Norman L. Elzeer
Norman L. Elzeer was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was orphaned at the age of seven and raised by his grandparents in Ashtabula, Ohio. He graduated from Ashtabula High School in June 1941 and got a job tamping rocks on the railroad for $.43 per hour because defense plants required age 18.
When he turned 18, he went to Cleveland and got a job with Parker Appliance assembling naval and aviation valves.
In the summer of 1942, Norm decided he’d like to be a fighter pilot. After getting released from the draft board, he signed up with the Army Air Corps and was given a written test. After that came the eye test, which he failed.
In December 1942, Norm figured that joining the Army Air Corps would be the best to become a pilot. He attended basic training at Miami Beach. He and a friend then decided to request gunnery school, but before they could submit a request, they were lined up the next morning and were told, "You men are going to gunnery school!" Gunnery school was at Tyndall Field, Florida followed by Apalachicola, Florida. He was then sent to engineering school at Sheppard Field, Texas for nine months.
After engineering school, Norm was assigned to Wendover Field, Utah for more gunnery training. He went back and forth many times before being assigned to the Hefling Crew #9 of the 764th Bombardment Squadron, 461st Bombardment Group.
After three more months of training at Hammer Field in Fresno, California, he was ordered to Italy. Two gunners from the crew had to go by boat. Norm and Frank Chappel, the nose gunner, drew the "boat" straws. After several weeks of waiting in Newport News, Virginia, they boarded the troop ship General Mann and landed in Casablanca, Morocco, nine days later.
Air Transport Command flew them to Torretta Field, Italy.
While with the 461st, the Hefling crew hit the ME-109 factories in Vienna three times and Ploesti three times.
After several missions all over Europe, Norm’s crew was sent to rest camp on the Isle of Capri for a week. One event that still sticks in his mind was being rowed into the Blue Grotto by an old gentleman (age 65). Inside, the old man sang Santa Lucia, and he was terrific.
Norm is disappointed in the Steven Ambrose book, The Wild Blue. He expected it to be about the entire Fifteenth Air Force, but the book turned out to be mostly about George McGovern. In it Ambrose states that McGovern’s gunners were the first to paddle kayaks around Capri. However, Norm was on Capri in June and paddled a kayak every day including around the island.
Norm’s crew left rest camp at Capri on June 8 and immediately flew three consecutive days, June 9, 10 and 11. On June 11 they went to the Giurqiu Oil Storage near Ploesti, Romania, and were shot down. They bailed out over Yugoslavia and were in the hands of the Chetniks under the command of Draja Milholovic for sixty days.
The OSS set up a rescue mission and flew to a mountaintop and picked them up. Norm then spent three weeks in the hospital in Bari, Italy.
Norm has fond memories of being a part of a terrific crew. The three years he spent in the service were an experience he doesn’t regret.
A great disappointment to Norm was that all four officers on the crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross while the gunners got nothing, not even an oak leaf for their Air Medal. The gunners held off eighteen fighters for over twelve minutes and felt they saved the officers’ lives. Norm does not resent the officers’ getting the DFC. He simply feels the gunners played a significant part in that mission and also deserved an award. Colonel Glantzberg, Group Commanding Officer, did support the gunners by calling the officers together and telling them their lives depended on the gunners.