World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Robert J. Beckley, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
600th/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.
Robert J. Beckley, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
600th/601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
RB: 398th Navigator, Robert Beckley
Time of Interview: 00:44:42
MGR: I am Marilyn Gibb-Rice. 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?
RB: I’m Bob Beckley, Robert J. Beckley. My position on Rogers’ [2nd Lt. Linn Rogers, Pilot] crew was as navigator and missions we had. I was in the 601st Division and we—after about five missions, I was transferred to 602nd. Why, I don’t know, but I was. [Bob meant to say he was in the 600th Division and was transferred to the 601st]
MGR: All right. So where were you living and what were you doing in the late 1930s and early ’40s.
RB: Early ’30s and ’40s—well, I began college after I—’30s I was in high school and in the ’40s I graduated from Denby High School [Detroit, MI] in June of 1940. At that time, I was just finding my way, and finding what life is about, and learning about girls.
MGR: So you went to college?
RB: I went to the University of Detroit as an engineer. I completed the first two years before I enlisted.
MGR: All right. Were you following the war in Europe?
RB: Yes, I was.
MGR: And did you see the U.S. involvement coming?
RB: No, I didn’t. Well, I—I expected something was going to happen, but I had no idea that we’d have a world war.
MGR: So how did you hear about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
RB: Through radio. And then, Sunday morning—I can’t recall—I think—I can’t remember exactly what I was doing at the time, but it was a shock to me. I never heard of Pearl Harbor and didn’t know what it was.
MGR: So under what circumstances did you join the military?
RB: Well, I decided—I don’t know, I was adventurous then, and young, and had lots of energy, and all that, and I figured a pilot would be great; to be in the Air Force. And then I figured, would it be Army or Navy I wanted to get in? I says, “Well, I figured Army, because if I was a Navy pilot, and I was on a carrier, and the carrier sunk, I’d have nowhere to go. So I chose Army—Army Air Force.
MGR: And where did you enlist?
RB: In Detroit, Michigan.
MGR: And how long was it before they called you up?
RB: From October to January.
MGR: And this is ’42?
RB: Forty-two and end of ’43.
MGR: So did you have a girlfriend or fiancé?
RB: Yes. I had a girlfriend and we were engaged, I think, at that time. Yes. In fact, I got married in service when I got into navigation training.
MGR: And so tell me about your training.
RB: Oh, we started out—in the time I was enrolled, or enlisted, the—at the time, the Air Corps needed a college education to be an officer, but they relaxed that requirement because of the war. And they sent us to a College Training Detachment to get some educational background. From there, I went—I was in Cleveland—I went to Nashville, Tennessee [Army Air Force Southeast Training Center] then, for classification. And do you want me to go through my whole period?
MGR: Mm hm.
RB: I qualified there as pilot, navigator and bombardier in training, and I chose to be a pilot. I was sent to, I forget, primary training and there I—the engines were just too much for me. It seems like I was overwhelmed by the sound and the power of the engines, and all that, and I didn’t make a good pilot. On one of the test rides, I came in to land, where we landed, touched down and take off, and we went around the field. I came in too high. The plane was ahead of me, so I had to go to make a run around, turn around, 380°, and come back in again. But I—the mistake I made was to pull the stick back and not step on the gas first. I stalled the plane out and I touched both wings, the right wing and the left wing, on the runway, but I got off. I didn’t crash.
The next day I was up for a check run, and I washed out. I then was offered the chance to be transferred as a navigator. And I went to Selman Field [Selman Army Airfield] in Monroe, Louisiana, for navigation training. And after that period, I went through gunnery school in Florida, [Buckingham Army Airfield, Fort Meyers, Florida] and then—this period took almost, what was it? Almost a year of training? I was assigned, approved in Rapid City, South Dakota [Rapid City Army Air Base], and from Rapid City we shipped overseas by boat.
MGR: And so where did you land in England?
RB: Our boat—it took it 13 days on the—on the liner. It was a—I think it was a Dutch liner. We were treated very well and we even had menus for our food. We were served, the officers were. We landed in Liverpool and then we had no place to go. There was no accommodation for us, and one night, when we first landed, we slept outside in the streets, all of—almost the whole boatload. I was ready to go and knock on people’s doors and ask to get in. But the following morning they got organized and we were sent down to Nuthampstead.
