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Interview with Nathaniel G. Raley [3/9/2002]

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Today is the second day of March, 2002, and we are in Huntsville, Alabama. My name is Nathaniel G. Raley, spelled R-a-l-e-y. I was born on the 13th of September, 1922, in Demopolis, Alabama. That's down in Marengo County. I served in the U.S. Air Force, and my highest rank while I was in combat was First Lieutenant. I am being interviewed by Becky Adams and filmed today by - I can't read it - Charles - by Charles Mendell (ph), who volunteered for this project to work on his Eagle Scout badge.

Becky Adams:

Thank you, Colonel. And can you tell us a little bit about where were you when the war broke out?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I was - when I first heard about it, I was in Demopolis, Alabama. We had just come out from a movie theater, and people told us that the Japs had bombed us. That was what we heard.

Becky Adams:

Okay. And how did you decide to enlist?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

It was patriotism, and I thought it was my duty to do something. And I wanted to be - right off, I wanted to be a P-38 fighter pilot, fighter pilot in combat.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

That was my desire.

Becky Adams:

Right. Now, how old were you?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

When I started, I was 19.

Becky Adams:

Okay. And why did you decide to join the Army Air Force, is where you ended up serving?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

About the same thing. I wanted to be a P-38 fighter pilot in combat. That had been my desire for a long time, even before the war, before we got into the war. I wanted to fly P-38s. And I guess the war came along - I don't know how to phrase this, but the war came along at the right time and I was the right age. Initially, I was too young to volunteer.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But then when the age limit was - had been 20, and I was 19. So I had to wait for them to drop the age limit, and that took place in about January of' 42. I took my aviation cadet exam on February the 20th of 1942. That was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then I was sworn in, sworn into military service on the first of April, 1942, also in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Becky Adams:

Okay. Great. Now, what were your early days of service like?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Very - let's see. Very, very intensive pilot training.

Becky Adams:

All right. And tell me about your training experience.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Well, it was very intense. You'd get up early and we'd started - first of all, I went through primary - I mean through preflight at Santa Ana, California. Then, I went to primary pilot school in Dos Palos, California. And what we'd do, we'd have ground school in the morning and flying in the afternoon, and sometimes it was vice versa. And that - that lasted two months. I went to - from there, I went to the basic pilot school in Lemoore, California. By this time, it was the month - it was the month of ecember, '42. By the end of the month, by the end of that one month, the fog, it was so bad that I think I had soloed, the basic trainer, and one other cadet out of six cadets had soloed it. But anyhow, then we were going to move the entire class over to Marana, Arizona, which was basic training school, also, which is near Tuscan, Arizona. Then - let's see. The cadets who had not soloed were given a special check ride, and they washed out about 50 percent of those, but I was exempt from that check ride since I had already soloed. I lucked out on that one. Then, from Marana, I went to Williams Field, Arizona, later Williams Air Force Base. And there, I started, began flying twin engine AT-17s, then AT-9s, and eventually a modified version of the P-38 as a cadet.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And I really liked it. By modified, the thing, it did not have turbo superchargers. So I got it up one time to an altitude of about 20,000 feet, and it had no oxygen, and I was beginning to get woozy, so I "whishh", put my nose down and got back down to denser air. Then I graduated from there in April the 12th of 1943. I was in class, pilot class, 43-D.

Becky Adams:

Okay. Great. All right. Now, World War II experiences, where were you, where were you stationed in World War II?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

After a couple more months of training in the United States, I was sent to North Africa. Then eventually, I wound up in Tunisia in a combat P-38 squadron.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

By the time I got there, that was - to be exact, I joined the squadron on August the 7th, 1943.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then, after a little bit of flying around - first thing you do is take an airplane up and fly around the area and become familiar with it and so forth. My first combat mission was in August the 19th of 1943. We escorted bombers to bomb the ____+ plant over in Foggia, Italy.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We escorted B-17s. And I watched - I saw my first and I guess only Italian aircraft there, I mean, on the mission. As we got into - just as we crossed into enemy territory, we were close to Mount Vesuvius. We started getting shot at with 88 millimeters, and that was the first time I got shot at.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And it's a feeling. You don't get used to it. You come to expect it, but never take it lightly.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

So but anyhow, we went on over to the other side of Italy, to Foggia. Then I - the bombers, we got off to one side of the bombers and let - there was this black cloud of flak forming over the target area. And the bombers were going, I think, "Good, Scott, those people are going to fly right through that." And we got off to one side. And you'd see the bombers drop their bombs, and when they'd let the bombs go, the plane would - the bombers would move up so many feet. I counted five. I counted five that got shot down.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Just coming out of that cloud, and some of them were spewing flame, and some were spewing out parachutes. And I tried to count he parachutes. And some there were no parachutes.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyhow, they're going down to an uncertain fate on the ground.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

If they lived to get to the ground.

Becky Adams:

Wow. So out of how many - you lost five planes out of the total?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Now, that was bombers now.

Becky Adams:

That was bombers?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

On that mission, there were no fighters of my squadron shot down, not then.

Becky Adams:

Oh. Wow. You went on a number of bombing missions. You told me quite a few. Do you want to elaborate on any of the others?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

You mean bomber escort missions?

Becky Adams:

Either escort or combat experiences, whatever you want to elaborate on.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Well, especially when we moved to Sicily, we flew - we'd fly up to the beachhead and fly beach patrol. And the first day of that, I can remember ships burning out in the harbor. Harbor? Offshore, I'll put it that way. I'm not sure the word "harbor" is appropriate right there.

Becky Adams:

All right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I could see them burning. But then, also, we started doing dive bombing. When we'd take off from our base in Sicily, we didn't know what the target was, not that it was a secret, but we'd get up to the beachhead, and we'd say, "This is Cat Paw Squadron." That was our code name for the squadron. "We're carrying two 500-pounders. Where do you want us to put them?" And you don't have too much time, because you'd consumed about half your fuel getting up there. And they'd name a place, and, you know, we got it on the map. Well, here we go. And within about five minutes, we'd be coming down on the target.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And as soon as - and this would be in - this conversation would be in plain English for everybody to hear, including the enemy. And all of us started getting nervous after it was announced where the target was, I could just - had a mental image of the field telephones being cranked up, you know. You know, "They're going to bomb Timbuktu," or whatever. I mean, using it loosely. But maybe my first time I bombed was _____. I can't remember now, but I think that was it. Then - [Interruption in digital video.]

Becky Adams:

Could you tell us a little bit about the plane? Describe the plane that you - that you were flying from.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Well, this is the P-38. The nickname was the Lighting. It was built by Lockheed Aircraft.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

It has only one person on board. That's the pilot. That was me.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And frankly, I liked being alone. I wanted to be alone. And there were typically 12 planes on a squadron. {Illustrating with model plane.} The pilot sat here in the cockpit in the cell. And out in here, the fuel was carried in these - the internal fuel was carried in between here and out in here. There were two tanks on either side. Then we carried - when we carried external fuel tanks, it would be carried between the cockpit and the cell and the engine and the cell. You could either carry external fuel tanks or bombs. It was one or the other. Sometimes we'd carry one external fuel tank and one bomb. You got about another hour and a half of flying time if you had one, one fuel tank, on a dive bombing mission, which we did sometimes. These are the engine coolers back here. The oil coolers are located up in here. The air intake is on either side over here.

