World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Jack F. Dodson, 398th Bomb Group Tail Gunner
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Amarillo, Texas, September 5, 2009
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.
Jack F. Dodson, 398th Bomb Group Tail Gunner
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
JD: 398th Tail Gunner, Jack Dodson
Time of Interview: 0:59:19
MGR: I’m Marilyn Gibb-Rice of the 398th Bomb Group and this is September 5, 2009. We are in Amarillo, Texas, and I would like for you to introduce yourself.
JD: I’m Jack Dodson. I was in squadron 601. My pilot’s name was Watkins, Sam Watkins [1st Lt. Sam Watkins, Pilot].
MGR: Okay. And can you tell me where you were living, and what you were doing in the late 1930s and early 40s?
JD: Well I was just a kid in school. I remember when the war broke out on December the 7th. I didn’t know about it until December the 8th, because we were so far out in the country we didn’t have a radio and no communication—until we went to town the next morning, and that’s when I found out that the war was on. One of the things that I particularly remember was, it was pretty cold that morning. We had the old radiators in the school and I was standing out in the hall backed up to it and [I thought] “Well, I’m 16 and they don’t take guys until they’re 21. Maybe in five years they’ll have this war over.” But you know what? They changed the rules. They changed it to 18, and guess what? When I got to be 18 I could either volunteer or be drafted, so I volunteered so I could get in the Air Force.
MGR: So, did you choose, obviously, the Air Force over the Army?
JD: Well, it was the Army Air Force at that time.
MGR: Right. So, why did you want to go into that?
JD: I just didn’t think too much about walking that far. It’s a little easier to ride than it was to walk.
MGR: Right. So, before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, were you following the war?
JD: Yes. Yes, I knew about Chamberlain and all that business that was going on. I can remember talking and reading about Dunkirk. That’s when they run the British out of France, and I don’t remember what year it was in, but I remember reading about that.
MGR: So, where did you go to enlist?
MGR: Where did you go to enlist?
JD: In went to Lubbock [Texas].
MGR: And is that where you were living at the time?
JD: Yes, yes. I was in—I had my first year of college there.
MGR: Okay. Did you have a girlfriend or a fiancé?
JD: Not at—not at that particular time.
MGR: All right. And, so how did your parents feel about you serving in the military?
JD: Well, my parents, they never did say yes or no. That’s one thing—see I’ve been a making my own way since I was 14 anyway; and making my own money, and everything; buying my own clothes, and everything so, as I told somebody here awhile back, my—my dad was real glad I started college. He give me ten dollars and told me to be on my way. (laughs) So—
MGR: So, what were you doing to make money?
JD: Oh, I—at that particular time I was building picture frames for a paint and paper company in Lubbock, and I could do that pretty handy.
MGR: All right. So, what did you think about what you thought would happen once you joined?
JD: Well, I don’t know. I was supposed to be—I volunteered to get into the pilot program, and qualified, but at the point I got in they—they didn’t need pilots. They needed gunners and other things, so they shipped us off to gunnery school and that’s how I wound up a gunner.
MGR: Where did you go to gunnery school?
JD: Las Vegas, Nevada [Las Vegas Army Air Field].
MGR: And did you—was that after you’d had some basic training?
JD: Yes, I had basic training at Wichita Falls, Texas [Sheppard Field/Wichita Falls AAF], and then went to gunnery school at Las Vegas.
MGR: Do you remember how long you were there?
JD: Oh, about two months—six weeks, two months, in that neighborhood. Then we proceeded to go from there to Tampa, Florida [Drew Field Replacement Training Unit]. And then was there for a short while, and they shipped us back up to Gulfport, Mississippi [Gulfport Army Air Field], and that’s where we were—they formed the crews and we started practicing flying together at that time. And that took place over a period of about 90 days. Then we went from there to Hunter Field [Hunter Municipal Airfield] in Georgia. In Savannah, Georgia; that’s where the Air Force Museum is, down there. One of the ironic things there, that Hunter Field was named after a General Hunter [Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter, WWI flying ace], and when we got overseas his son [Colonel Frank P. Hunter, 398th Group Commander] was our commander at the 398th Bomb Group. And I thought that’s kind of a coincidence.
MGR: Mm hm. So, do you have any special stories about your trainings that you remember?
