Gunshot

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The war was almost over. Germany in March 1945 was cold and crisp, with a pale gray tint over the ruined countryside. It was quiet as Lieutenant Hecker’s jeep drove down the road. Europe was a hulk of shattered cities. The Third Reich was in ruins, its soldiers surrendering by the thousands to the American Army, but still Germany fought on. Lieutenant Hecker rode with his men, Private First Class William L. Piper and James Wardley.  They had been together through Northern France, the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. Now they drove in the enemies heartland. Hecker knew the end of the war was in sight. He knew all they needed to do was stay alive a little longer. What he didn’t know was his jeep was driving toward a buried land mine.

Norbert A. Hecker

Norbert A. Hecker

Norbert A. Hecker was a not a soldier by trade. He hadn’t planned on knowing things like range, targeting and trajectory. He was a clerk who compiled reports on factory labor costs and production. When  he graduated college he thought he would be behind a desk not leading men into battle. He entered the army in 1942, and was assigned to the 8th Infantry Division’s 28th Field Artillery code named “Gunshot” .

Lieutenant Hecker was a Forward Observer. His mission was to report where artillery strikes landed and find new targets to attack. Forward Observers had a short life span on the front lines.  It wasn’t just the enemy that was dangerous, if the observer made a mistake and the coordinates were wrong, or someone else was careless, the called in artillery could land short, right on him.

When the 28th Field Artillery sent out fire, they radioed “Gunshot on the way!”. “Gunshot on the way” was friendly artillery that stopped the advancing waves of enemy armor and infantry, “Gunshot on the way” took out gun emplacements slaughtering pinned down American GI’s. It was that call that could make the winning difference on the battlefield. It was men like Norbert Hecker who brought the gunshot down on the enemy. He knew men were counting on him, that he must complete his mission at all cost. His radio calls could mean dozens or hundreds more men going home alive. It was men like Norbert Hecker who made small towns all over the United States proud of their boys.

Lieutenant Hecker in Dress Uniform

Lieutenant Hecker in Dress Uniform

In Hecker’s home town of Menasha, Wisconsin, the local paper followed news about its 1,384 residents serving in the World War. The daily paper got the residents atuned to where its boys were fighting and what they were doing. It gave folks the little picture they wanted to see of the big show; the news about the boys they used to see on the streets and in church. The paper spread news of men and women who had been promoted or seen action in big battles. When a local boy got a medal for heroism, the whole town knew. They also heard when a man was wounded, or when a someone’s son would not be coming home.

If Norbert Hecker and his men had been walking, they would have been safe. The mine in their path was a teller mine; a circular, anti-tank device filled with five and a half kilograms of TNT. It had a high pressure fuse and needed a vehicle to set it off.

Hecker’s jeep exploded when it ignited the weapon.  James Wardley, by some miracle, was unhurt. Bill Piper, was wounded but alive. They found Hecker covered in blood with his eardrums blown out. But he was breathing. The three men helped each other up.  Hecker’s helmet had a huge dent on the top from the exploding debris. Their jeep was destroyed and two of them were wounded. Hecker put his helmet back on, looked at his men, and they continued to the front.  The war wasn’t over yet. Until it was finished, Norbert Hecker would see his mission to the end.

Norbert A. Hecker's wartime mementos.

Norbert A. Hecker’s wartime mementos.

The dent on Lt. Hecker's Helmet

The dent on Lt. Hecker’s Helmet

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Eating like there’s a War on

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On December 11th 1941,  rubber tires were the first item to be rationed in the United States.  By 1943 almost all consumer goods were rationed including typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, silk, Nylon, fuel oilww1645-33_500, stoves, dairy products, margarine, processed foods, dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal.

In 1942, people at home were encouraged to limit themselves to  2.5 pounds of meat per week or 130 pounds a year. By 1943 meat was rationed and became scarce. Beef in particular was in short supply. The law of the markets clashed with government regulations. Military necessity took precedence for supplies, but the civilian market was hampered by poorly conceived Government Price Administration regulations. Beef, for example, was priced too low for meat packers to make a profit. Meat growers had a supply available but could not get it packed for the consumer. Available meat was not worth the effort of packing for the prices allowed.

