My Life-Long Quest for my World War II Airman Father

The title "Carrying Fire" is taken from Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, in which Sheriff Ed Tom Bell talks about his own father. “I had two dreams about him after he died. I don’t remember the first one all that well. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothing. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen that he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

398th Bombardment Group Continued.

After all of their intensive training the 398th was champing at the bit to fly their first combat mission on May 6, 1944. (To see part 1 click here) That first mission, however, was not without its jitters and fubars. Their neighboring veteran groups in the 1st Combat Wing, the 91st at Bassingborn and the 381st at Ridgewell, had been through many missions and now moved with practiced precision on mission days, but the 398th still had a few kinks to work out. Somehow on that first mission the duty officer forgot to alert the kitchen so that crews were not fed prior to morning briefing, and then there was a traffic jam at the equipment room leaving little time to coordinate signals and other information among squadrons and crews. Not all bombs got loaded and truck transportation to dispersal points broke down. Still, somehow they finally got off, partly loaded and without proper assembly, but they went to war and came back without any losses. Luckily it was a short mission into France with a P-38 escort all the way, rather than a long run into Germany when a little thing like not waking cooks might have cost planes and lives. Pilot Keith Anderson remembers it this way: “This inaugural mission was snafu early on when the duty officer failed to awaken the mess crew on time so breakfast was delayed and each subsequent step in the process became progressively bogged down. Our takeoff was about an hour late and many of our planes never did get in proper formation – just tagged along ad hoc. Fortunately it was a milk run to one of the ‘noball’ sites on the French coast and the target was obscured by clouds so we couldn’t drop bombs anyway. Thus no harm was done and it was chalked off as a learning experience.”

After the morning’s confusion, Colonel Frank Hunter demonstrated his cool leadership by assembling his air and ground staffs, tracking down the problems and setting them right. The following day was the 398th’s baptism by fire; a long mission to Berlin led by Colonel Hunter himself. This time the morning went well. Breakfast was on time and well prepared. Morning briefing was punctual and there were no snarls at the equipment room or on the field. Bombs were loaded, ships were all serviced, and take off and assemblies were smooth. They suffered no losses that day but six planes landed with flak damage, two of them requiring major repairs.. In only one day the 398th had found itself. It was not until the May 19 mission to Berlin that they lost their first aircraft in action.

398th's Control Tower

The addition of the 398th was a major boost for the 1st Combat Wing that spring. 1st Wing history for May records: “With the 398th Group fully operational, we were able to fly two full combat wing formations on a number of the more important targets. To be exact, ten of the nineteen were double missions, so that our Wing actually flew twenty-nine missions in a 31-day month. This was coming-of-age of the air war in a big way!” By the end of May, the 398th had flown 450 sorties on 18 missions, including four to Berlin, six others deep into Germany, and one all the way to Poland. In all of this they lost four aircraft; less than 1%. “It was an amazing record.” the 1st Wing report read, “There wasn’t another group in the theater that could begin to touch it.”  Unfortunately, their luck would seldom be as good again.

In the next eight months preceding the arrival of Don Christensen and his crew, the 398th distinguished itself as a strong work horse with its share of both nobility and tragedy. They flew an average of over sixteen missions per month with a high of twenty-three in June 1944. That number would be topped by their twenty-four missions the following March. In one year of combat operations the 398th flew 195 missions which included 6419 sorties, and dropped 15,781 tons of bombs. The group lost 70 aircraft in combat, with 50 more abandoned on the continent (AOC). In addition, 33 aircraft that made it back to England were so severely damaged they were reduced to salvage. As for the human cost, the 398 lost 296 airmen killed in action or missing and presumed dead, and 298 were captured and became POWs. 

Main Runway Today

One Of The Ammo Dumps today
And Happy Valentine's Day 

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