WORLD WAR II VETERANS CONCORDIA PARISH LOUISIANA
ARMY AIR FORCE ISAAC E. (IKE) ROBERTSON
379th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force Captain, Pilot, B-17
Combat Experience——30 Missions over Europe
Awards: Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters
I was born March 13, 1920 in the Nebo community of La Salle Parish. ! was the seventh child of a family of ten. Our parents were Elijah Sparks Robertson and Janie Collins Robertson. We lived on a small farm at Nebo until the six boys were large enougn to farm. Then Papa bought and rented farm land on the east side of Catahoula Lake in the French Fork community. We raised cotton, corn, cattle and hogs, the livestock on open range.
It never occurred to me that I would finish high school and even go to college. In 1939, not many farm boys, with the farm as the only source of income, even dreamed of going to college. I graduated from Block High School and decided I wanted to go to college. On “Ole Jim” my cow pony, I rounded up some cattle, took them to market, sold them, and was ready to go to. That cash did not last long, but I got some help from my father and some friends. I got a job working at the college. Pay was 25 cents per hour, with monthly income limited to $15.
I was a student at Northwestern Normal, now Northwesern University at Natchitoches.
Early in the 1940s the clouds of war were becoming so heavy that every
boy and young man knew that sooner or later he would have to go.
There was a civilian pilot training course at the college. (CPA)
I had no intention of going into pilot training, but my roommate
couldn’t do his navigational problems. I thought that if I had to do his
problems, that I might as well take the course and get credit. You might
say that I got into flying by accident. I not only got to fly, but the ground
school included navigational problems and other courses related to flying.
We started flying the little Piper Cub, with, I believe, a 60 hp engine.
We had a grass field, two men in the plane, and we had parachutes.
Sometimes it took us 400 yards to get off the ground. Then we had to
take 2 cross-country assignments. I got my private flying license in 1940
when I completed the course. Next was an advanced flying course at
Northeast Junior College, now the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
This more advanced course, moved us up to larger planes. We were
flying the Waco UPF7, a bi-wing,open cockpit unit with 220 HP
Continental engines, similar to the Steerman used in training Army and Navy cadets. It was a maneuverable biplane. They were still visualizing World War I dog-fighting. The Japanese used the Zero, because of its maneuverability. When I completed this phase of training, I had about 100 hours of flying time.
I volunteered for service about two weeks after the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor. I had a friend in Jackson, Mississippi, so I went over
there to enlist. My friend went into the Navy Air Corps and I went into
the Army Air Corps as a Cadet. At that time it was declared that the
Air Force was essential with priority. You could transfer to the Air Force from any other branch of the service. I applied for pilot training and was sent to Nashville for psychological and stress-induced screening. Some cadets washed out in every phase of training. They were transferred to some other type of training.
I next went to Montgomery, Alabama for college courses. I had more physics in three weeks than I had in an entire semester in my regular college days. We had some strict discipline and I learned Morse code, which I did not know the value of at that time. Over the years knowledge of the Morse code helped me to get oriented many times when it was very important. One time in particular, I was on a flight from Istres, France to a place called Dakar Africa which was over desert most all the way from Porte Lyautel, Africa. Without a checkpoint, and not knowing wind direction or speed, I was unable to know my position. I tuned in the radio frequency of Dakar Air Field and the radio beam was close. I was about to fly by the field. I do not know where I would have ended up if it had not been for the code sent out by that radio beam.
The next stop was the Mississippi Training Institute in Jackson, Mississippi, for Primary Training. We were flying the Steerman PT-17s. This was a fabric covered plane that performed very nicely. One morning I was flying solo and had about an hour left. The weather changed and they closed the field. I had no radio and was happy, just flying around. In the meantime a cadet named Robinson had gone up without filing with the dispatcher. He crashed and they thought it was me. They were preparing to send a telegram to my family when I came in.
Those of us, not eliminated at Jackson went on to Bainbridge, Georgia
for Basic Training. We were flying Voltaire Vibrators, Basic Trainers
B.T. 13. This plane had flaps, a glass canopy and more controls than anything we had flown before. One young instructor had me do something that exceeded normal dangers. We were coming in to land and he had me turn the plane over and glide upside down. We were on the final approach before he let me turn it over and set down. This was not very wise for an instructor to permit or direct. We were very lucky.
Next was Advanced Training at Columbus, Mississippi. I had an idea
that with this training, that someday I could be an Airline Pilot. I
wanted to fly twin engines, never even dreaming that I would be flying
the big four engine ones. Training at each level was tougher. We had to
go into pressure chambers (low pressure), simulating 38,000 feet. If you
had nitrogen in your joints, you could not stand the pain. We flew AT-9s, AT-10s and the single engine AT-6. I qualified in all three.
