V.E. Day could have been almost any day. Our armed recce missions found very little activity. Some of the small towns had resisted our troop's advance desperately, but the hopelessness of their situation was obvious. Finally, all opposition ceased -- after a day or two it was clear that the collapse of opposition was final.
Two events that happened during this period that come to mind. One day I had a flight of eight on a scenic but dull recce mission well south of Munich when we spotted a bogey several miles ahead. As we watched, we surmised it was a jet job because of its speed. It seemed to turn in our direction (probably did not see us) and start a slight descent. I lost him in the haze but Thompson, my element leader, yelled, "He's coming under us!" I said, "Take him." Tommy rolled under me and I rolled almost inverted; there it was, a twin engined jet but not an ME-262. Anyway, Tommy pulled in behind him, started firing, and the ship started to burn. Tommy then pulled up and I followed in with more firing. Two people bailed out and the ship began to break up. It was almost like an unreal movie to see those two pilots pop right out in front of me. I was still firing and I wonder if I had hit either of them. As I broke off the pass, I could see that both chutes opened.
Thompson had obviously made the kill because the ship was burning as I began firing, but it was a good thing I followed through. His gun camera had not worked, so he got credit for the kill but I got the pictures that proved it. We didn't know what we had shot down until we got back to base and dug through the picture books -- an Arado-234 or 235 as I recall.
The next day those of us who were outdoors watched a two-seater biplane (a stuka dive bomber) "tool" past Echterdingen at about 1500 feet with a white bed sheet flapping out of the rear cockpit. It flew on past toward Stuttgart, then turned around for a straight in approach to landing. The pilots were obviously planning to land and surrender, and we were already starting to argue over who would get a chance to fly the biplane first. As the plane flared for landing, 50 caliber machine guns at the end of the runway started blazing away like the Battle of the Bulge all over again. Everybody hit the deck. Fortunately, no one was injured, not even the Germans who were trying to give themselves up. The biplane was shot full of holes, though, as it landed and bumped to a stop off the side of the runway. Our ideas of flying the Stuka were shot too.
The day after V.E. day a Captain from the airport defense outfit stopped by our Ops trailer and mentioned that he understood I had seen what happened. I said that I had, and to my surprise he asked if I would confirm for him that his troops had shot down the last aircraft brought down during WWII. I was so amazed, I told him that I had seen his men shoot up an aircraft that was already touching down for a landing to surrender, and that if he made such a crazy claim I would tell the real story! He left without saying anything else. I don't know if he entered his claim or not.
Echterdingen had been a commercial airport with a fairly new brick terminal building and office building. Our Officer's living quarters in a temporary building were not as good as the Enlisted Men's in the main building, but our mess halls and Squadron offices were great.
To our pleasant surprise one day, in walked our first Squadron Commander Fred Delany. He was on an official business trip over from the old U.S. of A. and had managed to wangle a one-day visit with us. He was as proud of us as we were of him, and wouldn't let us stop telling stories of all that had happened. (Several years after the war Col. Delany was killed in a gooney bird crash in Brazil in bad weather).
The war was over and we were proud of ourselves. We had done as much, if not more, hard tough combat flying all the way through than any other outfit. We had supported ground troops, interdicted enemy lines of communications, destroyed enemy strong points, guns, tanks, and equipment all the way from Tripoli to Germany. Even when we had comparatively inferior aircraft, we did well in air to air combat every time the Jerries chose to oppose us.
But tragedy was never far away. One night our Group Commander, Col. Elmer Lydon was driving near the base in a painted and marked staff car when he was shot and killed by a trigger happy Army patrol tooling around looking for God only knows what. He had been our Group Commander since Naples and had succeeded in building teamwork and Group pride among the three Squadrons of the 324th Group.
A couple of days later, we held a memorial ceremony for the Colonel on the ramp. As usual when you march troops not used to close order drill, humorous things happen. There was to be a fly-by, but I decided the Squadron's Commander's place was on the ground marching with the troops. I should have flown! We paced off the ramp the day before the ceremony and marked positions for each Squadron. We didn't leave quite enough distance after the last "column right" to get the entire three flights around the corner before we had to halt. It was an embarrassing miscalculation. If you've ever done any close order drilling, you can already picture what happened.
