called the navigator on intercom and asked for a heading. He replied, “I’ll have one in just a minute.” We circled over the base for about five more minutes and the control tower asked if we were in trouble. We answered negative and they suggested we get a move on then. 

The bombardier had been in an experimental class in bombardier’s school that taught some navigation. He came up from the nose section with a Texaco road map that be had in his brief-case. He had drawn a line from our base to Lincoln and used a protractor to arrive at an out bound compass heading we could use for starters. The bombardier then told me that when the navigator took his octant out of its case. He discovered that through some mishap, the glass tube containing the leveling bubble on the octant was broken. I immediately turned on the radio compass, which I was instructed not to do at briefing, tuned it to a commercial radio station reroute and followed the compass needle on into Lincoln. When we passed over the Lincoln radio station, the needle swung 180 degrees and pointed back to the station. This was an indication that we had passed over the station. We now had the problem of returning to our base at Dalhart without celestial navigation. 

We picked up a reciprocal heading that might just get us back to the vicinity of our home base. The copilot and I decided to use the time in route to Lincoln as a basis to calculate our estimated time of arrival (ETA) back to Dalhart. I also elected to let down through the overcast so that we could become visual and maybe do some dead reckoning navigation (DR). Almost precisely on our ETA, the sky cleared and we saw dead ahead lights from a town with an air base and lighted runways. Flannigan and I were elated until we got closer and realized the air base was on the wrong side of the town for it to be Dalhart. 

We flew straight ahead for about 15 minutes with no results so we decided that “lostness” had set in for sure. We made a 90 degree turn to the right and flew for a while and we then started searching in a wide circle. We were getting real low on fuel by then and decided the time had come to make plans for a possible emergency. We announced to the crew over the intercom that our situation was becoming serious and we asked them to hook up their parachutes and stand by in the event we might have to give the order to bail out.

The following Is from a note I received from our left waist gunner Wiley Dobbs about this mission

“We became lost during a night training flight from Dalhart, Texas to Lincoln, Neb. and return. As time moved along, our fuel supply became dangerously low. Fortunately the clear night permitted us to spot two airports located not too far apart. We flew from one to the other and endeavored to make radio contact with their control towers - with no answer from either tower. That was ridiculous as there was always someone stationed in those towers. Eventually our fuel supply became so low that Harper and Flannigan decided that we might have to bail out. Then they would try to land the plane without aid of runway lights. Believe me - I didn‘t want to bail out in the dark of night just because some person assigned to each control tower was snugly in the arms of Morpheus. I think we were all white as a sheet. I remember Austin Curlee had his nose (me too) against the side window and there wasn‘t a freckle showing on his freckled face. Shortly thereafter, we received an answer from one of the towers (Frederick, Oklahoma Army Air Force Base) and on went the runway lights. We landed, and after turning off the engines it was determined we had five gallons of fuel left for each engine! Then later on, the person assigned to the control tower told us how lucky we were - like he did us a big favor - that he happened to hear our radio call, as he was asleep. That was too much! However, we were so tired and mentally exhausted from the experience that none of us bothered to respond to him - I don‘t think he realized it - admission of dereliction of duty. 

After landing at Frederick, I asked the dispatcher if there was 100 octane fuel available there. His answer was “Yep, gotta truck full. How much you gonna need, lieutenant?” I told him my bird would hold about 3,000 gallons. He swallowed and announced he only had 500 gallons, but I could have all of it. I asked Sgt. Luquet to split the 500 gallons evenly among the four main engine tanks while I phoned the base at Dalhart. It was daylight by the time I made my phone call. The base commander came to the phone immediately, as he had been in the control tower all night anticipating word from us. He asked me first if the crew was okay, then he inquired about the condition of the aircraft. He asked me to report to his office immediately upon our return. I informed him we should be back to the base in about an hour and a half 

On the final approach at our airbase, the control tower told me to report to the commanding officer as soon as I parked. I went to his office and was standing tall in front of his desk when he asked me if I had learned anything from this. I answered affirmative. I reported that the navigators octant was broken when he took it out of the case after we were airborne. I gave an order that the octant would be checked and a condition report be made to me before take off on all future missions as long as we were together. He said, “By God boy, now you’re cooking.” Get the hell out of here and go get you some sleep.” 

