|Principal person:||T.C. Gibbs|
|Position:||Air gunner (nose turret) B-24 bomber|
|Unit:||US Army Air Force|
|Plaats van handeling:||Air war over Europe|
|Periode:||September 1942 – October 1945|
The memories of Staff Sergeant T.C. Gibbs have been made available to Go2War2.nl by Dennis Notenboom and have been subsequently copied into typing by Bram Boonstra and Marloes de Krom.
Originally the chronicles have been edited for his descendants and demonstrate a remarkable good memory for facts and figures. The very readable story provides a good impression of what the American war efforts demanded of their Forces. They were very well trained and were subsequently put into active service far away from home. Gibbs provides an insight of the involvement of a care free youngster with his homeland and with the demanding tasks that he was required to perform.
It is a story well worth reading and the part about his bomber aircraft being shot down near the Dutch coast brings him very close to our readers. He is captured by the German forces in the occupied territory of the Dutch province of Zeeland, after the whole ten men strong aircrew of the Liberator has parachuted to a safe landing.
In 2007 T.C. Gibbs was invited by Dennis Notenboom to come and visit the Netherlands. At the meeting at the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the STIWOT foundation, he provided a lecture on his experiences during the war.
Until his death he lived together with his wife Anne in the USA in Tupelo, Mississippi. He died on 9 December 2013 at the age of 92.
In the fall of 1941 I transferred from Mississippi State College to the University of Mississippi. The reason simply was that MS State had 2,000 male students and less than 100 females – a very bad ratio. Also, Ole Miss was a small school, less than 1,000 students with a fine ratio of almost 50/50 males and females. Since I was an excellent history and political science student, the field of law was chosen for my major. In fairness, it could be said that sororities were my major and minor.
While at Ole Miss, 33 of us enrolled in the Civil Air patrol (CAP) training. At that time many of the students looked down on us, something akin to a gang of ruffians in a motorcycle gang. Yet, when Pear Harbor happened, we became the “fair-haired” boys. (I had been home to Fulton; stopped at my brother Paul’s service station for gas when the radio music was interrupted to tell about the attack at Pearl. Many of us thought it was another Orson Welles Program. It wasn’t.) The next day all Ole Miss classes were dismissed so that students could hear the President and try to learn more about what was happening.
In 1941 during my school Christmas holidays, the family went on a vacation trip to Miami. While we were travelling north on U.S. 1, a “black out” was imposed. We were around Port Pierce, FL when this happened. It was a rather eerie feeling. Suddenly, all lights go out. This was, I believe, the first “black out” in the U.S.A.
Duke and one of the West Coast teams, I’m not sure which one, were to play in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1942. There was a sudden switch to Durham, NC, so we headed on toward Durham. Yet, with the “black outs” and talk of what could happen, we turned west toward home. This trip was made by Mother, Dad, Paul, Bonnie Ruth, and me.
After Christmas at a called CAP meeting, the 33 enrollees had to choose our future careers as pilots. Thirty chose the US Army Air Force, and three of us chose the Navy. I was the only Navy signer to survive the war. The other two were killed while flying in the Pacific. On May/June of 1942, we were given our CAP license. (It was after the war that I learned the CAP trainees were granted automatic deferments from the draft in order for us to complete our pilot training.)
In June/July, 1942, I was ordered to report to Birmingham, Alabama for mental and physical tests prior to entering the Navy. The recruiter giving the mental said he had only given one test where the score was higher than mine. Next came the physical. There were about ten of us undergoing the physical tests. Everything went well. I could just see myself taking off of a flattop in a Navy fighter plane, shooting down Zeros by the dozens. A doctor asked for the cadet to step forward, I quickly responded. This was the last exam prior to being sworn into the Navy. This particular doctor kept his stethoscope to my chest too long, continually moving front and back, then calling another doctor into the examination. In a short time, after consultation with the second doctor, the boom fell. The sentence of doom was something in this manner.
“Young man, you have a murmur of the heart. No branch of the service will accept you.”
My world had just collapsed around me. I was 4-F!
The return trip home to Fulton, a distance of 120 miles, seemed too difficult having to face Mother and Dad with such news. Paul was a lieutenant in the Army – the kid brother a very miserable 4-F. The oldest brother, Jimmy, was too old for the service and I was physically unfit. It was a bitter pill. For the rest of July and August, I tried to enlist in the Paratroopers, Marines, Navy, or whatever. The CAP in Memphis called me to report there for possible assignment. I promptly reported only to be rejected on the same grounds that all the services had said, “Waste of our time with your heart problem.” None of the places I tried to enlist would even bother to give me a physical exam.
Yet, the world wasn’t coming to an end in the summer of ’42. There I was, twenty-one years of age, a single male, driving a new 1942 Cadillac, (Dad bought the car in November, 1941. The Navy later tried to buy the car to use for a top Admiral. Dad refused telling the Navy he was saving it for his sons in the service). There were few males around, so in a sense, I had the pick of the litter. I recall a night one of my friends was home on leave and he and I had four very attractive females – one redhead, one blonde, one brownette, and one brunette in the Cadillac with us. About two cases of beer, a bottle of gin, and a bottle of Old Crow were also with us when we tried to pick up two soldiers who were hitchhiking so we could even out partnerships. The soldiers looked in the car. The young ladies tugged on their arms, yet the older of the two soldiers pulled his buddy back and refused our invitations. No doubt he thought it was too good to be true. We even told the boys that they could pick the girls of their choice. They still refused, even though there were some very amorous proposals made to them. I often wondered what they told the fellows back at their barracks. If they told it as it happened, no one would have believed them.
As September rolled around, it was time to head back to Ole Miss. About this time, the local draft board sent me a notice to report to Camp Shelby at Hattiesburg, Mississippi. To me this would be a round-trip to Hattiesburg and a quick return home, then on to Ole Miss. At this time the draft boards were scraping the bottom of the barrels for draftees. There was a man on our bus with a wooden leg. Upon arrival at Camp Shelby, we were herded into the examining rooms, stripped naked, and given rushed physical exams.
To each doctor my comment would be, “I have a heart murmur.”
The doctor’s comment would be, “Next.”
The one-legged man was rejected, the rest of us were inducted into the service. I was now in the military service, no longer 4-F.
When we were being given our shots of typhoid, etc., we walked down a line and were popped in each arm. An old boy from home, Paul Dill – a tall, lanky, farm boy, was laughing at everyone flinching as they were hit with the needles. Always laughing and cracking jokes, but when they popped him, he fainted dead away. Paul never lived that down.
After the surprise and shock of being inducted into the service, a quick call was made to Mother and Dad. As was expected, Mother was crying, telling me to take care of myself, write and call often, and Dad telling me to make a fine soldier, give my best and serve my country with pride. That I tried to do.
My assignment was to the Army Air Force with basic training to be at Miami Beach, Florida. What a training base! Our barracks were the hotels on the strip, our parade and training grounds were the swank golf courses. My barracks was in The Mansion. At that time The Mansion was one of the more elegant hotels on the strip. We were quartered three to a room under the most pleasant circumstances. We were required to make our own beds and keep the rooms military neat.
Training in Miami Beach was rather uneventful. We were marched and marched up the streets, down the streets, across golf courses – everywhere it was “Left, Right, Left, Right” – on and on. Tests were given on every subject known. If you were fluent in French or German you were sent to the West Coast to fight the Japs. This was military efficiency at its best. If a piece of clothing fit, it was evident you had been given the wrong size. “Hurry up and wait” the military way of doing things. You always had to wait, wait. Finally I received my military assignment. Report to Army Air Force Gunnery School, Tyndall Army Air Base, Panama City, Florida. Reporting to Tyndall around the first of November, 1942, my training was to get underway.
Naturally, it was more hurry up and wait, left, right, left, right – then at long last practice with guns and live ammunition. The training at Tyndall was vigorous. Our physical ed. Officer was Hank Greenberg, later to be inducted into baseball Hall of Fame. At Tyndall the new recruits were joined by several old regulars. They were Staff and Tech Sergeants who would assist our training. Also they would become aerial gunners.
These old regulars, to the man, said our training, obstacles courses, etc., were tougher than anything they had faced. Time had erased the names of these men, except there was one named Cleo Grossman, from Upper Sandusky, Ohio that remains with me. On the gunnery range Cleo and I stood head and shoulders above the rest. Frankly, we were better than the old regulars. So many of our buddies were from New York, Chicago, and the other large cities. To them a rifle, shotgun, or machine gun was a foreign instrument. When we would go to the gunnery ranges, it would be Cleo and I who did the shooting. We would be given several cases of shells that had to be fired before we could leave the gunnery range. Often I would shoot my rations up, also boxes and boxes for the other fellows. I recall one young boy who had shot a shotgun from the hip. His hip was black, red and blue, so was his shoulder. The entire left side of his body looked as if he had been hit by a car. He bought me several beers for shooting up his ratio or shells.
Clark Gable, undisputed King of the Movies, was in our class. Since we were seated in alphabetical order, he and I would sit across from each other in the classes. He was an excellent shot with all guns. (After the war I read in the paper where he was caught with over 200 ducks in his possession).
My oldest brother, Jimmy, came to Panama City to visit me. I was given a pass to visit with him in town. While we were eating dinner Jimmy said,
“Brother, I would have sworn I saw Clark Gable in the lobby of my hotel.”
I told him he probably did since Gable was in our class. Jimmy said he had a woman on each arm and they were crawling all over him. Clark Gable did not finish in our class. He was called out on special assignment probably to make a propaganda film.
One of our top instructors was a sergeant, Rufus Raby, from Athens, Alabama, not too far from my home town of Fulton, Mississippi. We got along fine, on and off duty. He told me that I would be the butt of his jokes since these “damn Yankees” would get upset if he used their names. Frankly, we all looked forward to his classes and gun instruction. An unusual incident happened to me during one of our trips to the gunnery ranges. I had easily shot up all of my shotgun shells, therefore, the Sergeant had me loading the clay pigeons for others to shoot. I was in a little dugout affair loading pigeons, when one of the others tripped the device that threw the pigeons. The timing was perfect, I bent over to load when the arm came around to throw the pigeons, hitting me across the bridge of my nose. The blow was similar to being hit across the nose with a iron as used by John Daly. Sticking my head above the dugout, bloody face with blood spewing out in a stream, screaming.
“What are you sons-a-bitches doing? Trying to kill me?”
Someone shouted to the sergeant that someone had shot Gibbs in the face. (My sergeant buddy told me later that he could feel the sergeants stripes being pulled from his uniform). I was rushed back to the base hospital where the emergency crew was waiting. After the doctor examined me I was given pain shots, a few stitches in my nose, and told to take the rest of the day off (this was about 3:30 P.M.). The sergeant loaded me down with beer that night since one of the new recruits said he had stumbled hitting the release button that controlled the pigeon thrower. No action was taken against the sergeant.
Finally, graduation day – gunners wings, staff sergeant stripes, and further assignment. Hurry up and wait. Finally, my orders. Several of my buddies and I were to report to Armament School, Lowry Army Air Base in Denver, Colorado. Most of our gunnery class went to Denver.
We hadn’t been paid for almost two months and everyone was broke. I called home and told mother and dad what was happening. Dad immediately wired me $100 via the Red Cross, (a princely sum in 1942). By the time I quit loaning, $5 here, $3, or whatever, my bank roll was sinking fast.
We were loaded on wooden Pullmans, relics of World War I, for our trip to Denver. After numerous delays we reached St. Louis, Missouri, on Christmas Eve. There was a retired Major recalled from World War I who was in charge of the trains. He was an older man, no doubt too old for combat duty, but a very nice fellow. When the train stopped on a siding in St. Louis, across from us about 500 yards was a large liquor store that was open. Since I still had a few dollars, the troops elected me to approach the Major about running over to the store for some spirits. The Major’s reply was,
“This is a troop train. No one is to leave the train under any circumstances nor are spirits of any kind permitted on troop trains. The fact that tomorrow is Christmas makes no difference.”
