World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Richard L. Martin, 398th Bomb Group Engineer
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Sacramento, California, September 7, 2013
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.
Richard L. Martin, 398th Bomb Group Engineer
603rd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
RM: 398th Engineer, Richard Martin
Time of Interview: 0:42:19
MGR: I’m Marilyn Gibb Rice and today is September 7, 2013. We’re at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association Reunion in Sacramento, California. Will you please introduce yourself?
RM: It’s a pleasure being here today. This is my first reunion. After all these years I finally found it—was on laptop computer for last year, and I told my friend, I said, “Go back!” And he went back and I saw 398th had one in Philadelphia, and I told him, “I got to go to that next year!” And it was shortly after that I met Carolyn Widmann, and she was over the PX [Carolyn runs the 398th BGMA PX].
And I was a Tech[nical] Sergeant in the B-17; the greatest plane they ever made, and I said, it’s been on my mind for 70 years about that plane. I’ve been in them but I haven’t flown in them, and I still haven’t—but I’m dreaming that I will! And I said, I was the engineer right behind the pilot and co-pilot. My position was only to let him know what’s ahead, how the oil pressure is, how different things are working, and it was our job as an engineer to report this to him immediately—stand behind him. We had a wonderful crew! One of the best crews in the world, I think, because we went for 25 missions. As far as I know, I cannot remember being shot down, but we lost an engine once, coming back from Germany, and we had to land in Belgium. And the crew went to town and I stayed there and worked with the ground crew to replace the engine. But we got it running and we flew it again, and it was a fantastic plane! I’d like to say what the name of it was, but I don’t want to embarrass anybody. But I’m going to tell you anyway. It was called “Miazziz Dragon” [pronounced; My ass is Draggin’], with a picture of a dragon with his tail down; but it wasn’t spelled with a “s” it was a “z” so, we was being nuts.
And it was a fantastic crew that I was on. I flew not only the upper turret, but I had a waist gunner—a ball turret gunner, pardon me, that asked me to take over his position after the third trip, and I was just young enough and energetic that I didn’t care where I flew. I said, “Okay, Sidney”—Sidney Fagelman [S/Sgt. Sidney Fagelman, Ball Turret], just a little fellow, I flew in his position and I was scared! And I said, when we come back and we landed, I told him, “Sidney, don’t ever ask me to do that again! That’s the worst spot on the plane!” And I still believe it’s the worst spot on the plane. But we just got along great. I got along with my crew because I was the engineer, and the Engineer Tech/Sergeant and the Radio Man Tech/Sergeant [T/Sgt. Francis M. Redican, Radio Op.], everybody else was underneath us, really, Staff Sergeant and stuff. And we got along great! I’d walk home to Royston, England, for them to get their whatever they wanted to drink. And I didn’t drink then, and I still don’t drink, and I just think it’s part of my life that has been good to me; that I stayed away from so much alcohol. I don’t take any medicine at this state—the only think I take is for my eyes and I put them in when I go to bed at night. I don’t know if it helps or not, but I do it and it’s been fantastic.
Now, should I talk about my missions, or things like that? If you do, we’ll be here all day, but I’m just kidding because I can’t be here all day. But I graduated at Logansport, Indiana, in 1939 and that particular—I was just a little fellow, but I loved baseball; I loved football, and I played both of them. I broke my collarbone, which is right there (shows his collarbone), still broke, playing football, and I thought I was going to be smart and not tell my father and mother. And I went to bed and the doctor told me that day, put your hand up on a pillow at night and you can go to sleep. And I thought, “Well, I’m going to be all right, now.” But my mother knew it all the time and she never told me. And I don’t want to go ahead too far, but when she passed away in Tennessee, she said, “You thought you were pulling something on me, but,” she said, “I knew you had a busted collarbone.” —because she just never told me, she just never mentioned it, and I would never mention it, but I was so glad she knew it. But that was just part of my life.