JD: Uh—no, not too much on the training. I kind of remember some of the funny incidents that happened. A particular day we weren’t too busy and the barracks we lived in—it wasn’t—there were several other barracks around us and they were vacant. So, we went over in one of them and set up a card table, in the middle of this barracks, and was shuffling a few cardboards and putting a little money on the table. (laughs) And all of a sudden, there was a storm come up and lightning struck right in this—on the roof above us. Just opened up a hole in the roof! And this barracks had the old wiring system down; the old spools, and everything. And it opened up that hole and we was shocked! We were settin’ there and you could hear them spools coming off—plunk, plunk, plunk. (laughs) So, you might say that was the end of that game. (laughs)
MGR: So, when did you find out that you were assigned to the 398th Bomb Group?
JD: I didn’t know that until we were overseas. We went over as a replacement.
MGR: And how did you get over there?
JD: Well, we picked up an airplane in Savannah, Georgia. We flew from there right up the east coast to Bangor, Maine, and we spent a day or two in Bangor. And then we went from there to Goose Bay, Labrador [RCAF Station Goose Bay], and spent several days there because of bad weather. And then we flew to Iceland [Reykjavik Airport aka RAF Reykjavik], and we were supposed to spend a while there, but the weather was pretty and they said, Put some gas in this thing. We’re going to England! So we just made that hop right on over to England and we landed at, I’m not real sure, somewhere in Wales. And from there we proceeded to a place called Stone, England and then we were there for a period of time, and eventually we were assigned to the 398th Bomb Group—our crew was.
MGR: Did you get to keep your plane?
JD: No. No. No, not that plane. Huh uh.
MGR: What was your first impression of England?
JD: I thought it was pretty nice, you know. It was different, quite different but, you know, my great-grandfather, twelve times removed, John Dodson, who was a brother-in-law of Capt. James Smith that established Jamestown—and having a little inkling about that, why I think I kind of expected what I was seeing in England. But it was different. The food was different. The people was different. One of the things I enjoyed was hearing those people talk. You’d ask somebody how to get somewhere and they’d say, [mimics English accent] Why it’s just a piece, mate. Just a piece down there. (laughs) And that, to me, that was quite amusing.
MGR: So, can you tell us about your first mission?
JD: Yes. Our first mission was to Metz, France, [the 398th Mission 108 to Metz, France, on 9 November 1944] which is right on the French/German border. And, I don’t know, we were scared, yeah, but it wasn’t—it was—it was just up to the lines. They were trying to get the Germans out of Metz and we went in there on some kind of support mission. And, really, we just went over there and dropped our bombs and come home, and that was about the story of that.
MGR: So, it was pretty uneventful—
JD: But you know, since then—I’ve got Google on the computer, and I pulled up Metz, France, and I don’t believe I ever saw a prettier place than Metz; the trees and the buildings, just fantastic!
MGR: All right. How many missions did you fly?
MGR: Okay. And what was it like on an average mission?
JD: Well, it was usually long, sometimes up to 12 hours, and I—one of the missions I can remember in particular was our sixth—our sixth mission, and we were going to Berlin [the 398th Mission 117 to Berlin, Germany, on 5 December 1944]. Well, somehow or another, we got off the ground and they start that circling they do and go over England until they get to altitude—we never could find our group. So, we got permission to fall in with another group and we were flying the right end of the high group. And we went over Berlin and the ship on our very left took a direct hit and went down. Now, that is kind of scary.
And our pilot didn’t have his goggles on and a piece of flak hit the window right beside where he was settin’ and knocked a hole in it about the size of a half a dollar and put all that ground Plexiglass in his face and his eyes, and he couldn’t see! So the co-pilot gets over in the pilot’s seat and the engineer gets in the co-pilots seat and, eventually, we fly over Berlin and get back to our base. Well, our bunch, the 398th, had flown over Berlin and didn’t get a scratch! And we were the last one to come in, and I could see somebody down on the ground walking around, pretty impatient.
Well, Scotty, our co-pilot [2nd Lt. Ross F. Scott], come down and he landed and he run off the runway to one side (laughs) so, he took off again, circled around and he come back. And this time he didn’t even get on the runway! So, we go around again and this time we landed—did a pretty good job of landing. But, here’s the pilot sitting in the radio room with a thing tied around his head, and we no more than taxied up and got to the landing spot where we parked the plane, and the waist door opened. I mean, BAM! It opened and here come Col. Hunter in, and just shoving people aside, and up and gets ahold—walks right by the pilot—gets ahold of the co-pilot, takes him out and they have a little conversation of some kind. Well, needless to say, for the next three days we didn’t fly. The enlisted men didn’t, but the pilot—which he turned out to be all right; he cut his eye, of course—the pilot and the co-pilot and the engineer and the radio operator and the bombardier, and all of them, they were out practicing landing. Which we got about three days of nice rest out of that deal.
MGR: So, you said it was kind of scary. How do you think you coped with the fear of the missions?
