B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

  Never Give Up On A Wounded Comrade
by Ben West, 443rd Bomb Squadron

 

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46 Year Later

 

I saw Earl the next time at a “Bomber Group Reunion” in New Orleans in 1990. He had just learned about our association. We had much to reminisce about much of which is included here. He again “thanked me” very seriously for “saving his life”, but I never felt it was deserved as I, in fact had come very close to “wasting his Life” during the period after the attack, when I stayed with the formation probably some 15 minutes. Other crewmembers that gave him first aid deserve his praise.

Some credit goes to that fabulous Martin B-26 Marauder in which we flew for its speed and ability to take a beating. With it, at times, you had a “love-hate” relationship. It was very advanced for its time with very stubby wings requiring landing approach speed not less than 150 miles per hour. Its low speed flight characteristics resembled a “brick”. With its armament it stalled at about 130 mph, which made landing anywhere, but especially at Alto a rather “hairy” experience. Going or coming you counted your blessings.

To my knowledge no one “second guessed” the decisions I made that eventful day. In many succeeding missions I flew as lead formation pilot and at times acting command pilot in charge of the entire bomber formation. I also was made Squadron Commanding Officer three months later. That’s not too shabby for a 24 year old who at times had to make decisions which potentially could affect the lives of others and also endeavor to help keep a bomber squadron organization at peak efficiency. High command would name the targets but we had the dirty job of destroying them. Everyone had to grow up quickly in those times.

Although I wasn’t anxious to go, they sent me to a rest camp on the Isle of Capri for a week’s recuperation. There I bought a small silver bell and a medallion of Saint Christopher as good luck charms. The tag describing its virtue was printed in German and after our invasion the enterprising merchant simply printed it in English on the reverse side. Don’t knock them; they were lucky; I’m here aren't I?

Shortly after this mission I would loose another crewmember, Buelow my bombardier. He temporarily “filled in” on another crew for a mission and was shot down. I would see him next at the end of the war quite by chance while photographing the grave of the Unknown Soldier under Paris Arch of Triumph. Ground forces had liberated him several weeks before at a Prisoner of War camp that was over run. He said in German interrogation of him upon being captured that they knew all about the squadron, its members including yours truly. Little wonder that “Axis Sally”, the German propagandist from Berlin prior to our moving, in her radio broadcasts, would announce our top secret field changes prior to our moving with warnings that we would be very, very sorry. Between playing American music she “sweet talked” us about missing home and who was servicing and caring for our wives or sweethearts.

Before ending I must at last pay tribute to that very brave German Messerschmitt Pilot who alone attacked our bomber formation against over whelming odds. He potentially faced nearly seventy 50-caliber machine guns in our formations had he been observed and had they been brought to bear. This is saying nothing about our six ship P-47 fighter escort. I hope that some how he also survived.


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