Family Veterans of World War II
My Father's Story: Staff Sgt. John T. Dempsey,
Nose-Turret Gunner on a B-24 Liberator Bomber
(Fifteenth Army Air Force,
464th Bomb Group, 776th Bomb Squadron),
featuring an interview with his original crewmate
Staff Sgt./Flight Engineer Clarence W. "Red" Eudaily
( Also on this site: "The Pacific & D-Day" )
"Our future is made sacred by their sacrifice."
Chaplain John H. Eastwood to the 464th's surviving airmen
just after V-E Day 1945 (in Hill & Karle 198)
My grandfather and namesake, John P. Dempsey, was a likely second-generation Irish detective for the railroads: he loved his motorcycle and brought a tender, understanding touch to family discipline. He died young of a heart attack in the middle of The Great Depression, and that made my father John T. Dempsey head of the family at age 12 (with his mother Sadie, two young brothers Bob and Peter, and little sister Clare).
Of all the working ways that young "Jack" managed to bring some money home, it was hardly ever enough. Sometimes, he even took the fearless Bobby out in a borrowed "punt" or little boat among the islands of Boston Harbor, to collect scrap-metal for a bit of extra cash.
Then came President Roosevelt's creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Jack, who enlisted to build roads, dams and infrastructure in the great Western outdoors of Colorado and Wyoming, remembered ever-after the same joyful and tremendously empowering CCC experiences that others still recall in books and documentary films.
In the late 1970s, Jack and I took a trip to find the old camp shown below. Although it was only a memory by then, Jack still glowed with gratitude for the life of nature and skills gained out there. The 90 percent of his wages sent home carried the family into better times.
While the organizational discipline was quasi-military down to the uniforms, the CCCs filled Jack's hands with skills that he kept using and growing all his life. If the pre-war CCCs had a rival social program of equal fruitfulness, it was the post-war G.I. Bill, whose guarantee of education for veterans fostered the world-changing inventions of the Digital Age, down to the cell-phones and Internet.
On a parallel course, Jack's future crewmate Clarence "Red" Eudaily (born 1924) was growing up in Mason City, Illinois. When The Great Depression ended his father's first career as a barber (because few could afford the "luxury" of a 15-cent shave), the family with 7 children found a new life on a farm near "San Joze" (as Red pronounced it).
Click Below to hear Red describe those early days and how he came to join the U.S. Army Air Force—my father's future destination, too.
Greatest Thanks & Warmest Appreciations
To Red (for everything), and to
Red's daughter, Jeanie Eudaily Cummings, and husband Alan,
for all their help & hospitality in making this interview possible!
On the Way to War
Jack came home just as World War II exploded. While his brother Bobby lied about his age to join the Marines at 16, Jack kept working (now in the ticket-window at Boston's old South Station) to provide for the family until called up at age 21 in August 1943.
At Basic Training in St. Petersburg, Florida, Jack took up life in tents again, and there he liked the obstacle course so much that he ran it twice a day. "Made you feel like a million."
By that December, he was in Aerial Gunnery School at Florida's Tyndall Field (probably picked for his size, which would just fit into a gun-turret). There he first saw the war, as German submarines torpedoed Allied freighters just offshore. He learned to shoot first at skeet, and soon with a Browning .30 and .50-caliber machine gun from the back of a moving jeep, while another jeep towed targets round a course. To prove their mastery, gunners had to break down and reassemble their guns while wearing a blindfold.
Soon Jack was tracking tow-targets from the open back seat of an AT-6 Texan trainer. Up there, his first achievement was no longer throwing up when the pilot shouted "OK, clear your gun!" and then banked, turned and dove the plane down toward the ocean.
According to veteran John Tracey (in a post on the now-defunct Internet B-24 Veterans Group forum, July 14, 2001), these .50-calibers "fired 550 rounds per minute with the return-springs in," which "kept the breach-block from hitting the back-plate." With the return-springs out, "the guns fired over 800 rpm, and melted the barrels." With each bullet heavy in the hand at many ounces apiece, they shredded anything. Jack felt protected between a pair of .50s in a turret, but his skull rang as if he'd been wearing jackhammers for headphones. Veterans never forgot the particular hot reek of powder and cordite as the bullet-belts ran rattling and tracers sliced the air.
This wry tale comes from another Gunnery School veteran (posting by "Dale" on Internet B-24 Veterans Group forum, Dec. 4 2000). He first asks if others found "many of the 2nd lieutenants who flew the AT-6s unhappy with their assignments, and anxious to get their flights over as soon as possible."
Since we were required to fire a certain number of rounds, if a gun malfunctioned, the pilot had to land so the student could mount another on the post, and then take him back up to fire the rest of the ammo. Some of the pilots, therefore, would tell the student-gunner to throw the unused ammo over the side into the Gulf of Mexico, where it wouldn't be found. And one day, when one of the students with a reputation for being a little dense had a gun-jam, and he received that order, he picked up both gun and ammo and tossed them out alike. Needless to say, he did not finish Gunnery School. We never heard what happened to the pilot.
Click Below to learn about Red Eudaily's training at Gunnery and Aircraft Mechanics Schools:
Before long, Jack qualified on all the B-24 Liberator's twin-gun turrets: the Martin upper, where you learned to find the fighters coming down on you out of the sun; the Sperry lower or "ball" turret, a notorious death-trap hanging from the belly of the airplane, where only men of his body-size could fit; and on the Emerson nose turret. Who could say which station required the steadiest hands, but he'd be the one nose to nose against fighters coming head-on at bomber-formations, firing cannon-shells at the pilots and cockpit just behind his turret. If they were torn up, your aircraft (or, "ship") was finished.
Of their first original crew (besides four 2nd lieutenants), all of Jack's and Red's mates became Sergeants with full training. While Clarence Eudaily rose to Staff Sergeant as a Flight Engineer—and got nicknamed for his thick brush of bright-red hair—Jack and Cornell Faniro apparently earned their Staff stripes some time after their first combat missions (perhaps along with the decorations they won). By Spring 1944, their Stateside training included whole Bomb Groups and Squadrons "flying the box" formation as their unit of striking-power.
A Group of 36 planes flew 6 boxes of 6 planes each. Those, in turn, comprised two boxes of 18 planes each, close together but at slightly different altitude, and so they bristled with 360 machine guns for mutual defense. Sometimes they added a "Tail-End Charlie," but eventually, (according to Red Eudaily), Jack's plane was often flying the 464th's lead-slot toward their targets, with a newly-developed "Mickey" radar system built into its belly to help put every bomb dead-on the target. Whatever else happened in the air, that was the point of the whole effort.
From the start, there were countless ways to get killed, and two big chances to survive: their airplane with all its equipment, and every single man's doing his job in flawless form every single time. It gave these men religious respect for teamwork, procedure and detail in getting ready for the worst. Life was in little things. Either you took time to check the circuits of your electric-heated flight-suit, or a "short" could start a fire in your armpit during combat. One of the best-detailed accounts is Robert F. Dorr's B-24 Liberator Units of the Fifteenth Air Force (Oxford UK: Osprey Publishing 2000).
Training took on ominous aspects: "Emergency Procedures," "Medical III," "Munitions" and "Chemical Warfare." How do you practice escape from a jammed turret on a falling burning airplane? Men would "buddy up" and promise not to bail out until they knew each other's situation.
Just before deployment came a short home-leave. Jack's mother Sadie laid out the G.I. flag-frosted cake, with a soldier-boy paper cut-out on it that did look like Jack in his tie and tunic. Then it was Charleston, South Carolina, where Jack's and Red's first crew took shape.
The essential Liberator crew was 10 men. Below is their list from Jack's saved travel-order of July 14, 1944—all of them next "to proceed to and from Grenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire, via North Atlantic Route [and the Azores Islands], to El Aouina, Tunisia…for further assignment and duty." They'd arrive in southern Italy 10 days later (July 24th).
