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Ossian Arthur Seipel's Memoirs

Chapter 1

Barksdale Field


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 First off, I checked the plane and found it acceptable and signed off on it, but it was a newer version of the B-26 with an additional six feet of wing span.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.

 

Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel
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 Englishman.

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 in combat.

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."

Next

 

Chapter 1: Barksdale Field

Chapter 2: England

Chapter 3: Captivity

Chapter 4: Sagan

Chapter 5: The March

Chapter 6: Moosburg

Chapter 7: Liberation

 

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