JD: I didn’t have—maybe it was because I was younger, or something, but I didn’t have—the thing that really scared me more than anything was [to] fly up to the North Sea. To think about going down in that water, because that’s only about a 30-second proposition at that point, you know, if you got shot down or forced down, or something. I worried about that more than I did getting shot at.
MGR: Did you know how to swim?
JD: Well, yeah, I can swim, but I—there ain’t much point in swimming in ice water, you know.
MGR: So, what was your job during a mission?
JD: Well, one of the things I had to do was—I was the assistant armorer and I had to help pull the pins on the bombs. The bombs were in racks in the bomb bays and they had cotter—they had a cotter key in there with a tag. And it was Pricer [S/Sgt. Jene L. Pricer, Togglier], who was the togglier, and my job, was to get in there and pull all those pins out, so that when the bombs fell they were loaded; they were fused. And if we didn’t, why they’d just drop. They wouldn’t go off, see? So, that was one of the jobs I did, and of course the other job was man my battle position and be ready to do battle.
MGR: What position was that?
JD: Tail gunner.
MGR: So, you were in the very back of the plane?
JD: Yes, ma’am.
MGR: And were you in the tail when the plane took off?
JD: No, ma’am!
MGR: You rode, like, in the middle?
JD: Rode in the middle.
MGR: When you landed where were you?
JD: I wasn’t—I wasn’t in the tail, that’s for sure!
MGR: Do you remember shooting at any other planes?
JD: Well, yes, a few times.
MGR: Do you want to tell me about that?
JD: No, not really.
MGR: Okay. All right. So, tell me about your crewmembers.
JD: Oh, we had a pretty nice crew. I—Sam Watkins, the pilot [1st Lt. Sam Watkins, Pilot], was a—he was a pretty good pilot. He was rough! He—but he got you there and got you back, so I can’t criticize him for that.
And the co-pilot—see, we got a different co-pilot after we were there awhile. They’d switch co-pilots. They’d put an old co-pilot and take a young [new] co-pilot and they’d switch them. And our pilot—our co-pilot [2nd Lt. Ross F. Scott, Co-Pilot] went up with another crew [Lt. Charles A. Merritt Crew] and they got shot down , so we had our new co-pilot—was Claude Wilson [2nd Lt. Claude J. Wilson, Co-Pilot] and he was from West Point, Virginia. I talked to him several times. He’s dead now. And he was a great guy.
And, of course, Schwartz [F/O Haskell Schwartz, Navigator]; we’ve talked about Schwartz; how great a guy he was. He was the navigator.
Our engineer was Manzi, Jerry Manzi [S/Sgt. Jerry A. Manzi, Engineer], from East Palestine, Ohio, and he’s passed away.
And the togglier was Jene Pricer [S/Sgt. Jene L. Pricer, Togglier], from Grass Valley, California, and he’s no longer with us.
The radio operator was Lloyd Paris [S/Sgt. Lloyd B. Paris, Radio], from California.
And then, Piha [S/Sgt. Francis F. Piha, Ball Turret], the ball turret gunner, was from Joplin, Missouri, at that time, and now lives in Bentonville, Arkansas.
And Glenn Tueller [S/Sgt. Glen W. Tueller, Waist Gunner] was the waist gunner. He was the only boy on our crew that got wounded. And he’s retired as a doctor in Las Vegas, Nevada. So, I’ve kind of kept up with all of them pretty good.
MGR: That’s great! Can you tell me about any of your missions that you may have been shot down, or your plane damaged, or—
JD: Well, we come back a lot of times with over a hundred holes in that old airplane, you know, from shrapnel, and it wasn’t unusual to get holes. That’s one thing about those old B-17s; they’d take a lot of punishment. The guys, they’d get out there when we got back—they’d get out there with their pop rivet guns and plug up all the holes, so it wasn’t—the wind get in so bad. I can—I can remember, on the mission when Col. Hunter got killed, it was really cold that day. It was 66 [degrees] below which that, you know, that’ll make ice. And that’s about what I remember about, or on that situation.
I remember another time some General, or somebody, had a bright idea that we should fly some rather low level missions, so we took off once and flew at 14,000 feet, which we normally fly 26,000 or 30,000 feet, and oh, we were supposed to go somewhere over in Czechoslovakia. Well, they couldn’t find the target, or it was closed in or something, so we come back over Schweinfurt which was one of the biggest air battles that ever took place. That was the one where the 8th Air Force lost so many B— bombers in one day. We come back over that visual at 14,000 foot and dropped our bombs, and it looked like you could walk on that stuff [flak], it was so thick [what] they was sending up. But we had that particular day—I know, it shot out my communications on my radio I couldn’t talk to the rest of the crew. But none of us got wounded on that.
