May 31, 1944
Everyone knew the invasion was close at hand but I had no way of knowing that on this May 31st that this would be my last mission before D-Day. Today was a Wednesday, next Tuesday June 6th will be recorded in history forever. We were going to go to Brussels as part of the pre-invasion offensive against the enemy transportation system. There had been a heated debate among the planners of our war strategy as to which would be the better use of our heavy bombers. One group thought the "Transportation Offensive" was urgent to break the German's ability to supply their Western front once the invasion had taken place. Another equally vocal group said the Strategic Oil Offensive should take first priority. To me it seems now that we did both, we were knocking out Hitler's oil capacity and at the same time striking at any form of transportation.
Today's target was the Marshaling Yards in Brussels. The 44th put up 26 planes and in all, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions assembled an Air Armada of 491 B-24's loaded with 8 1000 pound bombs to disrupt this vital rail facility. Take off was shortly before 0830 hours but we were back a little after noon having been in the air only 4 hours, the shortest combat flight time of all my 31 missions. The reason being clouds. They extended up to 26,000 feet and there was no way we could see the target visually even though we came within 10 miles of it. It would have been far too dangerous to the Belgium population of this large city to take a chance of bombing by Pathfinder lead without being precisely sure of our aim. There was nothing to do but turn for home. We encountered no fighters and flak was very light and inaccurate. Of over 1000 bombers dispatched for the day, only one third were able to bomb their targets. The rest of us carried our bomb load back home.
This was the thirteenth mission we had flown this month and we were tired. Fatigue was showing on everyone including the ground personnel who got less rest than the combat crews. They were up day and night keeping our bombers flying. Not enough can be said for these men. At the rate we were knocking off missions, it would have taken only another six weeks to have completed our tour. Because we became a lead crew, we later only flew when it was our time to lead. Also we were due some rest leave sooner or later but as of now, the invasion was imminent and there was no rest for the weary.
I had another problem other than fatigue. I don't know where the idea originated but for some crazy reason, when I laid down to go to sleep, if a plane flew low over our squadron area, I had this inordinate fear that it was going to crash into our barracks. I know this sounds silly but it was not funny to me. I carried this fear back to the USA with me and it pestered me all during my pilot training as a student officer. For years after the war, I could not shake this morbid idea from my mind and even today after 40 years, a prop driven plane passing over my house at night revives this phobia.