An Interview: August 5, 1999
On a warm, summer afternoon my father
and I sat on the living room sofa in
the home I grew up in. I had asked Dad to tell me of his World War II
experiences and so, in a self-conscious way, he began his reminiscence. I
could see in his 82-year-old eyes and hear in his gruff voice the emotion
these pages can never convey. The following passages hold the memories of
generation of American heroes; a generation that gave us the world we live
in today. – David Noffsinger, Bellevue, WA
I was already in
Indianapolis when I signed up. And had just graduated from
John Herron Art School. This is 1941. Before we got into the war. I went
in and had my physicals before May and was accepted in June. In September
they finally gave us the call to go to Fort Benjamin Harrison outside of
Indianapolis. From there we were sent down to Montgomery, Alabama. Course
it was cold up north so we all had topcoats on. And we rode down on an
old, old passenger car. It still had an old-fashioned coal stove in the
center. So that dates way back. We rode all night and about half of the
next day before pulling into Montgomery. Upperclassmen met us at the
station. We were called Aviation Cadets at the time. Army Aviation
Cadets. We had to button every button that was showing anywhere. So, here
we are. Its still summer down south. And we had these great big overcoats
on. Carrying our luggage, we had to double-time everywhere we went. I got
a haircut with all that stuff on. With my topcoat buttoned clear up to my
neck. And I got a buzz cut which is about a half inch long. It wasn’t any
longer than that. And believe me. That night I slept very well. They got
us up at 5:30 the next morning . . . and did it all over again. And that
was my induction to the army
BEFORE THE WAR
We went through ground
school and that just about washed me out, because I
hadn’t had any math to speak of. Each class in math that we had was an
long. We had fifty minutes of class and ten minutes for an exam at the end
of the class period. And they went all the way from simple multiplication
and addition . . . clear up through trig and square roots and all that
stuff. I’d never had any of that at all. I didn’t know if I was going to
get through that class or not. But I guess I did. We learned about
engines, too. And they taught us a little bit about flying. However, we
were not allowed to look up in the sky at all . . . to see any airplanes.
We had to keep our eyes down and we had physical ed. three times a day.
First thing in the morning, then along about noon and then last thing in
evening. And we had to double-time everywhere we went. When we had our
meals we had to eat a square meal. That meant sitting on the last four
inches of your chair, perfectly straight. Every movement you made ended up
with a ninety-degree movement. And that’s the way we had to eat. Needless
to say we about starved to death. We could never get food passed to us . .
. because we had to learn all this stuff about passing the food on over.
There was one upper classman at each table to see that we ate a square
If we didn’t they’d give us a gig. Every gig you got you had to walk an
hour at strict attention in full dress. Twenty-one steps one direction and
then a 180-degree turn. Stand for, I don’t know, two or three seconds and
then walk back again. And we had to do that for an hour for every gig we
got. Needless to say, more people walked that ramp than got the Saturday
Sunday afternoon off. Cause that’s when you had to do it. And that was all
before the war started.
A BUNCH OF HICKS
The reason we were sent down
to Montgomery is that our field hadn’t been
finished. We had to wait there until our barracks were finished. Then they
sent us down to Ocala, Florida and that was primary training. We were in
with a bunch of guys from the Citadel and they were real tough military
guys. They’d gone through several years of military training so they were
pretty tough. And we were a bunch of hicks from Indiana who’d never had
military training. Very few of us were in enough condition to have a
parade. So the Citadel guys took over. They were all the officers of the
cadet group. They divided us up into smaller groups and the group that I
was in went to Ocala. We went to two or three different primary schools
over the South. And got our para-training there and then we went to Shaw
Field in South Carolina. That was basic training and then we went to
advance and started flying twin engines. So that meant we weren’t going to
fighter school at all. We were going to go to the bigger airplanes . . .
bombers and whatever. I graduated from Moody Field and got my wings and my
2nd Lieutenant Commission. So when I got out I was assigned to a troop
"Halfway through on a BT-15"
|In primary at Ocala we got to solo and went to basic
training in PT 17s.
That was the faster, heavier airplane. Vultee Vanguard BT-13s and BT-15s.
Single wing, low-wing types similar to the AT-6 and so forth. But then we
went to the twin-engine school, or I did. I flew an AT-17, I think it was.
