World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Keith Anderson, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
600th Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Randy Stange
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
The Radisson Hotel, Covington, KY, September 10, 2003
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.
Keith Anderson, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
600th Squadron, Eighth Air Force
RS: Interviewer, Randy Stange
KA: 398th Pilot, Keith Anderson
RS: Today is September 10th. We are recording Keith Anderson and we are at the 398th Bomb Group Reunion at the Radisson Hotel in Covington, Kentucky. We’ll start out with where were you born and raised?
KA: Oh, I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. It’s a quiet suburb of Seattle; I never strayed too far away. I graduated from Ballard High School in the Scandinavian section of Seattle in 1941, and I started college in Reed College in Portland, Oregon, that following fall. Then, along came Pearl Harbor and it sort of changed everybody’s plans.
RS: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
KA: I have two younger sisters; both still living. One of them served a hitch – well, a complete career with the Army as a physical therapist.
RS: What did your parents do?
KA: My dad was a furniture manufacturer. My grandparents came from Sweden. My granddad started a furniture factory when he got over here, or shortly after. My dad had grown up in that business and he had his own factory there in Ballard, Scandinavian Seattle.
RS: Did you have any interest in aviation prior?
KA: Well, I really didn’t, Randy. I, like any other kid, I built model airplanes out of balsa wood and paper dough. I read G-8 and the Battle Aces, and all that sort of thing. So, I had a mild interest but I never had any consuming desires to become involved in aviation, at all, until the war came along.
RS: What did you think of when Pearl Harbor happened? Where were you?
KA: I was in college. In fact, we were in the middle of a semi-riot at college. Sort of a – we didn’t have fraternities there – but we had living quarters or living groups. We had a real function going that night. We were actually battering our way into another living group on campus, physically, with battering rams and everything. And, then along came the news, somebody had run by and said the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. That ended everything right then. We all went back to our dorm, got bills later on for all the damage we caused.
But, from then on, it was a case of do I enlist right now, join the Marines, whatever. Of course, on the West Coast, we had been very conscious of the Japanese situation for a long, long time. So, it wasn’t a great surprise, but it was still a shock, of course.
RS: So, did you end up enlisting or were you drafted?
KA: No, I decided to resist that initial urge to join the Marines the next day. Being in college, of course, we were well aware that there were Officer Training Programs of various kinds involved. Most of my friends headed towards the Navy; Seattle being a maritime port with a big fishing fleet and all.
But, I was never too interested in the Navy. I think I had heard a rumor that overbite had caused a problem if you wanted to become a naval aviator. I had a little bit of an overbite. But, most of my friends, we started thinking where do I go, what do I do?
I eventually, with another friend, decided on that the Air Force. If I had to serve in the war, I wanted to fly high and live a good, clean life. He and I went down to the Portland Army Airbase in October of ’42, several months after Pearl Harbor, of course.
Of course, I wasn’t 18 until after Pearl Harbor. As I remember, we actually had to register for the draft, and so we knew ultimately that we’d probably serve. Some of our professors in college were trying to talk us into staying; we could get deferments.
So, at any rate, we enlisted in the Air Force in October .
RS: Where would you do your Basic?
KA: We had figured all along that if you enlisted as Aviation Cadet, and would go to Santa Monica, California. That’s all any of us talked about. But, it turned out, of course, they had a flood of enlistments and could only take fellows so many at a time. Various fellows were getting called up where they had enlisted in the Navy, or wherever. Months went by, and nothing was happening, and I was getting a little bit discouraged.
Along, in February of ’43, came orders telling me to report to the railway depot at Portland, on February 13th, as a Buck Private, which was a shock. I thought I was going to be an Aviation Cadet. Turned out the Air Force decided to launch a new program. It had too many people washing out of flight training so they were going to try to weed out and further educate their potential cadets.
So, they started this program and started out as one month of Basic Training and five months of College Training. Well, I had just come out of college and they were just starting the program, so, in my initial group, we only had one week of Basic Training instead of the full month because they had to sort of get this thing going. Then, they gave us all tests to further divide us into this College Training so that they would have a progression of classes. I had just come out of college, took a lot of mathematics, passed that test and only had to have one month of College Training instead of five, still a Buck Private.
