World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Al Turney, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Randy Stange
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
The Marriott Hotel, Overland Park, KS., September 10, 2005
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.
Al Turney, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
601st Squadron, Eighth Air Force
RS: Interviewer, Randy Stange
AT: 398th Navigator, Al Turney
RS: We’re at the Marriott, Overland Park, Kansas, 398th Bomb Group Reunion
I’m Randy Stange. We’re interviewing Al Turney. Where did you go to school, where did you grow up, Al?
AT: I grew up in Sayville, Long Island, New York. That’s where I went to high school. And I went to college in Pennsylvania for Cadet training.
RS: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
AT: Oh, no, I enlisted. I’d like to tell you how I got enlisted.
AT: My dad was in the service at that time, my stepfather. I was raised by my stepfather. And we were out at Mitchell Field on Long Island to see my brother off. He was on his way to Iceland; he was in the Air Corps. And he came running out of the barracks when we were there, and he said, “My God, the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor!” And my old man looked at me and he said, “You know, you’re next.” And I said, “Yeah, another year.” He said, “By the way, you don’t have to walk in the mud.” It kind of stopped me for a second or two and I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “You can go flying.” And I said, “Nah, pop, to get into the Cadets you have to have two years of college.” He said, “They just changed the law. If you can pass the tests, you can get in.” I said, “Do you think I can pass the test?” And he said, “I know damn well you can.” And that’s how I got into the Cadets.
RS: OK. So what was the date when you enlisted?
AT: Let’s see, well I was still in high school when I went down and took the test and all that stuff, but I actually enlisted in October 1942.
RS: OK. And where did you do your basic training, to start off?
AT: Well, how about, let’s see, what’s that big training place there in Atlanta Georgia? Practically all the Cadets went there. Well, anyway, I went from there to primary training at Greenfield, NC. And then from there to basic at Macon, GA, and then I went from there to Navigation School at Monroe, LA. And then I went to bombardier school in California. And then they stopped me three-quarters of the way through and said, “Hey, we need navigators.” And I went over to England.
RS: OK. And that’s when you joined the 398th?
AT: That’s when I joined the 398th.
RS: Did you take a boat over or did you fly over?
AT: No, we took our own airplane over.
RS: Which route did you take flying over?
AT: Well, we went up to Newfoundland and then across to Greenland and landed at Reykjavik, and then down to Scotland, and then they took the airplane away from us.
RS: When did you get to England? When did you get to Station 131?
AT: I’m not quite sure, but I think it was around June of ’44.
RS: And you were replacement crew?
AT: Yeah, we were replacement crew.
RS: What were your first impressions of the base there at Nuthampstead?
AT: My first impression was, “My God, what did I get into?” Because we didn’t get into a Quonset hut, we got into a tent. And it seemed like it rained like hell the first couple of days we were there, and the water was running through the tent. But shortly thereafter we got into a Quonset hut.
RS: When did you fly your first mission?
AT: Oh, God I don’t remember, I think it was probably sometime in August 1944, August or September, I’m not sure. I’ve got a history more or less of every mission that I didn’t know my co-pilot was keeping. But he had a little notebook he kept in his pocket and he wrote down every mission we took. And I didn’t know he did that until that reunion at Oshkosh, and that’s the first one he showed up for. By the way, I’m the only member of my crew that ever shows up at these reunions, except Chuck Seal was there for two years, and he passed away. But he made me a copy of his notes that he took during every mission that we made. [Charles F. Seal, was the Co-Pilot and Al was the Navigator, flying with William A. Sitler as the Pilot, and his crew.]
RS: How many missions did you end up flying?
AT: Well, we flew 35 and got credit for 36. Just like Wally Blackwell. He and I were, not on the same airplane, but on the same mission. We got three-quarters of the way over there and had to abort. After we came back, they decided to give us credit for that mission.
RS: Any thoughts on any missions or any interesting moments?
AT: You know, we went through every mission; nobody ever got hurt. We got a few holes here and there. The only mission that ever scared me was into Dresden, and I swear, you couldn’t see the blue sky. Nothing but flak. And I think that one scared me. That’s the only time I can remember being scared.
RS: So, no emergency landings or anything?
RS: That’s good.
