World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Dallas Ebest, 398th Bomb Group Ground Crew
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Don Christensen
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.
Dallas Ebest, 398th Bomb Group Ground Crew
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
DC: Interviewer, Don Christensen
RM: 398th Ground Crew, Dallas Ebest
Time of Interview: 0:21:08
DC: Today is December 1, 2007. We are at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association reunion in Phoenix, Arizona. My name is Don Christensen and, Dallas, would you please introduce yourself.
DE: My name is Dallas Ebest. I was in 603rd Bomb Squadron and I was ground crew.
DC: All right!
DE: I was Assistant Crew Chief on Aircraft 337982. Our editor [former Flak News newsletter editor; Allen Ostrom] flew our tail gunner most—position most of the time, in that airplane. That’s why most of those cartoons you see of a B-17 in the Flak News, it will have 337982 on the tail.
DC: Is that right? What—just for background on you, where were you born and raised?
DE: Well, with the name of Dallas, you might assume I was born in Dallas, Texas, which is correct. And my father was a contractor, and moved to Brownsville, finished up a job there, come back to San Antonio, and that’s where the Walmart—the Stock Market Crash of 1929 hit, and we lost the business, lost our home in Dallas, and we were stuck in San Anton. So we’d stayed there, and that’s where I grew up.
And, after I finished high school, I went to work at Kelly Field as an aircraft mechanic, and I’d gone through—it was a B-17 modification center—so, when it come time to go in the service, I went down to volunteer to be a cadet, to start with. And my eyes were 20/20 and 20/25, so they grabbed me on that. So the guy that was giving me my test, he says, “The Sergeant sitting over at the desk,” he says, “he can help you out. We have a position for somebody like you.” So I went over and talked to him and, “Yep! We’ll send you up here to Stephenville, Texas [Tarleton College], and you’ll fly L-5s for your primary training. And then you’ll go to Moses Lake [Army Air Field], Washington, for glider training. Well, the idea of flying around in a glider, with no little motor out front to pull you along; I said I didn’t care for that at all. So I said, “Forget that!” So I just enlisted in the Air Corps.
DC: Uh huh.
DE: And went to Wichita Falls [Texas], Sheppard Field, and then went from there to Salt Lake City Replacement Center [Kearns Army Air Base] and was assigned to 4th Bomb Squadron, 34th Bomb Group, Blythe, California [Blythe Army Air Base]. and I was part of the division cadre that started out the 398th Bomb Group from that unit there and—in, Blythe, California—
DC: Uh huh.
DE: —and we went from there to Spokane, Washington [Spokane Army Air Field], and we was there for a couple of months, and we got a couple of new airplanes up there and got started. And we went down to Rapid City, South Dakota [Rapid City Army Air Base], and we got the rest of our planes. And we were going—we were training to go overseas and someone, in the higher echelon, decided that we made a good training unit, so we stayed down we trained—we trained first phase gunnery training for 13 months. And then we finally got orders to go overseas and went to Nuthampstead. Part of the crew flew over. Took our new airplanes and flew over. And the rest of us had a nice voyage on the USS Wakefield, out of Boston. The ship was pretty fast. It was a Cunard White Star liner that had been converted, and it could outrun a German U boat, so we went without a convoy.
DC: Really? Huh!
DE: And we landed in Liverpool; from there took the tram down to Nuthampstead, and there we were. Our planes come straggling in a few days after we got there and we were in business.
DC: Oh! You got there before the planes did?
DE: Not all of them. They were strung out from the United States, Iceland, Greenland and across.
DC: Uh huh.
DE: And it took about two weeks for them all to get in, for one reason or the other.
DC: And this was, what? About April of ’44?
DE: April, 1944.
DC: And when did you—when was it that you first entered the Air Corps? Was it ’43.
DE: Nineteen forty-two.
DE: July 27, 1942.
DC: So, you were in early! Yeah.
DE: Mm hm.
DC: Okay. So, what was it—what was the conditions—what was it like when you arrived in Nuthampstead?
DE: Well, it was fairly primitive. We was living in a Quonset hut, and it was cold over there. Cold and damp was just common English weather all the time, and we were rationed on coal. We had one bucket of coal per day, and they’d get the little stove fired up in the Quonset hut, and get the chill off of it, and that’d last until about nine o’clock, and that was the end of that.
