Shot at and Missed: Recollections of a World War II Bombardier [NOOK Book]

Overview

In this riveting narrative, Jack R. Myers recounts his experiences as a B-17 bombardier during World War II. Commissioned a second lieutenant in 1944 at age twenty, Myers began flying missions with the 2nd Bomb Group, U.S. Fifteenth Air Force. He learned firsthand the exhilaration—and terror—of being shot at and missed.


Based in Italy, the Fifteenth Air Force flew strategic bombing raids over southern Germany, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, and ...

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Shot at and Missed: Recollections of a World War II Bombardier

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Overview

In this riveting narrative, Jack R. Myers recounts his experiences as a B-17 bombardier during World War II. Commissioned a second lieutenant in 1944 at age twenty, Myers began flying missions with the 2nd Bomb Group, U.S. Fifteenth Air Force. He learned firsthand the exhilaration—and terror—of being shot at and missed.


Based in Italy, the Fifteenth Air Force flew strategic bombing raids over southern Germany, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia. Less celebrated than the Eighth Air Force, which flew out of England, the Fifteenth, nevertheless, was pivotal in dismantling the German industrial complex. Myers offers an insider’s view of these missions over southern and central Europe. The reader goes with him into the highly exposed Plexiglas nose of the Flying Fortress, flying with him through the flak-filled skies of Europe and peering with him through his Norden bombsight at Axis targets.


On average, a heavy-bomber crewman survived only sixteen bombing missions. Myers survived his allotted thirty-five missions before being honorably discharged in 1945.





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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806184890
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 2/27/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 461,802
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Jack R. Myers is a retired businessman living in Arcadia, Oklahoma.

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Read an Excerpt

Shot at and Missed

Recollections of a World War II Bombardier


By Jack R. Myers

UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS

Copyright © 2004 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8489-0



CHAPTER 1

Whatever Happened to Charlie?


The U.S. Air Force was not established until September 18, 1947; in World War II the Air Corps was part of the Army. The old Army Air Corps did not have an Air Force Academy. Instead it had the Air Corps cadet program to train flying officers. The requirements were such that the average young lad with no political stroke could not qualify. You needed two years of college and a letter of recommendation from your congressman even to be considered.

In the summer of 1942 the country was neck-deep in the war and in dire need of flyers to build up the Air Corps. So the requirements were changed. If you had a high school diploma and could pass all the mental, physical, and psychological tests, you could qualify. I was eighteen but had not completed high school, so I was short on education, but when I heard they were testing for the cadet program in Peoria, Illinois, I caught the first bus from my home in Quincy. They pummeled me with four days of intensive tests, and much to the sheer astonishment of my family and friends, I received a letter of acceptance soon after my arrival back home.

No one checked for a high school diploma and I sure was not going to volunteer the information. Soon I was on my way to basic training at Shepherd Field in Texas. After three months of basic training I was sent to college at Fort Hays State College in Kansas for six months of intensive courses in physics, algebra, meteorology, and a myriad of other subjects. It was soon apparent that I was in way over my head, and my lack of education almost caught up with me.

My first day in physics class the college professor announced that this was an accelerated program to brush up on the college courses he assumed we already had taken. He might as well have been speaking in Mandarin Chinese because he completely lost me in the first five minutes. The other students were mostly college graduates or at least had some college, but I had no idea what he was talking about. I can still remember the first statement he made. "You all know of course that a falling object in a vacuum accelerates at a speed of 32 feet per second per second?" Yeah, sure.

All I had going for me was pride and desire. I was determined to succeed. My buddies could not believe my ignorance and took it upon themselves to tutor me. At lights out I would head for the latrine with one of my tutors, and we would toil until the wee hours. Every month when the list of the washouts was posted, we would all gather around to see who had failed and would be sent to the infantry. Surprisingly, I never made the list and graduated in the top quarter of my class.

My next stop was the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Classification Center, where I was again tested extensively. We were given mental, physical, and psychomotor tests, and we also were tested by a psychiatrist to see whether we had any hang-ups. Again approximately 30 percent were washed out. I passed with flying colors and was chosen to go to bombardier school. I was then sent to pre-flight school at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. After graduating there I went to bombardier school at San Angelo, Texas, where after months of training I received my wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

After graduation from bombardier school I was given a leave home and I then went to Drew Field in Tampa, Florida, where I was assigned to a B-17 crew for overseas training. At Drew I met my pilot, Ed Bender, my co-pilot, Earl Ruhlin, and my navigator, Burke Jay. These three would become my family for the most exciting period of my life. The four of us became inseparable; we were all newly commissioned second lieutenants and we couldn't wait to get into combat. We would live together, fly together, party together, and hopefully survive together.

