In our outfit, crewmembers were interchangeable and not too often did one
fly with the same individuals. The exception being the same pilot and
bombardier were together because of the coordination needed between them on
the bomb run.
I remember Buelow, my bombardier, while Earl Nelson was my top turret
gunner, the latter flying with me for the first time. Earl at that time had
completed many more missions than I. Before the day was up there would be
ample reason never to forget Earl.
As we hoisted ourselves into those B-26 bombers, each of us no doubt
wondered how “fate” or the “enemy” or perhaps even “friendlies” might ruin
our day. This was my 7th mission. To a man they all hoped the pilot would
not screw-up this day; everyone would drink to that (me too). They all knew
where my “ass” leadeth, theirs were bound to follow!
It seemed from the start of my missions I was going to experience my share
of threatening incidents. None was more unexpected and menacing than that
against Piacenza bridge on July 20th. I was flying lead back up off the
left wing of the formation lead aircraft. Whenever flying in close
formation as was our protective procedure over enemy territory, a pilot’s
eyes must be continuously focused on the lead ship and his right hand
adjusting the throttle controls to keep his plane in proper relationship
with the lead plane, while his left hand adjusts the controls for upward or
downward movements and for turns all again as a consequence of changes in
positions of the lead aircraft.
We had crossed over Italy’s coastal mountains and proceeded well into the
Poe Valley. Then it happened. There was a vibration of our plane. I
glanced forward. Without any of us previously seeing it, a German fighter,
a ME 109, dove out of a higher cloud level toward me from 11 o’clock high,
its wings flashing fire as it’s machine guns sent their deadly projectiles
at us. I believe he initially lined up to knock out the lead ship, but
miscalculated slightly, causing us to become his primary target. My ship’s
vibrations were the result of his armor piercing bullets coming into and
passing through our aircraft. Three projectiles penetrated the plane’s side
just behind me while two were directly over my head and all exited the
aircraft on the right side near the tail gunner’s position.
The enemy fighter, in a frozen moment in time, in my mind, is still there.
The pilot’s face with his leather helmet and goggles looked at me, and I at
him, as he flashed by some 200 feet outboard of my left wing tip. In a
millisecond he was gone with our fighter escort in hot pursuit. Never again
was my enemy closer or as recognizable.(Continued)