Fred Johnson: 15 Months POW Stalag 17, Krems, Austria WWII, Chapter 31 pgs. 160-164
My first session with Fred Johnson was on Feb. 6, 1997 at the home of Dr. Clyde Wooton in Buckhorn. Fred talked with me for over three hours. He had a
great story and I thought about how good it was as I drove back home. I could hardly wait to get to the computer and flip on the tape, and start writing. But when I flipped on the tape
-- nothing! I had recorded two hours of blank tape. It wasn't until spring break that I could get back to Buckhorn to redo the first part of the interview. This time I
double-checked to make sure I was recording Fred's interview.
Fred’s Story: I caught a train from Chavies on November the first, my birthday, and went to Louisville. From Louisville I was sent to Fort Benjamin, Harrison Indiana where I was
processed and issued uniforms. After Fort Benjamin Harrison I went to Miami, Florida. I took my basic training in Miami Beach. For six weeks our barracks was a hotel. We marched,
marched, and marched. We were trained to shoot an Army 45 and a Thompson submachine gun. My next stop was Amarillo, Texas. Now the Army had issued us sun tan uniforms, and Amarillo was
as cold as North Pole. It was raining when we got there and they rounded us up some raincoats finally. And here I endured the first, but not the last, of those physicals that all W.W.II
soldiers experienced to check for venereal disease, before being allowed on a new base.
At Amarillo we attended airplane mechanic school, then we were sent to Kingston, Arizona for aerial gunnery school. We were picked up at the depot in trucks and taken to a tent city
where we lived about seven weeks. It was here that the boys were separated from the girls. One of the roughest parts of the training, where a lot of men washed out, was when these civilian pilots
would take you up in a two-seater airplane with a 50 caliber machine gun sitting in a mount, loaded with ammunition. The pilot would peel off after the target and you’d be standing up
in that thing held by your seat-belt harness and blasting away at the target -- or trying to anyway. We made six of those flights. On the ground they had set up B-17 turrets with automatic
shotguns and they put you in those turrets to shoot at various targets. Those shotguns did a number on your shoulders. I’ve seen boys go in with blood dripping from their shoulders
from firing shots repeatedly. Climbing the tower was another ordeal where guys washed out. The tower wobbled and you had to shoot moving targets form the tower.
Another thing you had to do was take a 50 caliber machine gun apart. You remained blindfolded and the sergeant took the machine gun apart, messed all the parts up and you still had to
put it back together. If you could accomplish that you were in pretty good shape.
After this phase of training we were sent to Alexandria, Louisiana Air Force Base. My air crew was already there waiting for my arrival. We were there for about four or five weeks and
some weeks we would fly everyday. The next week we would do night flying. In that process we added a copilot to check him on instruments.
We went up and on the landing the pilot called for half flaps wheels down, full flaps and doing that he flipped the landing gear switch and brought the wheels back up about the time
we hit the runway and tore the whole belly out of that B-17. We got out of it because the copilot we were training hadn’t been checked out on instruments. I got a three-day pass to
come home, one day to travel, one day to get back. My next stop was New Jersey to go overseas. We were issued tropical packs. We assumed we were headed for the Pacific but we were sent
to Europe as replacement crews.
We went across on the Queen Mary. Before we shipped out, our copilot Nicketin, who was from the Bronx, took us with him to New York. Nicketin was Russian, and his parents didn’t
speak English. He said, "Boys, I could take you home with me, but my parents don’t speak English." He stopped two girls right in downtown New York and said, "Girls, I
want to tell you something. These boys here are from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and here’s another one form the Bad Lands of the Dakotas. His dad is French-Canadian and his
mother is an American Indian. Now girls, I want you take care of them." They did too. We started off by going to Madison Square Garden, did a little ice skating. Around 1:00 a.m. we
caught a cab and drove up to Harlem to one of those black night clubs. It was a classy place with everyone in tuxes. The bouncers were the size and shape of heavyweight fighters but they
took us right in and gave us first class service….. Around daylight we left, caught a cab and as strange as it might seem we said good-bye to those girls, went back to the base and
left; two days later we went overseas.
One mission, the radio operator called back to say that Wanneker, the waist gunner, was in trouble. His oxygen mask had been shot off, he was trying to breath.
Our first base overseas was in Scotland. We went to that base on a small gauge train. I had an Army 45 pistol along with a Thompson submachine gun. They weren’t loaded but I did
have loaded clips for them with me. They were giving us milk, doughnuts and cookies. One of those English ladies looked at me and said, "Honey, I want to take you home with me, you
are too young to be in the war. You come home with me for about three years." When we got off the train and got on the trucks it was raining all the time. Our barracks were Quonset
huts with two bunks in each one. We were there for some time. One evening they called me and Lowar, the radio operator, down and gave each of us a rifle, took us down to a big double
gate and told us to guard the gate.
We got in a little room and lit a candle and tried to get the safeties off the rifle and never did succeed. There was a big British mess hall near by but about three o’ clock I got
me a big can of soup and ate it. We’d go down to a little pub and shoot darts and drink beer with the old people.
We got to our airbase and were a part of the 355th Air Squadron of the 381st Bomber group. We started out flying some routine missions. I was top turret gunner
directly behind the pilot. It was kind of a dull thing you were flying in formation and you just kept on going. You’d get the flak all of a sudden you could see it in the distance,
then the 109s and P-38s and the P-51s dog fighting, it was dreamy like in the distance and you would watch it. You’d see a B-17 that had been hit going down, you’d try to count the
crew members that had bailed out. The flak was white and when it hit the place you got a good jar.
One mission, the radio operator called back to say that Wanneker, the waist gunner, was in trouble. His oxygen mask had been shot off, he was trying to breath. We were around 30,000
feet. We pulled him into the radio compartment and covered him up and gave him some oxygen. The pilot broke regulations dropped down to 10,000 feet. He could have been court marshaled
for that. When Mac did that two more B-17s dropped down with us, one in front, one behind.
Our Liberty Run was Cambridge, England. Trucks went in every night. You could go where ever you wanted to. There was no dry-cleaning or laundry. You did the best you could with
gasoline. In the barracks we had a big stove and a dirt floor. If you weren’t on a mission you had a lot of free time. I spent New Year’s Eve 1943 in Cambridge. On New Year’s Eve
1944 we had flown a mission and it was dark when we hit the channel. We were calling SOS everywhere, every field was clouded in and we couldn’t find a base to land.
Finally MacAvoy made the decision to put her in automatic pilot and send her back over the channel and all the crew to bail out over England. Just then we got an SOS from a little
base, we went there and landed. It was a glider base. Before Mac could get her stopped we ran out of air strip and were in the mud. He got her stopped and we got out. We were stinking
filthy with cigarettes, sweat, gunpowder and by the time we got back to the airbase were good and muddy too. The Brits were having a New Year’s party at the base, and those BAF girls
directed us to the showers and took our muddy uniforms, gave us some clean clothes and put us in some nice bunks for the night. The next morning when we got our uniforms back they were
spotless and pressed.
Perry County Men in WWII: Stories From The Heart
$25.00 per copy, $3.00 shipping and handling
WWII Interview Tapes: $10.00 each, $2.00 s/h
Send orders to:
Paul David Taulbee
Hazard, Kentucky 41701