World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
James R. Haas, 398th Bomb Group Bombardier
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Denver, Colorado, September 11, 2010
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.
James R. Haas, 398th Bomb Group Bombardier
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MG-R: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
JH: 398th Bombardier, James R. Haas
Time of Interview: 1:01:54
MG-R: Hi, I’m Marilyn Gibb-Rice and today is September 11th, 2010. We’re at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association reunion in Denver, Colorado. Would you please introduce yourself?
JH: My name is James R. Haas, I’m ah bombardier on Harry Sleaman’s crew, I was in the 603 Squadron.
MG-R: Alright, so where were you living and what were you doing as the war was getting started?
JH: Well, after I graduated high school in 1940 I went to the University of Iowa for one year and then the war came along and most of my friends started to enlist in the service or whereabout so I was interested first I was going to go in the Navy Air Corps I thought at those times of course airplanes were a novelty. And I was quite interested in Aviation, and I thought I would go in the Navy Air Force but I enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
At that time, they weren’t taking too many and I waited a long time to get in. I enlisted in 1942, but went in at 1943. I reported to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and was there a short time. And then was sent to Morningside College for a new program just started by the Air Corps. It was a 90 day program (Sioux City Iowa) where we stayed in the Women’s dorm.
When I was in Sioux City we took 10 hours of pilot training in a small plane. I guess they didn’t think I would make a good pilot so I was assigned to be a bombardier. So after Morning Side College I was sent to the Cadet Center in San Antonio Texas, and I was there for quite some time. Then on to Houston, Texas for more schooling and then went to Laredo, Texas down on the Mexican border. It was really hot, we were there in the summertime. We couldn’t go out in the afternoon we laid in our bunks it was so hot and it was mostly sand. All of our training was in the morning. We were there about a month or so, not too long. Then I went to Midland, Texas where I took my bombardier training and I graduated the day before Christmas in 1943.
I got to go home for a short leave there and then I went off to Salt Lake City to a distribution center waiting to be assigned to a crew. One day I received the notice that I was going to Dalhart, Texas which is in the panhandle. That is where I met our crew. We started our training and we were there for several months. One day we got notice that we were going overseas, and when we left we went on a troop train that was going through Carny, Nebraska. We were told that if there were airplanes on the field we would be flying over to England. But there were only about 3 airplanes on the field so we knew we were going by ship.
We continued on the train to Boston. So we spent about 2 to 3 days in Boston and then late in the day we were taken by bus to the ship. Of course this is during the depression years, and I hadn’t been out of Perry, Iowa a town of 7000 and Chicago is the farthest I’ve been from home. And now here I was by this ship, SS Brazil which the Navy had taken over and I was fortunate to be on this ship. Of course they’d taken all the furniture out of the state rooms and had about 9 bunks in each room. The enlisted men were down in the hold, and their quarters were not so good which was unfortunate.
The next day when we woke up we were at sea, and we went out on the deck and it was a beautiful May day, perfect. The Atlantic was very calm and we were in a large, large convoy. You couldn't see from one end to the other there were so many ships. The next morning after we woke up we went out on the deck and there was another large convoy of ships had joined us that had come up from New York. Of course we didn’t know this but that convoy was enroute to deliver supplies for D-Day. But that was the reason for the two large convoys, and it was neat to see the ships send all their signals back and forth.
There were destroyers going up and down the convoy because that’s how we kept the German submarines away. We didn’t encounter any trouble and didn’t hear of anything. The weather was wonderful the entire way over. We had really good food in the dining room, we had our own table we were assigned to and had the same waiter the entire way over. Several choices of food but the enlisted men down below didn’t have it so good. Their food wasn’t so good and we saved the fruit for them to tide them over until we got to England. But we had a wonderful trip over. Then we went to a distribution center waiting to be assigned to a group.
And then it was there on D day, it was a big disappointment we didn’t get to fly on D day and that’s one of my big regrets is that I didn’t get to fly on D day but we knew there was something going on because we as all the planes with the stripes on all the allied planes so they could distinguish them. There were a lot of planes in the air that day and I think our group flew two missions that day.
It was a big disappointment we didn’t get to fly that day. Soon we were sent to the 398th BG and we did several training flights in England and then finally one day we got notice we were going to fly the next day.