I got sent to San Antonio, Texas, of all places. I ended up in College Training in Missouri, which was a shock. It was the first time that I had been away from the West Coast in my life, and then ended up in San Antonio, of all places, when I had been looking forward to Santa Ana, California.
So, at any rate, we went through Classification Center there and had to take all of the tests and physicals and all those tests and eventually ended up at San Antonio Pre-Flight as an Aviation Cadet, finally. Somehow, I got out of there in one month instead of two. I started out at Class 44-B, by I ended up in Class 44-A, which our esteemed [398th] President, Wally Blackwell, I think he was a 44-A’er. I had all my training with the Central Training Command; Primary, Basic, and Advanced.
As I said, I had no overriding desire to become a flyer in my young life. I didn’t know that much about airplanes, but I knew about P-38s and I knew about B-25s because I had seen both of them doing a lot of flying around our place. So, I figured, well, twin-engine, that’s the place to get into, P-38s.
Well, I found out it’s the place to get into bombers, really. I didn’t particularly want to fly a bomber or a four-engine bomber, at any rate. So, I did elect to go to Twin-Engine Advanced and graduated there. We got our wings in January, the Class of 44-A.
They gave us a certain number of choices that you can opt for; to be an instructor, doing this, or doing that. Well, I think I still put down B-25s or something like that. I ended up at the Replacement Center at Salt Lake City amongst those hundred, or thousands of guys. Lo and behold, I had been there about two weeks and another fellow and I got orders to go to Rapid City, South Dakota, to join the 398th Bomb Group. So, we were on our way.
I joined the group in about the middle of February. Of course, I was a brand new Second Lieutenant and a brand new pilot, pilot wings and all that. But, I had the good fortune to be assigned as the co-pilot to the lead crew of the 600th Bomb Squadron, which was the lead squadron of the group.
Now, the group at that time had been together about a year as a Replacement Training Unit. So, the crew that I joined had been one of the original cadre and they were instructors for all these replacement crews that were going through training for about a year. So, they were an experienced crew, the pilot was about 29 years old, which was old in those days for a pilot. He had a lot of flying experience, probably had at least 500 hours on the B-17. Their co-pilot had just been checked out; while the group had been taken off of RTU [Replacement Training Unit] status into status of where they were going overseas, deployed as a group. Became Operational Training then and got a bunch of crews in to fill in the complete compliment and the co-pilot that I replaced, he got his own crew then as one of these new crews of the 600th Bomb Squadron.
So, I was assigned as a co-pilot, youngest guy on the crew. I think our tail gunner was two year older than I was; I was only nineteen at the time. [I] got precious little training on the B-17. Took a couple of flights. We got these shiny, brand new B-17Gs that we were going to fly overseas. I think my 3rd or 4th flight on the B-17 was overseas.
RS: Did you take the northern route?
KA: Took the northern route. The whole group did. We went through Bangor, Maine, Labrador [Canada], Goose Bay, I forget . . .
RS: Goose Bay, Labrador?
KA: Yes, and then Reykjavik, Iceland, landed and Nutts Corner in Ireland. Then, on the 22nd of April, we flew into Nuthampstead.
I spent about a month of doing practice missions. Well, it wasn’t a month, it was about two or three weeks of practice missions and ground orientation to learn how English customs were and what combat was like and what the flak was like and all that sort of thing
We flew our first mission on May 6th  our first mission as a group. Now, I had said I was the co-pilot on this crew, which was really the number one crew to the group and we lead the mission on the first mission with Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.], who was sitting in my seat. I discovered that a co-pilot on the lead crew, when the Colonel was flying or one of the execs, became a tail gunner and sat back in the tail gun as an observer to ostensibly let the Colonel know what was going on behind us and who was in formation, who was having problems and so forth. Well, I wasn’t too happy about that, but that’s life.
So, I ended up flying seven missions as a tail gunner observer, really. Not necessarily my first set, because we had a few where we weren’t leading the whole crew and I got to fly, at least, as a co-pilot.
It was kind of lonely back there in the tail and I didn’t – I remember that first mission, which was a fouled up mission to begin with – we were actually written up in the Mighty 8th Air Force Diary, if you want to look at that.