But then when the war broke out, and I was still in school in ’39 because I graduated then, and we knew all this was coming down in Germany and we didn’t know how to handle it as kids, you know, you don’t think too much about that. But as I just got just older, day by day it seemed like you had a different feeling, and then November the 6th, 1942—now, if your memory is good, that was Armistice Day back in the old days—at 11:00 I got sworn in the Air Force and that was my dream. So, they took me in at Fort Harrison, Indiana, or [Fort] Benjamin Harrison, [Lawrence] Indiana, and sent me right down to Miami Beach [Miami Beach Training Center] for my basic training. And that was great going to something like that! You know, all of us kids, we hadn’t been on trains too much and stuff. It was all new! And it took about three days to get down to Miami. And then they—we got right on the beach, I mean right across the road from it was the ocean!
The first thing they do was give us wooden guns and said you’re going to patrol up and down the street. It was so funny! People was laughing at us from the side. You know, we didn’t know what was going on. We knew the guns weren’t real, but they told us they had to keep all the guns they could to send overseas, so we didn’t question it. But there were Germans out there. We found out much later that there were German submarines out there, but we didn’t get bothered. Maybe they were as scared of us as we were of them. I don’t know. But, anyway, it worked out and it just—we were more concerned, I guess, about winning football games than I was about war. And when I played right guard at Logansport High School, that’s where I broke my collarbone. Got hit too hard one day and it hurt. Anyway, I lived with it and—
MGR: Where did you go after Miami Beach?
RM: Pardon me?
MGR: Where did you go after Miami Beach?
RM: I left there and went to Texas A&M. I wanted to be a bombardier. My brother was a bombardier from California, you know, and—Second Lieutenant, you know, and I was not much more than, I think, a Staff Sergeant at that time, and we met in Salt Lake City after I spent about eight months at Texas A&M, taking my training for bombardier.
I don’t like to go into the details, but I went to Houston, Texas [Ellington Air Force Base] after I got out of Texas A&M. I went to Houston for my flight training, and we had our nighttime ritual, which most all servicemen would know what it was then—you had to get up in the middle of the night, undress, do all that stuff, and the Second Lieutenant come by and he said, “We got to operate on you.” I guess my mouth and eyes both popped open and I knew, if I could be honest with this, it was circumcision. Parents did it, or not had it done, when I was born and I was one of the unfortunate. Anyway, that’s what it was in service and I don’t think you’re probably going to hear too many men admit it, but it’s true, and if this is going to be on tape, it’s true, and you’re not going to get any stories. But anyway, I couldn’t stand at attention after I got released. You had to stand like that (gestures to indicate standing with legs apart). Anyway, this dumb same Lieutenant that took me in—I couldn’t salute like I should. My legs were spread apart, and I saluted, but it wasn’t satisfactory to him. He said, “You got to stand at attention!” And I said, “I can’t, sir. It hurts.” And then he sent me to—the enlisted men had an officer’s thing and they controlled if you were going to make it or not make it. It wasn’t done by the officers. It was done by the enlisted men. Anyway, I went before them and I explained everything and they said, Not good enough! So, I left it.
I went to Gulfport, Mississippi, [Gulfport Army Air Field] and I got into Mechanic School. Well, I loved that because I was, more or less, a mechanic-minded individual. And I went there for, I don’t know, quite a few months, and graduated as an engineer. Not a gunner, because I hadn’t even been to Gunner School—just an engineer. And after that, then they sent me to Las Vegas [Las Vegas Army Air Field], and I took my training there on an A-25; just a little small engine, or two-engine plane, but it wasn’t very powerful. And there was five of us each day went up in it. About, oh, they must have had six or seven crews a day going up and down in the same planes—and we was the third one up that morning. And I was doing pretty good shooting at that tail that was on a plane, you know, they’d pull a big picture, or something. We shot at that. And [as] we were going back in for the landing, well, the engines went BOOM! They just quit. And they’re not big enough to pull five men plus an instructor and a pilot and a co-pilot. They said, You gotta jump! The worst part of that jumping thing—the first crew that went on fit a parachute to them—to their body. We just took them as we come on and put it on. Well, the one I got was kind of sloppy because it was a pretty good-sized individual that had it on, but I jumped, and when I did it (slaps his hands) impacted like that, and my body hit that belt, and I landed, but it sure didn’t do me any good because it didn’t fit me tight like a parachute should.
