World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
T/Sgt. Elliot Novek, 398th Bomb Group Radio Operator
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Randy Stange
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
The Radisson Hotel, Covington, KY., September 11, 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.
T/Sgt. Elliot Novek, 398th Bomb Group Radio Operator
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Q: Interviewer, Randy Stange
EN: 398th Radio Operator, Elliot Novek
As an introduction; this is Randy Stange interviewing Elliot Novek at the Radisson Hotel In Covington KY September 11, 2003.
Randy: Q: Elliot do you mind giving your name?
EN: Elliot Novek
Q: Elliot, tell me where you were born and raised?
EN: I was born in the Bronx, New York City and raised there.
Q: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
EN: I have two sisters left. Lost one sister a year ago.
Q: What did your parents do prior to the war?
EN: My father was a salesman who sold to Steam Laundries, soap, blue, bleach, stuff like that.
Q: Did you have any interest in aviation prior to the war?
EN: Oh yeah, I loved airplanes.
EN: Prior to the war? Well of course, I went into the Service when I was 18. I had been going to school before that. I just got out of high school. Didn't figure on going to college because we didn't have the money. However, Uncle Sam made the decision for us. I went into the Service, into the Field Artillery. I didn't like that at all. They gave exams for Cadets, and I said, "that is for me." I took the exam, got out of the Artillery. Happened to be the 106th Division, later pretty much wiped out in the Bulge. They sent me down to Miami Beach, Florida, where I contracted pneumonia. The fellows who I went there with went to school but while I was in the hospital, the program was washed out, and they were returned to their old outfits. I was sent to Radio School/Gunnery School then put together with a crew and on to England and that is where I ended up.
Q: Do you remember where you did your basic and your gunnery training?
EN: I did my basic training in Columbia, S.C., Fort Jackson, that was March of 1943. Radio School was the beginning of '44 that was Sioux Falls, S.D. during the winter. They then sent me to Gunnery School, in Yuma, AZ, July and August, and it was hot as the devil. Then I went to Gulfport Mississippi, got our crew together and from there went overseas.
Q: Did you enlist, or were you drafted?
EN: I was drafted
Q: What did you think about Pearl Harbor? Do you remember where you were and what you were doing?
EN: Yes, I remember that Sunday very well. I was watching a football game, I guess I wasn't watching, I was listening to a football game. All of a sudden it came over the radio that Pearl Harbor was attacked. Where the devil was Pearl Harbor? I had no idea. Then as time went on, I knew what it was, and I wasn't happy with that. I wasn't happy with what was going on in Europe.
Q: Had you or your parents ever traveled very much prior to the war?
EN: Hardly ever. We didn't have the money.
EN: Yes, on the Northern Route. We picked up a plane at Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, We were supposed to go eventually to Iceland, but we couldn't make it as we were running low on fuel. We were over the Ice Cap in Greenland. I spoke to Greenland on the radio, and told them we could not make Iceland. They said, "oh yeah, go ahead." our Navigator said "no way." We turned around over the Ice Cap and landed at Bluie West One. A small airport and it was night. They had jeeps parked on each side of the runway with their headlights on and we went over the Fjord at quite and angle to get into the base, which was an uphill runway. If you went too far, you'd hit the mountain, if you didn't go far enough, you were in the drink. We landed fine, gassed up and went to Iceland the next morning. From there, we went to Prestwick, Scotland. Left our plane and spent about a week or so, then were given the call and went to 131 and the 398th.
Q: What time of year was that?
EN: That was February 3rd 1945.
Q: First combat mission?
EN: Flew our first mission on February 20, 1945. Did 22 missions. The last mission was April 25th, and it happened to be the last mission of the war. It was Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
Q: Prior to that had there been any harrowing experiences or casualties in your unit?
EN: No casualties, but we were shot up pretty good quite a few times. One time our lower ball-turret gunner, we thought he had had it. He lost his oxygen, and a couple of the guys cranked up the lower ball turret and were able to get their hand in and put a mask on him. When we pulled him out and I saw he was blue, but he came out okay.
Q: Who was that?
EN: His name was Lou Mesino. He was from New Jersey.
Q: I assume you stayed in touch with you family via mail?
EN: Oh yes, everyday.
Q: Did you like the food and accommodations at Nuthampstead?
EN: Oh yes, it was pretty good. No complaints there.
Q: Did you do anything for good luck on the missions?
EN: I think I did something that was good luck for many of us. If you would like to hear the story.
Randy - Sure, hang on just a second we'll pause right here...for a moment.
Q: Why don't you tell me about the things you did for good luck and entertainment?
EN: April 25th, 1945 we were to fly a mission to Pilsen Czechoslovakia. General Eisenhower told the people of Pilsen not to go to work at the Skoda Works because we were coming. The Germans' were waiting for us.... That mission was supposed to be visual only. We were the Lead Crew for the 602nd Squadron. We had a Major flying with us. Our regular Bombardier was not flying with us. The one who did, was from another crew. We went over the target, and it was socked in. Could not see a thing. The floorboards on the plane were shaking from the anti-aircraft. They were zeroing in on us. We did a 360 and came around at the same altitude. Did not change a thing. (When the Lead Plane dropped their bombs, the rest of the Squadron who had Toggleiers, not Bombardiers dropped their bombs too.) We came around a second time, lost two planes, because the Germans corrected a bit and that was all that was needed and the Bombardier found an opening and was told by the Major, to drop the bombs. As the radio operator, I checked the Bomb Bay. The bombs were still there. I told that to the Major who told the Bombardier and the Engineer to check the Salvo Switches. By then, we had flown past the target which was supposed to be the airfield adjoining the Skoda Works.