Our approach was fine and we started our last "column right" smartly. I had to watch the front of the column to get it stopped on the mark. Three steps away I yelled, "Squadroooooon Halt!" at the top of my voice, spinning around on the "Halt" to see that the last of third of C flight hadn't turned the corner yet and some of them hadn't halted! Just like Cadets; first, snickers, giggles, a damn or two, and, "I wonder how we won the war, etc." As soon as I could see that no one had fallen down, I yelled, "Left -- Face," then, "Dress Right - Dress!" A and B flights popped to smartly, but C flight was still floundering; until the flight leader (wish I could remember who he was) said very calmly, "Shut up, Git your asses around there and dress right!" After another ripple of laughter, the "Ready - Front" orders came and I could give, "Parade Rest!" We were probably not noticed, at least not critically, because the other Squadrons were having problems of their own. In retrospect, we were pretty brave to have tried to march to the formation. We could have formed in place. As far as I know, there had never been a Squadron drill practice after organization day until the day before the event.
It was a very sad and solemn occasion as the eulogy was said. The 35-ship fly-by was perfectly done and perfectly timed, with the lead slot empty and every P-47 tucked in tight and steady. It couldn't have been more impressive.
The days after V.E. Day were not necessarily dull -- we just wanted to go home. We were called on the do unusual things. A detachment was needed to secure a Munich airport; only 14 men, can you imagine that? I drove down with them just to see what the situation was -- the Army was still rounding up German troops. Before I left town to drive back to Echterdingen, two MP's stopped me and asked if I would be kind enough to help them transport a prisoner back to Headquarters. I agreed and they asked me to wait a couple of minutes. They went into a house and came out dragging a big SS trooper; it seems they knew he was in there, but didn't flush him until they had transportation. They made him show me his tattoo and said they were glad he came peacefully because they had orders to bring him in dead or alive. They would have regretted it if my jeep had been bloodied up on their account. When we got back to their Headquarters they invited me in to meet their CO who invited me to observe the interrogation. The questioning procedures were designed to extract the greatest amount of information in the shortest period of time. The prisoner was tough, they said, so I don't know what he was thinking; I was thinking they might kill him if they didn't stop whacking them with the rubber truncheon. The questioners said they only hit him when he lied. I was glad when they decided that overnight solitary might help his memory. I told them I had a long trip and left, thanking my lucky stars that I had not become a POW.
On one occasion protocol required that a couple of us meet with some Russians in Stuttgart, just because we had befriended a Russian Officer stranded on the Autobahn; we had given him a tire and a tank of gas. He was on a mission to round up and repatriate Russian civilians. They were very friendly and congenial. Communication was through gestures and one-syllable words of English, and whatever words and phrases we could think of in French or German. The meaning of the words was immaterial as successful conversation might have been defined as comprendez vous - ing the word offered. Whole loaves of bread and salt fish were served graciously and eaten heartily in self-defense. A toast consisted of making a mark about three or four inches down a full bottle of Vodka and drinking it straight down to the mark without stopping, to the accompaniment of loud cheering and laughter. Bob Wynne and I got out of that mad house as soon as politely possible and drove home very carefully.
The only other contact I had with Russians was very different. One of their cargo/passenger planes landed at Echterdingen one day and the fellow from Ops sent for me because on board was a seemingly VIP. He was a large scowling man in military dress uniform covered with medals. When I arrived he was standing out in the hot sun on the flight line. When I tried to invite him to the mess hall for coffee, gestures and all, he acted like an out-of-sorts gorilla. In one more try to be hospitable I sent for one of our guys who could speak Polish. All we could elicit from him was that he would be there only a short time, did not want food of coffee, and did not want to come into a tent out of the sun. I told our interpreter that it didn't seem like he wanted to talk even. Our man said. "No, he doesn't and frankly I do not want to talk to him!" The bitterness in the tone of voice of our Airman reminded me that I did not know how many generations removed he was from Poland. Not wishing to create an international incident, I agreed that I felt the same way so we said so long and left the VIP knucklehead on the ramp in the hot sun.
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