A few days later I met the six enlisted gunners, all sergeants. Charles Summerfield, tail gunner; Ralph Gailey, left waist; Bob Taylor, right waist; Johnny Melendez, ball turret; Jess White, radio gunner; and Eddie Camp, engineer and upper turret gunner. We would train together as a crew for three months and then be sent overseas. Upon arriving at Drew I was assigned quarters and told to go meet my new crewmates.

As I walked in the door I noticed a blond-haired guy lying on a cot staring at the ceiling. His hands were clasped behind his head and he seemed to be lost in thought. He appeared to be about five feet nine inches tall, slightly built, pushing thirty years of age, with pilot's wings on his chest.

"My name is Jack Myers," I said as I walked toward him with an outstretched hand. "I'm your new bombardier."

Slowly he turned his head toward me. The only thing that moved were his eyes as he looked me up and down with a disdainful expression on his face.

"The Boy Scout troop is across the street, kid. Are you lost?" was his reply.

This didn't surprise me. I had been stopped twice in the past month by the MPs, who had checked my ID. They couldn't understand how this fuzzy-faced kid wearing an apparently brand-new officer's uniform could be a second lieutenant. I didn't mind. I was proud of it.

"You're a real asshole aren't you?" I replied. "I hope you're not my first pilot."

With that a huge smile crossed his face and he replied, "You're okay, kid. My name's Earl Ruhlin and I'm the co-pilot. Glad to meet you." And that's how I met the most interesting character I have ever known. There was instant rapport between us; in many ways we were kindred spirits and in some ways we were exact opposites.

Earl thought of himself as a man of the world, and he put on superior airs that many resented. He affected an East Coast accent more like a Boston accent than one from his home in Maine. Ed Bender, our pilot, could hardly stand him and many of the other pilots felt the same way. I'm sure some of his pretentiousness was put on, but I was never certain. A real rebel, Ruhlin was a frustrated fighter pilot as most co-pilots were. He didn't want to be flying bombers. He was a rugged individualist, not a team player.

It wasn't long before he took it upon himself to teach this unsophisticated, small-town bumpkin the ways of the world. Ruhlin was a daredevil. He was either the most courageous man I ever knew or he was crazy. We all believed the latter, although it was probably some of both, but mostly the latter. Ruhlin knew how much I wanted to be a pilot and took it upon himself to teach me to fly.

Bender warned me about him. "He's too reckless, Jack. He'll get you killed."


* * *

We were friendly with a lieutenant on the base who was in charge of light aircraft, single-engine Cubs and Aeronicas. These planes were used mostly by pilots who were not assigned to crews but still had to get their necessary four hours per month of flight time. In the Air Corps you received 50 percent extra base pay for flying, but you had to fly at least four hours per month. Bomber pilots were not allowed to fly the light aircraft because it was thought that they would develop bad habits. Ruhlin, however, was born to break the rules.

Ruhlin had a girlfriend named Liz who worked the tower at Peter O. Knight, a small civilian airfield at Davis Island in Tampa, so we had a friendly base to work out of. Also, she had a nice 1940 Ford convertible, she had a great apartment, and she was somewhat oversexed, or at least that's what Ruhlin claimed. Having a wife and two kids in Bangor, Maine, never seemed to cramp his style.

Every chance we'd get, we'd check out a Cub and fly to Peter O. Knight and shoot landings. I had ten hours in an Aeronica when I was stationed at Fort Hays, Kansas, as part of the cadet program, so I was not a complete novice.

One particular afternoon we had checked out a Cub, and our lieutenant friend reminded us that a storm was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and that if we encountered any bad weather we should come on back. However, the storm wasn't due for several hours, and since we only had a few hours of gasoline, we should be back in plenty of time.

Ruhlin was showing me how James Cagney landed a plane in the movie Wings. You come in over the fence at the end of the field, a little high, then you give it right rudder and left aileron, and the plane would slip sideways and drop very fast. Just before hitting the ground you would reverse the controls, the plane would line up with the runway, and you would land. It was a very flashy way to land a plane and it really impressed Liz up in the tower.