Our first mission was on June 20th to Hamburg and we got off to a rough start because the flak was really intense there and we were one of the last groups over the target and the flak was really heavy and we went up over the North Sea before we turned into the target. I could see 2 or 3 B17’s already going down in flames and I was already scared (laugher) I was really frightend. But we got through and returned to base and glad that was over with.
Then we got the notice that we were flying the next day and we got up 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, got something to eat and then off to the briefing. They pulled back the curtain and the target was Berlin. I mean what a start and our group didn’t suffer as many losses, but the 8th AF suffered many losses at Hamburg, but with Berlin we knew that was going to be good. With the target we were told we would have visual bombing, which was good but when we got to the target it wasn’t visual bombing because the weather had set in… and they radioed back to us and so we turned into the target and we couldn’t see the target and I set it on train, where they [the bombs] dropped spread out, not all at once so they were spread out.
I couldn’t work out whether we hit the target or what we hit. When the last bomb dropped I said “bombs away” and ”let’s go home!” or it wasn’t quite those words but then the radio man said “Jim, one of the bombs didn’t drop!” And then I thought “Oh no!” I was scared to death anyway and what am I going to do, so I had to grab a portable oxygen tank and go back to the bomb bay and had to take my parachute off because the wind would drag me out the doors. I had to stand on the walkway, it’s not very wide, and put my leg on the other side of the plane so there I was 27 thousand feet with open bomb bay doors with no parachute and took a screwdriver and tripped the manual release. And fortunately it did work and the bomb released and of course I got back immediately as quick as I could and got my chute back on and got back to my position.
When I’m home at nights and can’t sleep I keep thinking about that, and if you think about that experience that was a tremendous experience. We completed the mission alright, but the 8th AF suffered heavy losses. When we got back and got on the ground again I told the crew if we fly 35 missions like this there’s no way we’re going to get through this! But it worked out alright, so the next few missions, fortunately the next three they were easy, over France and they were shorter missions.
On the 6th mission, we were scheduled to fly two missions that day, and they were over to France. They were short missions, one was to the coast of France and the other was going to be near Paris. But on the first mission, on the coast of France the Germans were sending buzz bombs over to London. So we were going to bomb the installations where they were sending them from.
This mission was at 17 thousand feet, most of our missions were at 25k feet, but this one was at 17 thousand feet and fortunately we were in the narrow part of the Channel. Flak knocked our number 3 engine out so we turned back over the Channel and the number 2 engine went out, over the coast of England another engine went out so we were down to one engine.
We couldn’t get North of London, where there were a mass of airfields, so we had these balloons, the English had put up these balloons around London to try to stop these buzz bombs and we couldn’t get around those so we went south of London… so we got around to 2 thousand feet and we couldn’t find a place to land and the pilots radioed that you’d better bail out because we can’t find a place to land and the pilot radioed0 “get out when you can” and we were about 18-19 hundred feet and I tried to open the door (there’s a door between the navigator and bombardier) an escape hatch to get out and I couldn’t get it open and we were going down pretty fast and I ran to the back to the door and didn’t hesitate because I figured I’d better go when I can and not look outside… and I jumped out and I didn’t pull my chute right away the rip cord because I didn’t want my chute catching the tail and the chute opened (what a wonderful feeling) but I was so low the ground didn’t take much time coming up pretty fast.
When I was coming down there was a large tree and I didn’t have experience jumping so I was trying to guide my chute to miss that tree and I did miss it and came down right beside it and the chute caught on the bottom limbs and I hit the ground awful hard and it felt like my ankles came up through my knees. It kind of stunned me a bit and took a minute too look around where I was and there was a farmer sitting around on the fence post sitting there and he had a pitch fork and I called over to him to help me untangle my chute and get me out of here but he wasn’t about to come over because he didn’t know if I was a German or American or who I was there.
So after a few minutes I finally convinced him that I was American and he came over and helped me get untangled and he said you go up to the house up there. We saw you jump there and my wife put the tea on so you go up there and I’ll pick the rest of them up. Sure enough he did and the only one that got hurt was the tail gunner, when he hit he broke his ankle, it took a while to get him back.
Meanwhile the plane was pretty low and the co-pilot spotted a small grass field, and there were some small planes there and they didn’t have any choice so they went in where the RAF had small planes, a recon outfit going across the Channel and they went in wheels up and it turned out safely and the pilot, copilot and the crew chief were there, the three of them went down with the plane, stayed with the plane and none of them were hurt and they walked out.
