Lt. Winans C. Shaddix, Pilot
Lt. George Sullivan, Co-pilot
Lt. Harry Tennenbaum, Navigator
Lt. Cole M. Dailey, Bombardier
Sgt. James M. Lee, Flight Engineer
Sgt. Fred H. Erb, Radio Gunner
Sgt. William Cornelius, Waist Gunner
Sgt “Horizontal” Herdzik, Waist Gunner (he did not go overseas
Sgt. John Pontzious, Ball Gunner
Sgt. Hugh Hamilton, Tail Gunner
I was shot down on April
27, ’44 – less than two weeks before D-Day. Everyone know
the invasion was imminent – didn’t know which day, thought.
The Germans were ready. They were gathered all along the French-Belgian
coast. We were making short flights across the English Channel, attacking
the German installations.
On my “Big Day”,
we made our usual short flight, landed home safely, and then we’re
told we were to make another raid – No. 13. Something told me
this was it. Anyway, we loaded up again, hit our target somewhere down
in France and headed back – probably 100 bombers or more in our
Nearing the channel,
a lone battery of anti-aircraft guns fired at us. The five burst of
flak blew our plane out of formation – no other plane was touched.
The flak cut our fuel lines, and killed 3 of our 4 engines, but luckily,
no one was hit.
The plane struggled
along on one engine, losing altitude, of course. We threw out flak vests
and everything we could to lighten the load. Finally, a few minutes
later, fire broke out in the one engine. Shad, the pilot, said, “That’s
it, boys. Get out!”
I snapped my chute in
place and went up into the body of the plane. I’d promised the
ball gunner that if this ever happened, I’d be sure he got out
of the turret, but he was already out of the plane. The others were
either out, or ready to jump. As I went out the door, I had the thought
– make a delayed jump – don’t pull the ripcord too
soon – they won’t see you as long. Yet, out of the plane,
I counted to 7, said “this isn’t enough” – pulled
the ripcord anyway. I waited to see the chute open, but nothing happened.
The ripcord – a chrome hand-sized loop attached to a wire that
holds the chute together – was still in my hand. I looked at it,
ran my left hand down the wire – totally disengaged.
So I stuffed the ripcord
into my pocket – don’t ask why – and pulled the flap
on the chute; then the chute opened and blossomed above me. Hanging
there, swinging around, I looked around for the first time. Saw two
other chutes in the distance – lower.
It didn’t take
too long to hit the ground. Three thumps – feet, rear end, then
the back of my head. Sitting up, I saw the chute collapse in front of
me. Unhooking it, I stood up, brushing Brussels sprouts off. I’d
landed in a woman’s garden.
Several civilians ran
toward me, smiling and talking, but I didn’t understand them.
Women hugged me and kids shook my hand. Probably thought I was starting
D-Day. I tried to get away – they were showing the Germans where
I was. A woman caught my hand and pulled me into her house and into
her basement. Hearing thumping upstairs, I went through the basement
window and across the yard. Another woman pulled me into her kitchen
and gave me a glass of milk.
As I gulped it down,
two Germans came in the door with guns leveled at me. I drained the
glass, sat it down, and raised my arms.