The following exert is from and article that appeared in the Sunday, May 28, 2000 issue of the "Corpus Christi Caller-Times". It was entitled
WWII aviator Ernest Fogel shares his diary, bittersweet memories for Memorial Day
and was written by Darren Barbee.
Aug. 1, 1943. I got us there and back again and all of us on #51 are all right.
They had their final briefing for the low-level raid on Ploesti, Romania, on Aug. 1, 1943. A successful strike on the oil fields there would be a significant blow against the German war machine.
The B-24s, accustomed to the anonymity of 20,000 feet, would barrel in just 50 feet off the ground for a surprise attack.
It was a volunteer mission. Before it was over, 54 of 177 planes would be shot down and more than 500 airmen killed, captured, or missing.
The men were given maps, money and lists of phrases in several languages in case they had to put down in Europe.
Fogel had his own survival gear: two pairs of socks and GI shoes laced up all the way; a couple of handkerchiefs, a pocket knife, his .45 sidearm, a hunting knife and string.
"I don't know why the string, but I'm taking some," Fogel wrote.
Fogel was assigned a familiar plane called "Let's Go!" hoping it wouldn't.
When he hit the starter he thought, "I hope the son-of-a-bitch doesn't start."
The engines grumbled alive.
Fourteen planes flew out over the Sahara and then crossed the blue barrier over the Mediterranean Sea.
Past the island of Corfu, a routine navigation point, the planes tightened formation and started falling from 14,000 to 6,000 feet, then to a mere 100 feet. Past the Blue Danube, they were three minutes from the initial point, where the planes would turn as one and begin the bomb run.
But confusion because of two identical landmarks caused the group to turn too soon.
Instead of flying toward Ploesti, they were headed toward Bucharest.
A voice came over the radio.
"This is General Ent. Drop your bombs on any military objective."
All planes broke formation and "Let's Go!" turned back toward Ploesti and followed the railroad to a railroad roundhouse, dropping three bombs. The rest of the plane's bombs fell on a railroad bridge.
Fogel turned and met another bomber group head on. Fogel dipped his plane below the already low-flying planes, skipped across the ground and then headed toward the mountains.
It was a Sunday and as they passed back through the country, a few farmers waved at the bomber. The waist gunners saw girls skinny-dipping.
After passing the mountain range, a B-24 got on Fogel's wing. By the time they reached Corfu, seven bombers had joined up.
Fogel's plane taxied in. It hadn't been damaged. The bombers that reached Ploesti destroyed about half the refineries. Fogel would eventually receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flight.
But just then, Fogel was too tired to care. He went to the flight surgeon's tent for a shot of booze.
"That was about 14 hours from the time we left until the time we got back," Fogel said.
He escaped the questions of a few war correspondents, went to his tent and stretched out on his cot.
He slept for a long time, his shoes still on his feet.