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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Will Dennis was a ball-turret gunner for the 96th Bomb Group during World War II. He
enlisted in 1943 and begins his interview by discussing when he joined the Air Force
and his training. He was shipped off to England and explains the problems of flying in
B-17's and military life in general [1-7].
Dennis details extensively the activities in a "bomb run," and reports feeling anxious
about his missions. He explains what it was like to fight German Flockwulf-190 planes,
the procedures bomb groups took when flying into specific locations, and the problems
that could occur. Dennis also reports the debriefing routines Air Force officials would
give after missions [7-11].
Dennis then talks about on the Schweinfurt Germany air raid and the differences
between the U.S. Air Force and Army. He discusses his mission to Poznan, Poland,
where his plane was shot down and explains how he escaped. Surviving the crash,
Dennis was captured by German soldiers [12-25].
After his initial capture, Dennis was transferred to Austria as a prisoner of war for
fourteen months at Stalag-17. He discusses his ability to survive the camp and his
feelings of relief at the war's ending. Dennis gives his opinion on his entire experience
as a POW and later his on the atomic bomb [26-33].
Mrs. Dennis discusses some details that Mr. Dennis may have left out during the
interview. She explains how the two met on Atlantic Beach, New Jersey, after the war,
and the tough times her husband has had coping with the loss of his Air Force friends
Interviewee: Will Dennis
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: October 27, 2004
P: This is Julian Pleasants, and I'm in St. Augustine, Florida. It's October 27, 2004.
I'm speaking with Mr. Will Dennis. When and where were you born?
D: [I was born] in Burlington, Vermont, September 29, 1923.
P: What was your educational background before you joined the Air Force?
D: Was I through college then? I wasn't through college.
P: So you had just finished high school?
D: [I had just finished] high school at that time.
P: When did you join the Air Force?
D: When did I join the Air Force? I went in there in 1943. I must have went in the
Air Force the same day I joined.
P: You went into service in February, 1943?
P: Where did you get your training?
D: When did I get my training?
D: I got training right off. I got basic training in Miami, Florida. Gunnery school was
in Las Vegas, Nevada, or just outside there. Radio school was in South Dakota.
P: I talked to George McGovern [South Dakota congressman and former B-24
liberator pilot in World War II; Democratic presidential candidate in 1972]. He was
a pilot, and I know there were a lot of people who trained in South Dakota, both
pilots and radio school. Is that right?
P: Once you finished, you've had gunnery training and you've had training in radio
operation, when were you shipped overseas, and where did you go?
WVlII-12: Dennis, Page 2
D: When was I shipped overseas? I first stopped off at Scotland, my base [was] in
P: Okay. So that was the 94th bomb group?
D: 96th [and 338th squadron].
P: The 96th bomb group. When you started out, you were flying on B-17s.
P: Describe the B-17 to me a little bit, particularly your position. You were a ball-
P: Talk about the plane.
D: The plane was a heavy bomber, four-engine. It had a crew of about ten men.
My position was the ball-turret gunner.
P: You had a fifty-caliber machine gun, right?
D: I had two of them.
P: How did you operate them?
D: They had handles. You'd move the whole thing around or up and down. The
triggers were right on top; just below your thumb. That was quite convenient.
P: You could maneuver those weapons both up and to the side as well?
D: [I could maneuver them] all around and up and down.
P: Everybody I've talked to has said that the ball-turret gunner is the worst place on
the plane for several reasons.
D: [Laughter] I was told that before I even got into one.
P: Tell me, how you even got in the plane, and then to your position.
D: How I got into the plane?
P: Yes. Because it was not easy to get in those B-17s.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 3
D: No, that's true. You had to practically crawl on your knees to get from one spot
to the other.
P: With the bomb bay doors in the middle, you'd have to crawl on that little catwalk,
as they called it.
P: You had to get up in the plane and there was no ladder for you.
