Jack C. Stevenson
Waist gunner Jack C. Stevenson.
Our crew was flying the lead ship of the low element of our group. We crossed the coast of Belgium at 1136 hours. All of us were now busy carrying out our assigned jobs. I was watching out the right waist window for we were nearing the enemy lines and a point where we would expect enemy fighter attacks. Our radio-man had just sent in his report that we had passed control point number three just on the edge of the enemy lines. Lt. Virgin, observer and tail gunner then called in fighters in the area. The number five man was out of formation and the fighters attacked and knocked him down. They were coming on a ‘company front’ attack from the tail. Lt. Virgin called out “Here they come, must be a hundred of them”. After that it was every man for himself. Lt Wechsler called the pilot, Lt. Reed, and asked him if he wanted the radioman, Robert Fortman, to man the left waist gun and he said “yes”. So Bob finally came back to the waist to help me out. I was firing at the left waist when Bob got there and I switched over to the right waist to get a plane coming in from 6 O’clock to the 3 O’clock side of the plane. Bob had trouble getting his oxygen mask hooked up an I took it and fastened it up for him and then went back to the right waist gun in between attacks. Planes were coming in at both sides of the waist and I started firing at a FW190 coming from 6 O’clock around to 3 O’clock. I gave him several longs bursts and saw him firing at us but was too scared to stop firing. When he got within a couple of hundred feet he seemed to stop and I fired right at him. He nosed down and I saw flames and smoke coming from behind the engine and I knew I had hit him. He went under our plane toward the nose and I later found out Lt. Dumler saw him pass under and out from the nose on fire and explode. Bob was firing from the left waist and we put each others flak suits on between attacks. We just got mine put on and started to put his on him when I saw an Me109 coming in from about 4 O’clock about five hundred yards off, so dropped the flak suit and started firing at him. Just then the Mickey man saw flak about us from the radio-room hatch. I’m not sure but just then the plane shuddered and I saw flames from the number 3 engine. It had already burnt clear back to the trailing edge of the wing. We had taken a hit before in the electrical system and the interphone was messed up, so we switched to command. When I saw the flames I tried to call out that we were on fire and burning very bad, but everyone except the tail and waist had gone back on interphone and couldn’t hear anything I said. I kept firing at enemy planes and trying to find out what we were going to do about the fire and just then Victor Lattier, the engineer, raced through the waist on his way to the escape hatch so I knew that we were going to bail out. He jerked the emergency catch on the door and gave it a kick and the door blew off. I saw him stoop over and dive out. The slipstream pulled him back under the tail and I saw his feet pulled out of the door. I was afraid that he had hit his head and would never pull his rip cord. I didn’t see or hear anymore of him until I got to Brussels and found out he was all right. I was trying to get my flak suit off all this time but there was no emergency pull and it was stuck. I saw Bob leave the left waist gun and get his flak suit off and grab a chute and bail out. He had the chute fastened upside down and pulled the rip cord as soon as he was out of the plane. An enemy plane was coming at him and the tail gunner fired at him and he turned away from Bob. I didn’t see him until after I came into M.P. headquarters later on. I got one fastener on my flak suit loosened and the mickey man was in the escape door. I motioned him to get on for parts of the wing were falling off by this time. He had a back pack on and then he left the ship. By this time I had pulled the falk suit off over my head taking my oxygen mask and helmet with it. I reached for my chute and it was gone. I was sick, I thought of all I’ve heard of someone taken the wrong chute and leaving you to ride the ship down. Bob had left his chute in the radio room and had taken mine. I always had an extra one in the waist and dug under the empty shells to see if the other chute was there. It was and I fastened it on the left side and saw the flames were coming through the door and the canvas on the tail wheel was burning. I turned around and threw myself backwards out of the plane. After that I lost our ship and don’t know where it crashed or who was still in it or who else had bailed out. I had no voice contact with anyone else after Vic came through the waist and bailed out. I was falling through space and had a very funny feeling as I saw the ground moving past my face and then the sky. I was summersaulting so I extended my arms out from my sides so I’d fall straight down, feet first. I hooked ,y chute to the right side of my harness and then pulled the ripcord. I guess I either threw it away or it was jerked out of my hands as my chute opened. There was a terrific jerk as I stopped in midair. My chute over my head, a big white umbrella of silk, the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen at that moment. My leg straps were too loose and almost castrated me. My right ear was plugged and my fingers freezing cold. I took off one of my silk gloves and blew my nose to open my ear. It popped but plugged again. I put my glove on again and held on to the risers and kicked my feet to stop my chute from swinging. This made my leg straps cut in harder, so I tried to hold myself limp but at times I had to kick to stop swinging when I saw the top of my chute. I saw one B-17 about five hundred yards above me and a P-51with the German black cross painted over our insignia on the wings circling him. I was afraid he would come shooting me, so I spilled part of my chute and dropped away from there and lost both planes. I looked around me and saw five miles away or so it looked, because distance is hard to judge in the air. There were three chutes over there but I didn’t where they landed. I thought they might be other boys of our crew who had bailed out before I did. As I got closer to the ground I could hear ground firing and I felt my chute shaking and thought there were shooting at me. I knew I had been close to the lines and thought I was coming down behind the front lines of the enemy. I tried to steer my descent by pulling on the shroud lines and risers and it helped some. I saw two planes, B-17s, hit the ground in flames and later explode. The concussion caused me to rise a little into the air again. It seemed like hours since I had left the ship. I was coming closer to the ground and tried to watch what the surrounding country was like so I could get away if I landed in enemy country. I saw a town and as I got closer a gravel pit or stone quarry and stream near it. I guess it was really a canal. I didn’t want to land near there as it was very rough and wooded and I kept swinging and went east of there. I was getting closer to the ground rapidly now – hilly country and lots of trees. I pulled my feet up to keep from breaking my legs when I hit and then the trees were coming up at me, about sixty or seventy feet high, so I covered my face with my arms and hit a tree top. I fell to the ground and hit hard on my tail end. Mu chute was above me on some smaller trees. I got out of my harness and Mae west and wanted to hide my chute, but at the bottom of the hill was a road and a crowd was gathering that he had seen me hit. I got up to run and heard a trashing in the brush behind me. Two boys with rifles came up behind me in civilian clothes. I said “Americano”, and they said “Belgique” and help up the “V” for victory sign. They couldn’t talk much English but I found out they were Belgian free fighters or the B.F.I. and I was behind friendly lines of firing.
All crew members had bailed out of the B-17, which crashed a few hundred yards northwest of Esneux. Major Lloyd W. Nash’s chute did not function properly or it collapsed on landing. He was found dead in a stone quarry near Comblain-au-Pont. It was probably the same quarry that jack Stevenson had seen. Lt. reed broke a shoulder, and the other crew members suffered only bruises.
Crew of B-17G / 44-8121
1st Lt. Reed, Lloyd S. Pilot
Maj. Nash, Lloyd W. Air Leader KIA
1st Lt. Bradford, James H. Navigator
2nd Lt. Hatfield, Roger C. Navigator
2nd Lt. Dumler, Fred Bombardier
2nd Lt. Wechsler, Stanley J. Mickey Operator
T/Sgt. Lattier, Victor S. Engineer
T/Sgt. Fortman, Robert L. Radio Operator
S/Sgt. Stevenson, Jack C. Waist Gunner
2nd Lt. Virgin, John R. Tail Gunner
“The history of the 487th Bomb Group (H)” by Ivo de Jong.