And we learned to take care of two engines instead of one. We got some
flying time in there . . . and graduated from advanced training. We got
wings, our lieutenant’s bars and were assigned a regular army unit. I
up by going to the 7th Squadron, 62nd Group. Four or five of us went there
and some of them went to . . . Let’s see 4, 7, 8 and 52nd squadrons. I
to 62nd Troop Carrier Group. A troop carrier group had 4 squadrons and
somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 men. We had fifteen airplanes, which
took a pilot, copilot, navigator, engineer and radioman. We had to train
first. Everybody had to go through night landings, day landings and short
field landings. And under the hood, which is instrument flying and all
that. Well, at the end of that period they picked the pilots and copilots.
When we got through with that they picked me as an ‘A’ pilot. So I wasn’t
copilot. I had a copilot . . . which was one of the guys I trained with.
The first school we went to was primary training at Ocala. In the middle
that was Pearl Harbor. So I’d gotten in and gotten started before the war
started. When Pearl Harbor came along I had gone half way through primary
training and all that. From then on I was in the regular bit and they were
getting us ready for overseas. So I graduated then in, let’s see . . . it
would be May, June, July . . . August. And by mid-September we went into
WHO WAS WHO
In the meantime we’d been flying freight all over
the United States. We
were also stationed up in Maine where we flew back and forth to Iceland.
And finally all grouped up and took off for Prestwick, Scotland. That’s
when we got into the English bit. From there we went on down to an
. . . can’t remember the name of it now. Anyway it was about 90 miles due
west of London. It was in a little town called Keevil not too far from
Bath, Salisbury. In that general area which is just north of the Salisbury
plains. Not too far from Stonehenge. They issued all kinds of winter
clothing and all that stuff. And lo and behold we went in on the invasion
of North Africa . . . We sure didn’t need all that winter clothing. And
that’s all we had! And that took us through a balloon barrage and out to
Land’s End in England. Down around Spain and over to Gibraltar. From
Gibraltar we went to an airfield outside of Oran called Tafaraoui
We were right at the edge of a horrible range of small hills, mountains.
And we had to take all our shiny buckles and buttons and everything off .
. Because they were sitting up there in the hills shooting at anything
shined. It was the French, the Italians and the Germans. And then there
was the Free French. So everybody was shooting at everybody else down
there. We didn’t know who was who until we’d been there for a while.
Right after we got into North Africa, we were pretty hot then, boy!
formation everywhere we went. Boy, and everything was tight and everything
was good, you know. And we went to Algiers, to the field there and we had
to stay overnight. Being strictly army we lined up our airplanes in a nice
neat row out on the tarmac. You could look down there and the propeller
points were all in the same place. They were all lined and looked so good.
And that was fine, boy. And we went to sleep in the airplane. There wasn’t
any place to go. There wasn’t any barracks, of course. So we slept in the
airplanes. And along about midnight here come Jerry. The midnight run on
Algiers. And he started dropping bombs. And blew up parts of the hanger.
Everybody started running. And, man, it took us about three or four
to run clear out to the edge of the field. We were still running while he
was dropping his bombs. It took us fifteen minutes to walk back. From
then on we dispersed everywhere. Put planes out everywhere so they
make a run at it. And we slept in the airplanes with the doors open so we
could make a dash. I remember . . . he dropped a flare. And I was getting
ready to get out of the airplane and stuck my foot out, and thought, “That
sonovagun will see my foot.” So I pulled it back in real quick. Then I
decided I’d better get the hell out of there.
HELL AND GLORY
dropped anti-personnel bombs, which were fountain pens and stuff like
that. So we had to be very careful where we stepped . . . To get back to
the hanger area and our airplanes. And while we were getting back there
British . . . I forget what they call them. Hell and Glory boys, I think
was. They’d have to come out and remove all these different bombs around.
Fountain pens. They’d blow up. Yeah. Yeah. They had all kinds of stuff
they’d drop like that. And gee, you’d see something like that and hey that
looks good. I’ll, you know, pick that up and wham it’s all over. You lost
two, a bunch of fingers or whatever. Some of them were just plain bombs
that you’d see in roads and stuff like that. You’d just touch them in the
right spot or jiggle them a little bit and they’d go. And that would take
your leg off, you know. One or two legs if you step on them. And this poor
guy . . . What they’d do, they’d find a bomb, and build a circle of
around it like an igloo with the top open. And they’d pick this thing up
and drop it through the hole and, you know, back out of the way real quick
and it’d blow but when it blew it went right straight up. And any kind of
shrapnel would go into the sandbags. Well, this poor guy picked one of
up. Just as he was dropping it, it went off. And he was kneeled down and .
. . it . . . it . . . blew all the skin off, everything off his knee so
the bone was sticking there. You could see clear through him, right in his
gut. You could see right through him. It blew a great big hole right
there. And we went over there real quick. He said something about his
four-year-old son or something like that. And before we could give him a
shot or anything, he died. He didn’t last but for a few seconds hardly. I
decided they weren’t playing for fun then. And it took awhile to have that
brought back to you. This ain’t war games anymore. This is the real thing.
