Biography of Forrest S. Clark

T/Sgt, 67th Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, USAAF

    I was a Technical Sergeant, and served as the radio operator and also as tail turret gunner in a combat crew for B24s in England in the 44th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.

     I went to gunnery school at Harlingen, Texas in early 1943 and we used AT-6 for gunnery practice flights over the Gulf of Mexico. A few times I got into trouble firing but most of the time we were so taken with the skeet shooting which was a standard part of practice. We used old rattler infested trap holes to fire the targets and many times we would flush out rattlers before we got into the holes. We took turns releasing the target pigeons.

     I also remember my first practice flight and have written a story about it. The pilot took me on a stunt maneuver and I nearly got dumped out of the rear when he went into a power dive. I went back to Harlingen after returning from Europe in 1945 and was a gunnery and flight director assistant.

         I was at Clovis airbase in first phase training and we used to fly old out of combat B24 Liberators on a course over toward Tucumcari and Alamagorda.

     One day we were ordered not to fly closer to alamaagoo as we called it. There was a no fly restricted zone and it was not until much later I met a few pilots who talking off the record said they suspected something big was going on out in the desert. Of course what it turned out to be was the experimentation with the atomic bomb at Trinity site in the New Mexico desert.

       By the way, when I got to Biggs Field in the Spring of 1943 the first person I saw was a Gunnery Sergeant who was on the crew I was to join. He took me aside and gave me a briefing on the crew, having nothing good to say about any of them including the pilot who he called an Okie.

     I said what kind of a crew am I getting on.

     We walked out on the tarmac the next day together to meet the crew. This guy stopped and pointing at the B24 Liberator said, "I'm not going to fly in that junk. I quit" with those words he turned around and walked off the field. I was left to take his place on the crew.

     Three days later he turned up in Juarez, Mexico shacking up with a little Mexican teenage girl and was AWOL. He got busted to a private and I never saw him again.

     That was my introduction to the crew.

     One night we were on a night training mission with a full crew and I was resting in the waist section when suddenly we dove down and to the right. What the hell was that, someone yelled over the intercom. The word came back that we had a near head on miss with another aircraft.

     When I got back to Biggs field, El Paso the Ops officers told us they had frequent near misses with green beginner pilots flying night missions over the desert out toward Roswell.  Funny thing Roswell. Turned out to the the so-called flying saucer site and it is still today among the legends of UFOs. One guy told me that it was not another aircraft we nearly hit but a UFO and they should have told us so. I laughed and said they ought to give those UFO pilots better flight training.

   During training I was introduced to a little known piece of World War II equipment that came to be called "bunny suits".  WWII airmen had to wear these for high altitude flying.

   They were Easter egg blue hence the name "bunny suits" and they reached from the neck to the ankles and were wired with a plug in cord to a heater in the aircraft. Only trouble was they did not work about 50 percent of the time and you froze at 20,000 feet. They could short out or become unplugged and then you were subject to frost bite.  

    The Bunny Suit was just a part of the routine. I had to put on about four layers of clothing for missions plus a Mae West, parachute harness, oxygen mask, and a spare chute if I could get one. All this made using the relief tube difficult at altitude and many times you had to hold it until got down again. And If you did not shave for three or four days the oxygen mask would not fit properly and it would leak so you did not get the full benefit of the oxygen.

   There was a ritual in getting dressed in those days for high altitude flying. And it was an important one.

        I flew combat missions from Shiphdam base September 1943 to April 1944 in the 67th Squadron. According to my Record I have credit for one enemy fighter shot down. Bailed out and crashed. I just kept firing, you couldn't miss them. They came so close I could see the German pilot's faces.  I sprayed the sky with .50 cal. fire.

      There was an English song that was popular at the time that was called, Every Time We Say Goodbye.  All I can remember about the song is vaguely that every time we took off on a mission I thought of the title and the phrase everytime we say goodbye and wondered if it might be my last goodbye and we would not return.

    We bombed some of the Strategic Targets well behind the invasion front in preparation for Normandy.  I recall some of these targets and missions.

        I recall the German Me262 Fighters going through our formation like Super Bees and then the Staffels of Luftwaffe in desperation attempts to stop our bomber stream over Germany.  We bombed places like Augsburg, Munich, Zwickau, as far as the Czech border deep into Germany.

        You may not know this but the Airmen used to call them the "DP" for Deep Penetration missions and they blamed Doolittle and Ike for ordering them.  But of course it was all for the invasion that was to come.  We didn't know when.

      Once we were being attacked by 15 or 20 enemy fighters and we were alone over the North Sea. We were all firing at the fighters. I was running low on ammo because I was spraying the entire sky with my guns from the tail turret. We were going down into the North Sea.

       I started to pray and as we did suddenly a layer of low clouds appeared over the water and we went into them. The fighters lost us in the clouds and we struggled back with two good engines and a wounded gunner.