Of course, there was a set procedure. When the field order came in to set take-off time, from that they had to work back to taxi time, engine startup time, waking up the crews, waking up the mess hall for breakfast and so forth. Well, somehow, the fellow who was on duty that night forgot to wakeup the mess hall. So, here we all showed up in the dark ready for breakfast and no breakfast. Being Americans, we weren’t about to let anyone send us off to war without breakfast, so we just sat there until they finally brought some cooks down and rounded them up. That fouled up the whole mission. Of course, we were late in taking off, late in everything.
Fortunately, it was a no bomb mission. At that time, at least none of us knew what flying bombs were. Maybe some of the intelligence people had an idea. The Germans were building these rocket flying bomb launching sites on the French coast; they knew something was up. So, they decided to start to drop bombs on them.
Fortunately, our first mission was to what they called ‘no ball’ targets. Our being a little late in the bomber stream didn’t really make too much of a difference. It turned out there were clouds over France that day; we couldn’t even drop the bombs. We had to bring them back home.
I remember, as I said, that was my first mission as a tail gunner. Nobody had ever taught me how to even load a machine gun. I was sitting back there, pretty tall and lanky, and I was trying to get that belt of .50 caliber bullets up the chute and on to the gun and slam down the cover. I would never get it up quite far enough; I’d slam it down and it would fall back down the chute. People started calling out fighters at 12 o’clock, fighters at 3 o’clock. Well, it turned out they were P-38s.
At any rate, so that was the first mission. I also flew the second mission [May 7, 1944]. Again, we were leading the group with – I don’t know if Colonel Hunter Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] flew with us that day or one of the other execs – but we were leading the group. It was to Berlin. Everybody was excited, I can remember, when they pulled back the screen. Everybody practically got up and cheered. Nobody ever cheered after that, not when we were briefed to go to Berlin.
Although, it wasn’t too bad of a mission for us. We didn’t get hit bad, at all. But, it was long and uncomfortable and scary. So, that was our second mission. Things progressed from there.
I am going to be talking about it at the banquet on Saturday that I was able to fly on the D-day mission. And, there I flew as a pilot because Doug [Capt. Gene L. Douglas – Pilot] was flying as a command pilot, so they listed me as the pilot although I had never even, at that point, never made a practice landing. Not a single one in a B-17.
RS: So, you had been transferred from a lead group and given your own plane?
RS: Later, yes.
KA: Later on. What happened was I flew seven missions as a tail gunner, several more as a co-pilot. Then what they did with some of the co-pilots that were kind of superfluous because we weren’t really needed on the lead crew was after we had a few missions under our belt, they would assign us to replacement crews to fly their first few missions to kind of check them out. I didn’t like that duty too well because you were flying with a group of fellows that first of all they were still eager and you weren’t all that eager anymore. Second place, you didn’t know how good they were. But, it was good experience and I learned a lot from doing it and I never regretted that at all.
I flew about six missions with lead crews in that manner. Then, of course, we had losses as replacement crews and losses of commanding officers, and Bruce Dailey [Lt. Col. Edwin Bruce Daily - Squadron CO], who had been our Squad Commander he was moved up to Group Operations Officer. And, Bill Markley [Maj. William C. Markley – Squadron Commander], who had been our Operations Officer, had been moved up to Squadron Commander. My pilot, Gene Douglas, became Operations Officer, so they gave me the crew; I became the pilot of our crew although I didn’t fly with that crew very often. As a crew, we flew maybe three or four missions together as a crew.
Now, the one advantage of having flown those missions as a tail gunner, I always went to lead crew briefing. So, I learned how lead crews operate and what’s expected of that command pilot and so forth. So, all of a sudden, I was flying as a command pilot for our squadron, never as a group command pilot.
As you know, we flew in twelve ship squadrons, three squadrons to a group and the lead squadron would have the commander of that whole group, generally a Squadron Commander, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, whatever. The high and the low squadron would have a command pilot; he’d be a flight commander and that’s when I was the flight commander. I flew several missions as command of our squadron and sometimes as a lead pilot, too, when I flew with our crew. In all, I flew 29 missions, when we went over there, the standard tour was 30. In May, after we flown a few, they upped it to 35 and we were pro-rated, depending on how many we had flown to that point and our quota become 34, and that changed to 35. If you flew lead for more than 10 missions in lead crew, you got credit for 5. I ended up having a tour of 29.
