Loren Pennington: [This is an interview] of the Flint Hills Oral History Project with Mr
[This is an interview] for the Flint Hills Oral History Project, World War II Veterans Series, with Mr. William Seitz, formerly of Allen, Kansas, and now of Hillsboro, Oregon. The interviewer is Loren Pennington, Emeritus Professor of History at Emporia State University. Today's date is July 22, 2005, the interview is taking place at the Pennington home at 1737 Trowman Way in Emporia, because Mr. Seitz is here on a visit from Oregon.
[This is tape 1, side A.]
Loren Pennington: Now Bill, there is a little disclaimer at the beginning here so somebody using this interview will know what our relationship is. As I recall, we first met when you were a nontraditional student in my World War II class, which was the last class I taught at Emporia State. You also were in our Elderhostel ``Harry and Ike,'' and you have been a prominent member of the World War II Roundtable and in fact were on one of the programs. To begin the interview, Bill, and I guess we will call each other Bill and Loren; as long as we have known each other, it won't be Mr. Seitz and Mr. Pennington. To begin let's go a little into your background if you would give us some biographical information about yourself before the time you entered military service.
William Seitz: I was born June 27, 1923, in Allen, Kansas, on a farm. That was before we went to the hospital for my mother to have her babies. I grew up during the Depression. As a kid I went to grade school in Allen, Kansas. We were a member of that school district. And when I was growing up I was always interested in hunting and fishing. I had an older brother, and he did most of the work on the farm, and I got to hunt and fish because I was the youngest. We didn't have that much equipment. We only had enough cultivators for my dad and him to run, and so I was always fishing or hunting and doing things. In the winter I trapped. I can still remember the stock market crash even though I was only six years old. My grandfather was in the bank in Allen, and he was a stockholder, so when it went broke he had to go down to Emporia and mortgage all his land to pay off the depositors. But the bank did pay off 100%, where a lot of banks only paid off ten or fifteen cents on the dollar. And then I can remember very well the thirties, as they call it the dirty thirties. The eggs were six or eight cents a dozen, and corn was, I believe, eighteen cents a bushel. Wheat was thirty cents a bushel. I can't remember what butterfat was, but it was way down there. I know that we milked cows. The egg money and the cream money bought the staples for the homethat would be sugar and flour and those things. When we'd raise wheat we'd trade wheat for flour down at Soden's Mill here in Emporia. Then, of course in the winter, I always trapped. I can still remember, I'd catch a civet cat, and a civet cat would bring twenty-five cents and I didn't have to skin it. Boy, they were a stink. The twenty-five cents would buy me a box of .22 shorts [bullets], which cost eighteen cents and a big five cent candy bar, Snicker or Babe Ruth or Milky Way. Then I had two cents left over for two suckers. But if you caught a skunk, why, that brought a dollar and a half. You were in the money. I went to high school then, and I played basketball and baseball. I graduated in 1941. My father bought a tractor in 1941, in the hopes that I would stay on the farm and not go to the service. I can remember he bought a Ford tractor and a plow and a belt pulley for this tractor. I think he paid $750 for it. That was in the hopes to keep me on the farm, but the war was going on in Europe and it wasn't going too well for the Allies, the French and the British. I was wanting to join the Air Force, and I was interested in flying. I don't know why, but I was. So I worked that fall, filled silo and shocked feed and what I could do. I didn't have money to go to college. So my folks finally signed my papers to where I could get into the Air Force. I was lucky that there was an opening for me to get in the Air Force. I went to Kansas City and enlisted and then came home. Then I went back to Kansas City when I was called.
LP: When was this?
WS: I was inducted November 28, 1941. That was just a little over a week before Pearl Harbor. I was sent to Jefferson Barracks. I was only there just a short time when on a Sunday the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. Yes. December the 7th, and it was on a Sunday. So they put everything in gear, and speeded everything up. I didn't even take basic training at all, but I had taken enough tests and everything. They sent me to radio school at Scott Field, Illinois. And while I was at Scott Field going to radio school, I found out that they'd lowered the qualifications for aviation cadets to where you just passed the physical and the mental and you could be a cadet. And so I took the test, the rating test for cadets, and I passed that and then I passed the physical test which was quite extensive?a six-four physical, you've got to be in pretty good shape to pass that. I passed that and so there was nothing to do but just wait for cadets. I graduated from radio school and I can't tell you when I did; I think it was in May of 1942. Of course there was a hold on all cadets. There was a top priority for aviation cadets because they needed pilots very badly. So I was held there and while I was being held there I didn't have anything to do. I could get off and go into St. Louis. I'd go into St. Louis and watch the St. Louis Cardinals play ball and also the St. Louis Browns because they both played at Sportsmens Park. And I got to see nearly all the major league [teams] play. I was always impressed with the St. Louis Cardinals because I was always a Dizzy Dean fan, and I wanted to play ball and I loved to play ball. The first of July I got my appointment for cadets.
LP: That's 1942?
WS: That's 1942. I think we got down to Kelly Field or Lackland [Air Force Base] in July of 1942, and we were about a week late.
LP: You said Kelly Field and Lackland. Are they both the same?
