MOULTRIE — From the preface of “Air War Over Europe: My Experiences with the 459th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, World War II” by Howard Hall Jr., published Oct. 10, 1994.
We were at 20,000 feet; a foot long icicle hung from my oxygen mask, and black flowers of flak were opening around us. Just ahead lay Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the Herman Goering ball bearing factory. The date was March 25, 1945. After the mission ended, we discovered how lucky we had been. There was only one hole from German anti-aircraft in our B-24; it happened to be three feet behind my seat.
I was a 20 year old second lieutenant on my first combat mission. Home was a tent on a muddy field in rural Cerignola, Italy. We had been briefed on our target in the predawn hours in the old winery which served as headquarters for the 459th bomb group.
I had joined the Army Air Corps at age 17, to be called for active duty after my 18th birthday. When I was called to active duty, I was a third quarter freshman at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia.
On August 4, 1944, I received my pilot’s wings at Altus, Oklahoma. I had received my training at San Antonio and Cuero, Texas; and Enid and Altus, Oklahoma. From there, it was combat training with a B-24 crew in Pueblo, Colorado. We then picked up a shiny brand new B-24 bomber at Topeka, Kansas, which we flew to Cerignola, Italy. A veteran crew immediately claimed the new aircraft, and we were given one of the old war-weary “clunkers.”
Living conditions and food at Cerignola were semi-primitive. The menu was dried food and spam, relieved only by the occasional fresh egg bought from the villagers. Our lighting system consisted of candles. We moved into a tent which had been used by a crew which had been recently lost in combat; we had to remove their toothpaste and other personal items which had not been shipped home to their parents or wives. The floor of our tent was made of boards from bomb crates, under which lived several families of European rats who made midnight raids to steal our socks for their nesting material.
By the time the war ended on May 8, 1945, I had flown my 10th combat mission. The 459th Bomb Group really celebrated. I think another fellow and I were the only sober ones in the entire outfit. The colonel was under the table and our squadron c.o. was throwing bottles at the mess hall. All in all, I wrote my brother Jack, it was “quite a gala event.”