World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Dale Brown, 398th Bomb Group Bombardier
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Geoff Rice
Interview conducted in Colorado
September 13, 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.
Dale Brown, 398th Bomb Group Bombardier
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
GR: Interviewer, Geoff Rice
DB: 398th Bombardier, Dale Brown
Time of Interview: 0:34:51
GR: We’re in Colorado, continuing our series of Timeless Voices project. Today is September the 13th 2007.
DB: Right, I’m Dale Brown uh I was a bombardier a lead bombardier in the 398th and I was on Mark Magnan’s crew along with all their boys 'til they got to flying too much lead and then they put me on the ground and didn’t fly me for a while. Then they put me in as a lead bombardier and I flew with different crews. And I think you ought to fly with your main crew you trained with.
I’m a farm boy from western Pennsylvania. I enlisted in the Arr Army Air Force in uh May of 1942 following the December 7th attack and then uh I wasn’t called to active duty ‘til October and they sent me to uh. I left Pittsburgh and went to Nashville, TN and went to classification center there. And uh spent some time there and while I was going through the classification exams was classified a pilot at first. Then they got a call for navigators and they changed me to navigation and uh I didn’t quite make it through the navigation school and so I told them I wanted to be a bombardier then. So they sent me to gunnery school and bombardier school in Victorville, CA, And after 18 weeks of that I graduated in March of 44 and was sent to Rapid City, SD to meet my crew.
So I got there on April the 1st and that was kind of a joke because everything was wet and muddy in the streets of Rapid City but my crew came in before the 15th of April and I met all of them and we started flying training. Then I met a bunch of the people from the 398th who was training there when we got there. And uh I met some of those people and uh after I was completed training we went uh by boat to England. The first 19 crews of us. The rest of them flew over. And uh we got to England and that was a little bit of an experience. Different, different folks and different strokes. So uh, then we got by hook or crook I got assigned to the 398th bomb group over there. They had been over there since April.
So in July I went with the 398th with my crew and we started training there. Flew my first missions about the end of July or first of August in about that timeframe. And uh of course we had to fly with an experienced co-pilot on our first mission. So uh we got hit in the hub of the prop, the number one engine, and oil started leaking out of it. And uh we were at the, the famous, Ill-famous Merseburg Leuna oil works so uh the pilot he decided to use the engine until he got back over the North Sea so he did it. Then he got back over there he feathered the engine and dropped down to the deck and we flew right up the Wash and the ETA for England run out and I told the navigator, I said, God you couldn’t miss that island could you? ha ha ha. And we sweat that out for a few minutes ‘til we got down on shore England and we got back to the base in fine shape.
So I had some interesting missions I flew with Ken Hastings on one mission and it was kind of a fiasco. They he they put him in deputy lead when he wasn’t planning on it and then we uh he had a new co-pilot with him and uh they all forgot to transfer fuel. So we got to the target, we dropped our bombs, and we were coming back through the Ruhr Valley and all at once we started falling like a leaf and the engines raced away and we had run out of fuel, fuel in four engines. We fell for a leaf, like a leaf for awhile and the boys finally decided they hadn’t transferred the fuel so they got the engines running again. And Ken says well I’m going to hang in the back [back of the formation] and I said no, you’re the leader you went right back up in front and do it. And he did and we got home fine. But there was a couple people knew ‘cause they went on VH or UHF or something and somebo some other crew members in other planes found out we had run out of gas- hahaha. It was pretty funny at the time and but it wasn’t funny when you’re falling in a B-17 but it worked out fine we got back alright from that one. That was when I started flying lead and then I flew with several other crews.
And uh finally in October I hadn’t flown in quite a while so they put me up to fly with this one crew that my co-pilot and pilot said don’t you ever fly with that crew. So they put me up to fly with that and I flew that mission and everybody in the crew had four missions and the acting command Captain Scott he didn’t have much more than that. So I said now when we drop the bombs I want you to turn this, set this plane up on one engine get out of there cause we’re going to get shot at all the way down the bomb run and then they’ll shoot at us if we keep flying real straight and level they will hit us. So we dropped the bomb through with radar and a fellow by the name of Potter was my uh radar operator and he called off the sighting angles and I would coordinate it on the Norden bombsight and it worked out pretty well. We dropped the bombs away and I counted for five seconds and told him to set it up on edge and get on out of here and he said well I can’t see the leader of the low. And I thought to myself what the hell difference does it make your supposed to be 500 feet above them. So they flew straight and level and bang bang bang. We got hit in engines 2, 3 and 4. And flying with 2 dead engines one side is no way to fly a B-17 and try to get back to England.
