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Veterans Stories

Clifford Wayne Anderson, Pilot, 845th

The following letter was sent by 489th Pilot, Clifford Wayne Anderson to his family in the States.

489th - Clifford Wayne Anderson, Pilot, 845th489th - Clifford Wayne Anderson, Pilot, 845th

A Letter Home – July 26 1944

July 26, 1944

Dear All,

‘Tis time that I get around to a letter to everyone again, and it seems that the only way I can get it done is to write a common letter and send it along to each of you. I hope you don’t mind this way. At least it will bring you word that I am well and still kicking like any good army man. The crew is all well too, and of course we are all just hoping and praying that we may continue to be fortunate and go on with the rest of our missions with no injury to anyone. Some crews do finish a tour of duty here that way. God grant that we may be one of them.

News that I was a daddy reached me on July 13th, though further word was delayed until quite some time later. I am very happy about Mary Margaret and naturally more anxious than ever to get home the sooner to be with my family and people. Thank all of you for your part in helping Margaret and in sending me news and letters.

I have thought many times that the life we lead here must be more or less of a mystery to you people there. Though I can’t include specific information, I can perhaps describe enough to give you a clearer idea of our life and how it seems to us.

We live in a barracks affair called a Nissen hut. This is a building constructed by using corrugated iron sheeting over a framwork so that the general effect is half a huge culvert with the ends closed in to make the walls, while the roof and side walls coincide. In our barracks we have a sack under British blankets which are only about one third as warm as the U.S. article. For about two months after arrival here, we slept between blankets but we finally were able to purchase sheets, so now our sacks are a little more comfortable. Our food is tolerable though sometimes pretty hard to take. Meat is scarce over here, so we get lots of stews and dishes aimed at saving such foods. Milk of the fresh variety is an unknown article to us, and the powdered kind, like powdered eggs, lacks the appeal of the genuine article. Suffice it to say that I eat when and because I’m hungry, and since arriving in England have done very well to keep from losing more than ten pounds.

More than living conditions though, you might be more interested in our work. On that suppose we start right at the beginning ——- that would probably be early evening when you see your name posted as being alerted for a mission the next day. Early in our combat crews, such notice brought a thrill of excitement and perhaps a tremble or two at the pit of the stomach. Now we try to be more callous and accept it with the thought, “Guess I better get to bed and get what sleep I can cause tomorrow may be a rough day.” You’re probably tired enough to sleep, but you try anyway because you have an idea of what may be ahead.

Some time later ——- perhaps as early as midnight, perhaps much later, you are rudely awakened with the news, “Eat at ——- , brief at ——-, “ So you drag the weary bones from the bed with some moaning and groaning, and grope your way with half shut eyes to the mess hall where you feast on a luxurious breakfast of powdered eggs, some more or less raw bacon, G.I. coffee, and vitamin pills. You eat just as you slept ——- because it is the thing to do. If you hesitated in getting out of bed, you swallow everything and run like ——- for the briefing room. There you take a seat and wait for the briefing officer to tell you about the mission you will soon be flying.

First you will probably take a look at the map ——- because that tells you where you are going, and the route you will fly both in and out. Maybe you will sigh with relief if it is a so-called milkrun (supposed to be an easy mission, but something which I feel doesn’t exist in this area), or what is more likely, you will moan because you see that it is an obviously hard and long haul. Briefing gets underway with a prayer by the chaplain in which I am sure everyone takes a real part, for there are no athiests in this game. Then we get a more or less general talk telling us of our target and its importance ——- then a study of maps and the route in and out, pictures of the target for identification, possible German dummy targets, etc. Then a time check so that all watches will be synchronized on the same time. (This is important for the missions are all run by the clock and it is important that everyone be on time to make connections and avoid traffic congestion.) With that the big group is split up so that bombardiers and navigators get their special information and pilots and co-pilots get theirs. This all takes an awfully long time but all the information is vital to the mission. So one is patient, and makes careful mental notes, for it won’t do to forget a thing.

Finally you are ready to go and dress, and this is no small job. One wears heavy woollen underwear, with electric suits to supply heat for the cold temperatures at altitude. Add a life preserver, parachute harness, flak suit, steel helmet, heavy gloves, and an oxygen mask, and one is ready for the mission. Maybe I should add donning a little extra courage too for one needs that.