I tried several landings, but about the time I thought I was getting good, I came in too low. Before I could straighten out, we hit at a bad angle and blew a tire. Now we were in a mess. We couldn't call Drew Field because we would be in trouble. Ruhlin was not supposed to pilot light planes, and I wasn't supposed to pilot any plane. We talked a mechanic into running us into town and vulcanizing the tire. By the time we finally flew back to Drew Field, the lieutenant was about to call out the search patrol. We were gone five hours on three hours of fuel, and the only reason he didn't report us was because it would have been his ass also. Needless to say, that was the last of my pilot training for a while.


* * *

Charlie Rutledge was a girl I had met my first night in Tampa three months earlier, and we were madly in love. Every night that I wasn't flying, and all weekends, we spent together. She was from Savannah, Georgia, and she had come to Tampa with her sister, who was married to a gunner stationed at MacDill Field, another air base near Tampa. He was also in an overseas training unit, so they knew they would be heading back to Savannah when he shipped out.

There was a club in Tampa called the Turf Club, and that's where our gang would meet every chance we got. They made the greatest Singapore Sling this side of Singapore. It was run by an Italian we called Tony the Dago, and we had great times there.

One night after I had had too many Singapore Slings, Charlie brought up the subject of marriage to me. During those times you never looked too far in the future. You lived for the present.

"Why not?" was my reply. "You make the plans and this weekend we'll do it." The next morning back on the base, I told Ruhlin that I was going to get married in three days.

"Are you nuts?" he shouted. "Hell, we are going overseas any day now. You have known that gal three months and you want to marry her? Listen kid, when you get home, if you get home, you can get to know her before you make a decision like that." I promised Ruhlin I would think it over.

That afternoon they told us we were shipping out the next day for overseas and to pack our bags and be ready.

"Myers," Ruhlin said, "the Army just solved your problem for you. Now you don't have to explain to her why you don't want to get married."

Only married men whose wives were in Tampa could call out of the base. For the rest of us, it was no phone calls and no letters home until we arrived at our destination, which we knew could be anywhere in the world. I was frantic. How could I get in touch with Charlie?

"Wait until you get overseas and then write her," Ruhlin said. "You have the best excuse there is. And when the war is over you can go home and make your decision then."


* * *

The next day we were put on a troop train to Turner Field, Georgia, where they gave us a new B-17 and a week later sent us on our way. In those days, everything was top secret, as if German and Japanese spies were everywhere.

Our first stop was Dow Field in Bangor, Maine, and we still weren't allowed to phone anyone. Bangor was Ruhlin's hometown, so he was soon making plans to get together somehow with his wife. She had no idea that Earl was anywhere near home. She thought he was still in Tampa.

We flew up the Atlantic seaboard, passed over New York City, and circled the Empire State Building. What a thrill. Ed Bender's home was in Jersey City, New Jersey, and he came down in the nose while Ruhlin flew the plane. In the nose he had an unrestricted view and was able to pick out his house from the air.

On our arrival at Bangor, Ruhlin wanted to contact his wife, but he knew he wasn't supposed to. So he decided to contact her the best way he knew how: by air. He wrote several notes to her and placed them in the pants pockets and shirt pockets of some old clothes he had. We tied the clothes in knots, and because I was a bombardier, he wanted me to drop them over her folks' summer cottage where she was staying. The cottage was on a lake. We came over the water at treetop level and dropped the clothes out as we went over the house. The plane made a hell of a noise and at that low altitude should have shaken shingles off the roof. When he finally contacted her, he asked if she got any of the messages and she said no, she hadn't heard or seen a thing. Probably years later a pair of his pants showed up leaving all sorts of unanswered questions.

We were at Dow Field for several days and Ruhlin was finally able to talk them into letting him call his wife. Her father was obviously a man of influence in Bangor. He pulled some political strings and they allowed Eleanor on the base.

When we finally met Eleanor, it was apparent she and Earl were a matched pair. She wore a mink jacket and dressed as if she were going to a Hollywood premiere. I remembered Ruhlin's advice to me to marry a rich gal. It appeared he had followed it.

When Ruhlin gave her the guided tour of our plane, we were all there to meet her. As he helped her into the aircraft through the waist door, she caught her coat on the door and Ruhlin said, "Oh Liz, you ripped your jacket." When she asked who the hell Liz was, Ruhlin quickly replied, "Oh, that's Jack's girlfriend in Tampa." Bender enjoyed that little slip-up tremendously and we never let Ruhlin live it down.

We all walked under the nose of the bomber and left Ruhlin and Eleanor alone to say their good-byes. Ruhlin hadn't seen his wife in more than a year and now he was on his way to combat. It would be a long time before they would get together again, if they ever did.