Incidentally it was a brand new plane, we had just got it, and all of the other planes were painted camouflaged but ours was a new plane and still shiny and the crew chief was so proud of this plane and said bring that plane back! Unfortunately that plane never came back, I think they used it for parts or something.
The next day they went down there and they winched it and the farmer called to our base and told them where the plane landed, they knew about this base of course, and they sent a truck down to pick us up and we salvaged things out of there that we could.
MG-R: Were the bombs still on the plane??
JH: Oh no, we dropped them. I dropped the bombs, got rid of them right away.
MG-R: And were you over the Channel?
JH: Yes. We might have dropped them on the target, I don’t know. It’s questionable where they were dropped. But, uh..So it turned out alright. But we did lose a good plane, brand new plane. And then the missions went on, lots of experiences there and I was on the raid to Peenemunde up on the North Sea where these German scientists were making these V-bombs and the Atom bomb, I guess they were working on that too.
They did all the work up there, they had all the scientists up there and there was also a submarine base. It was nice, we went up on the North Sea and didn’t encounter any flak until we got to the target and then of course we went into a lot of flak. We dropped our bombs and then went over the sea and had a good mission.
But we found out, our bombs had all landed in the circle, where we were supposed to so we got a group citation for hitting the target. But the bad news was the submarine base, the bombs weren’t the right size so they did no damage to the submarine base. So consequently I had to go back and bomb it again a short time later. But we weren’t flying that day to go back there.
One other mission, we were bombing a target in Germany and we were coming home after dropping our bombs and we didn’t encounter German fighters and the tail gunner had got hit by a minor piece of flak in the back, but didn’t do any damage. The co-pilot went back to see how he was and he pulled the cord for the pilots oxygen mask and he didn’t know it, and he came back from the tail and the pilot had passed out because of no oxygen… and all of a sudden we started going down gradually and there were three planes ahead of us and we missed them and the gunner in the upper turret and he realized something was wrong and found the pilot and pulled him away and the copilot came back and took over control.
A lot of things happened on those missions. After our 22nd mission we had leave and went up to Scotland and enjoyed and had a wonderful trip up there and not fly for a few days and sleep in. Got back and started flying again and on our 24th mission the target was Ludwigshafen it was a chemical plant on the Rhine river and the flak was one of the heaviest I’d ever seen. It was a ball of fire and it would burst very intense and scared you to death.
All of a sudden the plane next to us had a direct hit and blew up and nine boys died not knowing what hit them. Well the next burst that came up blew up right in front of our number 3 engine it hit there and knocked me back and hit me in the leg with flak and knocked me 6 feet back to our navigator and was stunned and the flak was red hot and burned my leg. I crawled back to my station, hit the switch and got rid of the bombs and crawled back and the navigator gave me a shot of morphine there and the pilot radioed and said get ready to bail out because our number 3 is on fire.
They said what are we going to do with Haas? They said put a chute on him and throw him out. They put my chute on me and were getting ready to throw me out and just then the pilot said hold on a minute we are going to put it in a dive and see if we can’t blow the fire out. So we went into a dive, I was awake enough to hear the sound. I’ll never forget it, it was a tremendous sound. I thought the wings were going to come off. It was an unbelievable sound.
I have no idea how far we went down, I guess 10 thousand feet or so. It worked and blew the fire out and of course we were away from the formation then and we were lucky no fighters hit us and we escaped. We thought about landing in Paris because our ground boys had just taken it over and we were thinking about landing and having a good time but we were going to keep going as long as we could stay in the air and land in Belgium if we had to.
Then we came to the point where we had to decide to cross the Channel or not and we continued on. It worked out alright, we made it back to our base. Of course everyone knew there was wounded aboard and they came and dressed my leg temporarily until I went into the hospital and Col. Hunter came out to the plane and gave a few words of encouragement and thought that was pretty nice.
They put me in an ambulance to dress my wound and then off to the main hospital which was near Cambridge which was the large hospital there. They wheeled me in and there was a large hallway there and a double line of gurneys of people that had been wounded on the mission there. You had to take your turn and there were two operating rooms and they took two at a time. They sent a message to my parents that I had been seriously wounded and scared them to death and I wrote to them that I was going to be alright. I was pretty sick for 3-4 days in intensive care but I was going to be alright but really uncomfortable.