I can’t remember which mission that Tueller got wounded, but he had his watch on, with the band up like this (gestures off camera), and that shrapnel hit that band and just kind of, oh, took it up through his arm. And he was in the hospital for a week or so, but then he eventually come back to the crew, and he was still trying to get all of his missions in when the war was over.
MGR: So, did you stay with the same crew the whole time?
JD: Yes, yes.
MGR: And so, did you crash land anywhere or—
JD: Yes, we, uh—and I don’t remember the date now; probably could look it up, but we did crash land—it’s about 80 miles south of Brussels. We run out of gas, and rather than get out over the ocean and run out of—we, they decided to land in a wheat field. And I’ve got those pictures over there, and if you look real close, you can see how close we come to a barbed wire fence, (laughs) which I thought was kind of amusing. But it really wasn’t a bad landing though. We all got in the radio room and got in the correct position and everything, and of course, when they landed, with the wheels up, the first thing that happened—it jerked the ball turret out of the airplane and it was wadded up in a ball of mud, oh, a few hundred feet back of where we landed—where they first touched down. We kind of tore up some farmer’s wheat field there for awhile.
MGR: Were they able to salvage the plane?
JD: I have no idea. I have no idea. The only thing we took out of the plane was the bomb site and—
MGR: You left—
JD: I’m not even sure if we took any of the guns out, or anything—
MGR: Oh. I was going to ask.
JD: —because, at that time, we were in friendly territory. The—I think they’d run the Germans out of there about two weeks before that.
MGR: Do you remember how you got back to the base?
JD: Yes. We—we hung around that plane for a day or two, and then, somehow or another, they got a truck, an Army truck with a tarp over the top, like, and we all loaded on that. And on the way up there—this is something I got to talk about Schwartz; he’s such a great guy! On the way up there that night, and it was after dark when we were going home, we come to a crossroad, and there was a little café or eating place of some kind. And Schwartz went in and made a deal to get us some French fries and a steak apiece, and boy, did we have nice meal; and I’ll never forget that guy. And then we went on to—up to Brussels, and we spent a day or two in Brussels. But there again, we didn’t any of us have any money. We were in our old fatigues, and one thing and another, and Schwartz come, and privately to each one of us, and asked if we needed some money. That’s the kind of guy he was. He—and I don’t think anybody took any money from him because, somehow or another, we scraped up some money. But we got a ride in a B-17. A crew that had landed in Brussels, for some reason or another—of course that was—the Germans were out of there by this time, and they carried us right back to our base in England.
But I can tell you about a scary situation—was the Christmas Eve of ’44. We’d been to somewhere. I don’t know what mission we’d been on, and when we got back to England, they [the base was] socked in. “Socked in” meant fogged in, and you know, you’d just stay in there as long as you could and, finally, you’d get so low on gas that you’d go on in and land. And they had planes landing all over these—I think there was only three fields open at that time, so once we got on the ground, sometime later in the night they sent a truck over to us, and they hauled us all back to our base. And then, I guess, they went back and got the airplane at a later date or something. I never did know how that worked out.
MGR: You don’t remember where you landed?
JD: No, I don’t remember where we landed. I sure don’t.
MGR: What did you do on your time off?
JD: Oh, we’d set around the barracks and talked (laughs) to each other. Or I liked to dance, and when we got a chance we’d go down to—see we could ride the trains over there free, and we’d ride the train down to a place called Hitchins [Hitchin], England, which is about 20 miles from where we were at. And we—they had the—maybe the Red Cross, or somebody, had a dance down there. And we’d go there and go dancing.
MGR: Do you remember going into London?
JD: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MGR: What did you do there?
JD: Well, just do—see the sights. Do everything there is to do in London. And it’s a big ol’ town and, you know, you could come—be walking around, and you’d come to a place that got bombed from those buzz bombs, they called them. And I’ve been to London, oh, several times. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you how many times really.
MGR: Do you remember having “Flak Leave,” to where you went up to Scotland?
JD: I don’t know as I was ever in Scotland. Don’t know—I don’t think I was ever in Scotland. I can, I can tell you one funny thing that happened. After we—we flew six missions in seven days when there was The Battle of the Bulge was going on, and right after that we got Flak Leave, and we were to—now at this time, Tueller—Tueller was in the hospital with that wound, and the five of us went over to Stratford on Avon to a summer home of somebody’s; a big ol’ mansion out there. Well, while we was there (laughs)—this is one of those funny things—and we were about 100 miles from the base, across England—a couple of the guys went together and they bought a tandem bicycle, you know, a bicycle built for two? Well, that wasn’t bad enough, that the other two had to do the same thing then. Well, then it come time that we had to leave there. Well, they got up early that morning and they started riding them bicycles that 100 miles (laughs) back to our base.
