I guess this note is to make me realize that the memory we each carry around with us dominates events with dates pushed to the back ground. However there are some dates that reverse our remembrances, that is, the date is foremost-such is the case with the date of June 23rd with me, as this was the date our plane was disabled during WWII and we were forced to abandon the craft and parachute out. Our Choice ??---Crashing into a mountain and certain death, or take our chances on the ground in enemy territory.!!!
Our mission this day was to disable an oil pumping relay station, which was pumping oil from the rich oil fields of the Balkans north for Hitlers war machine. We were told that there was only 18 anti-aircraft, 88 Millimeter rapid fire guns. This was to be what we called a Milk Run as usually there were hundreds of the 88s protecting more vital targets, but today one of their shells exploded near us sending pieces of shrapnel through our plane, not hitting any of us but a small piece, probably the size of your thumb, broke the oil line to the number two engine. It is a well known fact that no engine can operate without oil so it had to be shut down. This placed additional strain on our number one engine. With this additional strain on our number one engine trying to maintain level flight, it too malfunctioned and had to be shut down.
Here we were at 5000 ft. altitude with a 6000 ft. mountain range ahead of us. We had no choice. After losing both engines, and losing 200 ft. per minute, the pilot ordered us to lighten the plane of every thing, including our dis-mantled machine guns, destroy our bomb sight and jettison them.
He then gave the order to abandon the plane starting from the tail forward. As I was the tail gunner, I was the first to bail out, and it was the first for me!! We had been told to count to ten and pull the rip cord. I didnt count but I started the Lords Prayer-I got as far as thy will be done and pulled it!! When it opened with a hard [but thankful] jerk, I looked up and could see that three of the nine panels of my parachute were stained from hydraulic fluid that I had spilled on it the day before and I failed to have it replaced with a new one. The chute held and thats what counted. The descent was one of the most beautiful feelings I have ever had. Quiet, serene, a suspension between heaven and earth with no sense of falling until falling to a lower altitude the ground seemed to fly at you !
I landed in a wooded area with my chute lodging in some trees and by standing on tip-toe was able to unbuckle my harness. The chute would give away my location to the enemy since it was in the trees and could easily be seen. I started down a ravine as fast as I could, but to no avail. I probably had 15 minutes of freedom before capture.
23rd of JUNE 1944 A DATE FOR ME TO REMEMBER
----- Carl Heimaster -- POW of GGermans, 333days
Biography of Carl Heimaster, Crew 6, 724th Sqdn, 451st Bmb Grp, 49th Wg, 15th AF, USAAF
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