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Interview on experiences in World War II

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George Walters: This is a Flint Hills Oral History Project Veterans Series interview with Paul Burris, who resides at 403 South Mechanic in Emporia, Kansas

This is a Flint Hills Oral History Project World War II Veterans Series interview with Paul Laverne Burris, who resides at 403 South Mechanic Street in Emporia, Kansas. The interviewer is George Walters, Professor Emeritus of Business at Emporia State University. Today's date is Friday, May 5, 2006, and the interview is taking place at 403 South Mechanic.

This is tape 1, side A.

George Walters: Paul, let's begin with a sketch of your life before you entered the Armed Forces, when and where you were born, who your parents were, your schooling, and how you fared during the Depression years preceding World War II.

Paul Burris: I was born May 28, '25 in McDonald, Kansas, on a ranch. Outside of that I can't remember anything. There is a young lady who lives there in town that was born three weeks to the day before I was on the same ranch, and the fact of the matter is, she'll have a birthday this coming Sunday and three weeks later, I will have a birthday. At that time she's 81, and than I'll be 81. My dad worked on farms most of his life but they traveled a lot because it seemed like back in those days it was hard to keep a job or make a job. They did go clear to the state of Washington and picked fruit one time. Then they came back to the Hamilton area, and that's where my grandparents on both sides of the family lived. My dad farmed a lot but he also worked in the oil fields down west of Hamilton. He usually had a team of horses that did a lot of dirt work on the roads west of Madison and Hamilton. A lot of my family, the older generations, are buried in Hamilton, although my parents are buried right here in Emporia. There were five boys in the family, and I'm in the middle. Most of the time my mother didn't work, and of course they got married young and did the best they could for the education they had. My dad was a very hard worker, and he expected all us boys to work hard. During the Depression, he did everything he could, but I could never remember going hungry, so evidently we did pretty well. We had to go to school. They [my parents] didn't have much education, but all of us graduated from high school. I didn't go to college. Some of them [my siblings] did. That's mainly the way I was raised.

GW: Where did you graduate from high school?

PB: Emporia, Kansas, 1943. So yes, I graduated. I certainly wasn't a 3.0 student, but I didn't miss too much time. I graduated on the 26th of May. I turned eighteen on the 28th of May, and I went to work for the Santa Fe Track Gang. About that time, sometime in the first month there, I got my draft notice. I actually went to Leavenworth on the 29th of July and took the physical and did all the paperwork and I signed up for the [Army] Air Force and I came home until the 19th of August. And that's when I went and was sent to Amarillo, Texas, for basic training.

GW: We'll back up just a little bit. Did you and your family take much interest in the world developments leading up to the war while you were growing up?

PB: I don't think too much. My dad, I'm sure, talked a lot to his friends. By that time he had gone to work in a filling station. And then he and another guy took it over as partners, and that was out on East Sixth Avenue about where the entrance to Hopkins Manufacturing is. So that's where he was at when I went into service. And I was sure there was a lot of talk, because by that time the rationing was on. He had to be really involved in that because they were only allowed so many gas stamps and so many tires, and as usual [there was] a lot of government paperwork that nobody looked at.

GW: What was the reaction of you and your family to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?

PB: Why I think like most people, we were pretty well shocked. We didn't understand it. We didn't understand how the Japanese could get that close to us and do that much damage, so we were wondering where the watchdogs were.

GW: When you graduated from high school then, you decided to enlist.

PB: No.

GW: You were drafted?

PB: I was drafted. I knew the draft was coming, because at that time about anybody that turned 18 was getting drafted. It took a couple of weeks but they were there.

GW: So you reported to Leavenworth.

PB: You had to report to Leavenworth for a physical and to do the paperwork. If you didn't pass the physical, you were sent home.

GW: Where did you do you basic training?

PB: Amarillo, Texas, and that was fair except, I'll tell you what, we didn't know what was going to happen. You were put in barracks with people you didn't know. We had a drill sergeant who thought he was pretty tough. We did learn to march there, and that's the only time we ever used it probably, except on rare occasions. But most of the time we didn't use all the marching and stuff in the Air Force. One of the things that was a problem in Amarillo was all the dust. You wake up in the morning and see right where you head laid on the pillow because of all the dust. And we learned, just like everybody, KP and all of this type of stuff. I shipped out of there on Thanksgiving Day on a troop train, and we had our first holiday meal on our troop train going from Amarillo Texas, to Harlington, Texas.

