World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Chuck Sasse, 398th Bomb Group Flight Engineer
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Austin Texas, September 11, 2009
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.
Chuck Sasse, 398th Bomb Group Flight Engineer
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MG-R: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
CS: 398th Flight Engineer, Chuck Sasse
Time of Interview: 1:05:37
MG-R: I am Marilyn Gibb-Rice and today is September 11, 2009 and we are at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association Reunion in Austin, Texas. Will you please introduce yourself?
CS: My name is Clarence G. Sasse, S-A-double S-E but I have gone by Chuck all my life.
MG-R: What crew were you in?
CS: I was in Sam Zins’ crew. He was our Pilot, the 602 Squadron, 398th Bomb Group.
MG-R: What position did you fly?
CS: I was a Flight Engineer.
MG-R: Tell me what you were doing, where you were living in the late 1930’s and 40’s.
CS: I was living in southern Minnesota. I was born on a farm. My parents were sharecroppers, more or less. We were very poor during the Depression. I am glad I was raised during the Depression because it taught us a lot of things about life. I had a brother that was drafted. He wound up to be a tank driver with General Patton. I was 2 years younger than him but I got the idea one day that if they are going to take my brother that I would rather join the service. So I was a little over 16. I remember my mother crying when I told her I was going to join the service. I said “Don’t you tell them I am 16” because we had no telephone. So there was no way they could get a hold of her. So I walked in to St Pierre Minnesota. It was about 9 miles. I decided on the way that I did not like to walk and did not know how to swim, so I wanted to join the Air Force. So that is the reason I wound up in the Air Force.
MG-R: When did you join?
CS: That was in 1942.
MG-R: What did you hear or how did you hear about Pearl Harbor?
CS: It was late in ’41. It was very unbecoming to me. We had heard about it on the radio. All we had at home was a battery-operated radio. We heard about it, but I could not quite believe, you know, being a little devil about everything USA, that somebody would attack our country, especially a small country like Japan because we looked it up on the map, and we could not believe a small country like that would have attacked us. Sorry to say that I hope we never have that happen again, but I am afraid of it again sometime.
MG-R: So was that what made you decide to join?
CS: I believe it was more because they took my brother. And I just decided that if they were going to take him, why, I am going to go in. That was another reason I joined the Air Force, so I thought I could bomb Hitler so they would not get my brother.
MG-R: And he was in the infantry?
CS: Yes, in the infantry.
MG-R: When you went over, when you signed up, did you have a girlfriend?
CS: Yes, just an 8th grade girlfriend though. That was kind of popular, I guess you call that stuff.
MG-R: So your mother was upset that you had joined?
CS: Very upset, very upset.
MG-R: Was it just the 2 brothers?
CS: No, I had a younger brother at home, and 2 younger sisters. So they didn’t need me on the farm anyway. They still, my parents, still had plenty of help around so it was just, during the Depression, it was another person around they did not have to feed.
MG-R: That’s true. So tell me about your training. Where did you first go?
CS: Basic Training I took in Gulfport, Mississippi. I wanted to be a pilot. Naturally I think everyone wants to be a pilot. But in those days, if you lived on a farm, the boys were taken out of school to help on the farm. So I only had actually a 7th grade education. In fact they can’t do that anymore. But in the spring, as soon as the farm work started and the frost got off the ground, they would take us out of school and we would help on the farm. And when school started in the fall, we could not go to school because we had to wait until all the crop was brought in. So we only had half of schooling each year. But I think that the teachers felt sorry for us because they all sent school work home to us, on the bus. Younger kids brought it home. We studied very hard because we wanted an education. But I found out when I got in the Air Force that there were plenty of guys in there with High School and College education and they threw this stuff at us so fast that I could not get it that fast. I did not have the training. But somehow the Air Force decided that I should be a Flight Engineer and I guess it did not hurt a bit us to be raised that way, especially during the depression, because it taught us a lot about life. I had no problems with being a Flight Engineer, because to pass the top grade in our class was about 700 and I was very happy to be a Flight Engineer.
MG-R: So where did you continue, where else did you go for training?
