Wayne’s bother, Verne, was transferred in late August 1944 to the 221st Combat Crew Training School at Alexandria Army Air Base located about five miles northwest of Alexandria, Louisiana. Prior to that, he had been stationed at Lincoln, Nebraska with the 616th Flying Training Group. There he had received B-17 and B-24 aircrew instruction
On the evening of August 29, 1944 at Alexandria Army Air Base , he wrote his stepmother, whom he called “Sis”:
Received a letter from you tonight and was so surprised I was almost through supper before I discovered I had eaten twice as much as planned.
That was a real letter, Sis. Please, please write more of them.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since I was last home. Personally, I don’t like it so much but my opinion doesn’t count much among the millions of others and this man’s Army
Aileen and Allen came to Lincoln about two weeks before I shipped out for this hellhole. They are still there by the way waiting until I get paid. They should arrive here about the third of September.
This is some town. A sleeping room is going to cost me ten bucks a week.1 Ordinary meals cost from one dollar on up. Steaks from two fifty to $3.
Bet I can guess your thoughts, Sis. Here’s what my guess is. “Oh, I’ll bet things aren’t that way. If they were, Shorty wouldn’t go to all that expense and trouble just to have Aileen and Allen there.” Am I right? If you are thinking the above, Sis, I would say you are certainly right. That is in ordinary times, but this is more or less an emergency. You see, Sis, we shall graduate from here on October 22nd and will be sent to a staging area for overseas. The way indicated right now says we will be out of this country by November 15th. I’ll even bet on it, Sis. Yes, even if Germany should get out of the war sometime this week. Well anyway, time being so short and all sort of influences my judgment. All in all taking everything into consideration, I feel that I am doing the right thing.
By the way a promotion is coming through to make me a corporal.2 It should happen before the 20th of September. It’ll be the only one all get until I’ve taken part in several combat missions.
You’re right about not going to England. By the time we graduate it will probably be the 14th Air Force in China and India. The last bunch to leave here ended up in England and the Aleutian Islands.
Has there been many more boys from Collins in the casualty lists lately? What was the last heard about Guy Lightfoot?3
I never made B-24s after all, Sis. Thank goodness. Ended up on B-17s. I am in the top turret or upper turret gunner. It is one hot spot in action but would rather have it than the lower ball. It is a heck of a feeling to be in the ball, because it seems that you are suspended on nothing and it also gives a person a feeling of absolute loneliness. In very simple words it scares the hell out of me.
The ground station or tower operates on 272 kcs.4 Is that any help to you? If not let me know and I’ll get more dope on it for you.
Yes, we’ve seen the Black Widow5 and as you say it looks like a honey.
As far as telling you anything about the B-29 it is almost impossible to say much about it since all information on it is super hush-hush. I do know that it flies in excess of 375 mph. Can reach 50,000 feet.6 Has twice the fire firepower of a B-17, larger bomb load etc. All the gun turrets on it are of remote control. It is the only airplane that is still being concentrated on as far as production is concerned. That’s all, Sis. Not much of an information box am I.
One of by crewmembers just passed around the fudge. Sure was swell.
In case you are interested here are the names of my crewmembers. Lt. Charles Sidden – Pilot – F.O. McAllister – Co Pilot – T/Sgt. Bill Goldthrite7 – Engineer (holder of DFC, a couple of stars and plenty of ribbons for 5 Jap Zeroes acquired during 23 months of combat duty for the 14th Air Force in China and India). Doc Augustine, Radio Operator, Bill Pruitt – Armorer gunner – Carlton Fisher, rear gunner no 3 – or tail man. Myself no 2 on top turret & Robert Powell the no 1 gunner or lower ball man.
I was sorry to hear of your being ill, Sis. It’s funny dad hasn’t mentioned.
Thanks for letting me know about Bob. It is the only real news I’ve had of him. Your actions in Bob’s case are very commendable all the way through, Sis, and Aileen and I agree 100% on all you mentioned in your letter. I still don’t blame Bob too much even though he should have a good horse whipping for the way he is acting toward his children. That attitude of his is thoroughly rotten.
Tell Granny that I love her very much and also wish we could be closer to each other. May God bless her always.
Wayne loaned me $25 a month ago8 and it was the last I’ve heard of him. I wrote him another letter two days ago. I imagine that he is on the move again and does not have much time to write.
During the last two months we stay here, we have to fly 175 hours. That time starts when we leave the ground and stops when a land.
We fly almost every day and it is getting tiresome as all get out. It wouldn’t be so bad but we are in the air about six hours. Servicing the plane etc. takes a couple of hours and then we unusually attend about three hours of ground school each day.
