B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

 My First Mission
by George W. (Bill) Gleason, 444th Bomb Squadron
 

 

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This is Decimo Air Base on the Island of Sardinia. Here Bill is posing in front of "Miss Manchester" of the 441st.

When we arrived in Sardinia, Italy, in December 1943, we were assigned to a 12' by 12' tent. We had a mattress protector, but no mattress, so we stuffed the mattress protector with wheat straw and put it on the canvas cot they gave us to sleep on. I shared the tent with two other guys, Santos Galinto and Balimino Fernandez, who were two tail gunners, like me. They were from San Antonio.

Santos and Balimino had scattered their stuff all over the tent, putting it where they wanted it, and I had not gotten my stuff out yet when a jeep came by outside, honking. The guys in the jeep said they needed a tail gunner ASAP for a mission that was set to go out right then. Since the other guys had their stuff all spread out, and I didn't, I volunteered to go. I went by the parachute department and got a parachute, flak suit, and Mae West, and the guys in the jeep drove me to the plane that was on the runway with its engines running, waiting for a tail gunner. They practically threw me in the back door, and the plane taxied off immediately.

When we were airborne, the pilot told us to test fire our guns, which I did. Then I sat back to eat my breakfast of hardtack (a hard biscuit) and canned, scrambled, dehydrated eggs, which came in a peel off can like you can buy Vienna Sausage in now. As I sat on my flak suit eating my breakfast, I noticed puffs of black smoke outside on the right side of our plane. I called the pilot and told him that our right engine was backfiring black smoke. He replied, "You damn fool - that's flak! Get under your steel helmet!" When they told you to "get under your steel helmet," that meant to scrunch up into your helmet as far as you could get to protect as much as possible. When I heard the pilot's say that, my hardtack went one way and my eggs went the other as I scrambled to get into my flak suit and under my steel helmet as far as possible.

About that time, we got hit by enemy fighter planes. A burst of flak caught the Plexiglas dome over my tail guns and knocked it off. I still have the scars on my face from that close call. The cold air was harsh and tears were running down my face - either from the freezing cold temperature or fear - probably both! It wasn't long until the tears started freezing on my face! I think I got a shared partial kill credit for an enemy fighter on this mission, if I remember correctly.

After we had dropped our bombs and the mission was over, we noted that the hydraulic system was shot out. I looked back toward the turret gunner, Donald B. Ellsworth, and thought he was dead because I saw a foot hanging down with red fluid dripping from it. We had to feather the right engine (shut it down and turn it inward so it would slice through the wind and not cause a drag to endanger the plane). Not wanting to try to make it back to Sardinia with a feathered engine, and not sure what the extent of the damage to the rest of the plane was, we chose to land on the island of Corsica.

When we landed, I saw Ellsworth climbing out of the plane and I sure was glad to see him. I realized then that the red fluid I saw dripping from his foot was not blood, but hydraulic fluid, and I sure was relieved. No one was seriously injured. The pilot said, "Who was that damn fool who called in and said that the right engine was backfiring black puffs of smoke?" Reluctantly, I admitted, "Me." He stared at me a second, then said, "First mission?" "Yeah," I replied, "I had never seen flak and thought it had to hit you to explode." I found out that day, it didn't. The flak explosions were set to go off at a certain altitude and if you were in the area, you got hit with its shrapnel and we certainly did. I walked around the plane and counted 86 holes where the flak had torn through the plane's aluminum skin, leaving holes the size of an English pea all the way to holes the size of a man's fist.

We couldn't fly back to Sardinia with the hydraulic system out and the other damages, so we got a loaner plane from the base there on Corsica and flew back to Decimo at Sardinia. After this mission, I decided that perhaps I had picked the wrong vocation.

Bill Gleason back home in the good ol' U.S.A 65 missions later.


First Mission of George W. Gleason
320th Bomb Group
444th Squadron
Date: January 15,1944
Station: Sardinia, Italy
Mission Target: Orvieto, Italy - an important bridge that was being used by the Germans to bring supplies to Southern Italy
Plane No. on Mission Sheet: 29
Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes


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