WS: Right?well one's up on the hill. Lackland's on the hill and Kelly is down where the air field is. So we got down there and we were all issued new uniforms. They were real heavy and everybody got shots and of course it was the middle of the summer and lots of parades. You'd have a white glove inspection. They issued a rifle, and all I called it was a gig stick. It was an old .303 Enfield from the British. I can still remember when I was down there the sun would always come up in the west and it'd set in the east every day. I was a hundred and eighty degrees turned around. I can remember being out on the parade ground. We'd just had shots. Man, it was hot. A lot of the guys passed out, and when they did, why that was the last I saw of them. I can remember another thing. It was so hot and we never were issued clean sheets in the month that I was in preflight. We would take those sheets and turn them over, swap them end for end, or do anything to keep from getting gigged, because you'd get gigged and you'd have to be on tour for an hour and that was no good. I was down there for a month in preflight. We went to school too in preflight. We had navigation, weather, and radio code. We left there and I went to Stamford, Texas.
LP: Stamford, Texas?
WS: Stamford, for primary. That was the first time that I was ever up in an airplane. We flew PT-19As. They had a 175 horsepower inverted Franklin engine in them.
LP: These were trainers?
WS: Yes. Primary trainers. I was a little slow in soloing. I think I had around ten or twelve hours before I soloed. My instructor's name was Mr. Don Robins. He was from Texas, and I liked him real well, and all through my service I kept in contact with him. I wrote him letters. We were in primary, I don't know how long. Anyway, I would judge eight weeks or so. I got out of primary and got all my checks right. I wasn't too good, but they needed pilots so a lot of us got through that wouldn't have if it hadn't been for the war. Then when I got out of primary, they sent us to San Angelo, Texas at Goodfellow Field. I think the base is still open or it was just a short time ago. There we flew BT-13As. That was an aircraft built by Vultee. It had a 450 horsepower Pratt and Whitney in it. It was better known as a Vultee Vibrator. When you changed the pitch in the prop, it'd make lots and lots of noise. Lt. Lather was my instructor, Lt. Lather. Each instructor had five students, but I have had no contact with any of them and don't know how many survived the war. The BT-13A was a lot bigger airplane, a lot more horsepower, and I didn't have any trouble flying the it. My main trouble was doing aerobatics or flying instruments. I know one of the times I was trying to do a loop. The plane stalled out and came down tail first until it swapped ends and liked to scare me to death. That was the last loop that I tried. I was good on low altitude work, like landings and take-off and pylon 8's and lazy 8's or S turns over a road, those kind of things. Then I graduated from basic in December.
WS: December, 1942, I got out of basic, I think. Then we went to Lubbock, Texas, for advanced. There they had two airplanes to start with. They had AT-9s and AT-17s. I think the AT-9 was built by Curtiss, and I know the AT-17 was built by Cessna. They called it a Bobcat and we called it a bamboo bomber. It was relatively easy to fly. It didn't have much horsepower. Fabric covered the wings and it couldn't take much stress. So it was really a poor aircraft for advanced training. Instruments, I was not good at at all. But we did fly formation with it. We did quite a few cross countries in it. When I was going overseas, I did see my basic instructor, Lt. Lather, and he was on his way overseas after a long time. Advanced training at Lubbock, we had some real bad wind and dust storms. I can remember one of the best things about cadets or one of the things I liked so well, was that we had terrific food. The food was all-you-could-eat and it was very good. All the milk you could drink and the ice cream you could eat and most of the boys gained quite a bit of weight. But we did have a very good PT program. We usually had a couple hours of PT everyday. We were in pretty good shape. And I graduated from advanced February 16, 1943. My brother, who was in the armored then, happened to be on leave, and he came down to Lubbock and pinned my wings on me and that was a great day. Later he went through training as an officer and got his wings. But he got his wings in 1944. I don't know exactly what class. Also my brother-in-law was a pilot and so we had three pilots in the Seitz family. Both my brother and my brother-in-law went to the South Pacific, and my first station after I graduated from cadets was a redistribution station at Salt Lake City, Utah. We were there a short period of time.
From Salt Lake City I went to Davis-Monthan Field at Tucson, Arizona. Davis-Monthan, was transition training for B-24s. I was very fortunate, and I checked out as first pilot, and that ship seemed awful big for a country kid to be flying. I was only 19 when I started in there. It was a big step for someone to walk out of advanced training and get into a four engine bomber. A B-24 bomber was a four engine bomber. It had four 1200 horsepower engines on it,?Pratt and Whitney's R1830-43s. I had several instructors down at Davis-Monthan. After I finally checked out, our provisional commander was Colonel Harrison whom I thought a lot of. We got our crews formed up. Finally, just before we left from there I was assigned a co-pilot by the name of Bill Dale. He was twenty-six years old and I could never understand why they put Bill and me together. He was seven years older than I was. Of course I had all the responsibility. I wasn't even dry behind the ears. I was just a poor old country boy and I here I've got the crew, and he's from California and I was the youngest man on the crew.
I can remember when we left Davis-Monthan; our first station away from there was Blythe, California. This was in July and it was hot hot. Nothing was air-conditioned. I take that back. The officer's club down next to the tower was air-conditioned; that was the building that was air-conditioned on the whole field. The barracks where we lived didn't have windows; you just had a deal with a rope on it; you pulled it up and that was the way you got the air. But oh, it was hot. You couldn't even hold your hand on the airplane. The first day I rode with Colonel Harrison. It was night; well, I guess it wasn't at night but in the evening and it wasn't dark yet. It was dark as we landed, and the Colonel said he was going back to the tower to get out. I was supposed to go up and fly the rest of the time. But to get back to the tower we got lost. We couldn't find our way back to the tower. Finally he just got disgusted and he just taxied across the field, sagebrush and everything. I don't know how he kept from not tearing something up on that airplane but I suppose that if anything had been torn up it would have been my fault because I was sitting in the left seat. But we got back and then we took off again, the co-pilot and I, and that was the first time that he was ever in a B-24, and we went up and flew the rest of the time and then finally came back and landed. I was very glad to get on the ground again. We weren't in Blythe for too long. It got so hot you could hardly do anything.