MGR: So the night that you stayed outdoors, what time of the year was it?
RB: It was, uh, it was summer. July. It was after D-day.
MGR: Oh, okay.
RB: Mm hm.
MGR: So then you went to Nuthampstead? Tell me about that.
RB: Well, there we were assigned our quarters; four officers—four officers of the crew; pilot, [co-pilot], navigator, bombardier—were together in a Quonset hut with two other crews, so there were three crews of four—three crews of officers of four groups. We stayed together. We had a wood-burning stove for our heat and it was pretty primitive. And, well, I don’t—it’s where we lived. And, every now and then, we would truck into town to give us some entertainment from some of the churches and the volunteers; dance parties, and things like that. And I think I had a couple leaves while I was in service. One of them I visited Middlesboro, England, which is—some of my relatives lived there; my aunts and uncles. And I was surprised at the state of the way the English people lived as compared to the way the Americans lived. I remember one time, one of my uncles told me, he says they had a new—a new house was built, and what they had was a central furnace—central heating unit, with ducts going up to each of the rooms. I said, “Oh!” (smiles) At that time, most of the homes that they had, had fire places to heat in each of the rooms. To me, that was kind of primitive.
MGR: Hm. Yeah. So where—where else did you go? These were flak leaves?
MGR: Where else did you go on your flak leaves?
RB: I went to London twice. We saw a play there. I went with my co-pilot and we just—I think we went there two or three times in the six months, or so, I was there.
RB: I went to—that’s right, I also went to Edinburgh, Scotland.
MGR: What did you think of that?
RB: What I remember is visiting the zoo there, and I ran into a fellow from my high school. He was in service. We met in the zoo in Edinburgh.
MGR: Was he stationed nearby, like you were?
MGR: Was he stationed in England?
RB: He was stationed in England, yes. I’m not sure where he was, now. He was in the regular Army.
MGR: So can you tell me about your first mission?
RB: Yes. We were all kind of scared, and we went up and did what we had to do. Went through the procedure of the briefing, and the navigators were given the flight plan. We got up early; about five o’clock, or so, and went to the brief—had our breakfast and went to the briefing. And we trained on the board—on the board plane.
Our first mission was Merseburg. No! Excuse me. It wasn’t. Munich. Munich [The 398th Mission #58 to Munich was on July 31, 1944. Target: Rail Yards, Jet Propulsion Engine Factory] was my first mission. And we looked the plane over, and everything was strange to us. Of course, we knew what a B-17 was, but getting in it and going into combat was just not real. It wasn’t—it was a difficult—we got a lot of resistance over the target and, when we got back, I—we counted 36 bullet holes in the plane. Now, I didn’t see those when we left. (laughs) Maybe there was a few there, but I didn’t notice any when we left. But it was a scary thing. And I started to think that, I’ve got 34 of these [missions]? Can I get through this? Fortunately, I did.
MGR: Mm hm. So did—you flew 35?
MGR: You flew 35 missions?
MGR: And tell me about any special missions that you went on.
RB: The one mission I had to Merseburg [The 398th Mission #110 to Merseburg was on November 21, 1944. Target: Synthetic Oil Plant and Marshalling Yards]; that was difficult. I can’t remember which one it was. It was about the 20th or 25th mission. We had—I had heard it was heavily resisted. I believe it was oil refineries. And I got hit with flak in my right hand while I was firing some guns. We were attacked by fighters, also. Not at the target, but before that. And the time I was hit it wasn’t too, too bad. I had a little blood between my thumb and forefinger with a piece of flak about the size of a quarter, or so. And I was—I kept the log up and fired back with the injury I had, and when I got back they sent me to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital for three days and the three days was not to repair my hand, because the injury was minor, but it was because of my teeth. I had cavities, and they wouldn’t release me unless my teeth were all right. So, at the time, they sent a letter to my wife that I was in a hospital, and she was scared! It was really nothing. And, after a while, I was written up for a Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross for that mission.
