"THE SADDEST STORY YOU EVER HEARD"
Commanding Officer Donald W. Ewing and Crew Parachute to safety from De De , Plane Number 29-7705
By Waist Gunner S/Sgt. Edward Oulette from Lynn, Maine
The mission to Blechammer, Germany on December 26, 1944, started out to be a routine flight and no one seemed to expect more than the usual amount of excitement. About the only thing of any concern to happen before we reached the target area, was a little display of independence by the automatic pilot. Our pilot, C.O. Major Ewing, set it up to his satisfaction only to have it pull a little maneuver of its own but outside of confusing the hell out of the formation of ships that were following us and scaring hell out of us, no harm was done.
We flew in 29-7705 De De, a mickey ship, comely know as 705 and the favorite of Colonel Harding, our ex C.O. of the 32nd Bomb Squadron. The colonel demanded that all his crew always wear a pink elephant emblem with an upturned trunk and that's what was painted on the side of the plane. It must have been of some value once the Colonel and his crew flew their 50 and finished uneventfully. Speaking of elephants, they say an elephant never forgets, and there were ten guys in 705 who'll never forget the flak that greeted us at the target.
We hit the initial point right on the button only to have to make a 360 to keep from rubbing noses with another group chiseling in on our right. "Frenchy" Oulette the Group Waist Gunner was throwing out chaff like a demon all this time, and he swears to this day that the reason the flak was so bad over the target was because we ran out of chaff before bombs away. Could be but for some reason they were hitting us with everything they had. Half way down the run the bombardier who claimed to be pretty busy all this time took time out to take note of the evidence of the gunners accuracy "this damn nose is full of holes!" He sounded like he thought he was the only guy getting shot at but there wasn't one man in the crew who couldn't count many a close hit. In fact the ship was so full of holes that if it had started raining all of us would have drowned to death. About this time when the flak really started hitting close and the ship was bouncing like a toy balloon, the bombardier asked the pilot to level the ship. Major Ewing rang out with "This so and so is as level as it's ever going to be!" Now the bombardier didn't like to doubt his word, but the ship was in about a 45 degree bank at this time and looking out the side window you could see the ground below, but the pilot said she was level-so level she was. The target was smoked over and we couldn't see it.
We wished and hoped the flak gunners were having the same trouble seeing us that we were having seeing the refinery but they weren't and every shell had out altitude speed, also our names, ranks, serial numbers, date of birth and shoe size. Bombs finally went away, that is all but one contrary so and so which insisted on hanging up while the bombs above it bounced off to the tune of "The Anvil Chorus." We rallied to the right, the formation rallied to the right, the flak rallied to the right, everything rallied to the right! By this time, one engine feathered, one engine wouldn't work, the bombsight was gone, flux gate compass was off, the A.F.C.E. was only half operative and the ship looked like a flying hunk of Swiss cheese…everything was swell. As someone pointed out about the only thing in working order was the relief tube and it was too late to use that. We couldn't contact the rest of the group and the Major decided we couldn't make it back to our own base. He asked the navigator Howard for a heading to the nearest Russian controlled territory and he got it-that fast. We were losing altitude and the ship was hard to hold on a straight course, impossible would be more like it. The engine that wouldn't feather was giving us plenty of trouble and the ship was shaking like hell, the crew was doing a little shaking on its own too! Sgt. Shutt was busy all this time trying to get the radio to work but it was too badly damaged. We were still heading for the Russian front and the navigator was really sweating it out. To make the tension a little greater on him, it was his last mission and his wife was expecting a baby any day. F/O Poe, now Lt. Poe was holding down the tail position, (I really mean holding down) was still yelling about the smoke he could see from the target area. He was riding as Tail Observer and was in the best position to see it.