But we got that, and somewhere in my records I’ve got—should have an award for making that jump, you know, parachutes. But I don’t know if I’ve got it yet because I’ve probably lost it in my house fire years later. And I don’t worry about it because I’m here and that’s the important thing! But in the questions that they’ve asked on this form that they—I could talk all night, but I don’t want to do that. But I enlisted, you know, in the service because I was up in an airplane—an old twin engine fighter plane from WWI. My father took my brother and I both up in one of them and I fell in love with the air right then, so (shrugs)—
MGR: After your training in Las Vegas, where did you go?
RM: After Las Vegas—and I got the full Sergeant stripes, three stripes, from that—they sent me to Salt Lake City [Salt Lake City Army Air Base] and it’s a story, there, that’s kind of funny, I guess. You’re going to get it anyway. But my brother graduated as a Second Lieutenant Bombardier from California, so we met—just very fortunate—we met in Salt Lake City and so, right away—he was two years, about two years older than me, 21 months to be exact, and he thought he was a hot shot, you know—and me just a Sergeant and him a Second Lieutenant. We wanted to go out on the town. And, I knew him from a kid, he never was much for getting acquainted with young girls, and I don’t know why. I guess I passed him up on that. But anyway, that first night out, the girl would come to me and we’d dance and do whatever. He couldn’t get one. So the second night, “Dick,” he said, “let me have your uniform. You wear mine.” I said, “You know that’s not right!” I said, “If I get caught I’m going to lose everything.” “Aww,” he said “that’s not going to happen.” So, I did put his dumb uniform on. It was a little loose because he was about, oh, an inch and a half taller than me but it fit all right. Still the girls come to me and not him and that just blew his mind.
So we stayed together one more day and then he went his way, wherever it was at, and I had to leave mine and went to the greatest little town in Texas—Pyote, Texas. It was full of snakes and lizards and sand; it was horrible! But I ended up meeting my crew—that’s where we got together and, not knowing any of them—because I didn’t even know it was Charlie Ormsby [S/Sgt. Charles J. Ormsby, Engineer / Gunner], which you’re going to meet later. He was my waist gunner, and he’s in Kokomo [Indiana] and I’m in Logansport, 21 miles apart; but we didn’t know each other. But we got along just fine. I didn’t have too much problem getting along with anybody. I had something about me that I could, you know, talk to people and get along and we did. And they knew I was going to be the leader because I was the engineer, and they told us, The engineer over the enlisted men. Period. And that’s it! Pilot’s over the whole crew. So they said, You’ve got to go along with whatever the engineer wants. So, I took them out when—well, I’m ahead of myself, and I don’t know why I do that—but anyway, I was over [in charge].
But we left there—I have to back up just a minute. We left there—the crew practiced, trained—it was fantastic! And we left there and got a two-week vacation. And then they said, Now, meet us up in New York. Well, we ended up meeting in New Jersey, someplace in New Jersey, and then they took us up to New York where we went across on an Argentina meat boat. And you think we had luxury? We had the best! We had meat hooks down in the basement. We had to hang our cot from a meat hook for us to sleep—and that was luxury. But it was fun, and they kept us pretty much alert because the submarines, and everything, were pretty popular there in 1943. That’s when this all took place. And we got over in Germany—over in England, anyway, and it was weird because we—none of us ever dreamed what it was like, you know, in a foreign country. And to see these roofs with straw on them [and think], “Well, what’s going on?” you know? And none of us knew. We couldn’t even answer questions for ourselves. But, we went up to Nuthampstead, England, and that’s the start of the greatest story of my life.
