World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project

Interview with

Clarence King, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force

Interviewer: Marilyn-Gibb Rice

Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Livonia, MI., September 2006


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.


Interview with

Clarence King, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force

MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
CK: 398th Pilot, Clarence King

MGR: My name is Marilyn Gibb-Rice and we are at the 398th Bomb Group Reunion in Lavonia, Michigan, September 2006. I’d like for you to state your name and tell us about yourself.

CK: My name is Clarence King. I was born in Grays Station, Tennessee. My folks moved to Detroit when I was four years old. Later, we moved to Leonard, Michigan where I was living when war was declared.

I had learned to fly and I went down to try to enlist in the Air Force. I was 4F, didn’t pass the physical. I made the writtens alright, but I couldn’t pass the physical I asked about it, if I could have the condition corrected. They said, “Well, you can have an operation, wait six months, and if you pass the physical, you’re in.”

So, I had the operation. Changed my whole life. I met a nurse in the training hospital for the operation; my wife was a student nurse there. So, I met her and when I got my commission, we got married.

I was sent to join a group in Rapid City, the 398th. Went overseas with them. Flew thirty-three missions. Actually, nothing eventful happened there, I can say. I had some humorous things. There were that. But, missions weren’t bad.

I came home from Rapid City. I was assigned Memphis, Tennessee, ferrying airplanes around the United States. I did that until I got my discharge.

MGR: So, how old were you when you joined the Air Force? How old were you when you joined the Air Force?

CK: I was, let’s see that was in ’43, so I was probably twenty-two when I joined the Air Force.

MGR: And you already knew how to fly?

CK: Um-hm. In fact, there was a group of us that worked for Chrysler Corporation and we were all interested in flying. We’d talk about it so we bought an airplane. Formed a club and bought an airplane. We figured we needed ten members. Well, there was only five of us that worked at Chrysler so we had a doctor, a newspaper reporter, a lawyer, and I don’t remember what the other two were, but they were businessmen.

They made more money than we did in the factory so when we got the airplane paid for, they wanted to buy a bigger, faster airplane. Either buy a four-place or get just a faster two-place. We felt that we couldn’t afford to do that. We wanted relief from payments. Every meeting, we would have at a club, which was once a month, it would come up and be the same thing, five for and five against. So, the president said, “Well, the only thing is we are never going to solve this. I think the thing to do is sell the airplane, dissolve the club.”

We did that. We sold the airplane on Friday, divided the money out, and Sunday was Pearl Harbor.

MGR: Wow.

CK: So, I went down and tried to enlist in the Air Force. Flunked the physical.

MGR: Yeah. So, you were a pilot?

CK: Yes.

MGR: Yeah, so tell me about . . .

CK: I was a co-pilot on Captain Jim Davidson’s crew and he got a desk job and I kind of floated. I didn’t have a regular pilot. A couple of missions I flew as an instructor pilot with new crews.

When I got thirty-three missions in and I don’t know why I got thirty-three missions in. Most people only put in twenty-eight.

MGR: Well, some did thirty-five, too, though, yeah.

CK: [Laughs]

MGR: Can you tell me about your pilot training?

CK: Well, went to Ballinger, Texas for Primary. Of course, we were down in San Antonio for Pre-Flight Training, all the buck work and stuff like that that we went through. Went to Ballinger, Texas for Pre-Flight Training, flew single engine, low wing airplanes. Went from there to Goodfellow Field that was at San Angelo, Texas and from there went to Lubbock, Texas for Twin Engine Training.

When we graduated from there, we were given a leave and then assigned to a base when we came back from our leave, which was Rapid City, for 398th Bomb Group.

MGR: Was that the first time you flew the B17?

CK: The first time I was in one, yes.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: I had seen them.

MGR: And, how was it different from flying the two engine things?

CK: It was flying [laughs].

MGR: It was flying. There wasn’t much difference?

CK: There’s not that much difference in flying.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: You got the basics and maybe a little heavier on the controls, you know, your bigger airplane. You don’t think about movements of the controls when you are flying; you think about putting pressure on them.

MGR: Oh, right.

CK: You actually move them some. That isn’t the way you think. You put a little pressure on. Right foot, left foot, turn your hand . . .