We flew as much as weather would allow since it was winter and we had a lot of snow. One morning after the alarm clock had assassinated my sleep at 03:00 hours, I shaved and dressed at the tourist court we called home and was ready to pick up the other two pilots I shared cars with for the 60 mile trip to the base. I tried to open the door but it wouldn’t budge. I attempted to look out the window and only saw snow. We were buried all the way up to the roof with blowing snow drifts. We were thankful for steam heat. I went back to bed and it was two days before thawing out enough to get outside. We finally managed to slip and slide down the icy highway and get back to Dalhart. When we arrived, we were told briefing would be in half an hour. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There was at least six inches of ice on the runways. All the crews had to pass by the flight surgeon’s desk before each flight. If there were any physical problems that was the time to tell the Doc about it. I started coughing and gagging when I got to his desk. He grinned and marked the crew unfit for flying today. Each pilot had done the same so all crews were grounded for the day. 

When word got to the commander he threw a wall-eyed fit. He announced on the PA system that all pilots and their crews would assemble in the briefing room on the double. He proceeded to rant and rave before the 300 grounded birdmen assembled in front of him using endearing terms like “yellow-bellied” and a lot of carrying on like that. Finally he announced that he was going to put a B-17 in the air and we were all going to stand out by the runway and watch and freeze our asses off until he got back. 

The colonel ordered his executive officer to fly copilot and he finally got to the runway for take off. The taxi strip was so slick he couldn’t run the engines up. He turned onto the runway and moved about 50 feet before loosing control of the beast. He did a 360 degree ground loop - winding up in a snow bank. They sent a 6 X 6 truck after him and he had to crawl out the pilot’s window to get out. As the truck came by with our over zealous CO in it, all 300 of us came to attention and saluted him. 

That episode was the main course of conversation on the base for days after. A few nights later, the “old man” got riled up again. My radio operator, Al James, called me on the intercom and said he received a message on the command radio for all crews to return to the base immediately. We were making a bomb run on the target so after Cox made his bomb drop we returned to the base. 

The control tower told us to park and for all crews to report to the briefing auditorium. When all the crews were assembled, the colonel came out on stage, face red, hands on hips and glared at us a minute then said, “All right.. .who did it?” A pilot sitting next to me asked me “Did you do it?” I said, “I probably did - what is it?” Finally a voice in the crowd asked “Who did what?” The colonel said, “Who is the dumb bastard that bombed the court house over at Boise City, OK?” The only answer he got was a roar of laughter. 

Boise City, OK is located in the tiny little strip of Oklahoma between the panhandle of Texas and Kansas. The court house was decorated for Christmas and had strings of lights from the dome to the ground and looked very much like one of the night lighted bomb targets scattered all over west Texas and the panhandle. Some “knucklehead” had made five passes and dropped five practice bombs at the court house. None of the bombs found their mark, but they got real close. Someone finally went to the power company and pulled the switch - turning off all the lights in town. The drone of the bombers engines was heard to fade in the distance when the lights went out. There was probably an “Un-OH” uttered by some bombardier at that point. 

Years after the bombing, it was reported that the city was outraged and held a town meeting the next night and was ready to pull a full scale investigation and have the bombardier drawn and quartered. The Mayor got up and said, “You just hold on here a minute. Now, no one has been hurt and I think we ought to pin a medal on that kid who in my opinion did a marvelous job of bombing. He damn near hit that court house in the dead of night from 10,000 feet in the air. He’s going to be going to Europe before long and if he’s that good, he’ll do a hell-of-a-lot-of damage to the damn Germans before he’s through.” A few years ago the crew was identified and invited to attend a huge two day festival and parade held in Boise City and Amarillo in memory of the Boise City Courthouse Bombing. 

