World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Nunzio Addabbo, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Phoenix, Arizona, December 1, 2007
The 398th has been interviewing its members as part of the Timeless Voices of Aviation project. More information about the project and a current list of video interviews can be found at 398th Timeless Voices Interviews. In addition to the video interviews, some of the interviews have been transcribed to text.
Nunzio Addabbo, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
NA: 398th Navigator, Nunzio Addabbo
MGR: I’m Marilyn Gibb-Rice and today is Saturday, December 1, 2007, and we are at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association Reunion in Phoenix, Arizona. Would you please introduce yourself?
NA: Yes. I’m Nunzio Addabbo. I was a navigator in the 601 Squadron with the Sam Palant crew.
MGR: So, what were you doing and where were you living in the late 1930’s and early 40’s?
NA: I was living on Long Island in New York with my mother [and] my brother. Across the street was my aunt and grandmother and I was going to school when we heard on the old Philco radio that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. The first thing I said, “Ma, I’m going to join up.” Well, I was still too young and she said, “You’ll have to wait but it’s okay to join up.” So, when I graduated in June ’43, I decided to become an aviation cadet.
Now, I didn’t tell my mother that while I was in school, I was taking flying lessons at a little grass strip about four miles from the house and I was taking lessons from my mother’s boss. She was working in a sweat shop making 25¢ an hour and her boss said, “Want to learn how to fly my J-3 Cub?”, and I said, “Oh, sure!” So, he started giving me lessons and I never paid him except by picking blueberries. That’s how I paid for my flying lessons. But, when he knew I was going to become an aviation cadet, he let me solo that J-3 Cub in May of 1943.
As soon as I graduated from high school, I went to Mitchell Field and got sworn in at Mitchell Field. They said, “You want to be an aviation cadet?”, and I said, “Yes.” They said, “Well, what do you want to do?”, and I said, “Well, I’m going to be a P-47 pilot because my mother is one of the ‘Rosie the Riveters’ at the Republic Aviation plant on Long Island and she takes care of the wing sections, rivets the wing sections of P-47s and that’s what I want to fly.”
MGR: So, what happened? When did you go into the army?
NA: Well, I was sworn in at Mitchell Field on Long Island. Mitchell Field was a B-25 base. Then, they said, “Sorry son, you are going to be in for a big surprise because right now, believe it or not, the cadet program is only taking navigators and bombardiers. So, if you want to be a cadet, you get to Maxwell Field, Alabama, you’re going to find out that you will have two choices. You are going to become a navigator or bombardier.” I said, “Well, okay.” I had already made up my mind then that this was my choice. Since I was pretty good in math, I decided to become a navigator.
So from Mitchell Field, I was sent to Greensboro, North Carolina for basic training. Now, I was in great shape; I was young, I was the captain of the track team, I was in centerfield on the baseball team, I was in great shape. Basic training was really a piece of cake. My best memory of Greensboro, North Carolina was that I was able to take apart and put together a .45 automatic, blindfolded.
Of course, the food at Basic sucked. The cooks, they obviously never went to culinary school. Anyway, that’s another story.
Then from basic training, they sent me to Mitchell Field, and that was called a Pre-Flight school where they were giving tests. That’s when I had to decide to become a navigator or bombardier. So, I chose to become a navigator. It was there that I learned what hypoxia and anoxia meant. I volunteered with five other cadets to go into a pressure chamber where they brought us up to altitude and they started us writing our names, phone numbers, simple additions and subtractions and then they took the oxygen mask off. We became higher in altitude. I believe they brought us up to about 20,000 feet. By that time we were asked some very simple questions, we were really unable to write them down correctly. Then when we were ready to collapse, there was an instructor and a doctor in the chamber that snapped an oxygen mask back on us and then they brought us back down to sea level in the pressure chamber.
Then from Maxwell Field, Alabama, it was to Center College, Kentucky, where we did a semester in navigation, history, civil air regulations, and then we had ten hours of flight in the field at the college. It was Goodall Field, about five miles south of the college. I had a female instructor; it was a married lady. She was a very nice lady and she knew that I could fly. On my tenth hour, she let me solo a Euranka. It was against regulations but she knew I could fly. She let me solo the Euranka.