MGR: Yeah.

CK . . . pull back or push forward.

MGR: Right.

CK: So, it doesn’t really make any difference what you are flying; you just put enough pressure on it to get results you want.

MGR: Sounds good. So, did you become a pilot?

CK: When did I become a pilot?

MGR: Um-hm.

CK: Well, I hadn’t got my private license yet when the war had come. I was still building up time to get a private license. I was just a student pilot then. But, I had to go through the training as though I hadn’t had any.

I graduated in the Class of 44-A. I should have been out in 43-K but I got an ear infection and spent a couple weeks in a hospital. While I was there, the doctors loved to practice, you know. So, they took my tonsils out and I had a deviated septum where I had had a broken nose at one time and they straightened that up. And so, I spent a couple, three weeks in the hospital and I got put back a month graduating.

MGR: So, when did you fly to England? When did you arrive in England?

CK: I beg your pardon?

MGR: When did you arrive in England?

CK: In England, I do not remember. It was in May, sometime [It was probably the end of April or early May 1944], or the last of July, whenever the group got over. I went over with the group. We flew over.

In fact, we were one of the last planes to get there. I remember when we were leaving to get over, it was discovered that the wing on our airplane was damaged. They thought it was sabotaged, but we don’t know. They had to replace the wing. So, it took them about a week to get that done. So, we were one of the last planes of the group to get there in the original group.

But, every plane flew over alone; we didn’t fly over in formation. Every plane went alone.

MGR: Right. So, what was your first impression of the country?

CK: Of England? I liked it. I was a farm boy and we were out in the country and I got along good with the people. Captain [James G.] Davidson was Squadron Commander [though not initially] and because of his position in the crew, we were supposed to be first in any briefing or anything. Because of that, I had a bicycle to ride and I rode all over England, within close distance. When I wasn’t on duty, I was riding that bicycle around England.

MGR: Oh, that was good.

CK: I liked the people. I got along well with them. Liked the country. My mother was English to begin with.

MGR: Oh, that was good, yeah. So, can you tell us about your first mission?

CK: I can’t remember a thing about it.

MGR: No?

CK: Don’t know where we did or what.

MGR: Well, can you tell us about just a mission? An average mission, what it was like?

CK: Actually, they were kind of boring.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: When we first started, we had the fighters attacking us. Then our planes got air supremacy so we didn’t see fighters anymore so I had to worry about was flak, anti-aircraft fire, or make sure we didn’t have a midair collision of our own planes, you know, which happened once and a while.

MGR: Um-hm.

CK: But we did come home with three engines a few times which was no big feat. In fact, we went on a few missions with three.

MGR: Can you describe your feelings during a mission?

CK: Sitting there, waiting for something to happen. Had one mission that we flew thirty-six ship groups. We flew different sizes but that time we was flying thirty-six ship groups. A group of another base ahead of us flew into a box barrage. A box barrage is where they have all these anti-aircraft guns and one of them is aimed at a different spot in the sky and it forms a box and they all shoot at the same time. Not very effective.

But, the group ahead of us pulled in the box just to sight-fire it and it knocked them all out of formation and we were the next ones around. I squatted down in the seat a little lower and said, “Oh boy, it’s in Your hands now!”

MGR: Yeah.

CK: I am not much for religion-type prayers; I talked to Him man-to-man in places when I need to [chuckles].

MGR: So, did you ever get shot down?

CK: No.

MGR: And, did you ever have to bailout?

CK: No.

MGR: No.

CK: We always brought the airplane home. We never had that much trouble. Maybe an engine out and one partial, I think, was the worst. We had turbo chargers for flying at altitudes. Sometimes one of them would blow a coupling and then you wouldn’t have turbo charges, so I would say one and a half. At altitude, you only develop half a par. Then you’d have another engine out. But they flew real good that way.

When we were going through Flight Training, this was fairly new to train a bunch of pilots, so they took some of us students that were just starting, and they flew us to Kelly Field, Texas once a week and we went through a whole bunch of tests that psychologists were dreaming of.