GW: Was that the end of your basic training?

PB: Basic training, yes.

GW: Was there anything that really stands out in your memory from your basic training other than the dust on your pillow?

PB: There is one thing that stands out: that sergeant who was so tough. At that particular time, the government was calling permanent personnel, and they were shipping them overseas. This particular sergeant, every time that would come up, he'd go to the hospital, he'd go on sick call. So he never did have to go. He got out of it.

GW: How long was your basic training?

PB: We left Leavenworth on August 19th or about there, and left [Amarillo] on Thanksgiving Day, so that would be in November. I don't remember the exact date at that time; I just know it was Thanksgiving Day.

GW: So just about three months.

PB: Just about three months. Yes.

GW: So where were you assigned then? Where did you go after basic training?

PB: I went to Harlington, Texas, and that's the gunnery school. And then in gunnery school, we actually fired everything from an air rifle to .50 caliber machine guns. And of course .50 caliber machine guns are what we used in the planes. But we had skeet towers, we had trap shoots with shotguns, we had rifles that we fired. We fired out of an airplane into a target. We flew out over the bay down there a lot and firing at targets on the water. We had all kind of training in gunnery school.

GW: Then after gunnery school?

PB: After gunnery school I came home on leave, and that was in January of '44. And that's when the wife and I got married, January of '44. When I left there, I went to Salt Lake City, Utah, for reassignment, and I was assigned to Casper, Wyoming, as a replacement tail gunner on a B-24. I met the crew. They were already together so I missed the first two phases of training. I was the youngest person on the plane, and the oldest person was ten years older than me. So we had quite a crew. They were all diverse. We had two people on that crew, the radio operator and the armament man, they'd fight any time one of them dropped a quarter. In fact, one night we were standing on the flight line waiting to go up and one said for fifty cents, he'd poke him in the nose, so he threw him fifty cents and the fight was on. One night there were nineteen crews out on the flight line to fly and we had one plane that would go up in the air. One night (in the wintertime) snow kind of started to come in, and we had a cross-country flight to Amarillo, Texas, Denver, Colorado, and back to Casper. As soon as we left Casper the radio operator lost contact with the base. The only place they could get was Hamilton, California, Hamilton Air Force Base in California. We made the flight to Amarillo and Denver and then back to Casper, Wyoming, and it was snowing and as soon as we hit the ground, his radio made contact and the base was supposed to be closed. But we came in in the snow.

GW: Just got in under the wire.

PB: That's right.

GW: You were mentioning your crew. How many crew members on the B-24?

PB: There were four officers and six non-commissioned officers. The officers were pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier. And then we had of course the nose-gunner, both waist gunners, the belly gunner, the top-turret gunner, and the tail gunner.

GW: Which one were you?

PB: Tail gunner. I was the tail gunner on a B-24.

GW: Were other members of the crew from different parts of the country? Were any of them from Kansas?

PB: No, nobody from Kansas. One of my best friends was from St. Michael, Minnesota. One fellow was from Baltimore. The pilot I believe was from somewhere in the New York area. The bombardier was definitely New York. The co-pilot I believe was from Michigan. There was one fellow from Illinois and there was one fellow from New Jersey. One man I don't remember where he was from, quite frankly.

GW: How long did you train there?

PB: We trained there until about somewhere around the first of May, and we were transported to Topeka, Kansas, to Forbes Air Base. We were there about a week and we picked up a new airplane, and we flew that airplane to England. We went by way of Goose Bay, Labrador, and Iceland, and we landed in the England and they just took the new airplane and we were sent to a reassignment base. One of the things that happened as we were landingwe were coming into Icelandthere were several planes coming in and I think only one tower control person and he just couldn't control them. So they just took over themselves, it looked like. We never knew if we were going to make it in, but we did make it safe. But it sounded like some of them were going the wrong direction and just everything. Chaos, you know.