DC: That was—
DE: Then you’d better get in the bed and stay warm. But, other than that, we did fine. And myself, and a couple of the fellows, we asked the line chief if we could get us a tent, and fix a tent out by the—behind the airbase and behind the revetments and move out on the Flight Line. Fine by him, so we moved out there, and we stayed out there, and we lived in that tent for the whole year. So, we did real good out there.
DC: Right. Right. So, were you the—you were the crew chief then?
DE: Assistant crew chief.
DC: Assistant crew chief.
DE: Roy Southwick [M/Sgt. Earl Southwick, Crew Chief] was the crew chief and I was the assistant. And, of course, I had one—one crew member. (laughs)
DE: And we all worked. We were all Indians. There was no chiefs. Everybody worked. So, when a plane come in we worked on it until it was ready to fly again and, if it took all night long, we were there when the sun came up.
DE: And there was no such thing as pulling a plane out of commission to do a 100-hour inspection. We had to fudge a little bit on the paperwork. And every other mission we’d do an inspection on one engine, and two missions later we’d do an inspection on another engine until we got all four engines. And, after the ninth and tenth mission, we’d do the 100-hour inspection on the fuselage itself. So, we got it all in time. It was kind of strung out over a month’s time, or better, but we got it all in.
DE: Because we couldn’t pull the plane out of commission, and ground it, and get it all done at one time.
DE: Everything was just running inspection.
DC: Right. Did—did you lose many planes from your—from the 603rd, while you were there?
DE: We lost quite a few. Some to combat. We lost several of them on the base. They said it had been a P-38 base before we moved in, and the runways were fairly short.
DE: And they’d get to the end of the runway and they’d—you’d run it all out into the grass and they had nothing to do but to keep from going through the fence and that underbrush. Put on the brakes, and nose up on end, and collapse the nose on it. And that generally salvaged the airplane.
DE: So, we lost as many to the base as we did to combat, I think.
DE: The plane that I had, it was one of the first ones that went over and, to my knowledge, we never had a casualty on it as, you know, someone being killed. And it made a number of missions. And, one of the times, they got engine damage on two engines and they were flying full throttle, full boost, for the thing to get back to friendly territory. And they landed in Belgium with it, or Czechoslovakia, or somewhere over there, and that’s where they ditched the airplane and came back. They didn’t ditch it. They landed, and we assumed it was long gone. And we were assigned another aircraft. We had a Pathfinder, and we had that for a couple months, and then one day we got a call from Operations Office that our old airplane was coming around the taxi strip, supposed to fly again. So, we did and got our old plane back.
We had to change all four engines; and change all the superchargers. And they had—to keep the airplane in the air, they had ditched everything in the airplane that could be ripped out and dumped overboard. They even tore up the catwalks in the—back in the waist area; to gain a few extra pounds. On the ball turret there was a big hammer and a cold chisel taped to the support shaft, and they’d used that to chisel the bolts in two to drop the ball turret out. And they dumped everything out, so we had to start with basically a brand new airplane.
DE: We rebuilt it, and it finished the WWII over there. And when the war ended, I went on a sightseeing tour over Germany. They took 20 of us over there. Just flew around, hedge-hopping, showing what we had done and what Patton had tore up. What one of us didn’t tear up the other one did.
DE: And we went down to the Rhine Valley. We was flying down below the castles and I took pictures of the castles up on the cliff sides.
DC: Is that right?
DE: And we circled Paris and came on back with it, and a couple, three days later, I flew it back to the United States; or flew back in it, rather. Last I saw it, it was in Grenier Field, New Hampshire [Grenier Army Air Field, Manchester, NH], when I got out and bid it goodbye. And I guess it ended up in Kingman, Arizona [Kingman Army Air Field Aviation Graveyard/Boneyard], in the aluminum scrap pile somewhere. And we have a book over in the BX [Base Exchange] that said it was scrapped in 1944, which is erroneous. (laughs) Unless somebody put—swapped numbers on one for me. (laughs)
DC: You know, I’ve heard some of the stories about crews just throwing everything overboard—
DE: Mm hm.
DC: —they could to try to make it—
DE: Lighten the load a little bit.
DE: Try to keep that thing in the air until get to, oh, friendly territory where they could land it.
DC: How many cylinders were those engines?
DE: They were nine cylinders.
DC: Nine cylinders?
DE: Yeah. There were R-1820 Wright engines in there.
DE: Develop, I think, 1200 horsepower. The first ones, I think, those were only 1000 horsepower. But these were modified engines.