AT: Well, no. I’m lying to you. We had an emergency landing into Belgium. We ran out of fuel so we had to put down in Belgium. So we spent three days there in Belgium. It was very interesting.
RS: Any pranks or things you recall from when you were over there or flak leave…
AT: Oh, Chuck Seal and I, he was our co-pilot, every time we had a leave; it was right down to London.
RS: So you always spent your leaves in London?
AT: Every time we got a chance to. Had a ball.
RS: Were you over there at VE day or had you already gone home?
AT: I finished up my missions, I think it was January 4, I think I finished my 35 missions, and that’s when they sent us home.
RS: You flew home or took a boat?
AT: Flew home. Lucky.
RS: And then what did you do after you got home?
AT: Well, I went to New Jersey for R & R and along came some guy and said, “Do you have any preference as to what you’d like to do?” And I said, “Well, how long is the war gonna go on?” And he said, “Hell, I don’t know any more than you do!” And I said, “I might as well see some more of the world. I want to go out to the Pacific.” He said, “OK.” And I was on my way about a week later.
RS: Where did they send you?
AT: They sent me to California…what the heck was that field just north of San Francisco. I don’t remember it. But anyhow, I flew out of there into Hawaii, of course, and then from there we island-hopped for almost a year in ’45, transporting troops and spare parts and stuff like that. Wound up in Japan, and I spent, oh, three or four months
At Atsugi airbase, just outside of Yokohama. And they asked for some volunteers for China, so I decided to go over and see China.
RS: At what point was that? Had the war ended yet?
AT: Yeah, the war had ended of course, because we were in Japan.
RS: Where were you when they dropped the Atomic Bomb?
AT: Oh, I was in probably Tinian or Saipan, or someplace like that; out there on one of the islands.
RS: What did you feel about that?
AT: What did I feel about it? I thought they should have dropped it sooner if they’d had it sooner.
RS: So, you were in occupied Japan then for a while…
AT: For about four months. That was an experience.
RS: Then you went to China. And what were you doing in China?
AT: Well, with the Air Force, of course, and I was an operations officer at that time. You always had to have a second job, you know. And they decided to close the air bases in China. And along came a Chinese fellow who was a big shot in the Chinese Air Force. And he started recruiting us if we wanted to stay in China and fly for the Chinese Air Line. And Chang Kai-Shek decided to get into the airline business. And he started up China National Aviation Corporation. And there were 32 of us at the airbase at Quangwan, and we all got out of the service together and we all went to work for Chang Kai-Shek and his China National Aviation Corporation.
RS: What planes did you fly there?
AT: Well, we…now there’s another story. I first went to work for them as a navigator because that’s what I was. And we were flying C-54’s which were converted to DC-4’s, and we were flying those from Shanghai to San Francisco. And we would do that in one week. And we’d get back to Shanghai and we were through for the month, because that’s all we were able to fly and get our 80 hours in. Well, they decided they weren’t getting enough work out of us for what they were paying us, and there were four of us navigators who had been partially through pilot training. They took the four of us and ran us through a little school there and gave us a Chinese pilot’s license. And they put us on C-47s and C-46s as co-pilots.
RS: So how long did you stay in China, then?
AT: I stayed in China five years.
RS: And when you left where did you go?
AT: Well, what happened is, of course, in 1949, the Communists took over China. In fact, I left the very day the Communist army came into Shanghai. I just barely got out of there. And we went down to Hong Kong and I stayed in Hong Kong a year and a half.
RS: Did you take a plane out?
RS: And Hong Kong...what were you doing in Hong Kong?
AT: Same job.
RS: Same job. And what happened after Hong Kong?
AT: Well, what happened in Hong Kong was that the British recognized the Chinese Communist government. And the American government did not. So there we were sitting in Hong Kong and we’re working for China National owned by the Chinese Nationalists, but they don’t own the country any more, and the Chinese Communists say they own the airline, so we had quite a hassle there. We sent a wire to the State Department asking what our position was, because the Chinese Communists asked us if we wanted to go to work for them. And we didn’t know whether we could or not. And we got an answer back. “Yes. Turn in your passport.” So there were 30-some of us came back home.
RS: So did you go home to New York?
AT: No, I came back to California and that’s where I stayed.
