“An Awesometalk With” GEORGE HAUCK, WWII Veteran and Ex-Prisoner of War

March 31, 2009: Barry Cauchon

HAPPY 89TH BIRTHDAY GEORGE!!!!!

Sometimes I interview a guest on ‘An Awesometalk With’ that has a very interesting life story to share. They have experienced history personally in a way that few of us can relate to. That is because, unlike most of us who learn about history from books, movies or television, they actually participated in it firsthand. 

  

Retired 2nd Lt. George Hauck of the 8th Air Force Group, WWII.

Retired WWII veteran, 2nd Lt. George Hauck of the 8th Air Force Group.

 

Well, on March 14, 2009, I enjoyed over an hour of excellent conversation with just such a person. His name is George “Mickey” Hauck. George is a retired WWII veteran, 2nd Lieutenant from the 8th Air Force Group (nicknamed “The Mighty Eighth”). George’s daughter Arlene Berry contacted me about her father and his honorable past. She informed me that he was one of several officers originally trained (around 1943-44) to participate in the atomic bomb attacks on Japan in 1945. But as his training was an ‘alternate’ approach to the standard way bombing runs were planned back then, this ‘new approach’ did not find favor and was eventually scrubbed.

 

George’s story doesn’t end here. On November 21, 1944 he was aboard a B-17 on his first bombing mission over Germany. The attack took his crew over Merseburg, Germany and after a successful run they were returning to their home base at Thurleigh, England. With only 50 miles to go, the plane was hit by German anti-aircraft flack and caught fire. George and the rest of the crew had to bail out while still over Germany. He was captured that same day and eventually imprisoned in Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany (a prison camp for American and British air force officers) where he was assigned to the North Compound 3, Barracks 5 (Block 305) Room 11. He spent a little over 5 months there until the Russians liberated the camp in early May, 1945. George was evacuated to France by mid-May, 1944 and shipped home a short time later.

 

Currently George and his wife Adelaide live in Punta Gorda, Florida. Their daughter Arlene also lives in the area while her sister Gay lives in New Jersey. George and Adelaide will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary on July 25, 2009.

 

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B. I’m very proud to have Mr. George Hauck with me today and welcome him to A Little Touch of History.

 

G. Hello Barry.

 

B. Hello George. How are you?

 

G. I’m alright!

 

B. It’s nice to finally get a chance to speak with you George. Your daughter Arlene has told me a lot about you. Let me first start off by telling everyone that you are going to have a birthday this month.

 

G. That’s right. I’m going to be 89 at the end of this month, the 31st of March.

My wife already had her birthday…for her 90th year. Arlene has the same birthday as my wife’s.

 

B. What day is that?

 

G. That’s Valentine’s Day!

 

B. Well Happy Valentine’s Day and a belated Happy Birthday to both Adelaide and Arlene. And to you George, let me wish you an early Happy Birthday greeting as well.

 

G. Thank you.

 

B. George, before we talk about your past, can you tell us what are you doing nowadays?

 

G. I belong to the Legion and Ex-Prisoners of War. I’ve been their chaplain for I don’t know how many years, the Ex-Prisoners of War. That organization is down to 15-18 people now. We don’t get that many more coming to a meeting. They don’t come that often.

 

These are all ex-prisoners of war, or their wives. If it wasn’t for the wives we wouldn’t have an Ex-Prisoners of War meeting. There wouldn’t be enough people there.

 

B. I’d like to ask you how you got into the Air Force. How did it happen?

 

G. I enlisted. I was a welder and I wanted to join but my boss wouldn’t let me join. Finally he let me take the test.

 

B. Did you train to become a pilot right away?

 

G. I enlisted in the Cadets and after much ado; fifty-two of us took a test in the post office in Newark, New Jersey. It was a written test and a physical. And when they got done after two days of that, they called two names, another guy’s and mine. The two of us passed and we then waited a couple of months for something to happen. Everything was slow and you couldn’t do anything about it.

 

B. I guess you were anxious to get involved?

 

G. Well yeah, there was a war going on! I was a young guy … you know … Go, Go, Go!

 

B. Do you remember what year that was George when you enlisted?

 

G. I think it was ’42. I wouldn’t bet my life on it … or yours.

 

B. (chuckles).

 

G. But I think ’42. Then one night I went to Nashville which was a center where they decided what you were going to be. Then you’d take a bunch of tests and then you’d wait for another week or so. Anyway, I was qualified for all three (pilot, bombardier and navigator). And then I went to Montgomery, Alabama which is still an army base. Then I went to Arcadia where I learned to fly an airplane. That was a Stearman. That’s a plane that most pilots today would have a hard job flying because it was a twin-wing airplane. The height of the second wing is really high and its top heavy. The wheels are fairly close together and when you land a lot of people ‘ground loop’.  A lot of people washed out even then. But that was a nice airplane. If I was a rich man and 50 years younger, I’d buy one.

 

George Hauck (1942 or 43)

George Hauck (1942 or 43)

  

B. Eventually after that, you got into radar and navigation.

 

G. It’s a long story. Have you ever heard of General LeMay?

 

B. Yes, General Curtis LeMay. He ran as George Wallace’s running mate in the 1968 Presidential race.

 

G. He was a Four-Star General at the end of the war. But in ’42 he was the head of the B-29s. Originally, the B-29 had five enlisted men and five officers onboard. And General LeMay was going to change that. He was going to get rid of the enlisted men and every one of the five officers was going to be qualified to do every job. In other words, the guy that was the navigator could pilot, the pilot could navigate. You know! And it never came to pass. And I was so mad about this. Don’t ask me why he picked me but I was one of them that went to various schools for training.

 

B. So you took that training to be the all encompassing airman!

 

G. It was LeMay’s group! You did what you were told! If you are in the army and they give you a piece of paper that says you are going to ‘so and so’, you go there and that’s it.

 

B. And so it was General LeMay’s group that you joined which eventually ran the Pacific Operations against Japan.

 

G. I never got there. See that’s the joke, I never got there. After two years of going through all kinds of schools, and every time I went to a school, after I was there for awhile, they would be short of an instructor. And I’d instruct for a couple of months. Then they’d send me to someplace else. I went to gunnery school, navigation school, bombardier school….

 

B. You could have done it all.

 

G. Well yeah, that’s what I was doing! It was a crazy thing. But they figure they were going to bomb Japan some day. They hadn’t done it yet. And they were going to have to have enough good crews to do the job. Their idea was alright. But the guys who did it actually had a regular crew of five enlisted men and five officers.

 

B. Right, so initially you were training for it…

 

G. Yeah I never did it.

 

B. …and then they went and changed it.

 

G. No they didn’t change it! They had the system that they already had!

 

B. Oh I see, they used the regular system. Your system would have been the one they replaced it with.

 

G. It came up that they decided to bomb Japan. And they bombed Japan with the regular crew; you know five enlisted men and five officers. And the second plane that they did that, hardly anybody knows the name anymore and I can’t even remember it now.

 

B. Bockscar (laughing). I know that because I recently wrote an article on it.

 

G. Yeah but nobody knows that.

 

B. Nobody knows that (laughing).

 

G. (laughing) Go to a bar and say “Name me the 1st plane that dropped the bomb on Japan?” and what will they say. Somebody will answer. Somebody will.

And then say “Who’s the second plane they sent to drop the bomb?” and then nobody will put their hand up.

 

B. No idea!

 

G. They’ll be sitting there (laughing). You might be there and then you’d put your hand up and you would know.

 

B. I’d be the lucky one because I had researched it (laughing).

 

G. Just think how many planes were training for that mission. When you stop and think about it. One airplane dropped one bomb. And then Bockscar dropped one bomb. They were about 4-5 foot long, 3 feet high. They were a funny looking thing. They were an oddball looking thing. You would think of a bomb with a point and a tail, fins and round. This thing looked like a watermelon. It was a horrible looking thing.

