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Samuel M. Findley "Tex", Engineer/Tail Gunner, 323rd BG, 453rd BS

Samuel M. Findley (Tex)
Engineer/Tail Gunner
323rd BG, 453rd BS

We went back and told the others what we learned and several of them left and went "absent without leave" (AWOL). Some were gone for up to two weeks and were never missed. I sure felt like going myself but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and besides I didn’t want to risk losing my stripes. Time sure passed slow just laying around with nothing to do and I thought "here we are with a war going on and I’m an aerial gunner and should be out fighting those damned Japs but I’m just here in this tent laying on my butt."

After 2or 3 weeks some NCO came and called some names (mine included) and told us to gather our gear and follow him. We got in an army truck that carried us to some permanent wooden barracks where we were to be billeted. I found out later that I had originally been sent to MacDill Field to join the 320th Bomb Group but they had become fully staffed and had departed for another airfield. (The 320th Bomb Group finally ended up in North Africa).

I was now a charter member of the 323rd Bomb Group, 453rd, Bomb Squadron. Our group was equipped with the airplanes that had been used by the 320th for training and they were in poor shape. My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was, because of my civilian experience, Airplane Mechanic Gunner and I was assigned to assist one of the new crew chiefs in our squadron in readying one of the aircraft for flight. We were in a race with the other crew chiefs to be the first to have their assigned aircraft operational. The crew chief who I was assisting was a recent graduate of an Army technical school, but he had never had any prior experience working on aircraft. His name was Eugene Pechon. We really worked hard and diligently and were the first crew to get our aircraft readied. We advised the squadron maintenance officer that the plane was ready and it was only a few minutes later until the Group Commander, Col. Thatcher and Squadron Commander, Maj. Travis arrived to fly the aircraft. Col., Thatcher questioned me as to the airworthiness of the plane and I assured him that it was ready for flight. He said "Get you a parachute and get on board"

Boy was I thrilled! This was the first multi-engine aircraft in which I had ever flown in and when it took off it accelerated with a surge of power that I could hardly believe. During flight Col. Thatcher shut one engine down, feathered the propeller, and flew around with only one of the two engines operating. I wasn’t even aware that such a thing was possible in an airplane. After that first flight I flew as often as I could with whoever would take me along as engineer on a flight. Many of our flights were to the bombing range where hours were spent making bomb runs on a large circular target. The bombardiers, who were recent graduates from bombardier school, would release one sand-filled practice bomb on each bomb run. These practice bombs had a small powder charge which, on impact, would explode and indicate the impact point. Each bombardier strove to be the most proficient in getting his bombs closest to the bull’s eye of the target. I also participated in many navigational training flights made for the purpose of giving the navigators, who were fresh out of navigation school, more experience. Many of these flights were at night and over water in what is now known as the Bermuda Triangle.

Many B-26 crashes were occurring at MacDill Field. The saying "One a day in Tampa Bay" was an exaggeration, but anyway it was bad. I just accepted it as a hazard of flying in military aircraft. Most of us in the flight crews began wearing identification bracelets, on our wrist, in addition to our official identification tags (dog tags) that we wore, on a chain, around our necks.

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