Jack Long, of Perry, was drafted at the age of 22. He was sent to Florida to be evaluated and was chosen to go to radio school in Chicago. He graduated as a radio operator/repairman.
However, he was persuaded into being a nose gunner. He was asked, “Would you like to get into Air Transport Command, where he could try transports and all that? I said, ‘Well, that’s sounds good.’ ” He signed a paper and was sent to gunnery school at Tyndall Field, Fla.
The school was difficult and required men to do a variety of duties including putting a .50 caliber machine gun together blindfolded. They had to do the task in a set amount of minutes and locate any worn or bad pieces. Long, a corporal, was surprised to see a major sitting next to him taking the same test.
A WILD RIDE
Long’s crew was brought together in March 1944 at Pueblo Army Air Base in Pueblo, Colo.
The team included Lt. Joseph R. Brookshire, of Joplin, pilot; Lt. Robert L. Young, of New York, co-pilot; Lt. Oscar F. Van Noy, of Los Angeles, navigator; Lt. Glen C. Kay, of Yonkers, N.Y., bombardier; Robert E. Hulne, of Grundy Center, Iowa, flight engineer/gunner; Leonard A. Kottenstette, of Colorado, radio operator/gunner; Long, nose gunner; Joseph A. Johnson, of Des Moines, Iowa, left waist gunner; Julian Isgur, of Brooklyn, N.Y., right waist gunner; and Jack I. Hope, of Tinnie, N.M., tail gunner.
Normally, the men flew as a crew, but one day Long and Hope were detailed to fly with another crew for a high altitude mission to fire at a sleeve target that was to be towed behind a B-26 bomber.
Hope credits Long for saving his life. During the flight, the pilot let the nose wheel down in preparation for landing without notifying Long and Hope. This caused Hope to fall through the nose gear doors. He was almost completely out of the plane.
“Most of the right side of my body, including my head, was on the outside of the aircraft, with my legs toward the direction of travel,” Hope said. “Jack saw my predicament and turned back to see if he could help. He reached and caught the part of my parachute harness that crossed over my left shoulder and gave a strong tug. At the same time, I exerted all of my strength to pull myself toward the handy-dandy little hand rail. It worked!”
SUPER SECRET OUTFIT
Long’s crew traveled overseas on the Queen Elizabeth. They landed in Scotland, before they went to England. Long was a member of a secret outfit, designated the 36th Bomb Squadron. He was part of a 9-man crew who flew a B-24 Liberator. This plane didn’t carry bombs, it carried radar-jamming equipment. Therefore it had no need for a bombardier.
They went ahead of the other planes and tried to jam the Germans radar systems.
They named their plane “Lil Pudge,” after the pilot’s mother who was lovingly referred to as “Pudge” by the family. The aircraft insignia was Mickey Mouse sitting on a bomb. It was painted on the side of the airplane.
“It was it was very cold there (in the plane.) Fifty, 60 below sometimes,” he said. This was because most missions were around 25,000 feet above sea level, and the airplanes were neither pressurized nor heated. They wore heated suits to keep warm.
One time the electrical wires in Long’s suit shorted out and it caught on fire in the turret while on their way to a bearing factory in Germany. He had to unplug it at 40 degrees below zero. The pilot insisted they go back to base, because he didn’t believe Long would survive otherwise. Long said that he thought he could make it and thought the crew should complete the mission. His only injury was a frostbitten foot.
Long’s crew was a tight-knit bunch. They flew 55 missions and had more than 300 hours of flying time. All nine of them returned to the States.
Their bombardier was assigned to a bombardment group on arrival in England. He was killed on his very first mission. The plane received a direct hit from German flak and the entire crew died.
One time Long’s crew was diverted to Scotland. They arrived late and the bunks (or beds) were full. Long was told to go to the mess hall to find a place to sleep. He climbed up on a table in the dark and crashed. “I woke up and I thought well, I was in hell with my neck broke the way that it felt,” he said.
During the night, the men built a fire in the furnace. It turned out Long fell asleep on a steam table.
“I was wringing wet and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. My tail gunner still asks me
‘Hey you been on any more steam tables lately?,” he said smiling.
On another occasion, Long’s crew was diverted to a big field in England. They watched a B-17 land with no tail. Nine men came out of the plane. While the pilot was trying to find a place to land, the tail of the plane hit a hill. The back of the plane fell to the ground with the tail gunner in it.
“We got home and the next day, here’s a guy walking around with his arm in a sling. It was that tail gunner. He said ‘I woke up on a hill and I was still in my turret. I wondered where everything went. I got out of there... I walked and came to this blacktop road and laid down and kind of went to sleep,” Long said.
The military police came along soon after and brought him back to base, which was the nearest American facility to the incident. His only injury was a dislocated shoulder.
“I think the pilot was happy,’ ” Long said.
Long and his other crew members returned to the States in February 1945.