Well, it was up to me then to get all the luggage and everything back, so I—I got it all back. And I had to ride the train from there back to London, and then from London back to Royston. I believe it was Royston. And went to bed that night, and went down and looked, and sure enough, we were scheduled to fly the next morning. Well, lo and behold, just a little while before we was scheduled to get up and go, here they come dragging in (laughs), riding them dumb bicycles that far. Well, to make a long story short, Manzi and Piha had bought one together, and by this time Manzi done figured out he didn’t need that bicycle, so I bought his part, and that way I didn’t have to ride that 100 miles. (laughs) And Piha and I—I guess it’s Piha left it—or somebody left it over in England somewhere, of course. I thought that was kind of a funny story myself.
MGR: I think it’s pretty good you got all the luggage back!
JD: (laughs) Yeah. Yeah, it was quite a deal.
MGR: So, did you have any interactions with the people who lived there, lived around Nuthampstead?
JD: Well, not too much. Not too much. It—you know they wasn’t—they were—the people were very cordial, very nice. And they were glad we were there. And—but no, I didn’t have too much to do with them. And not because I didn’t like them, or anything, it just didn’t work out that way.
MGR: Were you ever in the Woodman Pub?
JD: No. I can’t—I can’t remember that. You know, I read that question, and I cannot remember that.
MGR: Can you tell us about your living conditions?
JD: They were pretty primitive. It—they were Quonset huts; little round hut. And they was 12—12 enlisted men in it; they was two crews, six men of each. I can—I can remember some of the funny things that happened in those things—when we first got over there, one of the guys that was waiting to go home—he’d finished his missions, or his crew had got shot down, or something—anyway, he was going to get to go home. Don’t even remember what his name was. We called him “Bugs” because he was a little different. Anyway, he, you know, he’d get up every morning—when we didn’t have to fly we might sleep a little later, you know. We had this little coke stove. It’s about so big around and about so high (gestures off camera); pipe going up to the roof. And Bugs would get up, and he’d go to the mess hall and eat, and he’d come back. He’d build a fire, and he’d bang around on that thing, and bang and get it a going—and get it going. Then he’d set down in his chair and go to sleep! I always thought (laughs), he sure went to a lot of trouble just to go to sleep.
MGR: So, what else—what did you burn in the—those stoves?
JD: Coke. Coke.
MGR: Oh, okay.
JD: And that’s another story (laughs). The coke deposit was a little square thing about the size of this house; concrete with a concrete wall, and a chain link fence, and a gate lock on the gate. Well—you know, when the Battle of the Bulge, and things were kind of tight and there wasn’t too much coke—that we were allowed one bucketful a day, or something. But it seemed like there was a hole in the fence and some of that coke would jump out in that bucket, you know? So we didn’t we didn’t suffer too much. (laughs)
MGR: Did you play cards some of the times when you—on your time off?
MGR: And do you remember what card games you played?
JD: Yeah. Probably poker, but I don’t—that comes to my mind, you know. And we used to use the galloping dominoes, you know. Some people call them dice. Well, I can’t remember the exact games we played, but I’m sure it was poker.
MGR: Did you carry any good luck items with you?
JD: Yes. I had a—I had a little pair of pliers, and I’ve got them somewhere even yet today. But I carried them on every mission, because sometimes you get in a mess on some of those old guns in there, and you’d get in a position where you had to screw or unscrew something, and I always had them little pliers handy. And they were some 25-, 35-cent pliers that I bought at Woolworths, or some ten-cent store.
MGR: Did you fly on D-day?
JD: No! No! I was—I was flying, but I was in training in that—Las Vegas, and, in fact, I heard about D-day while we were in—we were out at Indian Springs [Indian Springs Auxiliary Army Airfield], which is about 90 miles out of Las Vegas. And that’s when I heard about D-day. And, of course, it was, see, that was what? The 6th of June?
MGR: Mm hm.
JD: Anyway, I didn’t get—we didn’t get overseas until, gee, about five months later, after that.
MGR: So, what was your happiest, funniest or saddest memory of the war?
JD: Well, the happiest was when they gave me that piece of paper so I could come home. That’s the one I like the best. Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know, I just sort of rode with the punch. Things didn’t bother me too bad, and it didn’t bother me to meet new people or anything. A lot of people just dreaded that, but—
MGR: What do you think was your biggest accomplishment?
JD: Oh, I don’t know. It just—we just did a job we had to do. And I don’t know if we deserve a bunch of credit for it or not, but it’s over with.
