Bontempo - #1/26
Standing L-R:Davis, Charles P (B); Klien, Lloyd J (N); Jewett, Carlton B (CP); BonTempo, John C (P)
Kneeling L-R: McCutcheon, David (E/TT); McGroarty, William P 'Mac' (TT/Photo/RWG); Miller, Herbert G (BG); Hoogeveen, Stanley W (TG); Eckle, Joseph B (RO/LWG); Smith, Garel E (NG)
John C. Bontempo
* This from John Bontempo: "Mac" as he was known was trained on the Martin Upper (TT) though in combat the Engineer David McCutcheon handled the top turret as I wanted him close by in the event of an emergency with the aircraft. Mac was also trained on the camera that took the bomb strike photos and he operated the camera we carried for that purpose as well as the right waist gun position.
Combat Crew 8432
Crew 8432 was born in Lincoln Nebraska on 14 September 1944 as directed by Special Order NO 171.
All of the individual airmen had been trained in their respective specialties at various bases through out the United States. Upon completion of their training they were sent to Lincoln Army Air Field for assignment to a B-24 Combat Crew and subsequent training as a combat crew. The assignment from Lincoln was to be Mountain Home Idaho. We were scheduled to travel to Mountain Home Army Air Field as a crew by way of, yet another troop train.
Crew assignments were as follows:
Pilot 2nd Lt. John C BonTempo having graduated in Class 44E from Turner Field Albany, Georgia.
John BonTempo started his training as an Aviation Cadet after completing Basic Training at Miami Beach, Fla. in February of 1943. Facilities for Cadet Training were over crowded to the extent that the Army Air Corps created College Training Detachments throughout the United States where the future cadets were held until adequate training facilities were available. John BonTempo was sent to one of these facilities located in Cleveland, Ohio and was assigned to Fenn College located at 27th and Euclid Ave in downtown Cleveland. The Army had created housing facilities at the old Spencerian College at 32nd and Euclid Avenue just a few blocks from the high rise building that housed Fenn College. The building that had been classrooms was modified to house all of the 150 Aviation Cadets that were assigned there. The only major addition was the addition of adequate bathroom facilities. This building was attached at the rear of one of the old Euclid Ave estates that were common in that area. The home that we were attached to was a mansion of the first order. Four stories above ground and two levels of basement below ground. The building was utilized to house the officers assigned to the unit and the balance were day rooms, lounges, orderly room, kitchen and mess hall and other general-purpose rooms. We were assigned there for four months during which time we took college classes in various subjects that were designed to aid in our future training in aviation, along with the normal English, History, Math and the like. In addition we scheduled to get 10 hours of dual flight time in small aircraft of the Cub variety. We took this flight training at Cleveland International Airport. Upon completion we followed the standard routine of Classification,
(Nashville, Tennessee); Pre-Flight, (Maxwell Field, Alabama) Primary, (Ocala, Florida), Basic.
(Bainbridge, Georgia), and Advanced training at Turner Field (Albany, Georgia.). Most of the training was routine until Basic at which time I volunteered for a new program that required us to fly advanced twin engine aircraft in basic and B-25 combat aircraft in Advanced Training. Having successfully completed all of the required training I was sent back to Maxwell Field where I had taken Pre-Flight for B-24 1st Pilots Transition Training. Completing this we departed for Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up a crew.
We arrived at Lincoln by way of a troop train, as did the others and all arrived within a few days of one another. In a few days they had gathered sufficient personnel to commence assignments.
We all reported to the base theater as a group and they read the crew assignments, which were complete with the exception of a Navigator. We were not assigned a Navigator until about half way through Combat Crew Training. The final crew consisted of the following personnel:
Pilot John C BonTempo 2nd Lt. Age 22. from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania
Co-Pilot Carlton B. Jewett Flight Officer Age 21 Mount Lebanon Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Navigator Lloyd J. Klein 2nd Lt. Age 21 Westbend Wisconsin.
Bombardier Charles P. Davis 2nd Lt. Age 20 Louisville Kentucky.