But that was the end of the war and all this training, including me. That was the end of it.

 

Fat Man dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima.

Fat Man dropped by Bockscar on Nagasaki on August 12, 1945.

 

B. While you were doing all your training, how did that fit in with you going to England and eventually going on a bombing run over Germany?

 

G. I was already in England at the time. LeMay’s group was all together in England. But while we trained, the Germans kept bombing England just like they did before. And guys in our Air Force were getting shot down. You’d be surprised how many fellows in the Air Force got shot down. I hardly flew any missions. I got shot down really early in my career as far as that goes.

 

B. The date that Arlene gave me was November 21, 1944 which I guess is about 10 months before the Japan atomic bombings.

 

G. That’s it. Yeah, that’s about the time. The only reason I was a prisoner for that length, and no longer, was the war ended in Germany.

 

B. And that was in May of 1945.

 

G. You know for the two years that I spent going to these various schools, I was so mad at General LeMay for keeping me from going to combat. But he saved my life because thousands of guys got killed in Europe. And if he hadn’t of had me in training stuff I would have been sent over to Europe early. God knows what I would have been doing but it’s likely that I would have been flying a B-17.

 

B. When you did go over to England, was it also in 1944 or were you there earlier?

 

G. A little earlier. I don’t remember a date. I wasn’t there long. Even over there they sent me to a school to brush up on radar. And the radar they had me use was like a frying pan compared to a real radar. They only had crap over there. They didn’t have anything decent.

 

B. With regards to the bombing missions, how would they be run? Would they send out hundreds of planes all at once?

 

G. It depended on what kind of mission you’d be going on. If you were going on a long mission to a very important target you had lots of planes. You might send not only a 306th Bomb Group but there might be ten airfields cleaned out of airplanes that could fly that day. And that would mean a couple hundred airplanes anyway.

 

B. On your particular mission was it daytime or night flying?

 

G. Well we didn’t fly nights. The American Army Air Force did not fly nights. The English did fly nights. They said they picked that because they said it was tough. “It was tough, my butt”!

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. The English chose that because their chances were much greater of coming back alive. There were never thousands and thousands of English prisoners in a German Stalag, believe me!

 

B. You had completed your mission and were actually on your way back to base when you were fired at. What do you remember of your particular flight? 

 

G. Well, we were going home. We had two engines that had been blown apart and only two were running. I figured we’d land on the beach in England if we were lucky. That’s the way I planned it.

 

We were flying along on our two engines. It was alright, we had everything under control. A B-17 could fly on just two engines. We were losing a little altitude but at the rate we were losing altitude we were still going to get to England. So what the heck did we care. We didn’t care. As long as you put two and two together and it made four that’s all you cared about, as long as you got back to England.

 

B-17s in flight. (Courtesy of the USAFR)

B-17s in flight. Image courtesy of the United States Air Force.

 

B. What was your altitude on your way back?

 

G. Well we started off on our bombing altitude. I don’t know what it was. It was pretty high, 16000 – 17,000 feet maybe. And then we got banged up with our engines knocked out. So we started losing altitude all the way home. And then I look down and I see this railway car, sitting there in the middle of a green field. And I see a guy running to it. I say to myself “What the heck”! And all of a sudden he fires two shots and one of them went right through the wing. And you know what’s in the wing, don’t you?

 

B. (chuckling) Your gas.

 

G. Well that’s where the gas should be but at this stage in the flight there’s not much gas there. It’s all vapor. So when that shell he fired went through the wing, it just burst into flames. And so now, instead of an airplane that was going to it make England we had to get out. And it was easy to get out. Just walk over to the door and jumped out.

 

B. How many of you were on the crew?

 

G. Originally there were eleven. We had an observer with us. There were eleven of us originally, I’m pretty sure.

 

B. And you all had to jump out?

 

G. Well yeah. Everybody had to jump out. Earlier in the flight, we had thrown out the navigator because he was wounded and had a big hole in him and we didn’t think he’d make it. So I put a piece of parachute in his back so he wouldn’t bleed to death and threw him out. You know what! He was back home and married before I got back home.

 

B. (laughing)

 

G. He was wounded and wasn’t any good to us, or the Germans, so they sent him back. They did that to a lot of people. The Germans took care of his wound. I don’t mean they didn’t do that. They took care of his wound and then sent him back to the United States because he couldn’t be a combat man anymore.

 

B. So you bailed out.

 

G. So I bailed out. Everything is quiet. Nobody is there. And I look down and to this day, if I see a collie running and he’s ‘happy’ barking, I can hear him. I could hear this collie barking with a bunch of kids. That part of the country didn’t get bombed so the kids could be outside playing.

But I turn around and look, and here’s my airplane right on one of the houses, with the big tail sticking out, flames coming out. I figure “Uh oh. How you doing? Happy days! Come to my party!”

 

They were all afraid of me. So a German guard, an old guy with a Volksgewehr [rifle] came out to meet me. And all I kept saying was “Nein pistole. Nein messer” [No pistol. No knife]. Because I didn’t carry a gun. Everybody else carried guns but I never did. And my Colonel said “Why don’t you carry a gun?” And I said, “Cause I come here to fight the Germans in an airplane. I’m not going to take my 45 and sit down there and fight with them. I can’t win them that way”. I had no gun. No weapon on me. I never did have one. I never trained carrying a gun. In gunnery school I carried a gun but that was part of their deal.

 

So other than that, it wasn’t bad. I sat around and they hit me a little bit but not much. The record doesn’t show it so I never was hit according to the officials, but that’s alright. And so they weren’t bad to me. They had me sitting in a corner and they’re talking German naturally. I don’t know what they’re saying. If I spoke German I would have had them standing or sitting next to me having a conversation. But they just kept saying “Amerikanisch, Amerikanisch” [American, American]. They hated my guts because I was bombing their country. And at this stage of the game even they knew that their country was sorely losing. Their big cities were all bombed to hell.

 

B. You were in a small town with one soldier who captured you?

 

G. Well he was an old timer. They used to have old men, 55 or 60 years old, too old to go to fight, or had a problem. So these men would be stationed places to watch for air force men coming down on parachutes. That was his job.

Well he had a gun and I didn’t. So after a few minutes of him holding me, a soldier came. In his coat he had a ribbon and that ribbon meant that he was wounded. It was like a purple heart. He could speak a little English so I talked to him a few minutes. So I said “Zigarette?” [cigarette] and I pointed to my pocket. And he picks up his rifle and holds it towards me. So I put my hands up to show him I’ve got nothing other than my cigarettes. So I gave him my cigarettes. So he had a smoke. I had a smoke. And the old guy had a smoke. I gave them both a couple of cigarettes.

Then once we got into the little town I saw maybe 15 to 18 people standing around. Just like you’d see a picture of a country road. I used to think of it as one of the roads from a Longfellow poem with dirt roads, a side railing and a gateway to go in. That’s what the little town looked like.

 

B. So it was very quaint.

 

G. But once we got close to them, “Oh man”, they flew into the houses like crazy. “Terriflieger” [terror flyer]. That is what they were calling me. They were kids. They were scared to death. And then when I got in this room, they sat me in one corner and they sat in the other corner. Everybody got his gun out and was sitting there like a big hero you know. And I’m sitting there with no gun. And I’m glad I had no gun. Maybe one of those heroes would like for me to have a gun. You know!