We trained—that was in the Fall of 1944—we trained more missions up there. Now, we had a—we had a fantastic pilot! Johnny Aniello [1st. Lt. John Aniello, Pilot]. That was his name. He’s gone now and I wish I could have seen him but I didn’t ever have the opportunity. But anyway, he was our Pilot, Johnny Stewart—Eddy Stewart [2nd. Lt. Edward S. Stewart, Co-Pilot] was our Co-Pilot. Barney Glickman [S/Sgt. Barney M. Glickman, Navigator] was a—not a lieutenant—a Warrant Officer/Bombardier, and I was the Engineer. And then we had the rest of the crew, which I won’t talk about. But we got trained and then we went on our first mission, and I’ve got the list of them, but I don’t have it with me. But the first mission was—I thought it was a “milk run” [routine mission with little risk], but it was one of the worst missions they ever had, so they tell me afterward. But I thought, “If it’s going to be like this, it’s going to be a piece of cake!” But it wasn’t a piece of cake. It was really—got worse and worse as time went by. The flak got heavier and we didn’t have fighters to go all the way in with us because they wasn’t big enough and powerful, and—but we went all the way to Merseburg, Germany, which was a ball bearing plant, and we had to knock it out because that was the main thing that kept the German Army going. And we hit it three different times and I hope—eventually we did end it, you know, but it was really something to do all that and go do that mission, and I felt like I did my job as the engineer—let the pilot know—pilot know exactly what we was doing on certain times.
It was my job, though, in the top turret to watch for fighters. And I know I put everything ahead [means he talks about things out of order] and it’s not right, but I do it. It’s just me. But I have to keep reminding people of things that happened! We was on, I don’t know what mission; I think it was somewhere around six or seven missions, and we was going quite a ways into Germany. And flak was awful! And I’m going to say something that you’ve probably heard a thousand times—“heavy enough to walk on it,” and that’s just the way it looked. But I had my top turret turned forward to watch ahead, but all I saw was one great big puff of black, and when I saw that, I just dropped right down in my upper turret. Next thing you know, the glass in the turret blew out! If I’d have been standing up there I wouldn’t even have had a head today. But everybody thought that was fantastic, you know. Well, I put it on God. I’m sorry, but I put it on God—give me that little extra time to drop. So, I’m here today because of Him. Now, I’m not here to preach, but I’m telling you the truth. I’m here because of Him. And I got back up in the turret. Cold! Oh, it was horrible! And I had all the head gear and some warmth, so I could keep warm, you know, but still I had to take care of my turret. And we landed, you know, and we had to replace my turret. Well, I went in with the ground crew and we replaced it that night. Took—two days later we took back off again.
But there’s so many things like that that’s happened during my time, that it’s really hard now—70 years and [at] my age, you forget. The things I don’t forget is what really happened to me, as an individual, because we was about our, maybe around the 20th mission—we thought we were going to get them all done—we’re on the 20th mission we had flak hit us again like that, and it came inside the upper turret, hit the oxygen bottles on each side of us, and ricocheted and went right square in my backside. Stuck in it. I couldn’t do nothing about it. It wasn’t in too deep, I knew that, but it went through my flak suit. And so, when we got down to the lower level then, I went back through the bomb bay doors into the radio room—and they knew it because I told them about it on the radio—and I laid down on the floor. The radio man, another waist gunner, not—it wasn’t this Charlie [Ormsby], but it was the other one—came in and they took a pair of pliers and pulled it out, and put sulfa powder on it. I was happy! I come back. We landed. I didn’t even report to the hospital. They said, Well, you’ve got to! I said, “I don’t have to if it don’t hurt.” And I just let it go. I never got the Purple Heart, that everybody said I should have had it, but that wasn’t important at that time. We didn’t know what medals would do for us later on. They would add points to us getting out, and stuff like that, but we didn’t know that. So, I just did what I felt was right.
