World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Dick Frazier, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Randy Stange
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
The Radisson Hotel, Covington, KY., September 2003
The 398th has been interviewing its members as part of the Timeless Voices of Aviation project. More information about the project and a current list of video interviews can be found at 398th Timeless Voices Interviews. In addition to the video interviews, some of the interviews have been transcribed to text.
Dick Frazier, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
RS: Interviewer, Randy Stange
DF: 398th Pilot, Dick Frazier
Note: There are several minutes at the beginning of the video interview that were pre-interview and have not been included in this transcription.
RS: Well, for the record here, starting, this is Randy Stange interviewing Dick Frazier. We’re at the 398th Bomb Group 2003 Reunion in Covington, Kentucky at the Radisson Hotel. During your service with the 398th, you were with which Squadron?
DF: 602nd Squadron.
RS: As a…
RS: And, where were you born and raised?
DF: I was born in Sterling, Oklahoma, and I was raised in multiple places, because both my parents were dead. My father died six months before I was born, and my mother died when I was four. So I was just like a tumble weed out on the prairie, here, there, and yon, until I got out on my own.
RS: What did your dad do before you were born?
DF: He was a railroader.
DF: Yes, in fact, I was at Oklahoma City University studying music when the war came along. And there was a group from the military who came along and said, “We’re going to need pilots, and we’re offering flight training under the College Training Detachment Program, CTD. You stay in school. When you graduate from school, you go in the service.” So I signed up for it.
Two months later, brother, they were breathing down my neck. “Come, we want you.” So I didn’t get to finish college. So I went to Denver University because they screwed up, as they oftentimes do. They’d gone out to get as many men to take pilot training as they could, but they didn’t have any place to put them.
So they took 500 of us off of colleges and universities, took us to Denver University, and there we were quartered in, of all things, fraternity houses, ‘cause all the men were gone, right? So that’s where I met Allen Ferguson, whose name was beginning with an “F” like mine, so we were close together. And Federico Gonzalez was also there in the same vicinity. So I became attached to them, and friends with them. We trained together. I went out to Blythe, California after having gone to Pre-Flight to be an [hesitates] Aviation Cadet. I couldn’t separate that from “aviation student,” which I was at Denver University, and the other titles that I had.
RS: So it’s Pre-Flight, and Aviation Cadet was at Blythe.
DF: Aviation student was at Denver. I was still a “Mr.” all that time: MISTER. And, of course, when I got to Blythe, California for Primary, it was Cadet now, and we had the uniform of a cadet. We actually could have worn an officer’s uniform without the insignia had we chosen to. In fact, I saved up my money and bought me a uniform, so when I graduated in April 1944, I had a suit all ready to put on. All I had to do was put the bars on.
So anyway, I went through Primary at Blythe with real close friends: Allen Ferguson and Federico Gonzalez. When I got out there for my first phase, the first guy I run into was Federico Gonzalez. But he graduated after about six weeks or so. Of all things, here came Allen H. Ferguson. Mind you, there were probably 30 or 40 Primary schools in the U.S. and the three of us all wound up in Primary at Blythe.
RS: Staggered classes though?
DF: Yeah, because when we were at Denver University, we were given the examinations and they had 500 men there, and they were to be categorized into 100 guys of each of the 500. So Gonzalez got ahead of us and Ferguson had an emergency appendectomy and he was one month behind. That’s why we were staggered. It wasn’t by design, it was by accident. So, Gonzalez graduated and went on to Basic, which would be BT-13’s. And so of all the schools, we all went through the same Primary school!
Well, I didn’t see them the next phase, but when I finished Basic, the BT-13, at Merced, California, I was sent to Fort Sumner, New Mexico for Twin-Engine Advanced. Well, I arrived at Fort Sumner. The war was just kind of running around in my mind…I wasn’t thinking much about it. And went over to the day center where the guys went for recreation and whatnot. And who did I run into but Federico Gonzalez. Of all the twin-engine schools out there, here’s Federico. Federico then graduated and became a First Lieutenant. Then I became upperclassman to the next class which consisted of Allen H. Ferguson. Of all the Twin-Engine schools out there, all three of us went through the same school.
Well, we finished up our training and went on. I flew submarine patrol duty over on the east coast, flying out of Langley Field, Virginia. My job was to fly out there to New York, circle the Lady, and go south to Miami and then back to Langley. So that’s what I did.