MG-R: So it was from the burn on your leg?
JH: So I was in the hospital for several weeks, I don’t know how long I was actually there. So the pilot came up one day and he said why you don’t see if you can’t get released to go back to the base hospital and they can dress your wound there and we finished our missions and maybe you’ll go home with us when we go home.
So I said ok and I talked to the doctor and he said alright I’ll release you and go back. So they released me to go back to the base hospital and they said I’m sorry no, you’ve got 11 more missions to fly that was not the policy. So I had 11 more missions to fly, and my crew was going home and I was staying and I was going to have to fly with another crew that I had never met and didn’t know any of them.
I was pretty low, and they put two new crews in my hut there and unbelievable both of them got killed. One crashed on takeoff and the other got shot down in Germany. So that was probably the lowest spot in my life, I was so low I was really depressed I didn’t know what to do. So I was assigned to another crew, Ernie Spitzer’s crew.
I didn’t know what happened to their bombardier, so anyway I was assigned to their crew. And the last 11 missions I flew were pretty rough missions. In fact I was on the November 21st mission to Mersberg and we were the 603rd squadron which was flying the high squadron that day and we bombed Mersberg and the weather was closing in on us and we got separated from the other two squadrons.
Well the German fighters were setting up above us and saw us separated from the group and they immediately attacked us. They shot us, they just slaughtered us. They took out the 50 caliber machine guns and put in 420 millimeter cannons in their planes and they came head on and attacked and they just went through our group, our squadron and we lost seven shot down that day over the target and one crew crash landed in Belgium I think or somewhere before they got back, and another crew finally made it back later that day but just three of us made it back, three planes, there and I was one of the lucky ones.
So then I had 34 missions, I had one more mission to fly and it came on the battle of the bulge and of course we had bad weather. We had to sit there in the planes every day, they got us up, we’d go out sit in the planes and we knew we weren’t going to fly the fog was so thick. And we’d sit there and sit there and finally they’d shoot a rocket saying the mission had been scrubbed.
And finally on December the 24th 1944 the same thing happened, only about noon the weather cleared up just enough so they said we could take off. So we did take off, the weather wasn’t good, but our ground troops were taking a terrible beating and we were losing the battle because they didn’t have any air support, and we came over and support the ground troops, dropped our bombs and came back over the Channel and we got the message over the radio that the base was socked in and to land in any field you can. So we picked out a field in northern England and we landed there.
We stayed there for several hours and called our base and they said it would be several hours before they could pick us up. So they picked us up, and it was late. I think we got back to our base around 1 o’clock in the morning. They took us in and got us some sandwiches they had us fixed up. Of course the next day was Christmas Day in 1944 and that’s when we had a wonderful meal, best meal we’ve had since we’d been in England.
It was wonderful as a Christmas present for me because I had finished my 35th mission and I was going home. I always remember that Christmas that year so we went back and it was sometime in the middle of January before I went home and just the opposite of course it was wintertime and we went on the ship and left in a storm and when we got out to the Atlantic, the waves were going over the boat and the doors were locked because they didn’t want us going out to the deck of course.
And seasick? Oh…. I was so seasick I didn’t care if I lived or died. After finishing all of my missions, I couldn’t get home. I said, let me die! I was so sick. They said you gotta eat! I can’t get my head off a pillow I was so sick. That lasted about 4-5 days and finally it cleared up enough. We were down in the lower deck, the upper deck was quite a few wounded, people that got the Purple Heart, and going back to the states.
In the hold of the ship, were German prisoners we were taking back to the United States. You can imagine how sick they were! Then they used some of them to wait tables. They were young, some of them looked like they were only 15-16 years old and at the end of the war the Germans were using any young man or woman they could get.
The rest of the trip was alright and I remember going into the New York harbor and passing the Statue of Liberty that was quite a thrill. We debarked in New York City and they took us to a base in New Jersey for a few days and then back to the base in St Louis and I was supposed to get 30 days leave there. And I met my girl, my best friend his sister, that I never dated, but I did take her to the senior prom the year I graduated. Well when I came back I started dating her on the 30 days I was home.
