More About The Crew...
All new aircrew personnel were ordered to assemble in the
briefing room for crew member assignments.
Thirty crews were assembled to this training group making
a total of some 300 men in attendance at the meeting. Each
aircraft commander was given a crew number. Mine was 16
and as each crew number was announced, the pilot was
handed a list containing names of the men that would
constitute his crew. Each of the crews were then to
assemble with their pilot in front of a specified aircraft on
the flight line for photographs and introductions.
I made my way to the specified aircraft and found six new
faces and one that I was already familiar with. They were
huddled under the nose section of the assigned aircraft.
I introduced myself and then asked them to each sound off
as I read out his name and crew position. The list of names
started with Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer,
Clarence P. Luquet -- Radio Operator, Alvin E. James --
Ball Turret Gunner, Austin P. Curlee -- Left Waist Gunner,
Wiley A. Dobbs -- Right Waist Gunner, John B. Bowers --
Assistant Flight Engineer and Tail Gunner, Anderson R.
(Ross) Frank and Bombardier, Arthur E. Cox. All were
sergeants with the exception of Cox who was a second
lieutenant. I was not assigned a copilot or navigator until
the second phase of training.
I didn’t visually see any abnormalities among the men except
for the bombardier. I was still smarting over his smart
The crew introduction was short. I pointed out that we
would be like family, living together, sleeping together,
eating together and fighting together. If anyone had a
problem with this - now was the time to speak up. No one
sounded off so I asked the flight engineer, Sgt. Luquet to
remain with me and for the others to board the aircraft, go
to their respective stations and familiarize themselves with
the gadgets and I would talk to them individually as time
permitted. We were scheduled to fly a six hour training
mission that night with instructors aboard for the pilot,
bombardier, radio operator and gunners.
I had a talk with Sgt. Luquet and explained to him the
basics of what I expected our respective relationship to be
concerning parameters involved in safe operation of the
aircraft and how they were to be carried out to the letter. I
confessed to him that today I made my first B-17 landing
and that tonight would be my first solo flight. I asked him
to keep this information confidential as it might cause
concern with the other members of the crew. It probably
would have concerned me had I been in their place. I had
Sgt. Luquet’s word on it.
As was mentioned before, we were without a copilot at
that stage of the game which meant that the pilots had to
swap out with each other. I would fly copilot with a crew,
and then that pilot would fly copilot for me on my next
mission. This arrangement continued all through the first
phase of training.
Our first training mission was a six hour flight that
scheduled touch and go landings for the first hour. I had an
instructor pilot sitting in the swing seat between the copilot
and me, observing the touch and go landings during that
The next period we climbed to 10,000 feet and flew to a
designated bomb range in order for the bombardier to make
10 single release bomb drops on a night lighted bomb target.
For night bombing, the designated target consisted of a
large circle of lights with more lighted circles progressively
smaller than the next much like a bulls eye target. At the
center of the target was a small wooden building referred to
as a shack, and if the shack ever received a bit, the
bombardier could loudly boast, “I got me a shack!”, which
was indeed a marvelous accomplishment.
The practice bombs were 100 pounders filled with either
sand or water and contained about 5 pounds of black
powder to create a smoke marker when exploded. A note
of interest to me was that those bombs filled with water had
a rather erratic course of flight if not completely filled. The
sloshing around of the water had been known to cause the
bombs to miss the target by a wide margin. Also, at times,
boys turned into mean little kids and cattle feed shacks were
just too tempting to pass up, so - damage to some of the
farmers and ranchers out buildings irritated them enough to
bring on law suits against Uncle Sam.
There would usually be four bombers on the range at a time,
flying a four leaf clover pattern. This alternated each
approach to the target. After each drop, the next ship in
line would radio his identification number to the ground
observer before dropping his bomb so the observer could
record the number of feet each bombardier’s bomb had
missed target center.
At the conclusion of the exercise, the total footage from
target center that each crews bombs had impacted was
added and the total divided by 10. This gave an average
total error and was referred to as the bombardier’s CE or
The instructor bombardier with us on our first practice
mission asked to be returned to base after completion of the
practice bombing runs. My landing at the base surprisingly
turned out to be fairly smooth. The bombardier instructor
was on interphone and remarked to the bombardier, “That
was a smooth landing he made.” The bombardier replied,
“Yes Sir - My pilot’s the best in the Air Corps.” That night,
for some strange reason, I began to like that bombardier.
