A World War II story

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:56

    Editor's note: What follows is part one of Harvey S. Horn's account of his service during World War II. His plane was shot down and he and the rest of his crew were captured by the Germans. The Monroe resident dedicated his story to his wife, Minerva, and to his grandchildren "so they will have a sense of history." The second part of the Monroe resident's story will appear next week. By Harvey S. Horn I grew up listening to the radio heroes like "The Green Hornet," The Shadow," "Agent X9" and others. The moving pictures gave us heroes that wore white hats. The FBI and the Military were beyond reproach and it was my country, right or wrong. My friends and I built model airplanes out of balsa wood, using cement and paper. Some were of my own design. Most were from kits you had to assemble. On the fourth of July, we would load them up with firecrackers, light mem and let them fly. KERBOOM!!!!!!!!!!!! On December 7*, 1941,1 was listening to the New York Giants football game on the radio. At about 4:00 PM, the program was interrupted by a news flash. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I rushed to tell my parents and asked them "Where is Pearl Harbor?" President Roosevelt declared war against the Japanese and men against the Axis partners, Germany and Italy. Of course, I had been aware of the war in Europe, but like most teenagers, it didn't really have that much impact on me. Upon graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, I enrolled in Pratt Institute to study mechanical engineering. After 3 semesters at Pratt, I decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps to serve my country in a time of war. On October 30, 1943 without my parents' knowledge or consent, I went down to the Church Street recruiting center in Manhattan and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I passed both the physical and then the aptitude tests and was accepted into the Army Air Corps Cadet Training program. Only a small percentage of applicants were selected. I called my parents with this "great" news. They were very unhappy. I had not been called up because I was in college and probably would have been deferred for many months. After several months, I got a call to report for basic training. On March 18,1943 at the age of 19, I left by train from the Pennsylvania Station for Atlantic City. I remember as I was walking through the station, a large group of men and women went rushing past me to catch a train. It was Bob Hope with his USO group. After basic training, I was sent to the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont for what was called pre-flight training in single wing Piper Cubs. I had 10 hours of flying out of the Burlington airport. From mere I was shipped to Nashville, Tenn., for classification. I qualified as pilot, navigator and bombardier. Naturally, I chose pilot training over the others. Prefiight was at Maxwell Field Air Corps Base, Montgomery, Alabama. This was the Air Corps version of West Point training. White gloves, square meals, and hazing were part of the training. We were put through a very vigorous physical training program. All cadets had to do the 100 yard dash in 10 seconds, 114 sit-ups, 20 pull-ups, run cross country 10 miles, sprinting the last mile. The creme de la creme of exercises was an obstacle course called the "Burma Road". This conditioning paid off when I became a MIA/POW. Classroom work covered Aeronautical Engineering, Flight Engineering, Morse Code and much more. I took Primary Flight training in Orangeburg, South Carolina, flying PT 17 Stearman Bl-planes but did not make it through. I was reclassified as Navigator and sent, first to Gunnery School at Fort Myers, Florida, where I received my Gunnery Wings and then to the Pan American School of Navigation at Coral Gables, Florida. This was the only navigation school that taught celestial navigation for the Army Air Corps. I flew hi Pan Arn's 2 engine Flying Clipper Boats (smaller version of the famous Yankee Clipper Boats). I received my Navigation Wings on August 26, 1944. I was assigned to crew 11-30 at Drew Field, Tampa, Florida. The crewmembers were: Lt. John Lincoln Pilot Lt LorenMillard Co-pilot F/O Harvey Horn Navigator Lt. George Kail Bombardier Sgt. Ed Linnane Flight Engineer Sgt. Herbert Stover Radio Operator Cpl. Huber Wagner Waist Gunner Pfc. Oren Herrick Waist Gunner Pfc. Richard Michel Lower Ball Gunner Pfc. Lewis Brown Tail Gunner After we completed training as a crew, we were shipped to Savannah, Georgia. There we were assigned to a new B17 Flying Fortress Bomber, to fly over to the ETO, 15* Air Force, Foggia, Italy. This was the very first time that I felt the impact of leaving the USA and going into combat. We flew the "northem/southern" route. We went north to Coming, N.Y.(in a blinding snow storm) then to Gander, Newfoundland (freezing cold) then to the Azores (beautiful weather and country) then to Marrakech, Morocco (Very hot and humid) and finally to Ban, Italy on the Adriatic Sea coast. A 6X6 truck took us to the Cerlone Air Field, Foggia. The crew was assigned to the 463rd Bomber Group, 772*1 Bomber Squadron. Our training consisted of flying in formation and making simulated bombing runs. I also mapped out the next day's bombing mission for the Group. We were split up and assigned to fly our first mission with an experienced crew. My first mission was on March 15*. The target was Ruhland, 75 miles from Berlin. The Eighth Air Force was socked hi with heavy fog so our Group had to fly this mission. It was the longest mission ever flown by the 15* from an Italian base. The target was well protected with anti-aircraft guns. Our plane was riddled with flak. I was sitting behind the Bombardier, with my chest against his back when he got hit with a piece of shrapnel in the left upper arm. I cut open his flying jacket and applied sulfur to the wound. It was not deep and mere was limited loss of blood. He recovered from this wound quickly. If the flak were a few inches to the left, I, too, would have been hit. Herb Stover was also on this mission. He elected to sit in the alleyway of the plane during the bombing run. A large piece of flak went through the radio desk leaving a large hole. Herb's decision to sit in the alleyway saved his life. Our plane barely made it back to Foggia. Some of the other bombers had to ditch or land on an emergency field along the coast Welcome to air combat. Cerlone Air Field