2nd Lt. Lee, William W. [Oklahoma], 0818169 (Pilot)
2nd Lt. Keller, Robert G. [South Dakota], 0822458 (Co-Pilot)
2nd Lt. Farquhar, Raymond J. [Massachusetts], 0708805 (Navigator)
2nd Lt. Wales, Dennis C. [Seattle], 0762842 (Bombardier)
S/Sgt. Eudaily, Clarence W. [Illinois], 36475010 (Engineer, Top Turret Gunner)
S/Sgt. Lynch, John W. [New York], 6909723 (Radio Operator, Waist Gunner)
Sgt. Faniro, Cornell [New Jersey], 32749878 (Tail Gunner)
Sgt. Wright, James H. [possibly New York], 13175236 (Waist Gunner)
Sgt. Dempsey, John T. [Massachusetts], 31371143 (Nose Gunner)
Sgt. Cook, Fred H. [unknown], 42021195 (Ball Turret Gunner)
Most of Jack's photos—he was forever carrying a camera around—were with "Pistol Packin' Mama," which was the last of the original 464th aircraft still flying missions. But in front-line practice, crewmen were wholly interchangeable among the available Liberators. Here are a dozen of the nicknames they bestowed on many a ship:
Hell from Heaven
Big Ass Bird
Click below as Engineer Red Eudaily describes how these men became a crew, and many a Bomb Group-member's responsibilities:
As Red put it, your first concern was your pilot, and "Bill" Lee proved his caliber and care to every man on his airplane. His angular young-Swede looks belied, Jack said, how gravely he took his duties and his men's well-being day-by-day. His steady discipline and foresight, by which he even taught Red Eudaily to handle the flying in emergencies, gave everybody confident courage.
Officers of Jack's original "regular" crew, likely at their South Carolina start : left-to-right, 2nd Lts. Bob Keller/Co-Pilot, Dennis Wales/Bombardier, Ray Farquhar Jr./Navigator, and Bill Lee/Pilot
Duty itself and bonds with a buddy knit these men together. Jack's first buddy, a close friend since Basic, was the "wiry, thin and small" ball-turret gunner Fred (or "Cookie") Cook. Jack admired Cookie's nerve to fly the ball, and he trusted Jack with their pilots from the nose. They had another asset in tail-gunner Cornell or "Corny" Faniro, who boasted that although "just a gunner," he knew every bolt of the plane. For all the ribbing the men gave Corny, too, as their fluent-Italian bella figura, Corny was going to prove himself one "bad day" by shooting down two German fighters, for a Silver Star. In a souvenir base-magazine clip of Jack's, Corny's decoration was described as the first enlisted man's Silver Star for the 464th.
Bob Keller (above left, with Jack) was Bill Lee's tough and ready co-pilot: gunners Jimmy Wright and John Lynch were younger and all but boys. Jack had the same confidence in their navigator, Ray Farquhar. Visit Mike Whitehead's excellent website about him at http://ray.mlwsw.com, the source of the 2 crew photos above. There you can also learn more about Keller, and bombardier Dennis ("Denny") Wales—who was trained on the latest Pathfinder (PFF) or "Mickey" Radar systems.
Jack did, however, have a mild but lifelong hydrophobic anxiety. Just before their transatlantic flight to the front, Jack said to Ray, "You make sure we don't miss the fuel-stop in the Azores—because if we have to ditch in the ocean, I'm going to shoot you before we hit the water."
As Red tells you below, they had a frightful Pantanella landing when their ship's wheels hit PSP or steel-mat runway for the first time—The rubber and steel together shrieked. In that summer heat of late July, Jack's and the other crews settled into tents (and one outdoor shower per week) on a broad knoll and olive-treed lands overlooking their parked ships and runways, where they were going to cope with a full round of seasons "too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry" (according to John S. Barker Jr., ed.'s The Flight of the Liberators: Nashville, Battery Press 1986). Charred, cannibalized B-24s lay in the groves beyond the base: engine failure or just a few pounds of runway-mud could crash a plane on takeoff, and others came back too crippled to make the last mile.
Suddenly they all felt like "cherries" again. The 464th had a long history before this place. Once established here on June 1, the 464th had been attacking German targets in northern still-occupied Italy and France, and crossing the Adriatic Sea into Yugoslavia, Romania and Austria, the Axis' so-called soft "underbelly" filled with railroad yards and oil refineries. In June, they had struck the fiercely-protected industries of Blechhammer, Germany, twice in 3 days, and took their share of heavy casualties over other priority-targets, from Ploesti (June 6, July 15 and 28) to the submarine pens at Toulon (July 5)—all places Jack's crew came to dread.
(Note: This account is anchored between two main sources: Jack's official Group Combat Record, and Michael Hill & Betty Karle's definitive The 464th Bomb Group in World War II: In Action Over the Third Reich with the B-24 Liberator (Atglen PA: Schiffer Military History 2001). Hill & Karle detail every mission, including a 50-page "464th Photo Album" from operations-aspects to dozens of crew-photos and a "Life at Pantanella" gallery. Highly recommended.)
The day after Jack's crew's arrival, the Fifteenth Air Force lost 18 bombers, on a mission against the Hermann Goering Tank Works of Linz, Austria (July 25). On July 28, up against heavy flak and 150 German fighter-planes, they did more damage to crucial refineries at Ploesti using 349 Liberators. Twenty aircraft were lost—and so on those two missions were 380 of that one month's toll: 3,180 men lost on 318 aircraft. (Sources: Dorr 69, and Chapters 4 & 5 of Stephen E. Ambrose's The Wild Blue: New York, Simon & Schuster 2001. Much more also at http://www.15thaf.org.)
Jack's crew had to watch and wait. They took up life in "Tent 54," relatively close to the hard-stands or parking-points of their planes, and overlooking the wide flat farm-country of the Foggia Plain: one tent among many whose former crews were not coming back.
When Jack arrived, the 2-month-old base was growing livable. Some crews had turned tents into tufa-block houses, and shared a Group news-sheet called Bomb Blast, later called The Tower. Despite the summer's hot high dusty winds, there were outdoor movies: Never A Dull Moment, This Is The Life, or Is Everybody Happy. You could swim or fish the nearby Avanto (or, Ofanto) River, or launch a ballgame on the base diamond (Hill & Karle 63-4, 67, 70, 78). A medicinal ration of "mission whiskey" waited every man who got back from the daily, and there was more tradition linked with staying alive.
Ground personnel had been stashing a few beers aboard the planes so they came back as frosty as high altitude. When air-crews found the beers, drank them on reaching home, and then buzzed the hardstands dropping empty cans, a "find the beer" rivalry got going. The Ground men won out by taping a stash of cans into the access-panel of a wing. But potable cargo was almost standard by the time Jack was learning how it felt to make it back. Everybody relished those hardstand-frosties, an ale or a grape-soda slush. Sometimes, a returning B-24 parted their hair with a roaring, all-flares-flying "buzz-job" over Pantanella, a favorite way to celebrate somebody's finished 50 missions.
It takes almost 15 pages of details and photos in Barker's Flight of the Liberators (141-154) to describe the myriad layers of work going on around them, pouring into each mission's organization and achievement. The logistics to keep everybody fed, housed, equipped, and healthy were staggering. There was ground-based intelligence about enemy forces and targets to match against reconnaissance from P-38 Lightnings and other fast aircraft. Weather-experts helped to create mission-timings and routes, as others planned avoidance of flak and fighters. The result was a plot for the best-possible "Initial Point" or I.P. along the way. For these Bomb Squadrons never flew straight toward a target, but made a final turn at the day's I.P. to bear down on it and attack. Even bombing-altitude was calculated for them, given local prevailing winds and clouds: typically, from 21,000 to 27,000 feet.
Which squadrons of American fighter-groups would get the call to fly the day's escort? By this time in the war, the bombers' blessed "little friends" were interlocking their range-based circles of protection to and from each target: thanks to victories on the ground, their bases now in southern Italy included P-40 Warhawks, P-47 Thunderbolts, P-38s and the latest P-51 Mustangs, in multiple units like the 325th Checkertails and Tuskegee Airmen. Only they reduced the losses of Air War to "tolerable" levels. Still other units of "mediums," B-25 Mitchells and B-26 Marauders, went in to distract, disrupt, and destroy every relevant German defense around industries and oil-production sites—while rescue-boats, scout-planes, and hospitals geared up for the daily aftermath.
