World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Robert Rowland, 398th Bomb Group Ball Turret Gunner
602nd 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.
Robert Rowland, 398th Bomb Group Ball Turret Gunner
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Q: Interviewer, Randy Stange
RR: 398th Ball Turret Gunner, Robert Rowland
Q: Where is your residence?
RR: I live in McClure, Ohio, southwest of Toledo about 40 miles. I was born there in McClure, Ohio. Henry County.
Q: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
RR: I have one older sister and one younger sister. No brothers.
Q: They weren’t in the service I assume?
RR: No. Well, my older sister was a nurse trainee for a while.
Q: What did your parents do?
RR: My dad worked at the state highway garage machine shop. He was a machinist.
Q: Did you have any interest in aviation before World War II?
RR: After my eighteenth birthday [Jan. 9th 1943] I got my notice shortly thereafter and they let me finish high school.
Q: So you didn’t really have a choice of a service branch, being drafted then.
RR: Not really, no.
Q: What were your first impressions of Army life?
RR: Oh, I didn’t mind it too bad.
Q: Where did you take your basic?
RR: Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
Q: Do you remember when?
Q: Do you remember any of the instructors, not their particular names?
RR: Oh I can see a couple of them, but I don’t remember any names
Q: Where did you go from Jefferson Barracks?
RR: Las Vegas, Nevada. Gunnery School, and I got to fly in airplane for the first time, and it was a B17!
Q: Did you choose to be a ball turret gunner, or were you assigned.
RR: I was assigned.
Q: How did you like the Speery ball?
RR: Oh it was ok
Q: How long did you spend in training in Vegas?
RR: Something like 6 to 8 weeks.
Q: Where did you go from there?
RR: We went to McDill field in Florida.
Q: You were assigned a crew at that point?
Q: From there Rapid City or were you a replacement crew?
RR: We were a replacement crew.
Q: So did you take a troop ship over to England?
RR: No, we got a brand new airplane in Macon, Georgia and we flew it to Bangor, Maine, then Gandor, Newfoundland, and then to Prestwick, Scotland. Then they took it away from you!
Q: When did you arrive in England, at Station 131.
RR: May 10, 1944.
Q: Just after the group got there then.
RR: Yes. I think we were the first replacement crew to the 602nd squadron.
Q: How many combat missions did you fly?
RR: 35 missions. Our first one was an easy mission. Our second one, something happened to the propeller on the left engine, the number 1 engine, and the pilots tried to shake the propeller off, they couldn’t feather it, it started shaking, we were over France. We couldn’t keep up with our buddies, the cowling was flying off, we thought we were going to have to bail out, but we finally made it home. Soon as we touched the ground, the old propeller went off, out there at a 30 degree angle, and the old engine fell down on a hinge, just flopping there. That was our second mission.
On our third mission, our bombardier got a hunk of flak right up his pelvic bone, so we decided this was going to be a little more serious.
Q: Was that the only casualty in your crew?
RR: While we was flying together as a crew. We took 10 over, but only 9 flew on missions. We had to rotate. I didn’t, but some of them did. The tail gunner and the two waist gunners. Once in a while they would stay behind. That way we got out of gear [our rotation]. Our tail gunner got killed later, and one of our waist gunners had to bail out.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with your crewmember?
RR: Oh yes, all of them. They were all supposed to be here today, except for the bombardier who got the flak, he can’t make it. There are seven of us alive, and six of us are supposed to be here today.
Q: You may have the record for this reunion! Did you ever get wounded or anything?
RR: No, not really. I got a little scratch once.
Q: How did you like life at Station 131.
RR: How did I like it? It wasn’t too bad. We had a pretty good time.
Q: I assume you stayed in touch with your family through the mail?
RR: Yes, my mother saved every letter. My daughter-in-law put them all in two big books, envelopes, letters, and all.
Q: Was the food pretty good on the base? How were the accommodations, I know the huts were cold.
RR: The huts weren’t too hot. I thought the food wasn’t too bad.
Q: Other than the combat stress, was it pretty relaxing in general on the base?
Q: What would you do on leave?
RR: We’d go to London! After our 26th mission, we had a week off, flak leave, and we went to Scotland. Edinburgh, Scotland. I wanted to tell you about a mission where our pilot used to train the other pilots to be lead pilots. Our co-pilot would fly with the other planes. One day we had a new pilot, who our pilot was going to train. They slipped off the runway in the mud. It was stuck. So, we had to get out of our plane and get into another one. We got out and I left my oxygen mask in that plane stuck in the mud and took off. There was no oxygen mask, but there was a spare mask and oxygen tank. I put that on, and when it was time, I got into the ball turret, and I was in there just a little bit, and passed out! One of the waist gunners saw me, and got down in there and got me woke up. I had to hold that oxygen mask then, it was too big or something and didn’t fit my face right. I had to hold it in place against my face so I wouldn’t pass out.
Q: That was the only stressful or dangerous thing that happened, other than getting shot at?
RR: Yeah, other than being shot at! We used to come back with a lot of holes!
Q: Yeah, a lot of guys did. Do you remember any of the USO groups or the entertainment on base?
RR: No, they kept us pretty busy.
Q: Did you pull any pranks on your other crew members or the other guys in the hut?
RR: Every once in a while. We’d cut their hair.. give them a haircut.
Q: Did you do anything for good luck or carry anything?
Q: After you completed your missions, when did you return to the US and then what did you do after you returned?
RR: We came back in November, 1945 (or is it 1944). First place we went to Florida, of course, for R&R. They asked me if I’d teach gunnery, but I said no. Then I shipped out to Amarillo, Texas and worked in the office where they file their flight plans. I worked in there for several months, and after that I went to the State of Washington, Fort Lewis. We ended up fighting forest fires.
Q: What did you think when they dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
RR: Well, it saved us from going over there.
Q: You had a pretty good idea that you would be either in the Pacific theatre or doing something of that nature?
RR: I imagine I would have been flying in B29s I suppose.
Q: Any other exciting things you can think of during the war?
RR: No, that’s about it I guess.
Q: What did you do after the war? Did you go back to school?
RR: No, but I should have. I went to work at the State Highway garage.
Q: Any other veteran’s groups that you are a member of?
RR: The American Legion.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
RR: No, I guess that winds her up.
- Boehme's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 19 July 1944
- Boehme's Crew's Missions - pdf file compiled by members of the Boehme Crew
- Robert Knowles, 398th Radio Operator/Gunner, 602nd Squadron Video Interview (48m 22s)
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Robert Rowland was the Ball Turret Gunner on Alfred H. Boehm's 602nd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Amy Goll, daughter of Frank Henning, 600th Squadron in March 2008.
- The transcription was obtained from a video file.
- Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
- Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].
The following article appeared in the Northwest Signal, a Napoleon, Ohio newspaper on August 13, 2007. Amy Goll obtained permission for its use with Brian of Northwest Signal on May 2, 2008.