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Historical Research POW
Ossian Arthur Seipel's Memoirs
After passing my last check ride at Dodge
City I was assigned to Barksdale Air Force
Base at Shreveport, Louisiana for crew
assignment and combat training. It was
something like January 18 or 20th when Lois
and I arrived in Shreveport. We lived in a
hotel until we could find a room with one of
the natives. While taking a bath one night
at the hotel, I was sitting with my back to
the faucet. I was in there for some time
when the water started to get cold. I turned
on both the hot and cold to make a nice warm
stream of water. When the tub got full
enough I reached around to turn off the
water and accidentally turned off the cold
completely and the hot on full. I scalded my
back pretty bad and suffered for a few days
because of it.
I got a crew and went through a lot of
practice, altitude bombing and skip bombing, also gunnery practice over the
Gulf of Mexico. We boned up on our code, navigation and all other skills
until the day I had a check ride. I had a cocky little captain that I didn’t
like from the start. First off, I checked the plane and found it acceptable
and signed off on it, but it was a newer version of the B-26 with an
additional six feet of wing span. The one I learned in was a B-26 B, with a
65 foot wingspan, and this one was a B-26 B-10 - MA with a 71 foot wingspan.
2nd Lt Ossian
Arthur Seipel - Photo Lynn Dobyanski
My mistake. I should have caught the
difference, but I guess I was excited, and upset with the cocky captain. I
flew the required drills during the ride and thought I had aced it. Coming
in for the landing I screwed up royally. The extra wing area held the plane
aloft a lot longer than I had been use to. Since I had a mile of runway
ahead of me, I started to feel for the ground, by nosing it down. The cocky
captain hauled back on the controls. I over powered him and made a nose
wheel landing that broke the front wheel shocks.
I think it was some time in mid February when I had to send Lois back to her
parents. I was ordered to report not later than 1-March-44 to Hunter Field,
Georgia to Combat Crew Sec. for assignment to shipment No.??????????. That
just meant that we had to pick up a new plane and all combat gear and be
ready. We got the new plane with only about seven hours of flying time on
it. We had to go and set the magnetic compass and give it a general wringing
out to see if it would stand up to the stresses. It checked out fine so we
headed for Homestead Field, Florida where we were briefed on when and how we
were to get to the ETO.
I was assigned to fly with a guy named Rodney Reid, who was a class ahead of
me but he lost co-pilot for some reason. I had screwed up and had to get to
the ETO, so I guess we were together for the trip. His engineer was also
along to handle any mechanical problems.
We were also given a navigator who would keep us from going astray on our
flight over the Atlantic. He was with the Air Transport Command. His job was
to navigate for a crew on the way over, turn around and navigate another
crew back to the states, then do it all over again.
We headed South to Puerto Rico, where we made our first stop. Rum and Cokes
cost ten cents so we had our fill.
Next stop was somewhere in British Guyana and the field was deep in the
jungle. We had to radio ahead to have the ground crews drive up and down the
runways to scare the alligators so we could land. The mess hall was closed
when we got there so we headed for the officers club and spent the night
drinking. I wasn’t a good drinker so I got soused . I had a time trying to
stay on the path leading to the BOQ but finally made it and hit my cot. The
trouble is there was a mosquito netting around the cot suspended from a rope
that supported the netting for the whole row of cots. After laying there for
a few minutes I had to go throw up. I got tangled in the netting and
eventually tore the whole row down. I got to the latrine and then went into
the shower. I just sat on the floor of the shower with cold water running on
me. Being in the tropics the water wasn’t too cold. A bird colonel came in
to see if I was OK ut he left me as he found me. He probably would have
chewed me out for messing up the nets, but seeing how pitiful a drunken
shavetail could look, he just left me.
I finally got to sleep and made it to the flight line for takeoff. We made
it OK and I immediately went back to the bomb bay and lay down. I had the
dry heaves and sorta didn’t care if they dropped me out or not. A shot of
oxygen and rest sobered me up enough to fly and do my job. This leg of the
trip featured more of the jungle, and thoughts were about what we’d do if we
had to land in the midst of it.