DC: So, did you have to rebuild them regularly at all?
DE: We changed them on a time change.
DE: So many hours in flight, we’d change the engine. Or if we could, on the inspections, we had an oil filter; we’d take that out and clean it, and if it showed particles of silver in there, which come off the bearings, or any other foreign particles, then we’d pull the engine. Change it, send it off to the Depot to be repaired, and we’d just put another repaired—rebuilt engine back on then.
DC: How long would that take, to change engines?
DE: Uh, on the average, about four days. And, sometimes, some of the other crews would come over and give us a helping hand and we’d take less time; if they didn’t have anything—any work to do on their airplane. And, sometimes, one of the airplanes would be down for sheet metal repair at the Depot, and two or three of us crews would pile in together and work on the planes as we—as they came in; just work on everybody’s airplanes.
DC: So, you were—it sounds like you were putting in some pretty long days?
DE: Yes! From the time we could see until the time we couldn’t see, and then we’d work by flashlight from there on out.
DC: You know, you see in some of the films, that on the days of a mission, a lot of the—a lot of the base staff and the ground crews that, you know—out waiting for the planes to return. Is that something that you did?
DE: Yes. We had a little hut out on the line, and we’d all get out there and gather at it about two or three o’clock in the afternoon. And, well, the fact that I was living on the flight line out there, myself and one of my other buddies that lived there with us, when the two planes that we crewed—they were—shared the same revetment, and we’d go out on one and we’d preflight his, and then preflight mine, and wait for the crews to come out. And the rest of our ground crew would come out, and they’d go up and eat breakfast, and they’d come down later on in the day, and we’d head back to our bunks and sack out.
DE: And we’d sleep through, oh, eight-, nine o’clock, and get up and come out there and join them, then, because we had nothing to do when the planes were gone.
DE: Because, when they come back in, we worked until we got through with them.
DC: Did you—you probably were, of course, were friends with other ground crews. Did you have a chance to make friends with the flight crews, or would you just see them in passing?
DE: Just see—we just saw the flight crews in passing. And we got to know several of the pilots fairly well, and some of the crew, but not too many of them. And Allen Ostrom [S/Sgt. Allen Ostrom, as Tail Gunner, Warren Johnson’s Crew] flew on my plane as tail gunner, most of the time, but I did not know that Allen was flying on it. I didn’t know him at the time.
DC: So, were you there, then, clear until the end of the war?
DE: Yes, I was there until the end of the war. And we came back to the United States, and most of the bomb group went to Tampa, Florida, and I ended up going to Sioux Falls [Army Air Field], South Dakota. We got split up, and I lost all my baggage I shipped with the rest of the squadron. I have no idea where that went.
DE: And, fortunately, I had a few things I carried with me. I had my photo album and a few other things, but the rest of the stuff I lost.
DE: And I never saw any of them from there on out. We got split up and I ended up in—out here in Davis-Monthan [Army Air] Field, Tucson, Arizona, with a B-29 outfit, and the rest of them were scattered around, hither, thither and yon. And I was out there for three months, and then the Japanese surrendered, and within two-weeks-time, I was long gone. They said, Okay, we don’t need you guys anymore. Head home. So, I headed home!
DC: Was there—was there—were you ever concerned that you were going to be sent to the Pacific?
DE: Quite a bit of concern. I didn’t care for the B-29, to start with it was—
DC: Is that right?
DE: Yeah. Not an easy plane to fly; it wasn’t an easy plane to maintain. And I was assigned out of engineering to the cylinder change—engine change crew. And we had a base commander that, he was, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but he was a stickler for everything being nice and clean and wanted a nice clean hanger. So, we did not put the airplanes inside in the hanger, in the shade, to work on. We worked on them out in the sun.
DC: And this is in Arizona! (laughs)
DE: Tucson, Arizona; a hundred and twenty in the shade, and very little shade.
DE: And we stretched tarps up over the engine and work out there. And had eight men on a crew, and couple of them would go work for about 15 minutes, and they’d start to boil in their blood, and start sweating, and they’d come down and two more of us would go up and work a while, and just rotated like that. And we got the job done.
DC: All right. The—after the war, did you take advantage of the GI Bill? Did you go to any more education or—
DE: I took advantage of it, basically. I wanted to learn how to weld, so I took a course in welding, which was a low cost adventure to get into that. Then, later on, I had an opportunity to get a job if I had a pilot’s license, so I went down to see about getting pilot training. They says, No. It doesn’t even correspond with previous training you’ve had.
