Schantz, Captain, Army Air Force
322 Bomb Group, 449 Squadron
July 17, 1919 - April 5, 1996
|Personal journal and recollections W.W.II
by Eugene Schantz.
"I guess it all started for me when a low draft number was drawn out of a fishbowl in Washington - supposedly for a year's service and training, which of course turned into "for the duration" on December 7th 1941.
So I entered the service on May 8th, 1941, and was assigned to the coast artillery at Camp Davis, N.C. for basic training. I'll always remember that Hank Greenburg, our Tiger first baseman marched beside me in Detroit en route to Rockford, Illinois, where we were then dispatched to various training camps down south.
The time there was spent mostly marching, moving dirt to fill swampy areas, doing KP once a month, parading, learning to shoot a rifle and how to load and fire our anti-aircraft artillery - a 3" diameter 40" long shell. As the months went by, I started thinking how I could get out of my boring PFC status. I did have a college degree and did feel I had more to offer my country than I was providing.
Sometime in late summer, an Air Force recruiting unit showed up at Camp Davis looking for men qualified to become pilots. Some 200 men or more took to the idea - minimum of 2 years of college was required. Intensive physical exams and interviews dropped those accepted to only 20. I was one of the twenty. Meanwhile the FBI was checking my family and neighbors back home for character references, etc.
So, later that fall, I received notice to report to Hemet, California to begin flight cadet training. On a beautiful sunny Sunday while shooting pool in the day room - the big news of December 7, 1941 came in - Pearl Harbor - and we were officially at war with Japan and Germany. Parted from my buddies at Camp Davis (who incidentally, spent the whole war doing nothing in Australia - over 4 years of it) went home for a week and left for California - in the Red Chief choo choo train.
Went to Stockton base for advanced training - last 2 months of training. AT-6 - sleek 2 seater - cross country formation flying - some acrobatics. Flow over Mt. Shasta - snow covered terrain. Instructor asked me what would I do if engines conked out - I half-jokingly said I'd bail out. No, no said he wherever and whenever and at all times keep in back of your mind a spot for an emergency, no power landing. He said it seriously and therefore I took him seriously. "See that flat snow-covered area? We could crash land there. You are better off staying with the airplane - especially in remote areas - easier to find and shelter of airplane an asset."
This incident, I credit with saving my and others lives a few months down the line. The incident: As I called in for a landing at Roswell, upon returning from a practice bombing with photographer and student bombardier aboard, 10 miles from the airport at 10,000 feet in the dark of night, both engines conked out. Just a few minutes prior, I had noticed a car and headlights moving along on a country road - so to myself, I said, I could crash land on that road. On my way down, I kept in mind the approximate position of that road. As I used hand fuel pump, checked switches, switched gas tanks, put on carburetor heat (carburetor icing a possibility) and pumped throttle back and forth, but engines wouldn't respond. In less than 2 minutes the prospect of a crash was a reality - could see nothing but darkness and this was it.
A very unusual feeling of peace and calm swept over me as the inevitable was seconds away - only a hundred feet of descent left. Switched on landing lights and just a few hundred feet to my left - a beautiful gravel road put in its appearance. Swung over to line up with it and it looked good straight ahead. One large tree hung over the road. I popped up and over that obstacle and I was home free. It looked so good, I thought I'd save it all with a wheels down landing, but couldn't get to switch in time.
We hit the road at about 80 MPH and slid on the belly for 700-800 feet. My left wing took out a couple hundred feet of barbed wire which when speed finally reduced, spun us to the left into a ditch and in a framer's front yard. Our great cloud of dust with my landing lights on made it appear that we were enveloped in a fire - bade crew and myself to get the hell out quick - which we did anyway.
Meanwhile, my call in for landing instructions and no response to tower alerted that something was amiss - so search planes went overhead and a wing wobble from one let us know we were found. In 15 minutes the base commander and ambulance, etc. came roaring down the road. Colonel Jackson said 'Thank God we didn't expect to find you or the airplane in one piece.' We walked back and forth over the scene - he jokingly said "you owe the government $40,000 for that airplane" - that was a lot of money in 1942.
There is a kind of euphoria when you cheat death, which is possibly the greatest of all. Only one time later on a combat mission did this feeling appear, oddly enough because over the years, I couldn't count the number of near-death experiences in the air. My confidence after this experience helped me to an extent that made me feel deep inside I could handle any situation in the air. However, like the man thrown from the horse, I had to go up and fly again the next night, and believe me, it was the longest, most unsettling experience for 3 hours that I'd ever had to that point in time.
After 2 months, the board of review came up with "causes unknown" for engine failure - though "possibility of carburetor icing existed" but since I turned on de-icing heater, the first thing, I don't think so - but heat from engine would have melted ice in less than a minute. At any rate, I was the 'base hero' for a few days.