The weather has been simply lousy for flying. Rains every other day and it is invariably plenty rough in the air.
This afternoon we waited two hours for it to stop raining. We weren’t in the air for an hour before the ceiling clamped down and then we had to fly two hours on the instruments before the ceiling lifted enough to let us land. It almost forced us to fly to Lake Charles9 to land. Flying in clouds so thick and black that the wingtips are obscured is a scary sensation, believe me. I spent most of my time by the door ready to jump if anything should happen.
Most of our training here is merely a continuation of our basic gunnery training with the exception that this really goes into detail.
In case you are curious the B-17 carries 1,700 gallons of 91 or 100 octane gas in its wing tanks. The four engines average of 225 gallons per hour. How would you like to have a little of that? They can also carry bomb bay tanks when on long flights.
I wrote dad shortly after arriving here so it won’t be necessary to send him my address.
This field and has a very small percentage of fatal accidents so don’t worry about me.
10 p.m., Sis, and very late for one who flies. So will close for now.
Write when you have the time.
Notes & Commentary
1 Verne’s monthly pay was $65.00 plus flight pay of $32.00.
2 When Wayne graduated from the Harlingen, Texas aerial gunnery school in December 1942, he was promoted to the rank of “gunner sergeant”. Less than 18 months later, those graduating from aerial gunnery school were not receiving promotion at the same pace.
3 Guy Lightfoot was initially listed as missing in action (MIA) as were so many aircrew.
Second Lieutenant Guy Lightfoot, Jr., 20, navigator of a Flying Fortress bomber, is missing in action over Germany, his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Guy A. Lightfoot, were informed here today by the war department. The young man was aboard a bomber which failed to return to its base in England from a raid March 18. Thirteen planes of the March 18 raid landed in Switzerland, Associated Press dispatches of that day reported.
“In Uniform,” Greely (Colorado) Daily Tribune, April 4, 1944, p 3, col 8. digital image. Newspaperarchive.com (http://www.newspaperarchive.com/ : accessed 31 August 2014).
Within a year 2nd Lt. Guy A. Lightfoot, Jr. of Fort Collins, Colorado was declared killed in action.
Within a year 2nd Lt. Guy A. Lightfoot, Jr. of Fort Collins, Colorado was declared killed in action.
According the Report of Captured Aircraft filed by German authorities, Lt. Lightfoot’s aircraft was attacked by a German fighter near Riedlingen, Germany. The crash site was 6 kilometers east of Riedlingen and 500 meters inside the forest south of the road in the territory between Hailtingen and Uttenweiler. The aircraft was described as being 100% burnt. Nine bodies were found and one person taken prisoner.
Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/28620154/ : accessed 01 September 2014), B-17G, Aircraft Serial Number 42-31956, Report of Captured Aircraft, Khahalt, Flight Engineer Inspector, 20 March 1944.
Frederick R. De Roever, the Bombardier, 351st Bombardment Group, 511th Bombardment Squadron, was the sole survivor of the mission. In February 1946, 2nd Lt. De Rover completed a Casualty Questionnaire detailing his knowledge of the events of March 18. He wrote:
Here is a summary of the mission to Augsburg, Germany on March 18, 1944 when our plane was knocked down.
On our return from hitting the target near Augsburg, in southern Germany, we were attacked head on by about twelve ME 109s. We were flying at about 19,000 feet and were heading due west. We were hit about 1450 in the afternoon. The Germans came in in two single files and hit us head on. They hit our oxygen tanks and caused fire. Also our right wing was knocked off because a 20 mm cannon shell got a direct hit on it. Further the pilot was hit in the right side of the face. With the loss of the wing, we immediately went into a tight spin and I was thrown to the side of the ship. The Navigator, Lt. Guy A. Lightfoot, was throwing forward over the nose sights. We both tried to get out of the ship but the centrifugal force and pull of gravity was difficult to overcome. Further the pilot, Lt. Martin, managed to get out of his seat and fell forward on me. During this time all communication with the remaining members of the crew in the rear the plane were severed, and I do not know if they were able to bail out or whether or not they were injured. Lt. Sinnot, the copilot, tried to pull the ship out for quite a while and he bailed out about 2000 feet. I saw the pilot was critically wounded and had no chute so I started to climb out. The navigator was too far forward for me to help so I bailed out. Since I was at a minimum altitude when I bailed out (I hit a tree as soon as I pulled the record) I doubt very much if the navigator pilot were able to get out of the ship. As for the rest of the crew, I have no knowledge whatsoever. The last time I heard from them was just after the target time and about five minutes before we were hit, except that they answered my warning of fighters attacking the formation. We were flying in the low squadron, low man.
