200th Mission Party
August 11, 1944
Appointed Squadron Navigator
August 30, 1944
On the 4th of August, 1944, the 44th Bomb Group flew it's 200th combat mission since starting with the 8th Air Force going to Brest, France on November 7, 1942. It had taken our Group almost two years to accumulate this record. The pace had so quickened by this summer of 1944 that some airmen could complete their tour of 30 missions in as little as two months. Everyone was getting fatigued, both the flying crews and the ground personnel.
One week later on August 11th, the 44th celebrated this event with an all day of fun. All missions and training were suspended, all "rank" lost its privileges. Orders were out that no one was to display his rank (officer or enlisted man). Anyone caught with his uniform on was simply seized by any group of men nearby and taken to a large "duck pond" on base and thrown in, clothes and all. The base had a carnival like atmosphere, all cares were set aside and the men had become boys again. We played baseball and pitched horseshoes with a stage show that night.
The highlight of the day came for me when almost everyone had gathered later in the afternoon in the area of the large duck pond. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a group of men grab Col. John Gibson, who was dressed in his uniform and heave him unceremoniously into the water. He came out looking like a drowned rat but all smiles. He took his medicine like the man he was.
About that time, up drives Brigadier General Leon Johnson in his Jeep, Commanding Officer of the 14th Combat Wing and holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Several men, with more respect than they had shown Col. Gibson, led him to the pond. He protested feebly but knew by looking at Col. Gibson and others who had gone before, that his protest was in vain. In he went with a big splash. You should have seen all us crowded around hooping and hollering like a bunch of wild Indians. I was to the rear of the ring leaders of this dastardly act and on the outer fringes of the mob. I wondered how the General would react. Both he and Col. Gibson endeared themselves to all personnel on the base and for days, it was the talk of the groups what "good sports" they were. What a glorious day of relaxation we had enjoyed. All of us needed this break from the strain and tension we were under.
The next day, it was back to war with 32 of our aircraft off to northern France. This was the day that Lt. Joe Kennedy, brother of President Kennedy was killed in an experimental B-24 filled with very unstable explosives that prematurely exploded over England blowing him and his plane to a million pieces. And the day after this, we flew our 28th mission to Rouen, France.
One day near the end of August, my pilot and I were walking near Squadron Headquarters on the way back to our barrack. As we walked, Major Robert Lehnhausen approached us, we saluted. He stopped and after a few brief words were exchanged, he looked at me and said, "McClane, you are the new Squadron Navigator". I replied, "Yes Sir". With that, he and his aide walked off. That was all there was to it. Major Lehnhausen did not ask me how I felt about it or anything else. I did not hesitate to reply in the affirmative.
Peritti and I stood there for a minute or two looking at each other. We were both taken by great surprise. Peritti had already been made Captain and "A" Flight Commander but neither of us had given the faintest thought nor entertained the idea that I would be the Squadron Navigator. I was awed by the thought of this responsibility and anyone could have knocked me over with a feather. A few days later, our bombardier, Lt. John Warga was appointed Squadron Bombardier. These events made us the number one combat crew in terms of responsibility in the 68th Squadron, a duty we did not shrink.
The Group Navigator's name I cannot remember, I'd give almost anything if I could. I had great respect and admiration for this man. He was extremely pleasant to be around and took great interest in me in explaining my new duties. It was he who helped me gather my collection of strike-photos of our missions, starting long before I was Squadron Navigator. It was obvious that he liked me from the interest he showed in me. To this day I have no idea why I was selected over all the other navigators in the Squadron for this position but I'm sure the Group Navigator was the one who made the selection.
I got the impression when I assumed leadership of the training flights and educational sessions, that there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction in my selection as chief navigator of the squadron. Like everything in the military during war time, my authority was unquestioned. However I was soon accepted by all.
The position of Squadron Navigator called for the rank of Captain. Attached is a copy of the order recommending me to the grade of Captain on October 4, 1944 and a letter of explanation dated November 16th by Major Lehnhausen as to why I was not given my Captaincy. The "Table of Organization" called for only one Captain Squadron Navigator. The dates reported could not overlap even one day which it did in my case. I never let it bother me then nor over these 40 years since. I was so young and looked like a kid, I never expected it to happen anyway. It would have been almost embarrassing to have been a Captain in my training after I returned home to the ZOI (Zone of the Interior) and besides, I was happy just to be alive.