Bailing Out of a B-17: Reminiscence of Maj. (then Lt.) Joseph R. Scott
February 20, 1983
Lt. Col. James Good Brown
Chaplain, 381st Bomb Group (H)
Haverhill, New Hampshire 03765
Thank you for your good letter of February 14, 1983. I was very interested in your questions and I believe I can answer all of them. Thirty-nine years ago today, a Sunday, I went on my first mission.
I was a navigator. On March 28, 1944 I was on a mission to Rheims. It was a make-up crew. I knew none of them then or later, except the “toggler” Sgt. Hanson, who had flown with our regular crew earlier. Hanson and I were the old men—he might have been 23 and I was 28. The pilot and co-pilot could have been 19 or 20. The pilot had crash landed or been semi-responsible for eliminating one of our B-17s previously, so someone had given him a German Iron Cross. Before we reached the target #3 engine was hit and caught on fire, hit by flak. As we could not hold position and maintain altitude we turned around and headed for England, dropping our bombs on Compiègne Forest.
While at altitude the fire on #3 engine burned quietly but at lower altitude it burned brightly and at 7,000’ over Kent, near Ashford, the order was to bail out. As I was Sr. officer on the plane I was the last to leave and left the nose and went back to the waist door and saw all the crew out safely. The last man was a little slow to jump, but I pointed at the door and he went out. I heard later he was a full-blooded Indian from Oklahoma and that he quieted down during his descent and ate a candy bar. I counted nine chutes on my way down and wondered about the tenth. I had forgotten to look up at my own chute.
I landed in an open field and slightly sprained one ankle. In the next field a threshing machine was in operation tended by a few men and a large group of Women’s Land Army girls. They gave me some tea and we had a good talk before some British soldiers picked me up and took me to the nearest police station. My parachute disappeared. I think the girls got it and I gave my flying helmet to one of the British soldiers. At the police station I was fed again and taken to a Service Command Station (U.S.). There I got a double ration of whiskey (for my ankle) and more food. They phoned our base and told them they were taking me to the Saracen’s Head Hotel in Ashford, Kent, and that I would be there till somebody flew down to get me. At the hotel I ran into Hanson again and we roomed together. I don’t know where the rest of that crew went, but I think the co-pilot spent one night in our hotel and took off. I heard that the pilot hitchhiked to London and got back to our base on his own.
As the weather was wet Hanson and I lived at the Saracen’s Head for a few days and enjoyed the rest. One day the hotel manager came up to me and asked what we were using for money, as we had been eating and drinking and paying our way. I told him I had been selling French money from our escape kits to any likely looking buyer. He congratulated me and gave me £10 as a loan, so we could continue to live like kings. In a few days a phone call from Ridgewell told us the weather had cleared there and somebody would fly down for us. Of course I thought my own pilot ‘Skip’ Haring would come. He did but flying as co-pilot for my C.O. Roy Halsey. We took off on a very short, wet, grass runway and were back at Ridgewell in a few minutes. A B-17 can land and take off at and from some strange places. I was glad to get back to our own bar again and had our friend John Esbenshade write a check for the hotel manager in Ashford, Kent.
After that I think I only flew once more with a mixed-up crew. It was my next mission, on April 8, 1944, and the pilot was the co-pilot of the bail-out trip.
Except for Sgt. Hanson I know no names of the ‘bail out’ crew and saw little or nothing of them later on.
Hanson was from Minnesota, I think, and flew a lot with us in May and June 1944, as we had no regular bombardier assigned to our crew. Our bombardier from Peyote, Dalhart, Kearney, Ridgewell was taken from us for more demanding duties and he only flew on the first few missions with us: name Robert Hecker--Niles, Ohio originally, now on the West Coast. I talked with his mother once when I was in Ohio in the 1950s.
I believe Hecker was in our Division HQ in the mid 1944 work.
Joseph R. Scott
Major, Air Corps
Further details of this mission are found in the 381st Bomb Group website (in the 535th Bomber Squadron diary for March 1944): The plane was Superstitious Aloysius, Lt. Liddle, pilot. The 'Indian' jumper was Sergeant Naha, nicknamed 'Beaver', a member of the Tewa people.
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