Another advantage of first of being on a lead crew is you didn’t fly very often. You did a lot of training and all during this time, too, I was starting to break in, check in co-pilots, check out co-pilots as pilots and I eventually became the Assistant Operations Officer for the 600th after my good friend, Gregory Pappas, had been the assistant all along, he finished his tour. When he left, I took over his job.
That kept us there for a long time. I saw a lot of different types of missions, lots of different types of weather, a very good experience. I got promoted to Captain, finally, on January 23rd , which was the day that Colonel Hunter Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] was killed. Fortunately, he signed the orders promoting me about a week before and flew my last mission, which was Czechoslovakia on February 23rd with Jim Bestervelt [Maj. Harold J. Bestervelt – Pilot/Squadron Ops], who was our Squadron Operations Officer. For the two of us, it was our last mission. We flew that one together; a long one, but not a bad one.
RS: Well, that was good.
KA: We had good missions, bad ones, rough ones, but never not a pilot and navigator were both shot down and POWs. After Jim [Maj. Harold J. Bestervelt – Pilot/Squadron Ops] became Operations Officer – in a way, he was always leading – Harry [Harry Nelson, Jr. – Squadron Navigator], who was our navigator, becomes our Squadron Navigator. Gil Goldman [Gilbert Goldman – Bombardier], who was our bombardier, became our Squadron Bombardier. So, all of us of the lead crew that I was lucky enough to be assigned to had a fairly good career there.
Finally, went home at the end of March . I stayed on for a while to help them out with operations and so forth. Went through the Central Training Command, went to Instructors School to learn how to fly A-26s from the back seat, which is really the way to learn how to fly them. Finally, wrangled a job, I really didn’t want to be an instructor, never did want to instruct, did everything I did I could to stay away from it. What I wanted to become was a P-51 pilot by then; that was my dream because I had seen those guys out there.
Finally ended up – I had a shirt tail relative that was a test unit in Reig? Field, he got me assigned there as a test pilot and I finally got to fly a P-51 and P-47 and had a lot of fun there.
But, then came along October and September  and they said, “You got a choice to make. Either you sign up to stay in three years or you get out now.” Well, I just had gotten engaged and I didn’t feel like I was ready to commit for three years, although I had seriously considered maybe making the Air Force a career. But, when they put it to me that way, I had just said, “Well, I think I’ll get out now.” So, I did and joined the Reserves. I flew in the Reserves for several years until my eyes started weakening and then I gave up flying. So, that was pretty much my career.
RS: What did you think when they dropped the atomic bombs?
KA: As I said, from the West Coast, we had been thinking about Japan all along.
KA: All along, I did wanted to be in the ETO [Eastern Theater of Operations; I wanted to be in the Pacific and I wanted to get to the Pacific to fly P-51s. Frankly, when they dropped the atomic bomb, and the Japs surrendered, I was disappointed. I thought we should have kept going after them but . . . I mean, I was that bitter towards the Japanese.
Of course, in wartime, you change your attitude. I think we were killing German civilians; it didn’t bother me a bit when we were dropping bombs in Berlin, in Munich, in the middle of town. That was war and the same with the Japanese.
RS: Since you were in Operations, I knew it took a tremendous amount of coordination to get into formation, and that stuff. Can you describe how the squadrons and groups got into formation?
KA: Yes, of course, I will never forget that first trip to Berlin. That, to me, was one of the most amazing that I had ever seen; I was in the tail gun [position].
We flew, in generally, a twelve ship squadron. Sometimes, thirteen or a spare. Then, three squadrons in a group. So, we would go up to a buncher beacon and a lead plane would go into a big circle around this beacon.
RS: At a particular speed and climb rate?
KA: Well, yes. A B-17 you climbed at 150 and flew it at 150 and you descended at 150. The power settings were different, of course. But, the lead plane would slow down a little bit when he was making that circle. He couldn’t slow down too much because you had the guys on the outside that had to speed up and the guys on the bottom were forming up, they were going slower, so you couldn’t stall them out, either. So, no, I guess we did it mostly at 150, the lead plane.