Incidentally, an aside to all of this, when I graduated from high school, there were no jobs, they were paying a dollar an hour for labor. So I was playing in a dance band. And we were playing for dances at the country club and down at the University…I forget the name of it. Anyhow, I was playing there.
And I finished up a trip one way or the other one day, and I was walking across the ramp, having gotten out of my bird, heading for the place where we would catch a truck back to the quarters. And I was looking out ahead of us. “I know that guy!” And I caught up with him and it was French Russell. I hadn’t seen him in three years. And I said, “French, what are you doing now?”
Now this was before D-Day. France was still controlled by Germany. So, he said, “I got shot down over here, and the free French, they captured me, so to speak, and they hid me away from the Germans, until they could row me across the Channel at night in a rowboat.” You know, it’s a long way across that Channel; it’s about 30 miles. So they rowed him back over to England, and that’s where I encountered him. I said, “Well, you got any suggestions…I’m getting ready to go over there.” He said, “Well, if I were you, I’d go over here to the PX and buy me a Bowie knife and carry it around your neck every time you go over there, because if you get shot down like I did, and you land in a tree, you’re hanging up there and the shroud lines are keeping you from getting out, and your need the knife to cut those shroud lines to get on the ground.” So I did as he suggested, and I took one of the laces out of one of my boots and I ran it through the scabbard, and I carried that sucker around my neck every time I went back over there. Well, fortunately for me, I finished up my tour in early April of ’45.
RS: Well, let’s back up, Dick. Because you were flying submarine patrols, and how did you wind up getting reclassified and going with the 398th?
DF: Well, that’s where I was when I was reclassified.
RS: Just got orders to go?
DF: …and I went.
RS: And you were with one of the original crews?
DF: No, I was not. I flew an airplane over there by myself. Well, I say by myself, but at the same time there were about eight or nine other airplanes that went. But you interrupted.
RS: Well, just trying to keep a chronology.
DF: OK, well, let’s go back. I interjected that about French Russell, and I shouldn’t have. But anyhow, I thought, “I’m gonna go back up and look up old French and tell him that I got back fine, and all this.” Unfortunately, in 1944, he had a mid-air at Langley Field. Lost all of his crew and himself as well. And I got to thinking about that one day. And I was thinking he was not buried over there because he died over here. And I called the local cemetery. I said, “I’m looking for a guy name of French Marion Russell. He died in 1944, was buried in 1945. Do you have any record of him?” “Well, just a minute.” He called me back in about ten minutes. “We’ve got him.”
So I went over there and sure enough I found his grave, 20 miles from where I lived. And there was a grave marker there; it was not a GI grave marker. And that’s what got me on a search to find out why he doesn’t have one. And the problem that I have is this stupid Freedom of Information Act. You can’t get anything out of the government unless you’re a next of kin and all this kind of stuff. So anyway, I know where French is buried, and there’s an inscription on his gravestone, “To My Lover,” or something like that. Now I did find out from the funeral home, his death certificate, which was interesting. The cause of death was “airplane crash.” [Chuckles] Truly it was, but…anyway. So I’m still looking. I know that French’s wife lived in Houston. And I called a guy in the CAF down there, and I said, “Would you go out there where this guy’s last known address was and see if you can find anything?” I never got anything back from him, which was not unexpected. I’m going down there myself. I’d like to be able to find his widow and show her my knife that I got on his recommendation that I’ve kept in my tackle box for a long time.
I went down to the flight line at Langley and we were supposed to leave out of there one morning, and went down there, and the right plane landing gear had a big balloon on the side of the tire—bigger than a basketball. I don’t know how it even rotated past the strut. But nevertheless it did. Well, they gave me a new airplane, and the next day I was scheduled to go again. Well, the next day, I went down to the flight line and the oxygen system was awry—fouled up somehow. So we didn’t have any oxygen, and we couldn’t fly without oxygen because we might run into weather and we might have to climb above it. So, passed that up, and the next day we were scheduled to go again.
We were scheduled to go to Bangor, Maine. That was the route everybody was taking. Well, all the other crews that were there when I had started out with them at one time or another, they were already gone. So, the next time I was scheduled to go, the weather was just horrible; couldn’t get off the ground. I sat there for about four days waiting for the weather to break. So then we got up to Bangor, Maine, and ran into the same problem up there. We landed about dark, got up the next morning, the sky was on the ground, couldn’t get up and go. Finally got up to Goose Bay, Labrador. Got in there around dinner time, around six or so. I ate a meal, got assigned a room, went to bed.
