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by Lucien Thomas
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|It must have been in late April or early May 1952. Andy, Lombard and I were scheduled to fly a special mission into the extreme northwest corner of Purple 11. The target was a warehouse complex located in a shallow valley beside the railroad tracks. The airplane we generally flew in was out of commission so we settled for "D-Dawg." |
"Brown Nose (D-Dawg)"
|Not wishing to get this story mixed up; I called Andy recently asking if he still remembered the mission. This was his reply: |
"My recollection of that night is hazy because it happened so long ago," he wrote, "We had two warehouses burning in this valley between two ridges of three thousand foot mountains. As we made a final a pass across the area, I looked over my left shoulder to see if there were any trucks between the buildings. I was climbing at the same time and entered the clouds at about the 1500 foot level. I returned to my instruments."
"I noticed that we were about 2800 feet. The airspeed was dropping off rapidly and the altimeter refused to budge."
"I knew we were stalling so I moved the controls. When this had no effect, I realized we were in a hammerhead stall. I had no idea what position the plane was in so I just sucked the control wheel into my gut and hung on. I was so scared that I had an iron grip on the wheel. It was so tight I was firing the forward guns as we dropped out of the loop."
"Just as we reached the peak of the stall, I felt an awful jolt and figured We'd been hit by something fired from the ground. As we pulled out of the dive at 1200 feet I felt the jolt again. I then realized it was the bombs flopping first upside down in the bomb bay and then right side up as we leveled the plane. We leveled out at 1200 feet clear of the clouds and had reversed our direction."
Any gunner looking for a thrill might try sitting upside down in an A-26 gunner's compartment on MIG Alley. I could hear the throb of those big radial engines, the clanking of the bombs as they strained to stay on the bomb shackles, the rattle of ammunition clanging around in half empty cans and the creaking of a very tired aircraft doing its utmost to dodge a silver bullet.
For some unaccountable reason I was oblivious to the vibration and hammering of the forward firing guns. Maybe my subconscious mind told me that all of that was no concern of mine. It was something for Andy to worry about. The only thing holding me in my position was a three-inch lap belt. The headset had disappeared and I had no contact with anyone. When the pass started I had been firing at a gun emplacement on the side of the road. A millisecond later I found myself staring through an empty gun-sight. The G forces pinned me in my seat and I was totally disoriented. For a brief fleeting second I thought that this was the way an air gunner made arrangements to meet his maker.
A deathly silence fell over the aircraft as the G forces diminished. After realizing that we had returned to normal flight, I fished around in the dark until I finally found my headset. In a weak voice, I remember saying; "GOOOOD DAMN. What the hell is going on?" In a subdued voice that I bad never heard him use before, Andy said that we had just done a loop.
We had an anxious but uneventful trip back to K-8. I remember Andy laughingly telling me in debriefing that as he and Lombard were unloading their equipment at K-8, Lombard picked up part of a Dutch Master cigar that had been bitten in two and asked, "Does this belong to you?"
"D-Dawg" never got that long overdue black matte paint job. With its wing spars warped and the fuselage badly twisted, it was classified as beyond repair. It did, however, get the respect it so richly deserved from Andy, Lombard and myself.
-- Lucien Thomas, Gunner
13th Bomb Squadron