So, each squadron would form up with its twelve ships. We flew four-three ship elements; a lead element, a high element, low element – three planes each – in what we call a slot element. The squadrons would form first and then the high squadron would come in, the echelon on the right of the lead squadron, the low squadron, the echelon lower on the left.
Then, it was all timed to the minute. That was what was that thrilling sight, the first day that I could see as I was flying as a tail gunner, I could look out over the sky and see airplanes circling in every direction – gleaming aluminum in the sunlight. It was always sunlight when we’d be up there above the clouds. Then they’d just, like a choreograph, one group would start in the bomber stream and then pretty soon another group might be right behind that and we were probably about five to ten intervals between groups, maybe five minutes. You didn’t want to get too far behind but you’d get too close and you’d run into the prop wash from those other groups ahead.
But, I can remember thinking, looking at all those airplanes, the first time I had ever seen it, what a complicated thing that was to get all of those airplanes at the right place, the right altitude, the right time, to get it into that bomber stream. Of course, then the war had been going on for two years; they had learned how to do this. It was magnificent to watch and I remember thinking, “My God, we are carrying 2,700 gallons of gasoline, each.” I thought of all the gasoline that was being burned up out there and the logistics of getting all of that together into England, getting it over there. The bomb, it was awesome, to see that bomber stream.
RS: Pretty phenomenal undertaking, really. Did you do anything special for good luck in your missions? Did you carry anything or …?
KA: I never really worried too much. I had a great positive attitude that I would get through it.
RS: Were you on the base when the USO entertainers came in?
KA: I’m sure I was. I was there when Bob Hope’s band was there. Bob Hope wasn’t there himself. But, I will always remember that band being there.
RS: What did you do on leave? Where did you go on leave?
KA: Okay, we generally would go into London. We would get a 48 hour pass every two weeks, as I remember. So, it was generally, get to London.
RS: Well, Flak Leave did you ever get . . . ?
KA: I had a Flak Leave – we got shot up pretty badly on August 1st of ’44, bombing an airfield near Paris and ended up Douglas [Capt. Gene L. Douglas – Pilot] and Colonel Hunter Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] was flying with us again and [the enemy] shot the whole lead element out of the sky. We ended up with one engine left. Douglas flew that thing across the Channel. We had control cables hanging down our waist, all over. Airplane was reeking of gasoline. This was an experienced crew. They dropped that ball turret, we threw machine guns, everything overboard to lighten the load; they really cleaned out that airplane.
[We] Made it across the channel—well, we still had two engines when we were going across the channel. We hit the coast and lost another one and by that time we were down pretty low to the ground. As I said, we got shot right out of formation. Now, when the lead airplane did the bombing and it was on autopilot with the bombardier, of course, flying directionally with the bomb sight. The pilot kept altitude and air speed with the autopilot and so. Then, the rest of the planes drop and fly in manually. When you lose a whole load of bombs, you have to re-trim that autopilot. We got shot out of formation, went into a steep dive on fire, the fire fortunately went out and he leveled out about 15,000 feet when we got out of the dive. But, he was afraid to re-trim it, afraid to take the autopilot, disengage it, because all the manual control cables were all shot up and didn’t know whether he could control the airplane. So, he ended up landing that airplane with one engine on an English fighter strip without autopilot. He should have got a DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] for that; I don’t think he ever did. But that was some magnificent job of flying.
I can remember – of course, we were afraid to actuate the gear because the electric gear – we had thrown the hand crank overboard along with everything else when we were lightening the airplane. So, he set it down wheels up. I went back to the Radio Department with the gunners and we went into our crash positions and all that and he brought it to a stop on the field. We all ran from that airplane as fast as we could for fear it would blow any second and then nothing happened. So, we all went into their operations and Douglas [Capt. Gene L. Douglas – Pilot] and the Colonel Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] calmed the group.
Finally, an English guy came up to me and said, “We’ve hoisted your airplane up.” They put slings under the engine itself. He said, “We’ve got a fighter sweep taking off here and we got to get your airplane out of the way and we want you to come and put your wheels down.” And I said, “I’m not putting the wheels down but I will show you how to put them down.” So, I might have climbed up on the wing of the airplane and shown this guy where the switches were and how to get the gear down. And, I said, “Now, let us get away from here and feel free,” because there were gasoline fumes still very heavy. But, he did it and nothing happened and they just towed the airplane away and that was it.