So we immediately started to lighten our load. We took the barrels out of the guns that we could from the inside and we took and threw the ammunition cartons out and we tried to lighten the load so we could fly back to friendly territory. But that didn’t quite happen. We got back over Holland and we start getting shot at by 20 mm and 40s. And the German’s were bound and determined that we weren’t going to get there. So, they told us we had to bail out and my first thought was Oh No you don’t do that. But we did. So I bailed out the back of the plane. I don’t know why I couldn’t get the front hatch open but it didn’t fly off. So I bailed out after everybody had gone except the pilot, co-pilot and navigator were still on board when I bailed out. So we were right near Zevenaar, Holland.
So I fell into a wooded area with parachute open and had been shot at a few times by gunners on the ground. Had a few holes in my parachute and I reached out and dumped part of the air out. Of course you don’t want to hit the ground with part of the air dumped out of your parachute so I had to leave it fill up again and come down in the trees. Treetops knocks your feet out from under me so you know where you land. And uh I tried to get out of there because it was in a very well occupied area. So I got under a brush pile and tried to hide there ‘til uh the German’s came through about walking about 5 feet apart and uh I was determined there weren’t going to walk on top of me so I had to get up and put my hands up in the air and then they put a gun in my back and I think I’d of went up one tree and down the other side if they’d kept poking it there. But uh then I rode to Zevenaar on top of a Tiger tank and was watching for P-51’s who was going to strafe us but that didn’t happen but I kept looking at the ditch and seeing which ditch I was going to dive into. Anyway, we got they had a schoolhouse in there where they had a fence around it and they had that a temporary POW camp and that’s where we spent the next about 4 days with a sleeping on a bale of hay eating black bread if you could get up your appetite to the fact that you had to eat something. So after 4 days they moved us, marched us about 15 miles and we caught a train and we ended up at Frankfort at the interrogation center. And after 11 days in solitary confinement one of the other crew members decided to tell the Germans who we all were. As far as positions on the plane. And so then they transferred us to a transit camp and then to Stalag Luft III.
So I spent about 6 months in a prison camp. And the food wasn’t very good. I lost 50 lbs in 6 months but in the middle of that the Russians were getting close so the government decided to move us. So we marched for 4 days and got to the town of Spremberg and there they put us on 40 and 8 box cars and put 54 of us in a boxcar. You have to figure out mathematically how to all sit down if you wanted to all sit down. And then if you, Nature called they opened the door and you went out the door while you’re moving down the tracks regardless of what town you’re in or where you’re, you cccould care less.
So after 2-3 days on the train we got to Moosburg which is about 17 KM north of Munich. And there we laid around in the mud until we tried to get well. We were all had diarrhea and had uh all had vomit whatever we had. But it was pretty tough for a week after we got there but After that we got assigned barracks which were 12 to a, 12 men to a unit which was 3 beds high end to end and beside each other was 12 together so it was pretty gross. But we got by and we would jungle up with somebody a friend of ours and try to cook or somehow get through the days and nights and uh that went on until April.
And in April the 28th they, we, I started hearing guns from the tanks of Patton’s 4th Armored or 14th I don’t remember which it was but it’s years back. But anyway the next day they run a tank through the main gate and we all cheered and got on top of the buildings and watched the flag go up over Moosburg the first time it went up it was upside down but they pulled it down and put it back up the right way. So it was uh quite an excursion.
But then we got. They flew us to Ingolstadt airport I think, or they took us by truck there. And we laid there for a day. We got there a day ahead of the C-47s. They came in the following day and picked us all up and took us to Reims, France where we stripped down to nothing and threw the clothes in a pile that was burning and got new uniforms and a shower. And went to our tent. We were in tents at Camp Lucky Strike. And uh we was there quite a while I had a sister in the Paris Military switchboard. And uh I got a pass to go to Paris and went to see my sister. So that was a pretty good deal.
Anyway, I come back and 3 or 4 days later we got on a troop ship out of Le Havre and the first con.. first troop ships that crossed the Atlantic without a convoy after the war was over. So that was pretty good. I don’t know what day it was. But anyway, we got back to the states in June sometime and uh from there we went home. We come into Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Then the 28th of July my wife and I got married. She came from South Dakota. She had been there and that’s where I met her when I was stationed at Rapid City with the 398th.
GR: Can you tell us a little about your childhood, where you were born and the period up to the start of your service?
DB: Yeah I was born in a little town in Pennsylvania. I think it was actually out in the country before everybody went to the hospital to have babies. And uh, my Grandfather owned a mill that ground flour and grain and a lumberyard and had a sawmill and uh. Then my Dad and mother moved to a different farm and I went to school from there. And uh, I went through the 8th grade or the 8 grades in the country school and then I went to Vandergriff to high school for 4 years. And, graduated in 1940 and shortly there after the Japanese got to us.