A black market for meat not inspected by the government appeared. Farmers who slaughtered their own animals also exempt from the rationing quota.

Meat that did reach the consumer was used to get the maximum benefit  from the limited supply. People were reminded not to waste anything. Special wartime recipe books were written to help families cope with the lack of ingredients and smaller available amounts.

For those who would like to try, here are some wartime recipes. (Click on them to enlarge)

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Super Heroes

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In 1944 Frederic E. Ray was twenty four years old. As a kid he took up drawing. He collected works of his favorite illustrators, and copied them until his sketches began to look like them. By the time he was twenty he was getting paid $35 dollars a week at Detective Comics (later shortened to its initials DC) working on titles such as Detective Comics, Batman, and Superman .

Fred spent most of his work doing cover art, working with legends like Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, and Jerry Robinson, who made Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. His first work on Superman came with “Superman’s Christmas adventure” in 1940 and Fred Ray’s most conspicuous contribution was to reshape the “S” emblazoned on the Man of Steel.

Fred Ray

Fred Ray

Fred Ray's first Superman cover

Fred Ray’s first Superman cover

In January 1942, the USA faced a challenge on a scale the world had never seen before. People needed heroes, patriotism stirred in Americans and their cartoon characters answered the call. In Superman #14 Fred Ray drew one of the classic covers of the Golden Age of Comics. The cover is black, Superman stands in front of a red,white and blue shield, a vanguard for the tanks and planes that follow. On his calling arm, the eagle of freedom.

In 1942, Comic book heroes left the crime filled American underworld and went overseas to take on the Axis powers. For the duration of the war, they would fight alongside the men in the trenches, in the air and on the seas.  Fred Ray, like so many other young men, served in the armed forces. He took his sketchbook with him, capturing the world around him. Everyday things that photographers weren’t around to see:  Military Police men, soldiers waiting for a train, leather-clad Air Force men chatting with a woman in service while they get their papers. The color of each object labeled so he would know what to paint it later.

When the war ended, Fred Ray came home and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on the GI Bill. He returned to DC Comics and drew for Tomahawk and other western and historical series. As the war years drifted further into memory, Fred’s style and interest changed. His work left the comics and he wrote books about American history and illustrated for historical periodicals.

For Fred Ray, the war, like his contributions to the Golden Age of comics was only one part of his life. Something for which he didn’t ask or receive much credit for. He didn’t dwell on the past although his life’s work was made of drawing it.

Fred’s wartime sketches, drawn in the present of a young man in his twenties gives us a look into a world away from the Supermen of comics, into the reality of everyday people. People doing ordinary things in extraordinary times, doing what they needed to do, in a world at war.

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The Phantom Renegade

 

The crest of the "Phantom Renegade"

The crest of the “Phantom Renegade”

The first puffs of flak appeared at 20:00 hours, thirty minutes to target. The explosions were far away and sporadic. There were no enemy fighters, just the drone of four-engine bombers and their P-51 and P-38 escorts in the long summer evening. It was six miles southwest of Paris. Across the English Channel, thousands of ships and men sat ready for the largest seaborne invasion in history. They would land four days later, on June 6th. In the sky above France, a B-24 Liberator, named the “Phantom Renegade” was making its way toward the war.

 When he was twelve Charles W. “Bill” Getz rode his bicycle out to Smith Field in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. From nine he had an interest in aviation. Being older he wanted to make it a bigger part of his life. Bill washed aircraft, sold tickets and did anything that gave him a reason to be there. The local pilots paid him by taking him into the air. When they felt he earned it they would allow him the control stick and let him guide the plane as it soared above Indiana.

 The boy was more than just a blind eyed enthusiast. His mind was logical, decisive and calculating, soaking up new information. Skills that would later serve him working with the first computers, in the fledging ballistic missile project, and earn him a PhD. 

 There was also an attraction to disclipine in him.   When other boys wanted to be sports stars or cowboys, Bill wanted to be a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Everything from that point in his life would direct him to that end. He talked his parents into sending him to a military boarding high school in Chicago. To pay for tuition, he waited tables, did kitchen work, and cleaned and delivered laundry at the school. He worked the manual telephone switchboard on weekends and traveled in summer with the school commandant, finding new recruits. When the war started he got signed permission from his parents to enlist. He soloed at seventeen, and was a commissioned officer at eighteen.