There was an aircrew and there was a ground crew. The aircrew went
airplanes. We had about six or eight guys that were assigned to my
airplane but were ground crew. All the rest of them took a boat down and
landed at Casablanca. Several months later we all got together and worked
as a complete squadron. But up to that time we were kinda flying on our
own. We’d go into some field somewhere and they’d say, “Hey, take this
bunch of stuff over to such-and-such field.” So we’d take off and take it
over there. We wouldn’t even more than land, then they’d get us unloaded
and load us up with 25 or 30 people going somewhere else. So we just flew
from one place to another. We didn’t have a home. We didn’t have a place
we could eat. So our crew got real smart and started swiping food as we
went along. And we would have a pretty good meal then. Maybe we’d be gone
a week, two weeks from headquarters. We were pretty much on our own and we
kept moving east with airfields. Eventually they moved us clear over to
Palestine, which is now Israel. Went over to a great big airfield on Great
Bitter Lake, part of the Suez Canal. And there they fixed our airplanes
with British equipment for paratroopers. Then they sent us up to
a field called Ramet David. When we got up there we had a large group of
guys out of the 8th Army. The British Desert Rats had been fighting
Rommel for a long time . . . And wanted to be paratroopers. The next
morning we’d go do the same thing again.
moved back into Africa. Up around Cape Bon. And there we were at
El D’Jem, an airfield out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We had to
drive 75 miles one way to get water for the whole group. That took a whole
day to go up and get the water and come back. About half of it went for
cooking and the other half went to the soldiers. 500 gallons of water didn’
t go very far when you had that many people. When you cleaned up you had
about half a helmet full of water. And with that you had to wash. You’d
brush your teeth, take a bath and wash your clothes. With about half a
helmet full of water. And save some for drinking. All the same water.
Anyway we got going on that and our training period was over.
Before you know it they started talking about invasion and
we went into Sicily. So we were dropping paratroopers about 40 miles south
of Mt. Etna. And they were all British paratroopers. We flew over in
formation. Three ship V formation, one after another. As soon as we
crossed the coastline anti-aircraft and ground fire started coming up.
They just fanned it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. We had
to fly through that for ten miles before we got to the drop zone. At the
drop zone we had to go down to 500 feet. Doing about 110 miles an hour
we’d drop the paratroopers out. No lights anywhere. We didn’t know whether
they were over the hill or not. But we dropped the paratroopers and then
scurried back out to open water. The American and British navies had
thrown a cordon up around southern Sicily. And they heard our engines and
opened up with their anti-aircraft guns and so forth. As we were coming
out of Sicily they were shooting at us and we’d dodge back and forth. We
usually flew lower than the deck of the battleship, or whatever ships they
were. Because they couldn’t train their guns down. They could shoot up,
but they couldn’t shoot down very well. Our check was going to Malta. Then
we made about a 90-degree turn and flew back to North Africa, Cape Bon.
And that night, well, we dropped paratroopers twice, towed gliders in
once. And the first night we went in I lost about . . . Oh, I think it was
about 23 airplanes and 410 guys . . . around thirty of my classmates got
shot down that night. Most of them by the navy. Our navy! And there was kinda a big stink about
that cause they knew we were coming. They knew where we were coming from.
The problem was they had just been dived-bombed by Jerry night bombers. So
when they heard the engines again they just opened up. They didn’t ask any
questions. And . . . that was kinda thrilling.
“Happy landing for this paratrooper.”
Every day we’d take off with a load of paratroopers
and drop them over Cypress.
They’d go on ground exercises and we’d usually land around Nicosia.
About 5, 6, 7 o’clock at night we’d fly them back to our base.
group got back. One airplane didn’t make it on time. When he was
flying real low his wing tip hit the water and just curled it up. But he
got back home . . . with seven feet of wing curled up! When we towed the
gliders in . . . that was a big mess. It was a British operation, piloted
by American glider pilots. And the British planned this thing. They took
the gliding angle of a CG4A empty from X number of feet high and landing
X number of miles away. That was all with a calm wind. Well, when we
actually made the drop . . . They had overloaded the gliders with jeeps,
75mm howitzers and all kinds of stuff. And they told us exactly where to
cut the gliders loose. With an overloaded glider and an offshore breeze
they hadn’t counted on, most of the gliders went into the water before
even got to Cypress. We lost a bunch of pilots then, glider pilots. The
gliding ratio was cut down by all those different things. Overloaded and
with an offshore wind. We lost a lot of glider pilots that night. They
just couldn’t make it.
