My first ``fighter mission`` was a bomber escort mission on September 26th, 1944. The target was Ham, Germany. I was flying wing with a man by the name of Mac Momsten who was a flight officer. He`d been flying for about three or four years since the Eagle squadron startled in England. He was crazier than a pet coon.
After we got through with our bombing mission, we were out strafing targets and I was flying with him. We were by ourselves, just the two of us. We were (following) a railroad track and the railroad track were down between two big apartment buildings. (They were) about five story buildings. A railroad locomotive with a string of cars had stopped. To get under cover (between the two buildings). Mac was the lead. He went in. Of course, I`m all excited. My first mission! I started shooting way too soon. There was a German lady on about the fourth floor of one of these apartment buildings on the left side. She had her laundry out on one of those pulley-type, rope things that go across and back. Had her laundry strung out there.
And I come out there shooting at this locomotive. Instead of hitting the locomotive, I hit the lady`s laundry, shooting holes in her sheets and everything.
And the last thing I remember (was) looking up to the left. She was above me, leaning out the window, shaking her fist at me.
If you can believe it, when we had a briefing back the next day on my film, I was given a medal for being a hero! My contribution to the war effort. I expected sheets here hard to get in Germany. It is probably quite an accomplishment.
(He chuckled to himself) They laughed me pert-near off the base when they got through running that film!Now, to get right down to the end of it. February 27th, 1945. Took off from Debden on an escort mission to Lipzig, Germany. After escorting the bombers, as usual we went back to strafe, what are called ``targets of opportunity``. We were strafing aircraft, a vemar airdrome, and on my third pass, shooting at German aircraft on the ground, I was hit by ground fire, anti-aircraft fire. I knew I was hit, so I flew out toward the west trying to go home. I knew that I wouldn`t last very long.
When I got to 6,000 feet, probably 6 minutes away from the airfield, my airplane started to burn and I bailed out the side. As I was floating down, why, a large group of German people were waiting on the ground. Some of them were Hafacore troops who were home on either sick-leave or leave. When I hit the ground, they were quite unfriendly.
They surrounded me and one of them knocked me down. But the Burgomaster from the village was with a group of people. He took me under his wing and he and a couple of townsmen took me down to town. They turned me over to a German outpost which had a sergeant and a couple of enlisted men and two German woman, the equivalent of our WACs. They kept me for one day, until they could get me out of there.
Then a Major came down from Airford. And they picked me up and took me up to Merksruhl. It was like a little, well, like a jail. They kept me in jail overnight.
The next day, a little old German soldier, one of the Volkstern, the older soldiers that were home guards came. He had been a little professor and he had a knapsack full of books. Anyway, he picked me up and took me to the train station. I was carrying his knapsack and he had a Schmeiser which is a automatic weapon similar to our tommy-gun. He put me on the train and hid me under the seat and sat on top so that nobody would see me.
From there we went chugging down the railroad track. The next morning about nine o`clock, a group of P-51`s come over, red nosed one`s, my own outfit. They shot up the locomotive. It was out of commission so my little German school teacher guard, he says ``Robert, ous``. Well a window from a railroad train is quite high off the ground so, I had his knapsack and I went out the window with his knapsack. He reached out the window and handed me his Schmeiser! And I wasn`t thinking much, I took it and started off towards the woods, and him right behind me.