Anyway, I flew the rest of my missions. There’s so much I would like to tell you. It’s hard to go into it, but I’d tell you one more thing that happened that’s always been on my mind. The bottom turret, the ball turret, was made from gears and it turned completely around. He could rotate that 360 degrees. but this guy, evidently, got hit with flak under it, and the flak got caught in the gears and he couldn’t turn it. And his guns were pointed down. Not all the way, but down on an angle, which said he couldn’t land that—they couldn’t land the plane because them guns would have been dragging on the runway. Well, we could hear it on our radio. The pilot could hear it, and I could hear it, that they was going to have to cut him loose; take the bolts out and drop him in the [English] Channel going back to England. And we wasn’t that far away that we couldn’t see it, you know, and we seen the dumb thing being released and drop. But that was the end of the story because we never heard if he lived; died; or anything! And it’s been on my mind all my life. I just hope and prayed that that young kid made it. And I was just as young as him, probably, but still, it concerned me to see something like that happen. And I’ve had my ups. I’ve had my downs, but thank God I came through it, and I’ve been totally happy all my life.
I don’t want to go into my married life, but I’ve been married 61 years and it was fairly good and bad. We had our ups and downs, but I think everybody does that. But I never left either one of them. Both of them passed away from illnesses they created—that was created. And my last wife weighed 240 pounds and, if I weighed 170 I’d be doing good. And we had the hospice situation on her, and two girls came in everyday and cleaned her up and stuff. I had 22 hours of it, and I would pick her up with a machine and put her in her chair and stuff, you know. But I wasn’t supposed to do it. But then, I had just enough guts and courage to do it and I did it. And it worked out, and she passed away. The last spaceship that left Cape Canaveral—about the same time it took off, she died, so I think they went together, going up. I’ve always felt that way. Someday I’m going to find out. But I’m going to be a hundred because, I know I shouldn’t tell you this, but my health is fantastic! And no one believes I’m 91. Everybody says, You’re only about 75. Don’t even think you was in the service. But I was! I went through it all. But I just—to this day—people right here, you look around at some of these men—I don’t look that old. I can still wiggle and dance and it’s hard for them to believe that I can still do that stuff. But I just thank God so much for bringing me through one of the worst wars we ever had. As far as we’re concerned, it was the worst one.
MGR: So how many—how many missions did you fly?
RM: I went 25 missions with my crew. And then I got another discharge. I flew five missions with Colonels and One-Star Generals, leading the missions in Germany. And that was after I left my crew to come back to the United States because I wanted to be an engineer on a B-29 which, to me, was a big ship! I went to Chanute Field, Illinois, and I graduated. The day I graduated—next day the war ended in Japan. And the commander at the base, “Well,” he said, “This is over.” He said, “We’ll give you the option to stay on or go home.” Well, I only lived in Indiana, so it wasn’t very far. I said, “I’ll never get any closer than this.” I said, “I’m leaving.” I can truthfully say now, I wished I’d have stayed in service.
MGR: But why?
RM: I just wished I’d have stayed in and stayed for another 17 years, and then I could have got out. I would have still been an engineer, as I was in air condition and heating, because that was just in me. And I hadn’t—didn’t do it. I went and got married. You know what the rest of it is.
MGR: What was it like in England?
RM: What it was like in England…
MGR: And living there, and—
RM: Uh—we didn’t get to meet too many people, other than when we walked from our base to Royston. Now, I think it was—I could be wrong—six, seven miles to there, but we’d get off early enough in the day and we’d walk. They wouldn’t let us have Jeeps because the lights, and everything, could be seen, so we had to walk. And I had to make sure they left [at] a certain time to get back, because if we missed a mission we’d be in trouble. So, I made darn sure that never happened. And we made all of our missions that we had to make. And people over there was nice, but they was a little cold because they wasn’t happy; I don’t care what some them said, they were happy, but they were not totally happy with all the Americans coming in and changing their lifestyle. And that that was the truth. I mean there was no question about it, because we was a bunch of hotrod kids, and here these people were older and settled in, and they wasn’t happy. But we got along with them, and I was thankful we did.
