S.Sgt. Bert Hill, U.S. Army. Staff Sgt. Bert Hill, who had been visiting his wife and daughter, Iris Joan, and his brother, Jess Hill, and family of Coldwater since January 29, left last Saturday for Santa Monica, Calif., where he will be assigned as a gunnery instructor.
He only recently returned from 30 months in England, having completed in four months 25 long range missions over Fortress Europe as the tail gunner in a flying Fortress. He has been awarded the Army's Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Medal was awarded for the first five missions, the three Oak Leaf Clusters for 15 more raids and the Distinguished Flying Cross for the completion of 25 long range missions.
On 25 Raids With None Wounded.
Throughout the 25 raids, not one of his crew was wounded ___ in crashed and were wrecked. After 25 long distance raids, the army figures that is enough for any crew's nerves so Bert's entire crew was grounded and all have been sent back to the United States. However, Sgt. Hill because of his fine record and ability to instruct gunners who had just come from the States, was kept in England from September until December as an instructor, so arrived home after the rest of the crew.
A Lucky Crew.
Comprising this lucky crew were four lieutenants and six staff sergeants, two older and the rest younger that Sgt., Hill. They are: Lieut. Kney, pilot, of New York City, Lieut. Oakley, co-pilot, of Montgomery, Ala., Lieut. Demmitroplis, bombardier, of Maine, Lieut. Child, navigator, of New York City, Sgt. Keifer, engineer, Freeport, Ill., Sgt. Lane, radioman, of Tioga, La., Sgt. D. E. Lyons, ball turret gunner, Augusta, Kans., Sgt. Lewiston, waist gunner, of Montana, Sgt. Snyder, waist gunner, of Pennsylvania, and Sgt. L. A. (Bert) Hill, of Coldwater, Kans. The gunners of this Fortress were credited with knocking down six German planes, not counting a number of probables.
When Hitler and his war lords began 18 years ago to build up a war machine that would crush all other nations and make them "slave peoples to the Master Race," they calculated carefully: they would crush Russia and rob her of her oil and food, France would be overrun in a week, England would be caught flat footed and the United States, who gave them a drubbing in 1918, would get there too late, "they are a bunch of softies and do not know how to fight the men with Master Minds."
But they greatly underestimated the vast war production of our manufacturers whose planes, tanks and gun flowed unceasingly to Russia. But their biggest mistake was believing that we would never have a superior air force.
However, our Army and Navy devised a method of selecting, by various tests, young men with special aptitudes. In less than a year, these boys who had been farmers, college students, truck drivers, plumbers, fountain boys or what have you, became the best pilots, bombardiers, gunners, navigators and flight engineers in the world.
In this group was Sgt. Hill, a Comanche County, farmer and preacher who reached England in the late spring of 1943 as a tail gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress.
At the time Germany had air supremacy over Europe. London had felt the lash of the Nazi "Blitz" and had 8,000 buildings - everything from cathedrals to cottages - reduced to rubble. At Coventry 400 dead were buried in one long grave. "We shall Coventryize all England and bring her to her knees," screamed Hitler. Meanwhile, Germany's war plants continued their peak of production.
Then something happened. The United States Eighth Air Force was formed in England and gained sufficient strength to team up with the R. A. F. to begin crippling Germany's industrial war machine.
When weather permitted, the Royal Air Force blasted the Ruhr Valley and elsewhere at night and the U. S. fliers bombed the German targets in the daytime. Soon after the daylight raiding started, Sgt. Hill and the other crew members of their B-17 began their long range missions, their first raid being on the 13th day of the month - June of last year. The Flying Fortresses were then receiving their first "Baptisms of fire" and the Yank, discovering the vulnerable spots on their planes, hurriedly made their own adaptations, installing added fire power at these points. These changes were soon incorporated into the later Fortresses built at Wichita and Seattle.
As the heavy bombers, flying in close formation which they had perfected made their way to distant targets, they were lucky if they had fighter plane protection beyond the 20 some miles of the English Channel, Sgt. Hill relates. The U. S. long range Mitchell, Mustang and P-38 Lightning fighters which now protect the Fortresses most of the time were not yet in Europe, so the big B-17's had to go it alone, taking alike anti-aircraft fire from the ground and flax and shells from German planes as the Forts could not break their formation without disastrous results.
"The German rocket planes were mean," Sgt. Hill says, "but we soon learned to stay out of their way." Because of the skill of the pilot, navigator and bombardier on Bert's plane their fortress lead the formation on most of their 25 missions which took them to objectives which included the German submarine base at Kell, the shipyards at Bremen, also to Stuttgart and Cologne in France, the air field at La Bourget, near Paris where Lindbergh landed, and to Hulls, Germany, where a large synthetic rubber plant was completely burned with incendiary bombs. "What a smoke that made," the Coldwater gunner, remarked.