My parents lived in an apartment building and low and behold one Saturday morning they had a fire in the basement and it got in the walls and it destroyed the building. We lost everything. But being an officer, I had all of my orders, all of my military papers, they had given to me to take back, I was going to go to California on my 30 day leave and all of my orders burned up and I had to call to California and asked what to do. They said oh you’re kidding, and I said no I’m not kidding.
I lost all of my clothes, except what I had on. I had to go down and buy a toothbrush and comb and everything the next day and stayed in a hotel temporary for a while and so they said we’ll give you another 30 days leave so I had 60 days.
So in 60 days, I married my girl and we had a nice honeymoon in Santa Monica in California on the beach. The air force had taken over two hotels that were right on the beach and they were beautiful and we stayed there for a dollar a day and we got to tour Hollywood and it so happened that one of the ladies in our town was a higher up in the studio, and we took a tour of the studio and met some of the stars and that was a big thing in that day. Some of the fellows I had hung with lived in California and they came out and picked us up several times and went out to dinner and shows and that was a nice honeymoon.
And got sent to Santa Ana California, an airbase there but no airplanes, more of a distribution center. They called me up one day and I was to be sent to middle Texas, where I graduated earlier, to be trained on the B29 and sent to the south pacific.
I said, uh ok, and so it happened that my wife’s brother was a pilot in south Texas, and was a bombardier on training flights so we called him and said Martin, there’s rumors we will be coming down there for a while and so what they did about a week later they said come into the office we need to talk to you so I went in they said the Air Force has a new points system and you’ve got enough points to be discharged if you so desire or you can stay in, but if discharged we want you in the reserves. I said no I want out, I’ve had enough thank you I want to go home.
And so we did, and went back home and after time I went back to work, and back to school. Anyway I went to work for AC Spark Plug, which is a subsidiary for General Motors and of course during the war they made products for the war, they didn’t make spark plugs or anything like that then.
They wanted to introduce their new products, I was supposed to be traveling ¾ the state of Iowa and then I’d be home every weekend and then they decided to send me to Wisconsin and when I was going to go home they ‘d say we need to send you to North Dakota and we want you to go up there for a week. And after three weeks you’d get to go home for a week.
I stayed with them for about a year, and one of the fellows I go to church with here, he owns a bank and got me to go to work at the bank, finance I’ll take him up on it, so I went to work at the bank for a short time until I decided what to do, so I ended up staying 40 years and ended up being senior vice president and trust officer.
And I’ve been retired now 23 years, unfortunately my wife got Alzheimer’s, which is a terrible disease, and I took care of her at home for 3 years and my children said that’s enough and she was in a nursing home for three years before she passed away. I used to go to the nursing home every day at 3 o’clock and stay to feed her supper and stayed until they put her to bed every night. That went on for three years. I miss her terribly and haven’t gotten over it. It’s been 2 years now.
MG-R: So what did you think about England?
JH: Oh I enjoyed England, of course as soon as we got there we had to go to a pub or something. We were saying don’t you have any ice? We have to drink this? We had to find us something we could drink and enjoy. I enjoyed England. My navigator, John Allayer, he did a lot of traveling when we had time off and I wish I had spent more time with him and done more traveling and seen more of England than I did.
There was a real small town near Royston, I don’t remember the name, it was on the railroad there, my co-pilot and I would get on the train and go there on the days off and sit in the park. There weren’t many military people there, other than the planes flying over and you felt like you were away from the war. We’d sit there and kind of enjoy the day in the town which we liked very much. The 398th was based probably closest base to London. So I did enjoy going to London, we spent a lot of time in London. I enjoyed that very much.
MG-R: Did you do a lot of sightseeing when you went in?
JH: Oh yes. We did quite a bit of sightseeing. London was such a metropolitan, that’s where all the allied forces, you’d see every country there. There was one hotel where we’d get a drink and dining. It was quite a sight to see all of those people, all of the allied countries there. I enjoyed that very much.
MG-R: Did you interact with the English people much?
JH: No, not too much. I wish I’d done more, but we didn’t.
MG-R: What was it like in your barracks?
JH: Oh, pretty boring really. We played a lot of poker at night and we’d sit there and play poker. I don’t remember the pub, but of course we had an officer’s club there. If we wanted a drink or anything we could go over there.