When we got to the reassignment base in England, we got stuck there a little longer than we planned on. We were supposed to be there two or three days and then be reassigned. Well, we'd been there about five days, and somehow, this radio operator and the armament man made it into town, and of course they made it to a bar. And they got into a fight. One guy hit the other one over the head with a beer bottle. Well, when he came back to the base, when he got to the gate, MPs took him to the infirmary to be sewed up. And he told the doctor there that he made a better harness maker than a doctor. So they put him under house arrest. Well, it seemed as if no one knew where our pilot was except the co-pilot. And our pilot was some place out partying all this time. We were sitting there waiting to get out, but he's partying. That got him back in a hurry. Then we were assigned to Bungay, England. That's where the 446th Bomb Group was. One of the things while we were at this base, there were these guys out there playing ball and stuff, and these fighter planes were buzzing the place all the time. A P-47 came down through there and took the top off the flagpole. So that stopped the buzzing for awhile.

GW: Somebody was having fun.

PB: Somebody was having fun. I was assigned to the 446th Bomb Group in Bungay, England. We arrived there sometime right at the end of May and started flying missions into Germany and France. Every morning that you were to fly, you were given a time to go to the briefing room. You were supposed to be there. And every time there would be a map up on the wall, but it had a shade pulled down on it. And we would go look behind the shade, and they would have a string fastened there that showed you what route you were taking and where you were going on that bomb run. On the 6th of June [1944], which was D-Day, when we went there, there was no string. Instead of getting some captain or major to brief us, we got the top colonel. He came in and told us that was D-Day and that we would fly. The way they had it set up, there were six planes in each flight, and there were three flights across, which meant there were eighteen planes in the front. We were on the right flight over D-Day. We were the first flight over D-Day. And we were told we would probably fly another mission that day. Instead of the one, we would go two, bombing the coast.

GW: What was your assignment for the mission?

PB: We were to bomb the coast. I'm going to tell you exactly what it says right here our assignment was. It says, ``Field Order number 328 from Second Division.'' It spelled it out [and was] the longest, most detailed field order ever sent. The 2nd, 14th, 20th, our wing and the 98th were to provide over 100 aircraft each. They were directed to fly over their targets in six craft flights. Once there, they were to drop their bombs and fly out. There were to be no second runs, which meant they couldn't fly over and then come back. If they didn't drop the bombs, they couldn't come back around and do it. It was one-way traffic. So it was drop your bombs and get out. If a plane was hit and had mechanical troubles, the pilots were directed to crash land straight ahead. One of the things that I thought they told us at first [was that we might] be flying a second run, but they cancelled that out because I thought they said the troops moved in too far. But as I understand what happened was somewhere in there, the bombardiers were directed to hold their drops about thirty seconds. But doing that was a big mistake; they actually dropped the bombs about two to three miles in. They didn't hit right at the coast. So we didn't damage the Germans as much as we thought we were going to right there. In fact, right in here, it tells you Eisenhower took all blame for that, and it's in his papers up there at the Eisenhower [Library] about this. They actually should have dropped them when they [originally intended]. Now I would say one thing, as we were flying over the Channel, you couldn't see much because of the cloud cover, but now and then, there would be a hole in the cloud cover, and it looked like you could walk on boats all the way across that channel. There were that many craft there.

GW: That's amazing.

PB: That's amazing. It really is. And from there on, once they got a foothold, the troops moved a little faster. But we lost a lot of people on that landing.

GW: Did you lose any planes out of your eighteen that day?

PB: I think we lost not a one. There wasn't that much interferencenot many [German] fighter planes because the U.S. had a lot of fighter planes in the air that day too, escorts, because it wasn't that far across that Channel. But no, we didn't lose any.

GW: You didn't fly that second flight that day?

PB: We didn't fly that second flight that day because they cancelled it. And I think the reason they cancelled it was because if we'd tried to drop close to the coast, we would have been too close to the troops. We would have probably taken out some troops. It was that confusion of the first run that I think caused them the problems.

GW: And there were probably lots of other squadrons flying sorties that day, too?

PB: Sure. What did we have? I said we had one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and so there would be forty-two planes in our group.

GW: Just in your group?

PB: In our group, yes.

GW: Were there B-17s flying?

PB: I have no idea. We didn't have anything to do with B-17s. I'm sure there were. It's a long coast. You just didn't go in in one. But this was the first flight in on that day.

GW: Now was this your first mission?

PB: Oh, no. This was about our fifth. And we flew ten missions. We were done on our tenth.

GW: On some of your other missions, did ever get any flak?