Around eleven o’clock, “Get up and go.” Eleven PM. So, all of us went down to the flight line. All the airplanes were juiced up and ready to go. Got in it. Left out of there from Goose Bay, headed for Reykjavik, Iceland.
And, gosh, waist gunner of mine lived out here at Andrews, Texas. A guy asked me about him last night, asked me if I knew him, and I said, “Sure. I flew with him and we were in the same Quonset hut over at Nuthampstead.” Roberts; S.D. Roberts. And he’d call me on the intercom: “Hey, Lieutenant!” He was only 18 years old. “Hey, Lieutenant! We’re on fire!” I said, “Oh, cool it, Roberts. That’s just the exhaust coming out the engine.” “I don’t know Lieutenant…” That’s the way he’s say it, “Loootenant!”
Do you want me to stop?
RS: No, go ahead, go ahead.
DF: I don’t want to drag this out all afternoon.
RS: No, keep going!
DF: I said, “Roberts, that’s nothing to worry about, just cool it. Just go to sleep.
Of course, they had been going over there from the time we’d left Goose Bay, Labrador. We had our 45-calibre pistols, right? They were packed in Cosmoline jelly. Ever hear of that?
DF: So these poor guys, when they were flying along doing nothing else, they were working on those, got all those 45-calibre pistols cleaned off that gooey Cosmoline jelly. Of course, the first thing we did when we get to England was we turned them in. I never saw them again! Never had any kind of sidearm of any kind.
All I had was my Bowie knife. [Dick indicates that he had the Bowie knife around his neck with laughter]. Anyway, we landed there at Reykjavik, and got up about midnight. They called us out about midnight. We had hardly gone to bed: hadn’t had any sleep for quite a long time. So we headed for Valley, Wales. Wales is one of the parcels of land there in the British Isles. [Valley was a landing field in Wales.] Then we left there about midnight. We flew east into that rising sun. It was about a seven, eight hour trip across there.
But I missed one point in there I want to refer to. Going across from Goose Bay to Reykjavik, the way we did it, old Burl Beam was the other pilot. And we had a deal between us that we’d fly fifteen minutes on and fifteen minutes off. We didn’t have all the pilots back at that time. They came on later. So, when one guy was flying, the other would catnap. So we did this on and off through the night.
So I woke up—it was quiet. No engines roaring out there. There were three but one of them was not running, it was just windmilling out there. What happened was that sucker ran out of gas and the tank had no gas in it, and we had been flying at about 15,000, just below where you’d need oxygen. And you could see those icebergs down there. I mean, they were everywhere. Cold—big time cold! So I looked over there and old Beam was zonked out. “Hey man, wake up! You’re supposed to be flying!”
We called Cliff Blankenship, our Engineer, said, “Hey old buddy, get us some gas in this number three engine,” ‘cause that’s where the pump was to operate the de-icer boots. Of course, the de-icer boots weren’t working because there was nothing running over there. So, anyway, old Cliff, he got out something-or-other; he got the pump started to siphon some gas out of one of the other engines into that one that didn’t have any in it. And we unfeathered it, and fired it, and it ran like a top! Took us all the way on into Valley, Wales. We got to Valley. We got there about sun-up.
We were loading up all two and a half ton trucks, which was always the vehicle of choice by the military. They had some steps out the back and some bench seats around the sides. And we’d been up so much the last 48 hours that we didn’t hardly know where we were. Anyway, we were climbing down out of that thing and—whoosh! We looked up, and there were two Gloster Meteors—first time I’d ever seen a jet! Two of those suckers! They came around and did a pass at us and that was our introduction to jet aviation.
RS: And when was this, what year?
DF: That was ’45. Wait a minute, ’44. Let me back up. ’44, ‘cause I hadn’t gone into combat yet. So anyway, we got on a train; left our beautiful new B-17 back over here at Valley, and got on a train with the other crews that had flown airplanes with us. So we got down to Nuthampstead, got off the train; they had trucks there to meet us. Took us to our Quonset hut. About a week later we did some formation flying and dropping some dummy bombs around, you know, to kind of get in the swing of things. And then, one day we got a call. And, “You’re on. You’re going to go bomb Germany tomorrow. Be up at five o’clock, have breakfast at six. And briefing at seven, take off at seven-thirty, whatever. Merseberg was a toughie. We lost more men at Merseberg than any other place. I think we bombed there six times. It’s in the record.
