B-24 “Miss Yankee Rebel”

 

Staff Sergeant Eugene A LaScotte 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Eugene LaScotte left us in June of 2001. This compilation was written by one of his daughters that fall. He was not the type of person that would have appreciated a story about himself, but over the years she was able to get the following information from him. 

I

t seemed like he was always afraid.  He woke up with fear in his stomach and it didn’t leave him all day.  He hid his dread by joking with the other guys on the B-24.  It was his mom’s birthday, June 28th 1944 and he would learn later that his mom-almost telepathically – sensed that something was wrong with her son, a nose-gunner in the Air Force, an ocean and a world away in the sky above Bulgaria.                                                                                 Within a week she would receive a telegram informing her that her son was missing in action. The droning noise of the engine was constant inside the hard plastic bubble at the front of the plane’s nose.  He kept his eyes trained on the horizon and tried to stretch in his cramped position. He strained to see through the foggy plastic. 
                                                                                                      

 He laughed sardonically as he recalled that day he and his two brothers had signed up for the Army Air Corps right after Pearl Harbor.

“These windows are bullet proof,” the recruiter promised.

What a shock for him to latter see a bomber window that was smashed by young child with a rock! That seemed so long ago.  He’d been with the 828th Bomber Group for 19 missions and today’s mission was to bomb the oil refinery and storage facilities at Bucharest, Romania.

It was 10 a.m. and they were flying at 23,000 feet above Bucharest. Suddenly they were hit and they were going down.  Being in the nose he could not wear a parachute.  He quickly left the nose and suited up.  The phones were out and the waist gunners sent him to check with the pilot.

Crew  (15th Air Force, 485th Bomb Group, 828th Bomb Squadron)

          (This picture was taken the morning of their final flight)

Front Row:  J. Crouchley, pilot; W. Hollowell, bombardier; J. Wilson, navigator; W. Hays co-pilot;,
Rear Row:  A. Perillo, right gunner; T. Langstaff, tail gunner; E. LaScotte, nose turret gunner; D. Turner,  engineer / gunner; W. Vanmeer, radio officer/ gunner

 “What are our chances?” he asked the pilot.

“It’s badly damaged.  When I released the controls it spun. We’re losing altitude and we’re 500 feet above a mountain.  I think we have about 10 to 15 minutes before we’ll have to jump, maybe I can get us over Yugoslavia.”

The radio man, lower ball gunner and two waist gunners bailed out through the camera hatch.  The pilot, Lieutenant Crouchley, was standing at the controls in the cockpit, unhurt.  He was maintaining the plane by cross controlling with the stick and rudders.

“Are you coming?” Copilot Hayes asked the pilot, “Jump!

“Yes.” Crouchley answered.

They were directly over Bucharest when they were hit.  Weeks earlier they’d been given a pamphlet of ‘do’s and don’ts’ with their chutes.  The nose-gunner was happy he had taken the time to read it.  He began to tremble when suddenly the Bombay doors opened below him and the guys screamed “Jump!” The co-pilot, engineer and navigator bailed out with him through the Bombay doors.  He stepped into nothingness and let the quiet take him.  All men except the pilot had bailed out over Bulgaria.

He felt cold wind on his face and his collar slapped him.  He twirled a few times and then was jerked hard and straight up as the parachute deployed.  Now his fall was slowed and began to look below and wonder how many guns were trained on him.

 

He broke his right foot on the landing, and hobbled to a stream to ease the pain in the cold water.  For the rest of his life he would have pain in the arch of his right foot and for years he would limp.  He saw his plane hit the side of a mountain.  He needed to hide.  The hot summer heat beat down on him, and the trees were thick with leaves.  He walked along the stream for a short distance before the enemy, who had spotted his descending chute, caught up with him.  They marched him through the small town to the POW prison and the fear inside was screaming in his ears. The townspeople wanted to kill him.

“You dropped bombs on us! You kill us!”

Of course, this was all true, but the frightened soldier shook his head no. This infuriated the townspeople because in Bulgaria a shake of the head “No” means “Yes.”  He was thankful to be flanked by the enemy soldiers and separated from the citizens who spat at him.

Latter, he heard confirmation from copilot Hayes in the POW camp, that the plane struck the ground at Plodiv, Bulgaria.  The copilot had also seen the plane go into the side of the mountain.  The pilot didn’t make it; he had given his life so that the men on his flight could safely jump.  The guys who had jumped with the nose gunner were soon captured and also taken to the camp.

“The food here is a little scarce,” he joked with the other Americans.

“Have you noticed the flies in everything? And the bread is bad?”

            The prisoners were fed watery soup once each day and a chunk of hard bread.  At first they picked the flies out of the soup, but latter they ate the flies to get some protein in their diet.  They slept in one large barrack.  Most of the men slept on the ground, but some had cots.  Their heads were all shaved because of lice. The guards, who were mostly young men, were nice and gave the prisoners clothing to replace their clothes as they became tattered.  When the Red Cross supplies came through there was soap. Surprisingly, the guards did not take the supplies to sell on the black market.

            It had been three months and the soldier now weighed less then 115 pounds and at five feet eight inches, he was 50 pounds to light.  Latter, he would lose vision in his right eye because of malnutrition.

            Fear didn’t leave him.  He was so sure death was near, that he acted brave. When they interrogated him, he’d stand at attention and give no information.  He knew all they could do is kill him.  Kill him!

            His release came as the Russians began pushing back the Germans.  They dressed the Americans as Turkish soldiers and took them by plane to Turkey, and then onto Cairo, Egypt.  

From there they went up to Italy for rest and relaxation near Mt Vesuvius.  After another stop in Florida, the soldier was eventually flown home to Minnesota and safety.  The fear was over.

For years he would not fly or want to return to Europe. He did not talk about the war or his part in it. He married, had six children and lived a peaceful life.  The fear was over.

 

POW’s Arriving in Egypt after being released September 1944,

from the POW camp at Shumen, Bulgaria 

            But we all know that the world changes.  Enemies become allies.  Lands that belong to enemies become vacation spots.  

Forty years latter the nose-gunner made a pilgrimage to the land that he bombed and took his wife and children.  He still remembered some of the words he learned while a POW and he spoke with the children living there now.

Ironically, 60 years later his oldest grandchild went with The Carpenter’s Tools on a missionary trip through the very land of his imprisonment. She also followed her grandfather when she gave herself up to the air, and jumped at 13,000 feet, to celebrate her 21st birthday above the hills in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Her life and all the lives in the nose gunner’s family and all the lives descending from the other men in that doomed B-24, are owed to the brave pilot who gave nine men time to jump on that last flight.

Lieutenant John “Dud” Crouchley, Pilot

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