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Fifty Years in 5000 Words or Less

I wrote this story back in 1995 for inclusion in "The Torretta Flyer",
the semiannual publication of the 484th Bomb Group Association.
--Allan L. Davidson, August 3, 2000

Toggle Annie's 100th Mission - 14 April 1945

Toggle Annie's 100th Mission
14 April 1945
484th Bomb Group 826th Sqdn. 15th AF Italy

Dana Stewarts Crew - Front Row L-R - Darrell Johnson - Nose Turret, Walter Nilson - Radio Operator, J.W. Delk -Tail Turret, Allan Davidson - Upper Turret, Walter Menn - Photographer

Back Row L-R - Robert Reed - Copilot, Dana Stewart - Pilot, Danny Miller - Navigator, Odis Johnson - Engineer, Louis Galgano - Lower Turret

Like 95% of you, I entered the Army Air Force with full intentions of becoming a pilot. However, when they discovered they had a surplus of cadets and a dire shortage of gunners, I ended up at gunnery school in Laredo, Texas in April 1944. I graduated in July with a set of gunners wings on my chest and PFC stripes on my arm.

I was sent to Lincoln AAF base for crew assignment and finally met my crew 27 Aug 44 on board a train for Pueblo, CO OTU. I was the baby of the crew at 18. The old man was J. W. Delk (initals only) tailgunner, at 24. The others were somewhere in between.

We finished at Pueblo and left 3 Nov 44 for POE. I remember two things about that troop train ride. One, on a siding at some out-of the way station, in the middle of the night, waiting for a freight train to pass, we heard that FDR had been re- elected to a fourth term. Must have been the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And it was on that trip, I learned how to play poker - how I rue the day!

At Newport News, 4,999 other men and myself boarded the U.S. S. William Gordon, leaving 12 Nov 44. The crossing was uneventful; but I did learn that the enlisted men had salt water showers while the officers had fresh water showers. And you know what? You can't tell a PFC from a Major without their clothes on. It's a good thing they didn't catch us going in or coming out at 3 AM.

Our ball gunner, Lou Galgano, was a seasoned crap shooter from Brooklyn. One day he would be rich and the next day broke. It's a good thing for him we docked on the right day in Naples, on 26 Nov 44. We disembarked and immediately boarded a British ship for a two day trip to Toranto.

We went through the Straits of Messina at night and could see smoke and fire coming from Mt. Etna. Our ship, the Arundel Castle, was once a luxury liner, but I was never in such filthy quarters in my life. I dropped my overseas hat on the deck in the water and slop and never bothered to pick it up. At meal time they brought the mutton stew, or whatever it was, up from the galley in pots, and we ate out of our mess kits. After the first meal, another and myself got the detail to return the kettle to the galley and wash it - in cold salt water. After one look at the galley with all its grease and cockroaches, that was the last meal I ate on board that ship. We did manage to steal some loaves of bread out of a storeroom in the middle of the night. We figured that would be safe to eat.

At Toranto we were loaded on box cars for the trip to Bari - shades of 40 & 8. After a day or two at Bari, we traveled by truck to Torretto, arriving at the 484th Bomb Group 826 Squadron 2 Dec 1944.

We flew our first two missions on 27 and 29 Dec 44. The third on 5 Jan 45 and fourth 7 Feb 45. That gave us plenty of time to fix our tent with three foot block walls into a home. Being a replacement crew, I don't know why we didn't get someone else's tent, but we didn't.

About the only lumber available was old bomb crates and all our nails were second or third hand. However, there was a piece of 4" x 12" x 12' kicking around the squadron that nobody could find a use for. So the six of us enlisted men ripped it three times with a hand saw. It took us a couple of days or so but we ended up with some 2 x 4's for framing the door and walls. Next came the floor (bomb crate material) and then a stove. To make the stove, we cut 6" off each end of a 55 gal. drum and mashed them together. We fashioned a fire pot from about five inches of the butt end of 105 mm shell casing. We drilled some holes in it to give it combustion air, braised the fuel supply line into the primer hole, and suspended it from the bottom front. For a stove pipe, we cut the ends off of 105 min casings and stacked them together. When kerosene was available we cut it 50-50 with 100 octane gas. This burned better than straight 100 octane. When using this mixture, we had a problem of soot in the chimney. We could clean the chimney by getting the fire pot good and hot, turn off the fuel until the flame went out, then turn the fuel on and run like hell. This was not too desirable because a couple of tents burned down and the wheels took a dim view of it. So we rigged up a pulley on the center pole of the tent with a soda can full of sand suspended over the chimney on a control cable which could be lowered and raised in the chimney to clean the soot.

Our next project was hot and cold running water. We fashioned a lavatory out of you guessed it - bomb crates with the end of an oxygen tank for the sink. We first made a coil of aircraft tubing to go in the stove. We figured that as long as it contained water it should be ok, like our mothers' aluminum pots and pans. But when we fired up the system it promptly melted. Too much magnesium content I guess. We scrounged up some copper tubing somewhere which worked fine. With a 55 gal. drum of water outside and a drain to a dry well, we were in business.