Flight Engineer David McCutcheon Jr. Cpl. Age 20 Yonkers, Queens, New York NY
Radio Operator Joseph B. Eckle Sgt. Age 25. Chicago Illinois
Ball Turret Gunner Herbert G. Miller Cpl. Age 19 Farm community south of Toledo Ohio
Nose Turret Gunner Garel E. Smith Cpl. .Age 20 Front Royal Virginia
Martin Turret Gunner William H McGroarty Cpl. Age 19 Minneapolis Minnesota
Tail Gunner Stanley W. Hoogeveen Cpl. .Age 19 Minnesota, Minnesota
Combat Crew training consisted primarily of learning to do what we had done as individuals and now had to do as a team. This covered the entire gamut of what's required to effectively fly successful combat missions and survive in the process.
We departed Lincoln for Mountain Home Idaho by troop train. They had advised that housing was critically short at Mountain Home and not to bring family until you had located housing. As it turned out my wife was lucky enough to pick up a flight cancellation from Pittsburgh to Boise and went ahead and accepted the flight, arriving at Mt. Home about the same time as I did. We managed to find housing in a short time and lived in a government complex in Mt. Home that was austere but acceptable.
We commenced training almost immediately upon our arrival with a scheduled morning or afternoon takeoff times. I drew the AM shift right off and had a reporting time of 0530 AM. The training encompassed formation flying, gunnery, both air to air and air to ground, bombing from various altitudes, cross country, day and night flights, high altitude as well as low level flights, and instrument flights.
Every effort was made within the crew itself to cross train into other crew positions to handle the unexpected combat loss of one or more crewmembers This training lasted about three months. Upon it's successful completion the crew departed for Topeka Kansas where we were to embark for an overseas assignment. Again we traveled by troop train and our spouses usually teamed up with friends and either traveled by car and when there were no cars, by train.
There must have been close to a hundred crews at Topeka as the theater was completely full. We were seated as crews and the pilots were instructed to go up to the stage and select an envelope from a container they had there. When we returned back to our seats we were then instructed to open our envelope. We were told that if the contained a slip of paper with a serial number, that would be the serial number of the new B-24 parked on the ramp that we would be flying to our new assignment overseas. If the slip of paper was blank you would be going overseas by boat. When I opened my envelope it contained with the number 44-49674, we had lucked out and got an airplane to ferry overseas. We remained in Topeka for a few days swinging the compass and running fuel consumption tests. We said our good buys to our wives and departed early on the morning of 20 December 1944 for Manchester, New Hampshire. We were destined to fly overseas via the northern route by way of Newfoundland, the Azores, and North Africa and on to the European Theater of operations. Actually we did not know for sure, and we were assuming that was where we were headed. That route can also take you to England, Italy or the China Burma India Theater. The morning we were to depart the Navigator had a fever and they held the crew for an extra day. The balance of the other crews all departed on schedule. They arrived in Newfoundland only to encounter a major snowstorm that resulted in their being snowed in and digging out their aircraft from 8 to 10 foot drifts. The Army anticipated it would take some time to complete the dig out so we were rerouted to make our crossing by way of the southern route. We departed for Morrison Field in Fla. And from there to Waller Field, Trinidad, Belem Brazil, Natal Brazil, The Ascension Island, Roberts Field Liberia, Dakar Senegal, and on in to Marrakech, Morocco. At Marrakech we were finally catching up with the crews that had taken the northern route. We had to remain in Marrakech, as there were insufficient hardstands in Italy to accommodate parking our aircraft. During the rainy season you could sink to your hubs if you parked on other than a hard surface, After about a week or so the facilities at Marrakech were getting backed up so we were ordered to depart for Tunisia and we spent a few days there. Finally we were cleared to depart for Italy but not to the base we were assigned to but a neighboring airfield. One night there and finally on to our base and the 461st Bomb Group and the 766th Squadron.