So, at any rate, they sent us on Flak Leave. They figured we deserved one after that. Now, my navigator, Harry Nelson [1st Lt. Harry Nelson – Squadron Navigator], was from Wisconsin, a couple years older than I was but he liked hunting and I loved hunting. So, we decided we were going to not go where the crowds went.
We heard about a travel agent in Aberdeen, Scotland, which was a long ways north that would take care of American servicemen that would come up that way. Bruce Daily [Lt. Col. Edwin Bruce Daily – Lt. Col. Squadron CO] flew us up in a B-17, Harry [1st Lt. Harry Nelson – Squadron Navigator] and I, and landed us there in Aberdeen and we looked up this travel agent and he lined us up. First of all, he said, “I’ll line you up to go hunting at one of our estates out here.” But he said, “I think you should take a tour of the town and I have got a nice, young lady that would, that is very good as a tour guide.” So, I said okay. We weren’t interested in looking at sites; we wanted to go hunting but we did that. It turned out she was a charming gal, and a beautiful gal, and really neat. Both of us half fell in love with her.
I’m not taking too long, am I?
RS: No, go ahead.
KA: This was kind of a unique Flak Leave. At any rate, we had gone up there without any reservations at all. We checked into what was fairly nice looking hotel, but we had no reservations. So, they said, “The only thing we have is the bridal suite.”
So, Harry [1st Lt. Harry Nelson – Squadron Navigator] and I go the bridal suite. But they said, “There is only one problem. We have a wedding coming along in a couple of days so you can only stay here for a couple of days.” So, we stayed there.
This young lady that had taken us, we told her our dilemma. She said her family was from South Africa; her dad had been an engineer down in South Africa and she was born and raised there. They had come back to Scotland and they had a house with an extra bedroom and she said, “You can stay with us.” So, we ended up staying the rest of our leave in their home with them there, just neat people. We enjoyed her, and we enjoyed the tour she took us on.
We did get sent out to this estate where the guy who owned all the woolen mills around there; he was the big mucky-muck in that area. He loaned us a pair of pretty, double-barreled shotguns and apologized and he said, “Now, this is August. It is out of our grouse season.” But, he showed us the pictures of their grouse where they have their beaters and a great big mound, a thousand grouse that they shoot. “But you are welcome to go out and shoot pigeons,” he said. So, we went out and roamed around with these two pretty shotguns and shot a bunch of pigeons and had a ball. Then he took us into his club and we went in and played bridged there, kind of got entertained royally. Thoroughly enjoyed our Flak Leave.
I came back. I wasn’t at all really nervous on missions. You know, you would get apprehensive and you would get the adrenalin flowing. But, by then, I got back from the Flak Leave kind of having a normal life and I think I was more nervous before when I started. It took me a while to get used to combat again, frankly.
We got back shortly after the one where Wally [Blackwell] got shot up, that bad mission at Cannes [8 August 1944], one of the worst missions we ever flew. Fortunately, we missed that one.
One other notable experience [4 July 1944 to Tours, France] that I had there, again, we were leading the group and I was flying as tail gunner. Colonel Simeral [Maj. Robert K. Simeral – Command Pilot/Group CO] who was the Group Exec, was flying as our command of the group and, of course, this was the pilot. We got up to altitude and all of a sudden – we had a brand-new airplane – the number two engine blew up, blew a piston right out through the top. Pretty soon, nuts and bolts were coming out of there and the engine caught fire and they couldn’t get it feathered and the fire kept getting worse and worse and so, finally, they decided it was time to bail out. I think by the time we bailed out, the navigator and the bombardier had already left.
As I said, I was flying as a tail gunner although I had been up at the pilot’s compartment when we were having all these problems with the engine blowing up. I went back with the four gunners and I went out the waist door. Our tail gunner [could it be Pasqual Marquez?], – which I just talked to a couple of days ago; he lives in Los Angeles and he reminded me of the story – a Mexican kid from Los Angeles. He wasn’t afraid to jump.
Now, this lead crew had jumped in the States once before and had engine fire, I think it was, and then had to jump at nighttime. Now, this time, they had a ground crew guy that had gone along for a joy ride with him. They got him into the door and he spread-eagled against that door; he would not jump. One of the fellows stayed with him, tried to get him out and they were both killed in the air when the airplane blew up.