Jack, Red and their fellows speak gratefully alike for every kind of help they got. Their highest praise was for their Ground Crews who, from fuel and bombs to wings and wheels, got the aircraft hands-on ready for combat every day—and, for the chaplain of the 464th, who helped them so much against fear and losses in the daily defeat of Nazi Germany.
My father must have kept this picture of armorer "Joe Nemess" for a reason. But according to his note on the back, Nemess was "killed when a bomb storage area at Bari [a main town just south of the Foggia Plain] was bombed by the Krauts, November 1943"—eight months before Jack landed in Italy. Stephen Ambrose's Wild Blue does note "an advance-echelon" of the Fifteenth Air Force "already established" there "at the end of November" (117), when German bombers still in range did strike.
So I don't know what Nemess or his
captioned photo meant to my father. Maybe they were as close as the men beside
him in the picture below; or as with others of his photos, it stood for another
friend lost in a like way. "They never let us down. Not ever," he said. When
each ship came back, they inspected every inch of it, shucked off the
engine-cowls and picked out slivers of flak, repaired ruptured lines or tubing,
worked off the "squawks" written up by crewmen, and helped Battle Damage
Assessment Teams prescribe complicated repairs. (Source: veteran Lloyd Bailey's
post of July 23 2001 at b24mach3ww.com).
At right above is 464th Ground Crew Master Sergeant John W. Graham—whose proud son Jim Graham has so generously shared his father’s memories in words and photos. Sergeant Graham (quoted extensively in Hill & Karle’s definitive history) was another intimate friend of Pistol Packin’ Mama, and lived out the Ground Crews’ dedicated attitude that these ships were only “on loan for the day” to the air-crews. You can find Graham’s own vivid recollections at www.zplace2b.com/464th/stories/stpmom.htm . Here below, his son Jim recounts his father’s story of still another danger facing the men who kept these Liberators flying:
The belly turret was always retracted into the fuselage during landing, and it was the gunner’s job to clear the weapon. On May 2, 1944, one gunner for some reason didn’t get it done. So, once the plane was on the ground, the belly turret was lowered so the gunner could climb back down and pull back the breach-blocks to remove the bullet-belts. But he slipped with one of the guns, and fired a burst of .50-caliber. Dad, standing close by as he cleaned parts in a can of high-octane fuel, was holding it close to his body. He was hit with either the first or the last bullet of the burst as the gun swung sideways. Any bullet from the middle of the twin guns’ swing would have cut him in half. The bullet ripped into his left hand and sent him rolling across the ground. Dad’s first thought was that the can had exploded from a wool-cloth spark. He spent two months in an Army hospital, and lived out his life with only a thumb, index, and middle finger on his left hand. No one was safe.
Red Eudaily too described one Master Sergeant Bopp's last-minute fix of an engine oil-leak right on the runway one morning of a mission. Ground Crews slept all day to work all night, and both main groups tried not to disturb each other's sack-time. Once in awhile, by day or night, a fully-loaded B-24 simply blew up in place out on the hardstand. Red Eudaily's interview and 464th veterans in the film On The Wing agree that sabotage was the reason more than once. Wherever you were serving, you risked your life.
Below: from Sgt. Jack Dempsey's collection, a Ground Crew Armorer of the 464th Bomb Group, 1944. Although the man's name was beyond Jack's recall, this was to remember him after he "simply disappeared," through an unexplained explosion during performance of his duties. He stands beside a B-24 that bears(cropped out) one legible word of name-graffiti—"Tramp."
(You can learn a lot more of the 464th's fiercely-devoted Ground Crews on the website about Master Sergeant Joe Krenzelok at: http://tinyurl.com/krenzelok ).
The day of their first mission (July 30, 1944) was at last upon them. Roused in the dark from cots and tents to a breakfast of powdered eggs, oatmeal, toast, bacon or Spam or sausage and coffee, the crews then sat down where all the data, instructions, warnings and support described above converged on them—in the mission-briefing. Here was a prioritized list of targets, the route of the day and I.P. all mapped out, with fighter-rendezvous: a Weather officer spoke, a Flight officer marked what to look out for, and then Operations told how to arrange their Groups and their bomb-loads. All of it to inflict mortal devastation, and nothing more certain ahead than damage and casualties.
Above, & Below at left: Jack's photos of "Father McChahey," also shown celebrating Mass for the 464th on Hill & Karle's photo page 255.
The man at right above was Father John H. Eastwood, Chaplain of the 464th at this time. "Guys, what can I tell you," he sometimes said in his early-morning talks recalled by Jack. "Except that, even though some of you will come back, and some of you probably won't—Don't be afraid or too proud to call on God, and He will help you through this. And wherever, however it works out, when you get back, I'll be right here to carry you the rest of the way."
Jack said that Eastwood hailed from Chicago. "We would have followed him down the barrel of a cannon. He was always the first guy to jump right into a plane that had crash-landed on the runway. The ship could be on fire or ready to explode, but nothing ever kept him from helping everybody to get out, and the devil be damned."
How did Eastwood get there first? Red Eudaily's answer contains a remarkable fact.
As noted, the 464th and 465th Bomb Groups shared parallel runways at Pantanella. And standing out there on the dusty grass between them every mission-day was Chaplain Eastwood, watching the bombers take off and waiting their return. "Some of those ships came in half-out of control—maybe no wheels down, or one wheel, or a wing on fire. That was no place to be standing, and yet there was Eastwood, waiting for us, praying and ready with his life to help us home."
Click Below for Red Eudaily's recollections of their arrival at Pantanella in southern Italy—about learning to live there, the crew's first combat-mission, and their first casualty.
Six days after their arrival at Pantanella, my father and his original 9 crewmates got their first assignment, as the 464th and other Bomb Groups set their sights on the Duna Messerschmitt factories and airfields of Budapest on July 30, 1944. It was the 464th's 50th mission (Hill & Karle 66).
Jack said their hearts were pumping terror and excitement "right from the wake-up that morning." They were ready—but only to Expect The Unexpected, as the airman's motto said. With little interest in breakfast, they turned in their valuables, suited up, grabbed their essentials-packed "escape kits" and parachutes, and then trucked, jeeped, biked or walked out to their aircraft. The loaded Liberators—packing the day's 500-lb. bombs, or mixed with 100-lb. incendiaries and/or 1,000-lb. blockbusters—still swarmed with Ground Crew in the cool before sunrise, when the air was rich with Foggia's country-morning fragrance and aviation fuel.
According to the veteran "Old Soldier" (Dubo78's posting at b24mach3ww.com, March 28 2001), the pilot and/or flight engineer did a walk-around checking everything: sometimes he "got positioned under one of the rudders and started pushing it up and down until the whole tail assembly was vibrating wildly. If it didn't fall off, we figured the old bird was safe to fly. Honest."
There was a last huddle of crew and
officers. Engineer Red Eudaily "dipped" each fuel-tank himself and, satisfied,
sealed the caps tighter into the wings with copper wire. On-board, he checked
out electrical systems as their ship came to life, from each of four
1200-horsepower engines to every gauge and turret.
Jack in the nose-turret began that day a ritual he repeated for every mission, even though it cost him (Red said) some regular teasing over time. For Jack wore not only the heavy front-and-back flak-vests in which everybody started out their tour. While others eventually tired of their encumbrance, Jack always wore both vests, with another protective panel packed under his butt, and more under his feet. Whatever they faced on a mission, his turret faced it first. And as you'll see, he did get hit.
B-24s packed with bombs, fuel and ammo waddled out into takeoff-order, like pachyderms with wings. The roaring wash of hundreds of revving engines flagged olive trees across the plain, and then a bright green "Go!"-flare sent another plane aloft each 30 seconds from both runways. Take-offs themselves were a "hairy" proposition, with any mistake or loss of power likely to be fatal. Then, the sky crowded with a dangerous rally of hundreds of circling heavy Liberators, as they slipped into battle-order box by box.
His 35 ships were airborne by 0730 hours, and climbed out over the Adriatic Sea to meet their fighter-escort. Everyone at stations got their oxygen masks or a "walk-around tank" in order for duty over 10,000 feet, and the pilots on the "interphone" ordered test-fires of all guns. "That cold, at real altitude—especially for the waist-gunners at open windows, sometimes it was 50-below—I couldn't believe the cold. And I knew winter back home," said Red Eudaily.