They wanted to find out if any of these tests would help them select people that would make pilots and then they followed our career through. I don’t know what they found out about it or anything but some of them were dexterity tests, some were mental, some were combinations. But they just dream up the test and when we went down, we’d have a whole bunch of us and we’d take it and next week, next month, be back again.

MGR: Did you parents approve of you serving in the military?

CK: It was my life to live. My parents thought they brought me up right, told me what was right and wrong. Then I had to do my own steering my life through.

MGR: Um-hm.

CK: I think they were all proud that I went in the Air Force, and that I made it, but no comments were made one way or the other.

MGR: Yeah. And you got married before you went over?

CK: I got married as soon as I met my wife in the hospital so I could get in and you couldn’t get married while you going through Flight Training. You couldn’t be married even and not be a 1st Lieutenant when you graduated. They had some married people who had been married for a while when they went in and they were Flight Officers; they were not Lieutenants, 2nd Lieutenants, not 1st, 2nd Lieutenant.

But when I went home on leave, we got married. Then she went on to Rapid City, South Dakota, where I was based and stayed there when we went overseas. Then she went back to Detroit and waited.

MGR: Til you got back? So, when did you get out? Do you remember when you got out?

CK: I do not remember the exact time. I came home from overseas and I got to Detroit on my birthday, September the 29th [probably September 29, 1944]. I can remember that. But when I actually got out - - then I went to ferrying airplanes. I would go to the east coast to pick them up. Sometimes Florida, sometimes another base and take them to storage fields. Sometimes in Arkansas, sometimes in Tennessee. Different places, you know, where they would have just a field full of airplanes and I would take a bus back down to Memphis, where I was based and once and a while a group of us went to the same place. They’d fly an airplane up to pick us up and take us down.

But that was - - It was later. When I first got out, I went to Instruction. I instructed one class of cadets in flying instruments in twin engine airplanes and then I went to ferrying airplanes.

MGR: So, how long did you stay in the Air Force?

CK: I don’t even remember when I got out, now. Probably got something on record but I don’t remember when I got out. I know I was in the Air Force when the Germans surrendered. I was in Memphis, Tennessee. Wife and I was walking down the street in Memphis, Tennessee when they announced it. Everybody started jumping up and down, yelling and singing.

MGR: I would imagine so. Tell us about your crew members, the rest of the guys in your crew.

CK: My crew members. Well, Captain [James G.] Davidson was the first pilot and we lost touch of him when we got out. In fact, I lost touch with most all the crew members. I have tried to get in touch with them and I haven’t.

I was a co-pilot and [2nd Lieutenant] Henry Timbrook was a navigator and his father had an iron foundry in Indiana. He was married to a very beautiful woman. He got written up in one of these magazines where they have pretty women on the outside and the title of the article was ‘It’s Hell to be Married to a Beautiful Woman’. He was a great golfer; he loved to golf. He said, “I can sink a thirty-five foot putt and did anybody congratulate me? Hell no! Everybody was looking at my wife!”

[2nd Lieutenant Eugene L.] Stephens was a bombardier and he was in a hotel in London that got hit by a buzz bomb. You know how they work. They flew a line to run on fuel and then they come down and wherever they hit, they hit. Now, he was by the window, packing up, and the window shuttered from the glass and cut his face and eyes up. He wrote me a letter one time, like a kid learning to write, he was printing in the letters that was two inches high.

MGR: Um-hm.

CK: But, I lost touch with him. Well, let’s see. Four of us officers, I can’t think of what Whitey’s last name was, he was the engineer [Sgt. Virgil J. Bryan].

When we first went into combat, we had a lot of German fighters that attacked us. They would come out ahead of the formation and fly towards us and then they’d do a slow roll while they were firing all their guns and cannons. They weren’t aiming at anybody, they were just putting stuff up in the air that we would fly into that would maybe damage the airplane.

Then after our pilots got air supremacy where we wouldn’t see any Germans hardly. But, before they would get the air supremacy, it would make a difference who was escorting us. If the 47 [P-47], and they were all good airplanes now, but the 47 was like driving a truck compared to a racing car, a P-51. A 47 would be out to one side and the Germans would be hitting us from the other side. They had come through the formation and they would be out there and they would drop their belly tank. To get the range, they had to have a big tank on the belly of the airplane full of gas. They’d drop that, then they would warm up their guns and then they would come through our formations to get through the German fighters. If you had the P-51’s out there, the fighters hit us, turn towards our formations and while I was coming through it, they would be dropping their belly tanks and warming up their guns. Now, if you had the P-38’s out there, you never saw no Germans; they stayed away from them.