April 29, 1943 I received my Pilot’s Wings and gold bars as a Second Lieutenant. We were not given a delay enroute or a leave so we
could go home and show off our gold bars and Pilot’s wings, due to the fact that the Germans were shooting down our planes so fast that the Air Force needed replacements and soon.
We went to Sebring, Florida and began training in B-17s, the big four
engine boys. This was a big step for a country boy used to riding a
black horse. They knew and I knew that I could fly that plane and keep
my cool. As fast as we were trained, we were to be shipped to England.
At this time, the British were expecting invasion by the Germans. We
were to go there prepared for that event. When we were checked out we were given a brief leave and sent to Ephrata, Washington. There, our crew joined us and we did combat training on 16 hour days. This included gunnery, bombing and formation flying. Our next stop was Spokane Washington for more training, and then to Lincoln, Nebraska.
We went to England and our first stop was Hanley England. This was –
September, 1944 and it was so cold we had to sit in a room, wearing our
big coats, waiting four days to get our orders. We were assigned to the
379th Bomb Group as replacements. We were replacing crews previously lost in combat.
The Bomb Group was made up of four squadrons. We were assigned to
the 527th Squadron. On a combat mission three squadrons each sent thirteen planes ( if we had that many planes in flying condition) a total of thirty nine planes. One squadron got a day of rest. I was assigned lead position for our squadron.
When going on a combat mission, we would be awakened about 2:30 am and would go, in total blackout, to the mess hall for powdered eggs or flapjacks and syrup. You ate, knowing that your next meal would be that night (if you made it back). Next, we went to the briefing room. There was a big map on the wall, showing our route, our assigned target and hopefully, the worst flak areas, which we hoped to avoid.We were given German, Dutch and Belgian money, for use in efforts to escape, in case of forced or parachute landing. We also carried photographs of ourselves in civilian clothes, so that the underground could supply us with fake IDs.
The policy was to let a crew go back to the US when 25 combat missions
were completed. Very few survived that long. The crew of the Memphis
Belle were the first to receive that honor. They returned to the US and
went on a bond selling tour over the entire country. As our air
superiority improved and more crews were surviving, the mission
requirements were raised to 30, and later to 35. My required limit was
30 missions. Crew training is very expensive. We were told that at that
time it cost $50,000 to train a pilot.
On a bombing run , the lead Bombardier is actually flying the plane
with the Norden Bomb Sight. All other Bombardiers are actually
“Toggliers”. They drop their bombs when the lead drops his. The lead
pilot has no control until the bombs are dropped. Planes are to stay in
Our Combat Missions:
1. 12/11/44 Manheim, Germany 2. 12/18/44 Coblenz, Germany
3. 12/19/44 Coblenz, Germany 4. 12/28/44 Bruhl, Germany
5. 12/29/44 Wittlich, Germany 6. 12/30/44 Kaiserlautern, Germany
7. 12/31/44 Neuss, Germany 8. 1/02/45 Daun, Germany
9. 1/03/45 St. Vith, Belgium 10. 1/06/45 Cologne, Germany
11. 1/08/45 Speicher, Germany 12. 1/10/45 Bonn, Germany
13. 1/13/45 Mannheim, Germany 14. 1/17/45 Paderborn, Germany
15. 1/22/45 Sterkrade, Germany 16. 1/23/45 Neuss, Germany
17. 2/01/45 Mannheim, Germany 18. 2/03/45 Berlin. Germany
19. 2/20/45 Nurenburg, Germany 20. 2/21/45 Nurenburg, Germany
21. 22. 2/24/45 Hamburg, Germany
23. 2/25/45 Freidrichshaben, Ger. 24. 2/26/45 Berlin, Germany
25. 2/28/45 Hagen, Germany 26. 3/01/45 Bruchsal, Germany
27. 3/02/45 Chimnitz, Germany 28. 3/04/45 Ulnr, Germany
29. 3/09/45 Kassel, Germany 30. 4/14/45 Brodeaux, France
When we went on missions and visibility did not permit us to bomb
either our primary or secondary targets, we would dump our bombs in
the North Sea. Earlier in the war, such bombs were brought back to the
bases. This had proven dangerous and costly. On such missions, we
were not given credit. So, in essence I flew more than 30 missions.
On a mission to Bonn Germany, I was flying element lead. Major Davis
was flying on my left wing. After we dropped our bombs and closed our
bomb bay doors, the Group began a tight right turn and a steep dive to go to a lower altitude (a normal exercise in an attempt to avoid enemy flak). Davis, flying on the left, was on the outside of the turn and swung too far out on this maeuver. He was quite a way behind the rest of us. Apparently he paniced and was trying to re-join the rest of the squadron. He was coming toward our plane at a high speed, on a crash
course when he was spotted. I first tried to climb to avoid him, but Lt.