Nearing the target, Red's duties included a climb down into the Liberator's belly to arm the bombs, which meant "pulling a little tagged pin out of each bomb's nose, and handing that bunch of tags right to the pilot, Bill Lee." That was probably close to when they all first saw and heard the 88-millimeter bursts of German anti-aircraft flak, miles of their black explosions ahead and hanging 3,000 feet deep across their path.
There was one rule: fly straight through it, keep formation tight and hit the target, and all of it made you an easier mark. Sometimes, flak blew a plane into a hundred mid-air pieces. Sometimes it crippled an engine or an aileron, and when a bomber fell out of protective formation, the fighters finished it. Ragged chunks of steel tore through bulkheads, hydraulic lines, and crew. And always the tak-tak-tak of lighter fragments peppering the fuselage. Stephen Ambrose's Wild Blue (169) quotes a mordant Fifteenth Air Force revision of the old song, "As Time Goes By":
You must remember this,
The flak can't always miss.
Somebody's got to die.
The odds are always too damned high
As flak goes by…
Of this mission, Hill & Karle relate that just after their I.P. turn for the target, 10 ME-109 fighters came at their formations head-on. Jack and Red must have fired their first combat rounds right at them. Strafing Jack's Group first, the fighters tore into the boxes next behind, and Corny's tail-guns got their chance. Then "heavy flak" took over the sky again, but at 1115 they dropped 85 tons of bombs on-target.
Then, more German fighters came hunting stragglers, as the Liberators rallied for home with the day's pre-planned turn. Down upon them dove the P-51s. One German fighter did break through into the bomber-stream, but got nothing but a burst of turret-fire, and sliced away again. Surely the scale, ferocity, danger and exhilaration of a day like that had Jack's and everybody's senses roaring with adrenalin long after landing.
I have three accounts of what happened that day to Jack's designated "buddy" on the crew, Fred "Cookie" Cook, the ball-turret gunner. You can hear Red Eudaily's in the last-above clip from his interview. As he says, Cookie flew with their original crew, but after the target, a flak-shell blew the whole turret out of the belly of the plane, with Fred Cook inside it. That's what Red says he saw, having climbed back into the waist through the bomb-bay (as usual in heading home) to work some valves for the transfer of fuel from store to main tanks. The turret, mount and all, was gone.
Hill and Karle (66) report that Cook was flying ball-turret aboard "Rough and Ready" on July 30 when, over Budapest, a flak-burst "opened a huge hole near the cockpit" and, a second later, "a bomb from an overhead plane struck the left wing." A whole engine "twisted off the wing, came through the fuselage, and ended up [jammed into] the flight deck" just forward of the bomb-bay. As the pilots fought for control so crewmen could bail, the waist-gunners cranked Cookie's ball-turret up into the plane to help him out, and then jumped through the hole in the fuselage. But Cook "delayed his jump too long before pulling the D-ring on his chute. It never fully opened before he hit the ground, and he was killed," as 8 survivors became "guests of the Germans."
As my father described it, Cookie at the last moment was ordered to replace the ball-turret gunner on another airplane, taken seriously ill. He joined that crew (with what other adjustments I do not know: Red is skeptical), the Group took off, and they hit their targets. But as the formation turned for home through miles of flak, Cookie's Liberator blew up with a direct hit. My father said he saw it go down "in a dozen burning pieces," and nobody got out. To that, he added only four words, and I'm sure they at least accord with both other versions. "I cried and cried."
1) Lt. Bill Lee, Pilot; 2) Lt. Ray Farquhar, Co-Pilot; 3) Sgt. Dempsey; 4) Sgt. Corny Faniro; 5) Lt. Denny Wales; 6) Sgt. Red Eudaily. "Others new men" (Jack's caption). This photo also appears on page 92 of Hill & Karle without any identifying notes.
Through July, the 464th flew 19 missions and lost 18 planes (Hill & Karle 67). Then over and over through August, Jack's crew faced it again. On the 3rd they struck factories building deadly new German jet-fighters (ME-262s) at Friedrichshaven, and on the flight home their 465th comrades lost 8 Liberators, 80 men, when "jumped" by 50 ME-109s and FW-190s. On the 7th they hit Blechhammer again (Red's most "hated" target). On the 9th it was back to Budapest, and then on the 10th and 18th, they hit the already-infamous oilfields of Ploesti. Sometimes, German twin-engine ME-110s came up firing air-to-air rockets, another terrifying new weapon.
Jack's new "buddy" became one Jack McGrath (at center below), of whom I have not been able to discover anything except this labeled photo. "There were periods of incredible boredom," wrote veteran Don Currier (posting at b24mach3ww.com October 5 2000), "especially in Italy, where we didn't have the fleshpots of London to escape to. These periods were interrupted by short periods of high terror and daring actions. They all blurred into a predictable pattern: the hairy takeoffs, the target runs, flak, fighters, planes going down, and then the incredible euphoria of the trip back to base. On my 35th mission, I came the closest ever to calling it a day. Do any of the rest of you know what I'm saying?"
The 464th took part in Operation Anvil, the August 1944 invasion of southern France (as noted on the previous WWII page, my future Uncle Frank was aboard the Tatum far below). Through August the 464th flew 22 missions in 31 days, with 109 crewmen listed as missing, and 7 missions against Ploesti alone (Hill & Karle 87, 79). Jack said that sometimes looking out on a vast formation from his turret, he could hardly believe the sheer magnitude of what they were doing. That, you saw below as well, in a target reduced to seas of flames, secondary explosions and miles-high pillars of black smoke.
Combat was chaos of all kinds at once, the open-sided plane roaring for endless hours and icy-cold, slammed by bullets and 20-mm. cannon shells from fighters, with miles of flak surrounding each target. The Nazis deployed more fighters to protect their dwindling industries, diving out of the blinding sun or coming head-on six-abreast. They found soft-spots in the formations by steep attacks also from above and below, where the fewest guns could find them. They met and chased the formations at the limits of their range, and as their numbers decreased with time, their rage drove them even to suicide-tactics, taking a hopeless revenge. Hitler's retreats on all fronts were welcome news—but that also meant more accurate flak, because the Wermacht now was putting every gun they could save into defensive service.
One day the Liberator next to Jack's in formation simply blew up with no apparent cause. Back again, Jack peeled a black chunk of its wheel-rubber from the side of his own plane. Of another friend, a plane's waist-gunner blown clear out of his station, they found only a thumb stuck to the window-frame.
August 24: Pardubice
Exactly one month to the day since their Pantanella arrival, Jack and Red lost their second and third original crewmates—Sergeants and Waist Gunners Jimmy Wright and John Lynch. What happened (verified in Hill & Karle's Appendix B) was part of the mission for which Jack and Red, together, won the Distinguished Flying Cross; and a day that won the 464th Bomb Group its second Distinguished Unit Citation.
According to Hill & Karle's detailed mission-report (81-84), and to the Krenzelok web-page cited above, on August 24 the target was Pardubice (pronounced "PAR-du-bis") just northwest of Prague, Czechoslovakia—a "deep-in" mission.
That day, twenty-eight B-24s (including the 464th and other 776th Squadron planes) took off at 0730, and by 1230 they were dropping bombs all over its oil-refinery installations. All the way in to their I.P., as Jack remembered it, they had seen worse attacks by fighters and heavier flak. Krenzelok documents the loss of the plane "Com-Batty" with others on this strike, while Hill & Karle note the sight of men bailing out with parachutes on fire. In the melee, the nose-gunner aboard the ship Red J nailed a fighter. Yet, according to Jack, Red Eudaily and others, it was turning for home that put them in their greatest danger yet.
Suddenly, more than 50 mixed German fighters leaped upward into the homeward formations. They'd been "sitting back like a pack of hungry sharks," said Krenzelok's report, "sizing us up," while Eudaily was sure they'd been following "far below and behind," all but out of sight until they sprang. Their P-38 fighter-escort, usually protecting them from above, was briefly but critically out of a helpful position.