MGR: That’s true! So, tell me about what it was like to be in the tail. I mean you were by yourself!
JD: Yeah, it is all by yourself. Of course, that’s all right. I—I kind of grew up by myself. I have two older sisters. And even when I was a kid down on the farm I—I was pretty much by myself, and yeah, it was—it was different back there, but I—I had them two guns I felt like I could do what I had to do with, and it worked out pretty good for me.
MGR: Did you get to choose which position in the plane—
JD: No. No. We were assigned that, and I don’t know how they chose me to be. I do know that I had several times, when I was going through gunnery school, that I wasn’t number one in that particular day, but several times I was number two. And I had shot a lot when I were a kid, and so it just was kind of second nature far as [I was] concerned.
MGR: When you went over, it was getting towards winter?
JD: Yes. Yes, it was definitely. It was cold over there that winter!
MGR: Yeah. With a lot of snow?
JD: Quite a bit of snow, but it was just cold. You know, whenever you take—you got to think about this now; twelve hundred airplanes, with each of them got four engines, leaving a vapor trail. You know, you just look up in the sky and you see vapor trails? Well, think about twelve hundred of them going over! And Europe is pretty cloudy anyway, but man, they—they made it more so.
MGR: Mm hm.
JD: And—which I had an idea they had a lot to do with the weather being that undesirable at that time.
MGR: Do you remember a lot of missions being cancelled because of—
JD: Yes! We had—we had missions scrubbed on us. We’d—sometimes we’d be in the air. Sometimes we’d even be started on the way to Eng—Europe, and then they’d call you back because it was socked in.
MGR: Can you tell me what it was like when all the planes were in the air and forming?
JD: Yes. It was—you have to think about that, because it’s usually 36 airplanes in a group. You have a lead squadron and a low squadron and a high squadron. There’s 12 here, and 12 there, and 12 there (gestures off camera), and they’re about ten or fifteen miles apart. And this one takes off; he’s going towards the target. Then a little later, here’s another one. Well, if it’s an all-out mission, and I think they had 36 groups; I’m not really sure. But if it’s an all-out, and everybody put up all they could put up, that’s a lot of airplanes! About every ten or fifteen miles, here comes a group, and [another] group. But what was really pretty to see was those fighter planes circling around; the P-51s and [P]-47s, and once in a while, we’d see a P-38, but most of the time it was [P]-51s. And they—they were real friendly to us. We liked them!
MGR: They helped you out?
JD: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah.
MGR: So, how did you hear about the bombing of Hiroshima?
JD: That was—I was back in the states, and I was stationed at Big Springs, Texas [Big Spring Army Air Field], and I can’t tell you—I—that’s one of the things that I can’t remember exactly, but I heard about it there. I either heard somebody talking, or I read it in a paper, or they announced it or something. But we knew right then that things were going to happen; that they were going to give up, or there wasn’t going to be much left.
MGR: Did you feel it was necessary?
JD: At the time, yes. I think it was—I think it was a lot cheaper, human-wise and dollar-wise. You know, they—they said that we would lose a million people trying to invade Japan, and that’s a lot of—that’s a lot of human sacrifice. When I think that the whole war effort was, what? Four hundred and some odd thousand, five hundred thousand? Well, you double that number to invade Japan and, I don’t know how many people we killed with those bombs, and—but it certainly made—changed their attitude right quick.
MGR: So, how did you find out about the surrender of Japan?
JD: Oh, it was in the news. It was all over at that time, and we were watching it real close. Of course, at that time, we didn’t have television. Everything was done in newspaper or a radio, but that’s how we found out about it, yeah.
MGR: What are your memories of VE-Day?
JD: In Europe?
MGR: Uh huh.
JD: Well, that’s an interesting thing. (laughs) See, I was on the—three days before the war was over, I was on my way home. I was on an old—I was on an English boat. It was—I don’t know how come we were on that boat. Most of the people on it were hospital patients. And we’d been on—we’d been out of Liverpool three days, and it took 14 days to go across there to New York, and every day we’d go about eight or nine miles an hour, you know. It was the slow boat to China. And those destroyers—we was in a convoy—and those destroyers would come over, and you could hear them saying, “Won’t this go any faster?” (laughs) And the thing about it is, it was an English ship, and we had English rations, and we had such things as mutton stew and pickled herring for breakfast, you know. Well, old boy raised out here in west Texas, you know, that don’t quite work, you know.