Everyone started throwing out all the equipment we could, anything we could rip loose we salvaged. Someone grabbed the Mickey man, but the Major said no soap. About the time the flak suits were being thrown out, someone below started shooting more flak at us. It didn't last long, but even the few minutes it did last it was too much for us in the situation we were in. Howard was doing a good job and we soon spotted an airport we believed was behind the Russian lines. Oulette was busy throwing out the guts of the guns when Martin, the engineer, called out fighters. We could see about four of them. Oulette and Chichetti knew they couldn't fix the guns up fast enough and were just contemplating throwing them at the fighters when they identified them as Russian. We dipped the left wing three to five times, we rocked the wing three to five times, we fired red flares all over the sky as per S.O.P and then prayed like hell. The plane was getting harder to handle by the minute and the Major called on Lt. Hurley, the co-pilot to help hold right rudder. They damn near pushed it through the nose.
About this time we were over the field. We hoped we'd be able to land at coming in on a "wing and a Prayer." Major Ewing asked us if we wanted to bail out or try to land and we all decided to try to land. We wanted to count the holes in the ship anyway. The prop on number one engine was red hot and in trying to shake it off, it came back through the cowling, ripped it off, started the engine on fire and cut through the wing. That was it. We'd had it! Morgan the Mickey man led the way and made a running exit out the waist door and didn't stop running until his chute opened. The waist gunners, ball turret, radio operator and tail followed and could thank the engineer for their safety. As there was no interphone contact with the rear of the ship when the command to bail out was given, Martin went back and made sure that everyone got out. The navigator went back to the waist to bail when he saw the bombardier having trouble getting the nose escape hatch open. The bombardier, co-pilot and pilot bailed out in quick succession after finally opening the hatch. Everyone's chute opened and we all hit the ground in the near vicinity of the town of Mielic, Poland, a Russian controlled area three miles from the front lines. While dropping we could see old 705 in a shallow bank explode and fall to the ground below us. Russian soldiers and civilians surrounded us all, some with automatic rifles, some with bayonets or with pistols. They fired a couple of shots over Major Ewing's head which incidentally is the first time anyone's gone over his head since he was made C. O. of our squadron. Chichetti broke a couple of bones in his foot when he hit the ground and Howard was knocked unconscious and had to be carted away. The rest were okay. A little shaken up but nothing serious.
We met two Russian fighter pilots here. One had shot down a ME 109 that had followed us. There also was an FW 190 following us. He buzzed the wreckage of our ship and headed back across the front. The interrogator asked us questions pertaining to our mission, target number of planes and facts about our base and crew. We gave them as little information as we could, not thinking it advisable at the time to tell them what we did know. The Group of 4 was then taken to another house, obviously the headquarters of that area, where a General talked to them. He repeated the same questions they had heard from the Colonel and added a few of his own. He was interested in their opinion of how the war would end, so Raymond Graham Hurley obliged by giving his views on the subject. All this time there was a little Russian doctor standing in the background, a female doctor and very nice to say the least. This Doctor Kildareski kept asking if any of us were injured. She seemed interested almost eager to pre-flight one of the group and the feelings were mutual. The only one who was the least bit injured was Lt. Howard who in landing had bruised his "flux-gate compass". For some unknown reason he didn't care to have the matter checked into. That was the biggest mistake in the whole episode as far as a couple of the boys were concerned. We'll never forget that doctor though. She was really sharp. She wore a uniform much like the General's and even wore a few medals. Of course her medals stuck out at a little different angle than the General's, but we overlooked that. As an interpreter at this place, there was a Russian officer who could speak a little English. He greeted us with a "good night". We didn't know whether to stay or go and continued with "I have to ask you one question, please." His English was good at times, a little amazing, but we managed to understand him pretty well. Finally the question and answer game was over and we drove the main part of Mielic in American jeeps. We ended up after a fairly long and cold ride to a former German SS camp waiting for the others of our crew to meet us.
