My 398th Career
By Bob Bowen, Pilot, 602nd Squadron
I completed twin engine flight training and was commissioned in June, 1944. A few of us were selected to be sent overeas to England as replacement co-pilots in B-17s. After arriving at Nuthamptead in October, I was assigned to Lt. Joe Hall's crew as his replacement co-pilot. On October 10, I began my training on how to fly the B-17. My first flight in a B-17 lasted three hours.
After about 45 hours of flying, Joe asked me on November 3 if I thought I could bring back a B-17 from a mission. I said "yes" and he said you better be because "we" will be flying a mission tomorrow. I flew with Joe's crew until they were made a command crew. Joe's crew were: pilot Hall, navigator Artier; engineer Meters, toggilier Perrou, waist gunner Langford, ball turret gunner Hrynak, radio Peterson; tail gunner Akins. Joe Hall was one of the finest airman I ever knew. While in England he achieved ratings of bombardier and navigator through the base training program. After the war he continued as a career officer.
After being bumped from the Hall crew I flew with the Peter's crew and several others as a replacement until I was made first pilot for a new replacement crew from the states who's first pilot was a major. He was assigned to a staff position, so I joined my new crew of: co-pilot Elwell, navigator Doles, engineer Ademek, radio Ibelong, toggilier Moss, waist gunner Myers, ball turret Dailey and tail gunner Haws. Our first mission was to Mannheim on February 1, 1945 and the second to Berlin on Feb. 3, 1945. We became an experienced crew in a hurry. I completed my tour with this crew. In my 35 combat missions I experienced no losses in any of my crews. We finished over Nuremberg on April 5, 1945.
I was released and put on a troop ship to return stateside and was in the middle of the Atlantic on VE Day. No one on the ship would admit to having a drop of celebratory liquid on the ship. We landed in Boston on May 13, 1945 in a freak snowstorm. Quite a welcome for a "good old southern boy."
Returning in fog provided several interesting missions. On one we let down through the fog at about 200 feet. Our waist gunner called to the engineer to ask what our altitude was. When informed it was about 200 feet he suggested we pull up since he could see a car on a road about half a mile away running level with us. On December 24, 1944 we returned from a "Battle of the Bulge" mission with only about 1/3 of the bases open. We were diverted to another base with about three other groups. I was given a wire springs bunk in the gym (no matress) and told to sleep fast as we would be going out on Christmas Day (call up around 5 AM). Around the corner of the gym was the chapel. Promptly at 11:00 PM Christmas Eve services began. I can't say I enjoyed the carols that Christmas. As bad as they needed us at the Bulge, fog kept us from flying Christmas Day. I truly believe all of us were eager to fly for the guys that day.
On my final mission we had to leave the group and return alone. As we crossed the channel, I dropped down to about 200 feet. The gunners requested to test fire their guns. I approved; there were some surprised gulls but I doubt if any were hit. Co-pilot Elwell even test fired his 45.
I did not learn of the 398th Memorial Association until visiting the Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum on the second day of its opening. I joined the 398th as quickly as possible then. Jane, my wife, and I have been blessed with wonderful 398th experiences and have acquired a wealth of great friends among our members.
Personal History Information
- Veteran: Bob Bowen
- Pilot, 602nd Squadron
- Date of Personal History: February 2003
- Author: Bob Bowen
- Submitted to 398th Web Pages by: Bob Bowen