CS: We took gunnery school in Las Vegas, Nevada for about 3 ½ months. That was a very, very, very, very good training. Then they sent me to Gulfport, Mississippi to Flight Engineer school. Somehow I got the idea that I wanted to get overseas, quicker than I thought I was getting over there. When I got down there, they were going to give me training for 6 months and I thought, wow. So, I went into the Captain the second morning I was there, I said “Is there any way you can take the test for Flight Engineer without going through the school?” He kind of looked at me as if I were crazy. I wanted to get overseas. “Yes,” he says, “You can take the test tomorrow morning if you want to.” And so I took the test next morning and I passed it. So a week after that I was sent down to Gulfport, Mississippi and was put on a crew. And 4 ½ months after I joined the service, I was overseas.
MG-R: Did you go over with the 398th?
CS: We crewed down to Biloxi, Mississippi and then for some reason we went to Florida, Tampa, Florida, for one overnight. Oh, yes, we were short of a navigator. We were waiting for a navigator. So we went down to Tampa, Florida. We flew from there to Tampa, Florida and picked up a navigator. And the next day we flew overseas.
MG-R: Did you have all your crew at that point?
CS: We had all our crew at that point, yes. We were all assembled. We took off at that point. It was a great experience for me.
MG-R: Tell me about it.
CS: Well, we went to Bangor, Maine and re-fueled. And we had a navigator and co-pilot that were quite frisky and they were both officers. And I’ll never forget because I was one of those guys that obeyed the law. And we were flying into Bangor, Maine and they were looking around at the base. And the pilot says to them “What are you guys looking for?” And they said “We are looking for the fences.” And the pilot says “Well, we are only going to be here for one night, you know, and we are on dead secret orders.” It did not make any difference to them. That night, they snuck out and went up town and they got caught coming back in. So the next morning, our orders with about a hundred other planes (B-17’s) were to take off for overseas. And they had them both up for Court Marshall. And we were sitting there with the last plane of about 100 B-17s, yes, there were 99 B-17s, to take off because we were waiting for our co-pilot and navigator. Well, they took a stripe away from them, from 2nd LT down to Flight Officer. They brought them up and put them on the plane. And while we are on that, after we got in 10 missions, they got their stripes back. But then we went to Bangor, Maine and re-fueled and then we went to Goose Bay, Labrador and re-fueled. That was a rude awakening for me because I didn’t think there was that much snow in the entire country. But the fuel was all plowed in with about 15-20 foot of snow all around us. And I was the Flight Engineer, so naturally I had to take care of the plane. So they brought a heater out so that I could sleep in the plane. They covered the whole plane up with heaters and it snowed about 4 foot that night, right on the level. So the next morning, we uncovered all my plane and made sure there was no ice on it because you can’t take off with ice or you are going to crash. So I had my plane all ready to go and so did all the other Flight Engineers who had to do the same thing I did. And we all took off. And our orders were, I knew we would not have enough gas to get to England. But the Air Force is very particular about that. They do not tell you about things until the last minute. They bring out the orders and say “Here’s your orders.” I said “Well, there is not enough gas to get to England.” They say “Well, don’t worry about it. They will send you out for 4 hours. And if you think you are going to run out, you go to Greenland, to the left to re-fuel.” So we went past the 4-hour mark. At the 6-hour mark, if you don’t think you can make it to England, you can go to Iceland to re-fuel. And soon we passed the 6-hour mark. Well, I kept a close eye on our gas because my Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] was a pilot, he did not know nothing about the airplane. A few pilots did, but very few of them, but I already told you the same thing [previously in this interview]. But I kept telling him, don’t worry about the engines because I am going to lean them out because I don’t think we have enough gas to get to England.
MG-R: And what were you going to do?
CS: Lean the engines out. Starve them a little bit. He says “Really.” I says “Really.” He says, “Well, they told us to go to England.” I says, “That’s fine, but you have got to have gas to get there.” He was a good pilot. He was 18 years old. He had a top education, but he didn’t know anything about the airplane. He knew how to fly it, but that was all. He didn’t even know how to start the engines. I started the engines for him every time. Because if I let him do it, he would flood them out and then we could not go on a mission because I would have to work all night to get the engines de-flooded before we could go on another mission. Anyway, we got there. When we got there, all 4 of our gas gauges were bouncing right off of empty. And we found out that one plane did not make it. They had to ditch in the ocean. They caught up with us about 2 months later. We found out that was really God-sent because we were coming back from missions and flying across the Channel, sometimes pretty well shot up. We figured a good place to ditch would be the Channel. We got over there. They caught up with us anyway, and to finish my story about them, they said they landed in the ocean, got out on the wings and dinghies, dinghy boats, we all got into our boats before the ship went down. Ah, wow, we thought, that is good news, really good news. We kept that in our mind all the time, that if we got shot up, a good place to ditch would be the Channel if we could not make it back to England. Better than to go into France and crash land or go into the south to some of the Baltic States, Slovakia or Poland and all the Baltic States which we would head for if we got hit. We never did have to use the Channel, only one time.