In Germany, I tried to obtain information from the Germans but they had none whatsoever on any of the crew and went to great lengths to ascertain the same information from me. Therefore, I am very sorry that I cannot answer this questionnaire more fully as I realize the importance of my information.
The nearest that I can recall as to where the ship hit the ground was in a patch of woods near the town of Reidlingen, Germany. I was taken to a combined courthouse and jail in that town and to a hospital in Ulm, Germany. These towns are both in southern Germany about 50 miles from Augsburg, Germany and about 30 north of Switzerland.
If I can be of any further service please do not hesitate to call on me as I am very anxious to know if any of the members of my crew are located and pray that some good news will be heard.
Frederick R. De Roever
2nd Lt. AC
Brooklyn New York
Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/28620213/”>http://www.fold3.com/image/28620213/ : accessed 31 August 2014), B-17G, Aircraft Serial Number 42-31956, “Statement of Air Accident” by 2nd Lt. Frederick Richard De Roever, 24 February 1946.
The pilot of the aircraft was on his second mission. His only other mission occurred on March 16 when the Squadron attacked Berlin. The Bombardier, 2nd Lt. De Roever, reported on the Individual Casualty Questionnaire:
Lt. Martin had been hit in the right side of the face and head by 20 mm shell and was also on fire, that is, his clothes were. Some how or other, he managed to get out of his seat and fell forward into the nose of the plane. He landed on me face down. I was able to beat out the flames on his clothes. He rolled over and I saw he was very seriously wounded in the head. About this time, the copilot bailed out so I managed to go out after the copilot. Lt. Martin was still in the nose when I left and he did not have a parachute on. Therefore, I assume he went down with the ship.
Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/28620175/ : accessed 31 August 2014), B-17G, Aircraft Serial Number 42-31956, “Individual Casualty Questionnaire, 2nd Lt. Paul (NMI) Martin” completed by 2nd Lt. Frederick Richard De Roever, 24 February 1946.
2nd Lt. DeRoever reported on the Individual Casualty Questionnaire for Guy A. Lightfoot that he was not the crew’s regular navigator and that he only met him just prior to take off. He thought that Lightfoot had completed 16 missions prior to this.
Our ship was in the spin, nose down, and the sudden stall of the plane through Lt. Lightfoot forward over the nose guns and knocked me to the side of the ship. He had no time to climb out because we were in a tight spin, having lost our right wing. The centrifugal and gravity forces were terrific to overcome. . . . Just before we were hit, we were conversing about knocking out of our target. Then I called the crew’s attention to the fighter attack on our lead planes. This was the last time I spoke to him except yelling for him to get out. Since I only managed to bail out at less than 500 feet, and that L. Lightfoot was still in the nose, I assume he did not get out.
Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/28620182/: accessed 31 August 2014), B-17G, Aircraft Serial Number 42-31956, “Individual Casualty Questionnaire, 2nd Lt. Guy A. Lightfoot, Jr.” completed by 2nd Lt. Frederick Richard De Roever, 24 February 1946.
4 Throughout the Continental United States, monitoring the communications of training flights must have been a favorite pastime for many civilians.
5 The Northrup P-61, Black Widow, was a night fighter. In the South Pacific, the P-61 equipped 418th, 421st and 547th Night Fighter Squadrons were attached to the 5th Air Force while the 419th and 550th Night Fighter Squadrons were attached to the 13th Air Force.
Northrop P-61 Black Widow. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_P-61_Black_Widow : accessed 31 August 2014).
6 The Boeing B-29 had a maximum speed of 358 mph and a service ceiling of 31,800. Its range was 4,100 miles and it could carry a bomb load of up to 20,000 lbs.
Francis K. Mason. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Major Aircraft f World War II. New York: Crown Publishers, 1983. p 20.
7 Bill Gouldthrite — T/Sgt. George William Gouldthrite, of Spokane, Washington, “who holds the DFC, has shot down five Nip fighters, for top honors.”
“To Davy Jones’ Locker.” CBI Roundup, New Delhi, India, February 24, 1944. digital image (http://home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater-5/roundup/roundup022444.html: accessed 31 August 2014).
8 Wayne sent his brother a $25.00 money order on July 19 to allow him to have his wife and son with him before he shipped overseas. It seems like a paltry sum, but at the time, it was approximately one-sixth Wayne’s monthly pay. Wayne called it a “good investment”.
Wayne’s Journal, July 19, 1944 (http://waynes-journal.com/2014/07/18/july-19-1944/).
9 During World War II, Lake Charles, Louisiana was the home of the Lake Charles Army Airfield. This airfield was approximately 100 miles southwest of Alexandria Air Force Base.