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Record 30/959
Oral history interview with William Hay conducted by Brad Larson for the World War II project. William Hay entered the Army Air Corps June 1944; P47 Pilot squadron based on Corsica; shot down on 80th mission; Prisoner of War until May 10, 1945. William Hay Interview 19 September 2002 Conducted by Bradley Larson {B: denotes the interviewer, Mr. Larson. W: denotes Mr. Hay}. B: It's September 19th, 2002. I'm gonna talk with Bill Hay. Are you ready Bill? W: I'm ready. B: Well, let's start by giving me your date of birth and where you were born. W: I was born in Oshkosh, May 20th, 1924. At Mercy Hospital. B: Where did you grow up? What Neighborhood? W: Ah, East Side. B: Yeah? In what they called the "fish district?" W: Just north of the fish district. Washington Street was kinda the dividing line. The fish district laid south, towards the river and not north towards the park. And I lived on the north side of Washington. B: Well, I've gotten some conflicting ah, opinions as to why it was called the fish district. But why was it called the fish district? W: Well, I guess because everybody down there fished. And it was good fishing too. B: What was Oshkosh like before World War II? W: It was kinda stagnant. Nothing exciting ever really happened. Not like it does now. It's grown so much. In those days it was kinda dead. And it had good school systems. Went to Longfellow school ah, on the East Side. And then to the old high school which, what is it, City Hall? And then I started in the Normal School or Teachers College as we called it in those days. And then the war came along. And after the war, I came back and went there again. And then moved to Madison and finished up in Madison. B: Growing up in the Depression, did you pay much attention to what was happening overseas? W: No. Not very much. I didn't pay much attention to anything overseas until I got shipped over there. B: Did you enlist or were you drafted? W: I was, it was one of those touch and go things. If you hadn't enlisted, you would have been drafted. But I wanted to get in the Air Corps so I enlisted in the Air Corps. B: Why did you want to get in the Air Corps? W: I wanted to be a pilot. B: Was there anything in particular that made you want to fly? W: No. I don't think so. Not that I can remember. But ah, that's what I wanted to do. I knew that. I never flew - I never flew before I went in the service. B: When did you enlist? W: Um, 1943. As soon as I was eighteen. B: Where did they send you then? W: Well, we started out, went to Chicago. And formed a group and they shipped us to Nashville, which was a enlistment center. And then down to Montgomery, Alabama. Which was my first taste of the South. And we did our pre-flight in Alabama. And then I got put in the Southeast Training Command because that Alabama was in the southeast. And I trained in Arkansas and Georgia. And then Florida and then overseas. B: When did you complete your training? W: February of '44. Went overseas in June of '44. And came home in May of '45. B: What were you trained in, what type of plane? W: Fighters. Single engine fighter. B: And you were in a P'47? W: Yup. Yeah, we flew, in training we flew the old P-40. Warhawks. We got overseas; our squadron was just converting as we got there, converting from P-40's to P-47's. So I flew almost all my combat missions in a P-47. B: They called that "the jug." W: The jug. It was a, we were almost exclusively dive-bombing and strafing. I think I only flew one escort mission all the time I was there, escorting bombers. The rest was all just strafing and dive-bombing. And it was a great plane for that - the jug. B: Why was it a great plane for that? W: Well it could take a pasting, you know. It could fly through the top of an oak tree and nothing would happen. I did that. B: Did you? W: Yeah. So it was a good airplane for strafing. They built two different versions of it. One ah, was to, for high altitude work, which like Colonel [Gabreski] and those guys over in England flew high altitude '47s and they were a good fighter the way that was designed. We flew the ones that were designed to stay under ten feet high. B: Right down to the deck. W: Right on the deck all the time, yeah. B: Now you must have been supporting the invasion then of France. W: We did. We supported the invasion of France. We, we went to ah, an island off the West Coast of Italy. Corsica. And Corsica was like a huge aircraft carrier. I don't know how many groups but there were probably ten groups just like ours based on that little island. It was a busy place. And we flew into northern Italy, and then we went up into the invasion of southern France. And I was the second plane to land in southern France. I was flying as a wingman that day and I was the second plane in. The Germans had just left that morning. So we were pretty close. B: When you say "a wingman", describe for me what a wingman is. W: Well, you usually flew in pairs. One would be the leader, one would be the wingman. And, well it was probably designed that the leader could be looking for the enemy and the wingman would keep the other planes off his tail. But there's always two planes, at least. B: What was your squadron number? W: 27th Fighter Group. 