I was, the day that they bombed Pearl Harbor I was at work in Allegheny Ludlum steel mill. I was a motor man shifting loads of steel from one processing area to another. ‘Til we heard the, we had been bombed at Pearl Harbor which was a shock and uh I guess I went back to the work the next day too I can’t remember that. But, anyway we had a good life on the farm and raised a garden, all that stuff but it was a good life.
GR: Did you volunteer soon as you heard about Pearl Harbor?
DB: Yeah, shortly after that we I uh volunteered and we went to Pittsburgh to the recruiting station and ‘bout passed all the tests and about the 16th of May they swore us into the service and uh as an aviation cadet but they never called me to active duty until October because they had so many volunteers that they didn’t have room for all of us. So we went in October to Nashville, TN and then they classified us down there and they classified me first as a pilot and then they I don’t know they lost a bunch of planes in Schweinfurt and they transferred me to be a navigator. I didn’t quite make it through navigation school because I couple party, I had three instructors who were all party boys and they didn’t give us too much attention at night when we were trying to figure out what the hell we were doing in navigation school.
So I washed out. And when I met the board I told them I says I want to go to bombardier school now. And they said why should we send you? I says ‘cause you’re going to need bombardiers. So, strangely enough out of about 14 or 15 guys who washed out there was two of us who got sent to bombardier school. Went to gunnery school first.
GR: Where did you do the training for gunnery?
DB: Oh I did that at Tyndall Field in Florida, which is still an open base right this day. And uh beautiful white sand. Some old B-18 bombers that you can’t believe were that old. But, we trained in those. and We’d shoot at a tow target, hope to be too bad to hit the pilot who was towing the target. So, then I went to Selman Field Monroe Louisiana. No that was where I went to navigation school. I went to Victorville California to bombardier school.
GR: How long were you there?
DB: I was there about 18 weeks. You had to go to pre-flight. Then you had to fly there. You had so many bombs to drop from altitude or from a certain altitude. I had dropped my record bombs from 4,000 feet and they told me well you didn’t drop your practice bombs from 4,000 feet for night bombing and I thought why do I have to? Anyway, I went up to drop those bombs from 4,000 feet and going down the bombing run after night, all we had was a shack light and the 4 or 5 lights around the perimeter of the circle and wouldn’t you know it I put it out the center light - hahaha. A bunch of my buddies was dropping record bombs and they threw them all over the desert when the light when out. But it was, my navigator and my bombardier instructor went with me. He says I don’t trust that pilot your flying with so. He says I can’t bring this thing back and land it. So he said I’m going to go with you. When I put out that light he hit me in the back And about knocked me through the nose of that old AT7 or 11 whichever one it was I forget. But anyway, it was an interesting time.
GR: Tell us a little about the crew you flew with mainly.
DB: Okay, I’ve Mark Magnan was a dang good pilot and his co-pilot was just as good. Jack Brandstatter was the co-pilot. Navigator was Bill Ferrante. Top Turret Engineer was Danny Leyva he’s from California and then we had Doug Long and Ruel Myers as gunners and ball turret was Tony Corsuti and our tail gunner was Pete Hammer. And we’ve found traces of all of them except Pete Hammer and we don’t know whatever happened to him once he got back to the states. He’s probably out get...Better not say that haha.
GR: Say it, go on.
DB: He’s probably out, out with an English gal in a haystack somewhere.
GR: Were there any particularly amusing incidents when you flew with that crew or any particularly bad incidents you would like to tell us about?
DB: Well, the bad the worst incident was the guy not turning off the target soon enough and I was getting hit but when we got on the ground the nav, the radar operator was named Potter, I forget the first name but it was Potter. Anyway, when we got on the ground, he was a First Lieutenant. When we got on the ground he said you know you & I are going to kill that pilot and copilot. And I said no, you don’t do that. I said over here its murder. He said we’re in Germany who’s going to know. I said we’ll know. I said you don’t, because they screwed up you can’t do that. I said they’ll meet their maker someday.
So, uh sometimes in uh Nuthampstead, where we were stationed in England, I had to liberate a jeep to go liberate some coal to put in our stoves because they wasn’t too free with the coal over there. I guess they didn’t have quite as many coal mines as what they needed coal for. And it was finding out later it was pretty good really because I knew guys who was flying out of, and they were living in tents in England, in the same base and also after the war I met a guy who was in the 91st bomb group he was a, he lived down in Phoenix area. He was living in steam heated barracks in Bassingbourn. He said we didn’t have it that tough and I said no you didn’t. He always rubbed it in that he had steam heated barracks and we were living in Quonset huts, with a coal stove.