So then we transferred to Salinas, California to a base there. The weather was much cooler there, but also fog and everything would come in off the ocean. We didn't have instrument cards?you weren't supposed to fly in the clouds or anything. But I can remember getting briefed and they'd say, now hurry up and get in the airplanes and get out there because it's going to fog in and you won't be able to get off. You'd walk out of the briefing room and the fog would hit you in the face. One lucky thing about it was we'd take off and go off through the fog and we'd climb up through it up out over the ocean. Then we'd complete the mission there. We'd probably fly most of the night and it was still foggy. The radio range at Salinas wasn't very good. There were mountains on each side. They may not have been too high, but it only takes one; if you'd run into it that'd be the end. We lost several crews at Salinas. Ten years after the war, they found one crew that was in our group that crashed into an island off the Pacific coast; he was trying to get down through the fog I think. We lost a lot of planes at Salinas. The maintenance wasn't too good either. But many times when we would fly at Salinas we would fly all night and then couldn't get back into Salinas. We'd fly over into the San Joaquin Valley, which would be clear, and we'd land at Fresno or Bakersfield and in that area. One time we went to?I think we landed at Fresno that night. The next morning we wanted to come back to Salinas, so we went south and got on the King River and got right on the deck and were coming up to get back into Salinas and flew right through the traffic pattern of the primary school there at King City. They were flying Ryans [a trainer] and it was just like a bunch of bees trying to get out of the way. But luckily we got through and I hope nobody got hurt. We finally went in underneath the fog and landed at Salinas. Another time we came back into Salinas and Salinas was pretty well socked in and I didn't have enough gas to get anyplace else, but I could see some lights down there, so we started in, and we went through the clouds and through the fog and got in all right. I wasn't there too long. We lost so many crews that they decided that they'd move us. So they moved us to Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas. At Biggs Field there was practically no maintenance. It was hot there and it was in the summer.
[It is tape 1 side B.]
LP: Bill, you were saying?
WS: We were at El Paso, Texas, at Biggs Field. We moved there and it was hot and there were quite a few thunderstorms around. The maintenance was terrible and they didn't have enough mechanics. A lot of the maintenance we had to pull ourselves. I can remember standing on my head changing a starting motor on an engine. We finally got it done but I don't suppose we got the safety wire on right. But anyway it worked. So we went out, and we were there for not too long. I know we were supposed to have some gunnery practice but I can't ever remember [any]. I guess we shot at some ground targets but that was about it. I guess the gunners were supposed to have that at gunnery school. We were there and we got some time in, not a lot.
From there they loaded us up and we were on our way to Lincoln, Nebraska, and on our way overseas. As we were coming up [to Kansas City], I believe we were on the Rock Island train, and I contacted a train crewman and he called my folks. My folks met me in Herington, Kansas, and that was quite a deal them meeting me there. They met my whole crew and everything. Then we got into Kansas City and we were going to transfer to the Missouri-Pacific to go to Lincoln. We found out that we were going to get leave, so everybody left the train at Kansas City and I came home.
When I came home it was great to see everybody but there weren't that many people left of the kids I ran around with. They were all in the service or too busy. Most of them had probably moved away and were in defense work. But everybody asked, ``Bill, did you ever fly over home?'' And I said, ``When I fly over home, you'll know it's me.'' My leave over, I went up to Lincoln, Nebraska, and signed up for a brand new airplane. A big desert pink B-24; 4272779 was the number on it. It cost $230,000 and I signed my name on the dotted line. I took an instrument check and I passed. One time I ran the range right and I came right down the track to the airfield and when they pulled the hood off, there was the runway right in front of me at about 300 feet and that was pretty good. So I got an instrument card. The next day they had me go up and swing the compass. The night before I called my father and told him that I was broke and to get a hundred dollars out of my account and wire it to me up at the airbase. So that next morning?now this is Friday the 13th day of August in 1943?my dad went down to the depot that morning early and he says, ``I want you to wire a hundred dollars to Bill. He's at Lincoln Nebraska.'' ``Well, no,'' [the agent] said, ``I can't wire money.'' Jeff Wheat happened to be in the depot there at that time checking on something. He said ``Well, Warren I'm going to Emporia, and I'll get Chet Morris to wire him the money.'' Friday morning we went up to swing the compass, which didn't take very long. I had the co-pilot, the navigator, the radio operator-flight engineer, and I guess there were two guys that wanted to ride so we told them to get a parachute and they could. So they did. So we swung the compass and that didn't take very long, and then I took off for home. I tuned in Topeka WIBW on the radio compass, and who was singing but Bobby Dick. He started out in my class in high school. I tuned in then and we dodged around Topeka because of Forbes Air Force Base. We got south of Topeka somewhere, and I was lost and didn't know exactly where I was at. So we went down and read the road signs, the highway signs on [US] 50 highway and found out where I was, and then I came back up and we just did a pylon around the Osage City water tower. Then I flew the Missouri-Pacific tracks right into home. I got lined up just perfect for home, and I had it right on the deck and we came over Allen and then we came over where I grew up on the farm and my father and a neighbor were out. They were grinding feed on an old Sweet mill with the mules. My dad said later the old horse mule threw his head up over the other and just brayed. I can remember my mother running out of the house waving a dish towel, and I could tell she had on a blue dress with real tiny white polka-dots on it. How I missed an ash tree that was tall sitting northwest of the