Becky Adams:

Okay. Good. Thank you. And also, do you want to explain some more about the plane? You want to tilt it a little bit?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I'll tilt it. When we're going to - when we're going on a dive bombing, we'd line up sort of an echelon. That means we sort of change formation, get sort of wing tip to wing tip, and then you would take the plane and you can peel off and go down like this. And you line up to the target. And then you'll - since the electrical bomb release was unreliable since we'd been flying in dusty conditions, and so we had mechanical bomb releases. You had to do one with one hand and the other with the other hand. We'd let one bomb go a little bit too early, earlier than desirable. The second bomb, you were really pushing it then. You better hit it and then "shwoo" and start. And then, also, one of the reasons for getting going down one at a time is that you could space yourself. You don't want to get too close to the plane that's ahead of you because in case there's a secondary explosion. In other words, if they hit an ammo dump or something like this, everything is going to go up, and you don't want to be caught with that. And also, you don't want to be caught with just the blast of his bomb. And so you'd come down. And then - then you'd - as soon as you done your dirty work, there was a strong urge to get out of there.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Don't linger.

Becky Adams:

No, definitely. Thank you. And then, I have - we have a picture here, also, of you in your early planes. Would you like to describe, show us these pictures and describe those for us?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

{Illustrating with photograph.} Yes. This - this is the - the cockpit. That's me sitting in the cockpit. This is the canopy that opens. There's a little lever up here that you just twist, and the cockpit will go back - I mean, the canopy will go back a certain distance. Maybe this picture shows the canopy a little better.

Becky Adams:

Yes.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

It goes back to about that angle, and it's held by a small wire, so if you bail out the airflow will break the wire and the canopy will just go flying off into space and give you a better chance of bailing out.

Becky Adams:

All right. Great.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Which happened to me.

Becky Adams:

Oh, all right. And then -

Nathaniel G. Raley:

That's just me standing, standing in the cockpit. The cockpit was rather small. I could stretch out my elbows and touch that side. And I'm only 5'7" tall, but I could stretch like this, and my head would hit the top. So it was not made for tall.

Becky Adams:

No.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

As a matter of fact, they select - in the basic school I was in, they selected pilots to go to fighter school by your physical height. They made us roster by your physical height. I was 5'7". And then down here would get to be the 6'-plus people. They started in the low end, and they give you a choice. And so I was the sixth or seventh name called. You know, "Raley, what's your choice?" "Twin-engine fighter." "Okay. Raley, twin-engine fighter." And they called out about a dozen or 15 names, and said, "Okay, fellas, that's the quota for fighters. The rest of you are going to bombers."

Becky Adams:

Oh, I see.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

So -

Becky Adams:

That's what you wanted.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

What I wanted was fighter. I was in. I let them worry about that.

Becky Adams:

Great. Now, are there any other combat experiences you wanted to describe?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Just a minute. [Interruption in digital video recording.]

Becky Adams:

Okay. Yes, Colonel, would you like to tell us about some of your initial assignments? And did you see combat?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I definitely saw combat.

Becky Adams:

All right. Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

The first missions that we did were bomber escort missions. I flew my first fighter missions were bomber escort missions going into - mostly into Italy. At this time, I was flying out of Tunisia. Our base was 30 or 40 miles southeast of the city of Tunis.

Becky Adams:

All right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then, after I flew those missions, then we moved to Sicily to start to cover the Allied invasion of - at Salerno, but we were based in Sicily, which had just been taken by the Americans and the British. So we flew. We would fly up to the beachhead and do beachhead patrol and try to keep the enemy fighters off, off of the - enemy bombers or fighters or what, what have you. One thing I did was a little bit not so smart, but I was flying along the beachhead and there was the Anacapri down there. And I looked and thought, "My goodness, what a beautiful place." I'd always heard of the Anacapri. And while I was looking, admiring the beauty of it, "shwoo, shwoo, shwoo" down. All I could see was black crosses and swastikas. We had been jumped by enemy Messerschmitt 109's. I came back to reality real fast.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

They didn't shoot any of us down.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We were just - I don't know if anybody else was doing the same thing I was doing or not, but no one had seen them coming. They just came "shwoo" down like that. I never did that again.

Becky Adams:

Right. Good point. Any other combat experiences?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Well, let me think. Let me think just a minute. [Interruption in digital video recording.]

Becky Adams:

Yes.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We flew a lot of combat after we came, moved from Sicily back down to - back down to Tunisia. We resumed the escort, escort missions. Then, we on some occasions - let me - let me - first of all, we flew a few escort missions. Maybe in there one time we went on a dive bombing mission to Yugoslavia, unsuccessful, but we had to refuel twice, going and coming, stopped in Sicily. Then we flew. We flew some escort missions, and in there somewhere we got orders that we were going to move to a temporary move down to Libya, in east - far eastern Libya. We were just right up on the Egyptian border. And the British were going to feed us and put up tents and all that stuff for us. The brown liquid we had for breakfast I thought was coffee, and it was hot tea with cream already in it. I didn't take to that, but I drank it anyhow. I wanted the - I wanted the caffeine. And we were just out just in the desert, just in the boondocks, not the sand dunes, but it was the hard. And from there, we flew. We had - I put a new word in, added a word to my vocabulary I still have trouble pronouncing: sirocco. It's a bodacious sandstorm. I'll put it that way. But that bothered us. We flew up. General Jimmy Doolittle was down there, also. And we were in a briefing tent, no table, no chairs, not anything, and we were down in the pilots - we were all down on our elbows and knees looking, you know, at a chart. "Where are we going to go?" We're going to fly over Crete and then we're going to keep going, you know, farther, farther on. We wanted to go to the Island of Laros.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

There were some British troops there that the British were trying to evacuate.

Becky Adams:

I see.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyhow, wanted to fly over Crete to let them know we were there. We flew over Crete and we started getting shot at. Now, personally, what went through my mind, "I'm sure they know we're here. Now, let's go back." That was my thoughts, but we kept on going.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But eventually, we came back. Then I flew another mission or two from there. Then, we'd been down there about - about 10 days.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And the living conditions were pretty primitive. There was no water for bathing, so we'd get a bucket - a helmet full of drinking water and kind of sponge ourselves off.

Becky Adams:

That was it.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then those sandstorms, they were just something. One time one of the missions had to get called off. We were stirring up so much sand I could barely see the tail of the plane in front of me. And so normally you had radio silence, but eventually the squadron leader cut in and said, "Shut down your engines," and we just sat there until somebody came in a Jeep and picked us up.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But eventually, by the middle of October, we were flown - we flew back to Tunisia. We got a commendation from the British for our "sterling performance." That really makes it British. Then we - then we resumed escort missions again.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then, on a couple of occasions, this is still when I was still in the 12th Air Force, we would fly up to - from Tunisia, we would fly to a base near, a temporary base near, Foggia, Italy; land; spend the night; then the bombers would come out of Africa. And then we would rendezvous with the bombers somewhere close to our field, and we'd go on into Vienna Neustadt, Austria, which is south of the city of Vienna. Then we would come back. We'd escort the bombers up there and then come back, and we would land and spend the night again, because we would have to refuel. And the bombers would fly straight on back to - back to Africa.