MGR: They were good, little friends weren’t they?

CK: What’s that?

MGR: They were good, little friends to you.

CK: Well, they could maneuver better. The airplane because of the way the propeller turns; it could turn one way better than it can turn the other way. A P-38 had two propellers counter-rotating so it doesn’t matter which way they had to turn, they could turn equally sharp.

MGR: Right.

CK: So, they were more maneuverable so they didn’t tangle with them.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: I think we got a few bullet holes once and a while, but nothing dangerous. Most of our engine-out situations we had was from flak. A piece of flak would go through the oil cooler and all the oil would leak out. So, usually I caught it before it happened. In fact, always I caught it before it ever happened. That was my job to monitor things like that. I would catch it and feather that engine and we’d bring the engine home. All I had to do was put a new oil cooler in.

Got a few holes from flak in the wings, tail. On one mission one time, we had a great big metal hit the mouth where the machine gun went through the waist. The waist machine gun went through the airplane window, solid steel. We had a great big gash from that; it was a heck of a big piece of flak that hit that.

I guess that was about all the experiences in combat.

MGR: What about the one . . . ?

CK: Let me tell you about the one time we were flying thirty-six ship groups and the group ahead of us flew into a box barrage, which is not usually very effective. But that one was timed exactly right and they flew into that and every ship got backed out of formation. Maybe they all made it home but they couldn’t maintain formation anymore. But, we were right behind them. I sat a little down lower down in the seat and I said a little, short prayer and it was, “Oh boy, I am in Your hands now.” But, we didn’t get a hit, didn’t get a hit.

MGR: And the one time you were taking off?

CK: Yeah, that was on a mission with a new replacement pilot, Keith - - maybe I shouldn’t mention his name. But we were taking off and he hadn’t checked his rudder trim tab and I was monitoring the instruments as a co-pilot and I heard him say, “Help me!” and all I could see was green grass. I thought we had run out of runway because of the load and I hit third flaps to jump us up in the air.

But, then I noticed that the airplane was banked real steep; we was making a sharp turn. So, I got right on the rudder with him and between the two of us we got it straightened out and then we started to find out what was wrong.

We thought maybe, you know, when you are on a bomb run, the bomb sight steers the airplane through the automatic pilot and we thought maybe they were engaged. We called them up and they were both shut off, disengaged, so it wasn’t that. So then we started hunting and we finding that trim tab cranked all the way over to one side. But, nobody got hurt, maybe got a little bit nervous for a few minutes.

MGR: I would think so. So, let’s go back, just a little bit, to your training in San Antonio. What do remember about your training there?

CK: Well, when we were at San Antonio that was all ground school. That and physical conditioning and you had to study courses in math, and different things, you know. It was pretty strict and the physical conditioning, we ran five miles every morning, before breakfast, every day.

MGR: Yeah. Were you there in the summer, when it was really hot?

CK: Well, it’s really hot in San Antonio in the winter time! [Laughs]

MGR: So, it was hot. Alright, were you there on the D-day? Did you fly on


CK: I flew on D-day, one mission. We were supposed to fly two different groups.

MGR: Right.

CK: We flew the first one and the troops were advancing so fast, they cancelled the second one.

MGR: Oh, okay.

CK: I was on one mission [25 July 1944], I don’t know if that was the one. But our airplanes, not our group, but the B-25s that were ahead of our group, dropped bombs on our troops and killed General [Lesley James] McNair. That was kind of a newsworthy item when he killed by our own bombs.

MGR: Um-hm.

CK: I was monitoring the radio when I heard that. They were screaming, “Pull up! You’re dropping short!” But we hadn’t even gotten close to the target area. I don’t know if it - - if I remember right, we were supposed to drop on smoke signals and the Germans might have got smart. I don’t know, I am guessing that they set smoke signals back a few miles and when planes come up on them, they starting dropping on that. Well, I don’t know.