27th Fighter Group. It had a long and quite a famous history to it. It was, it was in the Philippines first, before the start of the war. And then down into ah, oh Australia and that area. And then came back, got refitted ah, with new aircraft and was shipped over to England, er, to Italy. And the enlisted men, the crewchiefs, and the armorers and the gunnery guys, they had been there, oh they had probably been there for thirty months when we got there. They'd gone all through the original landings in Africa, and all through North Africa and then into Sicily. And then up through Italy and then on to Corsica and eventually France and Germany. B: What was a typical mission like? Explain what a typical mission might be like? W: Well, a typical mission was probably multiples of four planes. These would be four planes, eight planes, twelve planes. Ah, multiples of four. And you were normally equipped, we always had a full ah, armament of 50 caliber ammunition aboard. But you would have either a pair of 500-pound bombs on the wings or a thousand-pound bomb on the belly. And you'd fly to your target and come into the target at about 10,000 feet, then dive bomb your target, then go off and strafe anything that wiggled. B: What was the typical target for you? W: Well, it varied. We ah, we did harbors on the west coast of Italy, and in southern France. Ah, troop concentrations, and ah, railroad yards. Shot up lots of…{interruption here by telephone}. B: Okay. We were just talking about typical targets. W: Ah, [ ] wasn't on your primary target. Anything that moved. When we left the northern Italy or the Po Valley, there wasn't, there wasn't a two-wheeled cart moving anymore. Everything was kaput. B: Well, air power's pretty much been credited with preventing the Axis from being able… W: Oh, no question. No question about it. B: Any missions stick out in your mind as probably above the others? W: Not really. Ah, they were all pretty much the same. B: They were, huh? Did you fly every day? Or was there a rotating period..? W: No. There wasn't any specific rotation, but ah, oh we probably flew two to three times a week. A formal mission. That was enough. B: It was, huh? W: We had a pretty high loss ratio and lost a lot of good friends. But we did a good job. B: You were shot down, weren't you? W: I was shot down strafing anti-aircraft guns. North of Stuttgart, Germany. B: What happened? W: We went out ah, eight ships that day, I think. Two flights of four. And another guy was leading the formation. I was leading the second four. And ah, he started heading like he was going to take us right over this town where I'd gotten my butt shot off the day before. And I called him and told him not to go over the town. But he did anyway. So I dove my four ships down and we started strafing the anti-aircraft guns, hoping to protect our eight ships. And ah, there was out of the four ships, only one made it. We lost, we lost three out of four on one pass. B: German anti-aircraft fire was pretty good wasn't it? W: Oh, they were excellent. Yeah. That's where they had it over the Japs. The Japs were lousy on anti-aircraft and the Germans were experts. Very good. B: I've talked to other airmen who said it was, they were outstanding in range and elevation and estimating lead. W: Yeah. They were excellent and they were tough. B: And that's the day you were shot down? W: Yeah. Probably shouldn't have been doin what we were doin but ah, we were there. B: Did you bail out or crash land? W: Well, I flew away from the, when I got hit. While I was firing at these anti-aircraft guns, I could feel the plane shudder three or four times. I knew I'd been hit so I headed towards the Rhine River, west. And hoping to get across the Rhine where we, our lines were. But I made it about ten miles short. I finally had to bail out. So that was my first and only experience with a parachute. And it worked. B: Were you then captured fairly quickly? W: I, in about an hour. I hid my parachute in a fencerow and headed for a woods, thinking I'd be safe in the woods to lay low for awhile. And then at night head back west. But ah, as I walked into the woods, I could hear Germans talking and there was a whole mess of tanks stationed in that woods. So I couldn't go that way. I turned around and went back. And when I went back, two guys that were out in the field looking for me saw me. And then they captured me. I didn't get shot or anything. B: What happened after they captured you? W: Well, they turned me over to the, took me to the nearest village and turned me over to a major in charge of the troops around that area. And then he took me to, treated me very nice, took me to a kind of a holding place where they had about a hundred POW's. Mostly ah, infantrymen from the 100th Infantry. They were captured at Heilbronn which was it's a German [ ]. That's "little casino." That was their last gasp. And ah, these guards were more like Wehrmacht, the home guard. And ah, they didn't want to lose us because we were their meal ticket to stay out of the front lines. So they took us in a southeasterly direction and marched us, I never measured how far it was. Probably 250 or 300 miles up into the Austrian Alps. Only because they then didn't have to go back in and fight in the front lines. And they always stayed - we could hear the fire on the front lines almost every day - and as they would get close, they would move us. And when we got out of earshot, then they'd find a barn and we'd hole up. B: Did they feed you? Did you have…? W: Well, we had the same that they had, and they didn't have