Becky Adams:

I see.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

One of bombers landed there to put off a dead - someone who had been killed in the bomber. One of the waist gunners had been killed.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And so they wanted to leave his body there, not carry the body back to the squadron. So - but anyhow, we did that on two different occasions. I call them those three-day missions. The first mission of the 15th Air Force was the same thing. It was more successful.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Just due to - due to better weather. I want to jump on to we escorted - the only mission that we were ever, ever asked to volunteer for. And at this time, we'd gotten into early December of '43. And the squadron commander came around to each tent. Normally, you're not invited to go on a mission. Normally, your name goes on a blackboard, and, you know, "Raley," and so forth. He came around and said, "This is going to be a most unusual mission. We'll be escorting one airplane with a most important person on board." Didn't say who it was. And nothing is supposed to happen to that airplane. We're not going behind enemy lines, but we will be within striking distance. If the enemy wants to send Messerschmitt 109’s down, they may be on one-way missions to shoot this plane down. And so I say, my words, when I wrote about it, out of curiosity, or lack of good sense, or both, we volunteered for the mission. And then I found out every other pilot in the squadron had volunteered for it. And we weren't - the mission was such that if anything went wrong, if we could not shoot down the enemy fighters, we were supposed to ram them.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I never thought of ramming another airplane deliberately. Also, if the planes got shot down, this is President Roosevelt we were escorting, and General Eisenhower, in that same airplane.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Wow.

Becky Adams:

So that was why it was very important. If that plane got shot down, we were supposed to chase the enemy to fuel exhaustion, our fuel exhaustion, so that the media, news media, could say that the fighter squadron, in a valiant by vain attempt, was annihilated in trying to defend the President.

Becky Adams:

Wow. Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

It didn't happen, happily. But we took him to Malta, and while we were in Malta - we went to Malta and Sicily and back to Tunisia.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

In Malta, the British pilots sent up an escort, honorary escort, of Spitfires. And anyhow, single-engine planes made us nervous. But anyway, we got back down, and they invited us to have tea and crumpets while Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and so forth were conversing with, I guess, the governor of Malta. I guess "governor" is the right term. I don't know.

Becky Adams:

Okay. Interesting.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But then we went over to Sicily. And they had - they had talks over there. Then they went - we took back to - I went back to Tunisia.

Becky Adams:

Tunisia.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then the next day, we picked up again, and we escorted Roosevelt down into the Sahara, and then for about an hour or two, and then we left them. Then we're gonna head west to Dakar on the West Coast of Africa to refuel and fly back to the States. Then we turned around and flew back to our regular base.

Becky Adams:

Wonderful.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

So -

Becky Adams:

It went well, it sounds like.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then, after that, we went back to resuming - we resumed more of bomber escort, bomber escort missions.

Becky Adams:

Okay.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We escorted bombers to Greece, Bulgaria, we went into Romania, flew over Hungary. We'd already been over to Austria. We went to Northern Italy. We went to bomb the sub pens, escort bombers to bomb the sub pens, at Marseille and Toulon and Southern France. So we - we managed to get around the entire Mediterranean.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

In there somewhere, I was beginning to build up a fair number of missions. And I said some of this to you before, maybe. But when I was - by the time I had around 40 or something missions, I was the number four pilot from the top in numbers of missions. You want me to cover that?

Becky Adams:

es, definitely.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

So that meant only three pilots were ahead of me, and they had more missions, more combat missions than I did. Then one of my friends - I knew all of them. Every pilot knew every other pilot. Then, at the end of December, he went on a mission to somewhere in Northern Italy, I believe, and got shot down on his 44th mission. Then that was kind of bad. He had borrowed my helmet, so I had to use another helmet that I didn't like as well for my other missions. Then, about a week later, somebody borrowed my boots and got shot on his 44th mission, got shot down over Yugoslavia. And he was seen to be waving to the other pilots, saying that he was okay. Later, the report came back killed in action. We translate that slaughtered after he got on the ground. Then one of my classmates and I were almost neck-and-neck. We finally went over 43 missions each. But he was scheduled to fly the next one. So I wanted to get away from the war, so I went into town. And while he was flying his 44th mission, I joked with him that morning, "Get out there and come back. Think of me. I'll be flying my 44th mission tomorrow." And when I came back from town, I went into the briefing tent. Pilots are always free to go into the briefing tent whether you're on a mission or not. We had a lot of freedom. And out of the 12 pilots that went out, only eight were back in the tent. And he was one of the - there was several times we lost one third of the squadron on one mission.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Wow.

Becky Adams:

But anyway, he was missing. And so that made me the number one pilot. And I thought {sighing}. And then, the next day, it was my 44th mission. And admittedly, I was nervous. I don't believe in - I try not to be superstitious, but the first - the three pilots ahead of me had gotten shot down on their 44th.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Right.

Becky Adams:

So that made me number one, which is, as I've said to you before, I believe, you don't celebrate that, because you get there because you're stepping over, figuratively, the dead bodies of your friends. And so it's not a matter of celebration or bragging or anything. You're just - you're just fortunate. Then we went on - I want to get in -

Becky Adams:

Did you make it after your 44th mission? What happened?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Yes. I made it after the 44th mission. I came back all right. It was almost an uneventful mission, happily.

Becky Adams:

Happily.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

If there be such a thing. But then, eventually, on February the 10th, we got a hurry-up call to fly a mission. I'm going to start the day before, the 9th of February. There was a storm going on, and the tent was just swaying back and forth, and rain just coming down in sheets. And one of my friends, the one that signed my missing in action orders, "accounting" is the word, anyway, he came into, burst into my tent, and said, "Hey, Nat, we got a mission on," you know. And I said, "Come on in. You're going to get wet." And he says, "I'm serious. There is a mission." And so then we split up. And I went around to get the other pilots. Everybody was in that tent, and I had the same problem, "You mean there's really a mission?" "Yeah. Let's go." And so we went into the briefing tent, and the tent was just swaying back and forth. This was ludicrous. They said we were supposed to go close to the Angio beachhead, find a railroad. The Americans were on one side, the Germans were on the other, and we were going to dive bomb them. And the cloud cover had been determined to be 22,000 feet thick. And so we were supposed to - by telephone, they had ascertained that there was a hole in the clouds over the Bay of Naples on the other side of Italy. One P-38 had been sent out on recognizance. And he had already passed fuel exhaustion and had no word from him. A second P-38 had been sent out and had not heard from him. And I thought this is - I'm forced to lead this mission? Anyhow, then we were going to get up, fly up to 22,000 feet, go over there, and come down. And this was just going to be with two bombs, and no external fuel. I thought we're going - we're going to lose planes and not even meet the enemy. Fortunately, it got called off. But then, the next day, the same mission came up again, very close to the same mission. But it was a hurry-up mission. Somebody burst into my tent maybe 10 o'clock in the morning, and said, "Nat, we got - there's a mission on. It's a dive bombing mission." So I dashed out of the tent. I did not - I failed to put on my gun belt with my .45 automatic. Now this is the first time - I lucked out on a few things. Normally, I believe in carrying that .45 automatic. Also, there's a canteen of water on there. And I forgot it. But that might have saved my life. I believe in being armed, personal armed, but this might have saved me. But anyhow, I went out, and I was just flying through. The cloud level was maybe - basically, the clouds was below the mountaintops, which is not very good for dive bombing. So I was flying like this {indicating}. There was two squadrons going out, and I was the second of two squadrons. And so you can get off in about five minutes. The other squadron had gotten off, and he was already out of sight. And then, I got my squadron off in about five minutes and started out, and I just started going weaving my way through some mountain valleys and passes. What I didn't know is that I was following him and he was - what he was doing was stirring up the ground, the air defenses. So when I came along, I was - I was - I was really catching it. And I wondered what in the world is - why am I getting shot so much? But anyway, I finally got to the dive bombing, to the target, and lined the planes up, and I peeled off to go down, at a lower altitude than I really like to do, but I got both my bombs. I put them well on the target. And then, of course, everybody came behind me. And then I started strafing down the highway. And there was a truck coming over a ridge. I was down to about a hundred feet now. And I could see the truck coming over. This is the last time I shot anybody. It was just coming over, just so I was just like this, and all I did was just {indicating finger movement}. To fire a plane, it just takes that with a button, and all four .50 calibers and 20 millimeters are firing. And I could see their faces, and then the windshield just shattered. But then someone yelled in the radio, "Raley, they're hitting you," and then my left engine was on fire. And so - and the temperature indicator just "shhhh" {indicating}, just like that. So I had to shut the engine down, because of the engine, it's called freezing up. If the engine stops suddenly, it may wrench the engine off the airplane, in which you're going to flip over.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

At that point, you'd be dead.