RS: Describe your observations of the first mission.
DF: Well, I thought it was kind of fun. Those black puffs out there, you know somebody could get hurt if you run into one of those [chuckles]. So anyway, we were only gone, I think it was only two days between the first one and second one. And then it started getting kind of serious, ‘cause I saw all these guys going down. I said, “Hey, what’s happened to them—they ain’t with us no more.” So then, at 398th Bomb Group, I go into the bar one day, after I’d been there three or four days, who did belly up to the bar but Federico Gonzalez! Of all the bomb groups over there! And I hadn’t been there very long till one day; you know the rest of the story.
RS: Keep going, tell it again.
DF: Allen Ferguson showed up! Well unfortunately, of the three of us…We chased girls over there at Denver University, ‘cause there were no men around. And those gals were hungry for a guy, one way or another. I never did sample any of their lovemaking, but some of the guys did. Actually, I had a dance band there, we had radio shows on KOA Denver. It’s in a record that I have.
I came home and we knew, well, Gonzalez, we never expected to see him again. In fact, I was sitting out at Tinker Field. I was flying DC-3s, which is a twin-engine transport plane. Out of Tinker Field, they had three routes out of there. Tinker Field was called an Air Materiel Command Center. And the other airports, the other bases in the whole southwest, were supplying out of Tinker Field. And it was just like an airline route. You went from point A to point B to point C to point D, and back home. And you knew when you were going to fly, you knew where you were going to go, and you needed to be down to the ready room at a certain time. An hour before, or something like that.
Of course they did all the pre-flight, which I had done in wartime, when I was over in Europe. So I was sitting there one day, waiting for my flight, a guy walks in. He dressed two stalls away from me, on the left hand side of me, at Nuthampstead. So, you know, what are you going to do? You’re going to slap backs, and lie a little bit. What are you doing, where’ve you been?
He said, “Well, you won’t believe this. I’m flying litter cases back from Europe by way of the Azores. I’m flying guys back that are so badly hurt that they can’t come back on a ship. They need to get attention immediately.” He said, “You’ll never know who I brought home the other day.” No idea. Federico.
RS: Why don’t you tell a little bit about what Federico went through since he’s not able to?
DF: Well, of course, he was with Colonel Hunter and the crew, and they were all killed but him.
And after I got home in ’45, and much, much later than that, I gave up any thought of ever seeing those guys again. I kept on flying. I lived on a private runway, steel cyclone hangers, runway lights, the whole nine yards. I owned fourteen airplanes when I lived out there. It was a kind of an airplane community. It was called Twin Lakes Airport, and the development’s called Pilot’s Haven. Well, a guy moved in there, and he worked at Tinker Field. He was a CPA but he was acquainted with the Commanding Officer, whose wife was a sorority sister to a guy that lived out there. His name was Gunderman. Out where I lived, he lived three doors down from me. I was the very first one out there, at Pilot’s Haven. Well, Gunderman came in and built a house, and of course we all got acquainted.
One day, his wife was hosting a bunch of her sorority sisters, one of whom was the wife of the Commanding General of the airport, of the Air Force out there. So I was visiting them casually. I said, “General, how do you find out anything about your World War II Unit that you served with; if they’re having a meeting, or anything?” He said, “Well, do you take the Air Force Times?” I said, “No.” And about ten days later I get a copy of it. And on the face of it, the face page, was an announcement about the Eighth Air Force Reunion in St. Louis.
It was too late for me to make any arrangements to go there, but I called there, and I said who I was, the purpose of my call. They said, “Well, let’s give you their hospitality room.” I never told George (Hilliard, the 398th reunion contact) this, but I called. I talked to George. I didn’t know who he was, of course, he just answered the phone. I told him who I was. We visited a few minutes. I said, “Well, how’s the meeting going?” “It’s going real good. Except our principle speaker has had to cancel. His wife has a medical problem.” [Dick is becoming very emotional. He seems to have a lump in his throat.] He said, “We were really looking forward to hearing Dr. Gonzalez. But maybe at another time.”