house I'll never know. But we didn't hit it. We messed around there, and I went and flew over to Council Grove and buzzed Council Grove once. I'd met a girl [from Emporia] while I was on leave, and so I buzzed Emporia. She lived on Exchange Street, so I figured about where Exchange was. I was right down on top of the trees and went down south of Emporia and did a 180 and came right up Commercial Street. I was low. You had to look up to see the dome on the old courthouse. Just about that time I hit a sparrow with the top turret and it cracked the turret. As I came by Earl Hassinger's Sports Shop, Earl stepped out of his sport shop and I recognized him. I really didn't have time to wave. At this time I had the copilot down in the nose so he couldn't pull the airplane up. We were right down on the deck. I can remember the conversation between the navigator and the co-pilot. He says, ``Bullard, I know where that bus is going. It's going to Topeka because I can read the sign on the front of it.'' So we lifted up and flew over ESU [Emporia State University] and then on up the Allen road to home to give it one more dash. Then we flew back to Nebraska, but not on the deck
One of the funny things about this was that I don't know where Jeff Wheat was when I was a-buzzing and all this was going on. But that afternoon, [Jeff] went into Chet Morris and he said, ``Chet, Bill's is in Lincoln, Nebraska and he's broke and he wants you to wire him a hundred dollars.'' And Chet just laughed and said, ``Bill was down here this morning.'' And Jeff said, ``No, he wasn't. He's in Lincoln, Nebraska, and he's broke. And he wants you to wire him a hundred dollars out of his account.'' So they argued a little bit and finally Chet says, ``Well, now Jeff, if you'd been on the second floor of the bank building you could have handed it to him when he flew by.'' So that was the end of that argument. I got the money and I had the money before I went overseas.
The next day or the day after that, we had our orders for overseas duty. We were supposed to fly to Presque Isle, Maine. But the weather got a little bad. We landed in Montreal and we spent the night in therel. The next morning we got up and flew on into Presque Isle. I didn't know about this until after the war was over and I was with my radio operator and he told what went on. All the enlisted men got together and wanted to paint a sign on the airplane. They were going to name it ``Nine Men and a Boy.'' I was the pilot and I was the youngest man on the crew. They couldn't get anyone to paint the sign. Then we flew from there up to Gander, Newfoundland. We were just up there one day and we took off for Prestwick, Scotland. We were loaded pretty heavy and we got up and this was a night flight. So I guess we had a pretty good tail wind. We were flying DR for a while, dead reckoning. It wasn't very far and we picked the radio beam for Prestwick. It was on the radio compass. We followed that for a long time. Then I noticed there was some good star constellations so I called the navigator and I said, ``Bullard, there's some real good constellations out. I think you should take a shot maybe.'' So he turns the light off down in his compartment, gets up in the astrodome, and he says, ``Yeah, there is. I think I'll take a fix or two.'' So he crawled up with his sextant and starts shooting and the drum falls off the sextant. Well, he puts it back on, and he's shooting again and it falls off again. So he tries to fix it, but when it fell off the third time he said, ``To heck with it, just keep what you're doing and we'll make it all right.'' So we never took a star shot going clear across the North Atlantic. I think that was very foolish now that I look back on it. We came in right on time. We did run into a little ice but it wasn't bad at all, and we went down into warmer air out of the ice. We went into Prestwick and landed.
We landed there in the morning and then that night, those enlisted men they had to go to town. They were quite the party men and I think they'd rather steal something than have somebody give it to them. They went to town and I sacked out. The English didn't have much coal and you could only put four inches of water in the bathtub when you took a bath. So the next morning we got up and they briefed us and we flew to Land's End, England. That is clear on the southern tip of England. From there we spent the night and the next morning we took off for Marrakech, Africa. Now I didn't think this was going to be a very long flight. But it turned out to be a long flight. They advised us when we took off to go out quite a ways into the Atlantic, and then head south and stay low because the German radar could pick us up. They'd put JU-88s up or ME-110s and they'd try to shoot you down, which they did with some people. But we didn't see any. But they did give us fifty rounds of ammunition for each gun we had. But it was a long hot flight down to Merrakech. I think Bullard flew a sunline or a landfall down there. We came into Merrakech. It was a gravel runway and it seemed like the gravel was about the size of softballs or something. It was hot there. That was in September, 1943. From Merrakech we took off and headed for North Africa and, I think that it was in Algiers where we landed. This is something I am not real familiar with, but we may have stopped at Tripoli. But I landed at an English base and I can remember we were eating dinner at this English base. They wanted me to move my airplane. I was eating and I didn't want to get up right then and leave and move it. I said to the engineer, ``You can surely move that airplane.'' He thought he could but he didn't. He messed up the nose wheel tire. So we had to send into the Middle East to get a nose wheel. So they sent one out and we got it fixed. Then we flew down to Ismailia, Egypt, and that's on Great Bitter Lake. Then they were supposed to recondition my airplane for combat. We were there for a while and somebody got in contact with a couple of naval officers. We traded them a ride for some meals. So we gave them a ride in the airplane and we buzzed around a little bit. Then we came in and landed. I can remember how good the food was. We were there a little while and then we went to Bengasi, Libya. I can remember when we landed at Bengasithat's the 98th Bomb Groupthe enlisted men were unloading all these bicycles. Well, I found out that these boys got quite inebriated and wrecked a bicycle. Rather than having to pay for it why they just loaded all the bicycles up on the airplane and we flew them to the desert and that was the last I saw of the bicycles. We were there for a while.