RS: What did you end up doing when you got back to California?
AT: When I got back to California, actually I got a call from a friend of mine who was living in Florida. And he and I used to do a lot of bowling together. I got to be a pretty good bowler. And he called me up and he says, “Al, the little town I live in, Silver Springs, Florida, doesn’t have a bowling alley.” So he says, “I want to build one and I want you to help me.” So I went over to Florida and we got in the bowling alley business for about a year.
But we had a partner… it’s kind of a funny story. He had purchased eight bowling alleys with the balls and the shoes and everything that goes with it, from an army camp that closed in Valdosta, Georgia. And he had them in storage. And he had gone to college with Bob Catrell. Anyhow, we picked up with him, and we matched his investment in the bowling alleys with cash and we bought a piece of land and built a building. Got the alleys installed. But it seemed like every time we went out anywhere, this fellow Gene would introduce me as his “Damn Yankee partner.” And after about six months I got tired of being called his “Damn Yankee partner.” So one night we had a few drinks, and I said, “You know, let’s just flip a coin. You win, you buy me out, I win, I buy you out.” He won. He bought me out and I went back to California. And I got into the bar business.
At one time I owned two bars and then I sold one and went into the bar/restaurant business. While I was there I went to work for the Overseas National and World Airways and Seaboard and Western Flying Tigers. I got a call from a fellow in United Air Lines and he said Al I need a navigator or two. United Air Lines is going to get into the military contract work. I said I’m flying as a co-pilot and making pretty good money. He said we’ll pay you more as a Navigator. I went to work for United Air Lines with one stipulation…that I had a job when the Viet Nam war was over. He said you got a job for life. So I went to work for United Air Lines and I worked for them for 23 years and finally retired there.
RS: So you were flying DC-8’s at that time?
RS: Any other aircraft?
AT: No, I stuck with DC-8’s. Then the inertial guidance systems came in. And when they came in all the airlines got rid of their navigators. Well, luckily enough I had a pilot’s license. So I started flying Co-pilot. And then they wanted to transfer me back to Cleveland. And we’re talking about 1975 or something like that... And there was no way I wanted to do that. And luckily I got a job as an instructor. I wound up managing a training department for emergency procedures in San Francisco. After the Viet Nam war was over in ‘74, ‘75, I guess it was, and my regular run was San Francisco to Honolulu which was rather nice.
RS: And that was still on DC-8’s?
AT: Flying DC-8s. Well, they had other airplanes, but that was the one I was qualified on.
RS: Didn’t bother getting qualification for other aircraft?
AT: No, I didn’t have the experience. Heck, I didn’t go to work for United until 1964, I guess. And at that time I’m 40 years old. You know, seniority goes very slowly. Everything in the airline business is according to seniority. You go from a twin-engine to a 737 to 767 after about umpteen years…So I stayed with my DC-8 all the way. And retired. And while I was still flying, I was still in the bar and restaurant business. Pretty busy life.
RS: Sounds like it. I wish I’d met you earlier when I was running around at Mare Island and whatnot.
AT: Were you? I’ll be darned. When were you there?
RS: Late 70’s, early ‘80s.
AT: I’ll be darned. I was in the bar and restaurant business from 1957 to 1977. We probably saw each other sometime or other.
RS: Could have. I was always up in the Bay area on something. Either working on the tankers, or meeting ships at Alameda, or riding from Alameda up to Valdez or to Portland; working on Navy stuff out at Mare Island; over at Sacramento at the regional waste water treatment plant. Started that up in ’77. Heck, Elk Grove wasn’t…there was a few farms, buildings around. There was a couple buildings on Mack Road there. That was it. It was empty. Now it’s solid houses.
AT: You can’t drive anywhere in California that’s not solid houses. There’s a hill here and there that’s not occupied yet, but it will be.
RS: Thanks for your dedication to your country and your service to your country.
AT: That’s what you’re supposed to do.
- Sitler's Crew - 601st Squadron - 9 October 1944
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Al Turney was the Navigator on William A. Sitler's 601st Squadron Crew.
- The above transcription was provided by Elaine Stahlman Jurs, daughter of Philip H. Stahlman, 601st Squadron in February 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 [ ].