MGR: Did you ever go into London?
RM: Yes, I went to London. You know where we went? What’s the name of it—Piccadilly Circus, right in town. That’s the only place we got to go. We didn’t get to go outside that area and we had to stay in the special mo—hotels that they had for us, you know. And, well, I still didn’t drink, or nothing like that. I was just—I just enjoyed the view of the town and it was something then. And it was better then than it is now, let me put it that way. I just went back over to my airbase, you know and, unfortunately, I never met this young lady [referring to Marilyn Gibb-Rice, the interviewer and 398th BGMA President], but I met her husband [Geoff Rice], and she was over here and I was over there—but that’s the way it went. But I went to London, and I’ll be real truthful; I don’t—I don’t like to tell stories. I was disappointed, because when I got to London you didn’t see English, you saw—tell me what I want—the name of them people—
RM: I want to say Muslims, but that’s not the word I want.
MGR: No. It’s a huge variety of people—
RM: No. Yeah, they¬—everybody else has taken over, the hotels, the businesses, the taxicabs; everything is taken over by somebody else, and I just could not believe that that happened in England! And I don’t want to get into no politics because, whoooooooh, I’m not happy. Anyway, I enjoyed it. I took a ride on them busses which I didn’t get to do while I was in service. But I did this time and it was fantastic! I got a seat on the Thames River, I think it is, on one of the queen, or king, or kids ships out there, you know, and stuff like that. I got pictures of it all. That was a great trip over there this time.
MGR: So, did you remember anything on the base?
RM: Yes. Disappointment.
RM: All the runways is tore up. The only thing was a ten—about ten- or eleven-foot wide place for the vehicles to take us out to our planes. And then the bomb dump; that was still there. But no bombs or nothing. But it was still there. And our operation place where—still old square building—I got pictures of it. Now, I look at them great big beautiful things, way up in the sky, and think of that little place that brought us all back in alive. It’s fantastic! I don’t care what they say, it’s great! But the base itself is going to be changed, which you’ve probably had too many people—I didn’t. I’m going back next year.
MGR: Oh, good!
RM: I’m planning on it.
RM: I know, because your husband, he said something—“Come back next year!” Well, if I’ve got the money I’m going back. I hate that trip! That’s a long trip! Not going over; coming back, losing that time; that’s the bad one! But I can make it.
RM: And I want to go back next year.
RM: I hope they’ve got more buildings up than what they got now.
MGR: We will. Have you been in a B-17 since the war?
RM: I haven’t flown in them, but I definitely have been in them.
RM: And that’s another disappointment. I—I’m more interested in the top turret because that’s where I was located. Now I have to look up like that (gestures upward) to even see the dumb bubble. They’ve got everything torn out so the mechanics can have their toolboxes, and all that stuff they need. And it wasn’t—Carolyn, your sister, just recently told me about this one B-17 that’s flying from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, [the Aluminum Overcast] and it come down to Purdue University at Lafayette. And we went over, and it rained all day, and we didn’t get to go up in it. But n0 one informed me or my waist gunner that we could have went back the next day. Now, I could have drove back real easy, because I drive yet, and I didn’t know it. But she said she’d take care of it. She’d find another trip we’re going to make. I still got hopes of flying one more time in a [B-]17.
MGR: Did it seem smaller or bigger to you than when you flew in it?
RM: No. It’s just—everything was identical. Not identical—
MGR: Mm hmm.