So, Mark, our tail gunner, was not on that mission; he joined the crew after that happened. He wasn’t afraid to jump but he didn’t want to do it either. He sat in the waist hatch there with his legs out and looked back at me and said, “Kick me out!” So, I just planted my foot in his back and shoved him and I tunneled out after him. And, we were about 17 or 18,000 feet when we jumped. Now, I wasn’t one of these that wanted to wait very long. I pulled that ripcord right away to make sure that chute opened.
So, the four gunners and I were all stretched up there; we could talk to each other on the way day. I had an Argus camera with me that was very long and I took pictures all the way down and I said, “Okay, this is going to be something!” Turns out the shutter was frozen and none of the pictures came out.
At any rate, we get down closer to the ground; you fall about 1,000 per minute in a military chute. So, it took a long time, ground was just down there. All of a sudden, it starts coming up faster and faster and pretty soon, it really gets fast. I noticed we were drifting. We had never practiced jumping or anything like that but they had what was called a Pilot Information File that told you all the “skinny” on things and I was trying to remember what that said how to turn yourself around in a parachute, because I was going backwards. Well, finally, about the time I got fairly well straightened out, I hit that ground with a “whomp” and I came right down and landed on my tailbone. I didn’t have enough tension in my legs. Fortunately, landed on sod in a little clearing and there was a suburban area around there, there were houses around there. It was about 6 o’clock in the morning and I go knocking on a door – I had round up the three gunners. I had torn up my parachute so I had some nylon to take home as a souvenir or silk, whatever it was.
I knocked on this door and the person who opened it said, “There is an RAF pilot that lives down the street so why don’t you see him?” So, he pointed out the house so I went down there and knocked on his door. He came and he was just having breakfast. I explained to him our situation, so he said, “Well, I’m leaving for my base in a half an hour so I’ll drive you there.’
So, he drove us to Farnborough, England, which was their test center, comparable to our Wright Field. He was a test pilot there. So, I get there and we telephoned or radioed the base to tell them where we were. Somebody came up to me and said, “I’ve got bad news for you, two of your fellows didn’t make it; their chutes didn’t open.”
Turns out it wasn’t the fellows after all. We were carrying 2,000 pound bombs that day and we were going to bomb a bridge in Tours, France and we salvoed the bombs safe before we jumped and of course, the bombs falling through the air, people thought they were a couple of bodies. Fortunately, it was the bombs. We all got down okay.
At any rate, I am sitting there, it is going to be several hours before they can fly down and get us out of there. I am sitting there, and I watch these airplanes. Now, this is July 4th of 1944, was the date. I see these airplanes taxiing by and they have no propellers. They’ve got all this heat waves coming out of the backend like a blowtorch on wheels and I said, “What in the world is that?”
Well, it was a British Meteor.
RS: Jouster Meteor?
KA: First, I had never even heard of a jet airplane before. None of us had at the base had heard of jet engines and airplanes.
KA: So, here I was an early witness of the jet age, from bailing out.
KA: So, I came back to the base, telling everyone about these jet engines. We all knew about them. About a month later, they took us into a briefing and had told us that the Germans had an operational jet, or a jet operation by then, the ME262 and at least we knew what jet airplanes were. They said they were faster than hell. Now, the thing about us watching the British ones, it took forever and a day to get them off the ground because really jets didn’t accelerate worth a darn. We did see – I never saw a German jet – but we did lose one or two airplanes to the group later on.
So, that was a very interesting and unique experience that I had there. Along with a really unique career. There weren’t that many co-pilots that had just gotten on a lead crew that were in my situation, that weren’t as fortunate as I was.
We didn’t have a single casualty on our crew. No wounds, no nothing, just the two, Harry and Doug, were POWs, but they survived the camp okay and got out.
RS: Do you keep in contact with the crew, I assume?
KA: Well, there are only five of us left alive. Five of them died fairly soon. Two of the gunners, quite soon after the war. Gil Goldman [1st Lt. Gil Goldman – Bombardier] passed away, I don’t know when. Gene Douglas, probably about 20 years ago.