December 1943 arrived with a blustering snow storm that covered the entire countryside for miles around. We flew a lot of formation. We attended lectures on combat first aid, how to apply tourniquets to reduce bleeding, how to apply sulfa powder to open wounds and how to fasten bandages. One lecture was about procedures to use after bail out to prevent being captured by enemy soldiers or civilians. Other points covered were disposal of the parachute; whether or not to hide and wait for a period of time or for darkness to fall before moving out of the area and to be constantly on the look out for resistance people, especially near the front lines. These people could be a great help in escape and evasion 

We were scheduled to board a train on December 27 for a trip to the staging area at Kearney, Nebraska. We threw a whing-ding of a party at the 0 Club on Christmas eve that lasted until dawn Christmas Day. There was packing to do for the married couples as they were to be separated the next day - for some it would be for a year or two. Tragically for some, it would be forever. 

On the 27th, the troop train was on the siding at Dalhart and hundreds of wives, children, sweethearts, moms and dads were on hand for good bye hugs and kisses until the train pulled out for Kearney. 

We arrived at the Kearney, Nebraska staging center late on the 28th. Everyone received assignments for quarters and schedules for quartermaster fittings for the next day. All overseas gear was issued. Fleece lined jacket, pants, flying boots, flight suit, leather helmet, flying goggles, watch, mess kit, canteen cup and cover, webb belt, side arm and holster, A-3 and B-4 bags, back pack, suspenders, blankets, steel helmet, etc. Shot records were brought up to date - immunization shots if necessary - always the dreaded tetanus booster with its golf ball size whelp - crew records reviewed and brought up to date. 

A big New Years Eve party at the Fort Kearney Hotel “Cave” was something to remember.. . What a night! 

My bombardier’s mother, Mrs. Ida Cox, came to Kearney to be with him for a few hours. She asked me to join them for a short prayer service at the base chapel, which is a memory I treasure and shall never forget. 

We were transported on to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, N.Y. for a wonderful weeks stay and some wild times in the Big Apple. We tried to see it all in a week. Wiley Dobbs recalls: ‘The enlisted men were restricted to the Fort Hamilton complex for the duration of our stay in New York. Al James and I had heard about a hole under the chain link fence that surrounded the compound. We had no problem finding this avenue of escape so we decided to enjoy the hospitality of Manhattan for a few stolen hours. 

After an enjoyable evening on the town, we had gotten carried away like Cinderella, and missed the last evening run of the Seabeach Express subway train that would take us back to the Fort. We hailed a cab and as we approached the guarded entrance to Fort Hamilton, the driver asked if we wanted the holr-in-the-fence or did we have a pass. We had to admit no pass so being familiar with the hole-in-the-fence he took us straight to it. There was snow on the ground, and so many GIs had crawled through the fence - the ground around the hole was packed hard as a brick.’ 

Flannigan and his fiancée Edna were both from New York State so they were able to be together for a few days. Buddy Cox, Charlie Hardiman and I took in the sights. We attended the RKO Palace Theater one night. A big eared skinny kid named Frank Sinatra was singing to a mob of squealing-screaming teenage girls. We used the Club Metropole for headquarters and a meeting place. Two big bands were playing simultaneously there each evening. Chuck Hardiman was much wiser in the ways of the big city than Buddy and I were - so, when we went broke, Chuck very graciously introduced us to the art of becoming Companions of the Bar, a term he preferred - rather than being thought of as moochers. To him, the difference in the two categories was having the “mark” regard you as a gentleman and the secret was in the approach. If handled with finesse, the results could be, and were, free drinks for the evening for the Air Corps fly boys who were on their way over to bust Hitler in the chops. 

We had seen the famous Rockettes do their chorus line high kick at Radio City Music Hall. We visited some famous night spots and met Jack Dempsey at his place. We followed a group of inebriated celebrities who made their way to a midnight concert performed by a recluse named MOON DOG, who lived in a cardboard refrigerator box down on the docks. This bearded old guy used an old skillet for a bongo and tapped on the thing while he recited from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. He had an assortment of bent, smoked and mangled pots and pans that he used for various effective sounds in his renditions of other poetry and weird folk songs. He had a two gallon slop jar for a kitty and it was overflowing with paper money. This cat probably had a six figure bank account somewhere - most likely in Bermuda. Rather interesting and typical New York. 

As the old saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” We enjoyed the fabulous week in New York - and it was now time to head for the war in Europe.

Next...England Bound


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