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"They put me on raw oxygen and I soon started getting my color back. So I lived to fight another day." (Diary, July 5, 1943 entry)

   W. Harold Plunkett
Image of W. Harold Plunkett
Harold Plunkett in the radio room of a B-17 [1942]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Air Forces/Corps
Unit: 48th Squadron, 2nd Bomb Group, 12th Air Force
Service Location: North Africa; European Theater
Rank: Staff Sergeant
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In an interview and a diary of his combat experiences in 1943, Harold Plunkett describes the camaraderie, the boredom, and the fear involved with flying bombing missions over Africa and Europe during World War II. He enlisted on the day after Pearl Harbor and married exactly one year later, just before shipping out. As a radioman, his duties involved logging each bomb dropped and each enemy plane spotted-when he wasn't dodging shrapnel while sitting in the plane's ball turret. Plunkett almost died twice, once when his oxygen tank was shot away and he passed out. One of his plane's more unusual targets: Mt. Etna, in hopes the bombs might make the volcano erupt (it did--but only after the Allies had captured Sicily).

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (10 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (68 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album (10 photos)
 Diary
»My Diary, which I started April 1, 1943
[PDF: 19 MB / 39 p.]
More like this
»Wings of War
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (10 items)
Where he was when he heard about Pearl Harbor; picked up his girl friend that day to discuss enlisting; he did so the next day; early days in training; living in tents in the winter with coal stoves; many suicides, men who could not stand the conditions. (03:50) Wanted to fly when he enlisted but schools were booked up, so he was diverted into training to be a radio operator/mechanic; learning Morse code was the hardest thing. (02:36) Became crew member of B-17; patrolling Gulf of Mexico for German submarines which were shooting torpedoes up on the beaches of Florida to lower morale; at first, planes did not have live ammunition, so they had to radio in the position of the sub, which was not very efficient; when they were authorized to carry bombs, they destroyed some subs. (02:29)
Winter of 1942, squadron commander announced they were going to Lewistown, Montana, for further training, and from there they would be going into combat; encouraged any men who were thinking of getting married to do it there; wired his sweetheart back in Indiana; she came out from Indiana and they were married Dec. 8, 1942; how the newly married men "failed" their physicals. (03:38) One of first missions: bomb air base at Marrakesh; Navy had captured the base just before the bombs destroyed it; communication problems; sand was terrible, surprised they didn't have more mechanical problems; maps had to be updated frequently because of shifting sand formations; bombing targets were transportation-based to stop supplies from being delivered to the Germans; one non-military target, a town on northern coast of Sicily, to lower morale so they would revolt against Axis; gunner on one crew had gone to the town in training for the priesthood; he had to be restrained from trying to jump out of the plane; often orders were first opened in mid-flight. (05:57) Description of what the 10 people on a B-17 did; many times there was an 11th person on board, an observer; size of bombs depended on what target was; bombing Mt. Etna to induce volcano to erupt; tried same thing with Mount Vesuvius, outside Naples, with similar results. (03:35)
Air Force would drop anti-personnel bombs to clear area for Marines to invade; how he was "killed" twice: lost oxygen tank one time to enemy bullets; he was in ball turret because some men didn't want to be there, since that was such a vulnerable position; isolated from other crew members; he was small and fit there easily; worst place to be was 7th plane at rear of formation; his second "kill" occurred when he was hit and presumed dead; crew could not check on him until they were able to get away from enemy planes. (11:36) At beginning, the mission limit was 25, true in England, but not in Africa; enlisted men could not complain, but officers could and did write to Congressmen; some pilots were losing it; mission limit was set at 50, but planes were being produced faster than crews to fly them; his crew did their 50 and were ready to go home; invasion of Italy was on at that time but they were held back until invasion was complete. (03:12) Radio operator was given a log book, and he kept a diary in his; the name of the plane, Wiley Witch, was a nickname his pilot had for his wife; swastikas painted on side of plane represented planes they shot down; planes painted represented missions. (02:04)
Close to his training crew after the war, also pilot of his combat crew, who became a high-ranking official in the FAA; training crew visited each other; all have died except for engineer, most from lung cancer; engineer was best man at his wedding; engineer inherited land in North Carolina from his father which he leases as part of Ft. Bragg. (03:39)  
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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