GR: Did you get to see much of the English people?
DB: Yeah we went to we went to Scotland on Flak leave which after you flew 50 missions you could go on Flak leave. We enjoyed Scotland and enjoyed England. We would we went to London on leave every 6 or 7 missions we got a 3-day pass to London that’s about the only place we went outside of Scotland.
GR: Tell us about coming back to the US after the war was over.
DB: Well we was, we come back on one of the first troop ships that leave Le Havre without an escort with or without convoy. So we come back on a liberty ship which was pretty small. And uh two days out of New York the sea was just as smooth as glass. Later that night we found out why. We were on the edge of a storm and the next day we were coming, the prop was coming out of the water on that liberty ship. That makes a hell of a ride. And I got back home everyone was glad to see me of course.
Then my favorite girlfriend from Rapid City took a train to Pennsylvania to see me cause I, I couldn’t put my shoes on my feet had swollen up cause I’d gotten an infection from, um, athlete’s foot. My feet got infected and I was on a wet bandage and that’s the worst thing you can have for an infection. So anyway, nobody wanted to get up and give me a seat on the way home from Fort Dix to Pittsburgh so I sat on my suitcase the whole way back.
Got back everybody was glad to see me of course. Then my future bride got there and my sister and sister-in-laws immediately started making plans for a wedding. That I got into the 28th of July that year.
After the wedding was over and we got back to...back home we went to Florida I had to go back to classification or something down in Florida to get before I could get out of the service. So we was down there for a month doing dental work and all that sort of thing and then we went to Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania and that’s where I was discharged from. Went home and started helping my Dad with run the farm. And he needed me pretty bad because he’d broke his leg the week before I got home.
So I lived on the farm there for, 2 or 3 years and then, later on, we moved to South Dakota back to Rapid City after I went through a trade school in New Castle, Pennsylvania for a while. Got to be a carpenter and a got to be a superintendent before I got too far into the carpenter trade and run a few jobs in Rapid City and run some construction jobs with the South Dakota state cement plant for McDonald Engineering out of Chicago. And I worked there ‘til my disabilities started catching up with me with the bad back from the parachute jump, and from doing pretty heavy work as a carpenter and construction and uh a gentleman from the Corps of Engineer says you ought to come work for us. You’re the only carpenter we know that knows construction and we need you. So I got to considering the alternatives of being 20% disabled by that time at the VA I went to work for the government and that wasn’t so hard on the knees and the back. So I worked there for 28, 30 years and I worked on several projects with Titan missiles and Minuteman missiles and building buildings and that sort of thing for the Army Corps of Engineers as a project engineer.
GR: What brought you to Colorado?
DB: Well I was in North Dakota on Minuteman missiles sites working up there and they had a vacancy at the Air Force Academy and I got a hold of the guy in charge of the hiring for that crew that was expanding the Air Force Academy and I uh said I want to come down there and work. And he said good. I know you, we need you. I’ll get your orders cut. So I came to Colorado Springs been there ever since. From 65 on, quite a while.
That’s about sums it up. We have, had two boys. My oldest went through the South Dakota School of Mines. My youngest went to CSU and then went to Law School at CU. He’s now a US Attorney in Denver, CO. My other son passed away in ‘92 from hospital inafay- in- inefficiency.
The breathing tubes didn’t work right and they didn’t know what they were doing, in Chicago. So that’s about it.
GR: Dale you’ve been to quite a few of the reunions?
DB: Yeah I’ve been to every one except uh one in Florida and the wife and I we sponsored, were sponsors for the one in Colorado Springs in 1986.
GR: Have you been to any of the UK Reunions?
DB: Yes and no. We were over on a trip with a couple of, about 8 guys in a van and a couple of, one man’s daughter. We went, we was at the one at Nuthampstead I forget what year it was but we were there. I got a ride out of the old airfield with what’s his name? Anyway, he came out to see if the grass had been mowed because the 398th was coming in for a reunion and he wanted to see it was done and he come out and uh we were there and he knew who we were and he took us all up for a ride around. Yeah, Barry Tyler was the pilot. He was a good lad.
GR: Well thank you very much...
DB: You’re quite…
GR: and on behalf of the Brits I just want to thank you for everything that you did during that awful time.
DB: You’re quite welcome sir.
GR: Thank you very much.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 0:34:51]
- Magnan's Crew - 603rd Squadron - late 1943
- Magnan's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 15 August 1944
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Dale Brown was the Bombardier on Mark Magnan's 603rd Squadron crew , but also flew some missions with Ken Hastings.
- The above transcription was provided by a proud relative of a veteran of the 398th, one of our 398th volunteers during January 2017.
- 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 [ ].