Previously Displayed War Stories



The following are some of my war experiences that were previously displayed on my main web page. I have moved them here to make room for new stories on the main site.

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A Sad Happenstance of War--
Two Stories Become One


PART 1:


On November 17, 1944, the 391st Fighter Squadron of the 366th Fighter Group flew what was perhaps our worst mission of the war. A major ground offensive had begun the day before along the Western Front from the northwest edge of the Hurtgen Forest up through Eschweiler, Germany. The weather was terrible with low hanging clouds and light rain, but we were able to take off with each plane loaded with two 500 pound bombs and a 150 gallon belly tank. Sixteen planes from the 391st were involved in the mission.

When we reached the target area, we had to come in under the overcast at 4,500 feet. Everything was dark and eerie – we could see flashes of the big guns on the ground and the flak explosions in the air. Light from the exploding shells was reflecting off the clouds -- it was as if we were looking into a segment of hell.

Dive bombing starting from such a low altitude is a challenge in itself, but each of us in turn did our best to hit our target. I was hit in the canopy right behind my head just as I rolled over to start my dive and was hit again as I pulled out of my dive. It was apparent I was in deep trouble as I fought to keep my plane in the air. In the meantime, the other 391st pilots were fighting for their lives. Lt. Rufus Barkley dived to strafe a German vehicle, and flew into the ground and exploded. Two of my tent mates, Lt. Richard "Red" Alderman and Lt. Gus Girlinghouse attacked a column of tanks and trucks along a road near a castle on the edge of the Hurtgen Forest, and both were shot down within seconds of each other.

My radio was out of commission, my controls were damaged, and the engine was barely generating enough power to keep me in the air. When I had crossed the front lines, I kept my eyes open looking for some clear space where I could belly in, if the engine gave out. By pure luck I came upon an American landing strip that was under construction, and was able to get my damaged bird down on the partially built runway. When I got back to my base several hours later, I was listed on the pilots' board as "Missing In Action."

The loss of my two tent mates was devastating. "Red" Alderman and I had gone through all our training together, and were very close friends. He had given me the farewell letters he had written to his wife and his mother – I was to mail them if he were killed. Lt. Gus Girlinghouse had just moved into our tent, so I was just getting to know him. The night of November 17, 1944, was the worst night of the war for me.

"Red" Alderman Gus Girlinghouse


PART 2:

On December 16, 1944, heavily reinforced and upgraded German Armies attacked the American lines from the Ardennes, and the biggest battle of the war on the Western Front began, "The Battle of The Bulge." The weather was so bad that most of our planes were grounded for about a week, and the Germans were able to advance about 40 miles into Belgium. On December 24th we were briefed for a mission and sitting in our planes waiting for the weather to improve, when our Operations Officer pulled up to my plane in a jeep. He told me orders had just come in for me to report to the Headquarters of the VII Corps, and that a staff car was coming to pick me up. Within a few hours I was on my way to this new assignment.

My new job was to coordinate all fighter-bomber attacks in front of the Divisions of the VII Corps. This was a major change for me; instead of doing my fighting from the air, I was now on the ground, and very near the front lines. Ground fire, such as artillery barrages, mortar fire, rifle and machine gun fire were now part of my life, instead of flak and the normal high risk of flying a fighter plane. As our armies advanced, pushing the Germans back, we moved our headquarters frequently to stay close to the front.

Around February 18, 1945, we moved into Merode Castle, about three or four miles from the town of Duren on the Roer River. The castle had been built in the Middle Ages. It was surrounded by a moat, and had several staircases leading up the circular towers to the ramparts, where archers in centuries past had defended the castle. Nothing about the area seemed particularly familiar to me, except that I knew I had flown several missions to attack German targets in this vicinity, especially during November. We were there now making preparations for a major attack to cross the Roer River, capture the town of Duren, and reach the open plains leading up to the Rhine River. The photograph below shows me in front of the main entrance to the heavily damaged castle about two days before the battle was to began. When this photograph was taken, I had made no specific connection with the events of our combat mission flown by the 391st Fighter Squadron on November 17, 1944.