MG-R: So you got over there and then what happened? Where did you land in England?
CS: We landed on the coast and they put us on a train. We thought we were going to get all new airplanes to go on a mission. Boy, did we get fooled. They put us on a train and took us to Nuthampstead, England, to the base. Two days, later, they sent us on a mission with a beat-up, shot-up B-17. The only way to get a new plane was if you got shot down and the plane was un-repairable, then you would get a new airplane.
MG-R: So you flew a new one over?
CS: Yes, we flew over in a new one and wind up on missions with a beat-up, shot-up B-17. We could not believe it happened but that is the way war is.
MG-R: What did you think of England when you first arrived?
CS: It was a beautiful country, beautiful country. They have got hedgerows all around their farms, all around the fields. Their homes have flowers around their houses, just a beautiful country. We found out later, when we got passes to go into town, that all the people were just marvelous, just marvelous.
MG-R: What time of year did you get there?
CS: It was the spring of the year, and I guess we saw the best of the country, come to think of it.
MG-R: After you arrived and you got to Nuthampstead, how soon was it before you went on a mission?
CS: Two days.
MG-R: Did you do any flying just around the base, kind of like training?
CS: The first day we were there, they put us on a training mission right away, which I am glad they did. It would keep you busy, keep you from worrying about things. We took one training mission. And being a young farm boy who never got into Minneapolis even to the State Fair which was only 60 miles away, I could not be more amazed. We would get up to 25,000 feet and you could see the whole country of England, just by looking out the window. I could not believe all the stuff I was seeing and how marvelous and how big the world really is.
MG-R: Do you remember your first mission?
CS: Oh, yes.
MG-R: Can you tell me about it?
CS: It was a big disappointment. We got credit for a mission. Like I said, we had beat up planes they put us in. We took off and we got over the Channel, getting into enemy territory, into Germany, and our converter burned out, smoking. So I had to disconnect it. And the pilot kept, we all had mikes on so everybody could talk to everybody in the plane. He says, “What is the problem?” I said, “We have got a major problem. The converter burned out.” It is like the generator on an automobile. Well he says, “What is that going to cause? Then the Bombardier [2nd Lt. Howard Keifer] this is a farm boy from Iowa, who I had a lot of faith in, says, “Yes, Chuck is right, we cannot drop the bombs because of the electrical switches on the bomb racks.” I said, “Well, I can go back and open the bomb bay doors and I can drop them one at a time.” So we all kind of talked it over and said “No, no.” And the Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] and the Navigator [2nd Lt. Harry Woosley] and the Bombardier [2nd Lt. Howard Keifer] all said “No, you cannot drop them one at a time or you will spread them all over the whole country. Call the lead Colonel and tell him what the problem is.” So we got nearly half way through Germany by that time and the Colonel says, “You have got to go back home.” I thought, wow. The Pilot says, “I have been told that we have to go back home.” To me being a farm boy, I know when you leave a group, you are in trouble. So I said, “Can’t we just stay with the group?” Once they drop their bombs in a bomb run, they told us you are going to have a heavy load. You won’t be able to keep up with the group. Well, I never thought of that. So they said, “You still have got to go back.” I was afraid we were really going to be shot up before we got back. The Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] said, “What does everybody think?” I said, “Well, we got our orders. We have got to go back. We had better stay with the orders.” So we turned back all by ourselves. That was a mistake, but it was not a mistake to go back. We got back and we had bomb load. I had never had that come up in my training or I would have warned the pilot about it. I thought sure that he had it in his training, but he did have it in his training but he forgot. He had never landed with bomb load. So we get to England, get to the field, got our orders to come in. As soon as we touched [landed], the Engineer’s job is stand back of the Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins], to read off the air speed to the Pilot, how fast you are going. As soon as we touched [landed], I told both of them, “Hey, we are