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Angelo Martin |
Angelo Martin didn't have to go to war. As the sole provider for his family, he was exempt from military service. After a while however, he “felt he was the only guy in Hayward ,” California , and when the government began providing families with $50 a month in aid, he enlisted in the Air Cadets.
He washed out of the rigorous pilot program and was sent to McNally Field, Las Vegas to train as a gunner, then to Biloxi , Mississippi where B-17 bomber crews for the Eighth Air Force were assembling. Once a crew was formed, it stayed together. “Like a family,” he said. Angelo was the oldest guy on the plane at 23. The pilot was 22; the co-pilot 21; the navigator 19.
Angelo borrowed 35 bucks from his friends, got a ten-day furlough, and traveled back to California . His girlfriend, Flora, met him at the Greyhound station and they drove to Reno , arriving at 9:00 at night in time to see the justice of the peace walking down the courthouse steps. When the judge saw them, he didn't say a word but he did an about-face and walked back inside to marry them. The courthouse janitor was their witness. They spent one night in Reno before heading back. His ten-day leave was over.
Part of the Eighth Air Force, his 390 th Bombardment Group started flying daylight raids over Europe from its base in Framlingham , England . The targets were railroad marshalling yards, ball bearing factories and oil industries. At first, crews were required to fly 25 missions before heading home. That was raised to 30. Then to 35. Angelo's first mission was on his 24 th birthday. The target, Berlin . Happy Birthday.
Of the crew of nine, Angelo was a waist gunner; standing in the open, unheated cabin that reached -40F or -50F. He wore an electric suit and electric gloves to stay warm. A heavy, laminated metal flak suit protected him from the waist up. When the action started, Angelo was at once sweating and slipping on the icy floor and on the empty shells scattered underfoot .
After takeoff, it would routinely take two or three hours for the planes to group up. “We lost a lot of planes just forming up in bad weather.” His plane once made a forced landing with only two engines operating. “The pilot, Jack Bouton, knew we were low on fuel, and rather than risk crossing the North Sea back to England , decided to put us down in Belgium . He made a beautiful landing even though the landing strip was short and covered with snow. No one was injured, but the next morning we counted 27 flak holes in the wings and fuselage. That B-17 was the best airplane, ever!”
Angelo flew his 35 missions and sailed home with 5,000 other men on the giant ocean liner, Ile de France. He always told Flora he would get back for their first wedding anniversary, and he made it by five days. He and Flora have a close family that includes their eight great-grandchildren.
“It's all family for me.”
U.S. Army Air Corps WWII
“It's all family for me.”