A strange one happened a couple of nights later when one of our pilots finished his bomb runs (10 bombs) and pulled off (wing over and dive for home) only he forgot he was bombing at 1000 feet - hit the ground just as he was leveling out fortunately, and bounced into the air for a nice 2 mile ride - flattened propeller, no engine.
Heading overseas to see what combat was all about in the 'Ile de France'. It was, before the war France's luxury liner - We had an uneventful voyage and disembarked in Scotland. A train ride through Scotland's countryside was a pleasure. The farmlands were immaculate and all the farms were fenced with stone.
We were brought to 322nd Bomb Group somewhere south of London and I was assigned to the 449th Squadron. They were just in the process of moving the whole outfit to France. This was a couple of months after D-Day, June '44. So in a few days we flew over to Beauvais, France and unloaded on a former German airbase. The Germans had blown up all the buildings, hangers etc, seems the only buildings or structures left were the outhouses. They had blown up the runways and taxi strips which had craters staggered every few hundred feet. The US had them repaired for us to use by filling them with crushed stone.
So here we are, reduced to our field gear - pup tents, mess kits and packages of 'C' rations. This was apparently the rainy season - for rain, rain and more rain for two weeks. Mud so slippery it was one step forward - a half step backward. Mess hall was set up - a large tent - but we stood in line for mess call and nowhere to eat except back ion our little old pup tents. At night we built a bonfire and sat around it - life can be beautiful.
Our pyramidal tents finally arrived on a warm sunny day. Officers club had been erected (a shack) and a mess hall was thrown together - all constructed from lumber of buildings leveled by the Germans - we had some pretty clever GIs. We were in the process of getting our pyramidal tents (with cots) when the day clerk came rushing up and said 'Lt. Schantz - you've got a mission in 1/2 hour - so slapping on my gear - flak vest and parachute, off we were driven out to the flight live. Our mission comprised of 3 B-26s only and we were to unload 4 X 500 pound bombs loaded with pamphlets urging the Germans to surrender and how to go about doing it.
They had a stronghold in Southern France - Metz, and had to be discouraged. I had to fly 3 missions as co-pilot before getting my own crew - so who was my pilot but the Squadron Commander, Major Ruse - who in his haste forgot to bring along his parachute. We were to take off at 1100 hours so, take off we did. After take-off, my co-pilot seat was taken by the group navigator - so I retired to the radio compartment - and away we go.
We were nearing our target when our tranquility was shattered by a number of loud booms which also rocked the airplane a bit. Oh! Oh! These anti aircraft bursts were many and extremely accurate. An anti aircraft shell is four feet long with the explosive charge inside a lead nose around a foot long which, upon exploding, spewed hot shrapnel. We were hit and one hunk of lead caught out accumulator, a steel drum in which our hydraulic fluid is held at 1000 lbs. per sq. inch. Well, this drum exploded and had missed my head by inches. I was covered from head to toe by this red hydraulic fluid - looked like blood - and thought it was for a brief moment.
So, not being able to see anything back in the radio compartment, I went forward to get a look see - standing behind the pilot's seat. The navigator in my seat was directing Maj. Ruse in evasive action, using his watch, we made a change of direction every 15 seconds since it took 20 seconds from firing on the ground to reach our level at 12,000 feet - so with every change of direction, 12 to 16 bursts blossomed out in the spot we would have been. After perhaps 30 seconds to a minute of watching this, I had seen enough and returned to the radio compartment. There were some very deadly German artillerymen down there so we unloaded our leaflets and headed for home - our two wingmen were gone - tho I heard later that they were crippled up and were able to land at a nearby friendly airbase.
We had, of course, lost our hydraulic fluid - the left rudder control, and faced a crash belly landing when we got to our home base - no wheels down, no flaps and an open bombay. I was back in the co-pilot's seat and we headed for the grass alongside the runway - standard crash landing procedure to lessen the chance of sparks flying and an explosion. So, having less than full control of the airplane, my major hit the ground at 160 MPH. The vibration and shuddering of the plane made it all a big blur - so we ground to a stop and jumped out a quickly as possible. Later, crewmen counted over 60 holes in the ship - flak hits."
Eugene graduated from high school at 16 and went on to get his college degree at the age of 20 in 1940. After the war, Dad graduated from the Pharmacy School at Wayne State University in Detroit, and owned a drug store in Commerce, Michigan, retiring in the early '90's.
Dad never talked much about his war experiences, as was often the case with the soldiers from W.W.II. I think they just wanted to get on with normal life and put it all behind them.
He finally jotted these remembrances down a few months before his passing in April 1996.
Dad returned from the war in 1946, met my mother, Sally Leutritz, from Saginaw and married in September 1946. Dad fathered four sons, Reid, Craig, Dean and Michael, who all miss this wonderful and modest man.