 

B. (laughing)

 

 G. I don’t know how long I waited then they took me. Finally I got to Kassel, Germany which was an interrogation center.

 

B. Did you get caught with the rest of your crew?

 

G. No. In fact I never saw them again. When they were taken to Kassel, they were staying in a regular building like in England. They all slept in bunks and everything. I was taken to the same town, same prison, but they were going to interrogate me where the others they didn’t bother with. So every day for 30 some days, I was never in my cell a whole day. Never! All the time I was there, they’d come, open the door and say “Out, Out, Out”. They’d give me my belt. I’d put my belt on. I’d put my shoes on and down the hall I’d go to an interrogating officer. I was going to see him every day but not steady. Some days I’d go back to my room. They’d lock the door. And then a little while later the guard would come back. We got to know each other and we would talk. He had his family somewhere in Prussia. He told me. He had a wife and a daughter.

 

B. So for 30 days while they interrogated you. Did they treat you fairly, like soldier to soldier?

 

G. In the beginning when I first got there, they were like growling at me. And after awhile it was a ‘buddy buddy’ thing. They knew me. I knew them.

 

After a couple of days after I was there, I would meet with a German captain. In my opinion he was an old man. He must have been maybe 50. Well a man of 50 to a guy at 20-something…he was an old man you know! After awhile we got pretty ‘buddy buddy’ because I’d see him everyday for almost a full day. I was in his office a couple times a day. I’d go down there and spend an hour with him. Then go back to my prison cell. The cell was my personal one. Nobody else was in there.

 

He knew my father’s first name. He knew what he did for a living. He knew where we lived and in what town. He knew all the fields I was at in the United States. He was reading them to me off of a piece of paper. That’s why they took me there and not the rest of the crew. You see I had been to all these different places because General LeMay was eventually going to have me go in a B-29. So all this information didn’t do them any good because I had been moved back to a B-17 and then shot down right away so it didn’t make any difference.

 

The amazing thing was that there was one guy talking to a German guard and the guy said that he came from St. Louis. And this German guard said “You come from St. Louis. Do you know where… (I don’t know the actual name of the street) … Do you know where 5th Street and 7th Avenue is?” And the guy said, “Oh yeah. I know where that is. That’s where Heinz’ Butcher Shop is.” And the guard said “I’m Heinz!”

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. That’s the kind of intelligence they had. That’s how close they could know you. They knew everything about you. It’s amazing. And people ask, “How did they do it”? You’ve heard of the German Bund. It was an above ground organization of US German citizens. They were United States citizens who were German. These people would collect magazines and newspapers from all over the United States. Remember, the United States had a whole lot of Germans all over the place. So they would get all these newspapers and magazines, and in those days, everybody wrote to them. So if someone became an officer, your wife, mother or somebody would send it to the newspaper and they would publish it in the paper. And the Germans were getting the newspapers and magazines every day of the week. And somehow they would get them out of United States. Then somebody in Canada or Mexico would smuggle this information to Germany. In Germany, they had people who did nothing else but check the information. So for instance, they did nothing more than check out the name Hauck. And every Hauck that came up they’d find out what he did and how he did it and so they knew everything about you. And so when they were interrogating me, they could tell me my father’s name, which when you consider how many air force men there were, that’s a lot of guys there, and they could tell me my father’s name. And they would tell me my grandfather’s name. And they weren’t wrong, they were right!

 

B. That’s pretty amazing intelligence.

 

G. Well that’s what they did. That was intelligence. They spent weeks and weeks and weeks on it. We thought that it was a bunch of crap. But that’s what really kept them going for half of the war, until we bombed the hell out of them. Then their intelligence didn’t do them any good.

 

And then, all of a sudden one day he said to me, “Well, I guess you’ll be leaving now”.

 

B. So after your 30 days at Kassel, did they then take you to Stalag Luft 1?

 

G. Yes, Stalag Luft 1.

 

Hometown newspaper clipping reporting George's capture.

Hometown newspaper clipping reporting George's capture.

 

 

George's wife received this telegram dated January 13, 1945 officially informing her that her husband had been taken prisoner (that's almost 2 months after the fact). Luckily she had been contacted by a ham radio operator prior to that. If not for him, she never would have known what happened to her husband until this cold telegram arrived.

George's wife received this telegram dated January 13, 1945 officially informing her that her husband had been taken prisoner (that's almost 2 months after the fact). Luckily she had been contacted by a short wave radio operator (mentioned above) prior to that. If not for him, she never would have known what happened to her husband until this telegram arrived.

 

B. And you were there for about 5 months. Was it a difficult adjustment to life in a prison camp?

 

G. It was very organized. We had a guy who was an ex-fighter pilot who was our German commanding officer. And he ran the camp in military fashion. We were all in individual barracks and had our own American commanding officer. In fact, my commanding officer was named Belinski. He was the ace fighter pilot of the European theatre. He was a rat, and no good but he was still the commanding…

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. Well he was a Lt. Col. when I met him, and when he retired ‘God knows’ how many years later, 20 years maybe, he was a full Colonel. And he became an officer by going through the cadet program. Anyway, that’s the guy who was there running our part of the camp. We were all just military and everyday we had two formations where everybody in the camp had to get out and stand in line. I think we had four groups in our prison camp. And every group had to get out and stand in line and the German officer would come and he’d holler “Attention” and we’d stand at attention. And they’d count us and he’d have guys go into the barracks an there was not supposed to be anybody there. And so we use to play games on them. In the beginning we would go under the bunks. The guy on the bottom bunk would get picked to hide under the bunk on the floor. And the German soldier who was sent into the barracks to do the count would poke his head around and then come running out yelling “nein” because all of a sudden, with their count, something was wrong. There was supposed to be 590 of us. I don’t know the number. I’ll just use that number. And it ended up that when they got done that they only had 528. And then they go back and all of a sudden you see all those guys coming out.

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. After awhile it wasn’t that easy because they learned to look in all the hiding places.

 

B. I guess you had to fight a lot of boredom and I guess that was one way to do that?

 

G. I don’t know if you would call it boredom. I guess it was. We didn’t have a lot to do.

 

B. Did you have reading material at the Stalag?

 

G. Sometimes we would get magazines and stuff but they might have been a few weeks old, or even a couple of months old. But we had some things. Once in awhile we would get a couple of bibles. Everything came through the Red Cross. They may have had nothing to do with it but they would deliver the stuff and portion it out to us.

 

B. What else did you do to keep busy?

 

G. I became the so-called cook after awhile in our room.  In the beginning we would get a full Red Cross parcel which was enough that you could live on it well for one week. One man, that’s what it was made for, just one man. The United States made it. The Germans they didn’t make it but they passed it out to us. But then after awhile, they sort of slowed down on the deliveries. We didn’t know this until the end of the war but the building that they stored these in turned out to be full of packages (chuckling). I weighed about 135 to 140 pounds when I got out. ‘Cause we weren’t getting anything to eat. It’s easy to reduce. If I put you on a diet with not food I can kill you without shooting you. It’s easy.

 

For Easter, 1945 George "Mickey" Hauck (the cook) prepared a wonderful meal. Here is the cover of the actual menu.

For Easter, 1945 George "Mickey" Hauck (the cook) prepared a wonderful meal. Here is the cover of the actual menu.

  

 

... and the inside of the menu.

... and the inside of the menu.

  

B. In general, did the guards treat the prisoners well?

 

G. Yeah, yeah. Once we got into regular prison it was no problem. In fact, every compound had one or two German guards who did nothing but walk around between the barracks. If they see a bunch of guys talking, they’d walk over near them. They could understand English well. And the guy we had didn’t even look like a good enough soldier to be a soldier in the German army.

 

B. (chuckling).

 

G. And when the war was over we learned that he was a secret commandant of the German underworld in North Germany. The guy we had in our compound. We don’t know what happened to him because he left before the allies liberated the camp.