But, the five of us that are still alive, I keep in touch with Harry Nelson [1st. Lt. Harry Nelson, Jr. – Squadron Navigator], the navigator, Ken Shutts [T/Sgt. Kenneth E. Shutts – Radio Operator/Waist Gunner], the radio operator and I have had him to the reunion. I tried to talk him into this one, he lives in Chagrin Falls, and drive down here. But, he is not in good health. Pasqual Marquez [Sgt. Pasqual Marquez – Tail Gunner], he’s had heart bypass and prostate cancer and all that, but he still sounds real good.
RS: Well, none of you are spring chickens anymore.
RS: What did you do after the war? Did you go back to school?
KA: Yea, I went back to school.
RS: Did you use the GI Bill?
KA: GI Bill and I figured I had been a Chemistry major before the war but I went into engineering. Figured that was a good education. I went to the University of Washington and I was tired of being away from home, so I went to the U, graduated in engineering, figured I’d become a hotshot test pilot for Boeing Field because I had those credentials from Wright Field. I figured I could walk into Boeing and they’d just give me a job. Well, if I had been a little wiser, instead of going to school in the summer and everything, I would have gone to work with Boeing in the summers and had gone to school – because I went down there and I said, “After I graduate, I would like to join their Flight Test division.” They said, “Well, we don’t have any openings, right now.” Now, this is 1948. But, if you come to us and work for us as an engineer, that’s fine. We need engineers and well, with those credentials, eventually, probably, you would get a chance.”
They took me in and showed me this long row of drafting tables, several rows of drafting tables of engineers sitting at them. The war never bothered me. I never had combat fatigue, or anything, but the adrenaline rush is something that takes a while to get over. I couldn’t see myself sitting there for even six months. So I said, ”No, that’s not for me.”
So, I ended up taking a job as a Fire Protection Engineer, which is a good thing, because it gave me a good education, doing sprinkler systems and that sort of thing. I just did that on an interim basis until the Korean War came along.
I stayed in the Reserve all this time. I was flying A26s out of McChord Field and San Quentin Naval Station until my eyes started getting bad. I was thinking about going back in to Korea or a fraternity brother of mine had just joined the FBI. He had been a law school graduate, so he got in that way. I had tried to get in the Bureau earlier on, I guess about the time he joined. Well, I didn’t have a law degree nor did I have an accounting degree. They let me take a lot of accounting courses so they let me take a test, but I guess I never passed it because I never heard from them again.
But, along came the Korean War and as in World War II, they lowered the requirements to any college graduate or police veteran could join the FBI. So, I went into the Bureau
I spent three years there and loved it. It was a terrific bunch of guys, just like flyers. In fact, a lot of them were ex-pilots. I remember, one of my buddies there was a Navy pilot and told me the last time he had flown in an airplane, he had spun in and the last thing he did was, he remembered, was he threw up his arm before he hit the ground. But he survived, sort of like Gonzales survived Colonel Hunter’s Colonel Hunter’s [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] crash.
At any rate, I ended up in New York City, where they had at that time there were 6,000 agents in the country and 1,000 were in New York City. And, I didn’t like living in New York City and I never wanted it. I did everything I could to stay away from there to begin with. After about a year of that, got married, had a family, and I said, “Get out now or never because you were in there for 15 or 20 years and that wasn’t for me.”
So, I had that training at the Fire Protection Engineer so I went into the Insurance Brokerage business and I had a good career and a happy life.
RS: Good! Anything else you would like to add?
KA: No, I think I talked enough.
RS: Why, thank you very much.
- Gene L. Douglas' Crew - 600th Squadron - 25 July 1944
- Description of 6 May 1944 Mission to Sottevast by Keith Anderson, Pilot
- The Battle of Normandy - The 398th Was There! by Keith Anderson, Pilot, 600th Squadron
- Leading "The Mighty Eighth" to Leipzig by Keith Anderson, Pilot, 600th Squadron
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Keith Anderson was the Co-pilot on Gene L. Douglas' 600th Squadron crew and later the Pilot of his own 600th Squadron crew. He was also a 600th Assistant Operations Officer and later Captain Keith Anderson.
- The above transcription was provided by Jan Silverstein, one of our 398th volunteers in November 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 [ ].