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Record 29/959

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Oral history interview with Stanley Johnson conducted by Brad Larson for the World War II project. Stanley Johnson was born in Oshkosh in 1923, worked as a welder on the west coast; worked in a shipyard in Seattle; returned to Oshkosh and was drafted in 1943; entered the Army Air Corps; trained as a ball-turret gunner; with the 8th Army Air Force in England; flew numerous missions in a B-24. Stanlev Johnston Interview July 26, 2002 Conducted by Bradley Larson {B: indicates Mr. Larson and S: indicates Mr. Johnston}. B: So, Mr. Johnston, are you ready? S: I think so. B: You know, how I like to start is I like to talk about Oshkosh before the war. What was it like living in Oshkosh in the 30's? What was it like in the Depression? S: Well think ah, the wages were awful low in Oshkosh. Always have been. I understand this Paine Company out here used to hire people for about 10 cents an hour and work them for about 16 hours a day. Consequently there wasn't a lot of money for working people. But ah, my father, he was a painter. Worked for a contractor here in town, Ander Anderson. And ah, they ah, he went in the, he came over from Denmark when he was about 16 years old. Somehow he got involved with the National Guard and when World War I broke out, he was shipped back overseas ah, with the Oshkosh National Guard. The 3200 Red Arrow Division it was called. All his friends were with him. They come back here after the war and he worked as a painter in Oshkosh and we lived up here on Cherry Avenue. At that time the numbers were all different. It was called 144. Now it's 922. Telephone Company, manager of the Telephone Company, he lived up the street a couple doors. And we worked at the local grocery stores, delivering groceries. And went through high school here. Took up a trade in high school, welding. About that time, it was prior to the war why they were starting to look for welders, they thought that welders would be needed and ah, the school turned over their auto mechanics deal and went into welding. And I was going to the first classes in that. And then there was a deal where the government was giving us $20.00 a month or something, $25.00 a month to do welding. Spend a couple hours a day welding. Got to the point where we could pass all the welding tests there was. Went out looking for a job. Nobody would hire us because, oh one boy went to Milwaukee, one place wouldn't even let us in. They said I was too small to be a welder. And ah, after high school we worked in the factories locally. B: How old would you have been? When were you born? S: 1923. And ah, in August I'll be 79. But ah, we were getting 40 cents an~ hour. That was the minimum. That'd be $16.00 a week. Here I knew how to weld but I couldn't get a job welding. I was working in a furniture factory. They were putting cheap furniture together and they'd sell and people'd paint it themselves. Then finally I got called by the employment office to go to Leach Company. That's a defense factory. I take my welding hood and down I go. They put me in the machine shop on a grinder. Never got a chance to use it, go into welding. Well was getting 40 cents an hour there too and was getting a little piecework and makil19 a little bit more on it. They'd have us come in on Sundays, lower paid people like us, and clean up the machines for everybody. And of course that would be just straight time too. And work half a day on that. And then ah, got to the point where we heard that they needed welders out on the West Coast. So ah, me and another fellow decided to go out to the West Coast. They wouldn't give us a release because this was a defense factory. He says, "I didn't ask for one when you came and I won't give you one when you leave." So I says, "Okay, goodbye." So we got in this old car of mine and went to the West Coast. It took us a couple months to get there. B: That must have been quite a journey in those days. S: Oh yeah. I had a, I think it was a '29 roadster Oldsmobile. I'd bought it for about $75.00. And ah, when it'd break down, we'd stay there and fix it. It broke down out in South Dakota, some little hick town. They didn't, they had a village blacksmith and they had a little tavern or something there and they had duck pin bowling alley. First time I ever seen them. And this blacksmith, he took it apart. Well, he didn't have no parts for it. But he made something; it was a bearing or something that he put in there. And he made something and he told me to drop him a card about how far I got. He thought I could get a part for it in Rapid City, South Dakota. Okay. Well I got to Rapid City and I got the part but then the car was still working so I thought, no use fixing it now. We took a job out there, wherever we could find work. We tried to share our expenses. B: What year would that have been? S: Well that had to be about '42, I guess. We ah, we went out to this ah, West Coast and got up to Oregon, worked different places. Worked gas stations on the way in Boise, Idaho. Portland, Oregon worked in a fruit cannery. And the guy wanted us to stay there and learn the business making applesauce but we wanted to go up to Seattle. And we had enough money to go; we went on, went to Seattle. Went down in that Boeing Aircraft factory to apply for a job and they asked if we had worked in a defense factory. I said yeah. He said, "Did you get a release?" I said, "No." Well then he said he couldn't hire us until he got that release. The other fellow, he got a job there. And I went to the shipyard and the shipyard; they signed me up right away. The union that run the shipyards. And they sent me out to this one ship; well I was on the payroll from that day on. And then I went out to the shipyard and signed in. And ah, I was getting 45 cents an hour back in Oshkosh and of course I started out with a dollar, a dollar five there. B: Big difference. S: And ah, I worked there long enough to take the Navy welding test and when I passed that, I got $1.25. That was top. We worked six days a week. B: What were you doing? S: Welding. B: On ships? You were manufacturing