Guest blogger: Robert Jackson of the 379th FS, 362nd FS

Robert Jackson’s widow Joan shared this story with me a few years ago. The military is a big thing, and also a small place! Here’s Jackson’s story, which he dictated many years ago:

 

During WWII we had an old UC-78 in the 362ndFG that we used for little things. If we ran out of bomb fuses we would have to go someplace and borrow some fuses from another outfit and we could do that in a UC-78, which could carry 100 bomb fuses. We couldn’t carry those a P-47, so it was a good little utility aircraft. I learned to fly it because it was a good Cessna product from home.

 

One morning, about 4 a.m., two guys, including Jim Ashford, whose home was Honolulu, Hawaii, came in and woke me up and said, “Come on, we got the UC-78 all loaded up with our stuff. We’re going home. But we have to have someone to fly it back from Paris.” They couldn’t fly it – they weren’t checked out in it. I had just my underwear on, so I pulled on my flying suit and went out and got in the airplane.

 

“Hey, we can’t fly this thing,” I said. “You’ve got it too loaded down with your stuff.”

 

“Dammit, new man, don’t worry about the load on it, just get in and fly it” was the response. So we flew it to Paris, landed at Villacoublay – a good landing – taxied in, and had to get it turned around to park it. We broke the tail wheel while turning around.

 

What did these guys do? Unload all their stuff. “Well, so long Jackson, have a good tour.  See you.” And they took off.

 

I waited around about till 8 o’clock and went into operations. The ops officer in there was a major navigator. I had never heard of a navigator ops officer before. So, I asked him if they had any parts for a UC-78 and he said no, since they did not have any assigned there.

 

“Do you know where they might have any parts?” I asked. He said that the UC-78 depot was at Cambrai, up in Belgium.

 

“Have you got any P-47s here?”

 

“Yeah, we have some war-weary ones.”

 

“What’s my chance of flying one up to Cambrai to get a tail wheel assembly for the UC-78, fly back here and fix the plane?” Well, he didn’t know about that. This navigator didn’t know anything about flying and didn’t know if he could loan me a P-47 or not. I was getting irritated at him. It was getting late and I had not had anything to eat. I didn’t have any identification, didn’t have any money – I was just supposed to fly Ashford and the other pilot there and fly right back. I went to the billeting office and they said they would fix me up with a razor, bar of soap etc. and allow me to spend the night at the billet.

 

There was an Officers’ Mess down at the billet.  “Do you have any clothes?” the clerk asked.

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, General Lee runs the place and he is a real stickler, and you have to have on a green blouse and pinks to get in the place.” Hell, I was hungry so I went anyway. I went into the mess and they wanted ID etc. There was a whole line of people behind me. The maître d’ asked if there was anyone who could identify me. No one from our group was there. The 362nd never got to places like this. The lt. colonel behind me said, “I’ll take care of this. You from the 362nd?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“I’m from the 9th. Who is your CO?”

 

“It’s Col. – uh – uh…” Hell! I couldn’t remember his name to save my neck. “Oh yeah-it’s Col. Laughlin.”

 

“What, Laughlin? Well, this young man is a member of the 362nd, let this man in.” The maître d’ said “Oh yes sir. Take that table way back there in the corner, lieutenant.” Which I did. The lt. colonel said he would pay for my dinner and see me when I got home.

 

The first course was soup and I had just started eating when I noticed a girl way over on the other side of the room sitting with about five other officers. She looked just like my cousin Maxine Patterson from Wisconsin in a nurses uniform. It couldn’t be! Well, I thought, I’ll finish the soup first before I go over there in case it isn’t Maxine and I get thrown out of this place. Well, it was Maxine and she was there with her boyfriend Bob Rouse, whom she later married. They took me back to St. Clue, 99th General Hospital and fixed me up with a uniform and found some lieutenant’s bars. Then I went back out to Villacoublay to try and get the airplane thing straightened out.