Becky Adams:

Yeah.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But I feathered the engine, and I got away from there, but eventually got over another flak battery, and they finished me off. They got a fire going, started in my right wing. They got a fire going. I mean, they started - one shell came in, just hit below the cockpit floor, but - and some pieces hit me, but the floor had muffled the explosion, so I just got flesh wounds, not serious at all. But then another, an incendiary came into the cockpit and it didn't explode. It just hissed. Then I - it got a good fire going, and I was afraid I was going to run into the ground, so I unbuckled my seat belt and popped the canopy, and I stood up in the cockpit, took me feet off the rudder pedal. And I was holding onto this. I didn't even put on my gloves that morning, and so my hands were in the fire. And then, I got up to about 300 feet, and the plane not - was ceasing to fly, was stalling. So my choice was crash and burn or bail out too low, and I chose the latter. I bailed out too low. And I got out of the airplane, and my body headed towards the left tail. Since it was the left engine not running, it went a little bit that way. But I did this {indicating}, because I had had a tent mate that hit the tail when he bailed out. That was months earlier. And that was in my mind. But I went right under it, so I didn't hit it. But then, I was going to count to 10 like you're instructed, but I think I got to one. I was somersaulting head over heels. And so I knew the ground looked awfully, awfully close, so I just "shwoo", pulled the rip cord. And I thought the chute would never open, but it actually opened in two or three seconds. And then, it popped open. And then I could see blood falling, and I looked up to see where it was coming from and realized that's me. I'm bleeding. But anyhow, that parachute is beautiful up there, especially when you - but I swung back and forth a couple times and hit the ground on a backwards swing, somersaulted head over heels backwards. And I came to rest. They were to my back, these soldiers, because I'd landed maybe 50 yards on the edge of a little town, a village, that apparently the Germans had their soldiers quartered in there. And they - then they run out and grab me. And at first, they leveled their rifles. I thought they were going to shoot me. I think I said to you before, I put one foot behind me - this doesn't make sense - to brace my body for the impact, so I wouldn't hurt myself when I hit the ground. Of course, I probably would have been unconscious by that time. But they didn't do it. Two soldiers ran out and grabbed me under each arm and started dragging me back, and they stood me against a masonry wall and then started forming a line out here. And I thought they're going to make an execution out of this thing. And I think they were. I don't think this was a mock execution. They were mad. Then, but about that time, when they were playing with their rifles getting, you know, loaded and all that, a German noncom came up and just waved his arm, and they went away. He asked me was I badly wounded. And I said no. I thought I just had flesh wounds. And he said we will - he started to get out his own personal first aid kit. He said, "I think I better wash off the blood first." And then we went into an Italian farmhouse right there. And I saw myself in a mirror, and I think I looked worse than I really was. I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes and some of my hair to fire, and my hands were stinging some. My eyes were burning, because I kept them open some during. I had to see something.

Becky Adams:

Wow. Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyway, then they took me to - they did take me to a doctor. And then, the doctor put on some more professional wound. Then they brought out - I saw the people. We started off down the highway in this car, and here were the people that just shot me down waving, I mean, cleaning out their guns. They waved, and I thought, what the heck, and I waved back. But anyhow, that's when we were going to see a doctor, and he put on some better dressings and some stuff. Then he brought out a plate of meat and potatoes. I think they were enjoying having, you know, an American pilot. And I started right off, whenever food is offered, eat it. You don't know when the next food is, when the next meal is coming. So when they got through with that, they brought out a glass - I mean, a bottle of Italian wine. And I thought, they want to get me intoxicated. So I poured one glass. And I drank it, and I said thank you. And one of them was smiling, saying, "C'est la guerre," you know, in French, you know, "This is war." I say I think they were enjoying it there. I was treated right nicely. Had I known what lay in store for me, I think I would have consumed the whole bottle. I didn't know what was. But anyhow, then three other guards, three guards, took me to headquarters. And I'm afraid they were getting kind of tired of me, because I think they were a little bit lost driving around. And they'd stop and ask at the crossroads. There'd be a German soldier there. They'd point this way and that way. Eventually, we ended up at the German headquarters, and they turned me over to a German officer. Then, they had my billfold, which I had - I had some things that indicated my squadron and route, and route number. I thought, "Oh, gads." I had about 30 dollars of so-called invasion money. It's only good, you know, on the American side of the line.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyway, then they went out of the room to discuss me. And so I went in and pulled out - I had some Red Cross coupons for the Red Cross canteen in Foggia, and there was - I think I had a ticket for some clothes I had taken to be dry cleaned in Foggia, and it said "Foggia." And they said, "Ah, Foggia." But anyhow, this German officer didn't hear all that. And so, when he went out of the room, I took out everything but the money and put in the stove. There was a nice fire going. And when - but the soldiers didn't come back in. The German officer did. And I said, "Can I have my billfold back?" And he looked at it, "Sure. Take it." And so, after that, I could get by without divulging my squadron and group and all those things. But they took me to - they took me to another headquarter. And there were three guards. There's always three guards.

Becky Adams:

Interesting.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And we spent - we spent the night in some lounge chairs. But anyhow, that was all right. There was a bathroom I was - had access to. We were on the fourth floor. I thought this is too high for any jump. And there's no convenient rope. In the movies, the prisoner goes down. That's not realistic.

Becky Adams:

No. No.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyway, I got my first lesson in freedom. I looked at the magazines. They were all in German. I looked at the pictures. Then they weren't paying much attention to me. And there was a radio on. It was between two stations. One was German language and one was English language. And they didn't - I thought, well, I'll just turn it over to the English language. And I turned it over. And, for a few seconds, they didn't realize. And then, finally, "Ah!" I thought I was going to get shot. And they said, "Turn it off!"