Quent at Merode Castle


Then in 1995, Robert V. Brulle, who was also a member of the 366th Fighter Group, wrote a story describing the terrible mission we flew on November 17, 1944. It was published in "World War II" magazine, and included vital new information that Bob had secured from German sources, some of it from a German officer who had been involved in the battle that day, and actually commanded the flak guns that shot down Lt. Alderman and Lt. Girlinghouse. He had seen their planes crash, and was able to mark the exact location of impact. Before he moved his men and their flak guns out of the area, he ordered other German soldiers who were at the site of the crashes to bury the American pilots.

It is difficult to conceive that the machinations of war had placed me at Merode Castle three months after that terrible mission, and that my good friend, Lt. "Red" Alderman, was buried about 100 yards in front of where I am standing in the photograph above! It is equally unbelievable that one of the German guns that shot him down was firing from the drawbridge of the castle shown behind me in the photograph. Had I known at the time that he was buried there, and that my other tent mate, Lt. Girlinghouse, was buried about 800 yards farther out in the fields, it would have torn me apart. And to think that this information was not known by me until 50 years after these events took place.

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EPILOGUE

Even though the German soldiers had buried Lt. Alderman at the site of his crashed plane, his body was never recovered. About ten days after he was buried a tank battle took place on the same ground, and all markings of a grave site were destroyed. His name is listed on the "Wall of The Missing" at the Netherlands American Cemetery near Maastricht, Holland. I visited this cemetery a few years ago, and touched the place on the wall where his name is engraved.

Several times over the years since the war ended, I had tried to locate "Red" Alderman's children, but without success. When he was killed, his daughter, Lynn, was 15 months old. Then three weeks after his death, his second daughter was born, Cecilia Ann. I thought they would like to know something about their father -- what a fine man he was, and what an excellent fighter pilot he was. I had no luck in my search until the film I wrote and produced, "A Fighter Pilot's Story," was shown in the area where they live near Seattle. Since then I have communicated with them, and have met and had an extensive personal visit with Cecilia Ann. I have been able to fill in some of the blank spaces, and help the Alderman girls know more about their father.







The Brotherhood of Warriors
It is strange what the impact of war -- with all the massive forces that it brings to bear on the participants -- can have on the men who are involved. Friendships developed during the deadly combat that was a major part of our lives were as if magnified by a scale of 10 compared to peacetime friendships. When death is a part of your life more than living is a part of your life, you find yourself drawn to those men who share your incomprehensible existence.

So it was with my friendship with Johnny Bathurst, who shared space with me in our tent which we had named "Duffy's Tavern." Johnny and I had been through flight training together, but it was only after we got into combat that we became such close friends. There were missions during which we each – without hesitation – threw ourselves into great personal danger in order to help our buddy who was bracketed in by German flak guns. We flew down the gun barrels of those flak guns to give our buddy a chance to break away.


Landing Strip A-1, Normandy. July 1944. "Johnny and Quent"

One night we were in the Officer's Club at Laon, France, after a brutal day of strafing and dive bombing German strong points in our front. We had both had a couple of drinks as we tried to put that day out of our mind, when Johnny pulled something out of his pocket, and told me he wanted to give it to me. It was a St. Christopher Medal, and Johnny tied it to the metal pull tab on the zipper of my flight jacket. With great sincerity he told me it would keep me safe on future missions. Just before every future mission – as a part of my ritual – I touched the St. Christopher Medal as I swung into the cockpit.

Strangely, when I went back to the States on leave a few months later, the medal fell off my flight jacket and was lost. It deeply saddened me, but I took solace in the fact that it had fully served its purpose.


Officers' Club, Laon, France, October 1944

When the war was over, our lives went down different roads. Johnny stayed in the Air Force, and I went back to finish college, then went into a career in the business world. We kept track of each other by letter and telephone calls for a number of years, then I lost track of him. In the early 70s I got word through a mutual friend that he had been killed while testing a high performance spy plane at high altitude. It was not until 1992 that I found out he had survived the disintegration of this plane, and was living in Seattle, Washington. We arranged to meet at the next reunion of our old Fighter Group, and renewed our friendship of those dramatic days so long ago. We had many good conversations and meetings during the next few years, but on December 6, 1999, my good buddy, John Forrest Bathurst, died after a long illness. But I will never forget him, and I will never forget how our friendship during those brutal days of combat during World War II helped both of us hang on to our sanity.