going too fast.” Our Co-Pilot [F/O Robert McLaughlin] was a real sharp pilot and sharper than our First Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins]. He says, “I will start applying the brakes.” So he started applying the brakes and he blew out both tires. Before we got to the end of the runway, we were still doing about 50 miles an hour. And we ran off the end of the runway, went into a field and finally stopped at a point. At that time when we went off the runway, I said, “Shut off all the engines.” So our Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] was so shook up by that time that our Co-Pilot [F/O Robert McLaughlin] was doing everything. He shut off all the engines. We ran off the end of the runway, ran into the field, with both tires blown out. The plane tipped up. I thought she was going to roll right over on her back. But she stood up, and flopped back down. In the meantime, our Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] was supposed to tell everyone to get in a certain position, which he did not do. So when the plane went back down, we all jumped out and our Tail Gunner [Cpl. Weldon Sherwood] was yelling to help him out because the tail wheel had hit the ground so hard with that heavy bomb load that it drilled the tail wheel right into the plane. He was locked in the plane. He could not get out. So I ran back and got an ax and broke the plexi-glass at the back of the B-17 and helped the Tail Gunner [Cpl. Weldon Sherwood] get out of there. The plane did not blow up. I thought it would. It was high-acting gas, leaking out of the tanks. I could hear it leaking out of the tanks. They called on me and the Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins]. “Flight Engineer and Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins], come in to the Colonel’s office.” Here we had wrecked a half million dollar plane on our first mission. I was really, really afraid of what was going to happen. First he asked me, he said, “What did you do to the plane to avoid this accident?” I told him why we had to come back and that we had a bomb load and that was all I knew about it. He said, “Did you ever have training in your Engineer’s school, about what to do?” I said, “No, never.” So they call up the Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins], who was sitting right beside me. “What training did you have in Pilot’s school? Didn’t they ever have you land with bomb load before?” “No.” “Did you have training in Pilot’s school about what to do, instead of landing with bomb load?” He [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] could not say nothing but “yes” because he knew that his boss had him over the barrel, so he said, “Yes, they gave us training.” “So what was your training?” “We were supposed to drop the bombs from the bomb bay or get rid of them someway before we landed. He said, “Why didn’t you do that?” He didn’t have an answer for it. He more or less goes on, “I guess I do not have an excuse for that.” He says, “You just forgot, right?” “Yes, I forgot.” So he busts him from 1st Lieutenant down to 2nd Lieutenant. And that was on my first mission. And from there we went on.
MG-R: How many missions did you fly?
CS: I only flew 3, because we got over there late.
MG-R: What happened on the other 2?
CS: One mission we went all the way. The second mission we went all the way. We got shot up good. We had 38 bullet holes, flak holes when we got back. My Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] took a picture of them. My Pilot was the only one who had a camera, the only one who had money in the whole crew. I borrowed his camera and took these pictures. He got them developed after the war and sent them to me. Other than that, my third mission went quite well, quite well.
MG-R: Can you remember on the two missions that you completed, where you were going?
CS: Yes, my third mission was to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia (25 Apr 1945). I have been back there twice. The war was winding down. We got our orders to go back to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, which is way over on the right. Germany is more or less right across from England. This was way over on the right. I talked to the older guys over there. They had been bombing that for years, wondering why we were going back to bomb Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Some of the guys had already had their bags packed and were ready to fly home because they thought the war was running down. I thought about it later that it was really a mix up. I don’t know if I should mention it on this interview.
MG-R: It’s up to you.