My first mission was the 8th day of September in 1943. We bombed Foggia, Italy. That was an airfield up there. This was to support the Salerno invasion, which was that same day. We flew three missions to Foggia on the 8th, 9th, and 10th of September, and I flew every one of these missions as first pilot. I never flew as co-pilot. That was my indoctrination to combat. I was a pilot but I don't think any of my enlisted men flew on these missions. I think I had a whole different crew on these missions, and I know that they shot a lot of ammunition. I don't know how many fighters they hit or shot down, but I think they got credit for three. But I sometimes wonder if they got any. But that was my first deal on combat. And then we were down to Bengasi for I don't know just how long. They moved us in October to Hergla. This was a base south of Tunis. This was supposed to be a dry lake bed that we were on for our field. But the dry lake bed turned into a lake. We got a lot of rain and there was water on the field, and it was a mess. They had a lot of trouble. Once they had to taxi the airplanes through water to get them over to where they could take off. It was nothing but bad news. In October they had a mission to Wiener Neustadt, [I believe] on October the 24th, I'm not sure. But they had us taxi our airplanes over and it was just like being in a dust storm. The next morning with the dew and everything, we had lots of dust on the wings and I am sure the inner coolers were all full of dirt and dust. I can remember taking off and I thought I'd never get off the ground. It took me a long time to get up to three thousand feet. I knew something was wrong with the airplane. I didn't know what. I landed and I caught hell from the colonel because all they could find wrong with the airplane was a flight instrument. Then they'd said I'd have to fly about so much instrument time. So that afternoon I went up to get this time in to satisfy him and I hadn't much more than got up off and to a little bit of attitude and the number two engine malfunctioned. It had to be changed. So that was the last I heard of that encounter. Then we moved the group back to Bengasi to do some bombing. I didn't go on the first trip they, but they took my airplane, I know. I call it mine but it belonged to the government. I didn't go down there, and I was supposed to bring another ship down. So we tried to take it down, and while we going down everybody had diarrhea or dysentery terrible. We lost an engine out over the gulf there. So we landed in Tripoli. I was really sick. I don't think I was ever so sick in my life. I wanted to die. I can remember I was sitting on the stool and running off, and throwing up in the douche bowl. There were South African nurses down in the club, and I was so sick I couldn't even go down to look at them. I never even went down and ate or anything. So the next morning we put more oil in the engine, and we finally got it to Bengasi. When we got to Bengasi they have to change two engines on it before they could bring it back. That was terrible. The guys were sleeping underneath the wings of the airplane and they weren't doing much. Then we moved back to Hergla. Then November the 2nd we took off to bomb Wiener Neustadt again. This is 1943, and this is the first mission the 15th Air Force flew; it was November 2, 1943.
LP: Where were you bombing?
WS: Wiener Neustadt. It's an aircraft factory southeast of Vienna. I was flying number four in our squadron. Jefferys was on my left wing and Bill Dale was supposed to be flying number seven but I don't think he was flying seven at all. We got up and we'd come in on the target and I got shot up by fighters. Jefferys was off my left wing and I can still see him. He got a direct hit and he just blew up. There was nothing left of the airplane. It was just gone. The ME-109 came in and he put a 20mm in[to our] number two engine, in the accessory section. We had a couple in the waist area. It wounded both of the waist gunners. Then two more 20mms it the right rudder of my airplane and vertical stabilizer. It shot one side of my elevator cables out. Summerhays, the one waist gunner, quickly took his heated suit cord off and spliced that elevator cable up. Then he took care of the other waist gunner that was wounded. He had a fractured jaw from shrapnel. As we were coming off the targets, we'd probably have got shot down, but at about that time the P-38 escort picked us up and that's probably all that saved me or otherwise I'd would have been shot down. That ME-109 was in there close enough that he couldn't miss. I could see him just like he was practically across the room from me. It didn't knock my number two engine clear out, but it knocked it to where I wasn't getting any power out. I wasn't getting any ram-jet air into it at all. It was only pulling about eight inches of mercury. We had a hole in the accessory section in the air cooler that was about six inches across at least. When he hit that there was another 7.9 that hit the plexi-glass right over my head, and it went ``ka-bang.''
[This is tape 2, side A of the Seitz interview.]
WS: It hit the plexi-glass right above my head, and I can remember pushing the throttle forward and reaching up on my head with my hands and looking at it to see if they was any blood on it. Then we flew on back to Foggia and landed. We spent the night in Foggia.
LP: Now you say you went to Foggia. This was after Foggia Air Base was captured by the Allies.
WS: Right. This was on November the 2nd. We sent both crewmen to the hospital and then we repaired the airplane and flew it on back Hergla. If I would have known it now I would have never taken that airplane off in that kind of a shape.
LP: Hergla. Now that is in North Africa?
WS: Yes. That's right south of Tunis. I turned back on a mission on November the 11th that was to Annecy, France. I lost an engine over of the Mediterranean and I turned back on it. We lost a ship on that. A guy by the name of McCullom. That was the last ship that we lost out of the 344th Bomb Squadron as long as I was in there on my first tour. Then nothing much happened until December the 2nd when the Germans bombed Bari. They sank seventeen ships in the Bari Harbor, and the USS Harvey had poison gas on it. Doolittle was the head of the 15th Air Force, and he flew over our air base at Brindisi.