There were several troops around when the Major walked by where I was seated with a couple of buddies. He stated,
“Sergeant Gibbs, I have to go the front of the train for about 20 or 30 minutes, no more than 30.”
He went through one door, three of us went out the other end of the train. In less than 15 minutes we were back on the train with about 4/5 cases of beer and a few bottles of spirits. The major had a very big glass of bourbon with 3/4 beers in his compartment when the train rolled out of St. Louis.
The next day, Christmas, we had a big spread aboard the train, turkey and dressing with all the trimmings. Yet, no man aboard could get the Christmas spirit, for we all knew we were heading into the war, we were a long way from home, and no way to make contact.
When we arrived in Denver there was 6/8 inches of snow on the ground and more coming down, quite a change from Florida. We fell in outside the troop train where we were greeted by an old regular sergeant. His comments were along these lines,
“Denver is a serviceman’s city, the people here are super, the city is super and if any of you creeps screw it up, I will personally pull your stripes and kick ass from downtown to the guard house.”
The sergeant was correct. Denver was a super place for any service man.
Training here was tough, 4 miles double-time before a bite of breakfast, then double-time to the latrines, classes, or whatever. We had to double-time in that high altitude – tough! We were schooled in field striping 30 and 50 caliber machine guns, 20 and 30 millimeter cannons, plus rifles and other weaponry.
Since we arrived about 2 or 3 days before New Year’s, everyone was given a 48 hour pass prior to starting actual schooling. Two friends; Victor Florence (a few years older than the rest of us) and Frank LaPorta, and I headed for Denver broke but happy. We probably didn’t have $5 between us. Knowing we would need $.50 a piece to return to base, we were not prepared to splurge. Vic and Frank were from the Boston area, yet the three of us seemed to hit it off on all fours.
We hit downtown Denver on New Years Eve at about 8:00 p.m. We were standing on a busy street corner when a car pulled up with 3 young ladies who started hollering at us to, “Get in”. I immediately ran to the car, told them we were flat broke and needed to head back to the base. Their response was immediate,
“We have the money. Don’t worry we will return you to the base sometime.”
Three airmen had just struck gold! Amelia, the older of the ladies about 26/28 years old and owner of the car, and Vic were married about 2 months later. Neither Frank nor I had matrimony on our minds. For the 6 weeks we were in Denver, the six of us were rather constant companions. Since the girls had excellent jobs they often had to pick up the bills. Once our military pay was received, it was blown on the absolute necessities – beer, spirits, and cigarettes.
Denver was a super city for service personnel. When Vic, Frank, and I would hit town before the ladies were off from work we would head for the bar at the Brown hotel (that may not be the correct name, but it was something similar). This was one of the grand hotels of the west. Ranchers, oilmen, etc., always met there. Whenever the 3 or 4 of us would enter the bar, some rancher or others would invite us to join them. We would always accommodate.
One incident I remember from Denver was when I hit town a few hours before Vic and Frank. There was an Italian bar that we often frequented, so I had left word for them to meet me at Geno’s. Since Vic spoke fluent Italian and Frank some, the owner took a liking to us often furnishing freebies. Since I was alone, there were four girls, 20/25 years of age at a table, who waved me over to join them. Naturally, I did in a hurry, especially since the girls were very attractive, well dressed, and evidently had ample funds to spend. In a short time it was determined that one of the girls had her own plane, ample gas, and money to spend (apparently her family must have been very wealthy). The plane owner found out I had a pilot’s license, therefore, she and I made immediate plans to meet the following weekend for an out of town trip. The other 3 girls were pulling on my sleeve, saying I had to stay with them. My ego was flying high.
Sometime during this planning, Vic and Frank arrived at Geno’s. I waved to them since they had stopped to talk to Geno and apparently were looking for me. Vic walked over to our table, took me by the arm, saying,
“We have to report to the base immediately. Right now!”
I gave my new loves a fond farewell – the brave airman leaving for battle.
Once outside Geno’s, Vic and Frank starting screaming and laughing,
“Gibbs, Geno told us those gals were 100% lesbians.”
My ego was deflated and about the only thing I could say was,
“We didn’t have those in Fulton, Mississippi.”
As with all training phases, our schooling at Denver was soon over. Again, you parted from old buddies, soon to make new ones. Vic, Frank and I had been together longer than most, yet when we parted at Denver I would never see Frank again. Vic stayed on in Denver for a few weeks after I left. He and Amelia were married while he was there. Our paths would cross again.
Most of us were sent from Denver to the Replacement Depot at Salt Lake City, Utah.
My stay in Salt Lake City was rather brief. No trips to town while we were there. Once in Salt Lake we were to be shuffled around to various Air Bases for crew assignments. There were two incidents that are remembered from Salt Lake.
We were all called out to stand at attention while a sergeant was drummed out of the service. The drums solely rolled, the stripes clipped from the sergeant’s sleeves, his buttons pulled, and the man was escorted to the gate where he was told to never again set foot on a U.S. Military installation. It looked like a full scale Hollywood Production. Fifty years later, I still believe it was staged.
About the third day we were in Salt Lake I was told to report to the commanding officer on-the-double. Thinking about the sergeant that had been “drummed out” the day before, my previous military escapades were rushing through my mind when reporting to the CO. The conversation went something like this,
“Sergeant Gibbs your record indicates you have a pilot’s license, is this correct?”
“Why didn’t you go into cadets?”
As so often, the entire story about the heart murmur was repeated. The CO commented that the service must be good for my hearts since there was nothing in my records to show anything but a healthy staff sergeant. Regardless, all that I needed to do was sign on the dotted line and it would be on to Cadet School. For reasons that have never been understood I asked permission to sleep overnight on this subject. This was agreeable with the CO. He complimented me on wanting to think about it.
Returning to the barracks the subject was discussed with several of the fellows. They were 100% opposed to me leaving the group. The comments running, “The war will be over before you finish training.” “We need to stay together”, etc. Early the next day I reported to the CO telling him the cadet training was being declined. The CO stated he thought it was a mistake on my part, yet, it was my decision. Apparently that decision made over 52 years was the correct one since I survived the war. No doubt there were many who entered cadet training about the same time as I would have who are no longer with us.
Shortly after the cadet episode, I was on my way to Davis-Monthan in Tucson, Arizona. Very few of those who had advised me not to become a cadet were sent to Davis-Monthan.
When the Air Force became a separate branch of service eludes me. Yet the Air Force did break away from the Army to become an equal to the other branches of service. Therefore, from now on I will refer to Air Force rather than Army Air Force.
At Davis-Monthan the Mess Sergeant, or one of the cooks, was from the deep south for cornbread was a regular at the mess hall. It was a regular for me with all food while many of the Yankees would always ask, “What is that stuff?”
While stationed at Davis-Monthan it was military as usual – hurry up and wait.
Waiting to be assigned to a crew, I went into Tucson and to the fair grounds where a nice fair was in progress. (At this time “zoot suitors” usually Hispanics, were known to gang up on servicemen and beat them severely. It always happened when one or two service men were away from the others. The beatings would take place for no reason.) While on the fair grounds I noticed two of the “zoot suitors” roughing up a young girl. With a total lack of common sense I stepped into the fray pushing one of the “zooters” away, telling them to leave her alone. (At that time my physical being was probably the best of my life, which probably couldn’t be said about my brains.) Regardless, in just a few minutes it was most evident that every move I made was being followed by 2 or 3 “zooters”. Then their number started increasing. Fortunately for me, a couple of MP’s happened to appear on the fair grounds. I immediately went to them and told them what had happened. They suggested that they escort me back to the base. That was most agreeable with me. Prior to heading back to the Air Base, the MP’s reported what had happened to their headquarters. They were told to bring the Sergeant by MP headquarters. Once at MP Headquarters I was ushered into the CO’s office. The Major in charge, an old Army regular, asked me to help him with the “Zoot Suit” problem. My answer was that I was due back at the base and would be AWOL in less than an hour. The Major said he would take care of all such problems. The plan was simple. The MP’s would return me to the fair grounds, the “zoot suitors” would spot me immediately and once the “zooters” made their move, the MP’s would move. My comment was,
“Major, these guys have knives, brass knuckles, whips, etc. Are you sure they won’t have me cut up before your men can get to me?”
After many assurances from the Major, the plan was put into operation. MP’s were dressed in all sorts of clothing. I was deposited at the fair grounds and as expected the “zooters” soon spotted me. In a matter of minutes, “zooters”, five, six, and more were making a circle around me. Then the MP’s moved in – big husky lads swinging heavy billy clubs with gusto. They did part some hair and break faces. Ambulances hauled the “zooters” to jail. On the return trip to MP Headquarters, the MP’s in my jeep were patting me on the back, laughing, and talking about who knocked out the most teeth. The Major was elated, assuring me my CO would be fully informed of my absence. He had a jeep to return me to my barracks. What a night!
The next morning, bright and early, “Gibbs report to the CO.” Upon reporting, the CO was grinning with a comment,
“Seems that you had an interesting night. Major Dunn sends his compliments for your help. I add mine. You need to take the day off.”
My comment was, “Thank you, Sir. The fair grounds will be avoided.”
Shortly after this escapade I was assigned to a crew. Our pilot’s name was Turner, a super guy who could fly a B-24 backwards. The co-pilot was named Williamson from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Most of the other’s names escape me, yet I can still remember the names of two of them; Earl Schleibaum, a gunner, was from Indiana; and the tail gunner, Herb Garrow, was from Niagara Falls, NY. The Niagara Falls part remains with me because he was always talking about his home town. At that time Niagara Falls was the honeymoon capital of the world. With our crew now assembled, we started the serious business of becoming a team. This was good crew, we worked together as a unit. In due time we completed Phase I of our training then transferred to Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas.
While at Biggs AFB we completed the second phase of our training and were well into the third phase of training when I was injured in an accident. Somehow the tail gunner, Herbert Garrow, the man from Niagara Falls, had the gun site lowered over him trapping him in his turret. Fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, I was in the waist section visiting (the nose turret was rarely used during low level practice sessions). Since it was evident there was something amiss in the tail turret, I walked back there, saw the predicament, opened the turret door, reached in to hit the button to raise the gun site, when unfortunately the plane made a sharp turn to make another bomb run. This turn caused the gunner’s body to move, hitting the hydraulic system that turned the turret. The turning of the turret pinned me between the turret and the side of the plane. I could feel the bone in my left clavicle breaking. Fortunately, the plane turned to a level position and the tail gunner was able to shift his weight there by righting the turret and releasing me. Otherwise, the hydraulic pressure could have just about cut me in half. The pilot was notified of my injury, therefore, we immediately returned to Biggs. An ambulance was waiting on the runway to rush me to the hospital. Arriving at the base hospital, it was again, hurry up and wait. Hurting from head to toe it seemed like hours, probably no more than 30-40 minutes, when a doctor walked through the room. He asked me what I was doing in the emergency room. I told him. The doctor looked at me and asked,
“Are you the airman that was hurt in the plane accident?”
“What have they done for you?”
All hell broke loose. The doctor was raising hell at everyone, nurses, aides, everyone in sight. Here was a man not hurt in a car wreck, drunken brawl, venereal diseases, or like most of their patients goofing off, and he sits in the ER suffering with nothing being done. The span of attention being given me changed from nothing to everything, nurses, medics, etc., etc., whatever and fast. These events happened May 29, 1943. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day) I would be released from William Beaumont General Hospital, El Paso, Texas. For 53 weeks, I would become a well-known person in the medical sections of Biggs AFB Hospital and William Beaumont General Hospital. Over a half century later, I often reflect and wonder how much experimenting was done on me. It was a well-known fact that medical science made tremendous strides during WW II. In all frankness it can be said the treatment and consideration given me at all times (except first hour in ER) was super. Doctors, nurses, (especially 3 or 4) medics and staff brought me through with flying colors. After being admitted to the Base Hospital the usual series of tests, X-Rays, etc. were run. Within 48 hours I was informed that my left clavicle was crushed to the extent that to repair it surgery would be required. The medical team had previously inquired if this particular bone had given me previous problems. My answer was that during high school the bone had been broken 3-4 times, usually playing football or some other contact sport. A few months later I was told that this particular bone had lost all marrow, therefore unable to help itself in the healing process. A new bone would be built.