CS: It’s up to me. We found out later that, and this is terrible, but that’s the way it is. We found out that Stalin, Churchill and Truman had already sat down at a table and divided up all these countries, who is going to get them after the war. We found out later that Russia did get all the Baltic States. Eisenhower must have found out, our General, from the President, Mr. Truman that they were going to get all the Baltic States. Eisenhower knew that they had a big armament plant in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. He wanted that big armament plant knocked out so the Russians would not get it. He did not trust Russians any more than we did at that time. So that is why we went back to Pilsen. He was a very good general. And in my mind I can’t quite forgive him. He called us up, this is the only happened in the war. He gave us 3 hours’ notice that we were going to come and do that. His idea was for the 8,000 people working in this armament plant to break out, kill the German guards or get bombed. Ike gave the Germans 3 hours’ notice to move all the railroad aircraft guns around the whole area to Pilsen. We came over, last mission of the war. B-17s are going down all over the place. They just shot the living hell out of all of us. We got hit. That was the one that I counted all the bullet holes. Our Co-Pilot [F/O Robert McLaughlin] was flying with another crew that day, a new crew that just came over. He got shot down. Our Co-Pilot [F/O Robert McLaughlin] got shot down that day. It seems as though when they, in fact I found out later it was an order. If a crew came over, the first two or three missions that their crew flew, they changed Pilots and Co-Pilots with another crew, because the Pilot and Co-Pilot on their first time they really went into combat could not handle the plane properly. We were all flying wingtip-to-wingtip. So they were running into each other, knocking themselves down. So that is the reason they switched and our Co-Pilot [name unknown] got shot down that day. We found out later he [F/O Robert McLaughlin] made it which was kind of comical because he was really a rough and tumble guy. When anything on a plane gets hit and you see them roll over, you count parachutes. Because you know whoever who does not get out is going to hit the ground and not make it. We saw three parachutes come out, out of our Co-Pilot’s [F/O Robert McLaughlin] plane. We all said that if anybody got out, McLaughlin got out. Sure enough, we found out three weeks later that he got back to England. We were kidding him about it. We said, “If anybody got out, you got out.” He [F/O Robert McLaughlin] said, “You bet. I was the first guy out of that damn plane.” So then we, it was the end of the war and it was a terrible ending. Everybody thought the war was over with. Then we lose all these men, nine men in each plane on the last mission of the war.
MG-R: How many went down?
CS: Nineteen. We never really beat the Germans in the air. We just outnumbered them. So, for the younger generations that are going to be in this world a lot longer than I am, there are countries out there that are not afraid of us at all. I am just so worried we will be attacked again by Khadafy or some wild guy like him will come over and drop an atomic bomb on us and then we are right back in the thick of it all, again. If they got the guts to do it, even though they know they cannot beat us, they got the guts to do it, I know, foolishly, foolishly. We did haul, on the bright side of it, we hauled prisoners-of-war back for two days. The next day we got our orders to fly over. We thought there could not be a place in Germany that did not have a big hole in it. We flew back and landed on the most beautiful field and they had prisoners-of-war brought back over in trucks. So we hauled prisoners- of-war back for two days. That was with God on our side, because these guys were starved to death. We had to help them on the plane. We put chairs in the plane. We threw all our guns out, all our armament out. We could haul back about 40 of them at one time. On the third day, our orders were cut to fly back to the United States. So we flew back to the United States, that was Macon, Georgia [Cochran Army Airfield]. We got a 3 day furlough to go home. Then we got a waking order. Meet at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, we are going to train you on the B-29s and you are going to go to Japan. We thought, “Wow, we will never make that one.” But we all went and in two weeks, we would have been in Guam taking missions over Japan in B-29s. But Truman had the guts to drop the atomic bombs so we did not have to go.
MG-R: So were you in a different Bomb Group?
CS: Yes, different Bomb Group completely.
MG-R: What number was it?
CS: I do not have that information with me. I have got it right at home and should have brought it with me. It was just a training group anyway. But it would not have taken us long to get us in shape because we were all experienced. We all trusted one another. Our Co-Pilot [F/O Robert McLaughlin] was back with us by that time. We were just kind of hoping he didn’t get shot down. He was having a big time. He hit the ground and he met up with another Pilot from another plane that got shot down. Everyone was walking around. They would not take prisoners-of-war or nothing. They met up with a German soldier. They said, “What happened?” He said he wanted to be a prisoner-of-war. He knew the war was going to be down. He was walking with us as a prisoner-of-war. So he [F/O Robert McLaughlin] was bragging when he got back to England. “Yes, we took a prisoner-of-war after we got shot down.”
MG-R: When they landed, did it take long for them to get back to England, when they were shot down in Pilsen?
CS: No, he was back there in two weeks. We had an underground over there. I understand we had 25 men that bailed out, this is a lot of guts, at the start of the war. We worked with the underground. I understand that all but about four or five of them lived through that. I cannot quite surmise that. But evidently they had beautiful training and they spoke the language and they dressed like the Germans. I was thinking that, after the war, if had I heard about that, I would have joined them because I was born in a German community. I spoke German fluently. I was confirmed in my Lutheran religion in German. I would have been probably just the guy for the job, but I never even knew about it until after the war. I think I would have enlisted for that if I had known about it.
