Whenever I wasn’t on the mission, I would be in the control tower with the Flight Surgeon standing by. When necessary, I could be in radio contact with both planes and ambulances all of which were on the same frequency. By that time, radio silence was no longer needed.
There was a brand new nineteen year old pilot named Roger who kept side-slipping, a dangerous flying error, during the final echelon formation. It was almost as if he was using body English to control his aircraft. I had noticed this tendency and arranged to have a few quiet moments with Roger in the Officer’s Club (A tent with a bar and plenty of booze) and told him that participating in that maneuver was not mandatory and that if he didn’t feel comfortable not to participate. I urged him to follow my suggestion to break out of formation and land separately. I told him that neither I nor anyone else would ever say an unkind word if he did. Everyone would understand. And anyone who ragged him about it would hear from me in very plain English. What I did NOT do was ground him. That was my mistake. Roger kept doing it anyway. I guess he wanted to be accepted by the squadron as a macho hot pilot.
One day while I was in the control tower and the group was doing its thing, Roger side-slipped once too often, got his tail section clipped by the plane immediately behind him and spun in. At less than 50 feet that is fatal. The result was that I and the Doc raced out to the crash site and hauled ten bodies out of that plane before it blew up in a fireball. Fortunately for us, it did not explode. I have been living with my failure to exercise my command powers as Squadron Operations Officer – that monkey on my back – for sixty years. I fervently hope it will go away now that I’ve re-opened that wound .