was my home until March 20, 1945. MY STORY March 20*, 1945 was forecasted to be a warm and pleasant day. This was our first mission as crew 11-30 except that Gilbert Caldwell was the togglier. I awoke at 4:00 AM and had breakfast before I went to the briefing room. The briefing room was a large tent with wooden walls and windows facing the runways. There were two sections. One section was where the flight plan was prepared.. The other larger section was set up with a slightly raised platform in front and chairs for the crews in back. Above the platform was a large map showing the flight plan and target area. The pilots, navigators and bombardiers who were not scheduled to fly that day prepared the mission along with the meteorologist and intelligence officers. The mission target was Amstitten, Austria, a city outside of Vienna. There was a loud groan from the crews as the Squadron Commander announced the bombing run time of 10 minutes. Weather conditions were reviewed and alternate targets marked. We were to be escorted by P47 Thunderbolts on the flight to the target area and P38 Lightenings on the return trip. Generally, flak will come in 4 black puffs. If they are random, high, low, or far out, the percentages are with you that they do not have your range. However, when you see the 4 puffs at your altitude, it is only a matter of time before someone will be shot down. A10 minute "waltz" over Vienna can be murder. After briefing, we picked up our gear and headed for the flight line. We climbed into our B17, named "Pretty Baby's Boys", and went through the preflight checklist. Everything was normal. We got in line, taking off at 10-second intervals. After breaking through the early morning fog, we rendezvoused at 8000 feet, got into formation and climbed to 30,000 feet. Our route took us over the Adriatic Sea, Northern Italy, Yugoslavia and Austria. Gil checked the Norden Bombsight and I checked my maps and routing. All 50-caliber machine guns were fired in short bursts. This was standard procedure for all B17's as we headed to the target area. Our escort cover was a squadron of P47's from the Ninth Air Force. The flight was uneventful. There was little enemy fighter activity. It was almost like flying commercial except for no flight attendants and food. I remember recalling my younger days when I read about the WW1 dogfights between the Americans like Eddie Rickenbacher and the Germans. And here I was doing the same thing, except I was sitting in the nose of a B17 Bomber. As "Pretty Baby's Boys" approached the target area, we started to see bursts of flak. Apparently, our plane was damaged causing the loss of one engine and some problems with the second one. A B17 can fly on 2 of the 4 engines but will lose speed and altitude. We dropped our bombs on a "target of opportunity" to lighten the load so we could maintain altitude. John and Loren turned the plane around and headed for home. A single bomber out of formation is a sitting duck for enemy fighters. Fortunately, there were no "bandits" about. Out P47 escorts were off strafing "anything that moves". The P38's would not pick up the Group until later that afternoon. We were on our own. As we continued to descend, it was apparent that there were 4 options. Try to make it home, bail out, land in Switzerland or land somewhere in the Russian territory. John, Loren and I discussed these options as the crew made preparations to bail out We decided to try to make it home. Staying with the aircraft, if you can, has always been the best option. Everything that wasn't nailed down was jettisoned, including our parachutes which had our shoes hooked on to the parachute harness. We flew in felt slipperlike shoes that were heated electrically. At 30,000 feet the temperature is below minus 60 degrees. We barely made it over the Yugoslavian Alps. I thought I could put my foot out and touch the snow caps. Ahead, I could see the outline of the coast and the Adriatic Sea. As the plane approached the city of Fiume, Italy (now Rijeks, Croatia) we prepared to ditch. The enemy opened fire on us. I could hear the flak ripping through the fuselage and wings. Fortunately, no one was hit. The Boeing B 17 Bomber is one of the greatest airplanes ever designed, ft takes a lot of punishment, m our ditching training exercises, we were told that the B17 could stay afloat for many minutes. They were right John and Loren did a superb job of flying. They were able to ditch our plane without it breaking up. John and Loren got out through the front windows that were blown out The rest of us got out through the top hatch. Fortunately, no one was injured. "Pretty Baby's Boys" stayed afloat for 8 minutes. Two rubber boats were jettisoned. We scrambled into them and started to paddle to a distant island. The German Navy had other plans. We were taken aboard a German Navy Gunboat and became "Prisoners of War" We docked in Fiume about 6:00 PM. ft was getting dark but all the townspeople came out to see the captured American flyers. It was like the circus came to town, except we were the tigers and elephants. We were taken into a "fortress" like courtyard and lined up against a gray wall, pock¬marked from bullets and sheik. I thought they were going to shoot us right there. After a short time, we were taken into the "fortress" and lined up again, guarded by Germans with rifles. We were separated, stripped, searched and questioned by the German officers. We gave our name, rank, and serial number in accordance with the Geneva Convention rules for Prisoners ofWar. I was reunited with the crew in a large room where they fed us hot tea and some bread. We all talked about the ‘Vail". We all thought mat the Germans were going to shoot us right mere. I was wet, cold, tired and scared. That night all I could think of was how my mother and father would receive the news mat I was "Missing in Action". The next morning, we were taken to a train station and transported to Trieste, Italy. By now, my feet were very sore from walking in soft felt flying boots. I thought of my regular shoes lying somewhere at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea. We walked through die city streets protected by our guards. We arrived at an old gray building where the SS held partisans and other political prisoners. John, Loren, Ed & I were put into a 5 X 5 cell. The ethers were split up into similar cells. We were taken for interrogation one by one. I was put into solitary confinement in a small dark closet. It was die worst day of my life.