Within a very few days after entering the hospital at Biggs, a surgical procedure was performed on the left clavicle. This surgery was a process where the bone was wired together. Within a short time it was evident the procedure did not take.
While at Biggs hospital, a very attractive nurse, Pennsylvania Dutch, (can’t remember her name) and I became dear friends. Dad came to visit me between surgical procedures. He met the nurses, later commented to me “that she was some looker – are you contemplating marriage?” I assured Dad that matrimony was not in my immediate plans. This little cutie was transferred shortly after Dad’s visit. She was replaced by a former Navy nurse, also Pennsylvania Dutch. We struck up an immediate friendship.
Also, while at Biggs, the hospital Mess Sergeant and I struck up a fine friendship. He was from Sullivan’s Hollow, Mississippi, yet everyone called him “Bama”. He didn’t know why this name was tacked on him. Since we were from Mississippi it was easy for Bama to have food prepared in the deep south manner. Often Bama and I would enjoy a good steak at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. or whenever. Bama went with the nurse in charge of the pharmacy, therefore, we were well supplied with spirits. If the pharmacy would run low, Bama would chop off a few steaks, liberate 10-20 pounds of sugar, go to town and return amply supplied with our needs. Mess sergeants and supply sergeants were the only ones who really enjoyed the war. No doubt the officers in charge of these departments, also had a wonderful war.
After an appropriate recuperative period it was back to surgery for me. This time a metal plate was inserted into the bone. In short order the incision was swollen to the size of goose egg. The incision would be opened for drainage every few days. In a couple or three weeks the medical staff informed me the plate did not take, further surgical procedure would be needed. The Biggs surgeon told me that as soon as possible they would have me transferred to William Beaumont General Hospital where a full orthopaedic team was available with the most modern and up-to-date equipment available. William Beaumont was just a few miles from Biggs AFB.
Within a short time the transfer was made to William Beaumont, where an orthopaedic surgeon, William Basom, took a personal interest in my case. In effect he said,
“Gibbs, I am going to correct your problem.” In time he did.
As with any hospital it was tests, tests, X-rays, and more X-rays. After every test known to man, Dr. Basom told me of the procedure he was going to use to correct the damaged clavicle. He would remove a big piece of my left shin bone, using this bone to make a new clavicle bone.
“The old bone won’t heal, so we will make you a new one.”
With this procedure I was told that it would be most confining for me for several weeks, a crippled leg and clavicle. It was indeed confining for a considerable length of time. The surgical procedure was performed shortly after Thanksgiving, 1943. I was placed in a room with another Mississippian, J.C. Lee, from Brooklyn, Mississippi. JC had a bone problem that was incurable, therefore, he was discharged in early 1944. We would later meet at Ole Miss in the spring of 1946.
Due to the way my surgery was treated, left leg held with pulleys and weights, left clavicle strapped down, totally immovable, it was necessary that I be kept in a semi-private room for an extended period of time. Since I would be in this position over the Christmas holidays, one of the little nurses was kind enough to smuggle some Christmas spirits to my room. One cutie bounced into my room stating for a Christmas present she was replacing the male aide and would give me a bath to remember. Did I ever look forward to Christmas morning! She backed out at the last minute citing being caught and facing court martial.
Fort Bliss, on old Calvary Fort located in El Paso, was a few miles from William Beaumont and often had old calvary men in the hospital (many of these troopers had been in Army 20-30 years, still buck privates. I remember one commenting that he had made corporal at one time, but it was just too damn much responsibility). One of the old calvary men, a 16 year veteran, had been kicked in the back by his horse. Infection set in the wound and he went from 180 pounds down to about 85 pounds. The doctors had tried everything they could to no avail. I think it was Dr. Basom who decided to try the new drug, penicillin, on him. About 3 months later, he was on his way home to Georgia, weighing 140 pounds.
Another case of interest was a young GI who had gasoline exploded in his face. He didn’t have a hair on his face, two little peep holes for eyes, two for a nose and a mouth a bit larger than a grape. It was difficult to sit with him and eat, yet several of us would. He was fortunate that one of Hollywood’s top plastic surgeons was at Beaumont. By the time I left the hospital this young man was starting to look really good.
Shortly after New Year’s, Dr. Basom had a contraption made for me. It was in the form of a cross with my shoulders strapped back so there was no movement. With this rig on and a cane it was now possible to move about the hospital and the beautiful grounds. On the grounds there was one young fellow always fishing over a dry creek bed. He was fishing for a Section 8 Discharge (mental). He hadn’t obtained this discharge when I left the hospital in June 1944.
The healing process was too slow for everyone. The decision was made that since I had an infected wisdom tooth that this in turn was slowing the other healing process. So all my teeth were pulled (halfway through this procedure the dentist doing the pulling told me this was so long and perfectly shaped, he ran down the hall showing the tooth to the other dentists. He and I strained for that tooth to be pulled. The tooth seemed to give way half way up my face). One night after this happened, I started haemorrhaging from my mouth. There was just no stopping the flow of blood. Finally, along about midnight, a surgeon was called to my room. He placed several stitches in my mouth. The surgeon for some reason was unable to use any shots in my mouth, but did have me knocked out as soon as the bleeding stopped. A nurse was assigned to my room for the rest of the night.
During my recuperation, a friend of mine at Biggs (his name escapes me) in the payroll department, found a regulation whereby since I was hurt while flying, my flight pay should have continued. He brought me a very nice sum of money representing my back flight pay. My friend was a big, 6’4”, 225 lbs., red-faced Irishman who enjoyed his little nip, or two, or ten. I assured him that as soon as possible we would go to Juarez, Mexico (just across the Rio Grande from El Paso) and celebrate my new found wealth. Most of my new found wealth was soon squandered on perfume, candy etc.
After several weeks of being strapped, the cross was removed. I could walk without a crutch and was permitted to go to town with some of the fellows. Life was looking much better.
My big Irish buddy picked me up and with the doctor’s okay we headed to Juarez. This was a big mistake! We were in one of the frequented bars when all hell broke loose. I was wearing my arm in a sling, therefore sitting in the back of the bar visiting with some senoritas, when the fight broke out. Apparently my big Irish buddy had words with some Mexicans, the net result being he was using a chair, table, or whatever to whip upon several. The bar was soon filled with Mexican police, in short order we were escorted to Juarez jail (the jail had a dirt floor) and locked up for a couple of hours. After cooling our heels we were brought to a room in the front of the jail and fined every penny we had except enough money for bus fare back to Beaumont.
Within 2 – 3 weeks off our Juarez episode an American Colonel was almost beaten to death by the Mexican police. Juarez was placed off-limits to all American Service personnel. It took some doing between Washington and Mexico City to resolve the problem. American MP’s were permitted to walk the streets of Juarez with clubs, but no guns. This might have been the policy for the duration of the war.
In April ’44, I was given a 30-day leave to go home. The only transportation was by bus, old buses. The one I was riding broke down in the barren plains of West Texas in about the most remote area of the state. We spent half a day in an area that snakes had abandoned. Even with such a bad start the month at home was glorious. Eating Mother’s cooking, sleeping in my own bedroom, no duty to perform, over to Ole Miss in Dad’s Caddy; life was beautiful yet it had to come to an end.
On my return to William Beaumont, Dr. Basom told me he would release me to return to military duty in a short time. One June 5, 1944 I was informed that I would be returned to Biggs AFB the next day. It was only fitting, another night in El Paso prior to a return to active duty. I told my friend in the hospital ward that Ike could now open the second front since Gibbs would now be able to help him. At about 2-3 a.m. when I returned to the ward, everyone was gathered around the radio listening to the news. Someone yelled to me,
“Gibbs, Ike got the news about your returning to duty, he has opened her up.”
In all modesty it was probably just a coincidence. Returning to Biggs on June 6, 1944, most of the guys I had known were gone. All the nurses from the hospital had been shipped out, most overseas. Bama and my buddy in payroll transferred to other bases. I have never seen any of them since the early part of 1944.
Upon my return to my old squadron, an immediate interview was with the flight surgeon, Major Swartz. His first comments were,
“Glad to see you up and around. We will find you a nice desk job for the duration. Are you interested in any particular department?”
My response was, “Major, this damn war has treated me badly. I need to get even with someone. Please Sir, put me back on a flight crew. The doctors have given me a clean bill of health.
The major commented along these lines,
“Are you sure no brain damage was done. If you feel this strongly about being back on a crew, I will place you on one in the third phase of training.”
My response was, “Thank you, sir!”
Within a week or two I was assigned to a crew in the final phase of training. In a short time, radio op Jack Naifeh, gunners C.D. Chinberg and Robert Croom, and I became good friends. Naifeh and I were constant running buddies. Our pilot’s name was Cook, a Texan, who could give everyone a case of RA by just being around him. The others of this crew were Carpenter, Corces, Maroney, Draper, and Oliver. We finished training at Biggs AFB, given a weeks leave to go home with orders to report to Topeka, Kansas on a certain date. The only excuse for not being at Topeka would death – OURS! We were given high priorities, therefore any space available on military or civilian plane to Memphis, Tennessee.
The family met me and for the next few days we would be together constantly. On the day Jimmy and Dad were to carry me back to Memphis for a flight to Topeka, Mother and Dad asked was there anything I needed or wanted prior to leaving home. I mentioned a beautiful wrist watch in Brasfield’s Jewerly store in Tupelo. It was Sunday. Dad immediately called H.K. Brasfield, an old friend. Brasfield told Dad he would be waiting for us. It was difficult to leave my mother and sister, they had tears in their eyes. My tears were in my heart. We stopped in Tupelo, picked up the watch (this watch was taken from me when we were captured by the Germans) and on to Memphis. At the airport, men don’t cry, so Dad, Jimmy, and I gave each other a big hug prior to my heading out the gate. Others nearby were giving me the high sign, patting my back or arm saying such as “Give them hell”, “Good luck, Sergeant”, etc. It was a warm, yet lonesome feeling.
Arriving in Topeka, our crew was reassembled for the hurry up and wait period. Shortly after arriving in Topeka we were told that our plane delivery would be a few days late. We were given 24 hour passes with instructions that one minute late returning would be considered desertion.
Some of the locals told us that Kansas City was a dream city. Since there was a stream liner train running through Topeka to Kansas City, Naifeh and I hit the train running. Arriving in KC it was soon evident that KC was indeed a service man’s city, girls, girls everywhere with few men in uniforms. We headed for the Mulenbach Hotel, one of the distinguished hotels in Mid-America. Naifeh and I were picked up within an hour by two lovely young ladies. They became more lovely and beautiful when it was determined that Naifeh’s girlfriend’s father owned a big liquor store. (Before we left KC she had gone to her father’s store, gone under the counter bringing out some fine products, loading us down for our return trip to Topeka.) That night, while we were at a night club, our friends went to the ladie’s powder room. Near us was a table with 3-4 girls. They came over to our table asking us to dump the two bags we were with and join them. These girls were real dandies, yet Naifeh and I thinking of the liquor store, had to reluctantly decline.
The following day we returned to Topeka only to be told of further delays in plane delivery. Back to KC for us with more goodies from the liquor store. When we returned to Topeka the next day with another couple of sacks of spirits the MP’s at the gate kept asking where were we getting all the good stuff. Our response was rather vague. We made plans to return to KC for a third time, but suddenly all passes were cancelled, everyone confined to base. The planes were being delivered. We had our plane! In a short time, orders were cut for our departure. OUR plane was loaded with our gear, spirits, and whatever. Everyone had various suggestions for a name for the new beautiful B-24. Little did we know that this was not our plane.
The big moment finally arrived. From Topeka, we flew to Bangor, Maine. From there to Gander, New Foundland, then to Goose Bay, Labrador, on to Reykjavik, Iceland. At each stop we would re-fuel, have the plane checked thoroughly, try to get a night’s rest and a couple of good meals. The good meals were questionable. From Reykjavik, Iceland to Wales where our plane was turned over to the Air Force. We had in reality ferried the plane to the war zone.