 

Finally the major navigator said, “you be sure and bring that airplane back here.” Hell, I had to get my airplane fixed in order to go home. This dumb navigator didn’t think I would come back. I checked the forms and it was okay except it was on a Red X – one time flight to the depot. The aircraft was to be dismantled. What the heck – I signed it off, jumped in and flew up to Cambrai.

 

Upon arrival, I asked the operations officer, “Hey, I’m looking for some parts to a UC-78.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“One of your airplanes.”

 

“Don’t have any, all we have are P-51s and a few other planes. UC-78? Let me look this thing up in the log. Yeah, they have those things up in Holland at this place.”  I’ve forgotten now where in Holland this place was, but I went out to get in my P-47 and the crew chief said “Lieutenant, you’re not going to fly this airplane are you? This is on Red X for one-time flight to the depot in Burtonwood in England where they are going to tear it up. This is one of those war-weary ones that is about to fall apart.”

 

“Well, if I just take it this far…”

 

“Can’t let you do that, lieutenant!”

 

“Well, son of a gun, what type of airplanes do you have here?”

 

“Mostly P-51s.”

 

I go back in and talk to the operations officer in Cambrai and ask him if I can borrow one of his P-51s, go up to Holland and get a part for my airplane. “Sure!”

 

I took the P-51, flew up to Holland and they said “What’s a UC-78?” This is about 3 days now that have gone by. I asked them for their field phone so I could call Etain and the 362nd Fighter Group. I got Col. Laughlin on the line: “It’s a long story sir, I’ll explain when I get back.”

 

“You get back now.”

 

“But sir, I have this P-51 that I have to get back to Cambrai.”

 

“ Don’t worry about that Jackson, just fly it back here. You have missed about 2 missions!” I fly back to Etain, land and park the P-51 where they tell me to and about three days later the thing disappears. I don’t know where it went.

 

Now fast-forward 23 years to 1969. I get out to Hickham (Honolulu) and I run all the time out there. For some reason, this brigadier general named Favor saw me running one time and came up to me one day and said, “Jackson, you run about as slow as I do, do you mind if I run along with you?”

 

“Oh no sir, general. Go ahead.”

 

Everyday for about three months we ran together. Nothing was planned – if he wasn’t there I would go ahead and vice versa. He would never say a word except, “Ready to go, Jackson?’  “Yes sir!” and we would run, go to the scan room and take a steam bath and the general would say “Well, see you tomorrow Jackson.” That’s all the contact we ever had.

 

We were out there one day –the general and I – and I look up in front of me and I see this guy running. It’s Jim Ashford – the guy I took to Paris in the UC-78! I caught up with him, stuck out my foot and tripped him a little. Ashford looks around to say a few words and I asked him if he was Jim Ashford. He answered “Yes.”

 

“You son of a gun you left me at Villacoublay 25 years ago.”

 

“You’re Jackson, aren’t you?” Ashford was now the head of the Air National Guard in Hawaii, and he would come out there about once a week to run.  So, we all ran together and I introduced him to Gen. Favor, and then go back to the scan room for our steam bath. We were still talking when Jim says, “what in the hell ever happened anyway?”

 

“Well,” I said, “I was there at Villacoublay to get an airplane and this operations officer was a dumb navigator. Can you imagine a navigator being an ops officer?  He loaned me a P-47 to take up to Cambrai and this thing was on a one-time flight, so I borrowed a P-51 and went on up to Antwrep. Then I called Uncle Joe on the telephone and he said ‘get your ass home. Forget about your damned airplanes, we’ll take care of that later.’ So, I went on home.”

 

Jim said “Son of a gun, isn’t that something. I’ve got to get back to the office. I’ll see you later, Jackson.”  The general is still sitting there in the Scan room. And you know, everyone sat with a little distance between them. Finally, he comes over and sits right next to me. “What’s this?” I think. And he says “Jackson, that’s one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. Can you imagine meeting that guy 25 years later, 8000 miles from where he left you. By the way, do you remember me in the story?”