In the last Flyer I tabulated our 24 missions along with excerpts from my diary, so I won't go into that again .

I think our crew picked up two Purple Hearts in Italy; the engineer Odis Johnson caught a piece of flak near the eye over Vienna 7 Feb 45, and the tailgunner J. W. Delk a cut hand by flak on the Trieste mission of 17 Feb 45.

Sometime in the spring of '45 our crew purchased, for $100 1 believe, from a crew going home, a Harley motorcycle. . I don't know what became of it after the war was over. It was pretty well shot by then anyway. The tire casings were repaired with fender washers and the trip through a barbed wire fence with Lou Galgano aboard didn't help it any.

We left Torretta 17 May 45 by truck to Gioia where we picked up a brand new B-24M and flew it back to the ZI via Merrakech, Azores, and Gander arriving 30 May 45 at Bradley Field, Connecticut. After a short train ride to Camp Miles Standish, MA, the crew split up and we went our separate ways.

Between 30 May and 2 Nov 45, when I was discharged, I was in eight different army camps besides being home for a 30 day furlough and two 15 day furloughs. I didn't stay in one place long enough to get my laundry done! At one point in early Aug I was in Big Spring, TX where I volunteered for a tour in the Pacific. I was in Tampa, FL enroute to Ft. Myers and B-29 gunnery school, on VJ Day, 14Aug 1945.

After discharge I soon got itchy feet again, and in Feb.'46 left on a 10 week hitchhiking trip from NY to CA and back. On that trip I visited our ball gunner, Lou Galgano, in Brooklyn, our tail gunner, J.W. Delk, in Dallas, TY, our radio operator, Walt Nilson, in Holtville, CA, and the pilot, Dana Stewart, in Champaign, IL.

From the fall of '46 til summer of 1950, 1 tried my hand at higher education at Cornell University. My goal was a Bachelor's in EE, Master's in Heat Power, and PhD in Time and Motion. But being in the reserves, in July of '50, I was invited to volunteer for 12 months active duty. I needed a vacation so I duly volunteered and was assigned to a SAC B-50 outfit at Hunter Field in Savannah, GA. Our reason for existing there was: we were prepared if necessary to drop an A-bomb anywhere in the world in 24 hours. The only problem being, if we met our refueler on the way in, we would have enough fuel to get back out to meet another refueler, If not we had just enough fuel to reach the target. Period. But Gen. Curtis LeMay said he would not hesitate to lead us on a one way mission. Real comforting! When I got out in July '51, 1 got to thinking that when and if I finished school, I would be 30 years old. So I quit school and went to work. Guess what - in 1955 1 turned 30 anyway.

As an aside, in the winter of ' 51 -'52, 1 sat down one night and went right to the top and wrote General Curtis LeMay a lengthy letter telling him what I thought was wrong with his Air Force. More politely, constructive criticism. Not only did I get a point by point reply from him personally, but later found out that he sent a three-star to Hunter to investigate things in general, and gunnery training in particular. See, the little guy can make a difference!

Then things quieted down for forty years. I got married and had five kids before we found out what was causing it and quit. Spent 30+ years as a construction electrician, retiring on my 62nd birthday, not entirely by choice. I was living in Carlsbad, CA at the time, having moved there in 1977. After retirement I moved to Savannah, GA for seven years. Thats another long story I'll tell you sometime.

I was home to Delhi, Now York, in the summer of '93 for my 50th high school reunion. It was there that I learned about the 484th Bomb Group Association. One of my classmates is married to J. Russell Kelsey who is a member. He was in the 827th sqd. but was over to Italy and back before I got there.

Then in December on my Christmas card, from Walt Nilson, was a note inquiring if I knew the whereabouts of any others of our crew. Now, about ten years ago I decided to be a procrastinator, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Consequently about the end of September last year, 1994, 1 decided it was time to do something about finding our crew members.

I had been in contact more or less - mostly less - with Dana Stewart, Walt Nilson, and Lou Galgano . And I knew where I was most of the time. I haven't seen Dana since 1946 but we exchange Christmas cards every few years. I visited Walt once in 1977 and again in 1985 while I lived in CA. I saw Lou in 1950 and again in 1970+. Where the other five were, I didn't have a clue, not having heard from or seen any of them since 1945 (except J.W. whom I visited in 1946). However, when my mother died in 1976, my father returned to me all the letters I had written home while in the service. Among them was a letter dated 9 Nov 1944 with a list of the crew members, their home addresses and next of kin. A place to start.

The closest on the list was Danny Miller the navigator, who was from Stony Point, NY on the west bank of the Hudson River just above the NJ line and about 110 miles from Scranton, PA where I now live. Sept.29, being a nice sunny day, I drove over to Stony Point to see what I could find out. I stopped at a diner for coffee and they gave me directions to the town hall two blocks away. Town hall couldn't help me but told me to go see the ex-postmaster who lived around the comer and "knows everybody in town". Come to find out he is Danny's brother-in-law, so twenty minutes after arriving in town, I had all the poop on Danny. He had made a career of the AF and was a retired Lt. Col. living in Florida. Address and phone number - no problem.