More hurry up and wait were the orders. We were sent to Newcastle, County Down, North Ireland for more training and indoctrination. Mostly indoctrination. We were told in very stern terms we were not to act like the over paid, over sexed American Servicemen. Behave!
While we were in North Ireland there was very little work with passes to town every day. Nowhere were the people as friendly as the Irish. The pubs had plenty of stout and ale, fish and chips were the staple food and the Colleens were as pretty as one would expect. I was indeed fortunate, twins, one worked at night, the other during the day. It was tough duty, yet being in the best of health, the courtship of twins was carried out with vigor. Eileen and Kathaleen Hallahan were pretty, buxom, red-headed lassies who made me the envy of our group. Newcastle was a picturesque little town on the coast with a small pavilion down by the beach. Every afternoon there was a small band of old men who would perform, playing all the old Irish melodies. This was the gathering spot for just about everyone, the locals and GI’s. One afternoon after we had been in Newcastle a week or so, there were several of us down near the pavilion enjoying our stout. Mrs. Hallahan was in our group, when one of my buddies said,
“Mrs. Hallahan, Gibbs is probably going to marry one of your daughters. We are wondering which one.”
Her reply was, “Sgt. Gibbs is welcome to marry either.”
Later back at the base while everyone was laughing and I was questioning their ancestry, it was made as clear as possible that this soldier was not interested in matrimony. This seemed to come up everywhere I was stationed.
It would be a safe statement to say our stay in North Ireland was enjoyed by all. We hated to see it come to an end.
Leaving North Ireland we were sent directly to the 93rd Bomb Group just outside of Hardwick England. After two years in the service, I was now in the war. We were assigned to the 330th Bomb Squadron. Before being shot down on January 28, 1945, I also served in the 328th and 329th Bomb squadrons. Again, hurry up and wait, more training, going to gunnery range in Scotland was to be the program for several days.
Arriving at the 93rd, Naifeh and I wandered over to NCO Club. Looking at the lists of men who signed in there, two names grabbed me in an almost scarey fashion, HERBERT GARROW, Niagara Falls, New York and EARL SCHLEIBAUM, RFD #1, Seymour, Indiana. Pointing to their names, my comments were along these lines,
“Naifeh, these were my running buddies on my first crew.”
Since my letters to them had been returned, marked MIA, it gave me an odd feeling. After over a year I am assigned to the same BG and squadron as my first crew.
Leaving the club we were walking across a ball field when, lo and behold, we meet my old co-pilot, Williamson from Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was as surprised as I. The first expressions,
“Gibbs what the hell are you doing over here?”
My explanation followed with the question,
“What happened to Turner and the crew?”
Williamson, a Second Lt. the last time I saw him, was now a Captain. He told me that when the crew arrived at the 93rd, within a couple of months, Turner was made a lead pilot, and he and the navigator were pulled from the crew to make up another crew with himself as first pilot. The arrangement was beautiful yet on a mission crossing into France, Turner was hit in the bomb bay by flak. The plane exploded with only one man getting out of the plane. Somehow the engineer managed to get of of the plane, probably blown out, unfortunately Williamson was flying off Turner’s wing, the engineer hit his wing, cutting him in two.
Williamson said “Gibbs, I hate to tell you they were all killed.”
My first day in ENGLAND was a sad one indeed.
Shortly after this incident the 330th sustained heavy losses, so heavy that Williamson was promoted to Major and made CO of the 330th for a short time. Promotions came fast in those days.
During the first couple of weeks in the 93rd, Naifeh, Croom, and I tried to drink the island dry of stout. We didn’t, but did keep the breweries working over time. Chinberg would sip on one or two, always leading us back to Quonset Hut. If we were on a short pass to town, he was sure to get us back to base.
The officers and NCO’s who had completed their tours were constantly saying – “you guys are lucky, nothing but milk runs.” For this group, most of their flights were just that – milk runs (an expression for easy flight with no flak or fighters.) These crews had made most of their flights over France or other occupied countries, therefore some of the crews hadn’t seen enough flak to count. The reason for the absence of flak and fighters was that Germany had pulled all their guns and planes back into Germany to protect the Fatherland. Every flight I made was over Germany with fighter planes rarely seen, but often flak so thick it didn’t appear possible for a big bomber to fly through it. The absence of German fighters was due to B-24’s fire power, tight formations and our “Little Friends” (long range U.S. fighter planes.)
The big day arrived! Report to briefing. The first few briefings may have had a touch of excitement or romanticism involved but in a short time, after seeing B-24’s spiral out of control, the “report to briefing” had a sinister almost deathly sound to it.
Unfortunately I do not remember when we flew our first mission. Reiterating, all flights I made were to targets in Germany. Shortly after we crossed the Zuider Zee, I called out,
“Flak at 2 o’clock”.
Everything stretching their necks, “Where!”, “Where!”
Damn it – 2 o’clock!.”
There it was, our first encounter with the horror of the air. The first mission, as all air force missions, was a success (to all crews a successful mission was one where you made it back to the base in England.)
Our sixth mission was a holy horror – the sub pens in Hamburg. On the morning of the briefing we were told that when we headed into our bomb run there would be over 600 guns trained on us. Tears appeared in many eyes, no doubt urine in several flight suits. We circled to the west of Hamburg, climbed as high as possible, turning on the bomb run, the 24’s noses were eased down a bit going as fast as possible. With a 90mph tail wind we unloaded the largest load of explosives ever known to man. Many B-24’s went down in the raid including some with buddies aboard. When we returned to base, it was on to the debriefing and a double shot of bourbon. Some of the crew was too upset or disturbed to use their bourbon, therefore Croom, Naifeh, and I had to gladly assist. After several hours on oxygen and about 3 double bourbons, you could almost flay your arms and fly.
Three day passes to London for needed R and R (rest and relaxation). As with all GI’s we headed for Piccadilly, the center of the clubs, pubs, and shops. Amazingly, Naifeh and I for the first two days enjoyed the cultural aspects of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and tours around the old city. We also took time to visit several of the pubs and clubs. Our last night on this visit I met a real cute little WAF (Women’s Auxiliary Force). She was a charmer that all the fellows liked. Our beloved pilot, Cook, tried to cut in on me with the WAF. He didn’t succeed. We made appropriate plans for my next visit to London.
Back to the 93rd and more tough missions in store. About this time our group led an attack on Kassel. This mission was a success as far as our crew was concerned, yet it was a disaster for the 93rd. We did lose some planes on that raid. My turret and oxygen tank was knocked out by flak.
Shortly after Kassel our crew was split up. I have been told our co-pilot was the leader causing the split. To this day no one has told me precisely what happened. Regardless, I was now a free lance nose gunner with no crew. The orphan was left to fend for himself. Until I was assigned to the Rosacker crew, my number would come up only when a crew needed a nose gunner.
One mission stands out that just about dealt me and a squadron a very bad hand. I was sleeping soundly and the CQ, (Charge of Quarters) shook me awake.
“Gibbs got a milk run for you, nose gunner on the crew sustained some burns.”
I told the CQ that I had flown a day or two before, also had a big 3 day pass to see my WAF in London. The CQ was insistent.
“Sure help you get your numbers in and back home. Man, it’s a milk run.”
With reluctance, I volunteered to go out (never again). A jeep picked me up, I rushed to briefing room, the crews had departed for their planes. Upon my arrival at the briefing room one of the fellows I knew told me the gunner had really poured lighter fluid on himself and set it ablaze, claiming it was an accident. My comment were that the CQ told me it was a milk run. My buddy said, “Milk run my ass, look at the map.” The mission was to the very middle of Germany! I was rushed out to the flight stand where a very young inexperienced crew was waiting (I believe this was their second mission). The crew had been told they were getting an old-timer as replacement for their nose gunner. This mission was about the 12th for me.
Off we go into the wild blue yonder. Wild it was! This squadron go lost in the middle of Germany. We were actually lost for possibly up to two hours, flying around in circles. I was watching flak moving toward us when I spotted a German plane about a mole or so away flying our same directions, same altitude, and speed. The plane was called to the pilot’s attention, also the fact that he was evidently tracking us for the anti-aircraft batteries. The flak started moving in on us. A call was made “nose to pilot they have us pinned.” Our young pilot stated he had to stay in formation and follow the lead. About a minute or two of this and the flak started sounding loud and clear. Then in front of me I could see the red bursts, each one getting redder, flak hit the turret, then my voice loud clear,
“For Gawd’s sake, take this SOB up – they’ll have us in 2 more bursts.”
To the young pilot’s credit, he must have figured that a court martial of a pilot was better than a funeral. Up we went, the entire squadron went with us. From then on, we, the squadron, started taking evasive action up and down, change direction, change speed, throw out all chaff (the chaff was thin slivers of foil that helped confuse the German radar). We couldn’t do anything about the German plane. He stayed out of gun range, we in turn dropped our bombs on something – somewhere, then by chance (I guess it was by chance) we were headed for England. A successful mission. The debriefing was classic. Any statement made was pure guess work, I know the intelligence officer didn’t write my remarks down. Most of the crew I had been with were either too young or too scared to drink the bourbon. I volunteered to assist them in this endeavour.
Since I was to have been on a 3 day pass I rushed to our hut, changed clothes then back to squadron headquarters to pick up my pass. The CO, bless his heart, was standing outside headquarters, he looked at me and said,
“Gibbs, aren’t you suppose to be in London?”
“Yes sir, but I volunteered and went on the mission today.”
“Were you involved in that fiasco today?”
“Yes, sir!” The CO hollered to the First Sergeant, “Give Gibbs 2 extra days, he is cracking up.”
Five days in London – ah so.
Arriving in London I immediately headed for a pub that would surely have some of my former crew hanging around. Sure enough Naifeh was there with a dear friend. After giving Jack the grisly details of the mission, he dryly commented,
“Oh, Hell, they will decorate the lead pilot and navigator and send them home.”
Naifeh and the others had to return to the base, so the Little WAF and I did a tour of London, watched the changing of the Guard, a ride in the tube around most of London. One night when we were returning to her home, we were riding in the top section of one of London’s famed buses when a V-2* rocket cut out. The rocket hit so close that for a moment everyone thought the bus would turn over.
Back to the base for more free lancing. It had to be about this time that I was assigned to the Rosacker crew. Even though all of this crew is still living, none of us are sure just when I joined the crew.
We were indeed a diverse crew
|F.D. "Dusty" Worthen||Bombardier||California|
|Charles Philage||Radio Operator||Pennsylvania|
|Bennie Hayes||Ball gunner||Michigan|
|C.S Metro||Waist Gunner||West Virginia|
|T.C Gibbs||Nose Gunner||Mississippi|
The ball turrets were removed from the B-24’s, as a result Bennie became a waist gunner. The two Texans on our crew were from entirely different areas and backgrounds. Navigator John Pace, was from Dallas; our engineer, Otis Hair, was from Olton, a small town in the panhandle. We were a good crew, congenial, efficient, and dedicated.
We occasionally had the V-2 rockets* come down in the vicinity of our base. One night we had a red alert (red means very dangerous). Several of us were outside our Quonset Hut looking for the V-2. We spotted the thing heading in a general direction of the base. Suddenly it cut out, that meant it was soon coming down. Everyone started scattering, several men jumped into a ditch beside the hut (this was a HUGE mistake since we often on cold or wet nights would use this open ditch as a urinal rather than walk 70 – 100 yards to the latrine). The “ditch jumpers” never did live it down. When we would go to the mess hall, much to their chagrin we would hold our noses, moving with a lot of ceremony to another section of the mess hall. It was all good natured ribbing, but the “ditch jumpers” did have to disinfect themselves and all clothing. The CO and first sergeant wanted to raise hell about using the ditch for a urinal, but they couldn’t keep a straight face when talking about it. War is hell.
Even though I was now assigned to a crew, Naifeh and I still continued our close association. We were fortunate in that our passes well coincided so we could be found in the Piccadilly area on every pass. The little WAF didn’t mention matrimony, neither did it occur to me. A fine war.
