by Vince Alessi
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|I remember that shortly before the Commies ack-ack shell hit us I spotted a mighty machine gun in the valley. It was peppering away at us. I grinned a little, although I haven't ever been the grinning type when anybody is shooting at me.
We were on a night mission and had been raising hell in the valley. We knocked off three trucks and some boxcars and had blown five warehouses sky high, leaving nothing but the ashes.
The Reds were mad and were gunning for us. They threw flak from all over the place from about 15 emplacements.
|But Johnny, the pilot, First Lt. John Grubbs of Brooksville, Florida and Brooks the gunner, Sgt. Earl Brooks of Birmingham, Alabama were giving it back to them.
The two of them had just knocked out four Commie guns, blowing up the ammo, when Johnny wheeled the plane around and went into a dive, heading for another gun emplacement.
Then it happened.
|There was a blinding orange flash in front of us when the shell exploded and I heard Johnny yell, but he kept going in on the target until the gun position blew up.
I heard him yell on the intercom, "I'm hit. It's all yours. We got to get back to the field. I can't see."
I looked over and the whole side of his face was covered with blood. His eyes were swollen shut. I used my handkerchief to help slow the flow of blood. Meanwhile all Johnny kept saying was, "We gotta get back to the field. Gotta get back to the field."
When I looked the cockpit over I found a 20 mm shell had entered the plane right in front of me, tearing an eight-inch hole in the Plexiglas canopy. It passed through to the left where it exploded, about three feet from me and right over Johnny. I wasn't touched.
From where I sat in the navigator's seat I couldn't reach the controls. The cockpit was so confining it was impossible to get Johnny out of his seat and trade places with him. Brooks couldn't help because the bomb bay blocked his way to the cockpit.
Then, to make matters worse, I found that the regular aircraft radio was out. I took off my chute so I could reach a small emergency radio and contact a field.
I told them what happened to us but I could barely receive them.
Meanwhile, Johnny, who was semi-conscious but couldn't see the instruments, had veered the plane to the left and we were heading deeper into enemy territory.
Then over and over again I began to repeat through the interphone to Johnny our altitude and air speed and directions. His reaction was almost automatic and pretty soon we were back on course.
One time, on the way back, one of the engine tanks ran out of gas and Johnny automatically switched to another tank.
We kept this up for about an hour - me continuously giving instructions over the interphone and Johnny doing the flying.
When we got over our homefield we knew the hardest part of the trip - landing - was in front of us.
We made the pattern over the field and began to let down. The first time we were too high to land so we went around.
I felt like a GCA (ground control approach) operator in the front seat as I talked his approach to the ground.
I kept directing him - "You're a little too low ... a little too much speed ... a little to the left ... give her the right rudder .... now a little too high ... get the nose down ... just a little more.
Then we were on the ground but it was a long landing and the end of the strip was coming up at us.
I yelled to Johnny, "If you have any brakes, Johnny, hit em".
He slammed on the emergencies. We swerved to the left then to the right and then came to a stop. The quick stop had blown both tires but we were okay.
After we stopped, Johnny said, "I've got to taxi this thing to the ramp."
But I told him: "Don't bother Johnny, everything is okay the way it is."
Then Johnny, who had been holding himself together all the way, lost consciousness for the first time - only seconds after the plane stopped.
The crash crew came and took him away.
Later we learned that his wound wasn't serious and that he was going to be all right.
That flight was the longest hour of my life.
I was scared plenty but I knew I couldn't get panicky. Not with a guy like Johnny sitting alongside me. He's got more guts than any man I've flown with.
Besides, I sort of knew all along that Johnny would bring us home all right.
-- Vince Alessi, Navigator
13th Bomb Squadron
Wing Commander, Col. Marshall R. Gray awards Vince Alessi and John Grubbs Silver Stars for this action.
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