anything. Ah, find a nice fresh dead horse or something like that, you know. Because they used a lot of horses in the military in Germany. And ah, find a good fresh kill, they'd butcher it up and make a big kettle of soup and we'd all eat. B: How long did this go on then that you marched from place to place? W: Ah, it must have been from the first of April until about the 10th or 12th of May. We were, we were still kind of on our own at the end. The guards, they were good to us. They marched right with us and they were older people. I called them 'home guard' but they were uniformed soldiers. And they finally came one night and says, "Here, we're leaving you our guns and we're taking off because the SS is in town. They just hung the mayor and they're shootin all the civilians." Their own people, you know. They were crazy. And the guards left us their guns and stuff and took off. And they said, "You guys don't want to stick your ears up because if they see you, it'll be bloody." So we all laid low for two or three days. Two or three day, yeah. And an American tank rolled in and we were free then. B: Did you know that the war'd been over by then? Did the guards tell you or they didn't know? W: No. They took off; they took off about the time the war must have ended. But I don't think they even knew it. But they were scared to death of this SS group. And they were vicious. B: While you were in the military, did, and serving in Italy or, did you hear any rumors of death camp atrocities or what was happening in Germany? W: Oh, I think we did. Yeah. B: So you pretty much had a sense of what was going on and…? W: Yeah. I think so. B: What happened then after they liberated you or found you? Then what was the next point? W: Well they came with, what was his name that started the Ducks down at the Wisconsin Dells? From Oshkosh. Doc Ebert. Doc Ebert started the fleet of Dells Ducks. And that's what they came and got us in was one of those Ducks. They came with about six Ducks is what they came with. And we went then back to the north to an airbase and then they flew us up to Le Havre, France. Where they had a huge tent city. B: Is that what they called Camp Lucky Strike? W: That's right. That's what it was. There was a lot of different camps. But Camp Lucky Strike was the one I went through. Yep. And they got you kind of organized to go to England and get on a boat and go home. That's about all they did. They didn't do much questioning or interrogation or anything like that. And that's just what we did. We went to England and then we got on a ship and came home. B: When did you get back? W: Oh, late June. Late June. About like the 20th, something like that. Because I got married on the 30th of June and I'd been home just a little while. B: Were you engaged then while you were overseas? W: Yeah, I would say so. Yeah. B: Did you assume you were going to have to go to Japan? Was there any thought in your mind, "well, we've got one licked. Now we've got one more to go?" Was there any thing in your mind? W: No, there wasn't any talk of it. No. We did, they asked about rejoining our group and staying active in, over in Europe. But they said, "No dice." I don't know why but they said, "You're all done over here. You're goin home." But I don't think we ever talked about goin to Japan. B: So you were in Oshkosh when the war formally ended with Japan? W: Yes, yeah. B: Do you remember any celebrations that day? W: Unh, unh. B: No? W: I'm not sure I was in Oshkosh. I might have been, I got shipped back down to Miami to a reincarnation center where they got you new clothes, and brought your records all up to date, and did medical exams and I think I was down there when it ended. B: Is the war something that you think of very often today? W: Unh, unh. Nope. B: Nothing in particular brings it back, music or anything like that? W: Oh, if you see a movie or something and it rekindles you mind. You think about. But I don't think about it a lot. Never have. B: Is there any particular memory or experience that happened to you during the war that you'd like to relate? Something that was either humorous, or bumping into a buddy, or something that was tragic or … W: No. It was pretty much all business as far as our group was concerned. We, we were there to fly and we flew. And that's about all we did. We never, we never would go to town and didn't raise hell or anything else. Did get sent to England once to a rest home. That's about the only time I got away from the group. I never shoulda went there because when I came back, the next day I got shot down. B: Bad luck maybe. W: Bad luck, yeah. B: Fliers believe a lot in luck, do you think? W: I think so. I think so. We had, we were blessed in our group with 90% really good men. Guys you'd like to follow, you know. We only had a couple of duds all the time we were overseas. Other than that, they were all pretty good guys. B: Well, what made a good pilot? What made a good fighter pilot? W: Guts. Guts. And of course, if we'd all been 45 years old, we'd a lost the war. 