       This shows that GIs and airmen did pray even in the heat of battle.

       We lost several bombers that crashed with me in them. One was shot up so bad we had to parachute from it and let it crash. A fourth ran off the runway in N. Ireland and got bogged down in Irish mud. One crashed and burned on approach to the base on return. I got out with a broken leg. That makes four all together.

       Once of these times when we got back shot up by fighters, the plane crashed and the ground crews found one or two unexploded 20mm German Shells embedded on one of the engines.  By a miracle. If they had gone off we would have been blown to bits.

         One was shot down over Germany but I made it to Swiss territory.

          I evaded capture and escaped in Dec. 1944 by crossing into liberated France on or about Dec. 21, 1944 and sought haven in a French farmhouse in the High Savoiy near Annecy.

     The farmhouse we sought refuge in was about a miles inside France and we had crossed the mountains in two days of walking at night and hiding by day. It was a cold snowy late December night about midnight when we crossed with about 10 or 12 others, some internees and some prisoners.

     There was still fighting going on and pockets of German resistance. It was one of the coldest weeks of the war. Snow and ice covered the hills. We could hear small arms fire.

     At dawn the next day a friend and I started the long walk to the nearest village. We were picked up by an Army patrol and taken to Annecy to the Beau Rivage Hotel which was an Army billet at that time. A few days there and we were transferred to Army convoy to Lyons, France for a flight back to Paris and ending at London.

     I would very much like to know any information about that particular farmhouse, who was there, and what role did it oplay in the escape roputes out of Nazi Germany in 1944. If anyone has that information or any knowledge of the guides who helped us that December or of the officials who picked us up and the commanders at Annecy I would like to know and they may leave a message with specific details on my email or on my wartime web pages.

        Not all crews were so lucky. I remember seeing planes go down and no chutes or flaming ones coming out.

       But I don't want any of the credit for anything because all of it should go to those who didn't come back like my Bombadier and my Radio Operator for they are the ones that count, not me.  Forget me but remember them.

       Lt. David Edmonds, Philadelphia, PA, killed in action returning from a mission to Friedrichsafen, Germany, March 1944 flying with Lt. Scarborough's crew.

     T/Sgt Abe Sofferman, KIA, shot by the German SS Troops after parachuting into Nazi occupied Belgium, 29 Jan 1944 on Lt. Harold Pinder's crew.  I took his place. My best friend.

     There were some 3,000 of our men in Shiphdam area during 1943 - 1945. I have been back several times.  Much of the base is not recognizable, our living quarters were demolished with nothing left standing.

    My favorite duty came after I completed my combat service and my bombing mission tour. When I returned to the US after Europe in 1945 I was assigned to flying with many returned colonels, captains, and even some generals who wanted to get their flying time in to qualify for flight pay. My duty was to keep records of these combat veterans. Therefore my duty consisted to going up to the flight line each day and going aboard the planes to fly the required time and check off the men, all of them with distinqusihed combat records.

     This duty was at Harlingen Army Air Base in Texas under command of the director of flying. I keep the clipboard records of all the times put in. Some of these officers would come to me and ask a favor of putting them down for their flight time while they went to play golf or into town for parties, etc. I refused to do it in fear I could get into trouble with my commanding officer, also a colonel. One must remember that we had at the base men who had put in 30 or 35 or more missions, faced all kinds of enemy fire, crashed were shot down and came back.

     I was a mere T/Sgt at the time having finished my overseas combat duty.

     The time was March, April and May of 1945. I served until Oct. 1945 after the war in the Pacific ended.

     The 44th Bomb Group Veterans Association is having a reunion at the 8th Air Force Heritage Museum, Savannah, Ga., October 27-29, 1998. Roy W. Owen is Presdient and I intend to be there. For info email Mikeyuspeh@worldnet.att.net  Why Don't You Come?    Also we are trying to get one for May 1999 in Miami Beach but that does not look too good at the present.

          I also am seeking information about B. Gen. Robert Cardenas who was with me in the 44th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force and later had a part in the super sonic flight of the Bell X-1 of Chuck Yeager. I knew him when we flew in the 44th BG and was an internee in Switzerland.

      I am also seeking information about the survivors of the Ploesti oil fields mission of August 1943 and of Col. William Cameron of the 44th BG who was group commander at one time. I understand both Cameron and Cardenas are living somewhere in California.

      I am also seeking the latest infoirmation about Sgt. Leo McAndrews who flewq with us in the 44th BG 67th Squadron in Nov. 1943. and of any of the members surviving of the R.C. Griffith crew of the 44th BG.

----- Forrest S. Clark

       B24vet@aol.com

LINKS

And A Prayer  A Story by Forrest S. Clark

Bunny Suits, Forrest S. Clark, 67th Sqdn, 44th Bomb Group, 8th AF, USAAF

44th Bomb Group Veterans Association

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