The Bomber on the Golf Course

An emergency landing resulted in weeks of entertainment for a small town.

Residents of Enterprise, Oregon, inspect a B-24 Liberator that landed on the golf course after getting lost. (Photo: Wallowa County History Museum / Illustration: Bill Whitcher)
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Within a couple of days, the steel matting was dismantled and new sod was laid down to somewhat restore the golf course. The matting, free for the taking, was dispersed among locals and ranchers; four- by eight-foot panels of steel grid would always have some use. Dad took a grid to use as a heat vent over our sawdust-burner furnace, which heated the main floor. There was a dance that Saturday night at the county fairground’s 4-H building; to the delight of Enterprise’s young ladies, most of the Army engineer soldiers showed up. First thing the next morning, the engineers finished loading up and returned to Geiger Army Air Base.

The crew that landed in Enterprise finished training with a full crew and a brand-new B-24, which they ferried to southern Italy—they were stationed near Manduria as part of the 15th Air Corps, flying missions into Austrian industrial areas. One day, when the mission was cancelled, Botts and three of the crew headed to the nearby town. The pilot, copilot, navigator, and engineer stayed behind and later took the bomber up for some flight time. It crashed in an olive orchard a mile off the end of the runway. All were killed.

The remaining crew members filled in for other crews who had suffered casualty losses. On one mission, Botts was a waist gunner charged with throwing handfuls of aluminum foil radar chaff from a hatch. As he leaned back, he heard a loud BANG and saw that flak or a bullet had hit mere inches from where his head had just been.

Botts survived 50 missions, logged 250 combat flying hours, and returned to Enterprise to work with the Forest Service on a road survey crew. When he met Phyllis Zolman and told her he had been on the bomber that landed on the golf course, she showed him the nearly petrified orange she still had. They later married. For years after the landing, wheat ranchers north of Enterprise tilled up .50-caliber machine gun bullets that the crew had jettisoned.

Retired attorney William Bennett lives with his wife of 57 years in the lower Willamette Valley of Oregon.

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