ships? S: Yeah. I was welding ships at night. Well the day crews would really fit everything up and tack everything. At night the welders would come in and do most of the welding at night. And get done what had to be done. The next day somebody else would do it. Ah, I stayed out there quite a while and they were giving me deferments because I was doing military work, I guess. And ah, in the meantime I had a brother that was in the service. He'd been in before the war. He was, his name was Glen. And he was two years older than I was. And he went to ah, he went into the Air Force, I don't know. It was '39 or '40. And he took up weather. He was a weather observer. Went to Chanute Field. And then ah, when the war broke out, he was all set to go over to Africa. My mother went down there to Washington to see him off 'cause he was in a rush to get out there. And then ah, [ ] came through for him, papers for take up flying. So that scratched him off of that deal and he went to flying school and cadet school and went through all the stages. And since he was ah, in the service, they had a limit on who they could make officers. So they made him what they call a Flight Lieutenant. No, sergeant. He was a flying sergeant to start with. They had ah, They'd gotten to the point that when things got a little worse there, when he'd pilot, you're a sergeant and you got a co-pilot that's maybe a captain or something. That didn't work out too good so the service made another deal where they took the sergeants, the flying sergeants and made em flight officers. That's similar to, the had a blue ah, shoulder patch and the warrant officers that were like in the band, they had a red shoulder patch or maroon. They had a flight one. They gave him the equipment to be an officer but it was the same as an enlisted man. They didn't have the [ ] of being an officer because they could only have so many. Other people could come in the service and right away they'd make em officers when they went through their flying training. Well he ah, he got ah to the point where he was working out of some base down at Tampa, Florida and there was some general at, from out west, a two-star general that decided that he had a meeting to go to. And my brother was the co-pilot on the plane and the base wouldn't give him clearance to take off. There was some bad weather coming and ah, he said okay, he'd sign it himself. The general signed the clearance to take off and they caught up in Alabama in a tornado or something and tore the plane all apart. And ah, he was one of ten on the plane and they all got killed. I guess he was the only one according to what we could hear that he released his seat belt just before the crash and he went flying through the windshield there, through the plane. And his was about the only body that wasn't burned up. But it was still too bad to look at when they brought him back here. Well, I'm out there in Seattle and I klnda wanted to get in the service and my deferment was just about up and I thought well, I'm gonna go back and, you couldn't enlist. You hadda be drafted. So I ah, told em I was leaving, my deferment was up. The guy says, "Oh, there might be another one comin for ya." I says, 'Well, now I'm gonna go back." Sure enough, they had another deferment for me but I decided I wanted to get drafted. And I went in with a bunch from Oshkosh. Well, I don't know if you know that Phillip Nelson? B: Yes, as a matter of fact, that was his wife that just called, Jean. S: Yeah. He was ah, we got drafted the same day. B: You came back here to Oshkosh. S: Right. To get drafted. Then ah, I got a list of the people that went in when I did. And then ah, we went down to cadet training. Went in the Air Force and went into cadet training. Oh, went to Texas Tech for six months or something. And all set to go to Santa Anna to be broken into different organizations, bombardier and navigator. And they must have gotten they didn't need em anymore. Cancelled the whole class. We had all our stuff cleaned and ready to go and they disbanded the whole organization. So they gave us a choice ah, and I guess they recommended gunners school for us. The only fellows that didn't have to go to gunners' school were fellows that were pilots in the first place. And ah, they maybe got a little different deal out of it. B: What year was that? When would that have been? S: Ah, that'd be in '43, I guess. But ah, I suppose that's how Phillip got to go to gunnery school too. B: So you and Phil went to gunnery school together? S: No, no. We went, we went ah, went in the service together, went through basic training together and we went to this college together, Texas Tech. B: Phil is a heck of a nice guy. He was on my board for a long time. Looks like you kept a diary while you were in the service. S: Yeah. I went in in '43 and Texas Tech was in '44. Then we went to, I went to Kingman, Arizona for gunnery school. Then ah, we had ah, I had one problem out in gunnery school. We went to ah, an air chamber, an air pressure chamber to see how, went up about 20,000 feet or so, 25,000 feet. Which is all right but when the guy came down, he just cut the switch like it was a dive and just dropped 'er down real fast. Well, my ears pretty near popped and I went in the hospital. Spent a week in the hospital. It was the first time I ever been in a hospital in my life. I wasn't born in a hospital. So that threw me back a week and I came up to that pressure chamber and, never again! So I wouldn't go through that. And then ah, after gunnery school, why... B: What did, what did you do in gunner school? S: Well, I understand that they preferred people that were familiar with duck hunting, shootin and ah, lead in and different things. People that were familiar with guns. And ah, when you get there, basically I was in the lower ball. They had top turret they had, and lower ball. Being as small as I was, which ah, made me a ball gunner. Well there you learn how to take the guns apart, be able to put those guns together blindfolded. And they'd slip a bad piece in there and you got to identify it when you're putting it together. In other words, you're doing this blindfolded and you feel one