MGR: What do you remember about the invasion?

CK: The invasion?

MGR: Of D-Day.

CK: Nothing. It was just another short one. We bombed the coast a little ways in. We didn’t get any flak or anything and a few days later, I took a new crew out that just come over and I said, “Oh, you are going to have a snap. This is going to be what we call a ‘milk run’. We won’t even be shot at.”

Well, England had bombed them during the night. We usually flew across the front lawn and when they got bombed at night, well, that got them alerted and when we came across, they had everything pointing skywards. And, because the General McNair deal, they wouldn’t let us fly across it; we had to go in and come down the front flying so that we wouldn’t be over our troops.

MGR: Uh-huh.

CK: They had everything on the ground pointing skyward. That airplane just got hit and hit and hit and shuttered and hit. But nobody got hurt or anything.

MGR: Right.

CK: Just airplane got a lot of holes in it.

MGR: Yeah, wow.

CK: I said that if that was a milk run, they would have resigned from the Air Force right then and there.

MGR: But, they didn’t have any choice, though, did they? So, what did you do on your time off, when you weren’t flying, like in your evenings?

CK: Well, I usually went to London. I was never a real expert, but I liked to figure skate, both on ice and on roller-skates. And I would go to a roller-skating rink and they had a - - what did they call it? It was a ‘Palace’ was in the name. I can’t remember what it was but it was all glass. The whole palace and part of it had dances in it and it had one place with a roller-skating rink and I would go over there and go roller-skating whenever in town.

If I was local, just an evening and stuff, I would just go pub crawling.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: Or just riding the bicycle around to see something that I thought was interesting.

MGR: Yeah, did you ever go to The Woodmen Pub? The Woodmen?

CK: I never was in it once! Never once! [Laughs]

MGR: Oh no.

CK: I don’t know why. I think when we first got over there; something was said about it being off-limits. And because that was said, I never was even interested. I know other people went, you know, and they’d tell about going but I never went into it once.

MGR: Have you been back to Nuthampstead since you were there?

CK: No.

MGR: No, no. Tell me about your living while you were there.

CK: Well, we lived in a Quonset hut type. Group of us in it. It was alright. When it got cold sometimes, why we’d have a time where you heated it with a stove. We’d have a time keeping it warm, sometimes.

MGR: Uh-huh.

CK: The food was good on the base, if you like mutton. I never – a friend was going to town, you would get nothing but mutton sandwiches, so you ate before you went. Made sure you wasn’t hungry.

MGR: So, did you carry any good luck items with you?

CK: No.

MGR: No, no.

CK: I always had a guardian angel, all my life.

MGR: Yeah, what was that?

CK: I never got hurt.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: All these ?? I had. My wife agrees with me.

MGR: That’s good. Alright, do you have your happiest, funniest, or saddest memory of the war?

CK: Not really, anything real funny except one, I think I mentioned it about the Adjacent, the 603rd Adjacent, his name is Russnick. He usually comes to these reunions. The last one that he was at, I was there and I told this story and he elaborated on it. He was a good person; he could talk his way out of anything.

He came out by our airplane one time. We were right next to a fence with a farmer’s field on the other side. Actually it was woods right there. These two girls came riding up on some spirited horses. He went over to talk to them and he persuaded them to let him ride the horse. They didn’t want to but he talked them into it. They told him they were spirited.

The minute he hit the horse’s back, the horse ran away with him. He ran out of sight in the woods, yelling, “Ho, ho, ho,” and it kept getting fainter and fainter, you know, getting farther away and you couldn’t hear. Pretty soon you heard it pretty faint again, “Ho, ho, ho.” The horse come running right up to the fence, put up the brakes and stopped, and he went sailing. [Laughs]

He elaborated on the tale a little bit when I told it, in front of him. He didn’t try to hide it.

MGR: That was good.

CK: That was kind of funny.

MGR: Yeah, that was funny. So, were you afraid on the missions?

CK: No, I can’t say I was ever really afraid. I was raised, I guess, to stand on your own two feet and you take what comes, you know, and that. That time I was telling about the planes getting shot down ahead, I thought it might happen to us. I would say I was a little nervous, maybe, but I wouldn’t say I was afraid.

