World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Ray Talbott, 398th Bomb Group Tail Gunner
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Randy Stange
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
The Radisson Hotel, Covington, KY., September 13, 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.
Ray Talbott, 398th Bomb Group Tail Gunner
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Q: Interviewer, Randy Stange
RT: 398th Tail Gunner, Ray Talbott
Q: Where were you born and raised?
RT: Ottawa, Kansas
Q: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
RT: I had two brothers. My older brother, Seth was killed in the South Pacific. My younger brother, ??. I had one sister.
Q: What did your parents do for a living?
Q: What do you remember of the years just before the war?
RT: Well I was in school, I graduated in 1943. Right after I got out of school, I registered and went right into the service in 1944.
Q: Were you drafted or did you enlist.
RT: NO, I was drafted. I tried to enlist, but the folks wouldnt let me. They said just to wait.
Q: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
RT: I think I was at home. I dont remember just where I was. I was still in school you know. I was at home.
Q: Did you hear it on the radio or somebody telephone?
RT: I couldnt tell you where I heard it from to be very honest with you. We didnt even have electricity at the time. Our radio was battery operated.
Q: So where did the Army send you?
RT: I went to Fort Leavenworth to be processed, then went to Biloxi, Mississippi for basic training. After basic training, I went to Las Vegas Nellis Air Force Base for gunnery school.
Q: So you were at Las Vegas for your classification, is that right?
RT: I went there for gunnery school. From there I went to Tampa, Florida-Plant City at Tampa, Florida, then on to Avon Park, where we came together as a crew.
Q: How did you get over to England?
RT: We flew.
Q: What route did you take?
RT: We picked up a new plane and flew it to Gander, Newfoundland, then to Wales, then to our base at Nuthampstead.
Q: Anything exciting on the trip?
RT: Pretty routine I think
Q: Had you or your parents ever travelled prior to the war?
Q: What were your first impressions of the base at Station 131?
RT: Well, I really didnt get around too much. There wasnt that much to do and we were busy most of the time.
Q: How many missions did you complete?
RT: We was on 26 missions.
Q: Do you remember when you arrived [at Nuthampstead]?
RT: It was in December.. first part of December. Our first mission was January 20, 1945.
Q: Give me your thoughts on your first mission?
RT: I really dont recall anything to be right honest with you.
Q: Any memorable experiences you do remember when you were in England or about combat?
RT: Well I think it was at Schweinfurt, we was hit at 13,000 feet, which had to be a visual target that day. And when we was coming back, we was having problems, so we started throwing everything out that we could. I was throwing out my ammunition belt and it kinda jammed and wouldnt come out. I got to looking, and a piece of flak about 2 inches by a _ inch square hit the ammunition belt and cut it in two.. cut the shells right in two. It was headed right directly for my left side, but that ammunition belt stopped it. I do have that on hand. We about ran out of gas. We landed at Andrews Field in England. Also nearly crashed on takeoff; we lifted off at 70 mph. Only 3 planes landed at our home base.
Q: You kept it?
RT: I kept it.
Q: I would too.
RT: Along with a several other small pieces of flak. We were pretty shot up that time.
Q: Did you keep anything else or did you have any other interesting experiences?
RT: Well it was cold. It was really extremely cold. I dont think I'd ever been that cold before. A lot of those things, if youd have asked me fifty years ago, I might have been able to tell you more.
Q: You might not have told me fifty years ago!
RT: well, thats right..
Q: Did you see any of the USO shows at the base or anything?
RT: No, I dont think they had any of those
Q: Do you remember going on flak leave?
RT: Oh yeah.
Q: Where did you go there?
RT: I would usually go to London. I learned to roller skate in Florida and I enjoyed that very much. I would look up a skating rink in London or Cambridge or wherever I went. The rest of the guys would go out partying and I would go skating.
Q: Is that for the benefit of your wife? [laughing]
RT: No, she knows all about it.
Q: When were you shipped back to the states?
RT: I think our last mission was 19th of April, 1944 was our last mission.
Q: You mean 45?
RT: Yes, 1945.