MGR: So did they also notify her that you were okay?
RB: First they—they sent two messages. The first was, I’d been transferred to another hospital. The second one said “he had a minor injury.”
MGR: That’s good! Just don’t scare her to death. So what other—do you have any more stories about your missions? Out of the 35, there was something?
RB: No, except, on the whole, I met with a bunch of good people I flew with. We were all of different backgrounds; from Texas and from Milwaukee, from Florida, California; at least five different states. One, Ray Brokaw, in my unit, he was a gunner [Left Waist Gunner], and he was the one we thought might crack up because he was so fidgety and scared. But he was—he did his job. And I found out later, after he returned—he had no injuries—when he returned to the states, he became a reverend. And one of our crew—we only had nine in a crew instead of ten, so usually one of the gunners had to stay off to play—and fly with someone else—one of our crew, Lawler, Dave Lawler [S/Sgt. David F. Lawler, Waist Gunner] was shot down and had to be taken to a prison camp. But he was retained there, and I think he fared fairly well and he recovered from that.
MGR: But, other than the gunners having to fly, did you keep the same crew at all times?
RB: Yes. There were always—the only alternate was one of the gunners. They alternated and so, by the time we finished, of the ten in the crew there were seven of us that finished the 35 missions. And I had missed three when I was in the hospital, and the gunners and Dave Lawler lost a lot, too. But there was such a few left, well, I had to make up two—we had to make up the 35. The last—I missed two missions of the three days I was gone, and I was¬—I chose—I flew the last two missions with Wally Blackwell.
MGR: Okay. So tell me about your living conditions in the Quonset hut.
RB: They weren’t very good. It was very primitive. We lived—we—I mean, bunk beds—bunk beds, double upper and lower. And we had this charcoal- or log-burning stove, furnace, that kept us warm. We did a little heating of, I don’t know what, food. And I remember we all bought a radio, and we figured the one who left the last won the radio.
MGR: So did you get the radio?
RB: No. I wasn’t the last. (smiles)
MGR: So what did you do on your time off, like in the evenings, or the days that you didn’t fly but you stayed on the base; what did you do then?
RB: Uh, you know, really I can’t remember. There wasn’t much to do. I don’t remember playing softball. I’ve always played softball. I still play softball at 85.
MGR: Oh, wow!
RB: I’m in a league—and we didn’t do any of that. And as the—with the Woodsman Inn [Woodman Inn], I don’t even remember that. I don’t think I’ve ever been there, but I did make a trip back, about eight years ago, and I visited the site.
MGR: Did you remember much of it?
RB: It looked familiar, yes. But Dims—uh—Dimsdale [Wilfrid].
MGR: Mm hm.
RB: He met me there, and he toured me around the airbases, and showed us where he said that—where our Quonset huts were.
RB: Mm hm.
MGR: So did you have any interactions with the people who lived in England, besides your family?
RB: No, I didn’t. We never really got off the base except those excursions into church dance parties.
MGR: And, anything you want to tell about those?
RB: That was fun. (laughs) It was some relief. It was lonely!
MGR: Hmm. And did you write back and forth to your wife?
RB: Yes. Mm hm.
MGR: Yeah? Do you still have your letters?
RB: Yes. I had one incident on the boat. I’m not a card player, but I got into a poker game on the boat and I won about two or three hundred dollars, which is an awful lot of money in those days. Well, I sent—how did that work out? I sent the money home—oh, yeah—tele—by telegram. I forget how you send money. But anyhow, my wife got the check for three hundred dollars, and then she got another check for three hundred dollars. Apparently they authorized the check and the fellow plunked it on the desk and authorized it a second time. And my father-in law says, “They give you six hundred dollars, keep it!” They were going to garnishee [garnish] my wages from the Army because I wouldn’t return the three hundred dollars, but finally they got it straightened out and I did give the money back.
MGR: So what are you most proud of during your military service?
RB: I think being able to help to do what we had to do. We had a threat of war and I think we were all much more patriotic then, and we were younger and didn’t have more fears. I can’t imagine doing anything like that right now.
MGR: How old were you?