MGR: Yeah.

CK: Not fear.

MGR: Right.

CK: My wife says that I don’t have fear. [Laughs]

MGR: Okay.

CK: I am eighty-five years old. I have a three story barn and last year, well, actually starting in ’84, I was putting galvanized siding on it. I covered it all over, working alone. I guess I did the roof first. I put the roof on it and then last year, I did the galvanized siding, working off a forty-foot ladder so it doesn’t bother me.

Heights never bothered me. So, I guess when I was in flight, it never bothered me. You know, some people look down and wow.

MGR: Uh-hm. What were you most proud of in your military service?

CK: That we brought the plane home every time. That was my job that the engines ran as a co-pilot, come home. Proudest of that.

MGR: How did you hear about the bombing of Hiroshima?

CK: I cannot remember how I heard about that, to tell you the truth. I can remember when the Germans surrendered. We were in Memphis, Tennessee, my wife and I. We were in downtown, on the street, when everybody come out and started cheering and dancing in the streets and stuff. But, I cannot remember where I was with the Japanese bombing.

MGR: Bombing. Did you feel it was necessary that we bombed Japan?

CK: I think we should have done it. Anything that would shorten up the war. Anything that would damage the enemy.

They talk about the number of people that were killed, you know, at one time. But think about the people in England that got killed and all the fire bombs and stuff over there.

I think that was kind of a shocking site, the first time I went to London and see all these holes filled with water. It would have been the basements of the buildings. They kept them filled with water in case they had fires to fight, they’d pump it out. So, when you would walk down the street, you would see all these brick remains of buildings so high, filled with water.

MGR: Wow. That would be different. Do you remember VE Day?

CK: Hmmm. . . .I don’t remember really. Well, I guess I do. That was when the Germans surrendered. That was VE Day.

MGR: That’s true.

CK: Yeah.

MGR: Okay, tell us about returning home, back to your wife, on how it was different once you got back home before you left.

CK: I couldn’t see any difference when I got back home. I was kind of fortunate. It took me quite a while to come home. I don’t know, I think I flew an extra mission that I was supposed to or maybe more than that but I got back down from a mission, they told me that I was going home, that I wasn’t supposed to have flown that mission and I was to get off the base as quick as I could.

I went home and packed everything up. Of course, this was in the evening and the next morning, I was headed to Liverpool, England. Then I hung around there for a month, waiting for a boat to come back to the States. We came home what had been a Dutch luxury liner that had been turned into a troop carrier. We got to the States. I got on a train to Detroit. I got to Detroit on my birthday, September 29th. My wife and I went out and celebrated. The whiskey was watered in the nightclub.

MGR: Oh. So, what did you do after the war?

CK: I went back working for the Chrysler Corporation. I had been working there when the war came, working on a production line. I went to work back there.

I started to go to school on the GI Bill, learning how to be an aircraft mechanic, I think. But there was not much money in that. I did it, mostly. I bought my own airplane as soon as I could get one. It cost quite a bit to get it maintained so I took this course so I can maintain it myself.

I took a leave of absence when I got my license, aircraft mechanic license and I went back to work at Willow Run Airport for an outfit that was converting old airplanes into company planes. They didn’t have company planes. We’d take these old DC-3’s, some of them have been hauling cattle, and stuff like that, and redo them and make them into luxury liners with sofas and picture windows in them and stuff like that.

I worked there for a while, quit, and went back to my job. I didn’t figure the company had much of a future. They were trying to do a too big of a job for the training and people that worked for them and that. So. I went back to work with Chrysler and while I was working there, they transferred the job that I was on to Trenton. I went out there and when I went through the employment office, they made me a line supervisor for operating machines. So, I retired from there in 1974.

I have a farm one hundred miles west of here. That was a hobby farm. When I was supervisor - - it was a strict union shop - - supervisors do not pick up anything at all. When I had something that needed, that I needed over there, and it wasn’t already in my pocket, well, I had to have somebody to come over and carry it over.

So, I had bought this farm to get my exercise. I was raised on a farm and my kids were young, growing up, when they were just the age that I could put them on a tractor, the two oldest were boys, I could put them on the tractor and they could do just as much work as a man, so we farmed it on weekends, until I retired.