that's something wrong with it, you gotta be able to pick it out. And then ah, they do different shootings. You do ah, you ride on a pick-up truck around the track where they had skeet coming up and you shoot at the skeet off the truck when you're movin. B: Is that pretty hard? S: Well, no. B: Were you familiar with guns when you went in there? Did you hunt? S: Oh, I been duck hunting ever since I was 12 years old. B: So you had the basics of lead and you were pretty familiar. S: Yeah. That part was ah, second nature. I ah, you work up until you get into the airplane. Then you go out and you shoot ah, they got a tow plane that towed the big, what they called a "sock." And then your ammunition is painted. The tips are painted different colors. Like red, or blue or green. And then you fire so many shots at these socks. Everybody shoots a different color. And supposedly then, when they get them back, they count and see which ones got hits and which ones didn't. Well it wasn't really a fair way to judge but ah, it worked out that ah, well the plane, one of the planes, they lost the sock. So there went half our credits. And I still ended up with about the second best score of the bunch. With just one sock. But that's not because I was a better shot. It was because the guy was flying out so far and the pilot would call him up on the phone and tell him to get his butt in. They were scared, those guys. I think they were pilots that were kinda [ ] they must have had some kind of thing against them so they ended up making them tow pilots. B: What kind of position are you in when you're in that ball? S: Well, you're sitting with your legs up. And you're looking between your legs. You got a window about 10-12 inches, which is kinda heavy glass. Bullet proof. And you work your feet. You work your hands. You can move it hydraulically, move it around, spin it around different ways. And ah, you're hooked up with a heated suit. You have no parachute down there because there's no room for it for one thing. The second thing, if you open the door, you're outside. And ah, the only way you can get out of it is when the guns are pointing down and then you can open the door and go up through the top. But ah, ... B: Sounds scary. S: If you're on a trip that's a long trip, you're under oxygen. You got an oxygen [mask] and you got all this equipment on. And you stay there for quite a while. I had a time where all at once I couldn't see and all at once it was all smoked up. Well come to find out, I had a, one of my gloves, the two wires had shorted out and they started smoking and the smoke was all in there and you couldn't see. But ah, didn't feel it right away so you couldn't tell. Another time, I don't know if I should tell you all this or not. You edit it out, yeah? B: I really find it interesting. S: Well this was in training. We rode down the ball and all at once, boom! Something white flew by out the window. I couldn't see anymore out of the window. I said, "Who's taking a leak?" The copilot was taking a leak up in the front and when that water hit that window, it just froze. But ah, after that, when anybody up in the front had to take a leak, they had to do it in their helmet. They threw the helmet out. Yeah, we went through this gunnery and then after that you go to, you go to a place in Nebraska where they form the crews. I don't know how they judge this or how they do it but they take gunners from, like a ball gunner from... top gunner, and tail gunner from these different schools. And they put this crew together. And ah, then we went out to Mountain Home, Idaho. And we took our crew training, they call it. You work as a crew and you do the different things they have. You take cross-country trips and what not. Navigators [] his specialty and... B: Now were you in a B-17 or a B-24 or... S: Well, I started out in the 8-17's in gunnery school. But the ball is the same in either one. It's a Sperry ball and ah, B-24's had em. When we got to, when we got our crew training, then we got 24's. And ah, so then we ah, trained in 24's and at that time they were losin a lot of planes over in Europe and were looking for replacement crews all the time. And they just keep going and just keep bombing. They don't care how many they lose. They just had always room for more. Ford was punching em out about one an hour - the planes. And they were able to keep enough crew for em. So we ah, when we finished our crew training, why we went to ah, they didn't need as many planes at that time so we didn't fly the plane over. We went over on a ship. B: Do you remember the name of the ship that you went over on? S: Ah, yeah I did but ah... It was an English ship. I don't think it was made for the Atlantic Ocean. It was something for the Mediterranean and when they hit rough weather, it really bobbed and the ship was so full of people that I think I slept underneath a table in the dining room, a dining room table or something. We slept underneath it and the ship would swing and you'd... And of course the first time out why everybody'd get sick. They'd puke all over the stairwells and everything. Smelly mess it was. Well, they didn't feed us too much. Maybe that was the reason. Ah, in fact they ah, being an English ship and they got the food from our country and went back and come back with our food. So they had kind of a riot one night and they, officers made em feed everybody until they were full. They had to feed everybody and make sure everybody had something to eat. But ah, I was in a convoy and then of course you can't go any faster than the slowest ship. So it was ah, that was an experience getting across there. Then we finally went to ah, to England. And when you come to a place over there, why it's the same thing then. They decide on what base needs the crews. So ah, they happened to assign me to the.3891h. And that was in Norwich, near Norwich in England there. B: Did your crew stay together Mr. Johnston, as a crew? Or were you separated out? And they needed a ball gunner here and they needed a waist gunner here. Did you stay together? S: No. As a rule, we ah, we had our crew and we had a guy that was a navigator that was evidently a pretty good