MG-R: When you took the prisoners out, did you take any that were from the 398th?
CS: Any that I knew? No they were all from different parts of the States. None were any that I knew.
MG-R: And none were from the 398th?
CS: No, I was very surprised about that.
MG-R: Which prisoner camp were you taking them from?
CS: Stalin. I understand this prisoner camp was about 100 miles from this airfield. They were all brought over in trucks. The ones that could not make it physically, they flew right back to the United States. The ones they thought they could put them in the hospital in England were the ones we brought back. They would nourish them enough to get them back home alive. The better ones we did not see because they got through right back to the United States. We saw the worst of them I guess.
MG-R: Anything else you want to tell me about your three missions? Anything you can think of?
CS: It was a….I was never sorry for them. I was glad we did it. Being a farm boy, to get to fly in an airplane, regardless of the position, was a journey, an experience for me. It was a happy experience.
MG-R: Would you say you were ever afraid?
CS: Yes, I would say we were all afraid. But there is a difference between being afraid and being stupid. If you were not afraid, you were pretty dumb. None of us were stupid. All of us were enlisted. I do not know if everybody knows, but everybody in the air was an enlisted man. He volunteered to be in the Air Force. If you did not want to fly, we had some guys who could not take it physically. We would give them a JEEP after we got our orders, to take us out to the field. Some of the guys could not take another mission. “Fine, we’ll get somebody in their place, but you are not going home. You are going to find something to do, clean latrines, work in the kitchen, or something like that, or clean the yards. I only know really two guys that could not take it mentally. It affected them mentally. And they were good young men, too, but mentally they just could not take it. We would still talk to them after our missions. We did not have any hatred against them whatsoever. It was not like we were drafted to do the job. We were all enlisted men. This was what we wanted to do for our Country. This is what we did.
MG-R: Did the whole crew stay together when you went over and started flying the B-29s?
MG-R: Did you keep in touch with all your crew members after the war?
CS: No. Yes and no. Come to think of it, I still visit my Bombardier [2nd Lt. Howard Keifer]. He is a pig farmer in Iowa. He has 500 pigs on his farm, big pig farm, air-conditioned furring house for his pigs. I am going to see him in about a week from now. I am the last guy out of the nine men, and him, that are living. I talked to him last week. I asked him, “I’m going to the 398th Reunion, why don’t you fly down. I know you can afford it.” He said, “Chuck, when you come to see me, you will know why I cannot go. I said, “Really”. “I am in a wheelchair.” He says, “I cannot make it. You better get ready, because you are going to be the last one that is going to be left of this crew.” I said, “No, you will beat me out.” He said, “No, I will never make it.” I guess he and I are the last ones from our crew. Our Pilot [2nd Lt. Samuel Zins] died last year.
MG-R: But you guys were young, you were young especially.
CS: Yes, I was the youngest guy on the crew. I am still kind of proud being raised as I was, during the Depression out on a farm, thinking I was a nobody. But when I got on this crew, I found out that everybody came to me when we got into a position and about what should we do. They would say, “Chuck, what are you going to do?” When I told them what I was going to do, they would all say, “OK, that is what we are going to do.”
MG-R: You may have been one of the youngest, but you were one of the smartest, they really looked up to you?
CS: I guess they call it “street smart” in the city. But I guess I was “country smart”. That made me kind of proud, now that I think about it, in later years. The bringing up out there, it did not hurt me a bit. I think it helped me also. It gave me confidence, which I never had before I got here.
MG-R: What was the Engineer’s job?
CS: To keep the airplane in the air.
MG-R: So if anything went wrong, you were the one?
CS: Anything went wrong, I was trained to repair all the 50-calliber guns, take care of the engines, take care of the plane, take care of the ailerons, take care of the hydraulic system, take care of the electrical system, do everything on that airplane. We had a lot of emergency stuff we could do. I could crank open bomb bay doors if they did not go. I could crank down the landing gears if they did not go. I could move the ailerons if the hydraulics were shot out.
MG-R: What did you call them?