PB: Oh, yes. The thing was, you usually got your flak on your bomb run, and once you got on your bomb run, the pilot could not vary the route. He couldn't take evasive action, go up and down. He had to stay on the bomb run, and flak got pretty close to you at those times because they'd figured out your altitude and your speed. Luckily, we didn't get hit. But most of the time, yes, there was quite a bit of flak up there. I don't know whether you know, but the fighter planes could only go so far because of their gasoline capacity. So a lot of times they couldn't go all the way in. And I remember one flight we made down in southern France to take out a big bridge. We got one bomb on the bridge, a pretty good sized bomb, but the rest went in the river.

They took our bombardier away from us when we got over there because they didn't have bombardiers in all planes. They didn't have enough parasights for all the planes, so they'd take the bombardier and put him where they could. That plane was shot down. So we did lose that man that trained with us at Casper. His name was Fletcher. And I believe he was from New York. Most of the time, we would just use a toggalier, and that was our nose gunner. All he did was somebody dropped the bombs in front of him and he pushed the switch and dropped the bombs.

GW: Did you lose any other planes from your 446th bomb group?

PB: Not that day, no I don't believe we lost any.

GW: But during the course of the time you were there?

PB: Oh, yes, we lost other planes in there. We had couple run out of fuel just before they got to the airfield and crash landed. We were coming back one time, and there was a plane looked like it had all the windows out of it except the front window, and the pilot was flying it, and the bomb bay doors were flapping in the wind. But he had four good engines and was on the way home. There were planes lost, sure. In fact, several.

GW: Describe this B-24 that you flew. Was it a real workhorse bomber?

PB: The B-24 was builtsome called it a boxcar. We called it the Liberator. The B-24 was a big four-engine twin tail, not a twin tail but twin fins on the back. Four engines. The plane we had had a ball turret gunner on the bottom, the tail turret on the back, and the nose gunner was a turret, which meant they could turn, and rest of them were stationary. The B-24 could go a further distance and [carry] a bigger bomb load than the B-17. So that's what it was built for, yes.

GW: What was the maximum bomb load?

PB: That I don't know. We carried a lot of 500-pound bombs with several in there. At times it seemed like the pilot was never going to get it off the ground, but they did usually. [It] took a long runway for them.

GW: What was the longest flight mission that you ever flew on?

PB: Some place into Germany. We were on the longest flight I believe when we went down. We didn't crash land or anything, but at that time we were headed for the Politz Oil Field, which was way up in northern Germany.

GW: What were some of your other targets?

PB: Mainly factories, oil fields, supply depots, that type. Anything that would take out part of the war machine, especially to aid the ground troops.

GW: You indicated you had fighter cover part of the way on a lot of the flights but they couldn't go all the way.

PB: A lot of the time they couldn't go all the way because of their gasoline. They didn't have a big enough supply of gasoline. They'd go as far as they could and still make it back.

GW: Once they had to leave, did you ever have [enemy] fighters come in?

PB: Oh, yes, a couple of times. And I'm sure they might have taken out a plane or two, but they never did get really close. A lot of those flights, those German planes would fly right through the formation. But we didn't have any of that when I was there.

GW: So you didn't get to shoot down a fighter?

PB: We got to shoot at. We didn't shoot down. That's right.

GW: What were the German fighters? Do you remember a description of the plane?

PB: No, no I don't. At the time, I would have, but my memory's not that good on it now. So I do not know.

GW: Did any of the members of your crew get wounded?

PB: No.

GW: Your plane was a lucky one, then.

PB: The plane was lucky and we did not get wounded.

GW: Was your B-24 named?

PB: No.

GW: You didn't have a silhouette?

PB: We'd never put a name on it. In fact, that plane that led the division on D-Day was named [#429562 Red Ass with Jacob Bogger & Charlie Ryan].

[Tape 1, side B.]       

PB: Getting into formation from the time [the plane] took off from the base took an awful lot of time, because you would fly from one radio station to another. Because you had a load of bombs, you just couldn't climb up 25,000, 30,000 feet in a hurry. So a lot of time it took over an hour to get a formation going when you were going on a bomb run. Of course they allowed for this. A couple of times, we'd have a plane that would lose an engine, and when you lost an engine with a load of bombs, you'd drop way down. And it'd take quite a while to climb back up. If you got the engine running, it'd take you quite a while to get back up into the altitude that the flight was in and get into formation. They allowed a lot of time for that, but once they got up in formation, then you were headed for your target. And you may not go straight to the target. You may fly in a diagonal direction someplace, but once you got on that bomb run, you stayed on that bomb run. And once you dropped the bombs, you'd take any evasive action that you wanted to. You could go up, you could go down, you could turn either direction. But you liked to stay pretty close to the flight because [with] the formation you had all that protection. If you got singled out, you didn't have all that protection.