Q: Was that to Pilsen? Were you on that one to Pilsen?
RT: No, we werent on that one.. it was Elsterwerda, Germany
Q: Your first mission was to Mannheim
RT: Yes, Mannheim
Q: Nothing memorable ever happened to any of the crew? Wounded?
RT: There was nobody on our crew was wounded. However, our bombardier was flying with another crew and his plane went down and he was held prisoner for a short time.
Q: Who was your bombardier?
RT: Nick Merabeas?
Q: Is he still alive?
RT: No, hes not.
Q: Did you guys keep in touch immediately after the war?
RT: I kept in contact with Art Laughlin often, because he lived in Nebraska and I was pretty close to there. Well I kept in contact for a while with Bill Costanzo, the pilot. He went to Korea, and I didnt realize he had, so we drifted apart. We had made a pact when we come together as a crew in fifty years if we made it, wed get together at a reunion at Avon Park, which we did. There was the engineer who was deceased, but all the rest of the crew was there, except Nick Merabeas, he wouldnt come.
Q: When did you get back to the states?
RT: I was asking Art that a while ago, I cant remember. It was shortly after our last mission. We flew a plane back.
Q: I assume you got leave then, to go home, visit home.
RT: Oh yes.
Q: After your leave was done, where were you? Did you go to Drew Field?
RT: No, I was trying to think where I went to. I was down in Arkansas, Stuttgard, Arkansas for a while.
Q: Do you remember where you were when you heard they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima?
RT: No, not really. I really cant remember.
Q: What were your feelings about dropping the bomb?
RT: They should have done it a long time before.
Q: Did you do anything else after the war?
RT: No, I just waited.. Of course, I had my points in and got out on points and was discharged from Scott Field, Illinois.
Q: Did you use your GI Bill, go back to school, join the reserve?
RT: I was in the Reserves for a number of years, and my enlistment come up again, and my wife said that I should sign up again, but I said no, I dont think I will. Its a good thing I didnt, because I would have probably been sent to Korea.
Q: What did you do after the war?
RT: I went to work in a body shop for just a little while, then went to railroad school and worked for Missouri Pacific for 37 years, then I retired. I might tell you that my wife asked Bill Costanza one time she saw how close we was after we finally got back together. She asked Bill if the crews he flew with in Korea were as close as we were. He said no, we were family.
Q: Being in those situations certainly brings you closer together.
RT: Im sure a lot of things that Art can tell you that happened to us that sometimes I didnt know anything about.
Q: You didnt pull any pranks or have any good luck charms or anything like that?
RT: Yeah, I had a sweater that the Red Cross gave me that I wore on all the missions. It was warm!
Q: Was it for luck or warmth?
RT: Warmth! When you get seventy degrees below zero, thats pretty cold. That tail was cold back there.
Q: So you never used the GI Bill after the war?
RT: Yes, I went to school on the GI Bill- to railroad school. I went to Kansas City to see about getting on as an airline employee, but I didnt like the response I got, so I applied to this school. About 6 months before I got out of school and I was talking to the trainmaster and he said when I got out of school, come down here and hed put me to work.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
RT: I was trying to figure up the other night.. I think weve been to ten reunions. The first was in Nashville, Tennessee and I told my wife Marilyn, I dont know whether Ill know Bill or not. We walked in the room, and I said theres Bill right over there. He hadnt changed that much.
Q: Any other veterans groups you belong to besides the 398th?
RT: Im a life member of the VFW. I went into it right after I got out. I finally dropped out of it, then some of the guys here wanted me to go back, so I went back and signed up as a life member.
Q: Thanks for your time Ray, and thanks for your service to your country.
- Costanzo's Crew Photo - 601st Squadron - 5 February 1945
- Arthur Laughlin, 398th Pilot - 601st Squadron Video Interview (15m 27s)
Arthur Laughlin, 398th Pilot - 601st Squadron Video Interview Transcription
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Ray Talbott was the Tail Gunner on Bill Costanza's 601st Squadron crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Amy Goll, daughter of Frank Henning, 600th Squadron in October 2007.
- 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 [ ].