NO PLACE TO GO
|When we were taking equipment
into Salerno and Anzio, we lost two or three
planes because after they’d land there was no place to go. So they’d just
start piling up at the end of the runway. They got to the point where the
runway was too short to make a landing . . . But they’d make a landing
anyway and run into somebody at the other end, see? Nothing they could do
about it. We could sit there on the field while they were unloading us and
watch. It was a fighter field to begin with. So we could see them do a
complete sortie. They’d circle up, fly over about four, five miles and
bombs up in the hills there . . . ‘Cause the Germans were right there at
edge of the field practically. And then they’d come in and land. They
could run a mission about every half-hour or so. They didn’t have any
to go so they just circled . . . And went straight up until they got the
height they needed for dive-bombing. Then they went in on the mountain and
dive-bombed; come out of that and landed. You could see it all from
on the ground at the airfield we were in. So anyway after that was all
the mission was called off. We sat around and began to deliver stretcher
cases back to the Cape Bon hospital there. They had a big field hospital
there. So we made a couple of trips a day carrying wounded back to the
mainland. Guys were all shot up and everything. We had a nurse on board
and she took care of them. Supposedly. I don’t know how many trips we made
doing that, but quite a few.
Earl, Lt. Bohannan, Co-pilot and Lt. Butler, Navigator”
AND WAITED AND WAITED AND WAITED AND WAITED
We finally moved into Sicily and stayed there awhile. Our first few
were really into really hot spots like Anzio and Salerno. Taking personnel
and ammunition and stuff in. Finally we got back home to Sicily and sat
around for a while. And then came the big one. Fly from Sicily to about
forty, fifty miles north of Rome. We were s’posed to drop off a bunch of
radios. Land up there and drop off a bunch of radio equipment and so
That way the guys coming in would know the right places to bomb. They were
kind enough to let us know we couldn’t make it home from there . . .
we didn’t have enough gas. So that was one of those . . . missions. If we
were lucky enough to land without any lights in a field that was too
drop the radio equipment and then take off from the field that was too
short, we couldn’t get home anyway. (Laughs) It meant we’d be half way
back home over the water with no place to land. We were going to go a long
way to get to an American held airfield without any lights. And make a
landing on a runway that had nothing at the end of it so we could turn
So . . . we sat out on the runway and waited and waited and waited and
waited. And finally a red flare went up and meant that it was . . .
cancelled. So, along about midnight we went to bed. The next morning we
went out to the planes and had another meeting. We were going that night.
So, we ate about dark, went out to our planes and sat there ready to rev
and take off. It was a flight of . . . I think nine of us were going. And
we sat there and sat there and sat there and the red flare came up. Called
the mission off . . . Do it tomorrow.
RED FLARE, GREEN FLARE
this is not very good on your nerves. So . . . the next night we did
the same thing. Went out on the runway, ready to take off with everything
we needed. No red flare, green flare. So we were on our way. We took off
and flew north from our field over Palermo, Sicily. We were about 5
out over the water and here came a whole squadron of Spitfires. They came
in and turned right in front of us and then they’d go back. And they kept
coming in until we finally got the idea that they’d called off the
So we turned around and went home again. When we landed we found out that
that day Italy had capitulated. God, I was thankful we didn’t have to make
that run because . . . I don’t think any of us would’ve got back from that
one. If we did we would’ve been lucky.
What got me
through the war? About 90% luck. (Laughs) Being in the right
place at the wrong time. Now I had it easy compared to most pilots in
bombers and fighters, who had to go over Germany and all that stuff. They
had it tough. Although when we went in on our missions, we were at ground
level practically at 500 feet doing, oh . . . supposedly 90. 90 miles per
hour to drop paratroopers. We were usually up to about 110. We had no
armament at all. We didn’t have self-sealing gas tanks. We didn’t have any
of those goodies and we got hit hard. We’d come back with holes all over
the airplane. It was just lucky none of them ever hit any vital spots. I
was kinda scared. The first time I went into combat I didn’t even have a
patch on my seat. So I sat on my helmet figuring that’d stop anything. But
I didn’t have to worry about that. (Laughs) Anybody that does that and
doesn’t get scared, there’s something mentally wrong with them.
Then I got sick. I got jaundice. Our squadron all got jaundice.
our squadron got yellow jaundice. They sent me to a hospital, which was on
the grounds of the University of Palermo. I got to the point where I
’t even release the brakes on the airplane I was so weak. And they decided
I’d better quit flying for a while then and sent me off to the hospital. I
remember that. Well, when I got back I had lost so much weight . . . I
weighed about 108 pounds, I think, when I got back to the airfield. And
when I went overseas I weighed 189. So I lost all that weight. And a
surgeon took a look at me and said, “You’re going home.” So . . . there
about six of us all went home then. And we flew down to Casablanca and got
on a Princess line ship. Originally it was called the Princess of Japan.