Upon arrival we found that we had been assigned to the 766th Squadron but our aircraft had been assigned to the 765th Squadron. We considered that most unfortunate as we had grown very fond of that aircraft and had hoped to fly it in combat. Actually we found that the practice of flying an assigned aircraft was frowned upon as if your plane was out of commission and you were forced to fly a strange plane you might be weary about that set of circumstances. The command found it best to require the crews to fly whatever plane happened to be assigned for that particular mission. This system seemed to work perfectly. Following a few practice flights to familiarize ourselves with the local area and the procedures utilized at that base. We did some practice bombing, instrument procedures unique to that air field, emergency fields that were to be utilized under certain conditions. Normally the Pilot would fly his first combat mission as a co-pilot with an experienced crew. The second mission would be with the entire crew except you would take an experienced co-pilot. The third mission would be the first time the crew flew without any exceptions. Our third mission was something else, first off it was to a small town in the Brenner Pass and the target was a rail yard that supposedly contained some high priority freight. We departed without incident and during the check out of equipment the co-pilot announced that his heated suit was not working properly. He should have checked it while we were still on the ground. Meanwhile we took off and formed up in formation. Pilot and co-pilot routinely took turns flying every 15 minutes to prevent fatigue. The co-pilot was still attempting to resolve the heated suit problem, so the pilot continued to fly the plane in formation. After changing his heated suit with the spare he finally changed the electric cord that connected the suit to the aircraft's electrical system. Bingo! The problem is finally resolved. By this time we were climbing into colder and colder air and the copilot is getting colder and more uncomfortable. Meanwhile I continued to fly the plane without relief. As we climbed out and cleared the landmasses below we would check the 50 cal. machine guns at each position. We happened to be flying the number 4 position, which placed us right under the lead planes tail gun. The tail gunner in the lead plane visually motioned for us to move out of the way so he could test fire his guns. The spent shells were ejected out into the slipstream and could damage your plane should they hit you. The tail gunner charged two live rounds to clear his weapon and I could see them headed straight for us. I immediately jumped on the left rudder in an attempt to slip our plane out of the path of the oncoming shells. The copilots was finally getting comfortable and warm and had his head resting in the right window bubble that some of the planes had. As luck would have it the live shells struck the bubble head on and literally caused the window to explode outward with a very loud explosive sound which about scared the copilot out of his skin. The aircraft was unaffected and we continued on the mission. Finally I got some relief when he was sufficiently warm and his nerves had settled down. Shortly there after we lost an engine and were unable to stay with the formation. I had the Bombardier toggle off about half of our bombs so that we could stay with the formation. When the formation turned on to the bomb run I angled our plane so as to intercept them, though I would be below and behind the main formation. Since we did not have a bombsight I wanted to provide the Bombardier some sort of reference on which to drop our bombs. He dropped when he felt we were in the proper position and we managed to put a few on the target through sheer luck I might add. Over the target all hell broke loose as a flak train that accompanies priority freight protected the target opened fire on us and being the lowest we were the aiming point!. Some of the best gunners in Germany were assigned to those trains. They aim their guns by radar and I was the low man in the formation and our plane was zeroed in on very quickly as we were catching all of the flak. I was being tracked from the right and I was convinced that if I turned right the next burst would be exactly where I would be. Accordingly I immediately turned sharply to the left in a diving turn. Unfortunately we were briefed to rally (turn) right off of the target. We took hits in two of our engines but they were still running and the instruments remained within limits. By this time we were totally by ourselves with no prospect of catching the main formation. The Navigator advised that we were just a few minutes from Switzerland but there was no way I was about to abort the war as once you landed in a neutral country you were interred and the war as over for you at that instant. The better option was to head for the head of the Adriatic and the Udine area. Unfortunately German fighters were stationed there but fortunately were flown by Italians and they had no stomach for a fight. We managed to limit our rate of descent to an acceptable rate that insured we could make it back to the home base. The lower we got the less the rate of descent. I was sure we could make it back to base safely. When we arrived over Udine the fighters came up but departed when they realized we were shooting at them as they approached, even though they could see we had two engines trailing smoke and another feathered. Once over the Adriatic our rate of descent was reduced to zero and we were able to hold 2,000 feet. We landed without further incident and had gotten back to our home base about an hour before the others returned. We found out later that all of the other crews reported us as having been shot down over the target.