Bidding farewell to Johnny as I departed for home on leave -- March 1945



Lt. Glenn Horwege
Luke Field – Class of 44-A

I first got to know Glenn when we were both assigned to Luke Field, Arizona, for Advanced Flight Training. While he was down the alphabet some distance from me and, therefore, we were housed in different barracks, we became good friends during the time we were there. Our flight training started in At-6s, then moved up to P-40s -- our first actual combat fighter plane. On January 7, 1944 we marched up the same platform to receive our pilot wings, and to be commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants. We then were assigned to Harding Field at Baton Rouge to transition into P-47 Thunderbolts. In early May 1944 we shipped out for England on the U.S.S. Brazil, heading for the war in Europe.

I was assigned to the 366th Fighter Group, and Glenn went to the 362nd Fighter Group, 377th Fighter Squadron. We both ended up flying from landing strips in France shortly after the invasion of Normandy. The following notes were made while I was talking to Glenn by telephone in 1996:

"From the time I first went into combat, I could see that the odds were great that I would ultimately be shot down. Each night while lying on my cot, I would review the procedure for bailing out. I wanted to have everything clearly fixed in my mind, so the process would be as close to automatic as possible.

"On August 8, 1944, I was flying at 13,000 feet on a mission near Paris, when I was hit by 88mm flak. Oil covered my canopy, and it was apparent I was going down. Doing things exactly as I had planned, I trimmed the plane to roll left, then dived head first out the right side. The next thing I knew, I was trapped in a vacuum under the belly of the plane – which was apparently created by the prop wash and air coming over the top of the wing. Oil was all over me and the plane, and I had to get my hands and knees against the belly of the plane and push myself off. I landed on a small haystack, and within a short period of time I was picked up by the Germans. Unfortunately, they were members of the SS, and instead of being sent to a POW camp, I was sent to the concentration camp at Buchenwald.

"Eighty-one other American airmen were held there. On two occasions I was told that I would be shot the next morning; they would go through the whole process of preparing for the execution, then change their minds. At the end of three months I was nothing but skin and bones, and felt I was approaching death. Then the Luftwaffe interceded, and all of the Americans at Buchenwald were transferred to Stalag Luft 3. With the approach of Russian and American forces in late April 1945, we were all able to walk away to safety. But I am still haunted by those events in 1944 and 1945."

I last saw Glenn on July 10, 1996, when I went to Sacramento, CA to have dinner with him and his family. We had a wonderful evening, reviewing those days so long ago. For those few hours we were once again young fighter pilots, remembering the buddies we had lost and the amazing events of our wartime lives. The photograph below was taken by Glenn's wife, Sandy, on that evening of July 10, 1996 at their home.

Glenn had been fighting cancer, and a few months later it again struck him. He died about six months later. But I will always remember him as he was, when we went through flight training and shipped overseas together. His incredible stories about bailing out of his P-47, and his time in Buchenwald are truly unique. Such was the world in which we lived.







The Face of War


During part of the time I was assigned to direct the close air support in front of the 7th Corps, I would occasionally work directly with the lead tank crews that were attacking the German lines. On this particular occasion, I had spent the night with my tank crew and a few infantry guys who were hunkered down in the ruins of a small village that had been fought over a few days before. The next day as we were leaving this little town, we came upon a small church set back about 30 yards off the road on the right. An assortment of American military vehicles were parked around the church -- jeeps, weapons carriers, and tanks, so we pulled over to go into the church.

There was a special drama about the scene. The sky was steely gray and solid overcast. The ground around the church was chewed up by the vehicles -- the deep tread marks of the heavy tanks -- the tire tracks of the other vehicles, and the footprints of men coming and going.

Some of the infantrymen coming out of the front lines ambled toward the church, as did some of the replacements who were moving up from the rear areas into the lines. The face of war could almost be defined by the appearance and expressions of the infantrymen who were changing positions.

Those coming out of the lines, who had seen more than men should ever see, who had done things men should never have to do, had a blank, expressionless look about them. They were as dead men, walking, unseeing, silent. There was a different look about those going toward the front. They still had some of the characteristics of the boys they were. They talked and showed expression. They were not boisterous or joking -- for they knew where they were going. But they still retained some of what they were.

This assortment of men -- all young men, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at them -- moved in and out of the small Belgian church. A Belgian Priest and an American Chaplain were conducting this ongoing service. There were 30 to 35 men standing among the pews as we walked in. The service continued for about 10 or 15 minutes. The Chaplain began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and we all joined in.