LP: Let me back up just a minute. Bari was the one where they had the poison gas?
WS: Right. That was December the 2nd when the Germans slipped in there and sank the seventeen ships. There's two books on the bombing of Bari. There's Disaster at Bari and the latest one is Nightmare in Bari by Remenick. When Doolittle flew over our base, we were at Brindisi which was a nice base and we slept in an apartment hotel there. It had a good runway and he said there were too many airplanes on that field. So they moved us to Manduria, which had a mud runway. It was a terrible base. I can remember very easily on Christmas Day we flew a mission to northern Italy and I was number two to take off and I can remember the only thing I could see on that lead airplane that took off was two wingtips; the [rest was] mud and water. When we got to altitude all the bomb bay doors were frozen and all the ball turrets were muddied over. The tail turrets had mud on them and everything. The waist gunner and the top turrets and the nose guns were all we could have used. But we got up to northern Italy and it was cloud-covered and then we came back and landed on that old mud runway with all our bomb load.
We were taken off of combat for one month so that the 450th and 449th, which had joined our wing, could start bombing. When the 450th landed at Manduria we had just come back from a mission from Sofia where Sergeant Brown got killed. I believe his folks lived in Elmdale. I'm sorry that I didn't go down and talk to those folks, but I was younger then and I didn't know much. From Manduria we moved down to Lecce. We had a good Macadam runway. We did get back on combat status the first day of February, 1944. Then I flew all the missions during Big Week, Regensburg, Steyr, Regensburg. I did turn back on the first two missions because of oxygen problems.
LP: You say ``Big Week.'' What do you mean by that?
WS: Big Week was when the big high got over Europe. The 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force could fly together and this is known as Big Week. This was supposedly when we really tried to break the back of the German air force. Then after Big Week I was briefed twice for a mission into Germany where we didn't have a chance to get back. We never had a target charter or anything. The first time we never even got off the ground. The mission was to Breslau, Germany. The second mission when we left, I was flying number seven in the low squadron. I wouldn't have had a chance to get back; I would have really been fighter bait. But we'd just got into the North Adriatic, and we hit a front and we turned around and came back. Then there was nothing more exciting that really happened until March the 29th. I flew my last mission to Balzano in northern Italy, the railroad marshalling yard there. I can remember that one ship in the 343rd got hit in the wing and the wing exploded, and then he just did a half roll and he took two more with him and that kinda shook me up. That was my last mission for that tour.
Then with Major Sternfield we flew an old war-weary bird home and we delivered this ship to Middletown, Pennsylvania, and from there I came on home. Then I was home for thirty days and after about three days I wondered why I came home, because there were no kids around and all of them were gone. Theodore Coffman, my best friend, was still there and so we ran around together and raised a little cane. Then I went to redistribution station at Santa Monica, California. I was two weeks I suppose in Santa Monica. My redistribution station was to be an instructor pilot in Walla Walla, Washington. I was there for a couple of months, I guess, instructing, and the weather started to get bad. I didn't like it too well there. So I volunteered to go overseas again. One morning, some kids woke me up and said, ``We heard you were going back overseas again.'' They told me, ``You wash out the pilot and we'll wash out the other guys and we'll go back overseas.'' And I said okay. But about two days later the colonel called me and said they needed a pilot for a crew that lost a pilot down at Hamilton Field. So he flew me down to Hamilton Field and I met the crew. The crew was real worried about who they were going to get for a pilot. I think they told me later that they were really relieved I was going to be their pilot after I'd completed a tour of duty. So we loaded up on the troop train and took, I believe, five days to get across the country. From there we went Newport News, Virginia, where we boarded a ship to head out for Italy. The name of the ship was something like LeeI'll call my copilot. He can remember. It took us 28 days to get to Italy. I was assigned to the same bomb group and the same squadron that I left in April of 1944.
LP: That was which bomber squadron?
WS: 344th squadron in the 98th group. Anyway, when I got back to that group, I didn't know anybody much in the officer section of the squadron. But when I went to the enlisted men side I knew all the crew chiefs and everything and it was like old home week. It was really good to see those fellows again. I flew 40 missions on the second tour. I got 200 combat hours. I had 300 combat hours, a little over, 305, on the first tour and 200 on the second tour. I was flying number three on the squadron commander's left wing. We were going to Aviso Viaduct. The lead ship took a direct hit right in the bomb bay. ``Whoop,'' and they were gone. That shook some of them up pretty well. We flew back. Then nothing much happened until March 15, 1945. I was deputy wing lead on this mission and we were going to Schwchat [oil refinery]. This target is southeast of Vienna. Rather than bring us down over Vienna in range of all the guns of Vienna, they brought us upwind into Schwchat. We were only making 92-93 mph ground speed. The bomb run was ten minutes or more and they were just sitting down there bore sighting us, I think. The first volley came up and they led us too much. They were right on course and right on altitude, but they were ahead of us. About the third volley, my left wing went up, and I set it back down and I looked over and the leader was in a big steep bank. I went to swing in to take the lead and I looked over my left shoulder and the gasoline was just pouring out of number two tank and by number two I mean the engine exhaust. I quick-feathered the engine and shut it off and had the co-pilot turn the ignition off. All this gas ran into the bomb bay and you couldn't see the bomb bay for the 100 octane gas. We didn't turn off anything. We just let it go. We used the radios and everything, but no smoking; but of course we were at altitude. We flew this airplane clear down to Zara, Yugoslavia, and landed there. But one of the things about this mission was when I feathered that engine, it would feather, but it would slowly come back and start to windmill and pick up and I'd have to keep feathering it. I think when the oil cooled down enough then it would hold feather, and we flew it to Zara and landed. That night we flew out on a C-47 to Bari, Italy, and from there they took us back to the squadron.