CS: The ailerons, something you got to have to land with. I could crank them down. Everything was based around the Engineer as far as the airplane was concerned. The Pilots, thank God for them. Most of them were fortunate young men who had an education. But like I said, they were smart, but not mechanically.
MG-R: Did you continue in that line of work, once you got out?
CS: No, I did not. I got home. I was married in Tampa, Florida, two days before I went overseas. My wife was home worrying all this time, whether I was going to make it back or not. I said to her, “I am going to go to Northwest Airlines and try to get a job.” She said, “No, you are not. I am not going to sit here and worrying about you coming home from every flight.” I just kind of got discouraged. “OK, I will go down the street and get a job.” I went down the street and got a job in our garage. My training came in. I only worked with this guy for about 12 years. I worked myself up to service manager and had 28 people working for us. I hired every one of them because he had just started out the business when he hired me. He walked in one night and said to me, “Tell all the guys we are going to lock up Friday night. I sold the business. I am going to go out of business.” I said, “Really.” He said, “Yes.” “I am going to be out of a job, too?” He said, “Yes.” Well, I was walking home that night and thinking that if I am going to work for somebody for 12 years and then be without a job in one week, I am going to go in business for myself. So, I got home and told the wife about this. We had three kids in school and one at home. She said, “What are we going to do?” I said, “I am going to buy a building. I saw a building on my way home from work.” I was not one of these guys who didn’t go home and cry in my beer. She said, “Where are we going to get the money?” I said, “We are going to borrow it.” “How are we going to make house payments?” “We will make them.” So I went out and borrowed the money and went in business for myself, in the garage business. I expanded it very well. I went into the body shop business, expanded that, worked hard which I thought from here on, if you are going to have something, you better get out there and work for it. It’s too bad we cannot still rely on some of our children today. I turned it over to my son, thank God for that, rather than selling it, because he has doubled the business. He has done things with it that I never thought about. I had 12 employees when I turned it over to him. Now he has 24 employees, doubled the sales force. He is servicing 40 cars per day, in the garage and body shop. He is doing real well and paying his bills. I guess I taught him the right way to go about things.
MG-R: Did you take advantage of the G.I. Bill once you got back?
CS: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.
MG-R: What did you do?
CS: I took every training they had at Dunwoody Institute, which was a mechanical school and body shop school. I took everything they had at night school, would you believe? I worked every day and two nights a week I went to night school, for about 5 ½ years. I took management, everything they had. But my son was kind of the opposite. He graduated from high school. He did not want to go to college. “Dad, I want to work with you in the business.” He learned everything from me, which I am kind of proud of. He expanded it beyond what I ever dreamed it would be. I have been retired now for 20 years. I am 89 years old. He has just done real well with it. I am real proud of him. But life can be some pretty tough times. What I would like to say to the younger generation is you have got to get out and work for it. You cannot let things interfere with your determination. You have got to stay with it. My life has not been a happy journey. I have lost a son, 5 ½. I have lost a daughter. Children are supposed to bury you. You are not supposed to bury your children. I still will not let that get me down. My son died in an accident, playing in our home, at 5 ½. My daughter died at 42, from cancer. That was just 2 years ago. You have just got to get up. You have to live on. Sometimes it is hard. Life can really give you some tough turns once in a while. I found that out. I guess the war training probably helped me more than anything.
MG-R: That’s good. I am glad you came away from it with something positive.
CS: The few that were at the meeting that we had here, when they brought up the 12 guys who told about their experiences in front of us. Were you there?
CS: I just know that all these guys are probably pretty successful, have been pretty successful in life because of the adversities they went through as a young man. They are just damn lucky to be alive. We all are. I was telling the wife last night, “You know, I guess there are what, 23 or 24 of us here.”
MG-R: I think there are more than that.
CS: I think there are more but I bet a lot of them are in a rest home already. A lot of them probably could not afford to come. They were not as lucky as we were. But that is not going to stop us. That is not going to stop us. I am going to go next year, back to England, and to Czechoslovakia. I feel the Lord threw me some bad curves, but has also been very good to me.
MG-R: Have you been back to Nuthampstead?