navigator. And the colonel of the base that we were on, he had a crew too. And of course, he picks the crew he wants. And he picked our navigator for his crew. Well, our navigator said he hated to leave the crew. It's kind of sentimental reasons to stay with the crew and ah, he said, "What can you do when the commanding officer wants you on his crew and, plus you get a promotion." That's always easy to take and ah, so he went with the commanding officer. And he's the only one that got killed. B: Did you know your crew pretty well? Were you pretty tight...? S: Not, not as close as ah, [] the officers were one thing and they wanted you to think they were like God. You're an enlisted man. You ate separately. And ah, you lived separately. They had the officers quarters. They had the enlisted men's quarters. They gave us one step above the, the regulars because for one thing, they made us sergeants. That gave us a little advantage of other people. And our mess halls, they had to be able to feed us whenever we were there. In the morning or late at night or whenever it was. And then they had to be awful careful that the food we got was good. No soap or anything, a bar of soap in something could spoil the whole mission. But they ah, they had that little difference between the... We had our wings and on our wings we had a little blue patch underneath it that represented flying, you was on combat duty. You couldn't be detained. In other words, if the military police would pick you up in town, they couldn't hold you. They had to get you back to your base because you were on combat duty. And ah, I can tell you one time where, we used to go to London on passes about 48 hours, they called it. Our pass would maybe start at six o'clock at night. Well, in order to get the train, we'd leave early in the morning. Weren't gonna do anything that day anyhow and then we'd leave, say 8 o'clock in the morning. Get the jump on it. Then we'd go on our pass and I'll be darned if after we had gone, why this restriction come and there'd be no passes. Because that's the way they'd catch the AWOLS. The deserters or whatever you call em. 'Cause they know nobody's got a pass out. Well, that, a couple days before our passes, just about the day our pass was up, everybody'd be picking you up. M. P.'s, Scotland Yard, takes you down, got to the point where you pretty near had to hold your pass in your hand. They weren't supposed to have issued it. We had it before , before they was able to, you know, know that they were going to do that. And ah, then we'd get back, why... We went, we went on pass ah, like that one time. We'd usually fly in the same plane but not necessarily the same plane because a plane had to fly every day. And we didn't fly every day. B: Oh, you didn't? S: As a crew. B: You didn't. S: Not necessarily. And ah, if ah, if we were on pass, our plane was flyable, well somebody else was going to be flying it. Well, this one time, we were on a pass and this ah, a mission came up that was rather what you'd call a milk run. A real easy mission. But they all count the same. Whether they're hard, or long, or easy or") short. And the guy ah, they had a pocket of these Germans that were shooting at the planes on the French Coast there in a pocket. And it was just kind of an aggravation. If you got too close to them, why they'd shoot some flak up at em. Well, they were surrounded. They weren't going anywheres so I guess they decided it was time to drop a few bombs them. They didn't have anything else I suppose scheduled so they had a couple of groups. Well, we were three divisions over there. The first division was 8-17's, second division was 8-24's, third division was B-17's. Well B-24's and the 17's were both going to the same target and the 17's were flying maybe 5,000 feet higher. They came over and they dropped their bombs. They all went through our group. They knocked down three of our airplanes and the one that we had was one of em. But miraculously, I don't think anybody got killed. They all got out of it but we lost three planes. B: You had to jump. S: I wasn't on that. We were on pass. But our plane was one of those that got knocked down. But ah, as far as the amount of damage they were doing. They was just going to knock this one, this couple of gun installations out. Because these guys with these guns, I don't know if they had women running em or what they'd just, pick, pick, pick and sure enough, they'd knock down a plane every once in awhile. B: Was German anti-aircraft fire pretty good? Was it pretty accurate? S: Ah, I don't know if it was accurate. When you have 1200 planes come in over, duck shooting. They had ah, I think they had women ah, at those gun stations most of the time, installations. But they kinda called a guy to get a Ford pick-up and he'd drive that gun around to different places. And ah, as soon as he got over there, why if you were high enough... We used to have counter measures where they'd throw chaff out ah, it's like the tin foil that you put on Christmas trees? And that would float down and their radar, if they had radar, they'd pick that stuff up and maybe they'd be shooting at it after... as it's floating down. But they ah, as a rule they were pretty good. The Germans were, they were pretty good planes and they'd lose a plane and they'd take one with em. And for awhile they thought they might be making suicide attacks when they... When they, they'd come through a formation and maybe they'd run into a plane. Maybe it was an accident. And then you'd think, well was that a suicide dive or what? That's how our commanding officer got killed. A nose job, guy hit him in the nose and that plane blew up and the right wing was damaged too. B: Was it pretty hard to hit a German fighter as it came through? Describe that for me, would you? S: They ah, they had a couple different ways they'd do their... they'd come from out of the sun or come from the front. Then they didn't have much fire, chance of hitting you because by the time their shells and you were there, they had to be just exactly, and that was pretty hard. Sometimes they'd fly through a formation like that, then they'd get the gunners to shooting and they could