The college we had was coed but none of the girls lived in our dormitories. They had their own separate dormitories and we had dances and get-togethers and it was a lot of fun.
From Center College, I went to Selman [Army Air] Field, [Monroe] Alabama, for Advanced Navigation School. We trained in A-27s that were retrofitted with the navigations tables and astrodomes and all the other equipment that a navigator needs. We flew day and night missions, various places, to learn how to navigate. I graduated there, if I’m not mistaken, it was in August 14th, 1944 and that’s when we go our wings; we were commissioned.
We left for Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up our crew. That’s where I met pilot, Sam Palant, co-pilot, Ted Kline, our bombardier, Roger Campbell, our radio operator, Paul Brown, tail gunner, Byron Cunningham, our waist gunner, Frank Strenard, our ball turret gunner, Walter Hall, and our upper turret gunner /engineer, Mack Withrow.
We trained day and night. A lot of our flights went into St. Louis and we’d practice bomb runs in various cities, day and night. The nighttime was mostly so I could get better experience at being a better navigator [as] I might have gained by celestial navigation. Of course, during the war, we never had any night raids. All our bombing missions were day runs.
When we finished our training in Lincoln, Nebraska, we picked up a B-17G and we departed for England on October the 14th, 1944. Our first leg was to Grenier Field in New Hampshire. We left at two o’clock in the morning and all our flights to England were at night. I’d get all my navigation list celestial charts and a lot of dead reckoning. And never got lost, thank you.
From Grenier Field, we went to Bangor, Maine and landed in a raging snowstorm. We had to stay three days, until the snow cleared. Then, we were able to take off again, the following three nights later. From Bangor, Maine, we flew to Bluie West, the one airfield in Greenland. The following night – we had one day of rest – we flew from Bluie West to Meeks Field, [Keflavik], Iceland. From Iceland, we flew to Valley, Wales. It is there, at Valley, Wales, where we gave up our ship. I don’t know why, [or] why we didn’t fly into Nuthampstead. But, we didn’t. We dropped off our new B-17G at the Valley of Wales and somebody else took the plane from there.
That’s where we got indoctrinated into British customs, how we should act as officers and crew men in England, what to do and what not to do. That was three days indoctrination.
Then after the Valley of Wales, we took a train to England. From – I don’t remember which town it was, I forget – but it was a little town. We transferred from there by bus to a little town called Royston, north of Nuthampstead. From there we transferred from a truck that brought us from Royston to Nuthampstead and we arrived in Nuthampstead in October; I think the 15th, 1944. That’s a few days later, after we had some more indoctrination, that’s when we started our first missions.
MGR: So, tell me about your first one.
NA: To tell you the truth, I don’t remember hardly any of the missions. The ones that I do remember are the ones that were spectacular, so to speak, with a lot of flak. We got shot at, shot up, shot down. And I really cannot remember my first mission. I did very often, but I don’t remember all of them and in chronological order, I couldn’t tell you because I never kept a log of the missions that I was on.
But, one time over Castle [probably Kassel, Germany], I had my oxygen line cut off and I had to fly back with a portable oxygen tank. That was no big deal.
Another time, I had an electrical cord in my right boot cut, and I came back with frostbitten right foot. And again, that was no big deal, either.
But, of course, the most spectacular raid that we had, that I remember best, was the raid on February the 14th, 1945. We were scheduled to bomb Dresden. Well, when we approached what we, everybody, thought was Dresden, I knew that we were flying to the wrong target and I told our pilot, Sam, “You know, we are not headed to Dresden; we are running the wrong heading. We seem to be heading towards Prague.” And, as we got closer and closer to the target, apparently because of the radio silence, that message never got to the lead plane. Consequently, instead of bombing Dresden, we bombed Prague, in error. I had it all in my log and, in fact, when we got back to the base, I reported it as being the wrong target, as being Prague. The news that we had bombed the wrong target never came out until the next day and only a few were made known of that fact. I consider that a colossal cover-up.