 

B. I know that your first, and luckily only, Christmas spent there was in 1944. Your daughter Arlene sent me a picture of a teddy bear that you somehow sent to your newborn daughter Gay, whom you had not seen yet. Can you tell us how you were able to do that?

 

The teddy bear George sent to his newborn daughter Gay while he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 1

The teddy bear George sent to his newborn daughter Gay while he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 1

 

G. It was through the Red Cross. I never had it or touched it. I saw it in a pamphlet and I said “Oh, I’ll take one of them”. And then in the United States, they would send it to her and take the money. I don’t know where they got the money. From the army I guess.

 

B. And so there was a system set up for the prisoners?

 

G. The Red Cross had a terrific system set up for all kinds of things. In fact they had a guy come around every once in awhile, a civilian, who was supposed to be checking on us to see how we were getting along. But a day before he came, the Germans would give us nice blankets to put out which we never had before. And we’d fold them a certain way, because he was coming. And we had pans of food and all this stuff. And as soon as the inspection was over guys came around with boxes and picked up all the stuff and the blankets. You know, that was done.

 

B. (chuckling) So a lot of it was for show.

 

G.  It was all show! Yeah. They didn’t abuse us. Of course we had guys killed because they were trying to escape.  You know that happened.

 

B. I imagine prisoners always had a need to attempt an escape. Was it organized or did prisoners try to escape on their own?

 

G.  Did you ever see Stalag 17? If you saw Stalag 17, we dug tunnels. We did this. We did all these things. And we always had guys who would escape and then get caught. Not right away. They come back and they’d put them away in a solitary confinement cell. But these were guys who were doing it all the time.

People were getting shot. You know, you’d hear a gun going off. Sometimes the guy was aiming at someone who was near the white line. They had a white line that was 25 feet from the fence. I wouldn’t bet my life on it but I think it was 25 feet. It was 18 inches high of barb wire. And that was so you wouldn’t go over that. And if a ball or something rolled over that, we’d stand there and all of a sudden the guard would look and we’d point down. And after a half a day, or maybe a whole day, maybe he wouldn’t let you get the ball. The next shift, that guy might let you reach in and get the ball. It was that close that you could reach it. But if you reached down without permission he could shoot you.

 

B. There was a very specific rule about not crossing this line!

 

G. There were all kinds of rules you know. But it wasn’t always the Germans who gave you a hard time. 

There was a dining hall, but we never got to go to the dining hall. When the ex-World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) came to the prison camp one day we were going to go the dining hall to see him. Our commanding officer said “Don’t go”! So our commanding officer went! “That horse’s butt”! But a few people, the higher ranking American officers, they went. There were about 50 Americans sitting there.

 

Ex-Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) visited Stalag Luft 1 in 1945

Ex-World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) visited Stalag Luft 1 in 1945

 

B. Did he give a demonstration of boxing?

 

G.  Who knows what he did! I didn’t go! (laughing)

I wasn’t rank. I might have been rank but not that kind of rank (laughing).

 

B. (laughing). When the prison was liberated by the allies, the Russians in particular, how did they move the men out of Germany?

 

G.  We flew out of prison when we were liberated by the Russians. There was an air base right there. I could see planes land there during the war. Not many of them though. When we were liberated I can’t remember how long it took…a week, 10 days maybe. We were taken over to the air base in trucks that the Germans had naturally. And then we got in an air plane. I was in a B-17 with 40 other guys. There were no guns on it or anything. And we were all sitting close together. Ordinarily, there’s only about 8 or 10 guys on a B-17 on a bombing mission. But there was about 40 of us all jammed in. In Germany, there were over 100,000 American ex-prisoners of war here to be evacuated.

 

B. Did they fly you back to England?

 

G. No they flew us back to France. We were in Le Havre. And then a little later they tell us we are going back to America. There were boats right there in Le Havre. Le Havre was a big port. And so we walked down and I see all these crummy ships in the harbor. And amongst all these crummy ships there was a little dock that they made. And sitting next to it is this huge German ocean liner, [the Europa]. It was crewed by an American crew. This was the ship I got and I was lucky as hell. In about six days I was back in New York.

 

The German ocean liner Europa was captured by the allies in May,1945 and renamed Liberte by the French. It was used to carry soldiers back to the United States. George was on the first trip across the Atlantic.

The German ocean liner Europa was captured by the allies in May,1945 and renamed Liberte by the French. It was used to carry soldiers back to the United States. George was on the first trip that sailed to New York City.

 

B. So you went home in style on an ocean liner.

 

G. That’s right. In fact, I met most of my crew on the ocean liner. They were down in the bottom and I was up in a room sharing it with four other officers. I never knew these officers before. They were flying officers and prisoners of war. But I didn’t know them in prison.

So I would get my guys and bring them up to where I was staying. And they’d take showers and eat. I would go to a place, like a bar there, and I’d ask for cigarettes and ice cream. My men liked to have ice cream. And I’d bring it all back. And they would stay in my room, all day long, about six of the men that I knew. And they’d smoke cigarettes like crazy and eat ice cream and eat some kind of sandwiches. And then at night time, they had to go down to where ever they were staying in the bottom. I didn’t have to go to bed. There was no checking on where I was. I could have walked around the deck if I felt like it, which I didn’t do, because there was nothing out there to see because it was black. There was no ship with us, we were alone. We were going like the wind. After all, we were on one of the fastest ships in the world at the time. It was big.

 

B. Have you met any of the Germans that you knew since the war ended?

 

G. Well I didn’t really know any Germans. The only guy I knew was the Captain, the old guy at Kassel, but by the time the war ended it had already been a year since I knew him and never saw him again after that. And any of the guards I knew in Stalag Luft 1 were all in prison camps after the war. As far as I know they never came to the United States. So no, I’ve never seen any of them.

 

B. Well George this has been absolutely terrific. I want to thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me and my readers. And please thank your daughter Arlene for setting this up. She has been great. I’ve appreciated it and enjoyed it our talk thoroughly.

 

G. Me too Barry. Okay. My daughter Arlene also says goodbye.

 

B. All the best to you both.

 

G. God bless you. Good bye.

 

B. And to you to. Bye now.

 

 

Happy 89th Birthday Dad. We love you and appreciate your service to our country.

Happy 89th Birthday Dad. We love you and appreciate your service to our country. (from left to right: Arlene, George, Adelaide (above) and Gay).

 

I want to personally thank Arlene Berry for setting up this wonderful chat with her father and a very special thank you to George himself. You are ‘one of a kind’ good sir and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to share some time with you. God bless you and your family. Barry.

 

 

 

 

END

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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If you are interested in other WWII interviews, please read the following from Robert Krauss, historian for the 509th Composite Group (the group that dropped the atomic bombs). 

“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted on December 16, 2008)

 

 

“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th COMPOSITE GROUP HISTORIAN

December 16, 2008: Barry Cauchon

 

Today I have the pleasure of presenting “An Awesometalk With” Mr. Robert Krauss, Historian and Photo Archivist for the 509th Composite Group.

 

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Robert and Amelia Krauss

The 509th Composite Group was created to plan and execute the deployment of the first atomic bombs against Germany and Japan. Upon completing their missions, many feel their efforts brought a quick end to World War II.

 

Mr. Krauss has spent quite a few years in the company of many of these airmen and their families and has one of the largest, if not the largest, collection of photographs relating to the 509th.

 

Mr. Krauss has been the acting Chairman of the 509th Reunion Committee since 2001. He publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and manages his website “The 509th Composite Group” at www.enolagay509th.com. And he has written a book, “The 509th Remembered” which is a wonderful testament, containing over 350 pages of information and photographs on the men, the planes and the circumstances that made up the 509th.