RB: I was 20 when I went in, and I became 21. And, three years, I was 20—22.
MGR: How did you hear about the bombing of Hiroshima?
RB: Uh, I was teaching navigation. I’d returned from service—teaching navigation in Houston, Texas [Ellington Field].
MGR: And did you feel it was necessary?
RB: The bomb?
MGR: Mm hm.
MGR: So tell me about coming back. How did you get back?
RB: By boat again, and I had a funny incident there. I was named Captain of the Lifeboat, and they’d—we’d come out and have drills every day. We’d meet and I’d take roll, and I found out that all my people I was in charge of were “psychos.” They were on the “psycho boat.” They were incapable of fighting the war anymore, and they were being sent back. And I figured, if I got on a boat with all these people, my chances weren’t very good.
MGR: So you did this every day, your training?
RB: We just had roll call every day. That’s the only association I had with them.
MGR: So how long did it take you to get back?
RB: I think it’s about the same time; about 13 days.
MGR: And was it the same kind of ship?
RB: I don’t, well, I don’t know if it was the same ship, but it was very similar, yes.
MGR: So you had the nice meals and—
RB: Yes. Mm hm.
MGR: And where did you land when you got back to the States?
RB: Uh, New York, I think, or Fort Dix, New Jersey. Near Fort Dix.
MGR: Okay. Did you have time off, at that time, so you could go see your wife?
RB: Uh, no. I never had a leave before I went in service, and, oh wait, wait a minute, I did. My wife came up to see me. And I never did have a leave. And I was thinking before I went in—we were at the—the crews got together in Rapid City. My wife and my mother came out there to visit me. And then I shipped to Fort Dix to embark for—on the boat. My wife came with me, and she met me—uh, went in New York City, stayed in the hotel. And I was not supposed to leave the base, but I did. I walked along and jumped in ditches every time a car came by, trying to—and it wasn’t very far and, I think, I got a taxi to take me there—take me to New York after a while. And then, coming back I—I had a few hours with my wife; had dinner or something, and I went back to the base. On the way back—Fort Dix was supposed to be a secret location for—just for embarkment, and so I go onto a cab driver and told him, that I “was going to a secret base; a place up—you wouldn’t—maybe you knew where it was. I’d try to direct you there.” “Oh, Fort Dix!” he says. (laughs) So he got me back.
MGR: And you didn’t get caught?
RB: I got back in!
MGR: And where was your wife living?
RB: Where was she liv—? At home—in Detroit. We had been high school—we went to high school together and I knew her then. And, since that time, we double-dated with another couple quite a bit. And my wife died 14 years ago, and this other couple, her husband died about eight years ago. I remar—I married her.
RB: So we both had to have families and we got—got along very well.
MGR: That’s very nice! So what—once you got back, then what did you do? Did you, like, you said you were teaching, but where did you go from—
RB: I completed my education. I only had two years and I had started in Engineering at the University of Detroit. And it’s a co-op plan that they had; you work six months and go to school six months—three months! Three months on, three months off. So my wages weren’t that great, and I had had a child as soon as I got back, so it was real tough financially. My grades were terrible when I—before I went in service but, after I matured in service, they became much better. I think I realized what had to be done and I did it, but I couldn’t afford it. I borrowed money from my father and my father-in-law—we were married in service—anyway, I had a debt to each of them, and I told my professor, “Professor Hanson, I’ve just—I’m going to drop out of school because I just can’t afford it.” He says, “Well, if it’s money,” he says, “I’ll loan you a hundred dollars.” And I figured, if he had that much confidence, that kept me going. And I was always thankful to him. (tears up a little bit)
MGR: So did you use the GI Bill?
MGR: Oh, okay.
RB: But I was going in the hole a hundred dollars a month and I just ran out.
MGR: Yeah. So did you stay in college?
RB: I did. So I completed it and I worked with the Wayne County Road Commission.
MGR: You did what?
RB: I worked—I—I had employment, with my co-op time in school, with the Wayne County Road Commission, and I began there. And wound up, after 35, no—33 years of service with them, with not an awful lot of money, but a very good pension. So I’ve had a good life.