On my last trip to London prior to our being shot down, we made big planes to go to Bristol-on-the-sea (with her parents approval), yet those plans were interrupted by events on January 28, 1945. Somehow in the back of my mind I think that long after the war, Croom or Naifeh told me that they told her I was MIA.
The war was going to soon end. This was the word that was spreading fast, we would be heading home by Christmas. Personally I have always thought the allied High Command and our intelligence sections got a bit lax about this time. A wave of bad weather moved into England, no planes could get off the ground. With the big chance in the weather the Germans made their move and what a move it was! With the elite of the German Wehrmacht leading the way, the German Army poured through our lines in a rush to capture Antwerp. At that time Antwerp was the largest military depot in the world. It is pure conjecture, but if the Germans had been successful in capturing Antwerp, intact, the war could have drug on for another year. Fortunately for the allies, Bastogne, a city in Belgium, stood in the Wehrmacht’s path. Thus, the famed Battle of the Bulge.
Back at our base in England and in all the airbases of the 8th Air Force, the British and the other air bases, not one plane could leave the ground. We were “socked-in” tight. Morning after morning we would go to briefing, turn to the planes to wait and wait and wait. After several hours it would be the same – stand down. While this was happening to us, the same thing was happening to the 15th Air Force out of Italy. The Germans had planned well except they had not counted on the Battered Bastards of Bastogne putting up such resistance. In my opinion this was probably the greatest stand by an allied force in WW II. The Air Force could not relieve Bastogne, the Germans were throwing everything they had at them, inflicting severe loses, taking many POWs, but they could not break through in their race to Antwerp.
Finally, after countless days of “standing down” the word was “go” and we did. If a plane had wings it was put in the air. Out of England we poured, B-24’s, the B-17’s with their hand grenades, P51’s, P47’s, then after us came the other Allies in the big Lancasters, the superb Mosquitos (best plane in WW II), and anything else that would get off the ground. It was a sight to behold, planes, planes, and more planes making bomb runs, dropping supplies with the little friends shooting at anything that moved. The day was so clear that I spotted a German Tiger tank cutting through the snow. As we headed back to England, the 15th out of Italy started arriving. After that one day, the most diehard Nazi must have realized that all was “Kaput”. Allied High Command must have realized the war wasn’t over, therefore the bombing of Germany’s Industrial Might intensified. It seems to me that we stayed in the air.
January 28, 1945 was to be our red-letter day. The target was Dortmond in the Ruhr Valley (the Ruhr was know as Flak Alley). The Ruhr was the heart of Germany’s Industrial Might. Our missions into the Ruhr had one simple objective – destroy the Ruhr at all costs.
Our flight started as usual, assembled over England, then over the Zuider Zee to the IP (initial point) then make the bomb run through heavy flak, drop, and head for home. A good plan except for the fact we lost an engine, Joe and Glenn couldn’t feather the windmilling prop, the net result being we couldn’t maintain speed or altitude, therefore, we had to drop out of formation and call for little friend protection (a lone bomber was what the Germans loved).
The squadron was notified of our predicament. Since we were flying squadron deputy, our spot in the formation was immediately occupied by the next plane. We had to turn back to head for the coast and Allied territory. The plane that moved into our position was hit in the bomb bay and exploded shortly after moving into our slot. I would later see 3 of the men on this plane. They were POWs. I asked how did they manage to live through the explosion, their answer was that they were blown out of the plane. One of the men said when he came to, he was floating to earth, his parachute open. Many strange stories similar to this came out of the war.
On our desperate run for the coast and friendly forces, we dropped our bombs on something – somewhere – threw out all guns, and all things that would lighten the load. We continued to lose altitude. Then a second engine went out, the situation had gone from serious to damn serious. We hit the North Sea coast line, everyone knew there was no way we could cross the North Sea, therefore down the coast, hopefully, to Allied lines. By this time we were moving sideways, losing altitude at an alarming rate, and everyone in the world shooting at us. Then it went from bad to worse, a third engine was either hit or just got tired. There AIN’T no way a B-24 can fly on one engine. Joe hit the jumpbutton, by this time Dusty, and possibly Johnny, had come back to the waist section. I had been there for sometime. When Joe hit the button, I looked down at Schouwen Island, it looked like a postage stamp, I looked at Dusty and said,
“Is he kidding?” I remember that question as clear as if it were yesterday. Dusty had one comment, “No Gibbs, get the hell out of here.”
With that I dropped through the waist escape hatch, calmly counting to ten prior to pulling the parachute handle (we had never practiced a parachute jump, but had been told to count to ten prior to pulling the parachute handle). I did, in this fashion, 1-2-6-10! The chute opened (I said a little thank you prayer to the packer). While floating earthward, I saw chutes in every direction, yet could count only eight other than myself. Who didn’t get out? Our B-24 seemed to be heading for the ground when it suddenly turned upward, so help me the plane was heading straight for me. Suddenly, when I thought sure the plane would strike me, it turned over heading straight into an open field where it crashed and burned.
Riding a parachute down is a most unusual trip. To me there was no sensation of falling until the ground starts rushing up to meet you. When this started happening I saw the area where I was heading had large poles sticking up everywhere. The poles were akin to light or telephone poles, placed where they were, to prevent allied gilders and/or planes from landing. Somehow I was able to swing and maneuver myself between the poles. Believe me, when you hit the ground it would be similar to jumping from the roof of a house.
Once on the ground the chute was hastily rolled up, shoved into a small thicket of bushes and scrub trees. I jumped into a small ditch that had some scrub trees on the banks. It was COLD, and as soon as I stepped into the ditch, the ice broke,and one of my flight boots was now filled with water. In my mind, a foot would be lost of frost bite. Yet, at the time this was the least of my worries. The first thing to do was look at my escape map to try to determine my present location. About the only thing that made sense was we had landed on an Island, off the coast of Holland, near the North Sea. The thought kept running through my mind – what in the world is this old boy from Itawamba County, Mississippi doing in this predicament. I wasn’t mad at anyone, yet the entire German Army was out to kill me. My foot was freezing, I was freezing, my entire world had been turned upside down.
Peeping out from the bushes, a man was spotted waving his arms at me. For better or worse I ran to where he was standing. There was a language barrier between us, yet there was something about the man that said he was trying to help me. He quickly hustled me inside his house. Bennie was sitting in front of a big fire, he had hit the side of the barn and was in a hazed condition. Within a half minute a lady rushed into the room with a glass of spirits. I gulped the stuff down. It must have been 200 proof, for a warm glow was immediate. During all this, I could hear dogs barking. Suddenly the door burst open and in came the Germans. One, a soldier of maybe 17 years old, shoved a burp gun in my face (it looked like an 88m cannon), screaming at Bennie and me. The lady ran out of the room. The man signaled for us to raise our hands. We were now POWs.
In 1972, Joe and his wife, Dusty and his wife, Otis, Dot, and I visited Schouwen Island. So many changes had been made we were unable to locate any place. After we returned home we received a letter from a man, Mr. Boot, who was the Burgermeister of that area when we were shot down. In his letter he told about his mother giving some US Airman some spirits. She was arrested by the Germans, tried and released due to his influence and the fact the German court asked her if those men had been Germans would you have done this? She replied “Yes”.* = The writer probably means the V-1 bomb instead of the V-2 rocket.
Men in combat may think about an injury, some may adopt or become something of a fatalist, yet I never heard one that spoke of becoming a POW. It just didn’t cross your mind. Yet here we were, POWs and would remain such until the war with Germany would end. There were later incidents that raised considerable doubt as to whether we would survive until war’s end.
After our surrender to the troops and dogs that surrounded the Dutchman’s house, we were stripped of our worldy goods (I always carried several packets of cigarettes, Lucky Strikes, 4 or 5 of the British 5 pound notes in my gear), these items, my beautiful watch, pistol, knife, and few lesser items were in the hands of my captors (the cigarettes and five pound notes were trading items). We were marches through the little town to the German’s headquarters. Upon our arrival at HQ we were separated. For some reason I was left out in the long hall with a young (16/17 years old) guard. In no time it was most evident the German officers were enjoying my cigarettes. The captors had left me with about half a pack. I fumbled one out, no match! The young guard noticed my situation, when no one was in the hall he handed me a small box of matches. That was one fine smoke. As soon as I lit up I started to hand him the matches, he was shaking his head in a negative manner. There was a non-com walking down the hall, after the non-com passed, I slipped the young guard his matches and a couple of my precious cigarettes.
In an hour or so I was called into a room with two German officers. The questions were fired at me from both of them,
“What BG? How many crew members? Our target?”.
After each chance to answer, it was the same.
“My name is Staff Sergeant Tyrus C. Gibbs, 34426803, US Air Force”.
I must have repeated that eight to ten times.
One of the officers screamed,
“Damn it Sergeant, we know your name, rank and serial number.”
(Under the Geneva convention that was all I was required to give them. Germany was a signatory to this convention). On the desk in front of the officers were several items of mine, watch, fountain pen, mints, and a Vicks inhaler (the writing was gone from the inhaler), one of the officers pointed to the inhaler, “Vas es Los?” (What is this?)
Again, my response was name, rank, and serial number. The officer picked up an intercom, snapping out sharp orders. In about thirty seconds an enlisted man entered the room with a pair of tongs, he gingerly lifted up the inhaler, held the “secret weapon” at arms length, departing the room immediately. My watch, fountain pen, a few mints, and chewing hum were returned to me.
The German officer’s command of the English language was impeccable, one commented,
“We know you are from the South.”
How did he guess. Prior to dismissing me one of the officers asked,
“Are you scared?”
My answer, “No, sir”.
Surely the good Lord won’t hold that big lie against me.
From the interrogation to a holding cell where most of the crew was being held. It was a welcome sight to see the crew, also to learn that ten parachutes were counted. That meant that everyone made the jump. By this time my foot that had gone into the ice water felt as if it were frozen. One of the fellows, I can’t remember which one, helped me get my boot off then vigorously rubbed my foot to help restore the circulation. I still believe this saved my foot from freezing. Prior to putting my foot back in the boot, I dried the boot as good as possible, wrung out the sock, used an undershirt for lining, making life much more bearable.
After short rations to eat, we were loaded on a small boat for a trip to the mainland. By the time we were loaded on the boat it was dark and cold (bear in mind we were almost in the North Sea in the dead of winter.) We landed in Rotterdam, staying there for a short time, then put in the back of open trucks for the first leg of our journey to Germany and the POW camps. Riding in the back of the truck through Rotterdam, I well remember these brave Dutch people, men, woman, and children, at every opportunity giving us the V for Victory sign. Men scratching their faces with their fingers forming a V, when the guards backs were turned, women throwing V kisses, even the youngsters making the V signs. It was most heartening for some GIs who were having a bad day. Down into Germany by various means of transportation.
Somewhere along the journey we were split up into two groups; pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator, and myself made up one group. I am not sure if the other four were able to stay together. Prior to splitting our crew, there was an incident that caused me to think “This is it”. In some town, not sure where, the ten of us were confined upstairs in a building. We were placed behind barbed wire with a German guard manning a machine gun pointed straight at us. There was a big pile of hay on our side of the wire. The hay made a super warm bed, in minutes I was sound asleep. On awakening the only crew member left in our area, was Bennie. I asked,
“Where is everyone?”
Bennie, in a trembling voice, replied,
“Gibbs, they have been carrying everyone out, one at a time.”
No sooner had he said this, than a machine gun opened fire from some area downstairs. Bennie didn’t help lifting my spirits when he said the machine gun opened fire every few minutes. This was it – what we had heard about Germans killing prisoners was true! Suddenly all my thoughts were about home, Mother, Dad, Jimmy, Bonnie, Ruth and Paul. A little prayer kept running through my mind. “Dear God, please let me die like a man in a way that would bring no dishonor on my family or my country.”I must have repeated that prayer a dozen times before the guard summoned me to follow him.
Again, I was sent to an office for more interrogation.
“Where is your home? We need to notify the Red Cross that you are alive and well”.
This and similar questions were asked with name, rank, and serial number as my response. I think it was after this episode that the crew was separated.