Gordon’s plane was there, so I went into a power dive. We escaped, but
Davis crashed into Lt. Gordon’s plane. Both planes were destroyed and no chutes were seen. The B17 was not designed for a power dive and I had to come out of the dive very gradually. I lost 11,000 or 12,000 feet before being able to do so. (I was told at de-briefing that I was reported going down out of control. I told him I was going down, but not out of control.) The Navigator said the Bombardier (who had shed his oxygen mask anticipating a jump) had passed out and asked, “What do you want me to do?” I told him to put him on 100% oxygen.
The flak was not that bad that day.We had some flak, what we called 88 millimeter, on every mission, but on that mission it was light. The worst we encountered was on a mission when the target was a river bridge at Manheim, Germany. We missed the bridge and had to go around again. The Germans were ready and waiting. I thought, this next mission, that we were gone. Oil was on the windshield, and I put my hands over my eyes for only a moment. We did make it back to the base. I counted 144 holes in the plane.
We had a mission the following day, and flew with the 144 holes still
there. There had been no time to patch them. The fog was so thick and heavy that we had to take off by instruments. Over the target area we could not see the primary or secondary targets so we dumped our bombs in the North Sea. That day, we could not get back to
our base, so flares were sent up at another base to show us where to land. We had to come in 500 feet above the flare, coming down at 200 feet per minute. When I got down near the base of the fog, I flipped on my landing lights so others could see us. Shrapnel had cut the wires to the lights. When the switch was turned on, it ignited a fire, right at the collapsible rubber tanks in the wings. I saw it, and knowing that it was a very dangerous place for a fire, I did not tell the crew. I did not want to excite them. They saw it, but did not tell me. I was ready to leave the plane the minute we hit the runway and stopped. A sergeant with a fire extinguisher came out immediately. All the crew, including the co-pilot was at the escape door, except me. We were on a British field and they put the plane in a hangar for the night. I flew the plane back to base the next day, but did not turn on the light switch.
Since I was from Louisiana, the crew named our first plane
“Gator Bait”. When it was taken out of service we were put on the “Lucky Patch”.
Our longest mission was 9 ½ hours. We could not eat or drink water on
the plane. At sub-zero weather water was frozen and oxygen masks
precluded eating. I completed my 30 missions and was ready to go home.
During our combat flying, we got 3 day passes. I went to London,
Edinburg and other sites. On one train trip to Edinburg, I met a lady
and her daughter, who invited me to their home in Scotland. They had
fully expected a German invasion.
I went home on leave and then went to North Carolina on 30 days R&R (Rest and Recuperation). From there I returned to Sebring, Florida,
then to instructors school in Columbus, Ohio, then back to Sebring to
teach West Point graduates to fly B-17s. The war in Europe was over,
but not so in the Pacific.
I was given the ultimate assignment at Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio,
but I asked for an overseas assignment, in lieu of attending Command
and Staff School. I ended up in Berlin with the European Air
Transportation Service. This was before the days of the Berlin Airlift.
We were flying DC-3s for Air France and the British, carrying regular
paid passengers. B-17s were converted to carry passengers, and they
could go long distances (as we already knew). I flew to Athens, Rome,
Norway, Sweden and Denmark; beautiful tours. While in Berlin I went
to the University and studied history and languages. Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State, had a brother, Dr. Edward Acheson, who implemented the Marshall Plan. I flew him to Holland, Belgium, London, Sweden, Denmark and other places. During this assignment I was promoted to Captain. My last assignment was flying
along the coasts of Africa, Spain and all the Mediterranean, photographing the coast, for possible future needs.
I returned home December 23, 1947, not sure what I would do. I had received an offer to fly newspaper reporters to various assignments.
The Army Air Force had given me a sixty day leave, and during that time, Mr. Aubrey Brooks, Catahoula Parish School Superintendent, needed teachers for “On The Farm” training, and asked me to come see him. I was hired and went to work for $175 per month, a very desirable job.
Soon after I got home, I met Georgia Bradford. We were married August 21, 1948 at her home. Our honeymoon was very short because of work that needed to be finished. We have three beautiful daughters: Sandra, Susanne and Paula. Sandra married Michael Bruce Taylor and had three children: Chris, Jennifer and Sean. Chris died in 1991 at the age of 19. Susanne married David Shirley and had two children: Shana and Landon. Paula married Tommy Aiken and had three children: Jacob, Megan and Aaron. Of the seven surviving grandchildren, six are in college and Aaron is in the eighth grade ( in 2003).
I stayed with that job 3 ½ years. The time to claim my GI schooling was about to play out and I wanted to go back to college. I resigned from my job and enrolled at LSU. With my 75 hours at Northwestern and four years under the GI Bill, I was able to obtain my BS and MS plus thirty from LSU.
I have been teaching school, farming and raising cattle ever since. My home has been at Wildsville, Concordia Parish since 1956. Here I have about 200 acres of land which I am renting out, and it sure does help supplement my teacher’s retirement check.
Ike Robertson and the Crew of the N17