GW: Describe your last flight and where you went down.

PB: I would mention one other thing. One time we went on a mission, just a short mission into France. Our bombs didn't drop, so the armament man got out into the bomb bay, trying to figure out how to get the bombs out, and the pilot said, ``Where is the armament man?'' Somebody said, ``He's out there trying to get the bombs to go.'' And he said, ``Get him out! We're flying over England!'' [Laughter.] So anyway, the last flight we took off. We were going to the Politz Oil Field which was up over in northern Germany. At that, we lost an engine, and he [the pilot] got it started. Of course we dropped down out of formation. We were up over the North Sea. Then we lost the engine again, and he didn't get it started. Carrying that big of a bomb load, he elected to head for Sweden, which was only about 90 miles away. So we dropped the bombs out into the ocean and headed for Sweden, and we landed in Malmo, Sweden, which is a neutral country. So we were internees.

GW: What does that mean?

PB: That means you're not in enemy territory. That's a neutral country; they can take anybody in they want to. They didn't treat you like prisoners.

GW: After you landed thenevidently [it was] somewhat of a crash landing?

PB: No, they landed. Once they got rid of the bombs, they could fly better with three engines. But it was the fact that we had the bomb load. We weren't going to make it to Politz. And that was on June the 20, 1944.

GW: And then after you landed in Sweden, how long were you there?

PB: That was in June, and we went out approximately the first of November. And I can tell you what it says right here. It says, ``Group bombed the synthetic oil plant in Politz with the actual results. And three crews were lost in this deep penetration above Stettin.'' There are the names of the three, and one of them they name is Paul J. Pincus, and that was my pilot. And it says, ``Two weeks later, all personnel, except SSgt. Paul L. Burris of 2nd Lieut. Pincus' crew, were reported by the division officer to have landed with their plane safely in Malmo, Sweden.'' Now I don't know where I was at. I was with the crew. But that's what it says in there. They reported me still missing. We stayed there, and about the first month, we were in kind of like a concentration camp, but not much going on. They weren't mistreating us or anything.

GW: That was a neutral country.

PB: Later the air attaché came and got us, and they made us put on civilian clothes. And so we had to get civilian clothes, and wear those all the time. There were some German soldiers there, and they kept wearing their uniforms. We were close to them, but we hadn't seen them. And we were fed good. Some of the food was a little different, but we were well fed. After about a month, we were moved into a little old town, in a hotel. Now the officers weren't with us. This was only the non-commissioned officers who were put there. We had no idea where the officers went. In fact, we didn't see them after that. I understood they were in Stockholm. This fellow from Minnesota that was ten years older than me in the crew, he and I got to be real close friends. In fact, he is the only person that I kept in contact with, except there was one of the waist gunners; he was from Baltimore, and he was always happy-go-lucky. But he died a young man. So we kept in contact with him for a while before he died. (This guy in Minnesotain fact his wife is still living, and we got an Easter card from her, and she's in a rest home up there.) But we were treated well.

GW: How long were you in Sweden then before you [left]?

PB: Well, we went down in June and came out of there the first of November. The way they did that, they came and got us one day and said, ``You're leaving.'' They loaded us onto a bus and took us to a place close to Stockholm, and we were just in a kind of a barracks there. The next morning they loaded us on B-24s. They had taken the bomb bays out, put in wooden benches, and we had two pilots in each plane, and they said we were going with the grace of God and cloud cover. And we flew back to England. There we picked up uniforms again. [My brother, Hugh, was in England when I got there. By the time he found where I was and got leave to come over, he found that I was ``Missing in Action.'' He did gather up my belongings that hadn't disappeared already. It wasn't uncommon for someone to go through your things if you didn't return after a mission. The chaplain tried to get there first to rescue your things, but he wasn't always fast enough.]

GW: Was the war over?