So I said, “Can you help me get in touch with him?” “Well, he’s a professor over at Northwestern University.” So, I called Federico, and we had a joyous reunion by telephone. He used to come once in a while to the reunions, but he’d only stay a day. In fact, I had a hard time ever getting him to come to any, because the reunion was at the time of the enrollment of school, in the fall, and he had to be there for that. He was a Ph.D. doctor, not a medical doctor. But he’s the guy that directed the MD.’s-to-be what to do. And he stayed there for 20 years or so. And his folks still lived in San Antonio. And Chicago to San Antonio is a direct route through Oklahoma City. So he and Anne would come through there, and we would have another great reunion…talk about it…show pictures.
So anyway, Fred recovered adequately to the extent that he could function, which he has done so for many years, but he was really beat up. When I found out about him being alive, I went to San Antonio, Brooke Army Hospital, took my story into the guy at the desk there at the hospital, and he just blew me away [with a sweep of his hand]. He didn’t have any time for an old World War II geek. And there’s many Gonzalez’s in San Antonio [laughter], so I just gave up on him, till I ran into him by method of the 398th reunion.
RS: Well, the Eighth Air Force Reunion.
DF: Yeah, Eighth Air Force… Colonel Berryhill and I said, “Let’s do our own thing.” Of course, I never thought that would go. It’s been going for 20 years! Colonel Hunter was the instigator of all this. But anyway, went ahead, finished up, got out. Stayed in the Reserves, got out of that.
RS: Did you go to school after you got back?
DF: Got back. I lacked four months on my degree, but of course I was in music. And I had been away from that all that time. So I just went back and took my whole senior year over. But I got [out]of that, and went to teaching school. And that was the pits, and I got [out] of that. And I’ve been in the insurance business where I still function. I’ve been very pleased with my efforts in that direction. But I couldn’t get airplanes out of my system. So I bought an airplane, because I was in the insurance business, and I was in the group business, and I had groups scattered around in Kansas and Texas. And you know, I’d get up in the morning and drive ten hours or twelve hours to get to this town over here, take care of my business, stay overnight in a motel, and drive back the next day. Well, the heck with this. And I still had my license. It wasn’t current. All I had to do was go take the physical. So I go out to the local airport there and told the guy, I said, “I’d like to get checked out.” And he said, “Do you have a current medical?” I said, “No.” “Go take a physical and come back.” So I went back after I had my physical. Do you want me to stop?
RS: No, keep going. Let’s finish this up and then we’ll go have lunch.
DF: OK. Well, anyway, I went out there to Post Airport. The guy had me crawl in the airplane. He said, “Start it up.” I said, “I don’t know how to start this thing.” So he said, “We’ll call the tower and tell them you want to taxi.” I said, “I don’t know how to do that.” So he called the tower, he got us permission, we took off north from Oklahoma City. We got up about 1,200, 1,300 feet. He says, “OK, do a 360, and hold the wings level.” Hold the altitude I should say. I hadn’t been in an airplane for fifteen years and he wanted me to do all this stuff! So I just hooked on to that sucker, and I whipped her around for 360 degrees. He says, “Now do a turn to the left.” I did a turn to the left, I was still holding that old airplane level. “Do one to the right.” So I did one to the right.
He’s fooling around behind me; I didn’t know what he was doing. He reached around behind me, and came up with a hood. He put a hood on me! An instrument hood. You know it covers you like this [demonstrates]. “OK, do me a turn to the left.” And I did a turn to the left. Turn to the right; do me a 360. He leaned over to me…you’d have to know this guy. We’re in this little 150, and he’s about six foot six. His knees are so tall he can’t get them under the instrument panel. He leaned over to me and he put his arm around my neck and he says, “You never do forget that shit, do ya?” [Laughter.] Old Fred Reese; what a guy that guy was.
But anyway, I’ve had a great life. It’s been wonderful. I lived out there in the country on that airport for 26 years. Had all those airplanes. The government paid for them, ‘cause I wrote it all off. I was using them to go all over to see my clients, but I’d go to Eighth Air Force deals or CAF deals, or 398th deals. I flew down when the Eighth Air Force met down in Florida. Every place. I never did go commercial. I just took my private plane.
- Beam's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 18 February 1945
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Dick Frazier was the Co-Pilot on Burl B. Beam’s 602nd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Elaine Stahlman Jurs, daughter of Philip H. Stahlman, 601st Squadron in July 2008.
- 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 [ ].