LP: So you lost a plane?
WS: Yes. This was a brand new B-24. I don't think it even had a 100 hours on it. And it was trash. You could salvage the engines and those kind of things off of it but that was it.
LP: But you were hit. I thought you were suggesting there was something defective about the aircraft.
WS: No. There was nothing defective about the aircraft other than an 88 mm went up through the wing and took about a half of the bay's spar. We were very fortunate and for that mission I received the Silver Star. Another very good friend, a navigator, was over for his second tour of duty by the name of Norman Whalen. We knew the war was about over so we decided we'd fly one more mission together and call it a day. This mission they let us fly, we led the whole 15th Air Force. We went to Bescia, Italy, and that was our last mission that we flew. And we had the whole 15th Air Force behind us and I was only 21 years old. One of the reasons I wanted to get back overseas was to get was my captaincy because it broke my heart I didn't make captain during my first tour of duty. When I went home I had my captain's orders in my hand, but the general wouldn't give it to me because I was going home. But I got my captaincy during my second tour. They put me in for captain and they only put me in as 14 missions instead of 64 or 74, whatever I had. It hit a friend's desk, a guy that I knew in Air Force headquarters, and he knew me as he was in the 344th squadron and transferred to 15th Air Force headquarters in Bari. He took it into the general and he told him, ``This guy's on his second tour of duty. This isn't right at all.'' So the general signed it and my friend brought it down to me. This was Christmas Eve. So I had a wild Christmas Eve that day.
LP: We are talking about 1945?
LP: You were flying in 1945 again?
LP: But you got your captaincy before the end of that tour of duty?
WS: I got my captaincy in December of 1944 instead of the spring of 1944. My tour of duty was over and I went to Naples to catch a ship in go home, and I got on board the ship.
LP: Is the war over?
WS: No the war isn't quite over yet. On April 12th Roosevelt passes away. I'm aboard ship, the Mariposa, coming home and I'm in hospital with yellow jaundice May 8th, when the war in Germany was over. We docked at Boston and I went to the hospital at Taunton, Massachusetts. Then after I got well I went home and spent thirty days and went to the redistribution station and from redistribution station I was never on flying status again. They dropped the atomic bomb in August on Japan. Then they dropped the second one and the war is over and all I can think about now is getting home and going back to school because I'd never got to go to college before. I was really looking forward to this and then my last day of active duty was December 23, 1945, and I started to go back to college at Kansas State. I was going to be a chemical engineer, I thought. I did fairly well in a subject or two, but I was still flying airplanes, and I would read something and know no more of what I read than anything. So I tried it again the next fall and it was no good. I was still having lots and lots of trouble.
LP: What kind of trouble?
WS: Head trouble. I was still flying airplanes. I flew them in my sleep and I still fly missions in my sleep. I didn't realize this but my flight surgeon did when he wrote my report to send me home after my second tour. I tried again in the fall and I still couldn't make it. Then I went home and I messed around and I had a drinking problem. The war and everything was over and you might say there were no young girls to go with. I had a lot of girls that I liked when I was in the service and thought a lot of but I knew I didn't have a job and I didn't know if I could support a family. So I went two or three years or more after that. And then finally a rural letter carrier job opened up in Allen and luckily for me, and I think for the world, Harry S. Truman was elected president. I got the rural carrier job which was great for me because it was a good bread-and butter job. It didn't make much money but I didn't work very hard either. I was there for three years. In 1949, I started carrying the mail and in 1952-53, I was recalled for Korea. I flew B-29s and KC-97s in the Korean conflict. But I never got overseas. I had too much combat time.
LP: What was the other plane?
WS: KC-97. It was the old Boeing Stratacruiser. I never got overseas. I had so much combat time they couldn't do anything with me. When I was flying 97s I was transferred to McDill Field in Florida. From Tampa they sent me back to Randolph Field to go through the B- 29 program again. So I went down to the skeet range and I instructed at the skeet range for quite a while until I got out. That's where I lost a lot of hearing. In 1953, they said either stay in the service or get out and so I told them that I would get out. So then I went back to carrying the mail. When I came back, that's when I met my wife Sara. We went together for while, and she's now my wife for over fifty years. We raised a family and we have three children. We have Pamela the oldest, and then we have Forrest, and Galen. Pamela has a major in music and also has a BMA degree and she is a CPA. Forrest, the middle boy, is an electrical engineer; he graduated from Kansas State University. He, at the present time, has a consulting business in Beaverton, Oregon. Galen, the youngest son, is a graduate of MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is an electrical engineer and he is kind of in the company with Forrest in Beaverton, although he lives in East Portland. They've all done well and, like I tell my wife, when we got married that was the best mistake I ever made.
LP: Bill, we've kind of come to the end here, but there's a couple things I want to ask you in general. At the time that you were in the service, what was your whole feeling about it? What was your attitude toward the service when you where serving in the war?
WS: It was to get the war over with. To do the best you could. That's where I got an education although I didn't use it. Here I had a million dollar education flying airplanes. But I never flew an airplane after I got out of the service.
LP: Did you get anything else out of your service besides your knowledge of the airplane?