Basically, that’s it about the missions. The rest of them were we had a lot of flak; we came back with lots of holes in the aircraft. I never got wounded, myself.
MGR: But did you stay with the same crew the whole time?
NA: No. Near the end of the war when we were getting close to a lot of missions, they were letting the experienced pilots, co-pilots, navigators, bombardiers, fly with young crews. The last mission that we were going to fly with my crew was on Friday the 13th, in April, 1945. I had already finished my missions, so I didn’t fly with the crew that day. I was the duty navigator that night so I knew that our next mission, wherever it was going to be, the reports that we got from intelligence was that it was going to be a milk run. It started out as a milk run.
Of course, our crew was split up, our pilot, Sam, was flying with a new co-pilot. Our experienced co-pilot was flying with a young first pilot. Our experienced bombardier was flying with another new crew. Since I had finished my missions, there was a new navigator flying in my position. Since our bombardier, who’s flying with a new crew, a new bombardier took his place on our crew.
Well, to make a long story short, apparently, the bombardier on our crew, he either didn’t hear the instructions or was asleep for any instructions because bombardiers are given instructions on today’s raid we were going to use what we call RDX bombs. RDX bombs was the first time our crew used them. And RDX bombs were plastic explosives. The bombardiers were cautioned to use extreme care and the bombs were to be dropped in train, which means one at a time.
When they got over the target, our bombardier had salvoed the bombs. He dropped them all at once. As they left the bomb bays, they started hitting each other, and they exploded. It practically destroyed the whole squadron. Many of our guys got killed. We lost our co-pilot; he went down in the ship that he was in. He is now buried in the Ardennes Cemetery in Belgium. That’s Ted Klein.
All the rest of our crew had to bail out except on our crew, we had a new armament officer. He was a lieutenant and he had never flown in a tail in our position. So, he asked our tail gunner, “Would you let me fly in the tail?” And so our tail gunner said, “Sure.” That was Byron Cunningham. The new officer was in the tail of our ship. When our bombs started to explode, he got wounded and he called Sam on the intercom and he says, “I’m wounded.” And Sam says, “Well, we all have to bail out.” So the guy who was wounded, he couldn’t move; he was really in bad shape.
So Byron Cunningham, our regular tail gunner, crawled back to the tail. He got the lieutenant; he dragged him out into the waist. He strapped his own parachute on the lieutenant and he hooked him on to the safety latch on the side of the waste and he shoved him out of the airplane. Of course, the parachute opened very quickly and I really don’t know what happened to the lieutenant. But the parachute opened and he went down to the ground.
Then Byron Cunningham had -- when everybody had already bailed out, except he and the pilot -- he crawled back to the tail gunner position, got the lieutenant’s parachute and put it on himself. He bailed out just in time as the ship was turning over. He bailed out and he got captured the following day and became a prisoner of war.
Our pilot, Sam, bailed out after he tried to dive the plane; he tried to drive the plane to put out the flame that was burning. So, he tried to drive the plane and he tried to put out the fire and it wouldn’t go out. It got so hot in the plane that he had to jump. So, he bailed out and he landed in the forest. Sam evaded capture for four days and he was captured by the British. He was interrogated as they immediately thought he was a Nazi flyer in a U.S. uniform. But he was able to answer the right questions and he ended up – he was bruised up a little, but not bad – he ended up in a hospital in England. Then, he came back to base about ten days later. We had a nice reunion, he and I, because we were the only two left in the crew.
That was just couple of days before I was ready to leave because I had finished my missions. I was scheduled to go back to the U.S. to transition to B-29's in Florida. Before I left, Sam said, “Nunz [he used to call me Nunz, that was my nickname], will you paint a B-17 on the back of my flight jacket?” He had a leather jacket; we all did. So, I requisitioned some oil paints and painted a B-17 on the back of his jacket. I never signed it. That was it and I then left for the States. Then he stayed, I guess, a few weeks longer.
