When the group moved from Chelveston, England to St. Trond, Belgium, it was necessary to use a lot of our planes as transports. Transport not only personnel, but equipment. Many, many days I spent criss-crossing the English Channel from England to Belgium carrying equipment and personnel. Glenn Miller, the famous orchestra leader, disappeared over the Channel in 1944 or 1945. Many times, flying over the Channel, I tried to figure out what could have happened to him. I know that he disappeared during wartime but, at that particular time, there was not much enemy activity over the Channel. Later, I heard that it was believed that Miller’s plane got hit by falling bombs! I need to explain how this could have happened for a better understanding. Sometimes, when the Air Force and the Royal Air Force would go to a target, it would be clouded over and they couldn’t see to bomb. Instead of bringing their bombs back to England and landing with them inside the plane, they would go over the Channel and jettison them into the Channel rather than take the risk of landing with them. What might have happened is that Miller’s plane was flying at night and got under a flight of Royal Air Force planes. The RAF could have jettisoned their bombs without knowing that there was a plane underneath them. If a plane was hit by bombs, the wings would be knocked off or the plane would break into pieces. There would not be enough time to have radio contact or do anything. The plane would go into the drink like a brick. No evidence of this has ever been presented to me, but it is at least a plausible explanation of what happened so quickly, that nobody ever heard from Miller or his plane again.
St. Trond, Belgium is a nice little city between Tirlemont and Liege, Belgium. It’s about fifteen or twenty miles west of Liege on the main road (practically the only main road they have in Belgium) and was a religious center. The airfield was built by the Germans as a fighter base. It was a comfortable place. The buildings were well built. We had a swimming pool. The Germans had planted pear trees around the pool, and at the time I was there were bearing fruit. Another wonderful thing about this base was it had been built near the former residence of some influential Belgium people. They had built nice homes out in the woods and had planted fruit trees. I was fortunate enough to find one that had an apple tree in front of it. You cannot imagine how wonderful it was to sit out in the yard of this abandoned residence and eat apples. In England we did not get many fresh fruits or vegetables.
The swimming was wonderful, except that the water was so cold you could hardly swim in it. But, we did, just not too often!
Belgium at that particular time had a lot of rain and since this base had been built for fighter planes (which were much smaller than our four-engine bombers), the runways and taxi strips were not big enough to accommodate our four-engine planes. The results were that many pilots in my squadron ran off the taxi strips and the runways and got stuck in the mud. It got to be an epidemic. One day the squadron commander issued an order that anybody who ran off the runways or the taxi strips and got stuck in the mud would be busted to a co-pilot with a two- week restriction. The order was carried out on several occasions. Some of our finer pilots were given restrictions and busted down to co-pilots for a short period of time.
One day we received an order that there was troops coming in from Germany to our airbase at St. Trond. We were going to fly them to Paris. They arrived and the troops ( I think they were from a parachute division) loaded up and we headed for Paris. We did not fly in formation. It was single ship. The orders were to get there as quick as possible. Coming in to Paris, we were to land at a field called Villacoublay. When we came in and landed, we were about number nine or ten in the bomber stream to land, so there were nine or ten bombers ahead of us. As we got onto the taxi strip and turned around to go back to the active runway for take- off to Belgium, we noted that all these nine or ten bombers ahead of us were stopped! We pulled in behind the one in front of us and stopped. The tower called and said,” Cut your engines, you’re gonna be here for awhile.” I looked out my window and saw members of my squadron going to the front of this stream of bombers. About that time, a Frenchman came along. He had donuts and coffee that he was passing out to the personnel on the ground. I jumped down out of my hatch and got five donuts and put them, one on each finger of my left hand. I got a cup of coffee in my right hand. All the personnel were walking to the front of this bomber stream. I was going there too. I walked to the first plane in the line and standing there on the taxi strip was our squadron commander with about half of our squadron gathered around him. In front of him, with its left wheel stuck in the mud was this B-17. Here comes Lee with donuts on his hand and a cup of coffee. Lee walked up and said, “Well, Major, it looks to me like somebody’s gonna get a two-week restriction and busted down to a co-pilot.” A hush fell over the group. The Major said, “Bane. That’s my airplane.” And, it was! Incidentally, that order was rescinded.
A few years after that I had occasion to fly to Washington, D.C. While there, I contacted my original pilot, the one that got the shell through his wing. He invited me to dinner, and said, “By the way, you’re not going to eat dinner with me, we’re going over to the Major’s house.” “Oh, Good.” He said, “He’s in the Pentagon and he doesn’t live very far from where we are.” Sure enough that evening we went over for dinner and drinks. The Major had re-married. The drinks were flowing pleasantly. I turned to his new wife and asked, “You want to hear a story about the Major?” She said, “Yes.” I told the stuck-in-the-mud story and she howled. She thought that was hilarious. She turned to him and asked, “Honey, what did you think when he did that?” He turned to me and said, “I could have killed you!” But, the funny thing is: that even after this happened in Paris, I flew with him many, many times. I considered myself to be his personal navigator. He never used it against me, never criticized me, never said a thing about it. He was just a wonderful person. But he said, “I could have killed you.” I believe he could have! Over!