When the war started they changed the name to the Princess of Scotland.
I was on my way home then. So that was my overseas experience.
THAT’S WHAT THEY DID
I’d been over there about two years. Something like
that. And then from
then on the squadron started sending people back pretty regular, because
they were all either sick or burned up . . . burned out and needed a good
rest. We’d been over there for the African campaign and a large bit of the
Italian campaign. And from there the squadron moved up into Italy. Without
me. They flew night missions around Sarajevo and in that area for the
underground. Then they moved on up someplace else. Eventually they went in
on the invasion of southern France, which got very little recognition at
all. But that’s what they did. Then I got home and I got some of mama’s
cooking. I started to get a little of my weight back but I never got it
back. I think the most I ever weighed after that was about 147 pounds, 148
pounds. Something like that.
“It took an old French tank to pull us out of the mud.”
It was in October ‘45, I
think. The war in Europe was over. I got assigned
to about three different troop carrier fields, where they trained
paratroopers and glider pilots. Eventually I ended up at headquarters in
Indianapolis in a group called Glider Pickup. And there were two pilots,
three glider pilots, and a crew of about thirteen enlisted men. And we did
a lot of glider pickup. Our main job was to pick up the gliders that would
be transferring to some glider field, when they’d have an accidental
cut-off, and land in somebody’s farm field. It was our duty then to go
those guys up. Glider Pickup. And bring them back so they could take a
regular tow to where ever they were going . . . if the glider wasn’t
too much. The ground crew would take a truck and go to the field, and then
we’d take off and fly over toward the field. They would get it all set up
so we could swoop down and pick ‘em up. We’d all meet at the nearest
airport wherever that was. We picked them out of rice fields; we picked
them up out of cornfields, we picked them up out of just about every
It saved tearing the gliders all apart, transferring them someplace by
truck, and then putting them all back together again, and have somebody
‘em to wherever they were supposed to go in the first place. Cause in
glider schools they would, . . . would tear up a glider every, . . .
like about every hour they’d crash one of ‘em somewhere. They were always
running out of gliders (laughs).
I got out of the service in
October, . . . right after VJ Day. A month or
two after that. The reason I got out . . . First of all I was home,
secondly they were going to move back down south . . . To an airfield down
there. I’d had sun up to my neck and great big fields, . . . areas of pine
trees. I’d lost two or three classmates running into the dag-gone pine
trees. They’d start to take off, have an engine failure and plow right
all those trees pulling two gliders. So I’d had about enough of it. I
could’ve gone over to the municipal field and got a green commercial
license, if I’d wanted it at all. Just walk over and get it. I’d had
enough of flying. I had about between three and four thousand hours and
that was enough. I didn’t want to be a glorified truck driver or bus
driver. I wanted to get back doing artwork. Which I did.
want to walk anywhere. If I was going anywhere I was going sitting
down. There was no way I was going to be in the infantry. It made my feet
hurt. And I always liked airplanes anyway. They were taking anybody in
there for a while. And I just about missed it because I was too old. They
were taking them but you couldn’t be over 24 years old. And I was just
about ready to be 24 when I went in.
We were all just a bunch
of kids. Didn’t know any better. I sometimes look
back at it and think what the hell did we do that for. We had no idea what
the hell was going on. It’s kind of a big disappointment. To feel that all
that energy was shot up over there. Kind of disappointing. But that’s
life. Ah, well.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the
United States Army Air
Force had an enlistment of 25,000 and an inventory of about 4,000
With great determination this force would grow to a peak wartime strength
75,OOO aircraft and 2,411,294 officers and enlisted men. During the period
of July 1, 1940 through August 21, 1945 the AAF would accept a total of
229,554 aircraft and suffer casualties amounting to 115,382, of which
The personnel that used and serviced these aircraft were a diverse
people. Ninety percent of them were new to the service from the beginning
of the expansion program in June of 1940. One half of their number saw
service outside of the country during the war.
They came from all
backgrounds and all parts of our nation. These farmers,
clerks and students were quickly and efficiently turned into pilots,
navigators, gunners and mechanics. All of these newcomers meshed with the
small core of experienced personnel from prewar days to form the world’s
largest, most powerful air force.
Earl L. Noffsinger died January 3rd,
2004 in peace and surrounded by the
love of his family.