Then from there, I went to Drew Field, Florida. And from there I was supposed to transition to B-29's at McDill Field. Apparently, the navigator [that] was there training, either quit, got fired, or who knows, died, or whatever and they decided instead to make me a navigation instructor. So, I became a navigation instructor until the end of the war. Well, the war was over already, but until November, when I separated out of Drew Field in November of 1945.
MGR: Since you obviously painted, had you painted the nose art on your plane?
NA: No, I didn’t do that. That was already on there. It was already on there, I don’t know who did it, it was already on the plane.
When I was in high school, I won an art scholarship. But I never wanted to be an artist. My uncle was an artist and he was starving. And I didn’t want to starve. I won an art scholarship from the Pratt Institute, but I never took it. I became an engineer.
MGR: Did you have a name for your plane?
NA: No, we didn’t.
NA: No, we didn’t. We flew different planes all the time. We really never had our own plane.
MGR: So, you were a replacement crew?
MGR: So, what did your parents . . . how did the feel? Oh, it was your mom that said you could go. Did you have a girlfriend or fiancé before you left?
NA: No. I had a lot of girlfriends in high school, but I was so busy I never had a steady girlfriend in high school.
MGR: When you got back, did you fly back or take a ship back?
NA: We flew back.
MGR: In a B-17?
NA: No, we flew back in [a] DC-3, I think. . .
MGR: One of the cargo planes?
NA: Well, we lived in a Quonset hut; dirt floor, potbelly stove in the middle of the room that you had to feed with wood, hard wood, and there were six double bunks and I had an upper bunk and my buddy in the hut was Lou Burke. We had a lot of fun together.
The story that Lou always like to tell on me is when we were getting [ready] for Christmas, I says, “You know, I can cook you the best Italian spaghetti that you ever had in your life because my parents were Italian.” I was born in New York, but my whole family was in the restaurant business and the wine business so I knew how to cook spaghetti. So, my mother sent me a care package, big box, and in it was spaghetti, tomato sauce, tomato paste, a bunch of garlic cloves, a little bottle of olive oil, and a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. Probably a dozen of them, anyways. Of course, the cookies came all crumbled up.
But, anyway, come Christmas morning, I said, “Okay, guys, you are going to have your spaghetti dinner today.” So, I got one of our buddies, Tom Buckley was also a pilot, and he was all ready [to begin helping prepare dinner]. Buckley was with the 603rd squadron. I said, “Buck, clean out some pots. I need a big one for the spaghetti and the smaller pot for the sauce.” I says, “Go out to the latrine and clean them up. You know, there's soap out there.” So, Tom went out there and he washed the -- these were galvanized pots. So, he washed them out and brought them back. Of course, there was never any hot water in that latrine. You took a shower and that was also a cold shower. Who needed it anyway? It would keep us awake
Anyway, so he brought the pots back. And he claimed, “Oh yeah, I soaped them up real good!” “That’s great! Cleaned them out?” “Yup.” So, I put the water in the pot, start cooking the spaghetti, made the sauce, chopped up the garlic, the garlic clove. Started at nine o’clock in the morning and by noon we were going to have a bang out dinner. But anyway, the spaghetti was ready; I called all the guys together. Some of them weren’t there because they were on R & R. But, I think there were about 6 or 7 of us out of the 12. So, we had spaghetti.
Everyone says, “Oh damn, this is good!” and “Let’s have some more!” So, pretty soon the spaghetti was almost all gone, but then, when I am looking at Sam, and there is bubbles coming out of his mouth. I said, “Good God! Are you okay, Sam?” Sam said, “Yeah. Why?” I said, “There’s bubbles coming out of your mouth! Are you sure you’re okay? You look like a hydrophobic dog.” So, and then somebody else said, “Hey, me too. I have bubbles coming out!”
Well, you know what happened, galvanized pots out of crack porters so they had a tendency to absorb soap in cold water. Then, when we heated the hot water for the spaghetti, it released the soap from the sides of the galvanized pot. And so, the water was soapy water. So, this is what caused the bubbles to come out of everybody’s mouths. For the next day, everybody had diarrhea, for two days.
MGR: Where were you able to cook?
NA: On a potbelly stove.
MGR: Oh, okay.