Another scary incident happened when the six of us were herded into a bombed-out rail station. We were told to remain quiet and as inconspicuous as possible. This latter part was impossible since we were in uniform, huddled in a corner). A German civilian, came over near us, shaking his fist and screaming at us. In a very short time a crowd, in an ugly mood, had gathered. Our guard hurried back to where we were, called to some German soldiers who rushed into the crowd, dispersing them. Our guard commented,
“Civilians do not understand war.”
Tessmer, our co-pilot, understood enough German to tell us the man wanted to lynch us on the spot, so did the crowd. The city where this happened was in shambles from constant bombing. The man who was ready to kill us had lost several family members of his family in a bombing raid.
At this time we were traveling through the Ruhr Valley. The devastation was horrible, Un Frankfurt, we were herded off a train into a bomb shelter while a bomb raid was in progress. Form my observation of the total destruction throughout the area, it was a miracle the Germans could continue to carry on the war. I recall we were walking through some flattened out town when a woman ran up, shaking her fist,
“If you Americans had stayed out of the war, the Fuhrer would have wiped out the Bolsheviks and be in Moscow”.
Thinking back on that statement she was probably correct. In this same town there was a bit of Americana, a Coca Cola sign.
Further into Germany to the Central Interrogation Center at Oberusel. I don’t know how long we were at this place. It seemed like years, yet it was only for a few days. We were separated, placed in cells, barely large enough to turn around in or to take any real exercise. More questioning, more name, rank, and serial number. It was a bit scary being in the heart of Germany. A German officer says,
“Sergeant, your parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Gibbs, Sr., Fulton, Mississippi have been notified that you are a prisoner of war.”
No doubt I probably said something upon receiving this type of news.
We later learned that at this location they probably could have notified us of our blood type, female preferences, or whatever. While we were here I learned to count nail heads in my room, how many stripes in a small mattress and other such useful information.
Somewhere along the route, our flight clothing was exchanged for regular military uniforms, deloused, and adding to the other humilities, I had my head clipped. A pretty sight indeed. My beautiful watch and fountain pen were taken from me, never to be seen again.
Finally our destination, Nuremberg (Later to be the scene of the War Crimes Trials). The camp was divided into several compounds with specified numbers of barracks in each compound. There were officer’s compounds, and separate compounds for the non-coms. I would not see any of my crew again until several of us met in Cincinnati, Ohio. This meeting was a quarter of a century later. In 1970, six of us, Rosacker, Tessmer, Hair, Worthen, Philage, and I attended this meeting.
Surprisingly, life in a POW camp is still subject to your country’s regulations, etc. There is chain of command, for all allied POWs. At Nuremberg, the two top ranking allied officers were a British General, and an American Officer who was a full colonel. Through the POW grapevine we were kept reasonably well informed of the progress of the war.
Days in a prison camp can drag on. The camps at this stage of war were poorly kept. Bedding (what there was of it) was worn thin, often ragged, and in threads. Fuel for the pot bellied stoves was in short supply, so as a rule, the fires were small with men “huddled” on the colder days and nights. The big problem was FOOD, or rather the lack of food. The main staple, if there was such an item, was Irish Potatoes. Even these were scarce, often non-existent. The bread, when available, was some type of ersatz material that did not have the taste of bread. The same could be said of what had to pass for coffee or tea. As a POW I lost over thirty pounds in a little over three months.
The big event in camp was when the Red Cross parcels (they weighed about four or five pounds) would arrive. This was the day for celebration. Early in the war the Red Cross, YMCA, and other such organizations had access to the camps keeping the POWs fairly well clothed and fed. Yet at this stage of the war the Red Cross parcels were few and far between. There might be one parcels to split among two, three, of maybe four men. The arrival of the Red Cross trucks seemed to spread thinner. Regardless, the trucks were a welcome sight. The parcels would vary in contents. Usually there would be items such as chocolate bars, prunes, raisins (small mouthful type), bar of soap, small packs of cigarettes, maybe gum, instant coffee, peanut butter, jelly, cookies and similar items. The articles were concentrated and very nourishing. Always, after delivery, there would be swapping this for that. I swapped everything for peanut butter (still very fond of it). Most of us would hoard our goodies from the parcels, rationing the goodies so they would last several days. Unfortunately, the parcels were few and far between. When a parcel would have to be split between two or more men (as most were), I don’t recall an instant where anyone squabbled about how the parcel was split. In fairness it could be said the German guards were eating the same fare as we were receiving.
Boredom and hunger was the way of life in a POW camp. There was some worn out sports equipment, baseball, gloves, etc. that we piddled around with; checkers, dominoes were available, but rarely used. A few books such as The trek of the donner party (this was the party that was trapped in the snowstorm of the Teton mountains, some of the party survived by eating the remains of those who died). This book would take your mind off your hunger.
With so much time on your hands and nothing to do, anything to stay busy was a welcome relief. I found a piece of an old metal barrel and using rocks, in four or five weeks a fairly decent knife was fashioned. Everyone was trying to do something to keep occupied.
Through the grapevine, we were able to learn that the allies were moving in our direction. Since Nuremberg was a major rail center, the city became a major bombing target for the allies. The 8th came in force from England, the 15th from Italy for daylight bombings, then at night the British came with the “Blockbuster”.
During one huge daylight mission many of us stood outside watching. The Germans tried to keep us inside to no avail. While the raid was going on, several planes were being hit. We would try to count the chutes, and planes that were evidently in trouble would have us hollering “Jump!”, “Get out”, or similar expressions. That night the British Mosquitos flew around our camp dropping flares. Shortly thereafter, the big British bombers moved in with their “Blockbusters”. Some of those things, although being dropped miles from us, would shake the barracks. Tons and tons of the bombs were delayed action, therefore all night and the next day bombs were exploding. A day later the Germans offered extra food rations to any volunteers who would go to the city and work, removing debris, searching for bodies, and similar tasks. Several men from various compounds volunteered to work (under the Geneva Convention we could not be forced to do any work that could be war related). The men who went on the work said that the destruction, fires, stench, and deaths were awesome.
Word came down the chain of command that the Germans were going to move us from Nuremberg as the allies were getting too close. We were told that the Red Cross was trying to get us some food parcels. If the parcels did arrive in time, we should condense everything into as small an item as possible. The parcels did arrive; a young buddy of mine from Ipsey, Alabama and I split a parcel. This young man, 18/19 years old, was about 5’3”, weighing about 130 pounds, could eat out two men twice his size. He must have had a thirty foot tape worm. I can’t remember his name, but I do recall when we first met. I asked him where he was from and he told me Ipsey, Alabama.
“Where is that?”, I asked.
He really seemed shocked that I was from Mississippi and didn’t know where to locate Ipsey, Alabama. (It isn’t on the road maps.)
We had several methods of condensing the contents of the parcels, i.e. Crush any bread like material, roll it in items like jelly, peanut butter, sugar or whatever. Prunes could be done in similar fashion. We used many ingenious methods to condense and preserve our meager food supply. With the Red Cross parcels everyone immediately began processing their own condensed food supplies.
The word came down we were being marched south to Moosburg, a city just north of Munich. We were told,
“Under no circumstances were we to pass the lead column. Repeat, Do not pass the lead column”.
The allied General and other high ranking officers would be in this group. Their plan was very simple: they would slow down the march on any pretext with the hope that Patton’s Third Army could over-take us. Everyone knew that Patton was closing fast.
In a march such as this, there would be X number of men in a group that would march, sleep, and eat together. An allied officer was assigned to each group. All men in the group would respond to this men, regardless of what out guard might say, or want us to do.( Under the Geneva convention, we could be marched so many miles per day and no more then, I think, five days without a full day rest.) We were ready, 10.000 – 12.000 men, moved out, and marched from Nuremberg to Moosburg, a distance of about 100 miles over some mountainous terrain.
The word was Go, all troops, regarding of nationality were on the move. Most of the POWs at Nuremberg were either U.S or British Army or airmen with a sprinkling of other nationalities. One pilot, a Brazilian caught everyone’s eye. His flight suit he was somehow able to keep was made of the finest gabardine, almost a silk finish. Through the grapevine we heard his dad was one of Brazil’s top generals. Regardless, he was on the march; only the sick and injured were riding. Our first day we made very little time or distance. Part of this was getting the march underway, some organizational problems and, as expected, utter confusion.
The group I was in had a U.S Major as the top allied official. We were being moved along by an elderly German Captain. He was POW in the States during WW I and at every opportunity made life miserable for us and the German guards under his command. When at Nuremberg he seemed to enjoy getting us out of our barracks in the worst possible weather.
The first night out we were herded into a small church where sleep was nigh impossible. I shared a balcony step with the young fellow from ipsey. All night long someone was either coming down the steps to go outside or returning. War doesn’t stop bowel functions.
We were up and on the road fairly early. The old captain pushing our group as fast as possible. Within a couple of hours or so, we started passing several groups that were supposed to stay ahead of us. Our major was actually afraid of the German captain. We continued to push past other groups including the lead group with the high Allied Command. We were now out leading the march. This was too much! How it happened I don’t know, but we were suddenly told to stop and not move until we received further orders. With this same command, our Major was relieved of all authority and so we were told, given a fare-thee-well dressing down for his performance. The old German Captain was furious, yet he had enough sense to know that there were several high ranking German officers who would be most reluctant to inflict punishment of any type.
By the end of the second day, Ipsey, Alabama was out of food. He didn’t know how to ration himself. When several of us would get together, build a little fire, he was always near us. It was impossible for me to eat a bite with him sitting nearby with a forlorn look on his face. When I would offer a morsel or two, it was always,
“Oh no Gibbs, I can’t eat yours. I should have saved some of mine.”
He always took what was tendered by me and some of the others. By the time he made the rounds to all the fires, he was probably better fed than any of us. In retrospect he was probably smarter than anyone in the group.
We continued to move south, but out group with an allied Captain made no effort to pass any group. One night when we were in the high country it started snowing, sleeting and some icy rain started to fall. It was misery many times over. We could not get a fire started nor find any area that was dry. Several of us broke limbs from trees, building a small lean-to affair – naturally it leaked. That night the only thing we could do was spread our paper thin blankets on wet limbs, cover with whatever blankets were left, then huddle. About four to five to this arrangement. Daylight was a long time coming.
Shortly after this stop we stopped at a large German farm. We usually stayed in the barns. Several of us were getting settled in the hay loft when the farmers potato bin was spotted. I was let down in the bin, took off my long handle drawers (they had been washed 5-6 weeks previous), tied up the ends of the legs and loaded in potatoes. We had food for days.During the night I heard some pigeons squabbling or whatever sounds pigeons make.
Early the next morning I went to the water pump to wash potatoes. There was a GI calmly cleaning pigeons. He had a basket of pigeons and a big grin on his face. I tried to swap him some potatoes for a couple of his pigeons, but the pigeon killer said “No way man.”
Many years later, Dot and I were in a banquet room at the Pheasant Run Resort attending a big function of the Second Air Division. Our son was with us but not at the banquet. Everyone was nipping the grape, having a lively time. I happened to hear the word “pigeon” from the table next to ours. Leaning over I asked,
“Did any of you happen to be a pigeon killer on the march through Germany?”
One fellow laughed,
“Then you are the tight wad that wouldn’t swap me a couple of pigeons for a mess of potatoes.”
This man, Tony Scaila from Oklahoma City yelled,
“Are you the GI that tried to pull that swap at the water pump?”
Tony’s wife, as my wife, had heard this story told so often they knew it by heart. There were many similar incidents that came out of the war.
One night on the march, a group of us sitting around shooting the bull when I started relating about how near we were to allied lines when we had to jump. An airman in the group related his tale of woe. He was on his way down, floating gently toward allied lines. Suddenly the wind made a shift in directions. The wind gusts were so strong, and being inexperienced in parachuting, he couldn’t change his direction and he was blown back into German hands. We all agreed the Captain needed to punch his card (an expression used when someone had a hard luck story).
At one such bull session a young fighter pilot stated he had an unusual distinction. He was the only allied fighter pilot shot down by a German fighter. All the rest, so they say were hit by flak.