One other thing, one of the fellows from my town that I played basketball and football with was stationed with the 91st BG which was on the other side of Royston and he invited me over there and it was a permanent RAF base at one time and they turned it over to the 91st BG and those were all brick buildings and had a fireplace in every room and I said, “boy what a luxury! We have Quonset huts where you get 6 feet away from the stove and you’re frozen. Boy, what a luxury this is!” So I’d meet him in town at the pub in Royston. I enjoyed that very much. The trip to Scotland was really nice. I really enjoyed the people of Scotland, real friendly.
MG-R: Where did you go in Scotland, do you remember?
JH: Uh, Edinburgh. And we stayed there. We did a little sightseeing there. There’s a castle right across from our hotel. We went up through the castle and did sightseeing things around there.
MG-R: And when you were there, do you remember the dances on base?
JH: Oh yes. The dances on base. They’d get a car load of girls and bring them on. Yeah, enjoyed that. I went to several dances there. It was good fun.
MG-R: So where in the plane did the bombardier sit?
JH: Right in the nose. The very nose. I was the first one over the target. Not much protection with the Plexiglas.
MG-R: And was the Plexiglas underneath as well?
JH: No, they had the guns right there. The turret there. I had two .50 cal machine guns.
MG-R: Do you remember shooting them?
JH: Oh yeah. I fired them but I don’t think I hit anything. Especially on the November 21st where the fighters attacked us head-on. They went by so close, you could see their faces. That was a day to remember. Terrible day. That was the biggest loss the 398th had on one mission.
MG-R: Tell me about your crew members.
JH: Well, uh, unfortunately they’re all deceased now I think. The only one I know that was alive was the ball turret gunner. My pilot was Harry Sleaman, he lived in Baltimore, MD. He stayed in the service, he went to Vietnam or Korea, I can’t remember which.
John Allare was the navigator. He did come to several reunions, so I spent some time with him. He was quite a tennis player, he liked to play tennis. He retired in Florida and one day he called me and said he got to play tennis with Ted Williams, the baseball player. The famous baseball player played tennis with him there. But unfortunately one day he came back, and laid down after playing tennis and had a heart attack and died.
Our co-pilot, Sonny Waring, lived in Knoxville, TN and he and his wife were out in the backyard and he just died of a heart attack. He died at a younger age, a real young age. And I had spent quite a bit of time with Sonny when we were in England. We spent a lot of time together. I really enjoyed his company. Sorry to hear that.
Harry Sleaman also had heart trouble. He and his wife both had heart trouble. They died several years ago, so I was the only officer left on the crew. Ellwood Davis was the oldest member of our crew; he was 10 years older than anyone else. He lived in San Diego CA, did a lot of hunting, fishing and kept himself in good shape and he did come to several reunions. And he just died here, oh in the last year and a half or so. He lived a long life. He did a lot of hunting so it paid off. He did a lot of walking through the mountains. We stayed in contact.
When the 8th AF had reunions, which they still do, at the time the groups didn’t have reunions, just the 8th AF, and the first one we went to was in Washington DC, it was around 1978, I think, and the Sleaman’s lived just outside of Washington DC they were there, and I think I was the only one besides the Sleaman’s that were there and the following year the 8th AF had a reunion in Houston Texas, and quite a few of our crew were there.
All the officers, except Sonny, he died, the rest of us three officers were there. Elwood Davis was there, Kling was there. We lost contact with the radioman, Gennaro Iorjo. He was in Brooklyn NY or something. The pilot looked in the records and files and never did locate him. And of course we lost our tail-gunner. He broke his ankle, he never did fly with us again. We had another tail gunner with us.
And when we got to England, they had 10 men crews, and had two waist gunners. They were losing too many men, and decided one waist gunner for both sides because they were only going to attack one side. So we went to one waist gunner and the crew went down to 9. Of course when we first went over there they were flying 18 plane squadrons and once again in order to cut the losses down they went down to 12. So we started flying with 12 planes instead of 18 of the squadron which cut their losses considerably.
So the only one left I know, the last I know is our ball turret gunner Vern Kling and I talked to him a few months ago, and the last Flak News I saw his wife had a change of address so I don’t know whether he passed away or they got divorced or something. So I’ll have to contact him when I get home to see if he’s still living, I don’t know.
MG-R: Did you carry good luck items with you?