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Turned it off. And I said something like, "Well, don't you listen?" They said "Das ist verboten." You know, "That's forbidden.” “Don't you listen to American broadcasting when they were broadcasting in Germany?” I had no idea whether we did that or not, but I was making the most of it. They said, "Oh, no, no. We don't do that." I said, "We listen to your propaganda. Axis Sally plays very good music. We like it. We like the music. Encourage them to keep it up, because we really like it." He said, "Is that just for the officers?" "Oh, no. We put it in the public address system. We want everybody to hear it. We got a good charge out of it." That was just beyond their comprehension. Then, they said something like, "Well, you really shouldn't be fighting us. You should be fighting the Russians. I said, "Well, Hitler told you to fight us. Hitler declared war on the United States. I fight. Roosevelt says to fight you. You do what Hitler says, and I'm going to do what Roosevelt says." Then I went on from there. I believe I was taken by a staff car. I thought this is driven by a German officer. This is going to be real - maybe it's not so bad. Anyhow, we wound up at a local jail. So - and the prisoners were German soldiers who were waiting a transfer back to Germany for them. One of them befriended me. You always aware - I mean, beware of someone who befriends you. Is this a plant or something like that? But he offered me some sugar cookies, which I ate. Then, he spoke. He spoke English. He said he was from Palestine. I couldn't figure that. But anyway, he said he was an electrician by trade, and he had killed an Italian civilian or something. But that was not too bad a crime. He was sentenced to one year in prison, or else he could get out of there by volunteering for the Russian front, but he chose not to volunteer. He chose prison over the Russian front. He also knew about some missions that I had been on. I mean, he just said he had been up in Turin or Milan, and they had - he was there to escort, to "accompany", I guess would be the word, to accompany some guns, war equipment, from Northern Italy down to where the fighting was. But he said but they'd been bombed and lost some of it, you know. Truth is I'd escorted bombers on that mission. And I just said, "Well, I understand some of our bombers have been up in that area, so I guess - I guess they were successful." I didn't say I was on the mission. So - but then, we left there and I went to - [Interruption in digital video recording.] But anyway, when I left that - left the jail, which was the next day, I went to a transient prison, but I missed the one meal of the day, so this was the beginning of my hunger business. Then from there, I was taken to a church the next day, a church, which was used as a holding place for prisoners. Then I spent one day there. I think I missed the meal there, so that's bad. Then that night, I was taken by truck to a prison near the town of Laterina, which is 30 miles or so southeast of Florence. And I spent a month there. I don't use curse words, but it was a hellhole. And we'd get one half a canteen cup of very watery soup twice a day and once on Sunday. And I was there for a month, and my weight just started - we just got a little bit of bread, and we only got water once a day. After you drank your water in the morning, that's all the water you're going to get. And my weight just started going down. And also, my first night there, they're triple-deck bunks with straw in there, but there were lice and fleas in the straw. So I slept on the - started on the floor, concrete. And I stayed there a little while. And the only bunk left was the top one, which was probably the best one. There was no heat in the building. So I stayed on the top bunk, and eventually I got lice and fleas.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And I was there for about a month. This was at the middle of February to the middle of March. By the middle of March, the weather was warming a little bit, and we'd go out in the sunshine, and we'd get the lice and pop them between our fingernails, thumbnails. And they would bother you at night, because they would wiggle around at night and kind of disturb you. Then, eventually, we got to - I spent three nights in a boxcar, without food or water, going from there to a prison near Munich. Moosberg to be exact. It was Stalag VII-A. I spent two months there. And the food was a little bit better there. There's no such thing as a nice prison, but it was less bad than the one I had just left. And we did get a few Red Cross parcels there. And also, we got a bath. But as soon as we got there, we got out of the boxcars, they took us to a shower facility. And they said, "Now, strip naked." There was a foot of snow out here, but they were going to put your clothes in a bag and put them in a steam chamber and pressurize it and kill the fleas and lice. I hoped they were telling the truth, but anyhow, I mean, at that time I didn't know. They were telling the truth. So I did this, and there were, I say, everybody stark naked and a foot of just standing in the snow waiting for your time to go into the shower. Well, we got into the shower, and there were going to be two men to a shower. And there was a showerhead up there somewhere, and I look around for a faucet. No faucets. I look around for soap. No soap. And then, there was a guard to make sure there were two men at each showerhead, and I didn't like it. Then he'd look and then slam the door and lock the door. And I thought, "Oh, gads. What's going to come out of that showerhead up there?" We'd already heard rumors of gas chambers.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And eventually, water came out, and we got wet, but that's about all I can say. We had about 30 seconds of water.

Becky Adams:

Wow. Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Anyhow, we got wet anyway. But then there was two barracks. There's one compound for officers. And most of them were ground force officers; and some British officers; and a few Italian officers; and a few Yugoslav officers, some fighting for Tito, you know, with the Partisans, and some fighting with Mihailovic for the Chetniks.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

That was kind of they were fighting each other, but they were -

Becky Adams:

In prison together.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I tell you, it was - it was fouled up. But anyway, I was there for two months, and towards the end of the time they realized they had not interrogated me. And so, they were going to interrogate. There were 10 Air Force people, 10 Air Force officers in there. Maybe two or three of them were pilots. Others were navigators, bombardiers, what have you, but all officers. They took us out of there, put us in one building, just a one-room building, and take you to a third - second building for interrogation, and then to a third building so you couldn't talk to the ones who have been interrogated. And so, unfortunately, I was number 10. I didn't - I didn't like being the last one, but I found out why. They had - they had, through the spy system, they had gotten information on these others. They were only in there about 15 minutes for interrogation. And when I got in there, I thought, well, you know, this won't be too bad. And my interrogator explained that, although he was in the German army, that he had been designated by the German government to represent the International Red Cross. And I thought, "Sure." And, "You need to fill out this form." He wanted to put me at ease. He offered me a cigarette. And I said, "Well, thank you. I don't smoke." And he said, "Oh, go ahead and take one." I said, "I honestly do not smoke. If I did, I would gladly accept your cigarette." That got off to a bad start. He never met anybody that didn't smoke, but I just never have smoked in my entire life, never had any desire. But anyway, we got through that, and he gave me this four-page form to fill out. And at the top was a big red cross, and in English, "International Red Cross Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland." Anyway, first three questions: Name, rank, and serial number. I filled it out, name, rank, serial number, gave it back to him.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

He said, "Oh, you haven't done. You haven't filled it out completely." "Well, that's all I can give you. That's all that's required by the Geneva Convention." "Oh, well, we know you've been shot down for some time now, so this information is really unimportant." "Well, good. If it's unimportant, let's just forget it," you know.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

That wasn't what he had in mind. And so we went - he wanted to know, let's see, well, when was I shot down. I think, well, what's behind that question? Surely they got with their efficiency they know the day I was shot down. And so, I thought, well, I'll play along with this. I said, "It must have been back in the wintertime. I remember it was cold." I was lying. I knew. I knew the month, the day of the month, the day of the week, the hour of the day, down to about a couple of minutes. I didn't admit to any of that. Then, he wanted to know what was the fate of my crew members. I thought, well, he doesn't know I was a fighter pilot.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And I said, "Well, I'm sorry, but I can't tell you the fate of my crew members." Of course, I was telling the truth.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I said, "No, can't do it." Well, I should feel sorry for them. The Red Cross wanted to get the names of my crew members so they could notify their next of kin back in the States. "Well, that's commendable, but I cannot give you the names."

Becky Adams:

Right. Right. Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Of course, when that was over with, after two hours of going round and round, and we talked about extraneous things, about music; did I like music. Well, yes, I liked music. What kind? I said, "Well, I like modern, and I like classical. I like both." I figured that was an innocuous question and an innocuous answer. Then, he said, he volunteered, he spoke Arabic. I figured that's a leading question to get me to admit that I'd been in North Africa. And I said, "Well, you're to be commended. As I understand, I have heard that Arabic is a difficult language, since they don't seem to have the same alphabet that we do in English and you do in German, the Phoenician alphabet."