 B-24 pilot Charles W. Getz (photo courtesy of Bill Getz)

B-24 pilot Charles W. Getz (photo courtesy of Bill Getz)

By nineteen, he was commanding a crew of ten men—four officers including him and six enlisted men. The officers first met in a cow barn turned barracks in Salt Lake City, Utah, and they met the enlisted men on the train ride to crew training. They were a group of teenagers and guys in their early twenties. A few months ago they were civilians, kids in high school or college. Lieutenant Getz would turn them into a team of warriors. They were assigned to the 852nd Bomb Squadron of the 491st  Bomb Group. In Pueblo, Colorado they got their airplane, a brand new B-24J Liberator serial # 42-110186.

The Getz crew decided they didn’t need the frivoulous names and naked ladies other men painted on their planes. His crew wanted a coat of arms and a motto. Proper crests had latin, but no one knew any. Instead they pieced together French from a dictionary. They named the ship “Le Simulacre Renégat” which was supposed to mean “The Phantom Renegade”, the motto: “L’esprit Des Ceux Que Nous Animous” was meant to be “In the spirit of those we love”. Their crest bore a cross, and a bottle of moonshine, since spirits could be either holy or drunk, a 50. caliber machine gun, and a bomb to symbolize the weapons of war. The coat of arms decided, Bill had patches printed on white leather for the crew.

 A month after he turned twenty years old, Bill was flying lead position in the low element of the 852nd Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group. The Phantom Renegade was one of thirty seven 491st B-24’s sent out. It was their time first over enemy territory. The mission was easy, as simple as running to the store for a bottle of milk: an airfield in Bretigny out of range of the flak guns guarding Paris. The 489th Bomb Group was in front. They had flown their first mission three days previously. Now they were leading the seventy-seven B-24’s of the 95th Combat Wing into battle.

The crew of the Phantom Renegade: standing left to right: Voyles, Getz, Crow  front row left to right: Picariello, Turnipseed, Howser, Souter, Hawks. (photo courtesy of Bill Getz)

The crew of the Phantom Renegade: standing left to right: Voyles, Getz, Crow
front row left to right: Picariello, Turnipseed, Howser, Souter, Hawks.
(photo courtesy of Bill Getz)

At 20:30 hours, the sky was black with exploding shells. The 489th had missed the turn at the Initial Point planned to take everyone around the flak batteries protecting Paris. Instead they were taking the direct approach, leading everyone into one of the biggest anti-aircraft concentrations in Western Europe. The 489th opened their bomb bays as they began their bomb run. Bombers were getting hit, pieces flying off; B-24’s exploding in mid-air, their debris falling 19,000 feet to the ground below.

 If Bill Getz was the worrying type he would worry about what a flaming piece of metal would do if it hit the 500 pound bombs and gasoline the Renegade carried. He might worry that enemy fighters would swarm their formation. He might worry his crippled plane might spiral into the clouds without a trace and all his parents would get would be a “missing in action” telegram.

 But Bill Getz wasn’t planning on War Department telegrams or getting shot down. He had faith in himself and his crew. They had discipline, discipline he spent a quarter of his life learning.  Second Lieutenant Getz was a commisioned officer before he could vote or buy a beer. He knew his men would follow his instructions without question. His instinct and training told him a crew with disclipine was a crew that would make it home. The only thing that ran through Bill Getz’s mind on a mission was flying his plane in formation and mentally reviewing what to do if an emergency arose. He knew with focus, discipline, and preparation he’d be o.k.  He figured that whatever happened,if the Renegade got hit, he would be able to assess it and decide the best, logical course of action.

B-24's flying through flak

B-24’s flying through flak

But going through a field of flak is not logical, it’s random. You don’t know when or where the flak will hit you, or how badly. Whether the shell will expode far away or right in the cockpit. The only certainty is you will get hit and the rest is up to chance. In Bill Getz’s rational mind, chance was the deal breaker. It threw all the logic out the window and replaced it with sheer terror. He knew the reality of reaching an escape hatch, burdened down with heavy flying clothing, in a spiraling or burning B-24 was very small. But Bill Getz didn’t dwell on it. He was an optimist.