Right away German fighters shot down four bombers with 40 men, and kept on wheeling around and through the Liberators, guns and cannons ablaze. The reports and news-records describe such ferocity that more than 16 fighters went down (with five B-24s), and Jack's plane was among the worst-hit. Suddenly—according to what tail-gunner Corny Faniro told his proud sons Ronald and Brian of this day, and who shared this detail—a German fighter came slicing upward under Faniro's guns and fired. A cannon-shell tore through the turret, grazed the sleeve of his flight-suit, and flew straight back into the fuselage behind him. There it exploded in the Liberator's waist as it struck the oxygen-tank right beside gunner Jimmy Wright. Hit in the head, Wright died instantly, while his waist-gun partner John Lynch was dead of abdominal wounds by the time Jack, Red, and Corny (from the tail-turret) found them lying where they fell.
The first photo in this section—of a flak-torn Liberator marked Red J, from Jack’s own collection—he probably took and saved because it so resembled the damage to their own ship, suffered on this mission that killed Lynch and Wright. Ground Crew Master Sergeant John W. Graham (in Hill & Karle 128), remembering the return of Red J after the December 2nd mission over Blechhammer, gives an idea of the shape in which Jack, Red, Corny and the others made it back from Pardubice. “[The airplane] was a mess. Above the waist she was nearly cut in two. The wings were full of holes. Fuel tanks had been hit, but the self-sealing feature had worked. Some of the holes were big enough to put my fist through....There was blood and gore all over the place. Like I said, I don’t ever want to see something like that again.”
Because Jack "always had his camera," we have below the photo of the actual plane ("Red Z") in which Wright and Lynch were killed that day. Sgt. Dempsey took at least two photos of it, and while his own collection-copy shows this plane from a slightly different point of view, Red Eudaily (in his caption on the back of his photo, below) explicitly identified this B-24 as the one in which they lost two very good friends over Pardubice.
As American fighters came fast to the rescue, the problem now with getting home was that bullets, shells and flak had shot out the airplane's hydraulics: they'd have no wheels or brakes without them, and a belly- or "friction" landing too often meant fire or worse.
With Lt. Lee fighting to keep the airplane steady, Jack and Red climbed down onto the foot-wide catwalk spanning the middle of the wide-open bomb-bay—where there was no room for wearing parachutes. They were lucky, because the hand-cranks still worked to let the wheels come down of their own weight: the tough cranking-trick was to make them lock in place. Eudaily had to grip my father's hand for life as he hung out over the sky and did the work. At their altitude, every few minutes they grew oxygen-deprived and dizzy, and they managed to share gulps from a walk-around oxygen bottle.
At one point Jack's foot slipped, and he thought his arm would tear from the socket. Another shell almost blew Corny's tail-turret out of the airplane, but he was miraculously alright. "We didn't expect to make it back," Jack told The Boston Record-American later. "Our fighter-escort saved us, they got to us in the nick of time."
Red climbed up into the nose and kicked that wheel down till it locked, too. So, they made it home, with another improvisation to slow the landing—lashing parachutes to the waist-gun mounts and tossing them out as the steel-mat runways screamed with the wheels' touchdown. By the time their shot-up ship lurched to a halt, Chaplain Eastwood was there to help get them out of it.
Click Below to hear Red Eudaily's telling of what happened. Neither he nor Jack imagined that they had decorations coming—it was "just another day," Red said. Their nominations must have come from the usual attentive debriefing-officers, who then began a quiet investigation with other witnesses.
According to official sources cited by the web-page dedicated to Navigator Ray Farquhar, "the Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any person who…distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement….The performance of the act of heroism must be evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty. The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from his comrades or from other persons in similar circumstances."
Jack's and Red's fellows had one day of rest. Then (August 27) they returned to bomb that "cursed" Blechhammer again.
Click Below for Red Eudaily's further actions on the Pardubice mission, and on the news of his crewmates' Decorations.
Bad flying-weather dogged September, but it was an easier month that lifted morale and saw more base improvements. The stories that follow after their harrowing August reflect these airmen's often being "borrowed" and/or mixed in for missions with less-experienced crew—naturally, for the good of the Group, even as it separated original "buddies" and consigned them to separate fates.
Again I have two accounts of this original crew's next loss of a close friend. According to Jack's notes, on September 10th over Graz (in southeastern Austria, along the way to Vienna's prime targets that day), they lost 2nd Lieutenant/Bombardier Denny Wales, "the big guy" who went permanently "missing in action" through unknown misfortune on a different Liberator. Jack's only hearsay-information was that a fighter's or flak shell had burst inside the cabin behind the nose-turret, where Wales' bombing-station stood, and it blew him out of the airplane. It must have ripped a hole much like the above in the right nose of Pistol Packin' Mama, as Red (standing/left), Jack and another pal share another lucky day.
Hill & Karle's Appendix B does not list Lt. Dennis Wales at all. Mike Whitehead (http://ray.mlwsw.com) generously helped me to a better-documented account of his loss. (See his "A Note on Dennis Wales.") According to a 464th Missing Air Crew Report available there (MACR 9748), Wales took off at 0830 on November 15, 1944, as the "Mickey" radar-operator on a ship called "Black Roger," whose Group-target that day was Linz in Austria. In the photo below, you can see how the white Mickey radar-dome hung in place of a ball-turret on a ship that served as pathfinder.
The Missing Air Crew Report details a weather-day of high and heavy clouds, thunderstorms and strong turbulence. That is all, except that "Black Roger" and Wales were never seen again after takeoff. So it seems that, while my father was incorrect about the date of Wales' loss, the place or area of Graz might yet be right, because Graz lies enroute between Pantanella and both prime targets on the possible days of Wales' loss (September 10/Vienna, or November 15/Linz). In weather like that, it's easy to see at least why the ill-fated "Black Roger" had borrowed a seasoned Mickey-bombardier like Wales. In any case, yet another original friend was gone.
It might be that many an unknown fate encouraged crew to carry a .45-automatic in a shoulder-holster on their missions. It had been reported that Waffen-SS units and pitchfork-wielding German civilians had respectively hanged or murdered not a few downed fliers. Red Eudaily is sure that they were issued side-arms but had to turn them in for some reason as soon as they reached Italy. Yet, Jack told me that he carried one (and was sorry he ever turned it in). Straps visible in the "debriefing" photo shown above may suggest that possibility.
Day by day they held on somehow. They shared meals and letters, visits into another planet's culture in Bari and Cerignola and farm-villages, kept a constant poker-game going somewhere, and sang around the recreation-hall's battered old piano. Above, Corny Faniro's elbow leans on the keys, with his leg crossed over Red Eudaily's knee: Jack sports the only tie. (And in the back row, 4th from the left, is gunner S/Sgt. P.F. Lester.)
Bless 'em all, bless 'em all, bless 'em all,
The long and the short and the tall.
Bless all the sergeants and W.O. ones,
Bless all the corporals and their blinking sons.
For we're saying goodbye to them all
As back to their billets they crawl.
You'll get no promotion this side of the ocean,
So Cheer Up, my lads, Bless 'em all!
Corny bantered with local people in Italian. Red was no drinker, but one day he dared a second sample of the strong local Foggia wine, and nobody would let him into Tent 54 till he stopped heaving.
They put us in the Army, they say the food is fine,
They pay us thirty dollars and they take back twenty-nine.
The biscuits that they give us, they say are mighty fine:
One fell off a table and killed a pal of mine.
The girls at the service club, they say are mighty fine:
Most are over eighty and the rest are under nine.
Oh, I don't want no more, I can't take no more of Army life.
Gee Ma, I wanna go back to Ontario
Gee Ma, I wanna go home.
You kept learning to lead your target better, to "make him fly into your fire." "The yellow-noses were the worst," Jack said, fighters marked as Goering's namesake-warriors. Sometimes the twin-jet-engine ME-262s came screaming through the bombers and P-51s alike "as if they were balloons hanging in the air" (a German pilot in the 2006 Long Shot Productions documentary, On The Wing).
Sometimes they traded bits of supply for local food and distractions, for the Germans in retreat had stripped the region of food and every asset. A famous "disease" often came home with a flier who traded away parachute-fabric to local people, who made clothes and sheets of it in town: the symptoms were a pair of knees and elbows with serious abrasions, from "hitting the silk" with a local entrepreneur.
