World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project

Interview with

Art Laughlin, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
601st 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.


Interview with

Art Laughlin, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force

Q: Interviewer, Randy Stange
AL: 398th Pilot, Art Laughlin

Q: So you were born and raised in Nebraska?
AL: Yes

Q: Do you have any siblings?
AL: I have two brothers, no sisters. Two boys, we had three boys, but we lost one.

Q: How many of the boys served?
AL: All three of us.

Q: Do you know where each served?
AL: The older brother, 7 years older than I am, Cedric, served in the Pacific, in the Marikelde basin as a forward observer. The middle brother, John Wilbur, was in the cavalry, the oldest was in the cavalry, and Wilbur was too. He had served two years in the cavalry when an artillery explosion blew his right hand off in 1939. That ended his chances of being in the war. That might have been a blessing.

Q: Perhaps. And the brother that was killed? You said one brother was killed?
AL: No

Q: Ok, I must have misunderstood. What did your parents do?
AL: They were farmers.

Q: Where were you and what memories do you have of the day Pearl Harbor was bombed?
AL: We were home. I don’t remember how we heard, since we didn’t have a radio.

Q: Neighbors stopped by and told you maybe?
AL: I don’t remember.

Q: Were you drafted?
AL: No, I volunteered. When it was getting to where I was going to be drafted, I decided I wanted to do what I wanted to do, not what they’d tell me to do.

Q: Did you have an interest in aviation prior to World War II?
AL: No.

Q: Why did you pick the Army Air Corps then?
AL: When I was a little kid, my father had a friend over in Ashland that stayed in a hotel who had been gassed in World War I. He was disabled and I’d hear him talk about it, and it stuck in this little kid's mind. I made up my mind, after hearing him talk about World War 1, that I didn’t want to be on the front lines wounded, lay there for a week. I thought if I was gonna get killed, I wanted to do it right now, not over a long period.

Q: Do you recall your first days in the service, where they sent you, Basic [Training], and what not?
AL: Yes, Basic was at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. You want the whole string of them? {Q: sure, might as well} Next was Superior, Wisconsin, for college training, where they determined through tests that I needed 6 months of college. Then on to Santa Ana, California for classification and Pre-Flight. Then to Santa Maria, California for Primary flight training. Ontario, California for Basic flight training. Marfa, Texas for Advanced, where I got my wings. Came home on leave and then went back to Kingman, Arizona for one month co-pilot training in B-17s. Then to Tampa, Florida for crew assembly, then to Avon Park for crew training in B-17s. Then up to Savannah, Georgia where they issued us a brand new B-17. We checked it out then on to Grenier Field, and on over to Stone Field, England where we left it.

Q: So you took the northern route, so where did you stop for fuel after Grenier Field?
AL: No, we went straight across to Stone, England. We were told it was one of the few days where the wind was right that we could go straight across. {Q: Oh wow, I had never heard of anyone making a non-stop.} Then, by ground transportation to Station 131 in Nuthampstead, where we flew our missions. After the war ended, we came home by a more northern route. Iceland, Greenland, then Grenier airfield. We left our plane at Westover Field in Massachusetts.

Q: So you flew as a co-pilot in the 601st squadron.
AL: Yes

Q: Whose crew were you in? Who was your pilot?
AL: William H. Costanzo.

Q: Do you remember your first combat mission?
AL: As a co-pilot on a new crew, I rode with an experienced crew, and their experienced co-pilot rode with our crew. I don’t remember anything specifically.

Q: Were there any memorable experiences that happened in combat that you remember?
AL: We got shot up a few times. We were never wounded, very fortunately. One time six bursts went off under number 3 engine and brought us up about 30 degrees each time. We were lucky it knocked number 3 engine out, but the wing was like a sieve but we got back. The German anti-aircraft fire was very accurate. If we hadn’t have had chaff, we would have lost more of planes than we did.

Q: Do you want to explain chaff to the people who might be listening?
AL: It is bundles of aluminum strips about a foot long, maybe an inch, inch and a half in diameter. I don’t know how many were in there. It was the radio operator’s job when we got to certain areas (he got briefed where there would be anti-aircraft), to put out a bundle of chaff every certain interval. When these got into the wind stream outside the plane, they would come apart and each of these strips would show on the German radar as a blip for each aluminum strip. They didn’t know where the real planes were. The chaff indicated a lot more planes than there really were. They saved a lot of planes using that.