 

“Do you mean, about me and Ashford?”

 

“Yes, do you remember the dumb navigator Jackson?  WHERE IS MY P-47?”

 

 

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This day, in 1944: “Memphis Rebel” crashes through a fuel dump – and Thurman Morrison survives

The above photo looks like a scene of tragedy – a wrecked P-47, flames, and firefighting foam everywhere. It very well could have been, except for luck and the rugged construction of the Thunderbolt.

On April 29, 1944, the 362nd group provided withdrawal escort for bombers returning from Berlin, on a mission led by Capt. Bill Flavin. The P-47s were each equipped with two 108-gallon pressed paper tanks. At this stage, the group had been flying two escort missions a day, and the P-47s were becoming mechanically worn. On take-off, Capt. Thurman Morrison’s P-47 “Memphis Rebel” failed to get airborne. “I recognized at the ‘go-no go’ point along the runway that he was not going to make it off the ground,” said Bob McKee, his wingman, who was also taking off at the time. “I clicked on my throttle’s water injection switch to give me extra power and eased off the PSP runway, to the right and over the sod area as I began to overrun Morrison’s aircraft.” McKee got off the ground in time to see Morrison’s plane skid into a gasoline dump containing 400,000 gallons of fuel, stored and camouflaged by the RAF right at the end of the runway. The dump erupted in a titanic fireball.

McKee’s plane was flipped onto its right side at 50 feet of altitude and very little speed, and only some frantic flying saved McKee from going in, too.

The non-flying personnel watching the take-off from “sweaters’ hill” “wrote him off as one dead fighter pilot,” said “Andy” Anderson, the 379th’s S-2. Even more shocking than this accident was Morrison’s appearance back at the operations tent later. “He walked in carrying his parachute, utterly unscathed,” Anderson said. “Memphis Rebel,” P-47D 42-75142, slid through a sheet of flame, then pivoted on its belly around 180 degrees, keeping its pilot safe until it emerged on the other side. “Two of the anti-aircraft GIs who dwelt in tents at the end of the runway had dashed to Capt. Morrison’s aid and, using a pickaxe, pried open his jammed canopy and dragged him out of the burning plane. Capt. Morrison. plane and all, had skidded right through the blazing inferno he had started, but he sat there, trapped in his cockpit, until the two brave GIs pried him out. You have to give credit to a couple of heroes there, to leap on to a burning airplane carrying a very volatile load of high-octane gasoline.”

 

70 Years Ago: the 362nd’s Billy Reed and his Close Call

Ten armed recces were flown on March 23 by the 362nd Fighter Group, most of them north of Frankfurt. The Germans continued their desperate evacuation of rail equipment, and two trains loaded with armored vehicles were strafed and heavily damaged by the 379th Fighter Squadron, which hit them with 260-pound fragmentation bombs. Yellow Flight of the 377th went after a small factory, attacking it with rockets. “As the second element of Yellow Flight started to go in on its run, the enemy started to put up a concentrated flak barrage of 20, 40 and 88mm,” said Lt. Crosby Noyes. In the process, “Lady Linda,” the P-47D-30 44-33234 of Lt. Billy Reed, was hit. “Following, I noticed his plane was smoking,” said Noyes.

“Something told me ‘I had it’ as soon as I was hit,” Reed wrote friend Henry Pochily in 1945. “I figured I could ride it across the Rhine at least, smoke or no smoke, but when she started spitting flames I changed my mind. I nearly clobbered myself good and proper getting out. The fact is I came darn near not getting out at all. I was plenty high when I started to get out, but I made two mistakes. First of all, I didn’t slow her up at all. Then I loosened the belt and stood up on the seat. It’s pretty breezy when you’re moving over 200 mph. I got my head and arms out and I was stuck. My goggles and mask blew off and I couldn’t get back in and I couldn’t get back out. It was a very demoralizing position, to say the least. I still don’t know whether I got back in or just rolled over and fell off the side. For a split second I sweated the tail. Then I pulled the joy cord and opened my eyes and saw the plane burning on the ground. The plane had been diving while I was trying to get out and I know I was under 1000 feet when I finally did get out. I floated only 30 seconds or so before I landed. The Jerries were waiting for me as if they were expecting me.” Reed was in captivity for a week before being liberated by the 4th Armored Division. Lt. William McKain was also hit and bellied in, but returned to the group safely.