"The worst mission of all was on the trip of 700 to 800 planes to Schweinfurt, where we knocked out nearly half of an important ball-bearing factory. Fighters and everything the Nazis had were on our tails from the time we left the Channel until we returned several hours later, " recalls Sgt. Hill. "On this raid we lost 59 bombers and shot down 308 German planes."
Sgt. Hill's crew was first assigned to the "Big Moose," in which they made six raids. Other Fortresses which they had used were the "Moonbeam, "Hellcat" and "Yo-Yo - It Always Comes Back."
Once when their plane came in with 160 holes in one wing an American newspaper correspondent said of it: "it looked like it had been made of tissue paper and someone had thrown rocks at it for an hour. This plane really came in on a Wing and a Prayer."
On their last mission in the "Hell Cat," it came in with one engine shot and the plane ran out of gasoline just one mile inside the English coast, landing in some trees and was completely wrecked. The crew was unhurt. A second plane, this time with two engines out, ran out of fuel and smashed up in a wheat field in England, after a long raid.
The most exciting time was when they were up about 20,000 feet, a large shell from a German fighter crashed through the radio room, struck the upright of the ball turret in the Fortress and cut in two the ammunition belt. This exploded several of the waist gunner's 50 MM ammunition and the empty shells bounced around the enclosure like popcorn, one shell striking the gunner above the right eye and another below his left eye, blacking both of them.
Bob and Frances Entertain.
Frances Langford and Bob Hope entertained Bert and his buddies last year at their base in England. Miss Langford in a "Cavalcade of America" broadcast last week said: "Of the 45 planes which last June came in from a raid over Germany while we were there, only two remain today."
Many Downed Fliers Are Safe.
Sgt. Hill brings very encouraging news concerning our boys who are shot down over German occupied territory. "The Germans are pretty good sports when one of our planes is knocked out. If a pilot on either side drops his landing gear, that is a sign that he is out of the battle. The German fighters will then come in close without firing and will follow it down until the plane lands or until the Americans bail out. In any case, a plane with its landing gears down is considered lost. We figure that between 75 and 80% of our men who are shot down are safe prisoners of the Germans. And we understand that they are given satisfactory treatment, in accordance with the Geneva Conference agreements."
Sgt. Hill, who is 27 years of age, first came to this county in 1938 from Oklahoma and for three summers helped his brother, Jess Hill, harvest. In July, 1941, he was united in marriage with Miss Bessie Hadley of this county and continued to farm here until July 26, 1942, when he was inducted into the army at Fort Sill, Okla., claiming no exemption, either by reason of being a farmer or as a minister. For two years he was an understudy of two ministers in Oklahoma and for three years was active as an evangelist with the Apostolic Faith Movement, which at that time was being formed.
A Sound Philosophy.
Asked what his philosophy is toward fighting to preserve the principles of Democracy and Christianity, Sgt. Hill replied: "We're fighting to protect the right to live; to protect the kind of decency and freedom we were raised in. And I couldn't ask anyone else to stick out his neck and fight for my children or do anything that I wouldn't do myself."
Attitude Toward Voting.
Plied with many questions, Sgt. Hill answers only a few. "Soldier vote ?....The boys are not interested in politics now and don't care much who is President. All they ask is that no bunch put over some radical laws while the boys are away....What do we think of the Germans? Well, it's just a job that has to be done, but most of the boys would rather be taking a slog at the Japs--they have a real grudge against them."
Crew Thoroughly Trained.
After eight weeks at Sheppard Field Texas, Sgt. Hill was at the Las Vegas, Nev., gunnery school seven weeks before being assigned to the Salt Lake City Replacement Center. Next he was sent to Pocatello, Idaho where he spent two months as a duty sergeant for his squadron. At Boise, Idaho, he was assigned to a combat crew as a tail gunner and after a month there the crew spent two months of tactical training, practicing bombing and night flying. From an eastern embarkation point the crew flew their Fortress to England in May, 1943.
Sees Most of Europe.
From the North Sea to the Alps, from near Berlin to southern France, this heroic two-fisted soldier with nerves of steel has seen most of Europe, his longest single mission being nine hours of flying.
For ten months he was overseas and when he returned home last month, his hardest job was getting acquainted with his daughter, now 22 months of age and who couldn't figure out who the strange man was.
"How does it seem to be home after what you have gone through," he was asked by a Star reporter. "Well," he replied with a smile, as he glanced at his attractive wife and patted his daughter's arm which was around his neck, "I'm still pinching myself to see if it's true." (SB)
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