The bombardier instructor made mention that the adjutant
had told him I wanted to get rid of the bombardier. He told
me the kid had a CE for the evening of 96 feet, which is
fantastic, and I for sure ought to think twice before letting
someone else get him. I told the instructor that Cox would
definitely be my bombardier. Cox and I became the best of
friends and I had much admiration for the skill he exhibited
in his military occupational specialty not only as a
bombardier but an excellent navigator and gunner as well.
The rest of the evening’s mission was spent exploring the
wonders of that fine B-17 aircraft and doing some
coordination exercises with my bombardier and playing with
some of the gadgets on board. My left waist gunner, Wiley
Dobbs, was air sick. This turned out to be a problem for
him for the duration of his flying career. Wiley had a
private pilots license before entering the Air Corps, so I
asked him to come up front and sit in the pilots seat and fly
the big bird, under the watchful eye of the pilot that was
flying copilot for me that evening. Wiley’s airsickness
would always go away as long as he was up front in the
cockpit. I spent the rest of the evening back in the waist
section getting better aquatinted with the rest of the crew.
Most of first phase combat training at Pyote was a
repetition of the first mission. We alternated day and night
flying since this was an accelerated training program.
Replacement crews were sorely needed in Europe and the
Pacific. The crew had become a close knit unit as time
progressed. We were informal and on a first name basis on
the ground. In the air -- it was strictly business and no
horse-play was allowed. Flying was a dangerous business
and sloppy crew habits could kill as quickly as the enemy
could. If one knows his job, and tends to business, there is
an even chance at survival. A crew is only as strong as it’s
weakest member. A few crews had crashed in training -
killing all ten men while we were at Pyote. It was reported
by the flight safety staff that every one of these accidents
could have been prevented had the pilot and crew observed
correct flying procedures. We never encountered a really
There were a few instances that could have had tragic
results that really were rather humorous in the end. One
early morning, we were briefed for a formation gunnery
flight to the aerial gunnery range at La Junta, Colorado.
This would allow the gunners to shoot at tow-targets being
dragged through the sky with cables behind B-26s.
There was a thick ground fog that morning so we were told
to start engines at a prescribed time, idle at 1200 RPM and
wait for a signal from the tower to take off. It was just
breaking dawn and I was sitting there with all four engines
idling and nearly asleep. Suddenly there was a hail of metal
and debris going in all directions. I cut my engines and
went out through the nose hatch to try and find out what
Our 30 planes were parked in rows of five, wing tip to wing
tip and 6 columns deep. I made my way forward through
all sorts and sizes of pieces of aluminum, fabric and steel
scattered all over the ramp. I finally arrived at the scene of
the problem and saw that one aircraft had crawled up to
another one in front of it and chewed its way all the way up
to the rear waist door. Fortunately, the tail gunner and
waist gunners in the stricken plane had gathered forward in
the radio room. Unfortunately, the pilot, copilot, navigator
and bombardier in the offending aircraft had gathered in the
radio room for a friendly crap game. The offending
aircraft’s brakes were a little soft allowing the craft to
slowly creep, un-noticed by the crap shooting crew
members, right on up to the tail of the plane in front of it
and start chewing away.
Take off was delayed a couple of hours while everyone on
the base was called out to clean up the mess. We flew to La
Junta where our gunners had a go at it, some puffing a few
holes in the hapless B-26s that towed the targets. Some
managed to put a few holes in the target.
When we returned, all the pilots made a bee line to talk to
the pilot whose plane was involved in the flight line episode
earlier in the day.. We gathered in his room and heard a
very nonchalant recount of the ceremony of his signing a
statement of charges for $275,000 damages to the two
aircraft. Bets were made that he would be promoted to
colonel in six months in order for the government to get
Another episode involving a lesser amount of money
occurred one dark morning as the training group was
preparing for the day’s operations. The pilot of the ship
parked next to mine was talking to me about the day’s
mission. His bombardier walked up with his bombsight in
its tote bag and slung it up into the open nose hatch
opening. Just as he turned around to join us, there was a
loud bump as the bombsight fell back to the ramp resulting
in a $75,000 statement of charges being signed by the
bombardier. Bets were made that he made captain soon.