RM: In the B-17, where our bomb bays were—that was right behind my top turret—and it had a little platform, maybe five, six inches wide [the “catwalk”]. And we had to go from there to the radio room on that platform, but you didn’t have a rope to hang onto, or nothing. You had to work your way back hanging onto the support bars, and that made a big difference right there. But still, I enjoyed it. I didn’t—didn’t visualize it the way it is now. I thought about the way it was then, and that’s just the way I kept looking at things. But, when I saw that top turret (looks up), I went, “I can’t even get up there!” And they got laughing. “Well, [they said] we had to make room for our stuff,” you know, and I can understand that.
But, the last pilot, I think his name was Morrison—that was on this one from Oshkosh [the Aluminum Overcast]. Wonderful man! And I gave him a picture of my crew and the one I’d gone in the top turret. He just loved it! He said he’d never had one like this before, you know. He was really thrilled with it, you know. I don’t mind doing that. I want people to know what it was like. And I have a story that a newsman in Muncie, Indiana—and for every week, for over a year, he would get a veteran and write the stories up; what they did and how it was. And I think I was the fifth one that he got writing on, and I got copies of it yet. And my title was We Were Constantly Scared, and if anybody—and I’ve talked to men here and told them, I said, “I’ve had people say, if you’re scared you’re a sissy!” That’s not true! You didn’t know from one day to the next day if your best friend was going to go down or what, so you didn’t make friends. And there’s been certain people—well, I know there’s a certain enlisted man; I don’t know him, but his book says he met everybody. You don’t have that type of time, to start with, and you don’t know who you’re talking to, so he couldn’t possibly know everybody! But he’s got a good story.
I’ve got a story. I’ve got a book. All I’ve got to do is put it in order right now, and it’s ready to be published. But I talk about losing that top turret, you know; going down in Belgium with the engine failure and staying there all night. The rest of the men went into town, wherever it was, and had their whatever, but I stayed right there and worked on the plane. And that was my job, as far as I was concerned. It was my responsibility to make sure that plane brought us back. And it’s things like that, though that—maybe I was just an oddball. If I was, so be it. But still, that was me.
MGR: Tell me about your living conditions while you were there.
RM: In England? Ohhh, I don’t know where to find—I wrote it down.
MGR: That’s fine.
RM: We lived in a hut. It was just a round-topped building; one little old stove in it. Two crews that was in each one of these huts and [the] engineer, we got the fireplace—got near the wood, you know, fireplace. And we’d bring wood in from wherever we could find it. Whatever we could put in that stove, we brought it in. And it was nice. Now, we didn’t even make friends with the other crew and that’s weird. You knew their names but that was about it, you know. They’d go on one mission one day and we’d go on maybe another day. We just wasn’t together.
And just outside of our hut we had a little stream of water. And we had one man on our crew—I don’t want to say he’s an alcoholic—but he ended up being an alcoholic—but he constantly had to have his beer, or whatever it was he was drinking. He put it in the stream and he’d go out there in the middle of the night, and you could hear him getting up and going out to the stream and getting whatever it was. And it was funny because you thought somebody could leave it alone long enough, you know, to take a nap or something. But he didn’t nap, and I never will forget him. And he—we got along good, as just individuals, but if I wanted to say he was my buddy, I couldn’t do that, because I didn’t drink and he would do it. But I shouldn’t have held that against him, but I guess, human nature says got to hold something like that.
MGR: Well, he was in your crew?
RM: He was in my crew.
MGR: That would be a little—
RM: You’re correct—
MGR: —little concerning that he would be drinking and then would you fly the next day?
RM: We didn’t know how it was going to be and they never checked your breath or anything, you just did the best you could as it was. Well, I didn’t tell you another thing. I got stories. I don’t want to tell them all. Get me in trouble, maybe. You know, the ground crew would come out at night, while we was supposed to be sleeping, and load our ammunition up. Now, this didn’t happen for a long time, but they started doing it because it was taking too much time for us to do it. So, the ground crew would come out and load the ammunition in all the guns. And, in the upper turret, I had the two twin .50’s and each side had its own box of ammo. And we had—in their day we had to hand charge them to bring it up one more notch. I pulled my hand chargers, sitting on the ground; the engine was running and the pilot and everybody was down below, but the engine was locked down and slow. I pulled the dumb trigger and, ddddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (makes machine gun sound), right over the tail—in England—one side of my gun.
