World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Joe Joseph, 398th Bomb Group Engineer/Gunner
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Randy Stange
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
The Radisson Hotel, Covington, KY., September 9, 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.
Joe Joseph, 398th Bomb Group Engineer/Gunner
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Q: Interviewer, Randy Stange
JJ: 398th Engineer/Gunner, Joe Joseph
Q: You are not a member of the EEA?
Q: But you are a member of the 398th Bomb Group?
Q: And the 8th Air Force Historical Society?
JJ: 8th Air Force Historical Society
Q: You served in the Army Air Corp
JJ: U.S. Army Air Corp
Q: First of all what rank did you start out as and what rank did you obtain?
JJ: Well after I finished schooling and everything, I started out as a Sergeant, then to Staff Sergeant, then a Tech Sergeant.
Q: Where did you enter the service?
JJ: At Scott Field in Belleville, Illinois in January of 1942
Q: Where were you born and raised?
JJ: Bloomington, Illinois
Q: Do you have any siblings?
JJ: Yes, have 2 wonderful daughters [Q: siblings, sisters brothers] Oh. I have 1 brother and 4 sisters.
Q: What did your parents do while you were growing up?
JJ: Worked. Had to work; it was during the depression. Absolutely.
Q: What did they do?
JJ: My dad was a truck driver and my mother worked at a grocery store.
Q: Did you have any interest in aviation prior to joining the Army?
JJ: Not really. I had an interest in mechanics.
Q: I’m assuming you were going to school prior to the war.
JJ: Yes. Going to high school.
Q: What do you remember about Pearl Harbor? December 7, 1941?
JJ: December 7, 1941, I was filling a Rolls Royce owned by a doctor, dentist from Chicago, Illinois, when it came over the radio. I know I stopped putting gas in that car and listened. Franklin Roosevelt gave the address at that time and the dastardly attack really impressed me.
Q: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
JJ: I enlisted
Q: You were still living in Bloomington at the time?
JJ: At that time yes.
Q: Is there a particular reason you joined?
JJ: No. I graduated from high school January 12th. And yes, there was an urge. I am not sure I knew well enough what it meant to the country or anything but it didn’t take long.
Q: Is there any particular reason you chose the Army or did you request the Air Corp?
JJ: I wanted to fly.
Q: Do you remember your first days in service?
Q: What did that feel like?
JJ: How regimented it was. How disciplined it was.
Q: Is there any training experience that you recall?
JJ: Oh sure, my first ride. My first ride in a B-17
Q: Can you describe it and how you felt?
JJ: Kind of woozy in the stomach because we rode in the waist. I first went to gunner school before I went to mechanic school.
Q: Where did you go to gunnery school?
JJ: Las Vegas, Nevada
Q: How about mechanic school?
JJ: Down at Shepherd Field in Texas
Q: Do you remember any of the instructors?
JJ: No, not now. That was over 60 years ago.
Q: When you were shipped overseas, where did you go first?
JJ: Went to England in June, 1942 with the 97th Bomb Group, then in October, 1942 transferred to Africa forming the 12th Air Force. Then after I finished my missions, I came back to the United States and instructed at Kingman Army Air Field. Finally got a little bored with political football that was going on and asked to rejoin an active unit. That is when we went to Gulfport, Mississippi, Gulfport Army Airfield, formed another crew; flew transition for two and a half months. Then flew back to England.
Q: What do you recall about your first arrival in England? What time of year was it?
JJ: It was in June. The weather really wasn’t that bad. The thing that impressed me the most was the British and their cooperativeness and how they tried to help train and what it meant for daylight bombing.
Q: How about when you went to Africa?
JJ: That was a mess. We landed at Tafaraoui right outside of Oran. They had steel mat runways we landed on. That night we had a bombing raid and the Germans dropped steel spikes in there. We stayed there long enough to fly a couple of bombing missions over a place called Bizerte which was highly defended and very ugly. Then we moved down to Biskra, right at the edge of the Sahara desert. Then we started flying.
Q: Was that in B-17’s also?
JJ: B-17 E’s and F’s
Q: What was it like to fly or maintain the B-17’s?
JJ: It’s fortunate you were young. We refueled out of 5 gallon cans. We didn’t have pumps or tanker trucks or anything like that.
Q: 5 gallon or 55 gallon?
JJ: 5 gallon cans which were hoisted up on the wing and they carry about 3,700 gallons so it was a chore. [Q: I would imagine]
Q: You had just said you had seen combat, how many missions did you fly in Africa?
Q: Were there casualties in your unit?
JJ: Oh yes
Q: Were you wounded?
JJ: I was wounded over Palermo, Sicily in May of 1943
Q: What was your most memorable or harrowing experience while you were in the African Campaign?
JJ: Shooting down German fighters. I had two.
Q: How about when you went to England the second time?
JJ: It hadn’t changed much. During that time, the weather was bad because that was in December of 1944.