Jack said the jets tore across his gun-sight faster than his turret could track them. He saw six jets, attacking head-on and firing nose-mounted cannon, shoot down four Liberators in one pass. "Those little twinkling lights on their noses were shells coming at your head." Fortunately, these jets were too few and too late to turn the tide.
Click Below for more from Red Eudaily—on further missions, on enemy sabotage at Pantanella, and the day he shot down a German fighter at very close range.
September 17th, Budapest again. On the 22nd, Munich, and there again on October 4th. October brought in worse weather that blew down half the camp's tents of grounded crews. To stay sharp they flew practice-missions, but even those brought casualties. When they did fly that month against 8 targets, it was heavy action over places like Vienna's railroad yards, and their losses of men and planes resumed.
As Bill Lee and their original officers finally enjoyed some real R&R on the nearby isle of Capri, Jack, Red and Corny were facing more upcoming strikes against Vienna, Bologna and yet another Blechhammer raid (October 11, 12 and 13). Instead, their officers came back to the line, and as of October 8th to their surprise, it was Jack's, Red's and Corny's turns to ride a "6-by-6" truck through the countryside to Naples, from there to embark for Capri's life-restoring powers.
Click Below as Red Eudaily recounts that Fall of 1944—what it meant to get some rest, a story of Germans killed there, and his smile for the nurse who laid back in his arms as their little boat slid down into the Blue Grotto.
So it was that on October 17th—while the sergeants were on Capri—their "regular" pilot Bill Lee, and Navigator Raymond J. Farquhar, Jr., lost their lives on a mission against Vienna's railroads and crucial supply-marshalling yards. It was Farquhar's 45th of the required 50 missions, and likely Lee's and Bob Keller's too. (See Hill & Karle 102).
The picture below has a double connection to my father. (Thanks to Mr. Daniel L. Stockton of the B-24 Best Web Discussion Group for help in sorting out these facts.) First, the picture does not show Bill Lee's and Ray Farquhar's last B-24. Instead, as usual, my father saved and marked the published image of this combat incident in memory of his own friends' loss, because it shows what happened to them and to most of their crew on October 17th (just as the plane below lost 10 of its 11 men in 1945: see http://www.zplace2b.com). The second connection is a literal one. For the Liberator shown below was nicknamed Stevonovitch II—the same aircraft on which my father, Red and Corny (as you'll see) were most likely flying more missions, soon, with a new but very tested pilot. It was only luck that Jack was to finish his tour before the last of World War II finished the ship that kept flying without him.
Also aboard "Red O" that October day was their original co-pilot, Lt. Bob Keller, as he flew at Bill Lee's side. Only Keller and one other man were able to bail out as the shell-stricken bomber flipped over and spun down out of sight into some clouds. Keller was captured, as you'll see. And that "other" man escaped because of heroic help he got from Ray Farquhar, even as their ship went in—which brought Ray a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross. (Again, see Mike Whitehead's website.)
Logical deduction from all evidence suggests that this letter about what happened came to my father from eyewitness Bob Keller. Here is the complete text—only its first unsigned page survived.
516 South Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Iowa: August 17, 1946
This letter is sure long overdue I know. I think that I have your address at home somewhere but, every time I think of beginning a letter to you and start to look for the address here, I am stuck. But today, I got a letter from the army with some of my papers in it, and one of 'em had your address on it. So I am sure going to write now that I have the chance.
I tried several times to get in touch with Red Eudaily when I got home last summer but never could seem to. Believe that he was still in the army then and you know how that is. I sure do want to hear from you guys, all of you, and I wish you'd give me the addresses of any other members of Bill Lee's crew that you have. From all that I can figure out, you and Red and Corny finished all of your missions [around the Spring of 1945] and were finally shipped home. But I don't know when or what the deal on Denny [Wales] was, or a lot of the things a guy wonders about.
Anyhow you three sure picked a good time to go to Capri. We were sweating it out until you got back, because our luck seemed to be best (except for one day [probably, August 24 at Pardubice]) when we were all together.
Guess we got rained out a couple of days, but we were on our third mission without you when we went down. Guess you'd like to know, so I'll tell you what I know about what happened.
Over the target, and off-course as usual, we got a lot of flak. This one 5-gun battery kept tracking our box. The last time we saw it, we saw only the first three bursts. At least one of the other two hit us. It knocked the left wing off between the engines.
Bill said, "Let's get out of here" over the interphone, and out I started. Had a time getting loose, because of the spinning, but finally did. (Probably took about 3 seconds, really, but it seemed a long time.)
The Martin [top] turret-gunner was at the bomb-bay when I got there, and we both saw Bill Lee on his way down, [but still] between the [pilots'] seats as we jumped out. But we were the only two to get out of that ship at all.
I don't understand why the guys in the nose and Bill didn't make it. Bill must have tried to get into the back of the ship to help the gunners, who were a green bunch.
That is all I know about us, except that I landed up in the trees.
Last summer on my way out to the West Coast I stopped and saw Bill's sister and aunt and uncle in Denver. They were very nice people, as Bill was too, and were very nice to my wife and me. Outside of that I haven't seen any of the other relatives. Have had letters from Ray's, Denny's and Bill's folks, though.
Guess that is all of that sort of thing that I have. I want you to put me as up-to-date as you can, when you write (at least I hope you write). Have often wondered what you guys are doing now. Suppose you are married and raising kids. As for me, I'm still…[the letter-page ends].
For the record, "At this time the pilots' seats were replaced with ones with armor plate backs and sides. Called 'coffin seats,' because they looked like open ones, they no longer reclined, a distinct discomfort. More seriously, they reduced the space between the seats: it was impossible to pass between them wearing a parachute." So wrote 465th Bomb Group veteran Joe Shuster (b24mach3ww.com, July 21 2001). That was only part of what Lee and Farquhar had to deal with:
"1) Remove radio headset. 2) Disconnect oxygen mask. 3) Remove throat-mike. 4) Throw off flak-vest. 5) Release lap and shoulder straps. 6) Unbuckle parachute harness. 7) Get up and stand behind the seat. 8) Remove the Mae West flotation-vest. 9) Plug into a walk-around oxygen bottle. 10) Reach over the seat and get your parachute. 11) Put the parachute on and buckle in. 12) Over water, put the Mae West back on. 13) Climb down and bail out."
Click Below for Red Eudaily's account of Bill Lee's loss, and how their crewmates each finished out their tours of duty.
It was Red, Corny and my father now, out of their original ten.
November's rain, wind and fog scrubbed almost a month of missions, at least keeping their losses to a single digit (6 planes and crews: Hill & Karle 126). To kill the dank Pantanella chill, many tents evolved versions of the 100-octane heat-stove by trial and explosive error.
From November 20th's next Blechhammer strike, to that of December 2nd which opened the weather again, it was first-thing back to Blechhammer. They were reassigned together under Kentucky-born Captain Lewis Perkins. Red recalls his first name as Clyde, and tells of a slow-talking soft-spoken man, both down to earth and deadly serious.
The new complete crew of Stevonovitch II. Back row: 2nd from left, Captain L.M. Perkins, pilot; and at right end, 1st Lt. T. H. "Big Joe" Graf, bombardier (see Red Eudaily's last interview segment for a story about Graf). Other identifiable crew: front row, left end: engineer Red Eudaily. Fourth and continued from left: gunner Jack Dempsey, gunner Paul F. Lester, gunner Corny Faniro. Also listed as crew: 1st Lt. R.G. O'Keefe, co-pilot; 1st Lt. D. DeBeraradinis, navigator; Sgt. R.W. McKee, radio operator; and Corporal A.J. Dalton, gunner. Many thanks to Mr. Pete Lester of Dover NH, son of S/Sgt. Paul F. Lester, for sharing this photo from his personal collection!
In the photos from this time—with some new crewmates perhaps flying Stevonovitch II, and by himself above—my father, dubbed "Sonny" (for sunny) since his boyhood, looks more downcast than in any other images from his life. As he stares at the camera on a chilly plaza, his eyes show something else that I never saw elsewhere. He looks dangerous.
