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
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
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