 The 489th could not find the target. Clouds were seeping in, obscuring the airfield. Only three quarters of the planes could drop their bombs. The 489th headed to a secondary target, farther north.

Clouds from the nose of  the Renegade (photo coutesy of Bill Getz)

Clouds from the nose of the Renegade (photo coutesy of Bill Getz)

 The 491st began their bomb run. The distant rumble of exploding flak drew closer. Four miles below, the Germans were shooting at them. The muffled rumble of anti-aircraft guns shook the whole bomb group as the planes flew straight and level, unable to deviate from their course. Cordite filled the cold air, flak edging closer to the formation with each explosion. The Renegade went into a dive. The engines whining as the plane dove, gaining speed. Everything not screwed down went to the ceiling. Bill Getz looked to Co-Pilot Johnny Crow who had jammed the stick forward. Crow pointed his left thumb skyward. A B-24 fell on them, its cockpit shattered, a flaming hole of metal and pipes in the wing where an engine had once been. The drone of the dying bomber grew louder and louder. In the top turret, Marion Turnipseed let out a scream as he saw the approaching wreck. Then it was silent. The burning bomber missed them, clearing the Renegade by a few feet before it trailed down into the clouds. Bill Getz rejoined formation and continued the bomb run.

A B-24 hit by flak, breaks up.

A B-24 hit by flak, breaks up.

 

It was getting darker. Cloud cover prevented most of the 491st from dropping their bombs as well. They followed the 489th to the secondary target at Creil. The 489th again chose the most direct route, this time over Paris. The blacked out Champs-Élysées and Eiffel Tower stood as dark beacons in what was once The City of Light. Through the shadows of the veiled city lights flickered as flak batteries brought their sights upon the bombers, ripping into their formation. Orange flashes of exploding shells illuminated the twilight sky. The flak followed them over Paris, all the way to Criel and bombs away. The 489th again deviated from the flight plan and led the formation home over the heavily defended areas over Beauvais, Rouen and Dieppe.

 By the time the 491st returned home, the green and brown patchwork fields of England were fading into the darkness. Flying over Selsly-Bill, they could see the supply depots and thousands of ships that lay in the harbors waiting for the invasion of Europe. As the Renegade taxied to the hardstand, her engines sputtered and died. Of the B-24s of the 95th Combat wing sent out, two crash landed, and fifty nine suffered damage, one severe. Sixty one out of seventy-seven planes were damaged. Five were shot down, with fifty men, a loss of seven percent. It didn’t take much analysis to realize that seven percent losses on each mission gave an individual crew no statistical chance to complete the thirty missions required  for a tour of duty in 1944.

The Phantom Renegade comes in for a landing (Photo courtesy of Bill Getz)

The Phantom Renegade comes in for a landing (Photo courtesy of Bill Getz)

 Some men decided they were on borrowed time and decided to enjoy what they had left. Bill Getz was not one of those men. He held onto his optimism. He was focused on the job he had to do and the discipline he needed to accomplish it. He flew again on June fourth, and completed two more missions on the sixth, D-Day. The pace of the war was quickening, attacking the enemy relentlessely as they retreated deeper into the Reich. There was talk it would be over by Christmas. The 491st flew combat at an exhausting  pace after D-Day. Bill Getz finished his tour of duty on August 10th,1944, flying thirty-one missions in sixty two days. The second fastest record in the entire 8th Air Force. He could go home, a combat veteran of the toughest theater of the air war.

 There were two problems for Bill Getz when he completed his tour, both related to each other. First, he didn’t want to go home. His brother was an Army medical doctor with Patton’s 3rd Army, serving in a field station somewhere in France. Bill didn’t want to be out of the fight while his brother was still in it. This led to a second problem: he didn’t want to fly another bomber tour. He already beat the house and won his life, why bet again? He needed something to do to stay in the European Theater of Operations. He heard about a new group being formed. A scouting force of P-51 Mustangs flying ahead of the bombers. He decided to apply for it.

 It was mid-1944, Europe was still at war and First Lieutenant Charles W. Getz, had just got there.