Jack called Captain Perkins "a great pilot," with the same demanding and personal care for his airplane and his crew. Below this captioned photo is a story of Perkins that proves it.
November 20th, Blechhammer yet again. Just ahead of Jack's Group as they came in over the target, 3 Liberators of their sister-group, the 465th flying lead through the flak that day, were simply shredded into flames and falling wreckage in front of them. Even so, small accidents and errors that day added up to a minimal hit on their prime targets.
Called "Lt. Lewis Perkins" on Hill & Karle's page 65 and in a crew-photo (244), he was already a tested combat pilot. Over Ploesti two days before Jack's first mission, Perkins had held his ship (Red B) tight in formation as it flew straight through a "fireball," when the Liberator just in front of his "was erased in a sickeningly blinding explosion" of flak (65). The blast burned away most control-surfaces, and fire was sucked up into his open bomb-bay.
As the ship "shuddered," some crew bailed out, but Perkins told the rest to "Sit tight." Although they tossed everything "not nailed down" to lighten Red B, their fuel-transfer system was crippled, so they had to bail out on the last home-leg. Most crewmen were interned, but some with Perkins made it back to Pantanella. If Red Eudaily said "It was all about who you were going to fly with," Perkins spelled it out in skill, nerve, tenacity and luck.
November 8 saw some fanfare as Fifteenth Air Force Major General Nathan Twinning "arrived aboard his special C-47," and the whole Bomb Group turned out in best dress for a "pep talk," congratulations on their combat record and a Distinguished Unit Citation (their first award, of two). Twinning also "personally pinned decorations on some of the men," although Jack's and Red's DFCs were not "ordered" until December 16. Most likely their commander, Colonel A. Schroeder (who flew many missions with them), presented theirs in a later Pantanella ceremony (February 10, 1945: Hill & Karle 115, 158).
On December 6th against Czech marshalling yards at Bratislava, the 464th took on more fighters than it would ever face again from the dying Luftwaffe, with their Squadrons' knock-down of 9 Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts that day. Each December mission showed more of the first jet-fighter, the ME-262 or Schwalbe (Swallow). When they did fight, they were "murder," but again they flew too late to turn the tide.
Even so, on the 17th at Blechhammer (where else), the whole Group lost two of their most respected C.O.s flying with them, Lt. Colonels Charles McKenna and William Reddell, whose photos Jack saved among his records. Still, for Christmas they managed a charity fund, a raucous talent-show and gifts of clothes for poor local children. Again as on Thanksgiving, Uncle Sam shipped real turkeys to their mess hall.
January was "cold, wet, snowy and downright boring" between each of the whole month's 5 missions, flown in -50 temperatures when bomb-bay doors could freeze shut and men had to chop them open and get the bombs out by hand, and the flak deadly as ever. (See Hill & Karle Chapter 5.) At base they fought to keep warm, shot skeet, practiced gunnery on a new "Jam Handy" projection-machine, and heard Hitler's last public speech on the radio—he was babbling something about insane defiance to the end. Yeah, yeah.
Another January day, they heard Axis Sally's broadcast tell them that the clock in the 464th's Officers Club was 15 minutes slow. She proved right: no question that local hands around the base were not always helping (Hill & Karle 151).
Through that winter of 1944-1945, an especially cold, rainy, snowy and muddy one, many men remembered unusually-poor powdered food (a meal was C-Rations in water-gravy), slept in their tents with a bit of heat from oil-drum stoves, flew missions, and flew missions, against deep-in targets from vulnerable low altitudes. The veteran "Curmudgeon" differs as he recalls "the squadron cook, Lucky Kelty, who could do amazing things with C-rations and some fresh stuff he got locally….We had no complaints about the food," and "we took the missions as they came" (b24mach3ww.com, posting of August 27 2001).
As January turned into February, Jack's and Corny's final Pantanella month was freezing-cold but brighter, with 20 days clear enough for missions, and those were more of the flak-heavy same, plus a few "milk runs" due to the weakening enemy resistance. In northern Europe, the Eighth Air Force was running out of German targets. Jack's last month was among Pantanella's best, with 510 official strikes or sorties booked and comparatively few casualties (Hill & Karle 167).
With Perkins, Red, Corny and perhaps Stevonovitch II, Jack remembered "two close calls," and I am sure of only one. Under heavy fighter attack again while returning to Pantanella, they discovered an armed 500-pound bomb stuck in the rack down in the bomb-bay. There was no safe landing with that. My father climbed down into the bay alone this time to wrench it free, and it fell into the Adriatic. His citations accumulated into an Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, while Corny Faniro earned his Silver Star.
The sheer hardness these men had acquired seemed summed up in Jack's story of one David W. O'Boyle Jr., a Group friend from Newton, Mass., and "a little guy, but with cast-iron balls." Back in the late summer of 1944, O'Boyle had bailed out of a burning Liberator over Dusseldorf, Germany, landed in some woods, and then walked his way home into France, reporting that he had to kill "three or four" German soldiers along the way. "That guy would do anything he had to do—one fearless son of a bitch," Jack said.
Constant high-altitude exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays caused Jack a late-life case of facial skin-cancer exactly along the narrow joint-lines between his helmet and goggles. Some crewman's family no doubt meant well, shipping over a few fresh tins of "Vienna sausage"; but that was exactly their most hated meat-ration at base. Next mission over Vienna, they dropped sausages with their bombs. Another day, after the terror of just reaching their target, they found the bomb-bay doors frozen shut. When the engineer had chopped them open, he hurled the axe out after the bombs. "Now they know I mean it!" he cursed.
On February 5th they bombed Regensburg, Germany, and Jack's (and probably Corny's) last mission from Pantanella was a raid against Klagenfurt on February 23rd. Red Eudaily, meanwhile, had needed about a week in hospital. As Keller surmised above, that is when he, Jack and Corny fell out of mission-synch and daily contact.
March 1945 was the edge of Victory in Europe. And yet, that March 1st went down in 464th history as “Black Thursday”—for just as their ships were coming back around 6:00 that evening from a strike on the marshaling yards at Linz, a colossal explosion tore apart the Group’s Bomb Dump #18, about six miles from the Pantanella hardstands. Hill & Karle (167-169) gather many eyewitness-accounts but none of them finally define the cause: possibly, some of the stored bombs’ high explosives were unstable and detonated during handling. But Pantanella witnesses felt the concussion shake the whole area. Dozens of people suffered injuries, and 15 more Ground Crew of the 464th lost their lives along with at least seven Italian civilian workers.
Red finished out his tour in March on many of the 20 missions flown that month. April saw the fewest casualties and the most accurate bombing-results of their whole Wing's combat time, and by month's end, Hitler was dead. Pantanella erupted in wild celebrations at the final May 7th news of Germany's surrender—cases of beer, local wines and a plentiful barbecue-feast kept things lively all night.
The obvious worry now was a transfer to that contradiction in terms, Pacific combat—but Pantanella rightly bet on packing up for the States. As Hill & Karle finally note, no aircraft ever took to the sky more tuned, prepped and ready than the Fifteenth's homeward Liberators. Along the way, most of them dropped tons of packed-up military cargo into the Atlantic, the savings in fuel a guarantee of a flawless flight home.
Click Below as Red Eudaily recounts some "characters" at Pantanella—including Chaplain Eastwood, Colonel Schroeder's "calling up the Germans" to insult them during bombing-runs, a tale about Ray Farquhar's hat, and the flak in Big Joe Graf's shoe.
All in all, according to R.F. Dorr (85), The Fifteenth Air Force lost 3,364 aircraft and 20,430 bomber-crewmen killed, wounded, missing, or taken prisoner (http://www.frankambrose.com reports 21,671 such casualties).
Against those odds my father flew a total of 58 missions, the last few on Liberators fitted to patrol for submarines. (Red is sure that Jack was not "asked.") Then he served awhile longer in the Military Police, where he learned the hard way to let a call about brawling soldiers wait a few extra minutes. For in his first responses, the brawlers all had turned on him and the other MPs.