Once during our stroll south we were strafed by American fighters. The first pass over us, we were waving at the planes, the second time we were hitting the ditches. Apparently radio contact must have been made for as suddenly as the strafing started, it stopped. Several times after this incident U.S fighter planes would fly over, the wings waggling, some of the planes dipping so low you could see the pilots waving. I was told, never confirmed, that messages were dropped warning the guards not to harm a hair on one POW’s head.
Somewhere along the march we were told that president Roosevelt had died. There were mixed feeling about his death. Some of us could remember his promise, “As long as I am President, no American boy will serve on foreign soil.” At the time our group wasn’t serving, but we sure were on foreign soil.
Once we moved southward, slowly, much to the chagrin of our German Captain. When we stopped at a big German farm for the night, we were confronted by a scene that tore our guts out. A beautiful little German girl, 5-6 years old was at the farm. She had been sent there from one of the bombed out cities. She had a leg missing. Here she was, an angelic face, even with a smile for us, although it could have been anyone in our group that toggled the bombs that caused her to lose a leg. Every GI dug through their knapsacks or whatever for a piece of chocolate, cookie, gum, or anything a young child could use. We showered her with what we had. A smile was our reward. That little blond-headed girl had an impact on all of us. Through her you could see the utter futility of war. That night our group bedded down quietly and early. Through my life that little face has often been seen.
When we were within 10-15 miles of Moosburg our group was split into smaller segments to bed down for the night. There were 40-50 of us who were moved off the main Autobahn (super highway) to a small barn. A young Air Force Lieutenant was the ranking officer, therefore the allied officer in charge. When we arose the next morning, the word came down from Moosburg – do not move, stay where you are. Our German guards tried to prod us into moving, then the Lieutenant told them we were not moving. Everyone continued tending their little fires, boiling a potato or a turnip. The guards sent for the German Captain. He had stayed with the main body. In a short time, in he roars on his bicycle. He was furious, screaming at the Lieutenant, kicking over our cooking pots, making all types of threats. The young Lieutenant reiterated
“We are not moving one step.”
The Captain pulled his pistol, shoving it in the Lieutenant’s face, screaming in total rage; it was evident he was losing control. Not one allied POW made the slightest effort to move. Somehow the Captain realized we were not going to move regardless of what he said or did. He got back on his bike, making the parting remark,
“I will have you moved or shot right here.”
After the Captain departed, two or three older, regular Army sergeants walked over to the young Lieutenant, shaking his hand, patting him on the back. One commented, “Lieutenant, I never had much for you flyboys until today. I can tell you this. We had made up our minds that if he had shot you, we would have killed that SOB before he could ever leave this camp. I promise you, Sir, he wouldn’t have lived five minutes.”
Within 15 minutes of this episode we received word from Moosburg – “Come on in, a truch with machine guns is headed your way.” We moved back to join the main body to march into Moosburg.
What a camp! When we marched into this POW camp, built to house 12,000-15,000, there were over 100,000 of us crammed into a horrible mess. The latrines were hastily dug ditches, food non-existent, no housing, and for all practical purposed living a shade above primitive man. We could build a small fire. On our arrival, it was again sleep in the open as we had done on the march. A few of us would scoop up rocks, sticks, or whatever to make a wind break, then spread 2 to 3 blankets on the rocky ground, use whatever was left for cover and bundle up like cordwood. It helped! Fortunately, within three or four days some huge tents were brought into camp. We were moved inside the tents for the duration of the war.
Life at this camp was dull, duller, and dullest. Most of the time was spent in bull sessions with the topic of food the center of conversation. Some would talk of a big steak with fries, others about a big plate of spaghetti with garlic bread, fried chicken. On and on it would go. I remember one older fellow from south Texas commented about a gallon of fresh mile, a pone of cornbread and a plate of turnip greens would be all that would save him. His dish, as far as I was concerned, was the blue ribbon.
Whenever the weather would permit we would be outside with a little fire going, boiling a few potatoes, turnips of whatever. On the march we were scavengers, “liberating any and everything that might be edible”. The food was hoarded like gold, therefore we had a few potatoes, etc., to feast on at Moosburg. One turnip can make a lot of soup, throw in a couple of potatoes and it would be the nectar of the Gods.
We were sitting by our little fire when out of the blue, shot a jet plane, FW190, I believe was the designation. All of us, Air Force and ground, had one remark. “What the hell was that?” The jet made about three passes over the camp, flying low at an incredible speed (maybe 500 mph). The plane looked awesome. Some of us in the Air Force had heard unconfirmed rumors that the Germans had developed a plane that could fly rings around anything the Allies could put in the air. This plane could have done just that and more. We can only wonder what might have happened if the Germans could have filled the air with such planes. For sure the war would have gone on for many months, maybe years if such an event had happened.
The days drug slowly by. We knew that Patton couldn’t be too far away. Then the most beautiful event happened. Again a few of us were boiling a few taters when gunfire started in earnest. Suddenly an Army Sergeant jumped up screaming,
“That’s a 30mm machine gun.”
From where we were we saw a line of tanks pull to the crest of a nearby hill. Using the steeple of a church in Moosburg as a guide point, they started raining shells on the town. In the corner of our compound, the elderly German guard threw his rifle to the ground, climbed out of the tower and remarked, “Es Kapoot”.
The screaming, crying, yelling, and dancing was under way. Only when an American flag went up the main flag pole did the full realization of what was happening really dawn on us. We were free!
Moosburg at this time had Allied soldiers from all over the world inside those barbed wire fences. Many of the men had been prisoners four, five, and six years. We had heard the Germans had planned on using us POWs as pawns to obtain a more favorable peace. This plan didn’t phase the allies.
Shortly after the camp surrendered, an infantrymen entered out tent and told us he was part of Patton’s Armored Spearhead. The main Army would pass through in a day or two. This particular infantryman looked like an Armored Spearhead. He had to be from Brooklyn, a Thompson sub-machine gun under his arm, two or three pistols of various types strapped to his hip, a bandoleer across one shoulder that held 8-10 hand grenades and a knife. He was prepared. This young GI made the statement,
“If there are any of these sons of bitches you want to claim (referring to our guards), come on out here and pick them out. “
None of us disliked any of our elderly guards to that extent, although I heard that a guard called “Big Stoop” had 200 bullet holes and a pick driven through his head by some men from other compounds. Big Stoop had driven men relentlessly down from East Prussia, no rest on the way. If a GI fell out, he was left for the civilians to kill.
Also, we were told that the old German Captain and several others had tried to escape on their bicycles, motorbikes or whatever. The fighter pilots caught them heading south on the Autobahn, making short shift of all of them.
In a very short time, Patton’s main army rolled into Moosburg. Many of the men in our compound were tearing through camp headquarters and other areas in the camp. One of these men spotted my German POW record. He retrieved it from the records and gave it to me. This is the most prized possession I have or World War II.
While others were roaming around the camp, I broke out heading to Moosburg. About a half mile out of camp a large field was littered with dead dogs. These were the guard dogs known to be very vicious.
By the time I hit town, many other POWs were roaming around. I recall seeing a Russian with a young pig, throat slit, slung across his shoulder. Several huge barrels of wine had been rolled into the streets and everyone was helping themselves. As the Army started rolling through, the GIs in Patton’s Army started loading me down with good, cigarettes, candy, soap, and similar items. One of the men threw me a can of tomatoes his mother had send him. A field kitchen stopped, piling more food on me than I could carry, including a five pound tin of beef. More than one of the soldiers would holler, “What do you need, Sergeant? What about some chewing tobacco, etc?”
Standing on a corner, I was talking to an officer with a large briefcase. He asked,
“Sergeant, need any German money? We captured the Germans paymaster.”
He gave me a handful. I still have some of it.
Suddenly the word started down the line, “The old man is coming.” Everyone started popping to attention and here he came in all his magnificence. Four or five motorcycles, red lights flashing, sirens screaming, then four of five Jeeps, red lights flashing, sirens screaming, then, HIS Jeep. There he was, standing up in a jeep, either the most famous or infamous (depending on who was talking about him) Allied General in World War II, GEORGE PATTON, with pearl handle pistols and chrome helmet. He was sight to see!
Digressing a bit, some of Patton’s men were in our POW compound in Moosburg. I enjoyed the stories they would tell about him. My favorite was when he sent a Colonel to a supply depot to get shoes for his Army. The Colonel returned empty handed saying that at the depot he was told the shoes were for Bradley’s Army. One of two of the fellow said they heard Patton pulled one of his pearl handle pistols and would have shot the Colonel except for being restrained by others. Reportedly, he turned to a Major, told him to go get the shoes or die in the attempt. The Major loaded up his truck with machine guns and went to the depot, made it plant to the CO in charge of the depot that he was after shoes, either peacefully or by force. He returned with the shoes. The men agreed that Patton did take care of his troops. He was always trying to get the best of everything for them. What was the consensus of the men in his Army as to the General – one of the men seemed to express what they thought.
“Well the old SOB was something. He was a glory hound who enjoyed the war to the fullest, yet he was a combat trooper’s general. If he told us that what we had to do was to tear down the gates of hell, that is what we would do.”
Leaving town heading back to the camp, I was loaded down with goodies beyond relief. My group welcomed me with pure shouts of glee. Cigarettes for all – smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. A fire was built, we started cooking and did we eat! Beef, rice, tomatoes, pork and beans, cookies and candy, what a feast! Then a cigarette that you didn’t have to smoke down to your lips. Ah, what a life! A few hours later, reality set in – diarrhea, and if there is such a thing, compound diarrhea. The rest of the night my group was in and out of the latrine. It seemed that daylight would never come – that was some night. Apparently the Medical Corps with Patton’s Army knew what was going to happen. They had set up first aid stations throughout the camp. There were lines at every station, often double lines, going by the station.
The medics were handing out pills, admonishing us,
“take it easy fellows, don’t try to eat too much. We are going to feed you, bit by bit.
” At the particular time I don’t believe anyone in the lines could have eaten a bite.
Slowly but surely a bit of organization started taking shape. Then the old military way set in, hurry up and wait. In due time we were loaded onto trucks, carried to an airfield and flown to Camp Lucky Strike in France. This camp was for American POWs. We were here several days, medical exams, and slowly but surely our stomachs adapter to food. I believe we were started on two light meals. Day by day our food, quantity and quality progressed until we were on three meals a day. I have forgotten the system used to determine who left for the states first, yet the big moment did arrive. To the coast to board a Liberty Ship. The first or second mate on our ship was Sid Luckman, a super quarterback for the Chicago Bears. He was later inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.
The dates of our return trip to our beloved country are lost in the passing years. I think the trip was in the latter part of May, 1945. It was a glorious trip! The crew aboard our ship went out of their way to be helpful. Ship stores were kept open most of the daylight hours. The food, all we could eat, was good and wholesome. I recall buying a box of Hershey bars. Using a little more common sense, I didn’t eat over three of four at a time.
One incident rings clear about the boarding and trip to the states. The new hit tune that was #1 on the juke boxes was “Don’t fence me in”. This tune was on the ship’s sound system many times on our crossing.
At long last New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty! There were tears and prayers of thanksgiving from all of us. Never had the old girl looked so good to a boat load of immigrants as she did to a boat load of ex-POWs. Bands were playing, people waving and shouting, the gray ladies of the Red Cross were on hand giving out donuts, coffee and fresh milk (What a treat!). We were at the harbor a short time then to trains for a quick run to Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts.
At Camp Miles Standish there was the usual formal greeting from the camp CO. After this greeting we were informed that dinner would be served soon. The menu included steak, salad, various vegetables, and all the ice cream you could eat along with pies and cakes. We were also advised that our servers would be German POWs who would eat the same food. To my knowledge, no one complained. After our meal, the telephone lines would be open for our calls home. Who could ask for anything more? Many of us rushed through out meal in order to get to the phones. It was unbelievable how fast our calls were put through. Apparently, several blocked off lines had been added. When I heard my sweet Mother’s voice, “Tyrus, our prayers have been answered,” I knew my world was starting to be reassembled. Mother was crying, Dad having trouble talking, so was I, yet we did have the greatest three minute phone conversation of my life.