The 378th sent out an 11-plane mission to the area, putting 22 bombs into rail targets and destroying four locomotives, four box cars and a flat car, a flak car and 15 passenger cars. A strafing pass added two light flak positions, two locomotives and a truck to the carnage. Near Wettlar, Lt. Milton Mannick gave chase to an Fw 190, damaging it but not bringing back conclusive evidence of a kill.

The next mission was another big one, let by Capt. Darwyn Shaver, striking a marshalling yard south of Schulctern. The toll was 20 box cars, a flak car and five locomotives destroyed by bombing and strafing. This was followed by the dispatch of 16 P-47s to rail targets near Breberan, where they dropped 27 general-purpose bombs and five napalm bombs. A total of 30 cars was destroyed, and half of them were loaded with armored vehicles. Strafing added a locomotive and 15 more boxcars to the tally. The next mission, to the same area, racked up eight flat cars, two trucks and a light flak position. Adding to the day’s tally was Capt. Kent Geyer, who shot down his second enemy plane.

 

70 Years Ago: the 362nd Pursues the Fleeing Werhmacht

On July 28, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group worked overtime to continue the momentum started by Operation Cobra three days earlier. The 378th Fighter Squadron was sent to the Domfront-Alencon-Laval area and attacked two railroad bridges, scoring 14 near-misses. The 379th Fighter Squadron bombed and strafed in the same area, claiming seven boxcars destroyed and 70 more damaged, along with a damaged locomotive. Another 378th mission saw Red Flight knock out two trucks and damage 10 more. Yellow Flight scored hits on two self-propelled guns and five trucks, and Blue Flight destroyed a pair of trucks and strafed a tank, an armored car and five trucks. The 377th Fighter Squadron flew an armed recce, strafing and destroying eight trucks and a staff car. The 378th returned again, flying a similar mission, destroying 10 trucks, an armored car and six tanks, but luck was not with was. Robert Piper of the 378th, on his first mission. Flying wing for Red Leader, Piper was about 200 yards behind him in P-47D 43-25592 when the lead’s bombs dropped on the road near Cherence-le-Heron. “Red Leader’s bombs exploded directly in front of Lt. Piper’s plane,” reported Lt. Stan Stepnitz, the No. 4 man in the flight. “The ship flew through the bomb blast and about a quarter of a mile beyond before it rolled over on its back and crashed to the ground.” Piper did not survive the impact.

As the Red Flight of the 378th was climbing after bombing a road junction, the flight’s leader, Capt. Richard Cline, saw two Bf 109s break through the overcast at about 3000 feet. “(They) saw our squadron and pulled back into the clouds,” Cline reported. “At that time, four Fw 190s broke through directly in front of us, three of which turned sharply to the right and pulled back into the clouds. The fourth, apparently the leader, remained slightly below the clouds at approximately 200 yards. I opened fire at 5 degrees deflection and observed strikes along the wing and canopy. The right gear was seen to come down as he pulled into the overcast. My No. 3 and I hosed the clouds where he was just disappearing. From the strikes observed, I believe the enemy aircraft to be seriously damaged.”

The 379th was next in the area, bombing an underpass and scoring six near misses. The 378th then launched a dive-bombing mission to the Brehal-Hombye-Villedieu area, cutting four rail junctions and destroying a tank and a command car. The 379th returned to this area later. Red flight scored six hits on a railroad junction, then destroyed two trucks and damaged 10 more by strafing; Yellow Flight scored four bomb hits on a weapons carrier and five trucks. Blue Flight knocked out two trucks and strafed a tank. A third mission by the 379th scored several hits on road junctions, knocked out a command car and strafed two Tiger tanks. Finally, the 377th flew another recce, destroying eight motorcycles, four trucks, five tanks and some horse-drawn artillery.