We met another Russian officer who could really speak English so from then on we were on guard about cracks we made. Some more questions and then a wait of a couple of hours and the Major and 6 more of the crew came in. There was a general shaking of hands, describing of experiences and complimenting on jobs. Chichetti was having a pretty bad time with his foot and had to be carried all the time. By this time it was again time to eat and all but Chichetti walked a few blocks to a dining room where we had pork and rice, dill pickles, dark bread and hot tea. Chichetti was served his meal on a cot by a Russian gal who immediately received admiring glances from at least one member of our crew, all to no avail. Our Russian friend who looked a lot like Napoleon and to be aware of the resemblance, then took us back to the room where we had met and from there to a hospital where we were put up for the night. There was a Russian truck driver that the boy nicknamed "Herman", who stuck with us all the time. He was quite a character. He did everything but was our backs for us. It was "Herman" who drove us to the town of Kolbuszowa, Poland after a good night's sleep. We stopped on the way while Herman and a Russian officer who looked like one of the Smith brothers from the cough drop fame, repaired the car we were using. While they were working on the motor, we were working on some Russian soldiers and picked up quite a few souvenirs. We were finally on our way again and after an hour more driving we reached Kolbuzowa. Here we parted company with Herman and rewarded him with a parachute for his long and faithful service. In Kolbuszowa they put us up in a house which we supposed had been taken over by the Russians for us. The house was pretty nice, equipped with beds and straw mattresses, hot and cold running Polish girls and a Russian female barber. We all got a swell shave from the barber, in fact Hurley went back for three within a half hour. Captain Bessarabenko, who could speak English pretty well, took us under his wing and saw that we were well taken care of. They gave us a Russian orderly who the boys promptly named "Shorty" and put a phone in the place to give him something to do. Oulette, Martin and Shutt held an English class with "Shorty" as the pupil several times daily and he showed promising results. After the first day he answered the phone with "blow it out" and after the second day he saluted all offices with the same greeting even the Major. Oulette was taken to a corporal right after that, never could figure why. Our first meal here brought us a new character, this time a Polish mess officer. He was quite a guy and really put on the feed for us. Huge breakfast, pickles, cheese, fish, meat and an even larger lunch and dinner. Every meal we toasted Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill with Vodka. Martin lost his voice after the second meal. This mess officer kept yelling "Tak", "Tak" all through the meal and told us a joke to explain his constant use of the word. We never did completely understand the damn thing except that is had something to do with strip tease and that much we understood. Back at the house there was a couple of cute Polish girls and Martin, Shutt and Oulette immediately began looking into the Polish question. Bessarabenko had his hands full keeping the boys away from the girls, he never did succeed entirely. They were feeding us so often and so much the Poles make us a ball to toss around out of a potato wrapped in an escape map and we also did a little wood chopping. The Major saw us playing catch and came up the remark that it was the first time he'd ever seen any of us on the ball. He must have been kidding. About this time Martin took out cross country with one little gal and was very gallantly carrying her basket to market for her. He didn't get far as old mother Bessarabenko was right on the job and stopped him before he could do any good or bad whichever the case may be. Although we liked the Russian treatment, we didn't care much for their "revolutionary latrine". It was out of this world. You had to be an accomplished artist to use it, have an eagle eye and a keen sense of balance and a cast iron stomach also helped. I believe Poe was the first of our crew to attempt it. Major Ewing heard about his bravery and awarded him an Oak Leaf Cluster on the spot. The rest of us even with the possibility of getting a cluster as a reward, kept away from the place, even the Major himself.
It was here in Kolbuszuwa that Capt. Bessarabenko pinned a medal on the Major. It was the Russian Purple Shaftski or something and was pretty sharp. It didn't take long for us all to see that the Russians were interested in rank and medals. As a result we caught the Major in the corner with a can of white paint working over his leaf. He wasn't the only one. Poe scraped the blue off his bar and Morgan immediately mailed a letter to the Squadron to forward his sharpshooter medals, 6.2 mortar and all.
Bessarabenko gave us his picture before we left and his address. We all promised to write. He insisted that we sing "Three Blind Mice" and "How Dry I Am", the two American songs he knew and each night before going to bed he told us one of his Russian bedtime stories.
