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Russell K. Bond, Sr. « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Russell K. Bond, Sr.

Hometown: Fond du Lac, WI
Branch of Service:
Army, Army Air Corp, 467th / 801 BG
Location of Service:
Europe

After we had all arrived and were seated in this concrete and steel building, a colonel took the stand and greeted us with the following: First, he mentioned that what he was about to say was absolutely top secret. It was not to be repeated under any circumstances, anywhere, at any time. Secondly, he said, you are going to learn to fly your airplane 400 feet above the ground–10 miles per hour above stalling. And in addition, you’re going to learn to do this at night and do it as a single ship mission. Later he added, I’m going to give you five minutes to think about it. And, if you don’t want to be a part of all this, all you have to do is get up and walk out. You’ll go back to your old group and nothing will be said and it won’t reflect against your record but remember what I said in the beginning about saying anything at all to anybody.

Up until this time, we were busy flying heavy bombardment missions over Europe. After flying several, we were to be without our old B-24 Liberator and couldn’t understand the reason for being grounded. A few days later, we were to leave our plane behind, for the first time in several months, and board a train to a town about forty miles northwest of London by the name of Harrington. After a few days, as I mentioned earlier, the colonel made his offer to us. We had been flying with the 467th Bomb Group located just outside Norwich, England and were to join a new group known as the 801st Bomb Group. Only the 788th and the 789th Squadrons were to be selected to become the 858th and 859th Squadrons of the new group. Our big man on top was still Gen. Eisenhower. Under “Ike”, was general Jimmy Doolittle, the head of the 8th Air Force and all of our future orders would be coming from Gen. Donovan, who coordinated everything for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services) and the forerunner of the CIA, and the needs and the wants of the French Forces of the Interior, Maquis, and Partisans. While we were cautioned about some of the changes to be made, some came as a surprise.

The size of our crew was reduced from the ten-man crew down to an eight-man crew. Those of us forward of the bomb bays stayed the same. The big changes were in the rear of the plane where the belly turret operator and one of the waist gunners were removed. The remaining waist gunner was to become a Dispatcher who would tend to our cargo to be dropped. In many cases it was material things but human agents were to be dropped as well. I’ll never know what ever happened to the two men who were removed from the crew. The changes to the plane were more drastic. Rather than being able to defend itself to some degree, we were two guns short now. The belly turret was removed to make way for the “JOE” hole, all armor and the oxygen system were gone, and the plane closely resembled the old B-24D that we started training with. Now the entire plane was painted black and all lights were removed, interior and exterior, except for the dimmest red light. There was no need as we would be scheduled to fly by the light of the moon. When flying heavy missions, we were up at 4 AM, briefed, and in the air around 10 AM. Now, flying at night, we would brief around 8 PM and take off around 10:30 PM. I might add here that one of our many agents dropped was Major William Colby who would later become head of the CIA. Some agents were dropped as many as a dozen times.

It is very difficult to say which type of mission was the most dangerous. Flying heavies, we were in a group and could not move in any direction to avoid flak and the fighters. I had to send the SOS signal a couple of times as we landed with less than the four engines and with hundreds of holes in the plane. We had no fighter protection at this time. Night flying with a B-24 that flew like a fighter allowed us to enter the coastline, get caught in some lights or guns and dive from 4,000 feet down to about 1,000 feet by standing the plane on its wing with a hard right to hard left. On one occasion, an enemy JU-88 escorted us to the channel on our way home and we thought this would be our last mission before our time. For some unknown reason, we were allowed to return to Britain. Because I handled the necessary flares required for the save return and because so few knew who we were or what we were up to. I hoped many times that the gunners on the ground were not color blind. I would fly another thirty-three missions with this group.

I will add one more thing before I close. In 1986, I learned that we had formed a group association and would be heading back to our old airfield in 1987. Believe it or not, my secret was kept all of this time. While at the old airfield, we had a monument to those who were lost from the group, and had a couple of French representatives to give is the Croix de Guerre with Palme. Still in my possession are pictures of me in civilian dress to show that I was a French man, my escape kit, familiarization file on how to bail our of the plane, my first issued sun glasses, my well painted A2 flying jacket, and some of the junk I picked up along the way. I almost forgot, on one of our night flying missions, we had $6 million in French money to be dropped. I still have one of the dollars as my “short Snorter”.

All of those young men who flew by the light of the silvery moon were known as the “CARPETBAGGERS.”