PB: No, the war wasn't over yet, but we were over being in combat. We were sent back to the United States, and that was an interesting trip because first of all we were de-briefed in England. And then we were designated ``Return to the United States.'' We got to the Azore Islands and we were taken off the plane because of a USO troop. We were replaced by a USO troop. We were told not to take our shoes off at night because somebody would steal them. So we slept with our shoes on. We were put on a list, and if they had room, you went. And I got right at the top of the list, but they'd always start at the bottom. After two days of that, an officer came around and he said, ``What are you doing here?'' And I said, ``Well, I haven't got a ride out yet.'' Pretty soon he said, ``I got you a ride.'' And I came back to the United States on a mail plane by myself, riding with the mail, until we got to Newfoundland. When we got to Newfoundland, they loaded the plane with Christmas trees. And they flew those to Presque Isle, Maine, which is nothing but Christmas trees. We landed in Presque Isle, Maine. And from Presque Isle, Maine, I got on a train, went to Boston and then just kept making connections until I got back to Emporia, Kansas.

GW: And discharged?

PB: No.

GW: No?

PB: Not there. We still weren't discharged. I was sent to San Diego, California, after about two weeks stay in Emporia. This was around Thanksgiving [of 1944]. I was sent to San Diego for reassignment. I was sent to Amarillo, Texas, again to go to aircraft mechanics' school. One of the interesting things that happened when I got to Amarillo, Texas, this drill sergeant that we had when we went to basic training was still there, but he was now a private and he was working in the kitchen. They never did catch him to ship him out, but they broke him from sergeant to private. By that time, I'm a staff sergeant, so I'm enjoying it. [Laughter.]

GW: Why did they break him?

PB: All of this that he was going to sick bay all the time when he was coming up for shipment out. They finally got tired of that and they broke him down to private and [put him] on permanent kitchen personnel.

GW: So how long were you then at Amarillo?

PB: Long enough to go through that school. My wife came down there. By that time, she had bought a car. Probably, well, I went there in the winter time so I probably left there some time in early spring, I know.

GW: That's fine.

PB: Then I was reassigned to A-26 Specialist School at Long Beach, California, so we were driving to California. We hadn't got too many miles until we lost a tire. Tires were rationed. There weren't any new ones. We bought a recap. We got out to New Mexico and we lost two tires. So we were out of tires. We stopped at a farmhouse there and there was a young man that offered to buy the car. And we sold him that car and found out later that since we were on government orders, we could have gotten tires. But we didn't know that. There were a lot of dumb things. We were young [and] pretty stupid. So he took us to town, we got the train and from there we went to Long Beach, California. I went to A-26 Specialist School, and my wife found a job at a restaurant there she could walk to, and I hitchhiked out to the base most of the time. That's the way I got out there and went to A-26 Specialist School.

GW: What is A-26 Specialist School?

PB: That's a fighter plane. A-26 dual, it's a dual engine, light bomber. Then I was assigned back to Forbes Air Base, and at Forbes Air Base I was working on B-32s. It got to the place that they weren't even taking those out, so all we were doing was going through it. You had to pull the props, and what that meant was the engine was a rotary engine and the oil would get down into the bottom of the cylinder, so you'd go out every morning and pull the props to keep the oil from settling down there, which was a tough job, because we weren't doing anything.

Well, first of all, when the war was over in Europe, I was in Amarillo, Texas, and of course there was a big celebration there, and then when the war was over in Japan, I happened to be at Forbes. So of course [there was] lots of free beer and stuff like that going at that time at the PXs. I was discharged on the 15th of November, 1945 at Lincoln, Nebraska. We had to go to Lincoln because that was a discharge center. I didn't have transportation, so I bummed a ride with some of the guys going up there. I got a ride up there and a ride back to Topeka, which was good. At that time, they did offer you [he chance] to stay in the reserves, which I should have taken, but I didn't. But we were offered the chance to stay.

GW: What was your highest rank?

PB: Staff sergeant.

GW: Why did you decide not to reenlist?

PB: I think mainly family. I thought it would be better out working some place, which I found out wasn't as easy as it sounded.

GW: What were some of the medals or citations that you earned?

PB: Well, of course the Good Conduct Medal, which most people got; the Air Medal, and a Victory Medal, that's some of them. And I don't think there's anything else that I know of.

GW: The Air Medal meant what?

PB: Well, 8th Air Force Air Medal, and then I think a combat medal too.

GW: While you were overseas and flying the missions and all, did you have much contact with your family back here?

PB: Well, we could write letters to them, and they had the V-mail. We did get letters from them. Now all of our letters were censored, both ways. And our co-pilot was the one that censored our mail. We didn't have much contact with the pilot at any time outside of flying. We had a lot of contact with the co-pilot.

