Joseph J. Bitzer, Mission February 24, 1945

So now I’m ready to lead my crew into battle. We must be ready by 4 A.M. or whatever, all our gear, hop onto a truck, and down to briefing. The Colonel shows us an enlarged map, where we’re going and what we're bombing, estimated time of lead plane takeoff, with others following at 30 second intervals. We're trucked to the plane, our walk-around check, finish donning the heavy flight suit and parachute, check the .45 on our hip, which we might need if shot down, crawl on board and begin the pre-flight checks. Check with every man on board via intercom, and start the engines. It’s beginning to get very warm inside all that clothing, which you will need the higher you fly, cause it gets cold up there. It gets warmer as you taxi down to end of the runway amid hundreds of whirling propeller blades, then pour on the as you gain speed following the plane just ahead ... except you're to the left right a bit to stay out of prop wash as much as possible. You groan into the air, maneuver and climb to get to that spot reserved for you in the formation. You don't see anything but the plane you’re trying to catch, and now and then a glance your instrument panel. When you've finally reached your nitch, and still climbing, jockeying, you turn on the light electric suit you wear below the heavy outer clothes, this to dry off your perspiring body.

You know we’re going back to Verona, seems I was just there yesterday. We’re going to take out their locomotive repair depot, I hope. I'm fighting to stay in my slot, on your first mission, will be "Tail-end Charlie". That IS No.9 in a 9-plane formation. No. 1 is in the lead, No. 2 on his left wing a bit higher, No. 3 on his right, No. 4 below and behind No. 1, 5 and 6 on his wings, 7 below and behind 4, and 9 on his wings. This 9-plane formation flys formation on another 9-plane formation, and so on. If enough planes, a No. 10 will be added, below and behind 7. The further back one gets, the more jockeying to stay in formation. I give Co-pilot Jack some time for experience, but I feel for him. I'm not tall, but he’s even shorter, and you gotta reach those rudder pedals to move this plane around. Jack is from Oneida, New York, a nice young man, a bit frustrated not being First Pilot.

When there's time, I check up on all of them. "How you doin', Northcutt?" “Fahn", he says in that Alabama drawl. A bright young guy - sure hope so, cause we may need him some day to navigate us back to wherever we're going. He rides up front behind Nose Gunner Dan Tirpak from New Jersey, who has the best seat in the house. He can look straight ahead and not see any of the plane, sitting behind those twin 50-caliber machine guns. A nice young man, one of the l8-year-olds who made me proud. Ed Flowers, my 21-year-old Engineer from Oklahoma City, was another bright young guy, very dependable, knew what he was doing. Joe Szymanowicz, from Massachusetts, our Radio Operator. What can I say - he kept us in stitches. I had to tell him to be quiet and fire a few rounds with the others to be sure the guns were working, cause we’re getting closer, where we might encounter enemy fighters. But he was the funny man, in the air and on the ground. When the time to man the guns, Ed and Joe went to the waist guns, in both sides of the plane. Benton Pruet from Putnam, Texas, a little guy, built for the Ball Turrett which was lowered under the B24, affording an unusual ride. A nice young man with a Texas drawl, would work hard to do the job right. Jim Fusco from Pennsylvania was in the Upper Turrett, riding high above everything. Jim was the only married man in the crew, with a young son. Like I said, one of the finest persons I ever met. And Bob Smith from Buffalo. He rode back in that tail, which had the tendency to wander around the sky, away from the rest of us, and Smitty became the Loner in the crew - probably the best lookin' guy in the bunch.

There is the chance of being shot down, of course. Lots of guys were. You will try to find help from Someone not in uniform. Hopefully, you’ll meet the Underground, with many fine people trying to help the Allies, that’s US. I carry a "U. S. Army Air Force" identification card, in six languages, with my picture and signature. I also carry a snapshot of myself in civilian clothing - I may find it prudent to bury my- official ID card. Also, a very small compass that can be hidden in a seam or clothing or whatever. This may aid me to head in the right direction, like the guy who was shot down, found a wheelbarrow and. walked out of Germany pushing it. Russia was on our side - I carried a sheet of paper with Russian and English words, like "I am an American – “ah-me-ree-KAH-netz". I have two little kits, different ones, that can be screwed together to make a spit for roasting birds or fish over fire, a fish spear or gaff hook for fish. Can also be used as a short weapon or digging tool. I have a tin "Emergency parachute rations" containing bouillon cubes, candy, cheese and crackers, gum and cigarettes. It hadn’t been opened in 50 years. Likewise, an emergency signalling mirror. That big flight suit had lots of pockets. If shot down, there IS only one word, "Escape". If captured, "Escape".

So we reach Verona, don’t see any fighters, see some flak, make our bomb run, and head for home in loose formation, stay alert for fighters till we feel we’re out of their range, and head for Lecce. If there is no problem with someone hurt who needs to get in fast, we take our turns landing and taxi over to the ground crew, who is waiting for us with thumbs up. Debriefing isn’t much, there are pictures of previous bombing run hits, but today's, if they got some, need developing and printing. Which reminds me that there many people on the ground, in Maintenance, Medical, Intelligence, Supplies, and so on, for every crew in the air. All had to do a good job.

376 ARCHIVES

At the 2017 reunion, the board approved the donation of our archives to the Briscoe Center for American History, located on the University of Texas - Austin campus.

Also, the board approved a $5,000 donation to add to Ed Clendenin's $20,000 donation in the memory of his father. Together, these funds begin an endowment for the preservation of the 376 archives.

Donate directly to the 376 Endowment

To read about other endowment donation options, click here.

2018 REUNION

DATES :  TBD

CITY : Dayton, Ohio

HOTEL: TBD

2018 reunion details


previous reunions

For Sale

The Other Doolittle Raid


The Liberandos


Three Crawford Brothers


Liberando: Reflections of a Reluctant Warrior


376th Bomb Group Mission History


The Last Liberator


Full Circle


Shadows of Wings


Ten Men, A "Flying Boxcar," and A War


I Survived Ploesti


A Measure of Life


Shot Down In Yugoslavia


Stories of My Life


Attack


Born in Battle