D: That's correct. Then getting into the ball would push you into a fetal position.
Your knees are under your chin. All you have in front of you between your legs is
a round window which you could see through. Of course, your guns could be
moved by your hands, so there was no need for any other help.
P: In some cases, to get you in there, would they would have to lower you down
there or would you just have to crawl?
D: I had to crawl. There was a little door. It was kind of tight, but I got through it all
P: You almost had to go through head first?
D: No, you'd go feet first.
P: One of the problems with the B-17s was, they were not pressurized.
P: I'm sure you went on long bombing trips, because I know the range of the B-17 is
something like 2,000 miles.
D: You're at 30,000 feet.
P: You're at 30,000 feet, so you've got to be freezing cold.
D: Yes, and you have the oxygen mask, of course, and it's cold.
P: You wore the oxygen mask the whole time?
D: Yes, [I had to, in order] to survive.
P: What would you do to protect yourself from the cold?
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 4
D: I've got a picture of one here. We had the suits. They were somewhat similar to
that with a nice collar, and they were insulated flying suits.
P: You would have winter underwear and the whole uniform and then a leather
jacket and leather pants over that as well?
P: Then obviously [you had] a full cap and boots and whatever you needed to keep
D: [We had] fur-lined mittens and so forth.
P: I've heard that in some cases people could get frostbite.
D: Well, that's true.
P: Did you have any instances of that?
P: What about lack of oxygen? What would happen if somehow you didn't have
D: I don't really know, because I always had an adequate supply.
P: How did you communicate with the pilot?
D: [We communicated] through intercom, as I recall.
P: I remember that there were something like thirteen fifty-caliber machine guns
throughout this plane. There was the tail-gunner, top-turret gunner, side-
D: [There were] two waist-gunners.
P: [There was] the tail-gunner.
D: [There was] the top-turret [gunner].
P: And there was the nose.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 5
P: In essence, that plane was theoretically protected from all sides.
P: Could you communicate with the other gunners, perhaps if they saw a plane and
they would warn you of something coming up underneath?
P: How long did most of your missions last?
D: The mission itself went fourteen hours.
P: Under these circumstances, in effect, in freezing cold weather, you're sitting in
this little turret for seven or eight hours without being able to get out, right?
D: That's right.
P: Didn't you get cramped often?
D: I think so, yes. I tried to straighten out as much as I could. [I just had to] bear it,
P: Could you actually sleep any on the way to the target?
D: You probably could, but I don't remember that I ever did. You're too anxious.
You're anticipating [the enemy].
P: I know you know about this, the relief tube, as they called it. If you're in that
position that long, and you have to urinate, obviously if you urinated in that cold
weather it would probably freeze, wouldn't it?
D: I would say so. [Laughing]
P: They gave you a little tube that you could use?
D: That's right.
P: When you started out, how many flights did you have to have before you were
D: [We had to have] twenty-five.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 6
P: I can assure you that you knew exactly how many you had flown every time,
D: That's right.
P: One thing Air Force people did is keep up with the number of flights.
D: I got shot down on my [fourth flight, April 11, 1944].
P: So you had a long way to go.
P: When you were living in England, what were your living conditions like? Did you
have regular barracks?
D: [We had] regular barracks. [They were] about the same [as what] we had in the
P: Was the food adequate?
D: It was okay. It was nothing too fancy, but it was adequate.
P: You had a lot of Spam, I bet.
D: Well, [we had] some. [Laughter]
P: [You had] what we used to call SOS, do you remember that?
D: Shit on the shingle. [Laughter]
P: Nobody could ever tell what it was.
D: It was bad.
P: Did you have good medical care?
D: Oh, yes.
P: I'm not sure if you were there in 1943. Was General Spatz [1891-1974; U.S. Air
Force General who commanded bombing raids against Germany and Japan
during World War II] the commander of the 8th Air Force then? Do you
D: Yeah. I'm not sure. I think it was somebody else.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 7
P: When you were there, how often did your plane fly? By the way, what was the
name of your plane? Do you remember?