 

It was an honor speaking with Mr. Krauss and I hope you really enjoy our chat.

 

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BC: Welcome Mr. Krauss to A Little Touch of History.

 

RK: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

 

BC: How long have you been involved with the 509th?

 

RK: Well I first got heavily involved in 1990 when we went to one of their reunions. And I say we, because my wife and son, who was 10 years old at the time, all went to Wendover. At the time it was the largest reunion that they had had. There were well over 300 people there. There was one more in 1995 in Albuquerque that also had that many. And that was probably the two peak reunions of the 509th. After that the numbers just kind of went downhill. And now of course it’s very slim because of their ages. I spoke to one within the last hour that’s 92. They range from as young as 84 to 92-93.

 

BC: Are you a veteran yourself?

 

RK: No. I was never in the service.

 

BC: Are you a historian by trade?

 

RK: No. I guess it’s hard to define. I guess years ago when people had an interest in this sort of stuff they would refer to themselves as amateur historians. But you know, I’ve never really seen a class for historians. So, I guess at some point, if you do it long enough, you become a historian and people start gravitating towards you. So I just call myself a historian now.

 

BC: I was at a conference this past weekend and they listed me as a historian just because I write a blog on history. And well…I’m still struggling with that one. But maybe in a few years from now I’ll accept that.

 

RK: Well, I think that’s what happens. It comes with age. And my age, by the way is 65. So I am probably a tad older than what the 509th children would be, the ones that we see coming to reunions.

 

BC: In 1990, was it just something that you wanted to go to just out of interest?

 

RK: No, I guess I probably should have finished that statement. I first started somewhere in the late 1980s. I worked as a buyer over the years, a purchasing agent. And it’s always been a high pressure job. And so looking for relief, I’d go to the library during lunch hour. I had an interest in World War II and picked up a book on the “Enola Gay” one day and started reading about it. I was fascinated to learn that there were more than just the “Enola Gay” and the “Bockscar” and I just wanted to learn more about it.

So through correspondence with one of the “Bockscar” veterans in Chicago I got the idea that I could go to their reunion. I mean they wouldn’t kick me out if I went (laughing)…that sort of thing! So I wrote to the reunion organizer, who at the time was George Marquardt, an airplane commander. In fact, he was the photo airplane commander on the first mission and then he was the Kokura weather plane commander on the second mission. But at any rate, George said “Fine, come on out”! But I went as a visitor, not as an attendee. I found out I could have registered, but I didn’t. We just went as visitors. I became an official attendee in 1992 at the next reunion. But in 1990, I met a lot of the guys and started learning a lot about the planes and crews. And so what I started doing was collecting images of the crews and the planes and as I was doing this, I realized, nobody else was! So this just continued on until my collection became quite large.

 

BC: I understand, if I read your bio correctly, that in 2001 you chaired or had starting chairing the reunion?

 

RK: Right. That’s correct! I think it was in 2000, that there was a reunion in Kansas City. The fellow who ran the reunion, his name was Gerry Feldman. And Gerry was a Bomb Wing veteran. About March or April, 1946, the 509th Composite Group disbanded and became the 509th Bomb Wing. These guys were the ones that did the experimental bombing at Bikini. They also did the operation called Crossroads, Test Able and Test Baker. One was above ground, one was below the water, targeting captured and surplus ships and measuring the effects of radiation to animals on board the ships.

 

BC: Okay.

 

RK: At any rate, Feldman was a veteran of Operation Crossroads. So that made him a little bit younger. Well, at the business meeting, when the time came for having another reunion, nobody was volunteering to be the chairman. And I had remembered that I really enjoyed Wendover when I went there in 1990. So I just said to my wife “Do you mind if we do a reunion”? And she looked at me and said, “Yes, I do mind”! And I said “Well, I’m going to do it anyway”!


BC & RK: (Laughing)

 

RK: Let me give you a little background on that. The President of the Wendover Historic Airfield happened to come to this reunion and he spent a lot of time with me because I set up a memorabilia display. And so we were talking on the side saying that if something were to happen he’d be happy to co-host the reunion. So I knew that I would have help being that we kind of had an inside there. I mean it wasn’t all out of the clear blue sky type of thing. We had never run a reunion before. But we did it and they attendees enjoyed it so much that they kept asking us to do it over again. And so we have done every reunion since. Except for 2007 in which we had to take care of some health problems. Another group ran that reunion but we did it again in 2008 and we were elected to do it again in 2009.

 

BC: Terrific. And you’re glad to be doing it?

 

RK: Yeah, it’s a labor of love. All these veterans now over the years have gotten to know my wife and son. And I want to say that we look at them as family and I think they look at us the same way.

 

BC: That’s terrific. It was funny that you were a buyer in the 80’s. I was also a buyer in the 80’s. There must be something about history and buying (chuckle). What were you buying?

 

RK: Well, I started out in 1970 just out of pure luck. A fellow who ran a foundry, a General Manager, hired me as a foundry buyer. So I was buying commodities for making castings…cast iron castings. In ’73 I quit that job and went to work for a valve manufacturer. And that’s what I was doing. I was a casting buyer. In 1974-75, those were days where you had to plan because castings were on allocation. Lead times were 35 weeks.

 

BC: Wow.

 

RK: And then around ’78, all of a sudden the curtain came down about these 35 week lead time. People were canceling orders left and right, almost like what you are seeing now with the economy.

 

BC: You’re out of that business now? You’re retired?

 

RK: Yes, (laughing). Well not voluntarily did I retire. I hit the retirement age fortunately, but the last company I worked for, like most of the manufacturing companies I worked for, closed. I was a Buyer and Stockroom Supervisor for a Division of SPX Corporation who was a major supplier to Ford Motor Company. And our particular plant was making magnesium die castings which went in the steering column of the Ford Taurus. At any rate, Ford decided to go to China with their castings and that did us in. So they just closed the plant. And I was within a year of retirement. 

 

BC: I understand that you wrote a book called “The 509th Remembered”. Is it a commemorative book that you wrote for one of those reunions?

 

509thremembered

 

RK: That’s how it started out. We thought that the reunion at Wendover in 2001 was going to be the last one. And so what we did was … I came up with this idea of doing this commemorative book of Wendover stories. We gathered all the information and all the stories we could find that had been printed about Wendover from what the fellows had written to me. Plus letters they had written. I also used pictures from my collection. So we came up with about a 75 page to 100 page booklet. And it was 8” x 10” and it was nicely illustrated and so on. That basically was the foundation for our book. And so when we did the reunion in the following year we solicited more stories. I never really thought that it would ever end up as a hard cover book. I never planned on being an editor.

 

BC: (laughing)

 

RK: It was a joint thing. My wife typed every word in the book. There’s probably 380 pages. Something like that.

 

BC: I was just going to comment on how large it had grown.

 

RK: Yeah, it’s that big!

 

BC: Currently, is this the last version or are you still getting material coming in?

 

RK: Well (laughing) we do a newsletter in which we try to put out every two months. And there are still some people sending letters. And some of them are worthy of putting them in the book. But at this stage of the game, I’ve got a good inventory of books out in my pole barn and I don’t know that I want to add more to the book.

 

BC: I guess would that mean scrapping those to reprint?

 

RK: No. I would wait until they were all sold. But the trouble is right now with the economy as such, that sales of the book are just very negligible. I mean it’s very down.

 

BC: I’d like to put on my blog that people can buy your book right from your website.

 

RK: The Enola Gay 509th.

 

BC: Yeah.

 

RK: That’s the site. And there is a section there where you can order autographed photos or models or books. And the book is featured there.

