398th Bomb Group

The Holiest Fortress
Bullets, Flak Thwarted By Prayer Missals

Richard Salsano

The following story was submitted by Richard Salsano, son of Carmine Salsano, waist gunner on the Staver Hyndman crew of the 603rd.

This is one of the many stories that my father told me regarding one of the many missions he and his crew had during World War II.

Before his mission to Merseburg, Germany on November 21, 1944, Chaplain Walter Sullivan saw my father and asked him if he wanted a prayer missal for his personal use and to give to any of his buddies. My father said, “Give me all the prayer books you can”. The Chaplain gave him 35 prayer missals.

My father then took the prayer missals and put all of them inside his airplane, a B-17-G Flying Fortress. My father put the prayer missals in every part of the airplane - in the cockpit and in all the other compartments, underneath the ammo boxes, especially where he was stationed, in the waist-machine-gun area in the middle of the airplane.

During this mission, enemy fighter planes attacked the squadron and flak from the enemy anti-aircraft guns on the ground hit my father’s airplane, piloted by Staver Hyndman. It was shot up pretty bad. There were holes everywhere. The enemy shells went through the outside of the airplane and into the inside of the plane. One shell hit an ammo box next to my father and fragments of an exploding shell just missed him.

The airplane was shot up pretty bad. The hydraulic oil lines and the landing gear were damaged. They knew that they could not return to their base in England, and with one crew member wounded badly, navigator Ken Carlson, the pilot told the crew to put a parachute on the wounded crew member and let him bail out of the aircraft. My father suggested that since the airplane was not on fire, try to keep the airplane flying. As the pilot headed towards home, they encountered an Allied fighter plane and the pilot motioned to the pilot of my father’s airplane to follow him to his base. They followed him for over an hour and during that time they threw everything out of the plane in order to lighten the load and save fuel.

When they tried to dismantle the ball turret, the bolts bent and the turret was just hanging down from the plane. Coming in for a landing with only two engines and their landing gear badly damaged, they knew that they had to crash land. Approaching the runway, there was a large building in the shape of a barn as camouflage, made out of hay. The pilot made the ball turret hit the barn to make it fall off and then he belly-landed the airplane. When they came to a stop, they realized what had happened. The runway was lined with a tarpaper covering over a grass field. Thus, there were no sparks created when the metal fuselage hit the ground. They found out that the base was in Bruges, Belgium.

When they checked the inside of the airplane - they noticed that the airplane looked like a piece of Swiss Cheese - but wherever my father put a prayer missal, the bullets and flak missed. God was with them.

Other crew members aboard that day were Allen Gidcumb, co-pilot; Dalton Ebbeson, bombardier; Charles Gray, engineer-gunner; Charles Jones, radio; Carl Stanley, ball turret; and Robert McLaughlin, tail gunner.

For his piloting action that day, Staver Hyndman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Printed in Flak News Volume 16, Number 3, Page(s) 3 & 5, July 2001

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