One more time I realize there is that pesky flashlight in my face, and I
hear the invitation -- "Breakfast at Five and Briefing at Six." I lay
there dragging my eyes open and getting my thoughts together, little did I
know how the reality of this fateful day would end.
This will be mission number four. I wonder what hellish target is on that
map in the Briefing Room? We've been to Cologne, Bremen, Kassel and flew
as a Spare yesterday. If nothing else we are surely learning the geography
of Germany. This time around I shaved in warm water, as I had remembered
to fill my helmet and put it on the stove before going to bed. There had
been hot water last night, so had the luxury of a hot shower. I'm learning
as we seem to be getting into a routine as I dressed from the clothes laid
out the night before.
As I walked out the door I looked at those empty beds and thought those
guys were here yesterday doing the same things I am doing today. Little
did I know that by tonight there would be a great many more empty beds as
over 60 of our planes would be shot down leaving 600 more empty beds.
Outside it was not only black, it was foggy. I was thinking, "would they
have us take off with this fog"? Walking into the Combat Mess there was
that same knot in my stomach, and those eggs were still staring at me.
Sitting down at the table there again was Bob (Sgt Robert Smith) with a
full plate with a blank look on his face. Resnik (S/Sgt John Resnik) was
no longer interested in eating too much after that first mission when at
altitude he ended up with terrific cramps. "Soon we were outside and again
that hurry up and wait."
I began thinking of some of the things you learn with each mission: (1)
using a condom to put over the mike in your oxygen mask to keep it dry, (2)
squeezing your oxygen mask so the ice doesn't clog it up, (3) then shaking
the ice out. I then began getting smart enough to carry two masks. Using
a condom to urinate, tying a knot in it, and then throwing it out as a gift
to Germany (When my children ask what I had done during the war I told
them, "the pleasure of pissing all over Germany").
On the first mission I had noticed soon after we left the target many of
the planes would again open their bomb bay doors and you would see one or
two cardboard chaff boxes come tumbling out (chaff were thin strips of
tinfoil used to confuse the German radar). When I ask about it I received a
big laugh and was advised this is "Our Secret Weapon", you will soon find
out! On the trip to Bremen one of the crew had to answer nature's call.
He used one of the chaff boxes and we were also able to bomb Germany twice
on that trip..
Suddenly the doors to the Briefing Room swung open. Soon we are all
enveloped in a heavy smoke haze, with temperature increasing noticeably
from the body heat and everyone sweating out the mission. As I look around
I notice everyone is sitting at all angles and postures. Some are sitting
up straight as a ramrod, and some are even sound asleep. Others are
engaged in animated conversations with their neighbors while the rest are
staring straight ahead at nothing. You can feel the fear, the dread, and
the underlining thought of death in the room, but we are all are confident
in our training and each other.
Abruptly a nattily dressed Major (a ground pounder) steps on the stage and
begins roll call, calling the names of each crew commanders. Each answers
for his crew. The Major then moved to the back of the stage and drew the
black curtain of doom. This revealed the map which dictated our lives for
the next fourteen hours. There is a hushed silence as everyone leans
forward looking at the fateful end of the red yarn. "Its Schweinfurt" the
Major says with a smile, and gives us time to think. Abruptly a buzz of
voices breaks out, and one voice says "Sonofabitch This is my Last
Mission", and it was!" as he was one of those who never made it back.
The Security Officer steps forward and instructs us, "Do not talk about the
mission once you have left the room, and this also applies to a Scrubbed
Target. Anyone flying this mission who has not had POW (prisoner of war)
instruction report to the S-2 officer after this briefing. Be sure to wear
your dog tags, GI shoes, and don't wear any insignia. Carry your rank,
name and serial number, and no billfolds, pictures, nor letters. No one
will leave this briefing until dismissed." We were told this at every
Everyone is sitting up attentively listening to the intelligence officer.
There is no longer any screwing around for his instructions are life and
death to us. There is an immediate feeling of immense doom which goes
through the briefing room, and no one tries to look at one another. We are
all thinking the same thing, "Who will be missing from here tonight? How
many crews will get it today?"