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And so we went round and round. Then, he started the threatening. He said, "Well, you don't leave me any alternative but to turn you over." This was after two hours of going around and around. "Leave me no alternative but to turn you over to the Gestapo, and when they get through with you you'll be fortunate if you're able to walk." And I thought, well, I'm going to take this as a bluff. And if they start working on me, I'll see how much I can take, and then I'm going to start. I might start talking. It was a bluff. I had heard ahead of time, before I started combat, that they would try to bluff you. And so I was thinking I hope this is really a bluff. So anyway, after a couple of hours it was getting time it was his dinnertime, I think. So I went in solitary confinement. And so I went up in solitary confinement, and my cell was solid concrete. I could do my arms this way and touch those two walls. And there were two items in there. One was a bench, wooden bench. No pillow, no mattress, no cover, no blanket, no nothing. The other was a bucket that was a sanitary facility.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

There was no heat, but then that was in the month of May, so it was really not cold, so I lucked out on that one. But eventually, they came in. Two guards came to get me. And I didn't know where we were going, but initially we went back to the barracks, but then the guards again took me, came and got me, plus one ground force officer. So there were only two Americans left: me, Air Force; and this one infantry officer. And they came to get both of us, and we got on a train with some, I guess, some British prisoners and some Italian officers were on there. But anyhow, we got to Nuremberg, and then that was where things got separated. And I had my - I had two guards on me then, and one of my guards just lighted a cigarette and just pushed it up to the hand, back of the hand. And I yelled, you know, to this American infantry lieutenant. And I yelled, "Hey, watch out!" You know, they just, "Ha, ha, ha," you know, real funny. But anyway, at that point, we were separated. And then, then these two guards took me. We were headed north. And we got to Leipzig, and we changed trains in Leipzig, and went into what I would call a Red Cross canteen, and Red Cross girls in there, with a little red cross up here, and striped uniforms. And they ordered three bowls of soup. [Interruption in digital video recording.] In Leipzig, we changed trains, and they took me into a little Red Cross, not little, Red Cross canteen is what I'll call it, for lack of proper terminology. And a German girl in a Red Cross uniform came out, and my two guards ordered three bowls of soup. And this little girl looked at me. And, anyhow, she went away and came back with three bowls of soup. So I ate it. The train ride was from there on, from Nuremberg on, I was free to get up and walk. The only passengers on there were soldiers, and there was one female in uniform in German. I guess she was conductor, attendant, or whatever. I don't know what her position was, but she was going up and down the line. Maybe she was flirting with the soldiers. I don't know. I could get up and go to the bathroom, and I looked out the window. The train was doing, I'll say, 50 miles an hour. In the movies, the prisoner jumps out the window, but I tell you it looked - I didn't want to kill my foolish self. Anyway, but I looked up and down. And then one soldier spoke to me in English. My guards spoke almost no English. But anyway, he spoke English and invited me to sit down. Well, sure, I'll sit down. So we talked, and said, I asked something like, "Well, why does Germany keep on fighting? You're fighting the United States of America, which is the greatest industrial nation in the world." Well, we had - the Germans had secret weapons that were going to win the war for them. At that time, we had not heard of the V2's, the V1's and the V2's. But anyhow, of course, that didn't win the war for them. Well, we got on to Berlin. Then, we got on a commuter train going from one side of town, the south side of town to the north side of town, still two guards and me. Then, we got on a train, and we got into a compartment. And I think the compartment held about six people and my two guards and me. There was some woman over there looking at me, you know, like - I had my wings in my pocket. I took my wings off, because there was already bomb damage around. And I didn't -

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Anyway, so then we wound up in the city of Stralsund, which was on the Baltic Sea. Then we changed trains again and got into a narrow gauge railway, and we rode in a boxcar with civilians. There were just chairs, just something like this, just chairs. Anyhow, maybe it was 20 miles on to Barth. We got there, then we walked from the railway station to the gates of the prison. They opened it up, and I went in, and they turned me over to the German intelligence officer. And then, those two guards, they were going home on leave. The German efficiency was in effect. That was the way they - their home was somewhere, homes were somewhere in the vicinity. So anyhow, the head of the German intelligence in the prison was a major from Santa Monica, California, had been an antique dealer in Santa Monica, California before the war, but he had gone home to the fatherland, again, before the war. And he started interrogating me again - not again. This was the first time he had. And I thought, "Are we going to go through this mess all over again?" He said, "Well, I just want to get a few points straight. And we're going to put you in solitary, but you're not going to be a prisoner in solitary. We'll open up the main gates to the prison tomorrow," which he did. And I was put into a room which held 16 prisoners, so I was number 16 in that particular room. And then, I think we had double-deck bunks in there. And everybody was pretty compatible. There was a certain amount of camaraderie, as we were all Air Force officers, either second lieutenants, first lieutenants, right there. Then there was almost 200 men in the barracks, almost. Towards the end of the war there were. But we - we stayed in there for four months. Now, on two occasions I was shot at. I'd broken a camp rule and didn't know it. The other prisons I had been in did not have. There were two parallel barbed wire fences, with coiled barbed wire in between. But then, about 10 feet inside of that was a one strand of wire with a post about two feet high. And my shoelace had come untied, and I put my foot up there to tie my shoelace, and a shot rang out and hit down about down by close to my foot. And I looked up to see where it came from, and the guard just said, you know {wagging finger}. Now, he had the right. By camp rules, he had the right to kill me on the spot. I didn't know you're not supposed to touch. That's the warning wire. And that's you don't touch it. But anyway, he didn't want to kill me.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then, we used to enjoy watching air raids. That was a great morale booster to see American B-17s or whatever flying overhead. And we could go outside and watch, and that was fine. That was a morale booster. But eventually, the rules got changed, and you're supposed to stay inside the barracks when an air raid siren went off. Then, but anyway, I was being curious. I was leaning out, like this, out looking out the window, and a shot rang out and hit. It missed me by about three feet, so he could have killed me. He was about 15 yards away, perhaps. And he looked at me, you know {wagging finger}. I got my head back in. I learned fast.

Becky Adams:

Exactly. Could you tell us about this picture?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Yes. {Illustrating with photograph.} This picture was made in August of 1944. And this is my prison number down at the bottom there. And the abbreviations there stand for "Kriegsgefangene Lager der Luftwaffe Nummer Ein." That's POW Camp No. 1. And that is located in Barth, Germany. You want me to hold it longer?

Becky Adams:

That's fine. And how long were you in that particular prison?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I was in there a total of a year, a year and two days to be exact.

Becky Adams:

Wow. Wow. And that's what you’re describing now, your treatment in Barth?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Right. Right.

Becky Adams:

What was your treatment like?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Well, we got more food there than we'd got. This was a Luftwaffe prison. The other prison I had been was Velmok (ph), Velmok meaning "Army."

Becky Adams:

I see. Luftwaffe meaning?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Air Force.

Becky Adams:

Air Force. I see.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

They also had ____ marine prisons for anyone in the Navy or Merchant Marine. But anyway, after - they would have, on occasion, they'd have identification roll calls, and on the roll call was a head count. You know, "One, two, three." "Ein, zwei, drei," like that. Every once in a while, they'd have an identification roll call with a little smaller version of that picture on a little card, and they'd call out your name, and you'd come up to a desk or table, and they'd look, make sure that's you, and then you'd go up to the other side to make sure that everybody matched up. They'd do that perhaps once a month, unannounced.