NA: Well, actually I told you it was a wood stove. It was until we decided that we're going to have spaghetti dinner. Then, we pulled a couple midnight requisitions and we all know what that is. We rigged it up so it was an oil burner. So, we rigged it up with oil so it became an oil burner.
MGR: So, did you ever make spaghetti for them again.
NA: No! Well, I ran out of spaghetti.
MGR: That was great. So, tell me about the showers and that. I didn’t realize that you guys didn’t have hot water.
NA: Well, it was lukewarm. But never hot.
MGR: So, what did you do in your time off like when you weren’t flying in the evenings and everything? What did you do?
NA: A lot of the guys played poker. I played poker sometimes. I played bridge; I was a bridge player. I played bridge with some of the guys who played bridge. Then, we also – if we knew we weren’t going to fly the next morning – we would go either to Baldock or Royston and we spent quite a bit of time at the George and Dragon Pub. We’d go there and we’d drink warm beer and shoot darts and try to make out with the little girls, you know, the British girls. But, that’s what we all did. It was a lot of fun.
If we had a long weekend R & R, like two days, usually about maybe once every couple of weeks, I made a run to London. I usually stayed at the hotel downtown and my favorite food there was, on the streets, I’d buy fish and chips. They gave us the fish and chips in a rolled up newspaper. And, if I had enough money in my pocket, I’d dine, and I say dined, at the Grosvenor House, which is today a very exclusive place. It was still then. For us, it was very expensive but when I had money in my pocket, I‘d dine at the Grosvenor House.
One night, when I was at the hotel there, a V-1 … the V-1 was the one with the putt-putt engine on it … when it ran out of fuel is when it nosed down. The V-2 was the guided missile. But the V-1 hit in Hyde Park and I was across from Hyde Park and [it] knocked all the windows out of my bedroom. I wasn’t hurt, but that’s the closest I got [to] killed in the war.
MGR: Did you ever go up to Scotland?
MGR: So, what was your first impression of England?
NA: Oh, I thought the people were very friendly, very knowledgeable; they were very well-prepared for the war. They treated us very well and, I remember, every morning before we went on a flight and … no, I’m sorry, not when we went on a flight… but, when we came back from a flight, there were always a lot of the young, British ladies there with tea and crackers. Everybody was interrogated. We had a debriefing after every mission. They were always there to give us cigarettes, and tea, and crackers.
MGR: So, what was the debriefing like?
NA: Well, the debriefing was what happened during your mission, anything exciting, anything important to say, anybody get hurt, because the mission that we had on our way to Dresden and bombed Prague that’s when I brought up the fact, “Hey, we bombed Prague, we didn’t bomb Dresden.” I submitted my log and I don’t know where that log is today, but it’s got the fact that we had bombed the wrong target. Nobody ever thanked me for that.
MGR: Would you say that you were afraid when you were on your mission?
NA: Oh sure, we were all afraid. Anybody that tells you that they were not afraid is a damn liar. I was afraid of getting killed and not growing old.
MGR: What else do you want to tell about your missions or about your time flying over, like what you did when you were on your way when you were the navigator?
NA: Well, usually what we did was we took off early in the morning and we all circled and met at a gathering point on the coast of England and that’s where we formed our formation. We flew in formation. There were always three squadrons that flew; we had four squadrons but only three flew at a time. We had our high, our low, and a lead. We flew in formation all the way to the IP [initial point]. Then from the IP is when you turn from the IP to the target and that’s when the bombardier takes over and he flies the aircraft with the bomb to the Norden bomb site. Then, depending on what happens from there, if you are able to come back from formation, you do. If you get shot up real bad; everybody’s on the zone. Many missions, we had to fly alone back home because we couldn’t keep up with the rest of the crew or those couldn’t keep up with us.
Once we made a crash landing in Lyon Cougaron in France. But it was a controlled crash landing. We were shot up and we knew we couldn’t make it back to England so we crashed at Lyon Cougaron in France.
MGR: Tell me about that.