MGR: Very good! So how did you find out about the surrender of Japan?
RB: I forget where I was then—but I can’t remember where I was, but soon after that I had enough points to be released, because I was still in service. I was down in Southeastern Command somewhere.
MGR: Did you think by—because of the war effort, and everything, did you think it was different in our country, from when you left as to when you came back?
RB: Uh, not much, because I had realized there was some rationing, and everything, before I left. But the attitude of the people, I think I was surprised. Uh, yes. I think I was surprised at the patriotism. And we were welcomed back. I think the mood had changed. That the people were solidly for the government and our country.
MGR: And supported the troops. So did you keep in touch with your crew members after the war?
RB: Not much. My pilot visited me once or twice. And, then, I didn’t realize we had reunions. I’ve gone to about the last 12 or so, but before that time, they had—I don’t know how long, it’s about 20 years or so?
MGR: Twenty-five. Twenty-four.
RB: Twenty-four. The first ones, I didn’t know there was a reunion, but my bombardier, Rebillot [2nd Lt. Robert Rebillot, Bombardier], had heard that—he’s—a friend of his, from Canada, came down to visit him in Florida, and he [Rebillot] said, “My bombardier—my navigator was Bob Beckley.” And he [the friend] says, “Well, I knew him!” He says, “I worked with him up in Toronto. He died last year!” (laughs) So the rest of my crew thought I was—I was on the Taps List. Well, I finally found that out and got that straightened around, and I—when I found out there was a reunion, I’ve been with them ever since.
MGR: So what was your first one?
RB: I don’t know if it was Harrisburg or—it was 12—it was 12 times—12 years ago, and I’ve gone to every one—everyone except—well, I stopped in in Livonia—the last one, but that’s the only one I missed in the last 12 or 13 years.
MGR: And so when you went back to Nuthampstead, did you go on the tour or you just went by yourself?
RB: My father-in-law, my son-in-law, my wife’s husband and my wife’s daughter, offered to take us on a trip to England. So we went to England and France and Scotland. Uh, England, France and Italy. And while I was there, I rented a car in London and drove up to Nuthampstead with them. And I had a difficult time driving on the wrong side of the road.
MGR: I was going to ask what that was like!
RB: I got lost! I found out, on the turnarounds [roundabouts], that you have to get on the outside if you want to get off, and I was on the inside and I couldn’t get out! And another thing, too; driving that way, I was in the right hand seat and my fath—my-son-in law was sitting on this side (gestures left), and I think it was on the outside then, and the cars are coming this way and they were very close to me. So I kept edging over a little bit and he says, “Bob, you’re getting too close to the curb! Bob you’re get—Bob, you’re going to kill me!” (laughs) So I had a hard time not killing my son—my son-in-law and not hitting the car on the right-hand side. It was so unnatural!
MGR: So what did you think about the food over there, when you were over?
RB: The what?
MGR: The food?
RB: Not very good. And warm beer.
RB: We were fed—we were fed fairly well, though; powdered eggs and things like that. But it wasn’t that bad.
MGR: So did anything happen during the war that affected you for the rest of your life?
RB: Hm! I think I matured. I think I learned a lot. When I first started college I tried to learn everything they had, because my grades weren’t that good in high school either—I was an athlete—and that’s not the right way to study. I found out—I tried to put myself in the head of the professor and, if I was him, what would he want me to answer? And I think it made it a lot clearer. If I could think like him; he’s going to ask me this question, he’s going to ask me this one, and I think I handle that way with people. I try to get in their heads and see what they want, and try to accommodate them. I can get along easier with people that way.
MGR: Mm hm. Mm hm. So did you have any good luck items that you carried with you on your missions?
MGR: Did you keep a diary?
RB: I kept a diary. In fact, I had it—I brought it along with me here.
MGR: Mm hm. Yeah?
RB: That’s 35 missions, and one of the missions—I forget which it was—it’s where we bombed our own troops in Caen [France]. Well, was that the one? No, that wasn’t it. The mission—I can’t remember which one it was now, but we saw a plane get hit on our wing and my pilot says, “I’ve seen three chutes. Two or three chutes.” That’s all we saw after the plane got hit. Well, I put that in my diary and I found out later from—from—I forget his name? The fellow that just died?