 

BC: Perfect.

 

RK: We had had a military book publisher contact us but we would have had to give up the rights to the book. So we decided not to do that. The only way we market the book is through the website and appearances. I occasionally will put some on eBay.

But typically, what we try to do is get one of the veterans to go to a show with us. We do military collector shows, appearances at schools, gun shows, patriotic air shows, that sort of thing. You know, the places where we’ll find people who are interested in World War II history.

 

BC: How many of those do you do a year?

 

RK: We average about eight. Eight shows a year I think is what we are doing.

 

BC: Veteran wise, as you said earlier, they are getting on in age and some of your friends have probably passed already…

 

RK: A lot of them.

 

BC: How many are still able to travel?

 

RK: Now are you talking about people we take to sign books?

 

BC: Yes.

 

RK: Right now, we’re down to the “Enola Gay” navigator, and we take a veteran of the “USS Indianapolis”. And those are the two fellows that we’re working with.

And with regards to the “Indianapolis”, if you are involved in any kind of research on the atomic bomb, you’re going to come across the Indianapolis. You know, it’s such an amazing story what those guys did and what they went through.

 

BC: Did you write about that in your book?

 

RK: No. We didn’t write about the story of the Indianapolis.

There were two fellows in the Manhattan Project, Dr. James Nolan and Robert Furman who rode on the “Indianapolis” with the bomb parts for the first bomb. The division of the 509th called Project Alberta, made up of 54 scientists, were kind of the brains behind both bombs. And these guys were stationed on Tinian. Nolan was a medical doctor and his concern was radiation and he was attached to Project Alberta.  

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Bob Krauss, Bob Furman, Amelia Krauss, Mary Ann Ferebee (widow of Tom Ferebee) and Dutch Van Kirk

RK: Bob Furman just died. Nolan died a long time ago. Furman never was really clear about what he did. It sounded like after he got on Tinian, after the “Indianapolis” docked, he basically just stayed there until the second bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered. And then he became a leader of one of three teams that went into Japan. They were looking for the Japanese atomic scientists. So that’s the only thing I address. I have Nolan’s story and a little story from Bob Furman, as well as a picture of the Indianapolis, but I don’t go into what happened.

 

BC: I forget the name of the famous book on the “Indianapolis”.

 

RK: Oh probably, if it’s an older book, it’s probably “Abandon Ship” or “All the Drowned Sailors”? Or if it was more recent it would have been “In Harm’s Way” by Doug Stanton.

 

BC: “In Harm’s Way”! Yes, that’s the one! When you say recent, did that come out in the last 10-15 years?

 

RK: Oh yes. Stanton’s book came out about 2002, I think. Matter of fact, Stanton contacted me and there is a photo in there that I’m credited with. It’s the picture of Chuck Quinn’s crew, the guys who flew in the Lockheed Ventura that discovered the men in the water.

 

BC: And the gentleman you take around, Mike …

 

RK: Kuryla.

 

BC: Kuryla. That’s how it’s said. I wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce it.

 

RK: It’s synonymous with gorilla!

 

BC: Oh, okay (laughing) that helps!

And ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk, is that the other gentleman you tour with?

 

RK: Yes. 

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Lorain and Mike Kuryla, 'Dutch' Van Kirk, Amelia & Bob Krauss

BC: Where do they live now?

RK: Well Van Kirk lives in Georgia and Kuryla lives in Chicago.

 

BC: Do they tend to just travel in the Northeastern part of the States?

 

RK: Yes, pretty much. Right now we’re going to be doing an appearance with Mike on the weekend of December 13th. We are going to be out at the New England Air Museum. And then we’re doing a gun show on the same weekend. New England Air Museum being on the Friday and the gun show, being about 50 miles away, is going to be Saturday and Sunday. We’re following a routine that we did with ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk a year ago. So we kind of tested the waters with ‘Dutch’ (chuckling) and now we’re taking Mike.

 

So basically we’ve gone up and down the east coast. We’ve gone from Massachusetts all the way down to Ft. Myers, Florida. It’s about as far south as we’ve gone.

 

BC: I would think, from a personal point of view, that there is a tremendous interest in these gentlemen and that history. Are you finding that it’s still there? My audience tends to be more high school & college students and teachers. So I’m getting a real crossover. It’s funny that the “Bockscar” story that I wrote, out of 60 stories, is still #3 on the list.

 

RK: Really! Let’s see. How to answer that question! What I’m finding is the greatest interest is from people in my age bracket, the sons of the veterans.
And if they bring their children, or grand children …you know, they’re trying to teach them. When we do an appearance, the actual WW II veterans really want to relate their experiences to the veteran that we bring.

 

But from a marketing standpoint, it’s people in my age bracket. We find that when they go and talk at a high school, these kids are not being taught this history in school. ‘Dutch’ has said this to me, and so has Mike, and I’ve been with them to witness this. And so what happens is they have to put some of this material into perspective for them. They almost have to start explaining WW II and ‘Dutch’ does a very good job on that. We show a 15 minute video and in that video it talks about how WW II was an effort from everybody. Men, women and children were all pitching in during WW II. The generations that are growing up now, they don’t see that.

 

BC: I imagine that is the uphill climb. I’m finding the exact same thing. I was talking to quite a few teachers from the Western Southern Tier, New York, and they all say the same thing. It’s a real battle because the kids are bored. They’re a little out of touch with history. Everything’s current and fast paced and history for them is what they ate last week.

 

RK: Right. Times are different today. You know, when I was a kid, I collected stamps. And if you look back at the stamps from 1960 and earlier, and I’m going to use this as an example, there was a lot of history on stamps. And that’s how I learned history. I loved history. I was very good at it in school. I mean I didn’t really have to study it, I enjoyed it. I was not a WW II historian at the time. I read American history, mostly Civil War.

When I was growing up, the WW II veterans wanted to get the war over with. Lots of those guys didn’t want to talk about it. A lot of them gave their medals away, their patches, their uniforms and all that sort of stuff. I think only in the mid- 1980s or so, people started realizing this stuff was valuable. And collectors came onto the market. Now all this material is very highly collectible and valuable.

 

You know what I like to point out is when I started trying to find these veterans it was very difficult because during the Viet Nam War process, there were a lot of anti-nuclear movements going on. And most of the fellows, specifically from the “Enola Gay”, and some from the “Bockscar”, had unlisted phone numbers. Their addresses were very difficult to obtain. And what would happen was if you could find one of them and you gained their confidence, they would pass you along to another guy. So what I found, when I was trying to locate these fellows in the 1980s, was that it was extremely difficult. Not like it was later in the middle 1990s when it became very easy to locate them.

 

The first fellow I found, I can’t remember how I located him, was George Caron who was the tail gunner on the “Enola Gay”. And a lot of these fellows hadn’t gotten together in all these years. But George knew where Ray Gallagher was. Ray was the Assistant Flight Engineer on “Bockscar” and so I met Ray in 1990 at Wendover. And he looked like he was kind of a grumpy guy but he and I turned out to be fast friends. He worked for AT & T. I don’t know what his background was schooling-wise, but he really was a common man. He didn’t have a great mastery of the English language. But he really put it into perspective for me back then. He said “In order to understand the use of the atomic bombs, you had to live those times”. Basically he echoed what I’ve heard from every other fellow. They all wanted the war to be over with. And Ray felt that they saved many lives by dropping those bombs.

 

BC: I do want to hear more about that, but how long had these gentlemen been in the war? Had they been there from the start, maybe four years or five years or so?