At the airplane one checks the ship thoroughly. As pilot I am most interested in the engines that will have to take us there and back, running for hours, sometimes under terrific strain. I check them thoroughly, see that there is plenty of gas, oil, and so on, and then join in a little bull session with the rest of the crew. Each of them has done their part in checking too. Gunners make sure their guns are in good shape and will operate all right. Each has his job, and I need only check a little for each one knows that the success of our trip depends on the preparedness of the whole crew.

At last it is time for starting engines, and taxiing. This is routine but all according to plan, for takeoff must be made on the second. Flying is flying, so all I need say is that for the moment we are occupied with getting into the air, and all the myriad of details that accompany taking a heavy ship up. Once in the air we gain altitude and find the leaders of the formation, get into our proper position and hold it while the other ships do likewise. Then it is a matter of following the other ships through all the circles and turns before we start on course. On the way up, we have put on our oxygen masks and check one another to see that each crew member is feeling all right, that all equipment is working properly now that we are in the air, check to see that all the engines are O.K. for soon we will be over the enemy territory, and we don’t want to start with worries, at least of that kind.

All the time we are constantly on the alert, for engine trouble, for the little speck in the distance that may mean enemy fighters, for puffs of the black stuff that means anti-aircraft or flak. You worry a little you sweat a little ——- a little extra when you first sight enemy coast and from then on until you reach it on the way out, and you pray a little, maybe you even swear a little at some particularly annoying thing. Time has been going by all this time and you’ve been getting farther and farther into enemy territory. Soon you’ve reached the point where you know there is no turning back. Once that far you have to stick with the formation for it is the only safe thing to do. Once in a while you see some flak bursts ——- maybe off to the side, maybe straight ahead where you know that you will soon be. Again you sweat and pray, but this is still a long way off. Then comes the place where the flak is right on you. You see little else but those tremendous puffs of black smoke and just hope that they won’t hit you. For though the smoke can’t do any damage, all the flying metal that comes from those puffs can, and have to some of our buddies. It is a horrible and terrifying sight to see a ship hit, burst into flame, fall to pieces, or blow up in midair, and watch hoping and praying that there will be enough chutes, that all will get out. It gives you a lonesome feeling, a terrible hate, and yet a loathing of a so-called civilized war which makes such scenes necessary. But you go on and on to the target where the air becomes fairly electric with suspense. Then comes that moment everyone has been waiting for —— “Bombs away.” From then on as someone said, you are through working for Uncle Sam and working for yourself. The trip home is the same story of suspense and sweating and praying, yes, and swearing too, for by that time the engines are hot and probably overworked. You are wondering if you have enough gas too, for the road home is long. So it goes. Everyone gets more and more tired and irritable. Each one tries to consider the other fellow for we know the strain, but it isn’t always easy.

At last you reach the enemy coast on the way out. You relax a little for Jerry doesn’t follow on the way to England very much now. And on the way over the water, you start losing altitude. It is a relief to get the oxygen mask off and start breating a little more normally. Then before too long you sight the English coast and everyone really gives a sigh of relief. Soon the formation is ready to break up, peel off and come in for a landing. Landing the plane once was a big part of the ride, but now it is just one more little thing to “sweat out” before the mission is complete. We’ve come in when the visibility was good, and when we had to fly at fifty feet off the ground to see at all. But we do get in.

One would think that was all, but the mission isn’t complete even yet, for one must report for interrogation and answering of questions. Each one of the crew usually has something of interest to report. The tension isn’t relaxed until you know that all your buddies are home, and then you are glad to eat the food furnished by the Red Cross, ——- yes, and if the mission has been really tough, take a shot of whiskey which is provided by the medics.

With another meal under your belt, if you are man enough to eat it then you are ready to tumble into bed ——- for tomorrow’s another day ——- and there may be another mission.

So goes combat, and it isn’t easy. Hope this gives you a little idea, and hasn’t been too boring. Write all of you when you can.

Love to all, Wayne….

(Then, Wayne adds a postscript, “Hi kids – this isn’t personal but thought you might enjoy it. Your package arrived and thanks so much. The candy is good and especially so when it is so hard to get. Thanks again. Got your V-mail letter too.”

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