Voices of the Veterans

Fighter pilots, crew chiefs, bombardiers, and factory workers: All have stories to tell.

A B-17 crew in England finishes its last mission. (USAF)
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Daniel M. Kissel
Army Air Corps Training Command

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(Gunnery practice in an AT-6 Texan. Photo: USAF)

In gunnery school, they would take the hatch off of the back [of an AT-6 Texan], and you stood up in the air in the slipstream behind the pilot. The only thing holding you in that airplane was a belt around your waist bolted to the floor. You had this 50-caliber [machine gun], and another AT-6 would come up towing a target, and he would get out there a distance, and the idea was that you had to hit that target with so many shots, in so many flights, to qualify as a gunner.

And, believe me, some of us were just kids that didn't know [how to shoot]. Some of these young fellows, they were gunnery people from the start. They had been raised with guns. They knew how to lead a target.

But we were hurting for gunners. We were losing B-17 crews so fast in Europe that you just couldn't believe it. You'd read it in the intelligence reports and it boggled your mind that nobody over there in the beginning was flying over eight or ten missions and they were dead. We were losing them that fast.

It's really a shame to say this, and it may disturb some of the parents of youngsters that were shot down at the time, but if you were on your last [training] flight and you needed your 600 required holes in the target, the pilot towing that target would bring it in and put it right on the wing of that plane. You couldn't miss it if you wanted to. You just pointed that 50-caliber right at it, pulled the trigger, and ran your whole belt of ammunition out. Then you were a gunner. (Source: LOC)

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