One thing I remember pretty well was the drinking water. It wasn’t good. All
the water available to us came from “Lister bags”. They would take the local
water and put it in large canvas bags, hanging from a tripod, then put in
some stuff that was supposed to make it safe to drink. We mostly drank cokes
or some other canned drinks sent down from the states.
We landed at Belem after a little trouble. We couldn’t make contact with the
field, so we buzzed the strip a couple of times to let them know that we
were coming in and they cleared the strip of alligators for us. We had lunch
while the plane was fueled and the radio checked out and repaired. Then we
headed for Natal, Brazil, which was to be our jumping off point for the
flight across the ocean.
At Natal, they put extra fuel tanks in the main bomb bay so we’d have enough
fuel to carry us across the Atlantic. I used the time to go in to the town
and pick up a pair of what they called “mosquito boots”. They were very soft
leather and came up to about the mid calf. They were most comfortable. I
also picked up some silk stockings for Lois, ‘cause you couldn’t get them in
the states during the war. I found out much later that they were a couple of
sizes too small.
I’d better make a point here about the B-26. There was no automatic pilot
that could handle the moves necessary to keep a 26 in the air, so every
minute we were airborne there was someone at the yoke.
After a lengthy briefing on how to make the landing at Ascension Island, we
took off and headed East out over the ocean. The trip itself was pretty
boring but when we sighted the island things got exciting. We contacted Wide
Awake tower on the island for landing instructions and found that we’d be
landing on their only operating runway with a tailwind which is not good. It
meant that we’d have to approach the end of the runway, which was on the
brink of a cliff. We were instructed to aim about thirty feet below the
runway. If everything went right the wind hitting the cliff would create an
up draft which would set us down on the runway. Shooting a landing,
imagining the runway to be 30 feet down a sheer stone wall went against all
our instincts and training, but we had to do it. Praise the Lord, it worked.
The runway was pretty level, but getting back to the hardstand area was up
and down and around following the low places between the rocks. Ascension
Island was the property of the British and seemed to be the loneliest place
on earth. The only living things besides the Brits were the sea birds and
the seals. We spent one night there and then headed for Dakar in Senegal.
That was pretty much in the African jungle and after refueling we were on
our way to French West Morocco, Marrakesh to be exact. We had a two day
layover there and got into town for a visit. I didn’t want to stay too long
there. I bought Lois a pin shaped like a Moroccan dagger, and went back to
the base. The hotel we stayed in was pretty nice and in my room I had a
bidet, whatever that is.
We were fueled and our machine guns were cleaned, inspected and enough
ammunition for all guns was put on board. The powers that be thought we
might encounter some German JU-88s off the French coast. The plane in front
of us crashed on take off and burned at the end of the runway. This was not
a good start for the day, and we were delayed a couple of hours.
After takeoff we headed due north at around eight thousand feet and could
imagine JU-88s behind every cloud bank. The guns all had to be test fired
before we got as far north as France, and that made us think we were almost
in the war.
The trip up was pretty boring but we made it in good time. We were to land
at a Stanstead field in what was called “Landsend”. There were airfields all
over the place and the traffic patterns overlapped, so finding the right
field and making the approach on the right runway was something, but we made
it. The Brits were pretty good at giving instructions, but the Americans had
to actually relay them over the air so that we could understand them. It’s
amazing how foreign the English language sounds when spoken by an
We turned over the plane to the people in charge and spent the night at a
hotel in town. I was cold as I had ever been since I was still in my summer
uniform, and hadn’t unpacked yet. I had supper then a hot bath and went to
bed. When I was growing up we could never use more than six inches of water
in the tub, but here I filled it to the top and stayed there until it
started to cool then I got out. Next morning, dressed for the weather, I
went down for breakfast. I ordered eggs, bacon and coffee but they served a
shredded wheat stack with hot water poured over it and tea.