shoot their own planes down. Could cause a lot of confusion. The pilots always believed in socking it in close, keep a tight formation. They thought they had more fire power. Actually it was a handicap I think, to us gunners, because the farther they were away, the more range we had. We couldn't shoot this way, couldn't shoot that way too much. We had limited amount. If they come up from behind, then you had a good chance to get em. When they come in on this pursuit curve, why, I know ah, we ah, we had a chance one time to ah, usually when you get near to where the fighters are, somebody reports it on the radio. They call em bandits and "bandits in the area." And ah, sometimes you see your fighter escorts out there. They got what they call wing tanks on the wings. And then when they get ready to go in combat, they drop their wing tanks. Then they still got a full supply of gas but that's how they lighten their load. Well, when you see the planes lightening their load, why then you can figure that there's bandits in the area. They had different ways of ah, of trying to get at you. They'd shoot at you from long distance or if they'd get a fly through like that where you could get to shoot, get a lot of ammunition up there, and maybe some body's gonna get hit. I seen three of those jets, we run across the jets in the later part, I was in the later part of the thing. And ah, we got over there just before the end of '44 and I was in from '45 to the end. And ah, they had ah, they had the German jets, which came in, and they were a pretty superior plane. Kind of new to us. We hadn't seen jets or anything yet. And ah, they had ah, they had the cannon fire. Geez, I seen three of em come in one time on my side and we thought they were '51's at first. I said, "Geez, those guys are getting close enough. Somebody's going to take a shot at them." Because any plane that'd come in, even our own plane, you never know if the Germans are in it or whose in it. But ah, you had to be careful ah, of anybody and geez, all at once that guy fired, these puffs of cannon fire, like puffs of smoke coming out. And he shot the tail off the plane ahead of us. Of course that plane just went into a spin. These guys, they just bellied up, turned belly up and went out. Well the armor plating and everything is on the bottom of these planes. That's where their heavy armament and so, we shoot at em but we don't know if we hit em or not. But it just ah, just close calls. B: What kind of lead do you have to give a jet? My goodness you'd think... S: No, they come in on a glide. They don't come in fast. No. In fact I think they just glide in and when they want to go, they just, boom, they put the gas on. Usually ah, they didn't get em soon enough. If Germany could have gotten em six months earlier, why.... They were pretty well whipped by the time we got there. They'd hunt these planes down. One time we had ah, we had one mission we went over ah, Russia had asked us ah, to bomb some city up near their borders? Can you see me on there? Let me see if I can find myself. B: Say, would you let us copy some of these photos? S: Oh, yeah. B: I appreciate that. S: Ah, we had a, our pilot, he was a German. He was from New York and he ah, he'd been over to Germany on a scholarship or something prior to the war. And he had uncles over there and relation over there. Now he's bringing a bomber over there and 'course his theory was, our main job was, to protect our plane. Like the old stagecoach. You have the shotgun rider. You don't, you're not out there shooting up everybody. You're just out there to protect yourself. And ah, that's what he wanted to save our ammunition for, to protect our plane. Because usually if a plane got crippled up or something like that, then they were duck soup for the Germans. They'd like to pick these ah, singles out. B: Yeah, that's what happened to Bob Tank, this guy I told you about in a B-17. S: But ah, this ah, after the war, he flew over his uncle's house. He must have been getting along pretty good with them. He got a new paint job on his building. But he ah... We had one fellow, our engineer. He was a Jewish. His name is Horowitz. I still keep in touch with him. He, ah... B: Describe a typical mission for me. What was it like, a typical mission? S: Well, we had one, we ah, weather conditions were a big thing. They'd wake you up maybe 4:30 in the morning. Whoever would come through, there was six enlisted men in these Quonset huts. They'd wake you up. Then you'd go up and get breakfast. From breakfast, you'd go over to the briefing room. In fact, they got a lot of that out at EAA and it's kind of similar to what it was. And then ah, in the briefing room you find out where you're going and a little bit about it Not too much but I suppose everybody had there... Navigator, they got their information and everybody got information. We'd go out to the airplane. They had people that took care of the airplane on the bases. They lived out there in old shacks. And they had the plane and it's supposed to be in good shape. It's checked out. When the pilots checked it out, why you'd have your schedule and you'd take off and then you'd form. You had to form someplace and it depends on the weather. And ah, this one day I guess we formed, we tried to form and the weather was bad. 50 we decided to form over France. We got over there and we couldn't find the outfits we were supposed to follow. We thought they were behind us. Then all at once they thought they must have been ahead of us. We went on and when we got into Germany, the weather cleared up and it was real nice and clear. So we went on and we bombed our target and came back. Come to find out there had been a recall and we'd missed it. And now the strike photos that they had, they got credit for the mission. But ah, all the radio operators that were supposed to be listening there, they didn't get that recall, of course it comes in code and stuff, I suppose. B: Forming up I think, would be a dangerous time. When there's a lot of planes in the air and you're all trying to get in position. Is that... ? S: It is. When the weather's bad, you get ah, you can't see or stuff were very good. It's dangerous. They lost a lot of accidents that way. Planes. Probably more of them were accidents that they got killed, than the Germans killed em. Sometimes they'd have to take off when the weather's bad. We ah, during that Battle of the Bulge there ah, the weather was bad. That's when the Germans made their big push. They couldn't get no air support over there. 