We left Kolbuszowa on December 29. Bessarabenko rode in the truck with us to an airport north of Raesjow, Poland and there we parted company. Here we met a few other boys, all victims of ack ack sharpshooters. They had been waiting for the C-47 to pick them up and take them to Poltava, the American field in Russia. They put us all together in an underground barracks, sort of a semi-upholstered gopher hole, really sharp. The weather was bad and the field was closed. We were pretty anxious to get on to Poltava but couldn't do anything about it for a couple of days. While we were there, the un-holy three, Shutt, Martin and Oulette picked up another comrade. This one they nicknamed "Oswald" and he was all out for us. He stole some general's car and rode the boys all over the country. He rode us to the mess hall, fixed us up with a private dining room and was working on a few more luxuries but couldn't quite make it. Failing in his last attempt, the boys broke him to a comrade 3rd class. Morgan had a little trouble trying to out drink a couple of Russians and almost died in the attempt. He moaned and groaned in a car dugout until we finally took him out by popular request and dumped him into the nearest snow bank. After 2 hours on ice he was almost as good as new.
A ship from Poltava finally came in, but could only take a few of the 30 men there. They headed for Lublin, Poland to pick up some wounded airmen and couldn't take us all. They wanted to be fair about deciding who to take with them so Major Ewing with his two headed Ruble in his pocket suggested a chance. A few hours later we were on our way to Lublin.
Our C-47 landed in Lublin the same day, December 31st, after about a four hour hop. We got the usual treatment that we had been getting from all the places we had stopped so far, the usual questions and all. New Years' Eve is a big night to the Russians, so that night we saw their display of anti-aircraft and fireworks celebrating the new year. The whole sky was lit up. A little later that evening practically the whole crew was also lit up in a little display of fireworks of their own. I had quite a brawl with our crew out drinking the Russians and with their own vodka.
On New Year's day we took off for Poltava the only American base left in Russia. Everyone was a little air sick after a rough trip, these Russians can't navigate above 3000 feet seems like. The trip was more or less just a long distance buzz job. We arrived in Poltava, got clean clothes, showers and shaves which we all needed pretty bad. We had all been a little constipated ever since looking at the Russian latrine. But a dash of dynamite and exlax and everything fixed us up okay.
Our stay at Poltava was really swell, at least we all enjoyed it. The 32nd Bomb Squadron sort of took over, especially in regards to the liquid refreshment department. But we all figured we had cause to elaborate and celebrate as we did every night we were there. We really got plenty of attention while we were there too, in fact every night the C.O. came to see us at about midnight to very nicely ask us to shut the hell up. They were happy to see us when we came there but I've got a sneaking suspicion they were even happier to see us go. Reluctantly they bid us goodbye on January 4th and away we went, this time heading for Teheran, Iran. That was really the spot, a beautiful field, sort of a summer resort with soldiers. It was really great. They had a bevy of beautiful polish refugees working all over the place, in the bar and in the mess hall. Hurley and a few of the boys tried dating every one they saw using all the Polish they had picked up on the trip which amounted to Yaksimach (how are you?), dobja (good), Jenkuyou (thank you) and also doma spots (the translation of which is pretty hard to explain). It was amazing how many girls refused even with our fluent display of their language. A few of the boys did finally latch on to a couple and Hurley was so impressed with his choice that he wanted to take them back with him. Major Ewing said it wasn't the proper thing to do and he wouldn't allow it and besides the inspectors found her hiding in one our barracks bags when we got on the plane.
The next stop on our cooks tour was Palestine but we only stayed there long enough to cheat a little Arab boy out of a mess of oranges and then went to Cairo. Cairo is a pretty nice place but we really got terrible food while we were there. We all got a big kick out of some corporal who mistook the Major's leaf for a gravy spot on his collar or something and proceeded to give him a hard time. After a short thousand word lecture by the Major the Corporal was a little more rank conscious, in fact he saluted the next private he saw.
We stayed in Cairo a few days, drank some very expensive orange pop and then they finally forced us on a plane and back to sunny Italy we went. We landed in Bari and then back to Foggia, back to combat and if that isn't the saddest story you ever heard I'll miss my guess. All in all we had a fairly rough time and it sort of bothered some of the boys, but it didn't bother me.