JH: No. No, I’m superstitious but I didn’t have any items I carried with me.
MG-R: So, have you been back over to Nuthampstead?
JH: Yes, in 1986 we went up there. We had a really good trip to London, Cambridge and spent a little time with the people there and had a wonderful party, had a big party out there, had a dance and had a great experience there. And then we went to France, to the beaches of Normandy which was really interesting. And of course, we had to go to one of the small towns we used to go to.
We knew we were coming there and they knew and they invited us there and it was a holiday there that day we were there and the people of the small town were coming out of the church service that day and they met us at the city hall and they had wine and a great big table and they really treated us well, I had a wonderful time. It was a great experience.
And from there we went into Paris, and I wish we had more time. We did a lot of traveling, but the one day that we were there, we were with a couple other crew members, and we did a lot of sightseeing in one day and traveled a lot of ground. It was a wonderful day, I wish we’d had more time in Paris. We got to see quite a bit, and enjoyed it very much. That’s the only time I’ve been back there.
MG-R: Have you been in a ’17 [B17] since?
JH: Ah, yes, I’ve been. I haven’t flown in a 17 but there’s of course Aluminum Overcast comes lots of times to Des Moines Iowa. Of course we have an international airport there in Des Moines. There were so many years they’ve come down there.
There’s another one, Collings, Collings Foundation, east coast has one [Nine-O-Nine] that has flown their B17 down to Des Moines not too long ago. I didn’t go this year, but there’s one every year and usually I go down and you go through them and uh visit them. So several times I’ve seen a B17, have been in it. My son had a nice experience, he lived in New Hampshire and one time they were on the coast in Massachusetts somewhere and vacation during the summer and one Sunday morning they went down to get a newspaper and in the field there was this B17 in the field.
He couldn’t believe it and he went over there and the plane from the Collings Foundation was there and they were giving rides and he took a ride on the B17, so he did get to ride in the B17, got to sit up there where the bombardier sits, and he enjoyed that.
MG-R: Did the plane seem different to you than when you were in the war?
JH: Well, yes. I mean there was no bombs. And no machine guns. And no shells or anything like that. I remember the first time I flew commercially, I thought that it was nice to get into a plane and not get shot at. I had to keep looking for fighter planes.
MG-R: That’s true.
JH: I did several reunions and I enjoyed them very much. I miss so many of the pals. I got to be chairman for several years, news chairman. I enjoyed that very much. I got to hear from all the people. I enjoyed it very much. I’m glad Dawne, Dawne’s doing a nice job. I had a nice visit with her today.
MG-R: Oh, cool. Alright, do you have anything else?
JH: No, I enjoyed it very much. I had a nice time. I really enjoyed the trip to the Air Force Academy yesterday that was really interesting. It was a great day. Enjoyed that very much. And the fly over. That was exciting. Got to see the 4,000 cadets march, that’s really impressive.
And while we were there, another bus load of people came up and they got out and I’ve never seen so many Colonels in all my life. They’re all Colonels. They got out, there was a busload. They just kept coming out. And a lot of them had ribbons, 4 rows of ribbons on them and finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and I turned to one of them and I asked what group are you with and he said that there is a football game here tomorrow, BYU is playing Saturday which is the AF is playing them today.
And whenever they have a football game they have a class reunion and this was the 20th class reunion and they were back for that and I’ve never seen so many – I saw more Colonels than I did in WWII. In just an hour and a half. I’ve never seen so many. There were several and some had been cadets in the service but they were back for the reunion. And he explained, I was standing beside one of the corps was marching and he explained to me what reason they’re doing this and all that, which was interesting.
MG-R: Good, well I think we’re about finished, but I wanted to thank you for your service during WWII, I mean, you know we wouldn’t have made it without you guys. Well I thank you for that.
JH: I enjoyed it. And thank you.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 1:01:54]
- "The 6th Mission" by James R. Haas, Bombardier 603rd Squadron. An account of his 6 July 1944 mission.
- Sleaman's Crash at Kent - 6 July 1944
- Sleaman's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 19 July 1944
- Spitzer's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 2 November 1944
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. James R. Haas was the Bombardier on Harry J. Sleaman's 603rd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by David F. Shank and his son, James D. Shank, September 10, 2014. David is Harry Sleaman's son-in-law and 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 [ ].