CS: Twice already. Next year, I am going to take my 2 daughters who are still living and my son, hoping they will go with me. They have not given me answer yet, but I already did ask them. I am going to pay their way, all their way, which I can afford very easily and hope that they will go with me. My wife passed away a few years ago, but I have a lady friend with me who has been very kind. I am still going to go on. I have a sister out in California who is 105. She raised us kids because my mother and dad worked on the farm every day. She more or less raised us kids. I was out to see her last year. She is still driving a car, to church and to the grocery store. She says, “I’ll tell you what. My driver’s license came due last month. I studied for 2 weeks. I went down and took the test. I walked in there with my cane. Everybody was looking at me like what the hell are you doing in here. Well, I took the test and passed it. And they had to give me a license for another 5 years. So here it is.” She has got a license to drive until 110. So I am going to be like her.
MG-R: That’s good. That’s good. I hope so. I hope so. Do you have anything else you want to tell? We are about at the end of the time?
CS: Well, unless you have any more questions. I do speak to a lot of schools, to the younger generation. I am a little disappointed in the high school groups I have talked to. Some of them it seems like they could care less. They are not very interested in World War II. What’s that? But when I went to the grade school, I was very encouraged because these kids really want to know. They really want to know stuff. They still would like to know this and the other. Honest to God, good questions come out of these grade school kids. Seems like when they get into the higher grades, they kind of worry me. I don’t’ know how old your children are, but.
MG-R: We are about out of time. I want to thank you from the second generation that you guys went in and served and were in the 398th Bomb Group. We really appreciate that.
CS: I appreciate the interview. This is the first time I have ever been interviewed. I tried to send all my kids to college. I had pretty good luck. I have two daughters who are teachers now. Like I say, I am still going to go on. My daughter that passed away last year was 42. She had 19 years as a court recorder. Very brilliant mind. One year to for a beautiful pension. She could not make it. Our other daughter went to school. She jumped a couple grades in grade school. She has got a year to go to retire. She is really a go-getter. She teaches 12th grade English. I cannot believe what is going on in these schools. Honest to God, she comes home and tells me, “I have got one year to go and I’ll be so glad to get out of there. I’ll fry hamburgers, I will do anything.” When she started to go to college, she was so gung-ho to be a teacher. These teachers are really taking a beating today. I said, “Tell me about it.” She said, “Dad, I have got 3 different languages I am trying to teach English and I have got 2 interpreters in my class that I work with every day.” Because she has these immigrant kids who, two different languages. I said, “How in God do you put up trying to teach kids English when you have got to work with 2 interpreters?” She said, “Dad, it is not easy.” And then she said the principal comes down and says, “We have got to get the grades up in your class.” Or as much as saying we cannot use you. I thought, “Wow. I can see why you want to get out of there.” That really worries me with this immigration situation. We have our schools filled up with them. We have our hospitals filled up with them. Part of our jails are filled up with them. It is not going to help our country like it did when we had immigration 50 and 75 years ago. When my grandfather came from Germany, and I looked up his records when I was over there. I know when he got on the boat. When he landed, he was on his own. He brought over 7 brothers and sisters from Germany. Everyone he brought over, he had to sign that he was responsible for them. When they got off the boat in New York, he had to pick them up, bring them to Minnesota. He is not going to be on welfare. He is not going to do this. He is not going to do that. You were responsible for him. We don’t have nothing like that today. We don’t have anything like that today.
MG-R: No, they are all sneaking in.
CS: So this increase in immigration we have is, are we off or on yet?
MG-R: We are still on.
CS: We are still on. OK. I really appreciate the interview. It is the first one I ever had. I hope some of the younger generation could get in on some of these. Really, including my grandchildren.
MG-R: Well, we’ll make sure they get to see it.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 1:05:37]
Zin's crew 602nd Squadron
2nd Lt. Samuel I. Zins, Pilot
F/O Robert McLaughlin, Co-Pilot
2nd Lt. Harry Woosley, Navigator
2nd Lt. Howard F. Keifer, Bombardier
Cpl. Clarence G. Sasse, Engineer
Cpl. Donald Williams, Radio
Cpl. Eugene Wrobel, Ball Turret
Cpl. Edmond E. Staley, Waist Gunner
Cpl. Weldon L. Sherwood, Tail Gunner
- Zin's Crew - 602nd Squadron - probably 1944
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- T/Sgt. Chuck Sasse was the Engineer on Samuel I. Zin's 602nd Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Janice Monk of Spokane, WA, November 24 - 30, 2013. Janice 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 [ ].