 

RK: How do I answer this one? Okay. The 393rd was training in Nebraska. And Tibbets had been picked in 1944 to head up the 509th. So Tibbets went to the 504th Bomb Group and chose the 393rd. He took the 393rd Bomb Squadron out of the 504th, took them to Wendover, and then at that point, they started adding more men to it. They became a composite group which was totally a unique group. They had their own transport planes. They had their own doctors, their own veterinarians. They needed nothing, absolutely nothing! If they had to go off base to get something it was entirely secret.

 

BC: And this group was together, from start to finish, a little over a year?

 

RK: That was it, yeah! Really from September ‘44 to about December ’45 is when they came back. They were brought back to Roswell, New Mexico. And that’s where they were discharged from. Most of them were discharged between December ’45 and March of ’46.

 

BC: How many were in the group in its entirety?

 

RK: I’d hate to have you quote me on this but it’s 1700. About 1770 or something like that.

 

BC: So let’s get back to your original story about Ray Gallagher, before I interrupted you. I was pretty fascinated with that.

 

RK: Well, you had asked about the experience that these fellas had. It’s hard to say how the men were picked. I don’t know who picked them and I don’t know if they had some sort of committee or how all these guys came to Wendover. Ray was probably one of maybe about 25 men. To understand better, we have to go back here a little bit…. 

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Paul Tibbets in the Enola Gay

Paul Tibbets flew a B-17 over North Africa. And he had 40-some odd missions. This is where I’d need to go to the reference books. But he had a lot of missions over North Africa. And his navigator was ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk, his bombardier was Tom Ferebee. And so what happened was that Paul was brought back to the United States after he flew all these missions to become part of the training program for the B-29…the training and development. He was stationed down at Eglin Field. And while he was down at Eglin Field that’s where he met guys like George Caron, Ray Gallagher, Don Albury, Chuck Sweeney and Jim Van Pelt. The list goes on. Tibbets put out the word that he wanted these guys brought in and so that’s how Ray Gallagher got into the 509th, which is kind of unique too, because Ray wore eyeglasses. He was put on the crew of “The Great Artiste”, which was the original crew plane, with Don Albury. Ray was given dispensation because of the fact that he wore glasses.

Does this all make sense to you, I hope? (chuckling)

 

BC: Yes, (laughing)

 

RK: But at any rate, Fred Bock for example, was flying an airplane on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. And he was flying B-17s from the US over to India in early ’42. So here was a guy in the war for 5 years with all that experience. But then there were new guys in the 393rd that had just come into Fairmont, Nebraska when the 509th was put together…when the 393rd was pulled out of Fairmont to go to Wendover.

 

BC: When the final decision was made, for the series of planned bomb droppings, I understand that the first two were not the only ones planned?

 

RK: No, there were four cities originally. Nagata was one that’s never really been talked about. The first target was Hiroshima, second one was supposed to be Kokura, third Nagasaki and fourth was Nagata. I think that was the order. There had also been some conversation about Tokyo.


BC: So on the second bombing mission they were supposed to hit Kokura? But instead they went to Nagasaki because it was…?

 

RK: Obscured by cloud cover and smoke.

 

BC: Nagasaki would have been the third target anyway?

 

RK: Correct.

 

BC: Did they run into any opposition during those first two missions?

 

RK: You know there’s a book by Norman Polmar, which he wrote on the 50th anniversary, I think, of the “Enola Gay” … when the “Enola Gay” came out at the Smithsonian. I think it’s just called “Enola Gay”. This fellow Polmar is a historian that they seem to use on the History Channel for all sorts of things. And in his book he states that Jacob Beser said that Japanese fighters came up, and they banked and departed. According to Van Kirk, that’s totally untrue…totally untrue! So that never happened! The planes were specially built and could fly higher and faster than the Japanese could.

 

BC: The Pacific conflict has always intrigued me, and getting to know more about the 509th is a real treat. Thank you.

 

RK: It’s such an interesting piece of history. The more I read and the more I met these fellows it just became fascinating. But it took awhile for me to get these missions straighten out. For instance, who flew what plane? Because none of the planes flew with nose art on them, the only way to know what plane you were in was if you looked at the serial number on the tail.

 

BC: Oh really.

 

RK: Right! And the only guys really concerned with that would be the navigator and the flight engineer and the assistant flight engineer. And they switched planes quite a bit.

 

BC: How many planes flew on those runs?

 

RK: The 509th had 15 planes total. But there were over 80 special planes built. Two planes that I know of stayed at Wendover. As well there were two crews that stayed at Wendover and were assimilated into the 509th when the 509th came back to Roswell. They then moved these two crews from Wendover to Roswell.

 

BC: On the first Hiroshima run, how many planes actually flew in that mission?

 

RK: Seven.

 

BC: Oh wow, I never knew that.

enola-gay-paul-tibbets

The Enola Gay and pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets

  

RK: Well, to start, there were no escorts. So, an hour before the strike plane went out, they sent out three weather planes. And those planes…one went over Hiroshima, one went over Kokura, one went over Nagasaki. And they were to report the weather back. Then the “Enola Gay” took off and it was accompanied by “The Great Artiste” and “Necessary Evil”. “Necessary Evil” was the photo plane and “The Great Artiste” was the instrument plane. The “Enola Gay” got the word “No dense cloud cover. Okay to bomb primary”, so they headed straight to Hiroshima. And as those planes were coming back, the “Enola Gay” and the other two were heading out. Passing back and forth they didn’t see each other visually.

And then there was another plane that was on Iwo Jima. They had a bomb pit on Iwo Jima for emergencies and that was McKnight’s plane. I can’t remember which. I usually have to look at the book for this one because he flew two different planes. Neither one was his crew plane. His crew plane had an engine out.

And his crew plane was top secret. I think it was the “Big Stink” on the first mission. And that plane was sitting on Iwo Jima with the engines running, with two security men on board.

 

BC: And the purpose of that plane was to…?

 

RK: Well, if the “Enola Gay” failed for any reason they would land on Iwo Jima and transfer the bomb to that plane.

 

BC: Oh I see.

 

RK: But the “Enola Gay” crew would still carry the bomb.

 

BC: Okay. So the crew would literally just switch and take off again?

 

RK: Right. You were aware of the fact that the bomb was loaded from underneath?

 

BC: No actually.

 

RK: Well, what they did was they trailered the bomb from the bomb assembly hut. They put this trailer over the bomb pit and if you remember the service stations years ago, they had one big massive cylinder that would raise the car up and then down. Basically that’s what they did. They’d lowered this trailer down into the pit then they backed the plane over with a tractor, like a caterpillar tractor. Actually it was a Cletrac, was the name of it. Anyway they backed the plane over the pit and then they raised the bomb up. And that’s how they loaded it. There were two pits on Tinian and there was a pit at Wendover as well. But they didn’t load any bombs over there with fissionable material in it.

 

BC: Was there a reason they had two different, I’ll call it, type of bombs for the first two runs?

 

RK: Well yes. If you took all the Uranium that Oak Ridge could produce, it took two years to produce it. I’m not sure how you make Uranium but it took two years to produce all the Uranium for that first bomb. And they just couldn’t manufacture any more of it. So therefore they went to the Plutonium which was more readily available and easier to manufacture. Plutonium, I believe, came out of Hanford, Washington, that plant. But Oak Ridge took two years to come up with the Uranium.

 

BC: Did this also include the tests that they ran in the deserts?

 

RK: Yes, that’s correct?

 

BC: It makes you wonder if they would have been ready two years before if it didn’t take that long.

 

RK: No, they wouldn’t have. I’m better at the 509th history rather than the bomb and Einstein’s letter. But I think Einstein wrote to Roosevelt in what, 1939 or 1940 asking that they do something because the Germans were looking into it.

 

BC: Well, Mr. Krauss, this has been extremely interesting for me!

