Local EAA Chapter Hosts WWII Veteran
The local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Chapter #1220, had a very interesting meeting in April. The guest speaker was John Brown, a veteran flyer from World War II. Now retired, he lives at Belle Meade in Southern Pines.
During the Big War, John enlisted in the Army Air Corps (as it was then known) at the end of 1942. He then was assigned to pilot training, flew seven training missions and became air sick on every flight. As a result he washed out, which normally would have been the end of this story.
However, he had so impressed some of the flight instructors that they went up the chain of command and won a “reprieve” for John to attend navigator school. While he wouldn’t be a pilot, he still would be in the air. He attended that school successfully and by the end of 1943 was assigned to an air base in Southern Italy, as the navigator on B-24 heavy bombers. There were approximately 50 planes in this wing. John flew 50 missions, including 15 or so directly into Germany, and then as a long-term survivor was relived of combat duties and finished the war in a safer, although less glamorous, duty.
Conditions were harsh, but not as bad as in other theatres. They lived in tents; four officers in each tent while enlisted men lived with six guys in the same size tent. John reports the food was decent and they even were able to take some R&R from time to time. Late in the war John with three of his buddies even were able to visit Rome after it just had been liberated. They went to the Vatican and all four of them, standing there in their scruffy USAAC uniforms, were touched and blessed by the Pope as the Holy Father was carried to the altar in his chair.
Typical missions started with a wake-up about 2:30am. According to John, breakfast was at 3:30 or so, and then mission briefings began at 4:30. By 5:30 they were preflighting the planes and usually were wheels-up around 7am. Typical missions lasted five hours, although a few were as long as seven hours which meant the B-24, a thirsty beast even when running smoothly, was landing with fumes in the tanks.
Each plane carried a crew of ten: the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier were officers; gunners and other flight crew were enlisted men. They flew in flights of seven planes, stacked into a squadron of four flights, usually combined into a wing of 40-50 planes for bigger missions. There were none of the “1,000 plane raids” in Italy that became commonplace from the UK late in the war.
But the targets were just as tough. John flew seven raids to the famous Ploesti oil fields and refineries. He also flew missions over Austria and Germany. He did very little actual navigating, he reported, because the principal navigator was a senior major or captain on the lead plane, and everybody followed the lead plane and dropped their bombs when he dropped his. But he did enough navigating that if they were shot up or had a problem he would be able to find their way home solo.
After John’s presentation, there was a very cordial Q&A discussion with the members. We’re very grateful John would take the time to join us so early on a Saturday morning and we’re even more grateful for his courage and sacrifice.
The EAA #1220 meets the second Saturday of every month at our sister airport, BQ1, the Gillam-McConnell airport in Carthage, 4 mile due north of Moore County Airport.