And, unfortunately, one of my officers—I don’t want to go in detail—anyway, I heard him say, “Who was the SB [SOB] that’s firing that gun?” Well, I fought the Golden Gloves when I was young, before I went in service, so I wasn’t scared of too many people. And I just dropped out of the hatch in the front, that the pilots go up in; I dropped out of that and I asked Johnny Aniello, I asked, “Johnny, who made that remark about firing the guns?” And he looked over at the other guy, and I hit him. I hit him right on the jaw and he went down on the ground. And I didn’t knock him out or nothing, but he knew I meant business. And I told him, “I don’t want nobody ever saying, Who’s the SB that did this or that? I said, “I’m not an SB!” Anyway, he did apologize for that. He was a little hotheaded individual. He didn’t want a B-17. He wanted to be a fighter pilot and he didn’t get it, so he took the best he could get. I got busted from Tech Sergeant down to Corporal, I think, Corporal or Sergeant, and then right back up, on the same order, to Staff Sergeant, one stripe under. Two weeks later I got my Tech Sergeant back and he lost three days of missions, so I think I benefitted on it. But it was always—I’ll never forget that, though, and when Charlie Ormsby—he’ll be coming here shortly. I don’t know if he’ll ever tell his problem with the same individual, and he’s had problems with him after I left and came back to the United States for my B-29 training.
I don’t know what else I can tell you, but I’m so thankful being here and it’s such a great pleasure, and to meet this young lady [Marilyn Gibb-Rice, the interviewer and President of the 398th BGMA] I missed her when I was over there—and she was over here [United States], and I was over there [England], and we just didn’t cross paths. But I’m doing it now.
MGR: So, when you came back to the states, the war was over; you got out. Then what did you do?
RM: I went—I got married, but I took pilot training here at the Logansport—we had a little airport there, and I kept my license flying a Piper Cub and a Cessna, and that’s the only two planes that I flew. But other than a B-17, I’ve flown one of them once. But I flew that for a long time. But I couldn’t truthfully afford family and flying, so I had to give up what I loved so much; flying. But I can still do it. People says, You’re too old! I says, “I can’t see as well around, but you put me behind there, I’ll fly it.” I just like it!
MGR: Did you use the GI Bill?
RM: I used it just on, like, flying. I should have went back to school, but there again, family come first and I was a family man.
MGR: All right. What did you think about the bombing of Hiroshima?
RM: Well, I felt it was a little late getting it on, really. We talked about this; the servicemen talked about it. I was in the VFW and a lot of us talked about things like that, and they thought it could have been done earlier, much earlier than what it really was done. But it was the government that had to do all this timing and everything, so we would have our comments but whatever the government said, that was law. So, but —we was glad that was over. It was a sorrowful thing when you think how many people just got burned to death for something like that, when their own rulers could have stopped that very easily but they didn’t. And this was the outcome.
But it was great. And I’m about ready to close down because, I think it’s time to let my waist gunner come in and have his say, so—but I’m just so happy to have this opportunity to tell to people what I saw.
MGR: Well, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us, and thank you for your time and your service in the 398th.
RM: I appreciate that so much, I can tell you.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 0:42:19]
- John Aniello's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Training - Date Unknown
- John Aniello's Crew - 603rd Squadron - Training (photo #2) - Date Unknown
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- T/Sgt. Richard L. Martin was the Engineer on John Aniello's 603rd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Nancy Partin (daughter of Richard S. Hosman, 601st SQ pilot), May 4, 2016. Nancy is 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 [ ].