Q: As most people have said that year was one of the worst winters Europe ever experienced. At least you didn’t have to load them with 5 gallon cans there.
JJ: No you had all that done for you then.
Q: What missions do you remember in England with the 398th?
JJ: There are quite a few. Flew (26) missions with the 398th. Kassel, Cologne. We had 3 missions to Berlin, but by that time the Air Force had control of the sky pretty much. And the thing that concerned me most was that flying 57 missions strategic bombing with the bomb site, visual bombing. You never bombed like we did when we got back over, we did what was called mass bombing. There was that sense of urgency to bring the war to an end. I had problems coping with that for a while. But you did it.
Q: Were you wounded again in the European Theatre?
Q: Any of your crew members?
JJ: No, we were very fortunate. A lot of flak holes but no wounds.
Q: Medals and Citations. Did you get any for your wounding?
JJ: Yes, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Soldier’s Medal because in February of 1943 we crashed on takeoff in Africa. The left waist gunner and myself pulled the radio operator out from underneath. We were both given Soldier’s Medal for that. Then for being hit over Italy when we were bombing, the waist oxygen lines were all shot up so I had to walk around with masks (walk around bottles of O2) and help both of the lads that were in trouble and was given the DFC. [Distinguished Flying Cross]
Q: How was life in Africa?
JJ: Sand, sand and more sand. The engines didn’t like it.
Q: Did you stay in touch with your family and friends while you were in Africa?
JJ: Yes, I wrote home quite a bit. Sent my money home. There was no place there to spend it so sent it home. Most of it was in U. S. Savings bonds; most of the guys did that.
Q: Did you have plenty of supplies and food other than no fuel pumps?
JJ: No, if you like tomatoes, wieners, and everything mixed up for breakfast on any of the mornings and everything that is what you got. In Biskra we slept in fox holes right outside of our pup tent so when you got ready to line up for food before the mission there were 187 different ways to prepare wieners and spam.
Q: I imagine it was pretty stressful in Africa.
JJ: Well, you were young enough. The stress.. you were afraid, concerned, and I guess sometimes worried too, really. But you were young enough that you didn’t really let that bother you too much.
Q: Did you do anything for good luck? Carry anything?
JJ: I don’t remember that I ever did. I had the Bible that they gave me, the little pocket Bible was given to each soldier. I looked at that quite frequently.
Q: How did the soldiers entertain themselves? What did you do for entertainment?
JJ: Played cards and then when we had a down period, which was pretty infrequent but usually it might be for a couple of days. We would go into Constantine, Africa, but it wasn’t much fun.
Q: There wasn’t USO or entertainers or anything of that nature?
JJ: No. We did have though. Bob Hope did come down to Africa one time. Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair. I was caught up in an embarrassing situation when we had just landed from the mission and I had problems with my kidneys. When you do it, you do it right up on the wing. The truck rolled up and said “Hi boys”. It became rather embarrassing however they took it like troopers so I did too.
Q: Did you guys pull any pranks while you were down there?
JJ: No. You didn’t have time for that.
Q: What did you think of your officers and soldiers at that particular time?
JJ: Great men. One thing in particular that always impressed me more than anything else. We slept in 10 man tents. The crew slept in one tent, and that really developed camaraderie. Just something you missed all the rest of the days of your life. There was just something there. There was a bond established between these 10 guys that knew human frailty wasn’t going to be a part of it. Everybody had to do their job. So you grew quite close. [Q:I imagine]
Q: Earlier you and I had been talking and you relayed a story about the B26’s and General Doolittle . Would you mind repeating that?
JJ: These young lads were having trouble.. the B26’s was a hot aircraft. Kind of like a bumble bee. It had short stubby wings and so forth. When you first saw it you look at it and wonder if it really wasn’t meant to fly. So the lads were having quite a bit of trouble, specifically up at Boné Airfield. We picked it up when we would come back from a long mission, we would have to stop and refuel. We understood and you could see that there were B26’s that had crashed in the landing pattern because of an engine failure on takeoff. General Doolittle was commanding General of the 12th air force at that particular time and a great flyer and a great teacher. He came down and spent about a week and a half with these young lads and he straightened it up. He gave them some real hard learning patterns to follow, like feathering an engine shortly after takeoff. He made good fliers out of them.
Q: How about when you went to England the second time? I assume the food and the accommodations were a little bit better.
JJ: Yes, we had showers. You had pretty good food. [Q: Just wanted a little bit more heat then]. Yes, then when we were down, which occurred more frequently than my first tour because of the weather. So, we would go down to Roysten and pick up the train and go into London. It was good because the British were very, very close.
Q: What kind of entertainment did you see in London?
JJ: That is very simple. Every G.I. that ever went into the London area had to visit Piccadilly Circus and the American bar that was on the corner. I dare say that Navy, Marines, Army, certainly Air Force all went right into Piccadilly.