Upon completion of eleven missions the Bombardier was ordered back to the states to join a B-29 crew and then to the Pacific. In the European Theater the bomb toggle switch was located in the Nose Gunners position and only the lead and deputy lead carried bombsights, therefore a Bombardier was really not required or utilized except on lead crews.
I had been offered lead training when we arrived but knowing the war was fast coming to an end I felt it best to not opt for that type training that would effectively ground the entire crew for the training required. We had all gone through a lot of hard training to fly combat and every one wanted to fly regardless of the conditions they might encounter.
At the completion of 5 missions I was promoted to First Lt. and the co-pilot was promoted to Second Lt.
At the completion of 10 missions we all got to go to the Isle of Capri for R&R. We were flown to Naples on the 3rd of March and then caught a small ferry to take us out to the island. Capri is probably one of the most beautiful places on the face of this earth. The officers were billeted in the Quisisana hotel, which remains to this date the most exquisite Hotel on the island. The enlisted crewmembers were housed in another first rate hotel located close by. We spent 10 days there in total comfort with outstanding food and complete comfort. We took in all of the sights including the "Grotto Azzurra" or Blue Grotto and bought all of the usual trinkets for our families' back home. Upon our return on 13 March it was obvious that the war was fast coming to a close and we naturally wanted to complete as many missions as possible hoping that we could complete a full tour of 35 Missions. We completed a total of 17 missions plus one supply mission immediately following the end of the war. There was an American POW camp located in a very remote location in the Austrian Alps. Specifically just out side the Village of Villach in a place called Spittal. The camp could not be supplied in a timely manner due to it's remote location so the authorities sent food stuff by air. We flew as part of a three ship formation and the planes had their Bomb bay's rigged to permit a free fall drogue chute drop of triple bagged flour, beans, bacon, rice and other dry goods type supplies. The valley was so confined that a three-ship approach as planned had to be abandoned in favor of a single ship approach. The Germans had left the POW's to fend for themselves and in an attempt to keep the civilians from getting to the supplies they formed a hand in hand circle and we attempted to drop into the center of this large circle. We scattered flour all over that area as most of the triple bags broke regardless. The mission was a success and the prisoners were taken out by the American troops a few days later. It was interesting to note that the officer that accepted the lead training led that mission and that was the only mission he flew, which confirmed my reasoning for not accepting a lead position.
Rather than try to verbalize each and every mission that I'm sure I could not do successfully I will list the missions flown by the official group numbers assigned to the mission flown by the 461st Bomb group.
We participated in the following Missions as listed in the Group's Mission Summary:
Mission No. 176, 181, 185, 187, 188, 193, 197, 199, 202, 206, and again 206, 209, 212, 215, 217, 219, and 221.
In addition the Supply mission already discussed. Rather than try to discuss individual specific missions I will attempt to generalize on missions that I specifically remember because of incidents that happened on those missions. Note: My form 5 shows combat missions on both 1 and 2 April for which we received combat time. The 461st Mission Log is in disagreement with my form 5 and I'm not sure who is correct.
The form 5 shows combat credit for both missions flown on the 1st and 2nd of April.
I recall one mission where I was flying the number 7 position directly under the tail gun of the number 4 plane. The number 4 plane took a direct hit in the fuel tanks amidships and exploded in a huge fireball that measured about 110 feet across. All that stuck out were the wing tips and as you all know the wing spread on a B-24 is 110 feet. The aircraft split with the left wing and main fuselage with both engines running went to our left and the right wing with both engines running went to our right. We flew directly into falling smaller debris. Parts of that aircraft was imbedded in the leading edge of our wing, but other than being thoroughly shaken up we were unaffected.