I drove home feeling proud of myself and thinking, "This is a piece of cake! " The following night I called the long distance information operator for Nacogdoches, TX and asked if she had a listing for an Odis Johnson. She replied not but she had an O.C. Johnson. Sure enough pay dirt. Oddly enough he lives at the same address as he did fifty years ago.

The head of the 484th Bomb Group Assoc. told me he had an address for our co-pilot, Bob Reed, but that it was a few years old. Once again, AT&T to the rescue and in a matter of minutes, I was talking to Reed. He was also a career man and retired as a Lt. Col. Three down and two to go.

J.W. Delk was from Vickery, TX Vickary isn't even on the map anymore? It was swallowed up by Dallas, I guess. I had been through Dallas a few time through the years, but all efforts to find him proved futile. So I went to the library here in Scranton and went through all their phone books from the Dallas area. Fortunately, there are not too many Delk's in this world, but I did get a list of several but no JW. I remembered that J.W. had a son, but I had no idea what his name was. Somehow a listing in Garland, TX for a Michael Delk, kind of jumped out at me, so I called that one first. A man answered and I asked if he was Michael Delk. He said "No but this is his father". My next question was, "You wouldn't be JW. by any chance?" and he answered in the affirmative. So in a matter of fourteen days, I had tracked down eight of nine crew members. All you need is a little imagination, lots of luck, and AT&T.

The nose gunner, Darrell Johnson, proved to be more of a challenge. He hailed from Dexter, MO, but many phone calls to many Johnsons all came up dry. I am convinced of one thing, there are too many Johnsons in this world. But perseverance is the name of the game. Many clues led to a dead end but seven months and ninety-four phone calls later, I finally tracked him down to Romaland, CA.

Update July 2000:

Our first reunion, Memorial Day weekend 1995, was a memorable affair. (We picked that time because it was Memorial Day in 1945 that we arrived back in the States from Italy.) I managed to get eight of the nine crew members to attend. Even though I had talked to everyone on the phone, I was hard pressed to recognize anyone until they said something. People do change in fifty years! Needless to say, we had a lot of catching up to do. The radio operators wife, Marge Nilson, managed to videotape two reels of the reunion, including individual interviews. To me that is priceless!

The ball turret gunner, Lou Galgano, had T-shirts made up with the 100th Mission photo on them. (Our crew flew only 24 mission before the war ended, but our plane "Toggle Annie" flew 107 missions during the time that the 484th BG was in Italy.) Even though we only had nine men on our crew, you will note that the 100th Mission photo has ten men. The tenth man was not a regular member of our crew, but was a squadron photographer who flew on different planes to take bomb strike photos. No one could remember his name - just that he was a photographer. Ironically, it was the T-shirts that led to his identification. Three of the crew were in attendance at the 484th BG Assoc. reunion in Dayton OH in the fall of '95; and we were wearing our shirts, when he rushed up to us and said,"THAT'S ME, THAT'S ME." Since he was feeling "crewless" we adopted him and he has attended our reunions ever since. We enjoyed the first reunion so much that we decided to have one every year, ad finite

We held our first four reunions in Dallas in deference to the tailgunner, J.W. Delk, who lived in Garland TX, and was losing it a little bit upstairs. He was the oldest crew member and I was the youngest. (And I guess I am still am the youngest; and I'll be 75 this Oct!). I commented that all of our crew were alive and relatively healthy, considering our ages. No canes, no walkers, no wheelchairs. But J.W. died in Jan '98 (the first to go) and I saw a cane and a few hearing aids at our last reunion in Tampa, and the pilot has a new hip. I tried my darndest for three years to get all ten of us together one last time, but guess it was not to be. I have never been able to get our navigator to attend.

Since J.W. died we don't have to go to Dallas any more. We held our fifth reunion in Long Beach CA, thanks to the three crew members who live in Southern, CA, and it was the most successful yet! Counting spouses, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and outlaws, we had thirty-nine souls in attendance.

We held our sixth reunion in Tampa, FL this Memorial Day weekend (Memorial Day 2000), with twenty-four there. Next year we will be meeting in Grand Rapids, MI, the Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise!

One of these days, in the not too distant future, one of us will be, not only the youngest but the oldest as well; and it won't necessarily be me. I read the other day that we WWII veterans are dying off at the rate of over 1000 a day.

6th Reunion in Tampa, FL - Memorial Day weekend 2000

Toggle Annie Crew Reunion #6
Tampa, FL
Memorial Day 2000

Back Row L-R - Robert Reed - Copilot; Dana Stewart - Pilot; Odis Johnson - Engineer; Louis Galgano - Lower Turret

Front Row L-R - Darrell Johnson - Nose Turret; Walter Nilson - Radio Operator; Allan Davidson - Top Turret; Walter Menn - Photographer

Toggle Annie

Photo courtesy of Daniel L. Stockton

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