NA: Well, it was no big deal, it was just we only had two engines and we were running low on fuel and we couldn’t make it back to Nuthampstead so we diverted to Lyon Cougaron in France and crash landed there. Then, we took the bus from there and I don’t know exactly where. From there, we were flown to a field just outside of London and then we took a bus to Nuthampstead.
MGR: What does IP stand for?
NA: Initial point, that’s the initial point when you start a bomb run to a target. It’s usually a very short bomb run to the initial point to the target.
MGR: And how many missions did you fly?
MGR: So, did you keep in touch with your crew members?
NA: Well, actually after the war, I took advantage of the GI Bill and I went to college at Columbia. Well, when I first got out, I started out at Pratt Institute for a year. And then from Pratt Institute, I went to Columbia University for a year, and then I finished my last two years at Columbia through the Armed Forces Institute and I became a civil engineer. And, got married while I was … my senior year in college.
Then the following year, I started my masters’ degree and The New York Times advertised for some interesting projects overseas. One was in Venezuela, Arco Mining Company in Venezuela. Another one was Rocky Mount hydroelectric plant in Australia. The other one was with the Chile Exploration Company in Chile. I decided, well, the money is good so I went to work in Chile; the Chile Exploration Company was a subsidiary of the Anaconda Company. And I was getting paid $600.00 a month and that was a lot of money in those days. This was in 1950. So, I went to Chile.
I don’t know when it was when that our crew started getting in touch with each other, but it was our radio operator, Paul Brown, that decided to make contact with all the crew members. For years and years, he tried to catch me, but he couldn’t because I was overseas somewhere. I mean, I worked in Chile, Peru, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Canada twice – once in the Yukon and once in Ontario. I worked in Mexico three or four times, Pakistan, Iran; I even have a commercial pilot’s license in Iran, believe it or not. Yeah, I do.
In fact, I was checked out in Iran by [the] Shah’s personal pilot and I applied for [a] commercial pilot’s license in Iran. In order to get licensed in Iran as a commercial pilot, you had to be checked out by one of the Shah’s personal pilots. It was a Colonel Muzafaree who checked me out. It took about six months for me to get a license because they did a very detailed background check by SAVAK. The SAVAK was the secret police in Iran.
When I did get my license, I was flying their military training planes, which were beefed up Bonanza’s, out of Ghaleh Morghi Air Base in Tehran. That was another experience and another reason why.
So, I have been all over the world and they couldn’t get in touch with me until I got a call, from my son, Mike, who had a dental laboratory in New York in Long Island. He said, “Dad, a guy called here and he said he’s a radio operator in your crew.” I says, “Yeah, Paul Brown.” And he says, “Yeah. Well, he says he’s been trying to get you for twenty years. He couldn’t find you.”
So, he gave him my number and Paul called me in Chile. He says, “You’re the last one in the crew that I was able to get.” He says, “Well then, how about we get together? We’ll have a crew reunion.”
Well, when I finished my job in Chile, that particular job, we met in Rockville, Illinois, and we had a crew reunion there. The only member that was not there was [the] co-pilot, who was already buried in the Ardennes Cemetery. The reason we held it in Rockville, Illinois, is because his daughter was born after he left for England during the war.
MGR: And did she live there?
NA: Yes, she lives in Rockville. We had a reunion in her honor and in Ted’s honor. It was a great reunion and this was in 1987. It was the first time that we had-- that I was with the crew -- reunion. Then we met several times after that. Of course then, our crew started to die off.
MGR: So, how did you hear about the 398th reunions?
NA: Oh, the 398th? Good question. I think through Paul, through our radio operator. Because this is, what, the 24th reunion? Yeah. It was Paul that told me that the 398th has a reunion every year. Let’s get together and go to some of them and we did.
MGR: Have you been back to Nuthampstead?
NA: No, I have not. I have four sons and three of them were in the Air Force. One is already retired from the Air Force. When I was on a business trip to Pakistan, I stopped off in London to see my son, who was in a secret base. My son had a top secret clearance in the Air Force, at a base called Chicksands in England. Chicksands was about maybe twenty-five, thirty-five miles northeast of Nuthampstead. Andl it was a surveillance base and he was a high speed Morse code operator, intercepting Morse code from Russia usually.