For an excellent change, the military hurry up and wait was held to a minimum. In short order I was on a train headed south to Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. On the train a POW from Corinth, Mississippi and I became acquainted. This fellow’s name was Archer. We stayed in contact for awhile then seemed to drift apart.
Short shift at Camp Shelby, then to the Greyhound Bus Station for a ride to Tupelo, a little city 18 miles from Fulton. I called home, told them of my scheduled arrival in Tupelo.
On the bus trip, toward the northern part of the state, Archer and I had to use the bathroom (none on the buses in ’45). It was so bad that I finally went to the bus driver, since it was rather late at night, nothing was open, yet the old bus driver not blinking an eye, pulled up beside a closed service station, and announced to all he was making a pit stop. Bless his heart. Archer and I bounded from the bus, ran to the back of the station for wonderful relief. Apparently, in our absence the driver told the other passengers that we were ex-POWs heading home. We were greeted with smiles, pats on the back, glad to have you home or similar expressions.
When the bus pulled into Columbus, Mississippi, a little city about 70 miles south of Fulton, there was my family, Mother, Dad, Jimmy and Bonnie Ruth. This was the sight every GI dreamed about – being reunited with his family. The ride back to Fulton was one of joy and happiness. When we pulled into the driveway at our home, it was then that my prayers and dreams had become reality. Home again! Up the stairs to my bedroom, how wonderful could a home coming be! My family was safe and well, Paul was safe in Italy, the world was indeed beautiful. To bed, to sleep and thank the Good Lord for his bountiful blessings.
A glorious month at home, then the return to military duty. My orders were to report to Miami Beach, Florida for re-assignment. Archer from Corinth, had the same orders, therefore we made arrangements to travel together in Dad’s Caddy. Dad was in an essential business, hardwood lumber mill, and therefore received a good allotment of gas stamps. He was able to save a few from each allowance, and also talked the rationing board out of stamps for me to use to return to duty.
Prior to leaving Fulton I learned that one of my life long friends, Wayne Palmer, a Marine veteran of some of the Pacific’s worst battles had returned to the states and was now stationed at a navel base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, just North of Miami Beach. This was going to be a reunion – an ex-POW and Wayne, as a Marine Scout, had survived Iwo Jima. He was one of the two marines scouts to survive this battle.
Archer and I departed Fulton for a leisurely trip to Miami Beach. We were in good spirits since we had been assured that barring most dire circumstances our combat days were behind us. Out tour in Miami Beach would be to soak up sunshine, R&R, while awaiting our new tour of duty. This was war at its very best.
When we drove up to one of Miami’s plushiest hotels, GIs started snapping to attention. That big black Caddy would draw attention. Out steps two Staff Sergeants. Archer didn’t increase our popularity when with a casual wave of his hand, he said, “As you were men, carry on”.
Due to our assignments Archer and I saw very little of each other while in Miami. The duty here was beautiful, just R&R, report in every 24 or 48 hours.
It was on to Fort Lauderdale to the Naval Air Station where Wayne was a duty sergeant with the Air Station Guards. Again, when I drove up to the gate, the guards started “popping to.” I couldn’t help but grin when one of the Marine guards said, “Hell, Sarge, we thought you would be a bird or above.”
An inquiry was made about my buddy, Wayne. The guards quickly responded as to his whereabouts, and gave his barracks’ number. Driving straight to his barracks, I found him asleep. One of the men commented that the sergeant had a hard night.
“Wake up you good off.” Shaking Wayne hard he rolled over, grunted, then squinted at me.
“Gibbs is that you?”
After jumping all over each other for a few minutes, I inquired as to his duty status for the next few days. Wayne, being a decorated Pacific Veteran, said, no problem, he would clear it with the old men, these odd balls can cover for me. We drove over to see his CO, a nice guy who quickly gave his approval for Wayne to take off as often as his health would permit. Only be sure to report in every 24 hours. The CO was kidding about his health, yet after he had seen the car we would be cruising the beach in, he knew that we would be keeping late hours.
For the next week or ten days Wayne and I were together morning, noon, and nights. We were in GI heaven. We actually had little darling whistle us at every stop sign. Here were two military sergeants having the time of their lives. Girls, girls, and more girls. We got really choosey.
Then it happened. August 6, 1945, the headlines screamed, an American plane had dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. This bomb was more powerful than 20.000 tons of nitro. Unbelievable, yet three days later on August 9, 1945, another similar bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The war was soon over. On August 14, 1945 the Japanese accepted the unconditional surrender terms. World War II ended, officially on September 2, 1945, with the signing aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
When the surrender was announced, Wayne and I pulled into a station for gas when an attendant ran out saying they didn’t have to accept those damn stamps for gas. He seemed to be more elated over this than the war’s end. From the station we hurried to a spirits station. Re-fueling our supply of spirits, we ran downtown, picked up two friends and headed for mid-town Miami where a celebration was getting under way. The city had gone wild! If you were in uniform some female, old, middle age, or young was going to crawl all over you and shower you with kisses and squeezes. What a way to end a war!
While in the middle of some of the cuddling two sailors shot by us, one grabbing a bottle from under my arm. Wayne cut him off as I caught up. The sailor handed me back my bottle and I threw him a kidney punch that turned his face green – gagging he said something like, “Well, you had two.” Wayne gave the sailor a good cussing, reminding him we were in a jovial mood, otherwise we would have to hurt him. That was quite a night. Wayne and I would separate the next day. He made a career in the Marines and it was many years before our paths would cross again.
With the wars end the hurry up and wait period seemed to speed up a bit. Within a few days of Japan’s surrender I was ordered to report to headquarters of the outfit I was attached to at the beach. The conversation went something like this,
“Sergeant, any particular air base near your home that you would prefer assignment?”
That sounded strange, being asked where I wanted to be assigned. It made me wonder what the “kicker” could be in such a question. Regardless, my comment was,
“Yes indeed, Colombus Air Force Base, Columbus, Mississippi.
This base was about 70 miles from Fulton, yet knowing it was a training base for fighter pilots there was no chance for me to be assigned to such a base. To my surprise, orders were quickly cut to report to Columbus Air Force Base. The military moves in strange and often mysterious ways.
Farewells were given, then northward for me. Just after leaving Miami Beach I picked up a hitch-hiking sailor. I asked him if he could drive – “you bet”. The sailor drove out a full tank of gas while I caught up on sleep. The sailor dropped off around the Georgia line, I kept pushing through straight to Fulton.
A couple of days at home, then a leisurely drive down to Columbus Air Force Base. Again the guards “popping” to at the gate only to grin when they saw a staff sergeant at the wheel. In the six or seven weeks of my career at CAFB the guards would wave me through from any distance.
Reporting to headquarters at CAFB, for all practical purposes, no one knew what to do with me. Somehow it was determined that I had worked in a theatre. So I was made non-com in charge of Special Services. What duty! The theater, NCO club, and bowling lanes were under my supervision. These strenuous duties also included a private room in the barracks and extra pay. I was being paid extra for living like a king. If I ever met the officer in charge of this arrangement I have forgotten his name or rank. My room was kept neat and clean by a private, my laundry was cared for and other similar benefits. The big one was to go to the NCO club and get a good steak and beer, day or night. The NCO in charge of the club was under my jurisdiction, yet I can never recall lifting a finger that interfered with whatever he did or did not do. I do recall that this sergeant had a beer gut that lapped over.
My sister, Bonnie Ruth, attended school in Columbus. The school was Mississippi State College for Women, affectionately known as the “W”. Bonnie Ruth often would ask me about dating some of her friends and my response was “they are too young.” There was ample activity outside the college kids.
The duty at CAFB was unreal. Reflecting the service people, officers and non-coms, in charge of supply and special services had a beautiful (probably profitable) war. Their mortality rate was zero.
At last, the big day arrived. Report to Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama for your honorable discharge from services in the United States Air Force. On October 14, 1945 I was given an honorable discharge from the service. Dad had told me to serve my country well and with pride. I tried to do that from September 23, 1942 until October 14, 1945.
From Montgomery to Birmingham my “mustering out pay” went for a suit of “civies”, then on to my beloved little town of Fulton, family and friends. It was too late to enroll in school, therefore the rest of 1945 was spent in my favorite sports of hunting, fishing and wooing. Many of my old buddies were returning home from various branches of service. Therefore, there was a constant stream of activity around the Gibbs household.
After Christmas 1945, I enrolled in the spring semester of school at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). The school was grossly overcrowded with so many taking advantage of the GI Bill of Rights (government paying for school, books, tuition, and allowances for honorably discharged Vets).
A lifelong friend, A.C. “Butch” Lambert, and I were roommates for this semester. When we returned to our room there was another bed that had been moved into our room.
“Good”, I said, “We will have a freshman to handle our laundry, keep the room swept and do the odd jobs around here.”
What a joke, our new roomy was William Hampton “Bill” Stewart, a start football player from 1941. The three of us, crowded as we were, made fine roommates.
Since Ole Miss was only 70 miles east of Fulton, Butch and I would go home quite often. My sister, Bonnie Ruth, in school at Columbus, a distance of 70 miles south of Fulton would often come home bringing several of her girlfriends. When I would be at home, she would ask me to date one of her friends. My response was always that they were too young, 17-18 year old, for me. The “kids” would slow me down, a man of 25 years.
Easter weekend of 1946, I went home. Bonnie Ruth was there with three of her friends. As usual I started to bound up the steps to my room when sister called me to come into the living room to meet her friends. After the introduction I called Bonnie Ruth to come upstairs, and my comments were along these lines,
“The Kid in the pink and black taffeta is kinda young but I can take her out tonight.”
“No you can’t, she has a date with Bill Robinson.”
After further discussion, Bonnie Ruth changed the dating around so the Kid in the pink and black taffeta and I were together. That night, another couple, the Kid, and I went to a carnival in Nettleton, Mississippi. During the evening I won a wedding ring at one of the carnival booths. This was given to the Kid. The next Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947, at the Fayette Baptist Church, Fayette, Mississippi, I was fortunate enough to place a wedding ring on the third finger, left hand of the Kid.
The comments contained in these chronicles are correct. Some of the names may be a bit distorted. The names of crew members are all correct. Most of the dates are basically correct with possibly a few days slight variation. The June 6, 1944, date of my return to duty from the hospital is correct.
There were so many incidents and events that happened during my three years of in the service that it would be nigh impossible to relate all of them. I have tried to chronicle events that are so well remembered, Clark Gable in gunnery school, broken nose hit by pigeon thrower, the trup during Christmas holidays to Denver and our reception in this fine city.
In my mind the “drumming out” of the sergeant at Salt Lake City was staged. The “Zoot Suiters” were for real as was the jailing in Juarez. The 53 weeks in Biggs AFB hospital and William Beaumont General are well remembered experiences.
Sadly the remembrances of the Turner crew still runs through my mind, the Cook crew, especially Chinberg, Croom, and Naifeh are well remembered. The Rosacker crew is by far and away my most remembered war combat experiences.
Topeka, Kansas City, North Ireland, and assignment to the 93rd Bomb Group, Piccadilly Circus, Hamburg, Kassel, Dortmund, Schouwen Island and the Ruhr Valley are fading memories. Other memories are with me now and forever. Being a POW, Nuremberg, the march to Moosburg and events along this march are most vivid.
No memory stands out more sharply than that of the beautiful little German girl, one l;es missing, being able to, with an angelic smile, express the utter futility of war. We were supposed to be her enemies, “The American Gangsters”, who were responsible for the loss of her leg. Yet her child like smile had forgiveness in it. Will we ever learn?
With no attempt to be a philosopher it doesn’t seem that we have learned from World War II. In a short span of years Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, and God only knows where next. Some philosopher said “The way to stop wars would be to place the politicians and their families in the front lines.” Think I kinda agree with such a position.
In the Holy Bible, King James Version, Mark 13-7 we are told of wars and rumors of wars. It must be man’s nature.
Daily I thank God for each of you and pray that the devastation of war will never strike our beloved country.
With all my love to you.