50 when the weather broke enough where they could get over there, they hadda go. They put extra food on the plane and rations and they figured they wouldn't be able to get back to our base. They'd have to go somewhere's else. It was really important to go over and do this bombing and try to change things. 50 it was the break in the weather that saved em. I mean that, the Germans wouldn't have done nothing if it hadn't been the weather. Because they didn't have no control of the skies at the end. B: From your position, you probably had a great view of the whole formation down there, didn't you? S: Not really. You could just see out what your area is and, but if there's 1200 planes, they might be flying over for two hours. Same spot. B: Very difficult to imagine if you haven't seen it, like I've never seen 1200 planes. S: But ah, the vapor trails from all these things looked like a white cloud up there. B: Was there rivalry between B-17 and B-24 crews? You flying a 24, was there any ah, ... S: Just joking. We had ah, the B-24 was a little faster. The B-17 flew a little higher. And ah, they claimed the 17 could take a lot of punishment. But I don't know if there was much rivalry between the crews. They didn't make any - they were about the same. When you stop to think, we didn't drop, but you know, five ah, usually 5,000 pound bombs. 5,000, 6,000, 5400. I've a list of the towns I bombed, the dates. B: Would you allow us to make a copy of this? S: Yeah, you can. B: What, let's talk about the end of the war. Where were you when you ah... S: Well, the war ended, we was over in England. And of course, talk and everything goes on. They figure that they Americans were going to beat up the English when they came back. Or they thought the English were going to beat up the Americans. 'Cause the English had to go off to war and the women were all home. {The first tape ends here}. S: So the first thing ah, that when the war ended, well there was going to be trouble between the Americans and the English. And ah, they restricted us to the base. They wouldn't let us go off the base. They took all the knives and guns away from everybody they could. And ah, oh that was nothing. That was all. Just imagination but that's what it amounted to. Well then after they, then they started coming back home and they'd break up the camp and stuff. Bicycles was a big item. Everybody had bicycles over there. And they'd buy these bicycles from the English and when the war was over, they'd give em a dollar or two for a bicycle and the guys wouldn't do that. They'd give them to some kid or give them to somebody. That's like people in our country having a car, I guess. In fact, I guess they laid a bunch of bicycles out there and run over them with a half-track. Wouldn't let em have em for nothing. B: I'll be darned. Was there a lot of celebrating that day that Germany surrendered? s: No. Then they made tours afterwards. They'd take some of these people. They'd take maybe ten-fifteen people. I suppose that were on the base there but never got the chance to go over there. Take em over Germany and some of those places and show em Germany. They had ah, when we come home, we flew an airplane back with a load of people. Service people there. When we got back to this country, we anticipated getting into 8-29's. B: Did you assume you'd have to go over and fight Japan? S: Yeah, that's what it was. That's what we were kind of scheduled for. I ah, we came back and they gave us a pass for 30 day leave, I guess. And when I went back in, I went into Sioux Falls, South Dakota and reported in to Minneapolis or one of those places. And the war with Japan ended. Well there were celebrations in that town. My gosh, they wrecked a fire truck. They stripped a fire truck. And they did all kinds of damage in town there. Well then they got shipped out to a place in Colorado and my outfit went down to some other place and I never did get back to see my crew again. Plus all my gear and stuff went one way and I went another way. And I sat out there doing nothing until they discharged me. B: When was that? S: Ah, it was '45 I guess. B: Then did you come back here to Oshkosh? S: No. Got discharged November 15th, 1945. I ah, yeah, I came back here to Oshkosh and ah, []. They had a deal where they paid us $20.00 a month, I guess. 'Cause they couldn't supply us with a job. I had a welding job before I went in. I was out in the service in Washington. Well they didn't need no welders so... They didn't have any use for any gunners. So I guess they wanted me to go out and work picking peas or something. And I couldn't see that, working out there against those farmers. It'd kill you, working in the field picking peas. So then they dropped me off of the program, the Oshkosh outfit. I ah, had a chance to go down to Illinois to do some painting and painted a building for my uncle. And when I was down there, he wanted me to go and this Electromotive hired welders. And I ah, well, he wanted me to go out there and see if they could hire me. Well, I went out there and was just wondering if I could get a job, or how much they paid. Guy says, "Well, can't hire you or talk to you until you take a test." All right. I took a welding test. He says, "You can start Monday." I says, "I'm not ready to start, I just want to know if I can get a job here." He says, "Yeah. Well come back any time." B: What was Oshkosh like after the war? Had it changed at all during the war? S: I'd say, very slowly. The Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce, I think they held everything back here. The few big shots that controlled the city kept everything kind of tight. They didn't wanna, I understand that big railroad yard in North Fond du Lac wanted to come to Oshkosh and they wouldn't let em. And ah, they were afraid of too big of wages, these people