Becky Adams:

So what was your treatment like in that prison? Anything else eventful?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We were not beaten. There was food was still scarce. We got the diet consisted mostly of black bread and potatoes. The black bread was made of - it was very heavy. It was made, I remember one of the ingredients, was 20 percent sawdust and 10 percent straw ground up. And the rest of it was some nebulous kinds of grains. So it was very heavy. But anyhow, we ate it. I found out, I learned, on occasion we'd get cabbage. That was a fresh vegetable. That was unusual. Of course, it had to be in season. Then occasionally, we would get cooked barley. I had never had barley in my life. You eat anything.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

In the barley were grub worms about the size - I may be using the wrong term. I don't know what kind of worm it was. But it was white and about like this {indicating pinky finger}. And we used to snoop around and get them, "Ah, meat with the barley." And you'd go and dispose of it. Then, we'd still eat the barley. You can't afford to throw it out. Another time, we got blood sausage. I had never heard of any, never heard the term. But it was made from blood, animals, and I ate it. I found out that you will eat anything.

Becky Adams:

Right. Right. Well, do you want to tell the cat story?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

The cat story, yes. When food was getting real scarce, we - I think by this time we had moved into - I'd spent four months in that compound and moved to another compound that had just been newly constructed, and I spent eight months there. But anyhow, food was getting more and more scarce. And some of the rooms - each room kind of did - you did your own cooking in the room. You had a stove that was for heat, cooking, whatever. Most of the cooking was done in a bucket, stew. "Stew" using the term pretty loosely, because there wasn't much if any meat to go in there. But there were a few stray cats around, and some of the rooms had decided, each room decided, collectively, what they wanted to do. And these were house cats, now. You know, "Meow, meow." And I never thought of eating one, but anyhow, initially, we talked. We talked about it, and decided, you know, we don't believe we're quite ready to do that. But anyhow, eventually, we decided we were ready to eat a cat. By that time, the cats were all gone.

Becky Adams:

The other people had already eaten them?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

The other people - we were a little bit late. Now, one night, something a little unusual happened on the other side of the barracks from me. I could hear a bang, a bang, not a gun, but just a bump and a bump and a bump and a bump. We didn't know quite what was going on. What is was, it was foggy. There were some low-flying birds, and they had flown into the barracks. And one room - the barracks were locked from the outside at night. And this one room had figured out what was going on, and as soon as the doors were open, "shwoo", they dashed out and started picking up the birds, including one duck. And you don't share in prison. I mean the food that the Germans give you is divided. I'll tell you how it was divided. It was divided, you know, each room got so much, but then I'll tell you how it was further divided, ingenious, simple. But anyhow, these people, the Germans, say those birds are not good to eat. Those fellas ate them anyway. I saw the duck cooking, you know, and I wanted to get the aroma. But anyway, that tasted - that tasted good.

Becky Adams:

How was the food divided?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Now, the food, each room got the same amount. And maybe I was fortunate. I was only 5'7". Now, the food was divided you got the same amount of food whether you were 5'7" or 5'6" or whether you were 6'2". So maybe I came out a little bit ahead since I'm just physically a little bit - being a fighter pilot had a few advantages, I guess. Of course, I was still hungry. But then we divided the food. You'd take turns about being, we called it, KP.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Kitchen police. But - and the way it was, you'd rotate, and your time would come around, and I guess two of us would be KP at the same time. And all we did was cut up, wash the potatoes. We used to peel them, but we did away with that. You'd just wash them and eat the peelings and everything. Then the way it was divided, the so-called cook would take the bowls, take a spoon, and look around until each bowl looked as equal as possible. Then the cook took the last choice, because next time somebody else would be cooking and he takes the last choice. So that makes for a very - it's a very simple solution to dividing the food in the room. It was pretty easy dividing. Occasionally, when we brought in new prisoners, they'd eat the food, look around to see, you know, there's no more food. I mean, get used to it.

Becky Adams:

You want to tell how you were liberated at the end?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

At the very end, things sort of began to fall apart. The summer - initially, towards the end, in the month of about February following the raid on Dresden, we were going to be executed in retaliation for the raid on Dresden. That was one flap that went. That was in the middle of February,' 45, and the American-British bombers had done a lot there in Dresden. I was in Dresden after the war, by the way, I mean, last September.

Becky Adams:

So you didn't get executed?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

No, nobody got executed. The German commandants didn't have any heart for that, because there was already talk of war crimes trials afterwards. That kind of passed. Then the month of March food got more scarce or scarcer. But even the German civilians were not getting much food. But the month of April, things changed a little bit for the better. We got a little more food. And then at the very end, it was discovered that there were 50,000 Red Cross parcels over in Rostock.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And so, as if by magic, they appeared.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And they were divided up. Every prisoner got four parcels. Each one weighed, I'm going to say, five kilos, call it 11 pounds, something like that.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We had plenty of food then.

Becky Adams:

Yes.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But then on the morning of April the 20th, which was Hitler's birthday, so I think this was no coincidence, but the Russians probably chose that day, but we were awakened about 2 o'clock in the morning with just the rumble of artillery I'm going to say 10 miles away or something like that. And it went on for a couple of hours. And we figured this is the end is coming. And so eventually - that was the 20th of April of '45. Then on the 30th of April, the guards - our ranking American officer was a Colonel Zemke. Zemke, he was of Russian parentage, but, you know, he was an American citizen, spoke Russian, had been to Moscow in the early days of war as an air atache. But anyway, he'd eventually gotten shot. He gotten into - he eventually got himself shot down. But he was - you know, was there. And he had talked to the German commandant. His orders were then to have everybody march to the west. And to the west were the British lines about 100 miles away. But we didn't want - we thought to be marching out on the road with fighter aircraft strafing, that's the last thing we wanted. We wanted to stay there. So they abandoned the prison, and left a few guns, and so we went to sleep on the night of the 30th and woke up the next morning, and there were Americans in the guard towers. And also, there's something sad there, too. Some of the guards came back to the gates with their babies, their wives, babes in arms, pleading to get back into the prison. And we'd already been told no one; we won't protect anybody. That was sad. I stood there at the gate and watched.

Becky Adams:

That's horrible.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Because the Russians were going to kill them. That's another story. I mean, I can cover that one. But then that was the first day of May. Then the night of the first day of May, the first Russian patrol entered the prison. And so we were listening to the - there was a public address system. We were listening to the Hit Parade.

Becky Adams:

You were happy.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Now, we'd taken over the whole camp. Then somebody cut in and said, you know, that, you know, the Russian patrol had entered the prison. So we knew this is the beginning. And the next day, May 2nd, the main body, the Russian tanks, trucks, artillery, infantry. Some of them wanted to go - we walked into town. We wanted to go into town. We cut the fences, which might not have been, in retrospect, was not smartest thing to do. We just wanted - psychologically, we wanted to be able to walk through the fence. We went into town, and there were Mongolians, and, you know, with an oriental look about them. And they had their women with them. You couldn't hardly tell the men from the women, frankly.

Becky Adams:

Really?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyhow, they were on wagons, horse-drawn wagons. And we looked at them; they looked at us. We went into town, into the town of Barth. We wanted to see what it looked like. And we got there, we had American flags painted on the back of our jackets. We thought they would protect us, which I guess they did. And the Russians were just everywhere. And then some Russians were going by hanging onto the running boards - some trucks had running boards in those days - with a bottle of vodka, you know, "Ah, viva la America." So we went back, "Viva la Stalin." You know, we know which way the wind is blowing and all this.

Becky Adams:

Exactly.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But then we began to hear shots ring out. Then so we knew that things weren't so good.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Then we began to hear machine gun firing.