That morning the 23rd of March 1944, we boarded a train for Liverpool. We
took a boat ride to Northern Ireland and assignment to a training and
replacement squadron for more combat training by pilots who had already been
We were based at a field near a village called Ballymeana, in County Antrim.
Going to the quartermasters warehouse one day for, I don’t remember what, I
ran into a corporal, a guy named Sammy Hoffman, we played football together
at Drake University. He had been there for a couple of months and worked for
the photographic section. He took our pictures and we had a few drinks
together in town that night. We weren’t supposed to fraternize, but we did
talk about what had happened to us since Drake, and he was happy to hear
that I had married Lois
I bought a bike from Sammy for five pounds, just to get around the base and
the surrounding country side on Sundays, the only day off.
General Doolittle visited the base one day. When the brass learned that he
would be there they got us prepared by stressing military courtesy.
Everybody had to salute any officer higher in rank and return all salutes
from any and all enlisted men. Being a second “looie” I had to salute
everyone. The bike came in handy then ‘cause you didn’t have to salute if
you were riding a bike and needed both hands to steer.
While in Ireland we did a lot more practice bombing in the North Sea and in
one of the lakes. We spent a lot of time skip-bombing. That’s when you fly
just about fifty feet or so off the surface and try to skip the bomb into a
target. There were also targets along the bomb run sitting on boats so that
the gunners could get practice with their fifty caliber guns. We had a lot
more formation flying and instrument time too ‘cause the weather over there
was pretty bad most of the time. We had to take off and form up in formation
when the weather was socked in. You couldn’t see but a couple hundred feet
down the runway. It got hairy at times, but we made it and it did come in
handy a few times in England.
I went to Belfast once, trying to find something to send to Lois. I only
found a pin made out of a British coin shaped like a Spitfire. I also bought
some Irish linen, a table cloth and some handkerchiefs. I think. I bought
some gabardine cloth, colored like the officers pink pants, and some colored
dark green like the officers blouse. I planned to have a uniform made when I
got to England. A blouse like the one Eisenhower wore, and later came to be
called an Eisenhower jacket.
Sammy introduced me to an Irishman named, Ian Graham, who was the post
barber. He was also a fisherman, and when he found out I liked to fish he
told me of a stream just off the base where we could catch some brook trout.
A couple of days later he brought some tackle for me and we spent one Sunday
afternoon catching a bunch of really fine trout. His mother fried them up
and I was invited to a Sunday night fish fry. His dad was a chemist and Ann,
Ian’s sister, and Ian’s girlfriend worked for him at the apothecary.
Actually he was a pharmacist in a drug store. It was good being in civilian
company again, especially when I was the American hero. They couldn’t get
enough about life in the USA.
I was able to get off on Sundays so that’s where I went for three Sundays.
Ian and his girlfriend Mary or Marie (It sounded like Mree, when he spoke
her name), were going to a dance at the town hall and asked if his sister
Ann and I would like to go along. It was weird, they had prizes for stupid
things. Like who could recite some poem I had never heard, and who could
sing the loudest. The prizes were weird too, a dozen oranges for first, and
maybe a bar of chocolate for second. This was understandable ‘cause the
people in Briton couldn’t get these things. The dances were like “you put
your left foot in, you put your left foot out, you put your left foot in and
you shake it all about”. The Irish laughed and had a real good time while we
Yanks looked sorta out of it. I was glad when ten o’clock rolled around and
the Yanks had to take the bus back to the base.
I spent about a month in Ireland, then I had to leave for England and the
war. Ian opened a bottle of cognac that he’d been saving for the end of the
war, and we had a few drinks. Before I left I gave my bike and a couple of
boxes of Hershey bars, plain and with almonds to Ann so she wouldn’t have to
do some weird thing to win a chocolate bar."
Les armées du monde
Historical Research POW
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