But, I wanted to go to Nuthampstead and he had driven down from Chicksands to meet me at London and we had lunch in London. We were on a drive to Nuthampstead and his car broke down. So, we couldn’t make it then, of course, [and] I had to fly out the next day and never got to Nuthampstead.
But, seven or eight years ago -- I am also an amateur radio operator; I have been an amateur radio operator since 1950. I was on my radio seven or eight years ago and I got a guy on the radio and I knew he was from England. I said, “Where you at?” and he said, “I’m in Nuthampstead,” and I said, “You got to be kidding!” and he said, “No, I am ham operator.” I said, “Do you know the airbase in Nuthampstead?” And he said, “Heck yeah! I ride my bicycle to work every day because it’s just a couple of miles from here. I go by the airbase every day and the grass is growing through the runways and I know it very well.” So, that was very nice.
In fact, two weeks ago just before this reunion, I was on the radio again. Well, actually I was on what we call EchoLink. We have an EchoLink system now by ham radio where you can talk by computer. I was talking to a ham operator in Tasmania, in the jungle. As I was talking to him, I got a break station and I knew it was a G5 station which, if you know ham radio, cross lines, and I knew it was England. So I said, “Come in England. Where you at?” and he said, “I’m in London.” So I said, “You know, I was in England during World War II.” And he said, “Well, where were you stationed?” and I said, “Nuthampstead.” He said, “Oh, I go in business a lot from London to Cambridge and go by Nuthampstead quite frequently.” So, that was another story about Nuthampstead.
MGR: So, have you been back into a B-17?
NA: Oh, yeah. Well, actually, I don’t remember what year it was but when I was living in California, I still had my own airplane. I flew my airplane from Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo and they were having there a B-17-- I’m not sure which one it was -- It might have been the Memphis Belle. I wouldn’t swear to it. But, they were having a showing of the B-17 in San Luis Obispo so I flew my plane there. I took my wife. We went in it, and I signed the log. I was interviewed. I was on …. I don’t remember which station it was. But, they interviewed us. There was just a few of us there that had been in B-17's during the war. So, that was a fun experience. That was basically the only time.
And then the other time that I was in a B-17 was we have the Air and Space Museum in Tucson, which is where I live now. We have a B-17 in the museum there and you can go walk through that.
MGR: Did it seem different to you than when you were in England? The plane?
NA: No, oh no, a B-17 is a B-17. They are all the same.
MGR: So, were you there to fly D-Day?
NA: No, no. D-Day was before my time.
MGR: You came over after? So, were you ever in the Woodman Pub?
MGR: So, what would you say was a typical day like in the life of a GI during the war?
NA: A typical day? Well, rise and shine, get ready for the mission, enjoy the mission, come back, eat, go to sleep. If you don’t have to fly the next day, go to George and Dragon Pub and have some beers.
MGR: What time did they get you up usually?
NA: As I recall, it was maybe 4:30, 5:00 in the morning. We had breakfast and we had a briefing and then we go and climb in the planes. Some of the flights, we took off early because if we had to fly to Berlin, we had to get up earlier. If we had to fly to the Rhine River, we didn’t have to take off until maybe 9:00 in the morning, 10:00 in the morning, because it was a short run. Berlin was just the longest flight that we had.
MGR: So, how did you hear about the bombing of Hiroshima?
NA: Well, that was August the 6th, 1945 and that’s when we dropped the Little Boy, that was a uranium bomb. And that was dropped by a B-29 called the Enola Gay and took off from Tinian and dropped a bomb on Hiroshima on August the 6th, 1945.
As a side note to that a lot of people don’t know, I just finished a book, a cook book, called the Eponymous Cook Book, and in it is the story -- what the book is about is the stories behind all the classic recipes. Well, one of the recipes in there is the Baby Ruth candy bar. I told the story of how the candy bar originated and who it was named after. You can read that in the book.