GW: How was the food while you were over there?

PB: Well, sometimes all right, but most of the time, not too good, and I can tell you one thing, I don't think I've eaten orange marmalade since I came back. That was the worst stuff you ever had. They must have contracted with somebody to get rid of all that stuff. It was bad. But most of the timeyou know. Very frankly, I'm not a particular eater. I can eat a lot of things. I didn't have too much trouble with food.

GW: Did you have any R&R time during you missions?

PB: No.

GW: Or in between?

PB: No. We didn't. We were either just off for the day or a couple of days right there at the barracks. Whatever they had assigned, you know, that's what we did.

GW: What were your barracks like?

PB: Well, like I said before, a little tough to get sleep at times because of all the noise in there. But mainly it wasn't too bad. Actually two of the people on my crew [and I] got pretty close. So we had a pretty good time over there, I mean as far as keeping each other going, yes. The man from Minnesota [and I] remained friends until he died. They'd come here. We'd go there. And his wife still lives up there.

GW: Did you have any leave time while you were overseas?

PB: No leave time. I didn't get leave time until I got back here. I had those two leaves, the one when I got home from gunnery school when I got married, and the one when I got back from overseas. That was the leave time we had.

GW: What did you think of some of the leaders at that time? I know you mentioned Eisenhower, but Truman, Roosevelt?

PB: Well, you know, as far as we were concerned, the main ones were our officers. But we had no problem with Roosevelt or Truman, as far as personal problems or anything like that. I know you asked about some of the others, but Eisenhower we thought was a great leader. He was going to make mistakes, but remember there were some English leadersMontgomery.

GW: What did you think of some of the Germans, let's say high command?

PB: Well, really not too much. The main thing was Hitler that everyone was after. I think that was the main thing, just to get to Hitler and some of those SS troops or whatever they were, because they were the worst. We'd hear a lot of stories about prisoner of war camps and stuff like this. We definitely didn't want to get in there. A lot of the air crews that had to bail out were shot right in their parachutes. We were always thankful we didn't have to bail out. A lot of good friends from home escaped out of enemy territory after they went down with the aid of a lot of people that they met as they went along. They wouldn't have made it if they hadn't had the aid of people. One of them was Donald Brown, who used to live here in Emporia, had Brown Floral. And he walked and crawled quite a ways just to get out of the two countries. But he flew out of African territory.

GW: You indicated you were discharged at Lincoln, Nebraska.

PB: Right.

GW: And then came back to Emporia. What did you do in the days and weeks immediately following when you got home?

PB: We started looking for a job, and jobs were hard to find. My two brothers just got home, o we were all looking for jobs. My brother older than me had a girlfriend in Hoisington, and he went out to open a jewelry store because he had been a watchmaker, so I went to work with him out there in Hoisington. And then I went to watchmakers school, which I hated. I did not like it. The school was in Albany, Missouri.

GW: Did you use the G.I. Bill for any of that schooling?

PB: For that, yes.

GW: For the watchmaking school.

PB: Yes, and that was it.

GW: Did you use it for any other purposes?

PB: No.

GW: What did you think of the G.I. Bill at that time?

PB: Well, I think the G.I. Bill was one of the greatest things that happened, because it helped a lot of people get an education and it helped them get a lot of jobs. It put a lot of economy back into the United States. I think it was great. I think it was a great move. And I kind of wished I'd used it more, but I didn't. I don't have any regrets.

GW: Okay, after watchmakers school then, what did you do?

PB: Well, I came back there to Hoisington and stayed for awhile. My wife started beauty school down here. After she got out of beauty school we went back to Hoisington for a short time, but by then we had two girls. And we decided to come back here [to Emporia], and at that particular time, I went to work for Litke-Stevens Furniture Company. He was the Frigidaire dealer. That was only temporary. My dad had opened a filling station out right where Bob's Tire Recap is. I went to work for him. And then in 1950, at Thanksgiving, Ralph Stevens came and offered me a job, and I went back to work for Stevens Furniture, Litke-Stevens, which later became Stevens Furniture. And I worked there until 1971 when we went in [to business] for ourselves, and for about not quite fourteen years. Then we sold out to Hill's, and stayed with Hill's for about twenty years. If I would have stayed from the end of September until Thanksgiving, I would have been 54 years in downtown Emporia.