WS: A lot of knowledge of people.
LP: That's what I mean.
WS: Oh yes. I found out I didn't know too much. I didn't have any city ways, I can tell you that.
LP: Did you feel while you were in the service, to put it in one sense, that you were a gung-ho?
WS: You bet I was gung-ho. If you didn't get that target this time you had to go back again and the next time it would be a lot tougher. You may not lose many airplanes the first time but the second time over that target if you didn't get it you'd have a lot more losses.
LP: How do you feel today about looking back on your service? Have you changed your attitude at all toward it?
WS: No. I was glad I joined. I did well, I thought, for no more education than I had. Most of the other pilots had some college. They may have had college but they couldn't shoot a gun.
LP: Now when you were in that program with us on the World War II Roundtable, you had a phrase by which you described yourself which I can't quite remember. Do you remember?
WS: ``A Green Country Kid going to War,'' and that was the truth.
LP: To go on a little further with this. Now you're out of the service, how do you think the service affected you after that, your life with your family, your life with your fellow north-Lyon Countians, and your whole outlook?
WS: Well, they [my family] never knew much about my experiences at all until the article in the paper, the Topeka Daily Capital on the December 2nd raid on Bari, Italy. A lot of people didn't realize what I'd been through or the trouble that I had.
LP: Do you remember Dottie Enserro?
WS: Yes. Her birthday is February 14. She was our neighbor where I grew up.
LP: I happened to tell her that you were going to be on the program, and she said, ``You won't get him to say anything.'' She said, ``I've never heard him talk about the war at all.''
WS: That's right. You know I never did. And my children didn't know anything about it.
[This is side B of tape 2 of the Seitz interview.]
LP: You were saying, Bill?
WS: I never talked to my children. Sara never knew much about my war experiences at all. We had a bomb group runion in Dayton, Ohio, at the museum there.
LP: When was this?
WS: This had been about three or four years ago. It was probably 2001 or 2002. All my children were there. They got to talk to some friends that were there who flew with me and knew me while I was in the service. They couldn't believe some of things that went on that I did. I told a lot of people what I thought of them, some of them, and it wasn't the best. Some of them were higher up than I was and that's the reason I never got any more rank than I did.
LP: You mean in the service?
WS: Yes. I was gung-ho, and I wanted to get it over with and I was all for winning the war and getting back. I still think freedom of religion and the four freedoms are great.
LP: In other words, do you think the war at all changed your philosophy or just reinforced what you already thought?
WS: Well, it sure reinforced what I thought, I can tell you that. I didn't know too much. Back then my world was pretty small.
LP: But that little world that you talk about, you went into the war with attitudes and you came out with the same ones?
WS: Right. Get it over with. Get with it. Don't beat around the bush.
LP: Are you glad you served?
WS: Oh you bet. I wouldn't have it any other way.
LP: Have you been active in veteran's affairs since then?
WS: No. I have not been active in veterans affairs. I have been a member of the American Legion. I have been a member of the VFW, but I've dropped all that membership but especially when they let the one group into it, the Merchant Marine into it; that was the end of me and the American Legion. They only did that to swell the ranks. Most of those who went into the Merchant Marines were [doing it for the] money. And they didn't think they'd get shot at much. Them and I don't get along at all.
LP: Do you have any objection to any other groups in the American Legion?
WS: Well, the VFW is a good outfit, I think.
LP: One of the members of the VFW recently told me that he thought for years that there was a lot of prejudice in the VFW. I looked at him a little surprised because he was obviously a white Anglo, in fact kind of a redneck, and he said the reason there was prejudice against him in the VFW was because he was a veteran of the Vietnam War which they didn't consider a war.
WS: Vietnam?that was terrible.
LP: You don't have any feeling like that against Vietnam veterans?
WS: Oh, no. It was terrible. Those guys deserve everything.
LP: I was really surprised when he told me there was prejudice against him in the VFW because he was in the Vietnam War and they didn't consider that a genuine war.
WS: The same thing with Korea. One of them was to stop communists. Communism I should say.
LP: Is there anything else that you can think of that you would like to add at this point?
WS: It's been a great life. I've enjoyed it. I thought when I was a kid that I would be very fortunate if I lived to see 2000.
LP: I was the same way I must say.
WS: You know the life expectancy is so much. And what we have done in medicine and what we have done in space. It's terrific. And now these computers and telephones.
LP: I know the answer to this question but I would like to get it on the record. What do you spend most of your time doing now?
WS: Reading nonfiction.
LP: You are one of the biggest history buffs I have ever run into.
WS: The Civil War, that was a terrible war, and I mainly read World War II. The Navy, the Air Forces, the Coast Guard, we were all in it together. We were one big team. I read practically everything I can on World War II, and I've read a lot on Nam. I've read a lot on Korea. I've read quite a bit on the Middle Eastern wars. I've read a lot on the Israeli side of it, too. I've also read a lot on the colored situation. Of course, the 332nd Fighter Group escorted us many times in Italy.
LP: This is the Black group.
WS: Yes, and they were super. They were the cream of the crop. They were proud and they treated them terrible. I'm so glad that we've got equal rights now. They have equal rights even though most people don't think that way, but I do. Look at sports for one thing. They've taken over sports. It's like Harry [Truman] said, ``If you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.''
LP: That's probably a good place for us to stop. Bill, I want to thank you for your interview today and we will see that you get a copy of the transcript and of the tape.
WS: Okay. I'm glad to see you again.
[Interview ends tape 2, side B, count 083.]