Becky Adams:

Jeez.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And we thought, gads, we thought this was all over with here in town. Then I saw soldiers take a woman by the arm and start dragging her away to rape her.

Becky Adams:

Oh, no.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I mean, rape was just rampant.

Becky Adams:

Oh, no.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And so then we went back.

Becky Adams:

By the Russians?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

By the Russians.

Becky Adams:

Oh, no.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And then one woman had been stripped naked, staked out with wire, you know, spread eagle, raped, and then just taken a bayonet, "shhhck", kill her. She must have cursed them or something like that. And then out by the prison there were I think two adult women and three children that had been shot. They had a basket of food. I guess they tried to get out of the town, got closer to the prison, but they were shot, so we buried them.

Becky Adams:

That is sad.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And then, also, while we were there, there was one man in the barracks who spoke Russian, I mean an American prisoner but spoke enough Russian.

Becky Adams:

Right. Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

The Russian soldiers found out about this, "Oh, you got to come with us. We're going to have a party."

Becky Adams:

Oh, no.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

"You just got to come with us. Come. We just can't take no for an answer." So anyway, he went with them, and they started pouring vodka down him. And then they went on. What the party was, they were going house to house in another town, and anybody in uniform they'd just shoot them.

Becky Adams:

Oh, no.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And kill them. They would just slaughter them. And he said he was scared to stay with them; he was scareder still to leave them. So he came back and told the story. So I don't know.

Becky Adams:

Oh, wow. That is incredible.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyway, the Russians were good to us while we were there. They asked if there was anything we wanted. We said we'd like to have steak. So they went out and rounded up some Holstein cows. So we had Holstein steak.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And then after that, before we could eat our way through the Holstein cows, they brought in a batch of hogs.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We didn't get into the - I don't remember eating the pork. I don't remember. I would have eaten it if we would have gotten into it.

Becky Adams:

How did you finally leave? The Russians kept coming?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

The Russians - a few people went over and stole boats and tried to go to Sweden, which was about 60 miles across the water. I was not familiar. I didn't want to do it.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And a few people left the prison, and one started walking. And some of those were never heard of again. Eisenhower had given orders on the radio stay put. And I think inside that prison was probably the safest place in Germany at that time.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But anyway, they eventually allowed the American planes to fly, American B-17s, with a skeleton crew, just pilot and copilot, navigator, and flight engineer, to fly in and land in an airfield about two miles away. And so - and we had already chose up in groups of 30 men and decided it was 30 men to an airplane, to a B-17. And we marched through town, and into town, and then out past the concentration camp. Most every city had a concentration camp, and but it was not a death camp. Only half of them died, so that's pretty good statistics from concentration camps. But anyway, then the American B-17s landed, did not shut off the engines. They opened the door, and it took about two minutes for 30 men to "shwoo, shwoo, shwoo", to go in, just like - just like that, and slammed the door, and we just taxied down and left. I don't think I looked back. And then the flight engineer, who's an enlisted man, a sergeant, started breaking open boxes of ham and cheese sandwiches, I guess, oranges, apples, candy bars, maybe some other, maybe cheese. I don't remember what all was in there, just, you know, "Help yourself." So we did. And then he flew over Hamburg or something, to show us, you know, what it looked like down there. Then went to a place, Lyon (ph), was a place in France, and we spent one night there, and we were served steak by German prisoners of war. And then we got on a train the next morning, and we went to the - let's see. The English Channel coast.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And we - we stayed there about three weeks. I passed up chances to go into Paris and to London. I wanted the next ship back home.

Becky Adams:

You wanted home, period.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Home. I wanted to come back to Alabama. So -

Becky Adams:

Exactly. Where were you when the war ended?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Let's see. I got back to the - I got back to the States, I got back to my home in Alabama, on June 21st, 1945, the longest day in the year, and it was - I'm going to say it's one of the happiest days in the year.

Becky Adams:

Yes.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And I was really tired. I had only a few hours on a cot before that. I was worn out. But that night - I was going in to see everybody in town that day. And that night, my cousin, 17 and a half years old, came into the house. You didn't knock at the house in those days. She came in, in a bathing suit, barefooted. "Let's go. We got a midnight swimming party waiting on you." And I was the only male, and so all these girls were out there. So I immediately came back to life, and I got on my bathing suit and got in the car, and we went over to the lake and went swimming. So I was - and my cousin kissed me. So I'm really back, back home now.

Becky Adams:

Fantastic.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

After that, after I'd had two months of leave at home, I got a car, and I was - frankly, I just wanted to get back in circulation. I started dating girls in Demopolis and then Sumter County. I just wanted to get back and get a normal life.

Becky Adams:

And you were released from the military after that?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I was released. I was still on active duty when I got back in, when I got into the University of Alabama. I wanted a degree in mechanical engineering.

Becky Adams:

Oh, good.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

So I wanted to get back into school. So I got started on that while I was still on active duty, and my active duty ended on the 22nd of November, 1945.

Becky Adams:

Okay. Fantastic.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And so -

Becky Adams:

So you covered some about your life afterward. I wanted to ask you that question that you discussed with me, and that was, how did this affect you, your military and your wartime experience, affect your life afterwards?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

When I was in combat, in the prison, I never had any nightmares. I got back home, and my bedroom was next to my mother's bedroom, and I started having screaming nightmares about prison, about combat. And my mother would come in and shake me to get me out of it, because I'd just be like this. And that went on. And then, when I got into school, into college, my roommate would - it scared him. He would shake me to get me out of it, out of that nightmare. And then eventually, I met the girl I married, and I told her about it, that I had screaming nightmares. And she said, "Oh, sure, sure." She passed it off. The first night I had one, I scared the poor girl out of her wits.

Becky Adams:

Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But she said - and I kept on having them. But she says I was never violent. I was afraid, you know, I might hurt her or something, but she said all I did was lie there and scream.

Becky Adams:

Wow. Wow.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And that was - and the nightmares continued, and they've tapered off. But I've had dreams. Such one dream, my daughter was being tortured in front of me to get me to talk. And she wasn't even born until the 1950s.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

And so I dreamed about things that were not real.

Becky Adams:

But part of that experience brings it back?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

It brings it back. And I - I wouldn't take anything for the experience. There's not enough gold in Fort Knox to get me to do it again.

Becky Adams:

No. No way.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

But I am glad I did it. I got so many things that I wanted to do and I had the experiences. Anyway, then last September, my wife and I went back as tourists to the site of that prison. I wanted her to see, to see where it was.

Becky Adams:

Yeah. Interesting.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

We were over there when that infamous September 11th took place. We were afraid we'd get stranded in Europe. Fortunately, we did not. We got back.

Becky Adams:

Okay. Well, is there one - this is the very last question. We have one minute left. Is there anything else you'd like to include on this tape, that you want to include?

Nathaniel G. Raley:

I have the highest respect for the American military, and sometimes I choke up on that. I think everybody needs to, needs to have some military experience. And I have no sympathy for anybody who is afraid. I was afraid.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

If you're not afraid, you don't know what's - you don't know what's going on around you.

Becky Adams:

Right.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

That's what we'd say. Fear is a healthy thing, but controlled fear, not absolutely frightened.

Becky Adams:

Excellent. Well, thank you, Colonel. You've been through a tremendous amount, and we appreciate you sharing your experiences. Thank you.

Nathaniel G. Raley:

Well, I'm glad. I'm glad to have done it.

Becky Adams:

Fantastic. Thank you. [End of digital video recording.]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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