coming in. So they kinda tried to keep it down as much as they could. And ah, it ah, it evidently stayed the same way for a long time and I think just recently, you know in the last twenty-five years or so, these people are trying to bring people in here and bring business in here. Well, nobody wants a Wal-Mart. They figure it's going to put another guy out of a job, but it's competition for another guy. B: During the war, did you ever think that the United States and its allies would lose the war? S: Ah, no. Not really. Never ah, no never thought that. And I never ah, there was never a time when they ever enemy fire. They never had a time when, they kept losing people but they never gave up. B: Why, thinking back on it, can you put your finger on why you didn't think America would lose the war? S: Well, I don't know. I just kinda felt like ah, we, we had better equipment. And we had, or course we had access to all our materials, sources where the other people didn't. You see, if we could stop Germany by stopping their oil supply, they had to come up with a heh, heh, synthetic oil. And ah, they thought they would get that ball-bearing factory at Schweinfert. They thought they'd get the Ploesti oil field. They thought they could cripple them by a lot of these different things. They evidently did because it slowed em down. Manufacturing and, they needed another six months time ahead of em. They made a few bad decisions and they had a chance to take England at one time and they moved within a half hour of it and they turned around and went, took Russia. B: Now you know, I, do you think of the war very often? Is it something that you think of on a regular basis or, after the war did you just try to forget it? S: No. But I feel sorry more for the people that were in it. Ah, whether it was a German or not. You know, you don't begrudge it. We get a lot of propaganda in our paper and press and everything else. Ah, how evil these people are. It's not so. I went over to Korea in the Korean War. Got to know the Japanese people and they're wonderful. In fact I liked them better than I did over in England. And ah, but the image you had of em, you know they were all slant-eyed bad people and that's not ah, it's not so. And then you find out that they're just like you and me. They're doing a job and doing the best they can. B: During the war, did you know anything about concentration camps? Actually, during the war? S: No. Never. Never heard of that, no. We ah, we had ah, our escape kits and all our stuff and we were given orders on [ ] courage is try and escape. That was I think at the end they disbanded that idea but. We carried a '45. And over there, some of the guys didn't want to carry a '45 because if you got caught with a gun you could be shot as a soldier, spy or something. But I carried two of em. I ah, I thought if I got in a tree someplace with some guy who is going to be shooting at me down there, I'm going to shoot back at him. But after a few experiences you see or you've heard of you know, they did kill people and they caught em. Which you really can't blame the people, you know we don't lose their family out there and prisoner come walking up the street, why, she'd kill em. That's why she'd do it. I guess there were a few times when the Germans prosecuted people for doing that because the instructions were, if you try to give up, give up to a, try to give up on a farm, tell em you're farmers for one thing. Maybe they'll put you on a farm to work. Tell em ah, you're church, try a church. You might get more ah... Or you could [ ] regular army. The old army was good too but SS was bad. Those kids organizations, those youth organizations were bad. They were ah, gung ho. But they, they've had cases where a lot of guys got through there. Got shot down but still got out with the help of a few people. I was just reading one story here a while back. Some crew got, lost an engine or something. They were coming back alone and a German fighter came up to them and instead of shooting em down, he just saluted to em. Then went on his way. And evidently they met afterwards and they become good friends. They still are, I guess. He comes over here and sees them. They weren't all bad. B: You know, could we back up maybe a little bit and talk about Oshkosh in the 30's? You mentioned that you were duck hunter. What did you do for recreation growing up? What were some of the things that an average person would do then? S: Well, we didn't ah, we had our, 'course our park. In fact here, when I was a kid, I ah, came here to this museum when I was about six or seven years old. But they had art classes here. I don't know if you know some of these old guys that were here. Well that one guy, Bennett? B: Behncke. S: Behncke, was it? B: Nile Behncke. S: And ah, he must have been some kind of artist or something. He had set up some place down here where he could practice. This church over here on the corner? Over here? They had movies. I think they charged a nickel, I'm not sure if they charged anything. They weren't no talkies or anything. They were like Rin Tin Tin, wearing cowboy outfits and stuff. That was something that was going on. We had our park down there. At Lake Winnebago there that had a nice beach. In fact we could. In fact we could, Woodland, I lived right off of Woodland. Woodland you could walk, where that Axle Company was, you could walk right straight down to the river. You can't any more because they built all buildings in there but you could go down there and fish in the river. We ah, used to do a lot of ice fishing in the wintertime. I probably wasn't working so much in the wintertime. And we'd walk down there to Lake Winnebago and walk out on the ice a mile or so, with a sled, and fish all day and come back. B: You mentioned walking. You walked most places? S: We did a lot of it, yeah. We ah, in fact cars wasn't used so much. Father rode a bicycle to work. Us kids took the car to school. We were spoiled. But then ah, we liked to go trout fishing. That was up around Pine River. Was a big place. In fact when we were trout fishing, we'd get up maybe three o'clock in the morning or something and go and get to drive the