 

70 years ago: Operation Cobra

July 25 was slated as the date of Operation Cobra, the breakout from the Normandy area. Although it was now 49 days after the landings, allied troops were only to where planners had envisioned they would be five days after D-Day. As a result, allied air power would be tasked with blasting a hole in German defenses to allow the allies to use their mobile forces to throw the Germans off balance. For the 362nd  Fighter Group, that meant 34 planes were loaded with 250-pound fragmentation clusters and 100-pound white phosphorus bombs; these followed other group’s planes and dropped on a narrow strip of enemy defenses. More missions followed; the 377th Fighter Squadron bombed a German officers’ quarters with fair results, then the 378th Fighter Squadron bombed a road junction in an effort to disrupt communications wires there (they missed a small house being used as a communications center). The 379th Fighter Squadron bombed the reported location of an ammunition dump, with no observable results. The 378th returned to the communications center and pelted it with 500-pounders, one of which was seen to go through the house before exploding. The 379th went after a group of German holdouts west of St. Lo; the target was well marked and the bombing was accurate. The 378th finally was dispatched to attack a small town that contained the command post and ammunition dump of the German 14th Fallschrimjager Regiment. They were rewarded with at least two good secondary explosions. All bombing was done at a very low level.

 

This day in 1944: the 362nd smashes the Wehrmacht at Point L’Abbe

On June 12, German troops made a stand at the village of Point L’Abbe. The entire 362nd Fighter Group bombed the village, smashing Wehrmacht resistance. This mission was significant, because it was the first time the group worked in close association with ground troops. Aiding the situation was the complete absence of German flak. While the 377th and 379th struck troop positions, the 378th under Capt. James Harrold sent 15 planes to the town’s marshalling yards, causing significant damage. In the evening, the 377th and 379th bombed radar stations on the headlands near St. Malo using 500-pound bombs; the 379th mission was led by Capt. Bill Flavin, and the target at Cap Frehelder was flattened. The 377th’s target was also put out of action. The 378th attacked some woods near Vire where German vehicles and an ammunition dump were thought to be hiding, but achieved no visible results. Lt. William S. Matusz in P-47D-11 42-76605 was forced out of formation by a misfiring engine; Lt. James A Clark escorted him home. “His engine then failed completely,” said Clark, “and he took up a heading of north trying to reach our beachhead. We hit a layer of clouds and I lost him.” Matusz was rescued by the underground and returned to England two months later. Lt. Harry Kraft also suffered an engine failure, and crash-landed at Penshurst. P-47D 42-76102 was a write-off. Also destroyed this day was P-47D 42-75073, which suffered a take-off accident with Lt. Alva Bessey at the controls.

This day in 1944: the 362nd battles the Buzz Bombs

V-1 sites were again the target for the 362nd Fighter Group on May 24, 1944, this time focusing on Campneuse-ville, Le Mesnil-Allard and Beaulieu Ferme, with 35 P-47s carrying 500-pounders and 19 P-47s from the 379th Fighter Squadron providing top cover. Because of the small size of the sites, the group assumed it did little damage; the targets could be seen, but they were well-camouflaged, and flak was intense.

The group took a personal interest in destroying the V-1 sites, or as one man in the 379th termed them, “those damned non-union airplanes.” V-1s routinely made loud fly-overs at Hornchurch on their way to targets nearer to London. “Ack-ack fire shot them down regularly, and Spitfires and Tempests took a great many of their number,” recounted Pvt. Earl Johnson in his memoir. “Some of our own pilots in off-mission flying pasted several of them. They certainly played hell where they hit, but we were lucky enough to not be greeted with any of them in our own area. I remember how one landed in a quiet English village near our field and dismantled almost everything standing.”