The bomber crews in training at Pyote Army Air Base were
hard at work learning and practicing the skills of their
respective Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), and
naturally, non-fatal mishaps would occur. After all, we
One such harmless mishap fell our way as we returned from
the La Junta, Colorado air-to-air gunnery range. Our
formation of B-17s had executed the standard peel-off for
landing and it seemed like a good opportunity for an
emergency “ditching” exercise. I made the announcement
over intercom to prepare to ditch. The men were trained
for all eight of them to move quickly to the radio room, sit
in the floor in two rows facing the rear of the plane. Each
man was to interlock fingers of both hands and brace the
head of the person in front of him - to reduce the shock
impact as the plane hit the water. The radio operator was to
remove the radio room overhead Plexiglas hatch. As far as
I knew, things were going well. What I didn’t know was
that the radio room overhead hatch had slipped from the
radio operators hands and took flight through the air while
we were on final approach. Another unknown factor was
that an Inspector General and his staff were conducting a
surprise inspection at the base and all were watching the
planes make their approaches and landings. The aerial flight
of my radio room hatch had focused attention on my aircraft
by all the ground observers.
Something else I didn’t know about was that after the plane
was parked and engines stopped, someone in my crew, and
my bombardier has always been suspect, pulled a lever that
launched and inflated the port side life raft, which was a no-
no in a practice ditching exercise. The ditching procedure
then called for each man to exit the radio room through the
open hatch and alternately slide off the fuselage into the
water (or ground in this case) and board the life rafts had
this been a real emergency ditching. The pilot and copilot
were to exit through their respective windows by grasping
the top turret gun barrels and pulling themselves free to
drop on the wing and run the length of the wing and drop to
the water and board their respective life rafts. As I cleared
the window and started my run down the wing, I was
petrified to see four of my crew sitting majestically in the
life raft. As I dropped off the wing tip to the ground, I was
horrified to find myself eyeball to eyeball with a live - very
large - red faced - brigadier general. His first remark was,
“Son, are we in any imminent danger of that son of a bitch
blowing up? My answer was negative.
“Well then, why the life raft - has a dam busted and are we
expecting a flood?” My answer was negative again. Next
question, “Would you mind explaining then why you people
are throwing good airplane parts overboard in the air?”
Answer, “Sir, I’m not aware of an incident of that nature.
Next question. “Tell me this then, is this the normal way
you and your crew exit an airplane after landing? Give me a
clue, boy! - What’s going on?” My commanding officer
intercepted by explaining to the general that we were
apparently conducting what looked to him like a half assed -
over zealous attempt at a practice ditching exercise. I was
then ordered to report to his office at 15:00 hours for a
critique. Critique hell. I knew a butt chewing when I saw
it coming. Well, you learned by doing.
A few days later we decided to leave the restrictive
boundary of our local air space and venture out on a little
navigation mission to my home town - Buffalo Gap, Texas
near Abilene. We thought it would be great fun to buzz the
hamlet and give my old friend Mayor Coon Johnson a thrill
along with Hazel Maxwell and her wonderful family and
other friends there. We gave “The Gap” a pretty good
dusting and saw several of the town folks outside waving at
us. A miracle that we didn’t get a butt chewing over that.
On the return flight we headed west down highway 80, that
would take us directly back to Pyote. We were only a few
miles out of Abilene when we were on the receiving end of
a fighter attack. I almost shed my skin as a fighter plane
zoomed across my windshield within ten feet of the nose as
it passed over and down. His propwash nearly turned us
upside down. We had picked up about a dozen P-39s from
the Abilene Air Base and they worked us over for a hundred
miles before doing victory rolls and returning to Abilene.
The unscheduled simulated fighter attack proved to be great fun for all and was a good experience for our gunners and
the fighters involved.
A few days later we were scheduled for gunnery training on
the air to ground gunnery range. This would be a strafing
mission. There were mock up Naval vessels, buildings,
aircraft and vehicles on the ground for our gunners to shoot
up while we cut the grass on low level passes at the targets.
Sgt. Ross Frank’s tail guns had jammed toward the end of
the mission and we were forced to leave the range since our
allotted time had run out. Just as we were leaving the range
he reported his guns were now in firing order. We decided
to let down on a heavily wooded creek ahead and he could
expend the 100 or so rounds of ammunition he had left.
If we brought any ammo back, we were suspect of not
completing our mission. We let down to tree top level and
came roaring down the creek with twin .50 Cal. tail guns
blazing away. We zoomed over a large family of black folks
who had slipped in to that “off limits” area to cane pole fish.
Our two .50 cal. machine guns in the tail were blazing away.
Those poor souls must have shed their skin as we suddenly
appeared. They threw up their hands and ran through the
brush like the world was coming to an end. We had
unintentionally scared the hell out of them. That episode
was probably enough to curb their desire to “slip in” and
fish that creek for the duration of the war.
Next...The Texas Invasion
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