We did a lot of travelling.

MGR: So, did you use the GI Bill to go to college?

CK: I used the GI Bill to go to training school when I got my mechanics, aircraft mechanics license.

MGR: Uh-huh. So, tell me, did you keep friendships with any of your crew members?

CK: No.

MGR: No.

CK: No, we hadn’t been in contact. I tried to two different times to locate some of them, but I hadn’t been able to. There is none of them that joined the Association and I told you about Timbrook, I tried to get in touch with him at one time but I never made it.

MGR: So, how did you hear about the 398th Reunions?

CK: Well, after I retired, I got bored sitting around, and I started moving cars around the country. I drove for an auction where you went and got them and brought them into the auction and delivered them.

Then I went to work for Avis Rent-a-Car. This is an unusual situation, I thought of things. The biggest car rental at the airport is during the week. All these business people come in and rent cars to go see them. On the weekend, there was not enough room to store the cars at the airport so we took them out to these outlying car rental things. We brought them in.

One time we was on a trip someplace, and we got to talking about a reunion and stuff. I said, “I have never seen any reunions for my group, anything about it. I don’t know why.” And, I feel this guy that I was talking to was kind of interested in the history of the 8th Air Force. I don’t know if he had any official standing, but he kept track of things.

Then, a few weeks later, four, five, six, he came in and gave me a little clipping out of the newspaper, “398th is having a reunion at Oshkosh.” That was 1986.

MGR: Um-hm.

CK: And, I went to it.

MGR: Oh, that’s good.

CK: But, I didn’t see it in my papers or anything. I don’t know where he got it from. It was some military reserve paper or something that he got it out of.

There was some of the people that I knew there. Ed Jones and I was talking to him and he said, “Jans is here!” Up to that time I thought Jans had been dead, he was shot down on this one mission. The plane had a direct hit and had blown up; he was the only survivor.

Did you see the sunrise early this morning?

MGR: No.

CK: Well, that was one of our first missions. Might have been the first one and Major Grey was flying that airplane, if I remember right. Jans was riding in the tail as an office observer. Now, this airplane had evidently got a direct hit in the gas tanker went just went one great, big orange ball out there, just like the sun was like coming up this morning. Just a huge perfect ball.

Now, my gosh, what are they shooting at us to make something like this? Then out of it, the tail of the airplane come out and later the other part came out. Jans was in the tail; he was the only one who survived. He doesn’t remember anything about it.

MGR: Wow.

CK: He doesn’t know if he was unconscious all the way to the ground. He had both ankle broke so bad, that they were fused. He has to waddle when he walks but when I saw Jones, he said, “Jans is alive! He is coming to the reunion.”

MGR: That’s good.

CK: Up until that time, I thought he had been dead all this time. We hadn’t heard anything about him.

I should have gone last year to Covington, that was terribly close. But, I didn’t and I don’t know why now. Then because this one is right here at home, I couldn’t miss this one.

MGR: No, no.

CK: So far, I haven’t been able to talk to anybody. This is my third day coming up. I hadn’t seen anyone I know, or anything. I left a note for Ed Jones and Jans on the bulletin board there and it’s still hanging there.

MGR: Maybe they haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know.

CK: Well, the first day I was up here, they were out on a boat trip and I run around most of the day and didn’t see or talk to anybody. I don’t know what it was yesterday.

MGR: Oh, oh. Alright, is there anything else you have that you want to tell us about?

CK: I don’t know of anything significant.

MGR: Alright. Well, as I represent the 398th second generation, we want to thank you for your service.

CK: Well, thank you. Thanks for talking.

Interview ends.


See also:
  1. Davidson's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Photo not in our collection - Please contact our Crew Photos Coordinator if you have a copy and can provide a scan.
  2. Kaufman's Crew - 603rd Squadron - 19 July 1944
  3. Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.


  1. Lt. Clarence King was the Co-pilot on James G. Davidson's 603rd Squadron crew and also on R.W. Kaufman's crew.
  2. The above transcription was provided by Jan Silverstein, one of our 398th volunteers in May 2011.
  3. The transcription was obtained from a video file.
  4. Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
  5. Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].