car. Did more practice driving at that time. Practiced driving in the driveway. I had more back up time than forward time. B: Were things pretty tight in your household during the Depression? You remember much about that? S: Ah, I think they were because ah, my mother used to bake pumpernickel bread. Ever hear of that? And she'd sell some of it around to the neighbors. And ah, in the wintertime, my father didn't have too much work. There wasn't ah, a lot of decorating going on. And when they built this building across the street here, my father did some work over there. B: Which one? Paine? S: That one across the street here, yeah. That guy built that and never moved in. They had ah, it was built at a time when there was not much work. It was good work. B: Where did you go duck hunting at? S: Usually off of Butte des Morts. Butte des Morts out there. There used to be a tavern there and they let us keep out skiffs down there. Take our skiffs there. At that time, there was an island right across there. Trees on it and everything else. They had a hard time getting across that trees they got. To get out into the lake. It's all gone now. B: Other people told me that there were big beds of wild rice and other vegetation up there. And a lot of that's gone. S: Yeah and ah, same way up there in Winneconne. Why we got a cottage out there and they have a less and less weed. The bogs keep floating away and ah... B: Was the duck hunting pretty good out there on the lakes? S: Well, we'd get some all the time but ah, we never slaughtered em. Like I know some people did. In fact they'd bring some home and show us, bags and bags of Bluebills. Certain time of the year when they came down, when the weather was bad in the north. They'd come in. They hadn't been shot at yet And these fellows would be out there in the right place, well, they'd get a lot of em. In fact ah, what is it ah, yeah that first street down here, that house on the comer, big house. They used have their Mudhens and ducks and stuff hanging in the top windows. I don't know why they didn't hang out there, how they did that or why they did that. They weren't cleaned out or anything. Had feathers on em yet. I suppose they were gutted out. Well, they did that over in England too. They'd sell rabbits and stuff with the fur on em. B: Well, Mr. Johnston, that's all have. Do you have anything you want to ad? I really appreciate that. It's been a great interview. S: Well, I don't know. If I can help you with anything, why, let's see what I got here. This was a picture of me when I was in gunnery school. Right after I got out of gunnery school, I guess. B: Would you allow us to copy some of these? I'll fill out a loan form and, are you going back to Illinois right away? S: We'll probably be here until Monday but ah, B: I could return them to your son. Our photographer won't be back until Monday. S: You can have that as far as that goes. Yeah, we were in high school together. B: Phil eventually became a tail gunner. S: That's why he probably went to a different gunnery school. B: Little clippings there. Did your folks write to you quite a bit during the, while you were over there? S: Yeah, I think so. We couldn't write too much ah, about what we were doing. But a lot of times, I'd clip stuff out of the, what they call "Stars and Stripes" and stuff like that Especially if it was about a mission I was on or something. But they ah, Jimmy Stewart, he was over there. He was one of our officers. B: Did you ever see him? S: Oh, yeah. B: Did ya? S: Yeah. Sometimes when we came back from missions where we had enemy fighters fighting us, he'd be there for interrogation to get in on the dope. B: Enemy fighters were on every mission? S: No. No. No, you never knew when to expect em and ah, like that time we went to ah. when Russia wanted us to, Stalin wanted us to bomb this one town up on a, well it was way up there by on the coast and it's called [Swengmunde], I guess. They had that big last German battleship in there. So they didn't know what kind of, what to expect. Oh we went up there to bomb this town or this battleship and ah, we had instructions that if we got shot over the target, we weren't to go into Russia which was only about 15 miles away. Because then we couldn't explain to the Russians that we were friendly. And they said we should go to Switzerland, not Switzerland but Iceland or Sweden, that way. They gave us flags with some Russian on it. We were supposed to holler "Americanef' and wave that. And then hope that they take you to one of their officers before they shot ya. And ah, we went there and that day the, it was real foggy. They couldn't see. They just dropped the bombs in the town. And ah, then we went around and went through Germany. And I guess it was most to see if they could draw up the German fighters. And ah, I don't know how many hours that was but I don't think we made it back ah, I don't think we even made it back. We had to stop in Belgium I guess, to refuel. [Photos are apparently being examined here.] Bomb bay doors froze shut. They dropped the bombs right through em. The B-24's, the doors pull up. B: Did they know they were frozen? S: Yup. B: And they dropped them right through the doors? S: Yeah. They ah, they flopped all the way home. It was cold in the plane. B: Well, I suppose that was better than landing with a full bomb load. S: Well, they couldn't do that. They'd drop the bombs in the Channel sometimes before they, before they ah, B: Was it very dangerous to load, or to land with a full bombload? S: They never liked to do it, I guess. I don't know. Usually you had a pin you had to take out. A cotter pin. The bomb's got a long shaft and a propeller on it. And that's got to unwind before it's armed. They found out that they'd have to open and close those doors every 20 minutes, every half-hour. The first time they didn't do that and... B: What this is... {The second of the two tapes ends here}.
Oral History Interview with Stanley Johnson -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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P-47 from B-24

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Last modified on: December 12, 2009