Q: Any particular experiences that come to your mind.
AL: Well, Bill [Costanzo] got sick one time {laughs}. We got briefed for a mission and he said he wasn’t feeling good, but said he was game and helped fly all the way to the target. After bombs away, he went back to the bomb bay, and I got the opportunity to fly all the way home. We ordinarily didn’t do, we took turns every 15 minutes flying. We had engines knocked out several times. One time over Berlin we had one knocked out, and another one was starting to act up, down to about half speed. Bill was flying at the time, and I was all set to throw the switches to shut it off, rather than having a wind-milling engine. Bill said “lets just not get excited, we might need that motor”. Well, the good Lord was with us and that motor smoothed out came back to full power. Another time we had an engine that we had variable speed props, we could set the rpm of the engine and the prop changing was controlled by engine oil, and we got a hit so that it lost the oil immediately, and the engine went to wind-milling and broke the crankshaft. We tried to to shake it off and couldn’t, we slowed our speed down and we got back.

Q: Do you remember any of the entertainment shows or the USO shows on the base?
AL: We had one, but I don’t specifically remember it.

Q: What about any regular leave or flak leave?
AL: Well the last mission we flew is when Bill got the flu, and they sent us on a weeks’ flak leave. During that time the war ended.

Q: Where did you go on flak leave?
AL: Liverpool. I can’t think of the specific place, but it was in the Liverpool area.

Q: Did you fly a plane back?
AL: Yes, twenty men and their luggage.

Q: Do you recall when you got back to the States?
AL: June 2, 1945. {he says 44}

Q: Did you go visit your parents then, when you got your separation leave?
AL: Yes

Q: Where did you go from that point?
AL: Tampa, Florida - Drew Field. They sent me up to Bear Field, Indiana in a troop carrier. I flew four hours as co-pilot in a C-47 to get my flight pay. I might have been there about three weeks, then they sent me to Ft. Leavenworth for my discharge. I joined the Reserves, it sounded like a good deal, but they wouldn’t give us any planes to fly. I was in the Reserves until 1955. They didn’t tell us, but I should have joined the Air National Guard, then I would have gotten to fly.

Q: Did you go back to school?
AL: Well no, not immediately. I took 11 hours of night school when I went to work for the government in a laboratory in 1960.

Q: Was that under the GI Bill?
AL: No, I went back to the farm, they had school in the high schools; we had teachers teaching about farming, and we got paid for that under the GI Bill.

Q: Then you ended up going to work for the government in a lab?
AL: Well by 1960, I figured I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go, and I had a neighbor that worked in this lab, and I put in a application. I went to work in this lab where they tested soil for earth-filled dams under the SCS Bill.

Q: Any other close friends besides the crew?
AL: Well, in cadets, several good friends. One in particular I’ve lost track of him, we were there several times and he was even at home too, Earl Johnson in Virginia.

Q: I assume you were at Drew Field when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
AL: I don’t remember specifically.

Q: How did you feel about them dropping the bomb and the war ending so quickly?
AL: I felt that is was necessary; we killed a lot of people. But if we hadn’t, we‘d have killed a lot of Americans and Japanese.
Q: That’s been the general consensus of everyone I’ve talked to that lived through it.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
AL: I don’t know.. you get a bunch of guys talking, you can talk for hours, but right off hand now, we just had a lot of interesting experiences flying, but they don’t pop right into my mind now. I’ll tell you one thing, my first pilot, I was 20 years old in combat and I never had any trouble, but my first pilot was 26, Bill, and about two years ago a little light went on that I was darn lucky. You had a man six years older than you flying with you that, at that age, 6 years is a lot in judgment.

Q: That’s true, and a lot of luck too. It’s just amazing, almost everyone I’ve talked to, up until the war, their parents or them, no one had traveled pretty much of anywhere. All of a sudden, the war comes along and a year or so later they are flying trans-Atlantic.
AL: Yes, when I came home, my dad broke down. I think he thought he’d never see me again when I went to fly.

Q: Yes, that was a possibility. Thanks a lot Art for your time, and your comments and your service to the country.


See also:
  1. Costanzo's Crew Photo - 601st Squadron - 5 February 1945
  2. Ray Talbott, 398th Tail Gunner - 601st Squadron Video Interview (14m 28s)
    Ray Talbott, 398th Tail Gunner - 601st Squadron Video Interview Transcription
  3. Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.


  1. Art Laughlin was the Co-Pilot on William H. Costanzo’s 601st Squadron crew.
  2. The above transcription was provided by Amy Goll, daughter of Frank Henning, 600th Squadron in October 2008.
  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 [ ].