MGR: Ralph Hall [Sgt. Ralph Hall, Tail Gunner, McCarty’s crew].
RB: Ralph Hall. Ralph Hall sent me an email and he told me, “Bob, your incorrect. There was only one—one chute from that plane, and that fellow [Lt. Darrell Argubright, Navigator, McCarty’s crew] was”—that was right, it was out near Berlin—Penemunde? [The 398th flew this mission to Kiel, Germany on August 30, 1944. Targets: Submarine Docks, Ship Building Yards and Marshalling Yards] “He fell into the ocean and he died also. See,” he says, “I was on that plane.” Or he says, “I was—I was—” Yeah, he was on that plane! The plane didn’t crash. I think he [Argubright] jumped out because he [the pilot] said, “prepare to evacuate.” He jumped out and then he didn’t never get the order, and the rest—nine of them—eight of them got back, and then this fellow fell into the North Sea.
MGR: Hmm, hmm. So what was it like on a typical mission? I mean, what do you remember; like your clothes, or what you did, you know, while you were flying?
RB: All I know is, it was very cold. We had a lot of equipment on. We had a heat suit. I had a muff because I used my hands to write. We wore a flak suit. It was uncomfortable and it was hard to move around. And we wore the mouthpiece, which everything was cluttered and inconvenient. The time in the air, well, I don’t know. It was—the intercom wasn’t that clear, but we could understand each other. It wasn’t the best conditions.
MGR: Do you have any other stories about any of your missions?
RB: Any what?
MGR: Any more stories about your missions you’d like to tell?
RB: No, I can’t think of any.
MGR: So which was your most dreaded target?
RB: Oh, Merseburg! I think most of the fellows felt that same way.
MGR: And why was that?
RB: It was heavily defended. We had all—they had all kinds of flak and they were good at it. And the fighters were on us. Towards the end of the war, we had subdued a lot of their air force and it became a little easier, towards the end. But in our missions, the fighters were on us. When they weren’t—they would stay away from us when we—when we went into the target—from the initial point into the target, because they didn’t want to get into the flak themselves. But they heavily attacked us before and after, on our way back.
The only time I landed on the continent was Thanksgiving of 1943. We were—I think our target was Berlin—and we were clouded out. We couldn’t make it. And we got in a storm, in a cloud—and three of us—so in a cloud, we couldn’t see each other for, oh maybe, about four minutes or so; thought we might crash into one another. But we finally—we lost the other two planes that went in the fog with us, so we were on our own coming back. And we were short on gasoline, so we landed in Brussels. That’s the only time I touched ground in the continent.
MGR: So how did you get back from Brussels?
RB: They repaired our airplane. Gassed us up. We stayed there, I think, two nights.
MGR: So then, you just flew back?
RB: Yeah. We flew the plane back. At the time we were there, that was the time of the Battle of the Bulge, and we could hear the guns from Liège [Belgium], which is about 50 miles away, so still on our territory, but we were close to the front.
MGR: So where did you stay when you were in Brussels?
RB: In a hotel. I think we had a—the pilot had a hundred dollars in a—in a kit, or something, and we each got ten dollars. Well, got eleven dollars for nine—nine of us.
MGR: So you sat—did you have to buy your own meals, and everything, while you were there?
RB: I—I don’t think so. I think they were furnished. Maybe somebody paid for them, but individually we didn’t.
MGR: Mm hm. Did you land on a regular air strip?
MGR: Did you—
RB: Yes. Yes.
MGR: —find an airport?
RB: Yes. Mm hm. We were trucked into the center of town.
MGR: So what else?
RB: Uhh, I don’t know what else I can tell you.
MGR: So were you one of the original crews that went over, or a replacement?
RB: No. No. A replacement. I think they were there about six months before, or maybe four months before, we got there.
MGR: So did you parents approve of you serving in the military?
RB: Uh, yes. I didn’t especially want to go at the time, and I don’t think they wanted me to go either, but we felt it was a duty that had to be done and there was no use fighting it.