As he neared the end, German 88s started to drop nearby. No one moved. Just as he finished, a shell landed quite near the church. Normally, men would have been making a mad dash for cover, but for some strange reason, nobody moved -- we just stood there. Then behind me on the opposite side of the church, a man with a deep voice started reciting the 23rd Psalm, and soon everyone had joined in. The shelling continued, but it seemed that the voices of the men became stronger. I guess the thought was, if we are going to die, it might as well be in a church.

In a few minutes, it all ended, and we were each on our way to our next assignment.”








The story below was written by Lt. Martin Engler, who was a pilot with the 391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group during some of the heaviest fighting of World War II. I was aware of the events of the mission he describes, and asked him to write it for inclusion on this web site.

QCA




DOWN AND OUT

(A WAR STORY)
During the winter of 1945 I was leading a squadron of twelve P-47 Thunderbolts on a reconnaissance mission. We had taken off from our base in Bayreuth, Germany, and were heading eastward looking for targets of opportunity. After crossing into enemy territory, we heard a faint radio request for assistance from one of our ground force units with the code name "Campbell Able." They sounded as if they were in a bit of trouble, and so we headed northward to see if we could locate them and give a hand.

After flying for about thirty minutes, we picked up their signal "Loud and Clear," and they were able to give us their exact position. We had no trouble locating them, and quickly ascertained they were in the middle of a major tank engagement. Since I was leading that day, it was my job to make an "Identification Pass" over the engagement to positively establish just where our troops were and where the Germans were in order to plan an effective attack, and not endanger our own ground forces.

I advised my squadron of my intent to make the identification pass and that I would be right back. The old Thunderbolt rolled over, and down we went hell bent for leather. As I passed over the battle area, I felt the old T-Bolt go "Bang," shudder, and in its own inimitable way tell me it was hurt. I scanned the instrument panel, and saw my oil pressure drop to zero, and the oil temperature start for the ceiling. I looked outside and saw a lot of oil exiting the cowling, and the cockpit was getting a little hot!

It was decision time – I jettisoned my two 500 pound bombs and started looking for a place to put the hurting bird down. I was too low to parachute and I did not like that idea anyway. I now was beginning to see a little bit of fire around the cowling so I knew I had to get down fast. All of a sudden I did see a small clearing, and headed straight for it. Wheels up, flaps down and here we come! The old Thunderbolt lived up to it's reputation as a rugged piece of machinery for it just bumped along and skidded to a very abrupt stop.

Now was the time to survey the situation and see what came next. In the landing I had hurt both of my shoulders as the harness kept me from going into the instrument panel. But I was still mobile. Off came my seat belt and I got out of the cockpit as quickly as I could. All of a sudden I was aware of a lot of noise. The noise of course was gunfire and it was loud and nearby. Well, if I was in a battle, I had better do what John Wayne would do, so I pulled out my Colt .45 pistol, stood on the wing and peered over the airplane to try to spot the enemy position. I spotted them alright – there were five German tanks on a ridge firing right over my aircraft at a group of American tanks behind me, and who in turn were firing at the Germans. I have to tell you that big old Colt .45 looked pretty insignificant as I looked down the barrels of those tank cannons.

About this time two very wonderful things happened. First, my squadron began it's attack on the German tanks and that did a job of turning the tide for our forces. It gave me a chance to see the devastation a squadron of Thunderbolts could bring to bear. The second wonderful thing was when all of a sudden I heard a lot of clattering and engine noise as one of our tanks came crawling up over the wing of my airplane. The hatch on that thing opened up and I heard some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard – "Get your ass in here!"

I climbed into the tank, parachute and all. They took me back to the rear where a doctor worked on my shoulders. Following that I was in pretty good shape. Next, they took me to the head of the column, where they introduced me to their Colonel. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a flask and offered me a drink. I said "No thank you, sir." Then he said "What can we do for you?" I said "You already did it by picking me up out of that battlefield – but could you call my squadron and tell them I'm OK?' He picked up his radio and said "Hello, Foxhunt Squadron. We've got your fair-haired boy with us!"

I spent two weeks with the marvelous Third Armored Division and had some most interesting adventures with them – but that's another story.

Marty Engler







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