A long story short is when the Curtis Candy Company, who made the Baby Ruth candy bar, had a promotional weekend at a little airport just near Hialeah racetrack in Florida, there was a little boy there named Paul Tibbets [pilot for the Enola Gay]. He was twelve years old. I don’t know how it happened, but they asked him, “Would you like to go up for a ride in one of our planes and would you like to drop Baby Ruth candy bars out of the airplane with a parachute?” So, that’s what Paul Tibbets did on this flight. He was in this airplane, first time he’d ever been in an airplane, and he was dropping candy bars, Baby Ruth candy bars, out of the plane with little paper parachutes. They dropped hundreds of them all over the city. That’s when he got hooked on flying and so he decided from then on that he was going to be a pilot. And, that’s Paul Tibbets.
The war didn’t end with the bombing of Hiroshima. It was not until three days later, on August the 9th, that they dropped Fat Man. Fat Man was a plutonium bomb that we dropped on Nagasaki and a lot of people don’t know it, but Fat Man was named after Winston Churchill. That’s when the war really ended. That’s when the Japs knew they had enough.
MGR: So, just explain who, the guy who was dropping the Baby Ruths out and his connection to D-Day. Oh, not D-Day, I’m sorry, to the bomb.
NA: Oh, that was Paul Tibbets. He was the pilot to the Enola Gay. He was a colonel at the time. He was the pilot of the Enola Gay.
MGR: And you said you used the GI Bill to go back to college?
MGR: So, what would you want people to know about that time in history?
NA: Well, looking back at it now, I think it was the right decision – you are talking about the dropping of the bombs – I think it was the right decision. I think the dropping of the bomb, beating the Germans and the Japs was a catalyst that united the United States. That made us the most strongest, most powerful, most economic and respectful nation in the world.
MGR: So, what are your memories of VE Day?
NA: Well, VE Day happened when I was still in England with Sam. We had a scotch and soda together. We celebrated with a scotch and soda. We didn’t get drunk but pretty close. We had a drink and that was on VE Day.
MGR: So, did anything happen during the war that affected you for the rest of your life?
NA: Nothing affected me, psychologically or physically; not to my knowledge.
MGR: And would you have changed anything about your war experience?
NA: Yeah, I wanted to be a P-47 pilot and they didn’t give me that chance, dammit. But, otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing, really. Except that.
MGR: And how would you have said the military service affected your life?
NA: I think it made me a more responsible person. We were all young in those days. Everybody who joined the Army Air Corp. was 18, 19, 20, 21, and I don’t think anybody was over 30. Our pilot, Sam, he was the old man of the crew; he was 29. When I joined up, I was 19 and then I left when I was 21. But he was the old man, he was 29. So, we were all young. I just think it gave everybody a sense of more responsibility, appreciation of life.
MGR: And you had a nice camaraderie with your all of your crew and everything.
NA: Oh yeah. We kept in touch all the years, like I said, until they started to die. Sam died last year; he was 90 and had lymphoma. He and his wife would come to my house and stay. My wife and I went to his house and stayed at his house. We met at the reunions. We went on trips together. We went on a cruise together.
MGR: So, are any of them still alive, any of your crew members:
NA: The only one that I know that is alive right now is Byron Cunningham and he was our tail gunner. We keep in touch by email at least two or three times a week. He couldn’t make it to this reunion because he is just not feeling well; he is fighting cancer.
MGR: Anything else that you would like to tell?
NA: No, just that I am glad that you are doing this.
MGR: Well, thank you.
NA: Something that our children and grandchildren will appreciate.
MGR: We hope so.
NA: It was just a great experience. If I had to do it again, I’d sign up tomorrow.
MGR: And try to be the pilot.
MGR: Well, thank you very much for doing this and we hope to see you at next year’s reunion and all the ones after that.
NA: [Gives a salute]
- Palant's Crew - 601st Squadron - September 1944
- Flak News Articles about 398th Mission - 14 February 1945
- Dresden-Prague Mission Recollections by Nunzio Addabbo, Navigator, Palant Crew, 601st Squadron
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Nunzio Addabbo was was the Navigator on Sam Palant's 601st Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Jan Silverstein, one of our 398th volunteers in October 2010.
- The transcription was obtained from a video file.
- Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
- Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].