DE: So, that shot that. But, that’s the only part of it I ever used. I learned to weld and I ended up getting—having my own automobile repair business and, later on, a motorcycle dealership, and that was it. It come in handy.
DE: I’m not the best welder in the world, but I can weld two pieces of metal together and they don’t fall apart. (laughs)
DC: Yeah. So, yeah—so that—so your career was in those fields after the war then, huh?
DC: All right. And then you went back to San Antonio?
DE: Went back to San Antonio. I stayed in the reserves, and then the Korean deal came up, and I got called back in Korea.
DE: And I spent that time at Kelly Field as the 8517th Air Vac Unit. We had C-54s and [C-]97s and we were evacuating prisoners out of—not prisoners—wounded out of Korea and bringing them back to the States.
DC: Is there anything that you’d like people watching this interview later on to know about the war or your experience in it?
DE: No. I guess mine wasn’t much different from any of the rest of the million fellows that were in there. I do have one little story I’d like to tell, though. It was there in England. Myself and my buddies, we’d go down to Luton, England, and we went to the Red Cross. And the English folks had signed up, down there, to take care of the Americans. And they’d come in on a pass because, to get a hotel room was a nonexistent deal. And I stayed with this one English family and got to know them real well, and spent all my passes there, with them, and got to be, basically, one of the family.
And I came back Stateside and got married. And a number of years later, when I had my auto repair shop, [I] delivered a vehicle up to my local cleaners and he had a couple in there; a GI and his wife. And they were waiting to get their—some of their cleaning. And she had an English accent so thick you could cut it with a knife. I asked her, “Where are you from?” She says, “A place you’ve never heard of.” I said, “Well. I’ve heard a lot of strange places.” She says, “Luton, England.” And I said, “Well, that’s my stomping ground over there. I went there all the time when I was on pass.” I says, “Do you, by any chance, know the Bygraves that lived over there on Cardigan Street?” And she got a funny look on her face and says, “Yeah! I work for their son!” And he was born—he was a baby when we left, so—
DC: I’ll be darned!
DE: —small world!
DC: Yeah. That’s great!
DE: And that’s about it.
DC: Yeah. Did you get, boy—did you—so, you must have had a few leaves since you were that long; well over a year in England?
DE: I got one leave and I went up to Colchester. I wanted to go see the castles up there, and we made a trip up there, myself and my buddy, went up there and we spent three days up there, and went down to London, and went through the museums down there, and that wound up our week’s tour. And I hope to go back to England this summer, with the group. And I have a friend that lives in Colchester, and he was over here a couple of years ago, and I was planning to go to England on the tour, and he says, “Come over! You can spend a week with me! I’m putting parquet flooring in and you can help me!” (laughs)
DE: He was trying to get some free labor, there.
DC: Right. Have you been back to England?
DE: No, I have never been back and I want to go.
DC: Thinking next year?
DE: I went down and got my passport. I’m ready!
DC: Were you ever—did you ever spend any time in the Woodman Inn?
DE: Not too much.
DC: Yeah. I understand that they have quite a bit of memorabilia from the 398th.
DE: Mm hm. It was a small place and it was just elbow room only. You had to elbow your way in and elbow your way back out again.
DC: Yeah! (laughs) You’re the first ground crew person I’ve had a chance to talk to, so that’s real interesting for me!
DE: Well, I think from the roll call last night, I’m the last of the ones that’s left, too!
DC: Yeah, you might be. Yeah, yeah. That’s great. I always, when I watch those old films, I mean, not the Hollywood films, the real films, you know, from there, I just—and I always see those ground crew guys with their hats up like this, and they’re looking at the skies. Yeah.
DE: While we were on our shopping tour today, we went to a place that had t-shirts, and they had a t-shirt that I just had to buy.
DC: What did it say?
DE: It says “older than dirt.” (laughs)
DC: Yeah! (laughs) There you go!
DE: I’ll be an 86-year-old; but you’re not a spring chicken anymore. You’re just about as old as dirt!
DC: Yeah. (laughs) That’s it. Right. Right.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 0:21:08]
- Southwick's Ground Crew - 603rd Squadron - 1944 or 1945
- Bebe - Boeing B-17 # 43-37982 N7-K by Dallas Ebest, Ground Crew, 603rd Squadron
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Sgt. Dallas Ebest was a member of Earl Southwick's 603rd Squadron Ground 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 [ ].