GW: So you were in the appliance business yourself before you sold out to Hill's Appliance?

PB: Yes.

GW: Then you were there?

PB: About nineteen years.

GW: You were their repairman?

PB: Yes, right. Down there in the service shop and stuff like that. Later years all I did was work in the office and the repair shop.

GW: I know you serviced a lot of our appliances.

PB: Yes I did, all over town, in fact. But then when I couldn't get up and down, couldn't see as well, it was time to get out.

GW: How many children did you have then?

PB: We had seven children, all good ones. The kids all get along real well.

GW: Do most of them live in this area?

PB: Oh, no. None of them live right here in town. One lives at Admire, one lives in Olpe. I've got a boy in Kansas City and a girl down at Kimberling City, Missouri, right by Branson. I have a son who's a pharmacist down in southeast Kentucky and a son that lives in Pennsylvania. And then I have a son down at Davis, Oklahoma, who works for the YMCA. He's been with camping ever since he was in high school. We've got real good kids.

GW: Since you've been in Emporia, I know you've been active in the American Legion. Tell us a little about that.

PB: I started out especially with the drum corps. I wasn't a musician, but I was the quartermaster, and I traveled with the drum corps. And this was back in the days when they traveled a lot, went to a lot of national conventions and stuff. And then I became commander of the Legion back in about 1962-63, and I've been active ever since. I mainly worked the bingo, but here lately I haven't done anything because I've spent too much time in the hospital. But I really believe in the Legion because I think it's a good organization. I believe in the VFW. I belong to the VFW. And I think we need them to protect some of our younger people, too. I think now we're going to have a lot of people coming in through vets.

GW: How long were you commander?

PB: Just one year.

GW: Just one year.

PB: That's enough. One year's enough.

GW: Now your wife's name is?

PB: Her name is Ilene, and that's spelled I-L-E-N-E, that is not the other way.

GW: And she's involved?

PB: She's been in the Auxiliary at the Legion fifty years. She's been president of the Auxiliary several times. And she still likes it. Yes, she's real active there. She was the Registrar of Deeds in Emporia for quite a while.

GW: How do you think your wartime service affected your later life?

PB: We grew up a lot. That's the main thing. You grew up a lot.

[Tape 2, side A.]

PB: [Young people] know everything, and I can guarantee they don't know very much at all. And I [didn't]. I was green when I went in the service. The only thing I'd learned to do was work. Growing up in a family of five boys you learn how to work from the beginning. And I think that's one of the things we instilled in our kids, you had to work to get someplace. Hard workers.

GW: How has the wartime service affected the way you think about America's role in the world today?

PB: Well, I have mixed feelings with that. I am not too sold now that we should have gone into the war [in Iraq]. I'm not against it. I'm certainly not against the troops. I would say that I think there've been a lot of mistakes made there. I think we've lost a lot of people we shouldn't have lost, and when they make remarks like, well, you have a lot of young people killed in accidents all the time, I don't think that's a comparison. I think that's kind of a stupid statement to make. I don't think we have enough real, honest politicians. I think the political system has got too far out one way or the other. I'm not talking about either side. I'm talking about both sides. I think we can do a lot better with a lot less. I think now, with like the gasoline situation, etc. as it isI went to fill up my car this morning: $46.35. For what we make, that's a lot of money. [But] my wife and I survive okay. After 62 years of marriage, we get along. We sure had a lot of fun, I'll tell you that.

GW: Good. Well, Paul, we're just about at the end of the interview. As you think back over what we've talked about, is there anything else you'd like to add or say at this time?

PB: At this time, no, but once I get the transcript, I'm sure there'll be some things I want to add. I've been thinking about the questionnaires that you brought. When you're running this back, you kind of wonder about some of the things. But I'm certain there's a lot of things in there that I know that I didn't get in. Now then, hopefully when I see the transcript, it will bring back some more memories and I can add some. But right at the present, no.

GW: Okay, very good.

PB: Because I'm going to have to go back over what we said to decide what we didn't cover.

GW: Right, right. That will be fine.

PB: How long before [the transcript is ready]?

GW: I'll hold that. But anyway, thanks, Paul. I surely enjoyed visiting with you, and it's been a good interview. We appreciate you taking the time to do this.

PB: Well, thanks, George, for coming down, and it's good talking to you.

[Interview ends tape 2, side A, count 46.]

Item Description

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