In England, Verne wrote a letter to his father in which he noted . . . it is best you people at home don’t know too much. He also wrote is his diary . . . .
Ho hum, another day wasted. Spent one hour on the Jam Handy trainers1. Received four letters from Aileen. Laundry came back cost eight shillings expense. No pants back as yet, so I’ll have to borrow some to go on pass Tuesday. Ships were full of holes from today’s mission pack. Five feathered props.
Two squadrons from the 390th Bombardment Group participated in a bombing mission on a bridge at Wesel on February 24.2 Not all bombs were released on the mission and at least one aircraft returned with bombs aboard. On landing a fuzed 1,000 lb. bomb fell out of a 569th Bombardment Squadron (H) B-17G, aircraft #328 An ordinance officer quickly safetied the bomb. The bomb was then removed from the runway and operations continued.3
During the day, Verne took time to respond to a V-mail he had received yesterday from his dad. The V-mail was postmarked February 7 and had taken just over two weeks to reach him.
Dear Dad and Sis,
Your V-mail of the seventh arrived yesterday folks and was mighty welcome.
It’s amazing how a little mail and news from home helps a fellow keep the right perspective towards this life of ours – such as it is.
Thanks for dropping by and seeing Aileen and Allen while you were home. You could certainly keep her morale up if you stopped more often. She likes to be visited and remembered more than any other two people I’ve ever known. I appreciated your visit immensely also folks because it made her happy & believe me folks her happiness is also my happiness.
I am not sure whether I ever mentioned it before or not but I was presented the Air Medal a little over two weeks ago.
We are on our fourth pilot right now and still going strong. If only we were assigned a permanent one we would have in at least twice as many missions. Don’t get me wrong, Dad, things are moving along plenty fast but if we had a few of the missions in that we were forced to miss I would have had the staff rating3 by now & as always the extra money would be coming in darn handy. Funny how a guy can never get enough of that stuff isn’t it.
We are really trying to do our share in the war over here and believe that we shall be in on the finish before many more months are gone by.
Even if the war should end soon we expect to be over here for at least another full year. If things work out okay I’ll be able to pick up a little more education during that time.
I submitted another application for the course in electricity a couple of weeks ago and hope that it will be in stock this time.
I was reading an article the other day that said we killed twenty five thousand people in our big raid on Berlin the third of February. The flak scared hell out of us that day but we still derived a lot of pleasure out of helping the Germans to a little of the torment they have caused other nations and people to suffer.4
On a recent raid I went down on my knees and thanked God and the man that invented the flak suit for my safety. The first piece came through the floor and sliced my flying boot along one side and left a hunk of hot metal a half an inch square on the inside. The next hit me just under the left shoulder blade and tore hell out of my flak suit. It penetrated two pieces of steel and bent three more. Finally the third on and most humiliating hit me on the right cheek of my bottom. Honestly it hurt and numbed the whole area. Believe me I would have sworn that it went clear through but upon checking up it had only penetrated to my shorts. At the present time it is black, blue and red but almost all of the soreness is gone.5 I truly sweated out the bomb bay that day. The bombs were just out when we had eight pieces come through the bomb bay. We were plenty lucky that day dad and I know that God was truly looking out for us. Well pop & sis that’s enough along that line since it is best your people at home don’t know too much about that end of the fight.
Your mention of Grandma’s pot roast brings back some very delicious memories. Sure do wish I could have more than just memories thought since they do not fill the stomach.
A letter from Bob6 came yesterday. It was quite a surprise since I had given up hope of hearing from him. Now if only one from Nord7 would arrive I would feel much better.
Sorry I cannot tell you the number of missions I have in now Dad but over here it is considered military information. I can say that I am about one third through.
Because of transfers to the infantry8 they are shorthanded on the base and therefore hold combat men here for three months after their tour is completed.
Speaking of donning the hooks sure makes me lonesome. The only times I manage to climb is when I see a guy on a pole and can talk him into letting me try them out. They seem to expect me to put on a good show by falling on you know what. So far they’ve been disappointed.9
There isn’t such a thing as playing it safe folks. I take all possible precautions but the targets are there with flak areas over them & we have to go in. The only thing we can do is put our trust in God and do our best.
If you can find any six-twenty film10 buy it and send it airmail. I have Aileen’s camera but no film.
Write soon folks. All my love.
Notes & Commentary
1Jam Handy was an aerial gunnery optical/mechanical training system. Wayne wrote about using this device and another on Guadalcanal. See https://waynes-journal.com/2014/02/26/february-26-1944/.
2 “390th Bomb Group Intelligence Report – Wesel Mission of 24 February 1945”. 390th Bombardment Group (H) History, February 1945, Headquarters 390th Bombardment Group (H), 26 March 1945, microfilm B0426, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 1285.
3 “Flying Control Historical Report for the Month of February 1945”. 390th Bombardment Group (H) History, February 1945, Headquarters 390th Bombardment Group (H), 26 March 1945, microfilm B0426, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 1373.
4 German soldiers returning from the Eastern Front were finally seeing for themselves the effects of Allied bombing on German cities. Some could not see connection between what they were seeing at home and what they had done in other countries:
What a homecoming it was! We had heard, of course, about the Allied air attacks on the German cities. But what we saw from our windows was far beyond what we had expected. It shocked us to the core of our very being.
Was this what we had been fighting for in the East for several years? And yet, there was still a hard core amongst us, when we were discussing the horrible spectacle, who could not see the connection between these ashes and what we had done in Russia. Breslau was very bad when we saw it, but no worse than Stalingrad had been.
. . . ..
The faces of the civilians were grey and tired, and in some of them we could even see resentment, as if it was our fault that their homes had been destroyed and so many of their dear ones burnt to cinders. Smiling wryly, we reminded each other that Hitler himself had promised his soldiers that the gratitude of the Fatherland to them would be ensured forever. But we realized that these had merely been words, and the cold reality was quite different.
“Wounded – a lucky escape from the Eastern front.” World War II Today. (http://ww2today.com/1-february-1945-wounded-a-lucky-escape-from-the-eastern-front : accessed 4 February 2015)
5 Verne is not telling the whole story. He received a Purple Heart as a result of this event.
6 Robert Searls Gray, who was serving with the 835th Aviation Engineer Battalion in Italy.
7 Harry Nordman Gray is serving in the infantry in Europe.
8 Enlisted men at the air bases in England were being asked to voluntarily transfer to infantry units in Europe. Many did.
9 Hooks, spurs, gaffs, spikes – tools used by linemen for climbing utility poles. After being discharged from the U.S. Army in 1941, Verne worked for a time as a lineman for a company installing electrical transmission lines in northern Colorado. He and his older brothers were continuing a family occupation commenced by their father, Thomas Jason Gray who began working in 1910 at age 16 as a lineman with the Western Union Telegraph Company. He retired in 1973 at the age of 79 as the Assistant General Manager of Dairyland Power, a Rural Electrification Administration (REA) cooperative, headquartered in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
10 620 Film. “120 film,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=120_film&oldid=642588053 : accessed 24 January 2015).