MGR: So did you regret not being able to be a pilot?
RB: I did, somewhat. But I felt, after I got into navigation—I was an engineer and formulas and directions, and things like that, were more my ability. I was better at it as a navigator than a pilot.
MGR: Do you think, once you were there, flying, that you could have—could have been a pilot?
MGR: You think you could.
RB: In fact, I did fly. Our pilot, Linn Rogers, had each of us—give us a turn at the wheel to make sure that, if something happened to him, one of us could do it.
MGR: Was that usually on your way over, or on the way back, that he would let you fly?
RB: It was usually in training. Not on—not on the missions.
MGR: Oh, okay.
RB: We had practice missions to—
RB: —kept up our flight.
MGR: Hm. So what did you think about London when you went in?
RB: I thought it was very decayed, and I thought the German people were very dumb for not giving up! Because they [the British] were so stubborn that—you looked at the town; it was just bombed completely.
MGR: Hmm. Hmm.
RB: I was amazed at their, I don’t know what you call it, fortitude or stubbornness!
MGR: That they just kept on and wouldn’t—
MGR: —give up. Mm hm. So while you were there, did you know anything about what was going on in the concentration camps?
RB: No! I had no idea of that.
MGR: And, so how—what did you—once you did learn, did you learn about it, like, completely after the war was over?
RB: After I got back, I think I did, yes. It’s funny, I had—I thought you talked about had the world changed when I came back; you asked me that before. I had the dumb idea that most people would have airplanes, by the time I got home, instead of automobiles. Because, I guess, I was involved in an airplane. (laughs)
MGR: Did you—you didn’t do anything as a flying career after the war?
RB: No, I didn’t.
MGR: Hm. So did you—
RB: In fact, I got airsick a lot of times. (smiles)
MGR: (laughs) Have you been in a B-17 since?
RB: Why, at museums, yeah.
MGR: Have you ever—
RB: I haven’t flown in one.
MGR: You haven’t flown in one. What about your children? Have you taken them and—so they could see a B-17?
RB: Uh, my one daughter I did; two of them. My son lives here and we visited the Tucson Air Museum last year. He just moved into Phoenix, here, last year, so I visited him just a year ago, and he’s very interested in what I was doing.
MGR: Did the plane, once you saw it, you know, like, years later, did the plane look different to you?
RB: Yes! Smaller! (laughs) It seemed like, when you walked back—we were in the nose—back through, between the pilot and co-pilot, and along the bomb bay, it’s a very narrow footing. And the structure there, I could just—with a parachute on my back, I had no trouble during the war. But now, when I went through these planes, now I have to go sideways and have to hold onto things to get through it. It seems smaller.
MGR: Did you ever have problems with the bombs dropping? Did they ever get caught in the plane, that you recall?
RB: Yes, uh huh. At one time our engineer, Cook, his name was Doug Cook [T/Sgt. William Cook, Engineer], he had to reach down and release some of the bombs that had hung on the bottom of the plane, and he darn near fell out of it doing that. That’s the only time we had a mal—malfunction was with bombs.
MGR: So did you ever fly any other positions? Like, did you ever go back into the tail, or the ball turret, or anything, while you were—
RB: I never got in the ball turret or the tail. I got close to the tail. But I walked back in the gunner’s—the tail is a very narrow area, and so is the ball turret.
MGR: All right. Anything else?
RB: I guess that does it. You picked my brain of all I can remember.
MGR: All right! Well, I want to thank you for your time serving in the 398th Bomb Group, and I—
RB: I thank you for your interest, Marilyn, and—
MGR: Thank you! And thanks for doing the interview! And we hope to see you at many more reunions!
RB: Okay! That’s good!
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 0:44:42]
- Rogers' Crew - 601st Squadron - 10 September 1944
- Lt. Robert J. Beckley, Navigator, 600th/601st Combat Diary
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Robert J. Beckley was the Navigator on Lt. Linn R. Rogers 6030th/601st Squadron Crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Nancy Partin (daughter of Richard S. Hosman, 601st SQ pilot), May 2016. Nancy is a volunteer transcriber
- 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 [ ].