'Cause you lose your guts when you get older. So the reason we were so successful was that everybody was a young Indian. And I was a young Indian too. B: Was the P-47 and easy or forgiving plane to fly as far as new pilot sort of learning? W: I think so. I think so. When you went from a P-40 to a P-47, ah, it was a change that made things much easier. The P-40 had a narrow gear and you could always ground loop, you know. The P-47 had wheels way out on the wings so you, you could screw up real bad and still you'd be alright. Well, it was, for strafing and dive-bombing, I don't think you could find a better plane than the P-47. It had terrific firepower, eight 50's, and ah, the big radial engine was, you could get a couple of cylinders shot out and you wouldn't even know it. B: No kidding. W: Yeah. She was a rugged plane. It was a rugged plane. B: You mentioned you came back with holes a couple of times in your plane? W: Oh yeah. Frequently. B: What would they do in a case like that? Would they patch it up and keep it flying? W: Sure. Quick as they could. I say, all our crew chiefs ah, were old timers compared to us kids just came in to fly the planes. 'Cause they'd been over there for 30 months. And they went all through the Arab countries and ah, they were good. B: You must have been pretty close with a lot of those people. W: Yeah. Very Close. Yeah. B: After the war, did you stay in contact with any of em? W: Not many. Nope. B: Reunions or anything? W: Not much, no. I've got one guy I still correspond with from Selma, Alabama. I came back from overseas and I got sent from Miami up to Selma, Alabama to the airbase there. And ah, my friend's folks insisted that my wife and I come and live with them. So we did. Lived in town with them. And ah, I have seen him a couple times since the war and we correspond occasionally. But that's about the only one. B: During the war, after Pearl Harbor was there, did you ever harbor any doubt that the allies or America would win the war? W: No doubt. No. B: Why? W: Well, we just thought we were better than them. I guess. Plus, we had, we knew this. We had the terrific industrial might behind us and they, their industrial might was goin downhill. Was being bombed and so it was just, there was no way we ever thought they could do anything. B: You probably saw firsthand the effects of the bombing. W: Yeah. Sure did. I don't know how Germany survived to this day. Unbelievable. B: What did you do after you got out of the service? After you were discharged? W: I worked in a plant in town, for Oshkosh Truck for about a year. B: Did you have a hard time getting a job when you first got out? W: No. No trouble at all. I worked out in the factory at Oshkosh Truck. Ah, my dad was there. And then I, I did that for about a year. And then I went back to school. I went back to Teachers College in Oshkosh for one semester and then I went to Madison and finished up down there. Got a degree in Madison. Then I came back and went to work at Oshkosh Truck. And I worked there for just about 20 years. Then I retired. Then I went out and started Chief Equipment out on the highway there, which my son runs now. B: What did you get your degree in when you went back? W: Business administration. B: Do you think Oshkosh has changed a lot since those days? W: Oh, I think so. I think it's ah, seems like there's more industry. There probably isn't because we've lost the biggies. Ah, some biggies. I don't think it's changed a lot. Always was a small town and still is. You probably know better than I if it's changed a lot. B: But of course I wasn't here then. And I, I like to hear thoughts and you know, experiences. How maybe things were different; in the 40's, or how things were different in the 30's. W: I don't think they really were a lot different. I really don't. Ah, we always had a good, stable, hard working labor force available in Oshkosh. Still do today. Ah, that's probably the key to why we've got good industry. B: What did your dad do? W: He was treasurer of Oshkosh Truck. Before the war he was a broker. A stock and bond broker. He managed an office in Green Bay and then he got moved back to Oshkosh and managed an office here. And he was doin that when I went in the service. And then right at that time, then he, that whole industry just went to pot. And they were looking for a finance man at Oshkosh Truck and some banker or attorney steered pa out there and he worked the rest of his life out there. B: Do you have anything else we should talk about, or stories you want to relate or anything like that? W: I can't think of anything. B: Well I appreciate this very much. I really do. It was very enjoyable to me and I like to thank all the veterans whenever I interview them. It was a tough time and long war. People lost a lot of friends. Thanks a lot. W: It was a long one. But we won. That's the main thing. B: That's right. World would have been very different if we didn't. W: Oh, it would have been horrible. Horrible. We walked through Germany when I was a prisoner. Beautiful part of the country. That's probably the prettiest part of Germany, southwest corner. They call it the [Schwartwalt], the Black Forest. And ah, it was very pretty. And not, not too much unlike our setting here. They had a sergeant that walked at the head of our column who was kind of a character. He had been in the United States. Was a United States citizen. Worked at G.E. in Schenectady. and when the war broke out, he went back to Germany and became a German soldier. And it was easy to talk to him because he could speak English better than we could. So that was kind of a break for their people and our people. {The interview ends here.}
Oral History Interview with William Hay -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum

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