The Bombardier was instructed to go into the Bomb Bay to check the bomb bay switches. He detached himself from the oxygen, put on an oxygen bottle to walk around, of course, removing his earphone. He was on the other side of the Bomb Bay from where I was. He did something, I did not know what it was at the time, then came out to me and motioned with his arms outstretched, as if to say, "what do I do now?"
In the mean time, the Major said we were going to our secondary target, which was Munich. I was not happy about Munich, because we had been there once before and were shot up pretty well. If I remember correctly, the Germans had 1,500 to 2,000 anti-aircraft guns there. I did not particularly want to go there again. When the Bombardier motioned to me "what should I do," I motioned to him with my thumb down, and he let go the bombs and the other planes in the Squadron followed suite.
The Major yelled out "who said drop the bombs," I said, "you did sir."
When we returned to our base in England my crew members hugged and kissed me because we did not go to Munich.
Last year, at the reunion in Portland, Oregon, I met a fellow wearing a 602nd Squadron hat. He told me the Bombardier who usually flew on his plane, was on the Lead Crew plane on the last mission of the war. It told him that was my plane and I was on that mission. Did not know the Bombardier.
That fellow went on to tell me that he had been shot down on that mission. He had dug in his parachute and was accosted by two German soldiers. He found out they were not soldiers, but escaped Jewish prisoners who had found the German uniforms. He told them he was trying to reach Patton's Army. (Do not know in what language, or how he was able to communicate with them). Those escaped prisoners saved his life, and perhaps others.
He went on to tell me that the Bombardier we were speaking about was at the reunion, sitting at the end of the table where we were. I asked him to introduce me to him. He did. I asked the former Bombardier "do you remember the last mission you flew with the Thompson crew?" He shook his head no and said nothing more. I did not know whether to say something to him about that mission. I decided to say nothing. It would serve no purpose, and as I said, it turned out to be the last mission of the war.
EN: We were there a very short time. Just trying to think, yes, June 2nd 1945 we left. We landed in Connecticut, June 6th. They then sent us home for 30 days. Then after that I was sent down to Florida. Drew and MacDill Field both. I guess we were there a couple of weeks when the bomb was dropped on Japan.
Q: How did you feel about that?
EN: Loved it. Could not have been better. Because actually, I did 22 missions which isn't a complete tour, we had to do 30 and we were preparing to go to the Pacific War. Dropping the bomb stopped everything. I got my discharge November 3rd 1945 and went home from Ft. Dix, NJ.
Q: Did you go back to school after you got home or go to work?
EN: I went to work and applied to different colleges, which as said we could have never afforded anything like that. I went to Syracuse University and graduated in 1949. Went to work as a Sales Representative selling to the Wholesale Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning Supply Companies. I did that for 50 something years.
Q: Did you stay in touch with your crew members this whole time?
EN: A little bit. I could never find my Engineer. I knew he came from Savannah. I tried to reach him every time I went through that area. 4 Years ago, I believe it was, we had a 398th Reunion in Savannah. I told me wife I was going to try to reach him once more. She said, what are you knocking yourself out for, you have been trying to reach him for years. I said "this would be the last time."
I found a last name in the phone book that was the same as his. It was Batayias which isn't a common name. I called, got a young lady on the phone, told her I was looking for Peter Batayias. She said "you will have to speak to my father."
I spoke to her father who was the son of my Engineer. I asked if his father was living, he said "yes, but barely, he is in very bad shape." I wanted his phone number, but the son said do not call him, "my Mother will hang up on you." He said, "I will have him call you at the Hotel." He did, and we had a long conversation. I told him I wanted to see him. He said "no, I want you to remember me as I was." Over in England, I slept in the upper bunk and Peter slept in the lower. He was crying during our conversation, and so was I. We had been friends. He asked me to phone him every month. I said I will, and that is what I have been doing every since. I call him once a month, and he always ends the conversation with "I am waiting to die."
My Pilot, Thompson, I was in touch with by Christmas card each year. Stopped receiving those cards around 6 years ago. Saw the Bombardier, Plato Stout when we lived in Ossining, New York. He lived there too. The Navigator's wife lives in California and I was e-mailing her and she kept asking me questions about where we had been and how we came back and different things.
R.S. That is a shame
Q: Was your Navigator Mark Wood?
EN: No, his name was Smith.
Q: Any other Veterans Organizations you've joined?
R.S. Just the 398th?
EN: That's my baby
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add or think of?
EN: No, I think that just about covers everything.
Note: In 2010, Elliot's wife added: Elliot did finally see Peter Batayias about 5 years ago. It was so sad. He passed away approximately 4 years ago.
- Thompson's Crew - 602nd Squadron - March 1945
- T/Sgt. Elliot Novek, Radio Operator, 602nd Combat Diary
- Lt. Paul W. Smith, Navigator, 602nd Combat Diary
- 398th POWs
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- T/Sgt. Elliot Novek was the Radio Operator on Nolan Thompson's 602nd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Karen Neff, daughter of Gertrude Wells Neff and Connie Novek, widow of Elliot Novek in February 2010.
- 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 [ ].