It’s been great. I know we barely touched upon so many possible aspects of this subject but I am so happy that we did get a chance to speak. As we have discussed, we’ll plan on doing a “Part II” to this interview in the near future. I really appreciate your time. It’s been a pleasure.


RK: Not a problem.

 

BC: And I look forward to talking to you again.

 

RK: Okay. Take care.

 

BC: Thank you. You too!

 

END

 

NOTE: Mr. Krauss and I will be doing a live follow up interview early into the New Year. I encourage you to send me your questions or observations so I can present them to him at that time.

 

And remember, the only place you can purchase Mr. Krauss’ book, The 509th Remembered” , other than at live appearnces, is on his website at www.enolagay509th.com. I have my copy and it’s a terrific reference book (my favorite kind!). If you are interested in the men of the 509th and want to learn about what it was like for them to be a part of this dedicated team, I encourage you to order one today. If you do order a book from Bob and Amelia, they would love to know if you found out about it from this article. Please be sure to let them know.

 

 

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Other posted interviews to date:

 

“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 

 

  “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 

 

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Best

Barry

 

outreach@awesometalks.com

.

Thank you.

Barry

BOCKSCAR … THE FORGOTTEN PLANE THAT DROPPED THE ATOMIC BOMB

August 7, 2008 – by Barry Cauchon.

August 6 – 9 marks the 63rd anniversary of the bombing of Japan with two atomic bombs which effectively ended the Pacific War and World War II between the Japanese and the Allies.

Mushroom cloud from the Nagasaki atom bomb rises some 60,000 feet (11 miles) into the atmosphere

When the United States made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on Monday, August 6, 1945, the hope was that this action would end the war. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy”, was dropped by the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay. And although it took a second atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender, the Enola Gay’s name has gone down in history as the plane that was responsible for ending WWII.
But the crew of the Enola Gay only dropped the first bomb. Three days later, on Thursday, August 9, a second atomic bomb, this one nicknamed “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki. The B-29 that delivered this, the final blow to the Japanese, was known as Bockscar.

B-29 Bockscar Superfortress bomber

B-29 Bockscar Superfortress bomber

Bockscar was part of the same squadron as the Enola Gay, the 393d Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the 509th Composite Group (USAAF). It was named after its commander Captain Frederick C. Bock who, along with his crew C-13, participated in several bombing runs on Japan prior to the events that occurred in early August, 1945.

STRANGE TWIST OF FATE #1

Originally, The Great Artiste commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney was the plane scheduled to drop the second atomic bomb. Sweeney and his crew C-15 had previously flown The Great Artiste with the Enola Gay on her flight to Hiroshima on August 6, carrying instrumentation to record and support the mission. Upon their return Sweeney and his crew began to prepare for their turn. The next mission was planned for August 11 but due to a poor weather forecast, the commanders decided to move the attack up by two days, setting a new date of August 9. Sweeney and his crew had been doing training runs in Captain Bock’s plane Bockscar while The Great Artiste was to have its instruments removed and installed in another plane. However, when the mission date moved forward, it did not give the ground crews enough time to do the transfer, so it was decided that Sweeney and Bock would switch planes. Hence, Bock and his crew flew The Great Artiste in a support role on the mission and Sweeney and his crew, aboard Bockscar, became the primary unit to drop the second atomic bomb on Japan.

STRANGE TWIST OF FATE #2

The primary target for the August 9 bombing mission was the industrial city of Kokura. However, when the Bockscar arrived over the city with Fat Man ready to be deployed, the crew found that visibility over the city was obscured by clouds and smog. Sweeney’s orders were specific in that the atomic bomb had to be dropped visually on the target. Failing to spot their target after passing over Kokura three times, Sweeney decided to proceed to the secondary target of Nagasaki. At 11:02am, Fat Man, the atomic bomb with 14.1 lbs of plutonium-239, was dropped. The bomb detonated about 43 seconds later at an altitude of about 1,540 feet above the ground. Approximately 40% of Nagasaki was destroyed.

Fat Man (replica) atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki Aug 9, 1945

Fat Man (replica) atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki August 9, 1945

Although Fat Man was considered a more powerful bomb than Little Boy, the hilly terrain helped to deaden the destruction whereas Hiroshima was flat and open and thus suffered much greater devastation. What twist of fate saved the people of Kokura and yet doomed so many citizens of Nagasaki?

It’s also known that many survivors of the Hiroshima bombing made their way to Nagasaki only to experience the second terrifying explosion all over again. Many of them did not survive the second time.

AFTERMATH

The overall death toll from these attacks was astounding. Not only did people die from the initial bomb blasts, but later died from burns, injuries or radiation poisoning. In Hiroshima, a city estimated with a population of about 350,000 people, over 70,000 died in the blast itself with estimates ranging from 70,000 to 130,000 potentially dying within the next 5 years. In Nagasaki, a city of 270,000 citizens, approximately 70,000 people died by the end of 1945.

Aftermath of the destruction of Nagasaki August 9, 1945

Destroyed temple in Nagasaki by atomic bomb August 9, 1945

It is hard for us, in this day of global cooperation and unity, to imagine how such destructive acts could have been implemented. But 63 years ago, a bitter war was raging and no mercy could be shown to the enemy, especially when the memories of Pearl Harbor were still so fresh in people’s minds. The Bockscar and her crew were part of this history, whether morally right or wrong. She did the job she was sent out to do and accomplished her mission. But history has almost forgotten her involvement and the Enola Gay still takes the spotlight.

Forgotten (by the masses), but not gone, the Bockscar lives on to this day.

In 1961, Bockscar was restored and put on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force Museum at Wrights-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Signage near the plane states “The aircraft that ended WWII”. Never has a statement been more true. But alas, the notoriety for  dropping the atomic bomb that ended the war still goes to her sister ship, the famous Enola Gay.

Bockscar and crew C-15

Crew C-15 standing in front of the first modified B-29 used for training purposes.

This link will take you to the National Museum of the United States Air Force Museum. Hit it and type in Bockscar in the search bar.

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/

Here is the list of the 13 airmen who flew on the Bockscar on that historic mission 63 years ago and truly, ended World War II.

Beser
The crew of the Bockscar. Front row: Buckley, Kuharek, Gallagher, Dehart, Spitzer. Back row: Beahan, Van Pelt, Jr., Albury, Olivi, Sweeney.

Crew C-15 of the Bockscar

  • Major Charles Sweeney, Commander
  • Captain Charles Donald Albury, Co-Pilot
  • 2nd Lieutenant Fred Olivi, Third Pilot
  • Captain James Van Pelt, Jr., Navigator
  • Captain Raymond “Kermit” Beahan, Bombardier
  • Master Sergeant John Kuharek, Flight Engineer
  • Sergeant Raymond Gallagher, Assistant Flight Engineer
  • Staff Sergeant Ed Buckley, Radar Operator
  • Sergeant Abe Spitzer, Radio Operator
  • Staff Sergeant Albert Dehart, Tail Gunner

Additional Mission Crew on board August 9, 1945

  • Cmdr. Frederick L. Ashworth (USN), Weaponeer
  • Lt. Philip Barnes (USN), Assistant Weaponeer
  • 2nd Lt. Jacob Beser, Radar Countermeasures

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“AN AWESOMETALK WITH”

Be sure to read “An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509TH COMPOSITE GROUP HISTORIAN.  This was an interview I did with Mr. Krauss and it will give you a really great insight into the 509th and the men that participated in the group and their missions.

Also, take a look at Mr. Krauss’ book “The 509th Remembered” which you can find on his website at www.enolagay509th.com .  If you do order one, please tell him that you saw it here so he can track where people are hearing about his book.

509thremembered1

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Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com