Two days later we were given orders to fly to Gander Field, Newfoundland. We knew then that our final destination would be either England, where the Eighth Air Force was stationed, or Italy, with the Fifteenth Air Force. We were at Gander almost two weeks waiting for clear weather before flying over the ocean. We had to fly at night since the only way the navigator could navigate over the ocean was by the stars; there were no radio beams at that time that would reach that far.

I was itching to get going. I wanted to start flying combat missions; that's what I had been trained for. I also wanted a permanent address so I could write Charlie. I lay awake nights thinking about her and wondering what must have been going through her mind.

It was a boring two weeks in Newfoundland, but I did accomplish one thing. I broke myself of my gambling habit. All I did for two weeks was gamble, and I lost every cent I had saved up to that time. Jay, the navigator, did likewise. It was a sobering experience but a valuable one.

Finally the weather cleared and word got out that we would be leaving that night. We still weren't sure where we'd be going, and we wouldn't know until the last minute. I had come down with the flu and felt terrible. I was afraid to go on sick call because they would put me in the hospital and my crew would go on without me. This meant that I would be stuck on a plane later with a bunch of strangers and end up God knows where.

Jay wanted me to help him navigate. He was scared to death he would get lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Bombardiers were cross-trained as navigators but were not taught celestial navigation, or navigating by the stars. Jay's plan was to use his sextant to get fixes on the stars and give me the positions, which I could then use to plot the course. As sick as I was I knew I wasn't going to be much help.

Just after midnight they told us to come in for briefing and prepare to take off. Our destination was to be the Azores Islands, about 500 miles off the coast of Portugal. We knew then that we were going to Italy to be part of the Fifteenth Air Force. There were about twenty other heavy bombers, B-17s and B-24s, also flying out that night. They would stagger their departures so no one would run into each other. Some would go to Italy and the Fifteenth Air Force by way of the Azores and some would go to England and the Eighth Air Force.

At briefing they told us we would be on our own. The only navigational aid would be a British automatic direction finder at the Azores that had originally belonged to the Germans, who had based their Atlantic submarine fleet at the Azores until the British invaded the islands. The ADF homer radio had a range of only sixty miles, so Jay would have to be on the ball or we would have a long swim.

I was so sick that Jay told me to go to sleep, that he would be all right. I crawled back into the waist of the B-17 and went to sleep in my sleeping bag. At 1 A.M. we took off for the Azores. At about 4 A.M. Jess White, the radioman, woke me up and told me Bender, the pilot, wanted me.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Shot at and Missed by Jack R. Myers. Copyright © 2004 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations,
Preface,
Prologue Like a Dream,
Chapter 1 Whatever Happened to Charlie?,
Chapter 2 The Lost Squadron,
Chapter 3 Prisoner of War Release,
Chapter 4 First Mission,
Chapter 5 Violent Vienna,
Chapter 6 The Chief's Cold Beer,
Chapter 7 Shot at and Hit,
Chapter 8 The English Major,
Chapter 9 Big Leona,
Chapter 10 Blechhammer, Germany, Oil Refinery,
Chapter 11 FUI (Flying under the Influence),
Chapter 12 White's Purple Heart,
Chapter 13 Isle of Capri,
Chapter 14 Bad News,
Chapter 15 Jaybird,
Chapter 16 More Bad News,
Chapter 17 The Return of the Two Prodigals,
Chapter 18 DeNeut Returns,
Chapter 19 The Silver-Tongued Major,
Chapter 20 The Aluminum Sky,
Chapter 21 Fifteen Minutes of Fame,
Chapter 22 Hero to Goat,
Chapter 23 The Gentle Giant,
Chapter 24 High Roller with a Short Stack,
Chapter 25 No Foxholes in the Sky,
Chapter 26 Droop Snoot,
Chapter 27 Ruhlin, You're Full of It,
Chapter 28 "Three-Finger Jack" Ryan,
Chapter 29 Home on Leave,
Chapter 30 Pilot Training,
Epilogue,

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2007

    Entertaining but not informative

    If you are looking for entertainment, then I highly recommend this novel. If you are looking for a history of bombardiers then find something else. He does a great job of telling his story but does not go into the mechanics of things very in depth. Good book overall.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2004

    WWII Classic

    It has everything. Suspense, action, sex, and drama. Finally a book that tells the unvarnished story of how the bomber crews lived, fought and died and how they enjoyed their time when they weren't getting shot at. A real page turner.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2004

    A masterpiece on WWII.

    Holds your attention from beginning to end. Tells the true story of survival under the most trying circumstances. A must read for WWII buffs.

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