On another occasion while on the bomb run I noted that suddenly the astrodome disappeared. I immediately called the navigator and asked if he was all right. He responded that he was fine and why was I asking? I told him that the dome was gone and a moment later I heard a distinct" gulp", when he realized that an 88 mm anti-aircraft shell had gone through the plane without detonating. It had entered directly below the navigators' seat, scraped the back of his work chair and exited through the Astrodome. The 88 mm anti-aircraft shell was a lethal weapon that was normally fused to detonate on contact or at a specific altitude, this particular shell did neither for which I will be forever grateful!
I recall another occasion when the lead Bombardier missed by at least four miles and placed a perfect pattern on a housing area located about that same 4 miles from the actual target. Try convincing those people that we were not aiming at them!
On one occasion we were tasked with picking up officers and enlisted from the 332nd Fighter Group that routine escorted us on combat missions. This was the only all Negro fighter group in Europe if not the only all Negro Air Corp unit in the Army. The unit was commanded by a then Colonel Benjamin O. Davis. I invited the pilots to fly on the flight deck en route to Naples our destination, where their R&R facility was located. They were a lot of fun to fly with and from what I was able to observe excellent pilots. When ever they were in and around our group on combat Missions I routinely listened to the fighter to fighter VHF radio frequency which was always interesting listening. I recall once when one of the pilots called for help as he " Had five of those Mother F------ cornered down there! Always enjoyed flying with them whenever the occasion arose.
Another thing that sticks in my mind was the fact that in spite of being of Italian heritage and speaking the language to a limited degree, I was never able to find an Italian meal to beg borrow or steal. I did share a plate of green beans and bread with the family of the owners of the farm on one occasion. This meal was eaten in their barn, no less, while waiting my turn to shower. The shower happened to be located right next to one of the barns they retained and were using.
When the war ended I wanted to stay in Europe and complete some semblance of a tour of duty as I felt if I went back to the states I would probably have to finish my tour in the Far East. I visited our numbered Air Force Headquarters in Bari where I attempted to arrange such a transfer. Unfortunately our unit had been disbanded and returned to the states so there was no one in a position to approve such a transfer. I returned to our Squadron only to find most of the personnel had departed. Our navigator had departed with another crew and most of my enlisted crewmembers had likewise departed. I found this very frustrating, as I didn't even have a chance to say goodbye. The most senior crews had their choice of the available aircraft and the newer crews were sent to Gioia del Colle where our depot was located. We picked up a battle damaged B-24L #44-49929. I had been teamed up with Rob Hoskins who lived in the tent directly behind the one we occupied. I thought we had done a good job in our selection as the plane had only been on one combat mission when it was damaged. The extent of the battle damage was not apparent and the engines were all very low time and the airframe had practically no time on it. After much discussion we selected that plane and while there had three big bright Cherries painted on the sides of the aircraft. We named it " Virgin III " and stenciled numerous bombs and German Swastika's on the sides of the plane, as we wanted to take a combat weary plane home with us. Having completed this we returned to our Squadron area and a make up crew was gathered and we departed on or about the 20th of June 1945 for the States. The make up crew consisted of Rob Hoskins and myself as the pilots and Lt. Morris as our navigator Staff Sergeant David McCutcheon the engineer from my crew, and a T/Sergeant Harold Beltzer as our radio operator. In addition we had seven passengers 4 of which were officers and the balance enlisted. One of the officers was my copilot Carlton B. Jewett. We were routed to the states by way of Marrakech to the Azores, to Newfoundland, to Bradley Field, Conn. where we left the aircraft and returned home by rail. The trip home was anything but uneventful as we had two engine changes and it was always engine number 3. In each instance the engine had but 7 to 10 hours on it and in each instance it was internal failure. Detecting internal failure is difficult at best, as you don't know what the problem is until you find metal in the oil screen. The Navigator was goofing off while en route to Newfoundland and we had encountered unexpected head winds that had not been planned . The only way to establish accurate ground speed over water under day light conditions is to do numerous sun shots with the sextant. The distances between these lines provide an accurate ground speed. The Navigator was playing poker when he should