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El Centro, Cal.

March 8, 2001

Dear Virgil; I received your last letter and I am finding it interesting, and exciting, to revive these old memories.

But first, about Pete possibly not being able to fire because of planes in the way, could not be. That day our plane was to lead the lower echelon, so we were in that lead position, but for some reason no one ever formed on us (I can remember the 2 pilots talking about this), so we were a "sitting duck" in that respect. Also Chet was firing at the fighter attacking from the rear, and he hollered at Pete because it was down too low for him. Anyway I give you credit for giving Pete the benefit of the doubt.

Regarding the torchlike flame I mentioned; it was not into the bomb bay, but coming out of the left wall of the radio room, about 2 or 3 feet ahead of the rear wall of the radio room. It would have to have been but a few feet back from the leading edge of the wing, because looking out from the little window at each side of the radio room, I was looking at a side view of the No. 2, and No. 3 propellers.

Anyway, I apologize for nitpicking about these points, because your story is still exciting and not worth any changes I feel.

Regarding my red necktie, no, I am sure it was not a signal. The lad who was leading me was stopped by that "checker" and as I pedaled on by him and the guard, I could see extreme fear on his face. He got on his way; and then I was taken in. I think so many times about that day, and wonder if the checker hopefully could not remember the boy's name, or if he may have thought of a connection, or the bike could have been traced to anyone. I feel sure that Chet's incident resulted in the capture of those people in the house. Some great chances and sacrifices were made by those brave people.

In answer to your question about a group photo, I think I have one in my box of souvenirs, which is at present up at my son's home, in Livermore, Cal. We will be up there about the first of June, and I will check.

Regarding the story about Sam Schleichkorn's plane some of this doesn't sound plausible to me, but of course "Truth can be stranger than fiction". I hope I don't offend you by being so critical, but it doesn't seem possible that the guy would leave his chute up on the radio room area, it is a rather difficult, sidling walk through the bomb bay for one thing, Unless he was careless, or absentminded. Of course all the fire would have to be coming out of the wing as burning fuel.

Talking of waist gunners and their parachutes, I will tell you about my "bunkie" in Stalag Luft IV. He occupied the top bunk above me, his name was Tommy Garten, and he was a waist gunner on a B-17. He said that he always just had his chute lying near by at his station, but on this day, his last mission, for some reason he had decided to buckle it onto the harness. When they got hit, I imagine by flak, the plane broke in half, right at the waist window, and he was instantly pitched out into the air! He also told us that he had somehow, heard that their tail gunner had ridden the tail half of the plane down and survived. Then one day later on, a group of new prisoners were brought into the camp, into the compound adjacent to ours, and Tommy was over along the fence looking at the group, and believe it or not, his tailgunner was in the group. That would have to have been quite a scary ride, but I suppose the tail surfaces sort of made it go like a falling leaf, and luckily hit the ground as it was flaring out.

Talking about the Ball Turrets in the B-24s, they were not lowered and put into action unless under attack, because when down they affected the aerodynamics of the B-24 and slowed the cruising speed considerably. And in the missions I was on I never saw one deployed. If "Doodlebug" [Sgt Robert Hansen] had been down in his turret, he might have been able to get the plane attacking us from, the rear.

Anyway, the way I look at it, at least we got out of the war alive, and who knows what we might have encountered on future missions. Did you hear about the time an enterprising German fighter pilot followed the 445th planes back to England, and as they were in the landing pattern he shot several of them down before they knew what was going on. A prisoner who came in to out compound later on, told me about this.

Pete and Chet, and all of the guys who evaded capture surely had some experiences didn't they; about 5 months of hiding and being moved, and always worrying about being caught. Their stories are very interesting And all those brave French and Belgian people putting their lives on the line, knowing the result if they were found out, and I am sure a good many of them paid with their lives.

By the way, I wrote to Phil Solomon a couple of weeks ago, but have not heard from him.

Yes, Mike Ciano was replacement on our crew, our original other waist gunner was a guy named Jay Turnbull, but after a couple or so missions, whenever we were scheduled for a mission, he would go on sick call. So apparently he was quietly taken off the crew, and we didn't hear what happened to him.

That's it for this time.

Best regards to you

Richard Hanson