The B-17 was burning following a remarkable wheels up crash landing by pilots Ray Hernden and Lowell Culver of the 601st Squadron. And the rest of the 601st was in similar bad shape following a disastrous mission to Neumunster on Friday, April 13, 1945. It was called the RDX mission, and all who flew this one have stories to tell.
Ed Norris was one of those, a gunner-turned-spot jammer and assigned to any one of several Forts equipped with this radar spot jamming electronic equipment. He rode in the radio room and it was his assignment to tune in on the German radar frequencies and jam it before it could feed correct information to the anti-aircraft guns. See our FAQ for "What is a Spot Jammer?".
For Norris, and all the others in the 601st, it was all over when salvoed RDX bombs from one plane kissed and exploded amongst the squadrons 10 planes. The Hernden-Culver Fort took many hits from fragments of the explosion, causing a major fire up front and a serious hit to left arm of Norris, his thigh and ...his spot jamming equipment.
Culver left his co-pilots seat and responded to radio operator Marshall Nemers frantic call Eds been hit. Badly! Culver reached the radio room to find Norriss arm dangling from the elbow, with blood everywhere. Culver stayed long enough to join with Nemer and waist gunner Bill Auten in ministering to Norris, mostly by pumping him full of morphine.
At that point, Norris admits, it was lights out for him. Culver then scurried through a smoke-filled bomb bay and back to the cockpit, there to see Hernden pointing to a fire coming from a hole in the wing.
We cant bail out, said Culver, Eds hurt bad and hell never survive. Pick me a field, said Hernden, as he nosed his plane downward. Culver found a dark field on his right and slipped the plane from 9,000 feet to about 1500 feet. There he and Hernden slid back into our seats and we came in wheels up on this newly plowed field.
At some point in all this I had managed to open my window and as soon as we stopped all four of us climbed out. This would include the two pilots plus bombardier Al Campdon and engineer John Becker. In the back, they quickly popped out of the waist door. These would be tail gunner Tom Gulledge, waist gunner Auten, ball turret gunner Eugene Hiler and the radio operator, Nemer.
Together, they carried Norris safely away from the plane, which by then was burning fiercely and soon exploded. Norris, on a morphine jag, was certain he had been forgotten. Not so, said Auten. We got him out and in no time units of the 9th US Army were there and he was off to a field hospital.
It was there Norris dangling left arm was amputated. Later he was transferred to a general hospital in Paris and ultimately shipped home. Home being 109 Cherry Hill Lane, Broomall, Pa 19008.
The B-17 that starred in all this excitement was No. 43-38658, only one of 58 Fortresses lost in action during the groups tenure at Station 131. However, that particular Fort ultimately became the logo of the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association. That logo is the picture called Clearing and Colder. It appears on Flak News, letterhead stationery, envelopes, business cards and on any brochure wanting to be identified with the 398th. It was painted by a Boeing Co. contract artist in 1985 as part of their B-17's 50th anniversary.
Transcribed by Ruthanna Doerstler, wife of Wayne Doerstler, Engineer on the 602 Squadron Griffin crew