Q: Did you stay in any of the hotels for flak leave or anything of that nature?
Q: What about entertainers? I know Glenn Miller visited the base, was that before?
JJ: That was before; we joined them December 12, 1944 as a replacement crew and started flying very quickly. Then our last mission was April 25, 1945 over Pilsen and shortly thereafter the war was over. So we spent about a week and a half flying in picking up prisoners of war and coming back. Our crew was selected to do that.
Q: Were you on the mission to Barth to pick up POW’s in Barth?
Q: Do you recall anything about that mission?
JJ: Yes, though we didn’t spend much time. We kept the engines idling and loaded as quickly as possible. I think the thing that impressed me most and taught me more about sharing was when we picked those lads up and start flying back; the mess sergeant had prepared us box lunches to take with us and there were a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches in there. At altitude they kind of dried out. So most generally we wouldn’t eat them but on that particular day with lads that were thin and everything else. We had 4 boxes and we took and distributed those in the bomb bay where we had some plywood where we took some of the lads and certainly in the waist. All you had to do was to look and you saw very quickly how they got through the years of being a prisoner of war. How they treated each other; how they shared with each other. That probably impressed me more than anything else, really.
Q: Did you like the officers and soldiers you served with?
JJ: Absolutely. I never met a bad one.
Q: You were discharged from McDill Field?
JJ: No, when the war was over in Europe and the 398th came back, we stayed. There were 8 ships that came back together after the prisoners of war transfer. We then flew in to drop the planes off at Miles Stanish then took the trains down to McDill. The entire crew. At that point, I wanted to go to the South Pacific on B29’s and everything came to a status quo. We knew something big was coming though it didn’t take long; the bomb was dropped on August 6th. Everything was frozen. All leaves canceled. A lot of us were turned into M.P.’s and went on patrol.
Q: What did you feel about the atomic bombs?
JJ: Had to be done; just simply had to be done. Saved many, many, many lives.
Q: Did you spend any time in Drew Field with the 398th or were you discharged shortly thereafter?
JJ: I had so many points by that time, after physical exams, blood pressure revealed that I probably had blood pressure of a 60 year old man here I am only 23/24 years old. So I was told really, that I had more points than I would ever use so I should leave.
Q: Did you go back to work or did you go back to school?
JJ: I went back to school
Q: Did you use the G-I Bill?
Q: Where did you end up going to school and what did you do?
JJ: Always wanted to be a doctor, but all during the war and at the end of the war, the buzzword became engineering. We need more technicians and so forth. I changed my mind right there because I had a mechanical aptitude in high school and became an automobile engineer. When I got ready to go I went to the University of Illinois and majored in mechanical engineering and graduated in 3 years. Started to work for General Motors.
Q: You spoke earlier about the bond between your comrades in arms and your crew, did you continue any of those friendships after the war?
JJ: With the crew specifically? Absolutely
Q: To this day?
JJ: Oh yes, those that are living, to this day. That will never change. That will continue until we all leave.
Q: Did your experience in the military influence your thinking about the war, about the military in general?
JJ: Not really. All it did was make me realize that we, number 1, had to do what we did. Number 2, what was coming in later years about the span of time and the shortness and how we became international peoples now versus isolationist and all that kind of thing. The military has to be there, because the indifferences we have with other countries and so forth and they don’t completely agree with philosophy of the American people. It is very, very true, so we need it.
Q: Can you tell me what veteran organizations you belong to
JJ: I belong to the American Legion, VFW, and 398th reunion association, 97th , as life members of both. The 8th Air Force Historical Society.
Q: I am assuming you attend most of the reunions?
JJ: Whenever I can.
Q: Is there anything your service and your experiences have had on your life other than what you have previously discussed?
JJ: No. I think most of the GI’s that came back, had one idea, get on with their life; get educated if at all possible. Get a job, raise a family; give the family every opportunity. It’s a little bit different when you’re in the 30’s when you really had to work hard for a living and to put food on the table. I think the attitude most people of that era came out with... we don’t want our children or grandchildren ever have to go through this. I am certain that is the feeling most of them had.
Q: Is there anything else you can think of or might want to add?
JJ: No. It was just a great experience. 5 years out of a fellows life, it was just a great experience made a better person out of us and I’m sure a lot of fellows will say that.
Q: Thank you Joe for your time and service
- Moy's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Fall 1944
- Moy's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 21 March 1945
- Joe Joseph and the Miracle Hit by Joe Joseph
- A Flight Never to be Forgotten by Newell (Newt) Moy, Pilot, 603rd Squadron
- Newt Moy, 398th Pilot, 603rd Squadron Video Interview (1hr 27m 25s)
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Joe Joseph was the Engineer/Gunner on Newt Moy's 603rd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Amy Goll, daughter of Frank Henning, 600th Squadron in June 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 [ ].