have been navigating. The pilot and copilot figured out where we were and disregarded the navigators' wild changes in headings. When we arrived in Newfoundland we got on the ground about 20 minutes before the field closed with zero visibility. The engineer stayed with the plane until it was serviced and it took 2700 gallons of fuel, we had landed with 50 gallons of fuel remaining. I for one was in favor of some sort of disciplinary action against the navigator but our arrival in the states placed everything on hold as we were all that anxious to return home. My reason was to get back prior to my first wedding anniversary. We parked the plane upon arrival in a large field where B-24's were parked nose to tail and wing tip to wing tip. We were met by of all things a dairy truck who provided fresh milk for all. I think everyone had a full two quarts. We departed Bradley Field by rail for processing at a center closest to each individuals home. I was processed through Indian Town Gap, Pa. where my wife and parents met us. Indian Town Gap is located just outside Harrisburg, Pa. Carlton Jewett lived in Pittsburgh so I was able to see him frequently but quickly lost track of the balance of the crew. At my age at that time locating them didn't seem too important but as I aged I was determined to find each and every one of them, which I have managed to do. I personally remained in the service and after the atomic bomb's were dropped on Japan, I was sent to Williams Field, Arizona where I was assigned as a maintenance officer for B-24's and B-25's both of which I was current in. Unable to find adequate housing I decided to accept a discharge and returned to Aliquippa and went back to finish my college degree.
Two and a half years later I sat for examinations for a regular commission and was recalled to active duty in June of 1948. I attended electronics training at Keesler Air Force Base, note we were now a separate service, that happened in 1947 while I was out of the service. While a civilian I was active in the reserve and continued to fly with a local Troop Carrier Unit that was stationed at the Greater Pittsburgh airport very near where I lived. I worked in sales but was never quite sure that I had not made a big mistake in getting out of the service. I missed the service and the service life and desperately wanted to get back into uniform.
After graduating from the electronics training at Keesler Air Force Base I was sent overseas once again.
I served as an electronics officer in an early warning radar squadron in Japan from 1949 through 1951. I then served as an atomic weapons officer in Albuquerque and at Patrick Air Base in Fla. From there we were sent to Germany with the Matador Missile for three years. Upon our return I was assigned to what was to become Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Thor IRBM missile. I was in charge of the crew that launched the first missile from Vandenberg in December of 1958. I was in the unit that trained the British on the Thor Missile as the Thor was deployed in England. I was then transferred to the Minuteman program where I served as a command evaluator for SAC. After two and a half years of constant travel conducting maintenance evaluations I was sent to SAC Headquarters and assigned to Minuteman Maintenance under the Director of Maintenance. This was scheduled to be a four-year tour but I was selected for the Air War College Class of 1966/67. Completing that I was assigned to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon in J-4 Logistics Directorate. Three years later I was sent to Korea as the Senior Liaison Officer to the Korean Ministry of Defense and the Korean Joint Staff. I had an additional duty of Liaison to their Senior Service Colleges. This assignment was directly under the Ambassador and the Joint United States Military Advisory Group or for short the JUSMAG- Korea, a most interesting assignment of two years duration. My offices were located in their equivalent of our Pentagon. By the time I was scheduled to return I had decided to put in for retirement. I served my final assignment at Andrews Air Force Base here in Washington D.C. At Andrews I served as Chief of Maintenance for the fleet of aircraft that served the Washington area.
The one exception was the presidential fleet of aircraft was handled by a separate organization although we did do some of their major engine rebuild and field maintenance. I retired on 30 June 1973 and remained here in Falls Church where we lived while stationed in the Capitol area. My second career was in Real Estate Sales, which I have been doing for the past 27 years.
It was well after retirement and with my finally developing an interest in computers that I got interested in trying to locate my crewmembers. I have succeeded in locating them all and have been in touch with those still living or with their families if deceased. I have been unable to locate a current address on one crewmember that no longer lives at the last address I managed to find. I'll continue trying.
My apologies for all this detail on what I have been doing but that is the only thing that I am absolutely sure of.