So, what had happened—we were sleeping down in about the fourth deck down in hammocks, just like that, you know [gestures off camera], and one of the guys there had a buddy back there. He got on the food detail that had to carry the food up out of the hold to the kitchen. Well, the first day, he obtained a ten-pound sack of onions, so we had onions. And we could obtain some bread. And on this ship also they had Canadian-made candy which was, you know—you didn’t get candy to speak of. And it come 48 bars in a box. Well, there wasn’t nothing to do but buy you some of that, you know. So, I had candy bars, and bread, and onions for 14 days! (laughs) And you can live on it! You think you’re going to starve but you ate it.
MGR: But it was better than the herring?
JD: Yeah! It was better than that pickled herring!
MGR: (laughs) So, tell me the rest about your coming home. Once you got to New York, then what?
JD: Well, I got to New York—and we could begin to see Coney Island before—it was getting dark and we could see Coney Island over there, but we sort of—I think they dropped anchor out there for that night. So the next day we come past the Statue of Liberty and up to Pier 81. I can remember Pier 81. And guess what? In all these people on there, and there was five of us that got volunteered to watch after the luggage. So everybody else, the American soldiers, they took off and took them to Fort Dix [New Jersey]. Well, we got to Fort Dix, but it was way in the night because we had all that stinking luggage we brought. (laughs) But anyway, we was there, I kind of think, the next day or maybe one more day. We wasn’t there very long.
Put us on a train headed for San Antonio; three days and three nights riding in a 1918 troop car which consisted of a car, and they had beds three high [gestures to show stacked cots], which consisted of no mattress but springs, no pillows, no blankets. They was a bed—they was—you could sleep on that some. Just wad you up something, make you a pillow. And, anyway, I was so glad to be home I’d have slept on the floor! But anyway, we were in the first car behind the engine. Well, we got, get down to about Fort Worth, close to Fort Worth headed for San Anton, and we decided we needed to ride out on the coal car. You could crawl around and get out on the coal car and, boy, it was nice out there; the wind blowing, you know. And we’s going down the old railroad track, you know. I looked down there and there was a cow standing on the railroad track. Well, of course, the engineer he blew his horn, but when it was all said and done the cow wound up under the last car. And I don’t know how we stayed on that car—on that coal car, but we did. (laughs) But anyway, we eventually got to San Anton, and was there two or three days, and then they let us go home.
But I got one or two more funny things I want to tell you about that, all right? I rode the bus all night to get to Lubbock. I wanted to get to Lubbock. I’m back up where I kind of know where I’m at and what I was doing here. So I just I rode that bus all night and, about daylight, we got into Lubbock, so I walked out on the highway and I, you know, the first people come along gave you a ride in those days, you know. And I drive by where the Lubbock Municipal Airport is now, and that used to be the Lubbock Army Air Base at one time. Some of the same planes that I had flown in were settin’ there. Those people that were—when the war was over, man! They loaded them boys up in them planes, and all they could carry, and they come on home. They beat me home! I thought, “Well, this is irony.” So—but anyway, in a day or two I was back home. But I had a 30-day leave before I had to go back. I went to California and then back to Big Springs, and I was discharged here in Amarillo [Amarillo/English Field Army Air Field], of all places.
MGR: Did your parents know you were coming home, or were you able just to surprise them?
JD: Well, no. My, my parents didn’t know I was coming home from overseas. No, they didn’t know it until I walked up because, see, we didn’t—they didn’t have a telephone, and I hadn’t had a chance to write, or anything, and—so there just wasn’t no communication.
MGR: Did you write to your parents while you were gone?
JD: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yes. I wrote my parents and aunts and uncles, and I sent them Christmas cards from England and, somehow, the one I sent to my mother and dad never did get to them, and they kept reminding me for about 40 years that somebody else got their Christmas card and they didn’t get theirs. (laughs) And I bought some nice cards; English cards, which they kind of treasured, you know.
MGR: Did you think things had changed in the states once you got back from when you left?
JD: No, not too much. Not too much. People were so glad the war was over and everything. You know, they talked about gasoline ration—it never did bother people out here in this part of the world because we had, we had plenty of gas.
MGR: Did you use the GI Bill?
MGR: All right.
JD: No. They didn’t—I’m kind of funny—they didn’t owe me anything. They paid me for what I was in there for. And I put myself through college with these ten fingers. (wiggles fingers) I built windows.
MGR: So, after you returned from the war, you went to college?
‘JD: Yeah. The first thing I did, I worked for—I didn’t have a skill, so I—there was a man back in my home town, and I worked for him for three years learning the carpenter trade. And [he was] a real taskmaster, and I’m glad. I always said that was my college education, but later on I did go back to college. And I didn’t graduate, but I have enough hours to have a degree in industrial management, and—but I didn’t work at that. I got—I got started contracting, and that’s what I did over the years. I contracted.
