DIARY OF THE 386TH BOMBARDMENT GROUP
Brigadier General James H. Howard, USAF (Ret.)
Combat Missions* (see below)
Lieutenant Colonel Hankey - The first 386th Bomb Group Operations Officer | DFC | 386th Battle Honors | Photo Pages | Formation Diagrams | Anne Brusselmans | Bluie West One | Soldiers Medal | The Yankee Guerrilla | Flying on a single engine | Mission Recalled | Mission Recalled | Aborted Mission | Training Flight | Airdrome Evreux Fauville, France | Lake Charles, Louisiana | London Visit | Colonel Erich Hartmann | Jefferson Barracks | Depue Diary | Ike Visits | Prince of Sweden | French Memorial | D-Day Plus 60 Years | English Memorial | American Chapel Windows | Next of Kin | 386th B.G. Planes | Honorary Citizen Utah Beach | Christmas Day 1943 | Major Turner's Crash | Individual Flight Record | The History of the 386th Bomb Group
My first encounter with military aviation came about during the winter of 1933. I was walking to the home of a friend in a snow storm that had reached blizzard conditions. Suddenly I heard the roar of an airplane engine directly overhead. Looking up I could see nothing but swirling snow. A few minutes later I could hear the engine sound again, now much louder. This time the plane was only about 300 feet above me. It was a huge biplane with yellow wings and a brown fuselage. Then I realized it was coming in for a landing on a snow covered alfalfa field. My home was located in the northeast corner of St. Paul, more or less in open country. The Kern’s farm home a scant 100 yards from where I lived. Beaver Lake bordered the farm to the east. I moved as fast as the two foot deep snow would allow. I had to get out to that airplane!
A figure was walking toward me—it was the pilot. He was wearing leather sheeplined flying clothes, helmet and goggles. How could I possibly know some ten years hence, I would be wearing the very same attire in air combat! I asked the pilot what happened, he told me that he and his observer were part of a four plane flight flying from Chicago to St. Paul. He had no idea where the other three planes were. He was low on fuel, so when he saw the open field next to the lake he decided to land.
The pilot asked me where he could find a telephone so he could call the St. Paul airport; which was base for the 109th Aero Squadron. I told him the farmer had a telephone. I was so intent to get to that airplane, I didn’t think of taking him to my house, which was only a 100 yards beyond the farm house. Sure wish I would have—when I returned home hours later, my folks did not believe my story about the plane landing so near us. Later five gallon cans of gasoline were brought out to the plane by personnel from the airport. By that time the snow had subsided, the plane took off and flew the five miles or so to St. Paul airport. I was to learn later that the aircraft was a Curtiss A-3B, which would designate it as an attack type plane. The two open cockpit plane could also serve as an observation plane.
Around 1935 a group of men began building airplanes of their own design in the St. Paul area. They chose for their flying field Kern’s farm. The same alfalfa strip where the army plane had landed years before. At one time there where seven aircraft tied down next to an apple orchard. Only two of the planes had ever been inside of an aircraft factory. One was a Travelair 2000, the other was a 90 horse powered Monocoupe. I witnessed many minor crashes, nobody ever was seriously injured that I was aware of. Mostly broken propellers and smashed landing gears as a result of bad landings.
After high school I worked as a machinist apprentice for nearly two years. Then the war came and I enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. I attended engine and airplane mechanic school. Then Martin B-26 system and operation training at the Glenn L. Martin Airplane Factory. After that it was aerial gunnery training, followed by aerial engineer training and flight crew training at Barksdale Air Base located near Shreveport, Louisiana.
June 27, 1943 my crew climbed into our brand new B-26 named “BUZZ-N-BITCH” at Barksdale Air Base. Thus began a series of flights that would carry us overseas. We flew to Hunter Field, Georgia where a 250 gallon bomb bay fuel tank was installed along with some survival gear. June 29th we flew to Bolling Field , Washington D.C. where we remained over night. June 30th we took off for Westover Field, Massachusetts. July 1st we took off for Presque Isle, Maine where we remained over night. July 2nd we were on our way to Goose Bay, Labrador. Because of some persistent bad weather, we sat on the ground for seven days. July 9th we took off from Goose Bay flying to BW-1 Greenland, a distance of 776 miles. July 10th we were again into the air headed for Iceland, that leg was 745 miles. We remained there for two days. July 12 we flew to Prestwick, Scotland, a total of 690 miles. As we parked our plane-- we were informed to remove all personal gear, because our ship would remain there. The 386th Bomb Group had not yet begun combat operations, all of their ships were brand new; so ours was not needed! The next day we found ourselves on a train heading for Boxted Air Base, located near the city of Colchester, England.
I flew my first combat mission with the 386th on July 31, 1943—flew my last of 66 missions on September 30, 1944. Moved to France with the Group October 2, 1944. I was the flight engineer on the Donald E. Vincent crew. Since 1982 I have been the historian for the 386th Bomb Group. Through the years my Group combat stories have been published in the 386th B.G. Newsletters, also the 9th Air Force Newsletter, the 8th Air Force News, and the B-26 Marauder Historical Society. The name of my crew’s aircraft was, “BUZZ-N-BITCH II”, tail number 131953 RG-T. The ship completed 110 combat missions, another crew made a crash landing with it while my crew was on leave in London August 18, 1944. The plane was hauled off to the salvage dump!
I returned to the U.S.A. in late November 1944, thus completing two trips to England. The day after Christmas I was married to a girl I met in high school class back in 1940. I left the service in June of 1945. At the time 85 points were required to be released from the service, I had 130 points. Military Awards: Two Distinguished Flying Crosses, eleven Air Medals, the Purple Heart, European Theater Of Operations Medal with two Battle Stars, and the Distinguished Unit Citation.
I returned to my hometown and got a job as a jig and fixture designer at a manufacturing plant. A year or so later I went to pilot training school. Then after college I went to work in the California Aircraft Industry as a design engineer. Eventually I became involved with the Experimental Aircraft Association over a period of eighteen years. Working on home built aircraft projects and restoring historic aircraft, also writing articles about them. My personal air combat story written by Dale M. Titler appeared in a book called “WINGS OF ADVENTURE” in 1972. February of 1984 a German movie film company made a film documentary of 386th Bomb Group Mission number 395, it took place on April 12, 1945. I narrated on camera for fifteen minutes of a one hour presentation. It was to be shown on German TV.
My wife and I have two sons, they enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam Era. After service they returned to civilian life and both became police officers in the St. Louis, Missouri area. I retired after thirty-eight years of engineering in June of 1990. Most of my time now is dedicated to researching and writing stories about the 386th Bomb Group during World War Two.
Chester P. Klier--Historian, 386th Bomb Group
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