At last, the slow boat-ride home. Jack, in spite of mild hydrophobia, had had enough of flying. Corny crossed the Atlantic at his side and watched him win so much money at cards that he wore his money-belt in the shower.
At the end of this web-page you'll find a remarkable last event these men shared, one that Jack wrote about their first Stateside rest in Atlantic City—a chance and, yes, a mystical meeting with a relative of their lost young waist-gunner, Jimmy Wright.
After the war, Red Eudaily stayed in and kept serving in the Air Force. He also fell in love with the high country of Montana and was a rancher and family-man there for 40 years. Click Below as he sums up his reflections—on the losses of friends, on the honors accorded these Fifteenth Army Air Force men at Pantanella, and on the hope that Red still holds, as he did then, that "peace will come."
Thanks to Mike Whitehead's work at http://ray.mlwsw.com, we hear an echo of Red Eudaily from his lost Navigator, Lt. Ray Farquhar, Jr.—who wrote these words in his poem "Flight" while he was living them, at Pantanella:
long for peace and quiet, so I fly up in the blue,
And fly I must till all the things I long for have come true.
Then back to Earth I'll settle and forget the battles' din,
For my work will then be finished, whene'er the peace begins.
No more to roam the silent skies or meet the dreaded foe,
No more to sally forth to kill or maim those down below;
For man was meant for finer things, and though he oft has failed,
The time will come when wars will cease, and justice will prevail.
As for Jack—He went home and married into the amazing Geremonte family of Stoneham, just north of Boston. (When he met my mother Irene on Cape Cod, he was introduced as Jack Dempsey, and she replied, "Yeah, and I'm Cleopatra.") Jack put his skills and character to work building his home and family on a long New England Telephone career, whose starting-salary was $27.75 a week.
At the end of his final mission from Pantanella, my father clambered out through the bomb-bay of his B-24. Always teased about his typical load of flak-armor, this time he had his parachute on for no apparent reason. Suddenly, for a joke, he jumped into the air with a Hooray! and pulled the ripcord. As the folded silk fell open, out clanged a jagged chunk of German flak, which must have struck him at the slow "spent" end of its flight. In combat over the target, he hadn't noticed it.
Front: possibly Dennis Wales/left, Cornell Faniro/right:
Back: Jack Dempsey/left, possibly Bob Keller/right
The Collings Foundation brought its tour of WWII aircraft to Hanscom Field near
Boston, my father and I got there fast. On the highway near the Air Show, we
heard and then saw a B-24 Liberator and a B-17 Flying Fortress pass together right
over us. Dad’s mouth fell open wider in amazement than my own. I could feel the
breath go through his body. He looked up as if his original crew were in the
windows. Hundreds of people young and old turned out to enjoy and pay their
was the first time I saw a Liberator, and my father took me through, connecting
every piece of equipment and station with the stories of his training and
missions. Wherever a veteran or crewman was talking, people listened. That day
we could see Dad’s nose turret only from outside, but he ran his hands along
the aircraft, touched the twin tails, the wheel-struts and windows, grateful to
this cousin of his own.
Not long after, Dad passed on—in true Irish fashion on my birthday (1992), which meant that we “waked” him on his birthday two days later. We did it at Finnegan’s Funeral Home. He wanted to go dressed for golf. A few years on, I got the chance to fly on this same Collings Foundation Liberator. Nothing could have made his memories more physical to me.
We strapped in just behind the wings, with our backs against the bomb-bay bulkhead. When the four engines roared outside the open windows, we launched, and watched the runway falling faster behind through the bobbing tail-turret’s window. This rattling elephantine monster lifted off in deafening noise and vibration, a twin-tailed aluminum tube packed with heavy equipment and gasoline. We climbed, banked, suddenly sank, then climbed again. A fellow saw rivets turning in the wings. This was a flight to make anybody nervous. Every day and under fire was something else.
flight, a bell rang with permission to move around. I crawled forward, then
climbed down into the bomb-bay, and crossed the foot-wide catwalk forward,
clutching steel bomb-racks as the whole “room” banked a little. The far side
offered a climb up to the Flight Deck behind the controls—and as I stood
there beneath the “greenhouse” windows, the copilot pointed out ahead, and
there was the Foundation’s B-17 Flying Fortress, coming our way out of the blue
distance. A mile off, high to our left it banked away in a breathtaking pass.
Electrified, I climbed back down for the lower passage under the Flight Deck,
the crawl-space to go up into the nose.
The wheel of the nose landing-gear was still spinning in retracted place at about 50 miles per hour. Crawling past it through that dark space of wires and gear, I lost any idea of how men got through in flight-suits and emergencies. Dad’s U.S. flag shoulder-patch gives some idea. By inches I got past the whirring tire (sure it would throw me out the nose-wheel door), and came out into the cabin-space forward of the engines. There the Bombardier’s sight looked down with its dials through windows in the floor, protected behind the nose turret’s back twin doors. Remember that gaping hole in the right side of Pistol Packin’ Mama? By a split second that day she must have missed a direct hit by a flak-shell, part of which smashed through this very bulkhead.
green New Hampshire hills in the sunshine, for 10 full minutes I flew this
station alone; to see all I could of what my father saw looking out through
that turret, strapped in between .50-caliber guns, a swiveling bubble riding on
the nose. With a fair but cautious try, I could not open the turret’s back
doors. For all my longing to climb in, it seemed impossible that anyone could
fit and fight in that tiny space among all the gear. With wounds or gravity
holding them, very few got out of it.
First man heading into miles and miles of black flak, nothing in front of you but plexiglass and a gun-sight. First heading into the fighters, too, and no protection whatever, except to fire right into the fire coming at you, and protect your pilot.
The size of this turret was a contradiction to the size of the man inside it.
A Post-War Mystery: Written by Sgt. John T. Dempsey
(left among his mementos)
“God’s in his heaven, all is right with the world” might be a selfish way to put it, but that was how I felt today. I was back home in the U.S.A. and my problems of the past 18 months had left for oblivion. I was guest of Uncle Sam at the fashionable resort of Atlantic City, and from there I was going home to see my family again. I had it made. All I had to do right now was to keep track of the time until departure for home, and what better way than to take a carefree stroll along the famous boardwalk.
All around me were G.I.s, perhaps 500 to 1000 in full regalia, all Air Force combat veterans of you-name-it, and all with their hearts pushing against their tunics. Pride of belonging, perhaps, but mostly that they were here and heading home. These were men of today, but boys of a very recent yesterday. They had made their mark in the books of the world and it was their turn to smile again.
Among them were Staff Sergeant Cornell Faniro, of Burlington, New Jersey, and myself. We were the two remaining members of our crew of ten to make the roll call at home. As we walked we discussed visiting the families of our lost crew members, but were interrupted by a surprising turn of events.
We were confronted by two women who asked us many questions, What Air Force, Theater of Operations, Duty, Name, et cetera. One was in her senior years and the other was a younger companion, like a nurse. I must explain that even though our shoulder-patches showed 15th Air Force, we were among many others of the same group. How did they pick us? I started to lose slack. It finally came down to the fact that this woman’s son, Jimmy Wright, from Philadelphia, was a crewman of mine killed on a mission to Pardubice, Czechoslovakia, in August 1944.
Even more startling was the fact that, on talking to this woman’s traveling companion, she told us at what time Jimmy was killed. I remembered that that day, with the sun very bright in my eyes, I had looked at my watch just before we went in from the “Insertion Point” over the target. It was 12:30 in the afternoon. That was when heavy flak and fire killed our waist gunners.
Mrs. Wright’s companion said that at the same corresponding time—early in the morning hours of that day—Mrs. Wright awoke sharply and sat up in bed, screaming “Jimmy, my Jimmy, he’s dead.”
Now remember that this was approximately 4000 miles away at 30,000 feet, so no one ever could have known. Radio silence was naturally being observed. We were being attacked repeatedly by German fighters, who killed two and wounded two on our airplane that day.
am at a loss to explain the communication media, but it is in the class of
fantastics. Also in our travels, yours and mine, I am sure we have read or
heard about Mother’s instinct, or telepathy. Well, from then on, I was a
These were my fathers. When I see how they lived their devotion to freedom and family, I work to hear them say, “There goes a warrior’s son.”