MGR: Residential contracting?
JD: Well, that, and then I had—I did commercial work. And I also—one time had a franchise on steel buildings. And I put up a lot of steel buildings. I built quite a few houses, too.
MGR: So, what would you want people to know about that time in history?
JD: I just—I just wish they would study what went on in those days and compare it to what is going on in Washington today. That—what—it—it worries me. I wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering what is going to happen to this country. I tell everybody, “You get ready!” And maybe I’m a pessimist, I don’t know, but I’m not happy with the way things are going today. It—it literally scares me to think that we made this sacrifice, and they’re trying to take it away from us; and our freedom. It literally scares me!
MGR: Hmm. So, how did you hear about the 398th reunions?
JD: I’m sorry?
MGR: How did you hear about the 398th reunion?
JD: Oh, hmm—you know, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I—I—I can’t tell you how I heard about it, I really can’t. But I—I’m real thankful for guys like Allen Ostrom that’s kind of kept the ball rolling, and all the people that work so hard, and now you (nods at Marilyn Gibb-Rice) and you (nods at Geoff Rice who was running the video camera], for doing what you’re doing. I really am thankful that you’re doing it.
MGR: Thank you. Have you been back to Nuthampstead since the war?
JD: No. No.
MGR: No? Have you been back to England?
JD: No. I’ve been to Switzerland, but I haven’t been back to England.
MGR: Have you been in a B-17 since the war?
JD: Ohhh—no, huh uh, no. I’ve got a—I’ve got a story to tell you about that though. Last month we went to Oregon, and one of the places we went where—I can’t think of that town that’s out of Portland—yeah, out of Portland, southwest of Portland. And it’s where the—did you ever hear of the Blue Spruce [he meant Spruce Goose]
MGR: Mm hm.
JD: Well, it (phone rings) uh, Betty [Jack’s wife] will answer it. The Blue Spruce is the plane that Howard Hughes built, and they’ve got it—they‘ve got it on display. And they‘ve got a B-17 and some other planes there, so I walked back there and was going to kind of look in at that [B]-17. And there were some people sitting in chairs there, kind of looking after the situation, and all at once, they begin to tell me that the tail gunner had to get in that little door and get in his position before the plane took off. My wife, she kind of laughed at me. She said, “How come you walked away from that?” And I said, “I don’t want to—I don’t want to get their story messed up with my story.” (laughs) Which I knew better, but anyway, I thought that was kind of a funny incident because I believe I knew a little more about it than they did, maybe.
MGR: So, did the plane look different, when you saw it there, than what you remembered?
JD: Not much. Not much. They’d done some work. They had some kind of equipment in there where the—between the tail and the waist—and that might have been why these people thought that, but that’s not the way it actually worked.
MGR: So, did anything happen during the war that affected you for the rest of your life?
JD: Oh, I don’t know. I, you know I don’t—I haven’t worried too much. That part of it—it don’t keep me awake none, like a lot of other things do. And I’m one of these people that I worked hard. I really worked hard. And I think I probably did the same thing when I was in the service. I tried to be the best soldier that I could be, but I would have never been a career person. No, no way I’d ever been a career person!
MGR: So, once you got back, you got out. You didn’t stay in, like, the reserves or anything?
JD: No. No. No. I was out. I’d done my part. That happened on the 28th day of October, I can tell you! You know, I do remember a few dates! (laughs)
MGR: And how long were you in England?
JD: Uhh, nine months and fourteen days, I think.
MGR: Mm. Okay. Anything else you want to tell us?
JD: Well, it looks like I’ve made enough ripples here. I thank you folks for coming by.
MGR: You’re welcome! And, as part of the second generation, I want to thank you for your service to our nation.
JD: Well, I was—I was glad to do it. I mean I’m not proud. I’m glad I went. I think I’d have been bad if I hadn’t of gone, and—because a lot of my friends, that I graduated from high school with, are not here today because of the war. And particularly the people that were a few years older than I was. They was right in the brunt of it. I had an uncle that was 34 and got drafted when he was 34. Now, he saw some really hard things because he was in Africa and Sicily, and he’s told me some stories that are really bad. And I didn’t see a lot of that. I saw enough! But I didn’t see like what he’d seen, but I guess that—we got a great country! I—I pray for it.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 0:59:19]
- Sam Watkins' Crew - 601st Squadron - 20 February 1945
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- S/Sgt. Jack F. Dodson was the Tail Gunner on Sam Watkins' 601st Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Nancy Partin (daughter of Richard S. Hosman, 601st SQ pilot), May 12, 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 [ ].