D: The name of our plane?
D: [The name of our plane was] Jerry Jinks. [The day Will was shot down, they were
in The Duchess, because Jerry Jinks was being repaired form the previous flight;
it went through the war.]
P: How did you relate to the rest of the members of that crew? Other than being on
the plane a lot, did you spend a lot of time outside the plane in social activities or
talking with these [men]? Were they good friends of yours? I've heard some
people say that the bomber crew was like a family.
D: That's true. We didn't get to know each other very long because of the shortness
of our flight experience together, but our relationship was very amiable and
closely knit. For obvious reasons, we were all in the same boat and realized that
our life could be taken at any time, so you get to know each other pretty well.
Burdette "Frenchy" Borradaile was his name; he was the tail-gunner. We were
very close friends.
P: Of course, you had a lot in common.
D: Yes, we did.
P: Both of you in a very difficult position on the plane. You flew eight missions. On
the [fourth] one, you were shot down. On the other missions, how often would
D: On the other missions?
P: Yes. Would you fly every two days or twice a week?
D: As I recall, they were consecutive.
P: You'd fly every day?
P: What were your early targets? Were you bombing railroad lines, oil fields, [etc]?
D: I think railroad lines was one, and Rostock was another.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 8
P: Did you have anything to do with the British pilots and the British lines planes?
P: You didn't communicate with them or have anything at all to do with them?
When you started out, what was the overview of the bombing? Was it precision
bombing, where you would bomb a specific target, or was it what we call a
theater bombing, where you would just bomb a city or bomb whatever you could?
D: We were very specific.
P: [You had] very specific targets?
P: Talk about a typical day when you were going on a bomb run. What time would
you get up? What would you have to eat? What was the briefing like?
D: We'd get up around three o' clock in the morning. The briefing was quite
thorough, I thought, and well-conducted. Everything was pretty clear for us.
What else did you want to know?
P: They would give you, first of all, the weather?
P: How significant was that? If the weather was really bad, would they call off the
D: Yes, they would.
P: They would give you specific maps?
D: Yes. They had an outline on the wall that showed everything quite vividly.
P: Who would normally do the briefing? The head of the bomb group or a captain
or a colonel?
D: I'd say a captain most of the time.
P: What did you have for breakfast? Did you get a full breakfast?
D: As I recall, we did. Probably scrambled eggs, because that was my favorite.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 9
P: I wondered, because some people get airsick if the weather's bad. I didn't know
whether they would feed you. I presume that, once you're on that plane, you
wouldn't have much to eat or drink.
D: No. They'd keep you away from hot dogs and stuff like that. That kind of meat
product would give you some discomfort if you ate that stuff.
P: Would you have some C-rations [canned field ration issued by the United States
Army] and some water on the trip?
D: Yes, [we had] C-rations.
P: C-rations were okay?
D: Yeah, they were all right.
P: Not great [laughter]. Do you have any idea how many planes would go out on a
D: Oh, my God, 300-400.
P: What I've talked to other pilots and they told me, you would take off and then
circle. Everybody was up in the air.
D: Yes. We had to wait for everybody so we could develop a formation.
P: Did you have the formation where there are several planes where there are sort
of three and three and one in the back?
P: Nobody wanted to be tail-end Charlie.
D: Not really.
P: The average speed of a B-17, as I recall, is something like 187 miles an hour.
You would fly pretty much maximum speed to the target?
P: You would stay together?
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 10
P: The problem is, I've talked to pilots, when you're in clouds, you can't see
anything. Isn't that a pretty dangerous time?
D: Yes, it was. You lose formation fairly easily.
P: I talked to one pilot who ran into a cloud cover and came out, and the planes had
crossed without hitting each other. They went over the target, and this plane was
shot down. They had changed formation.
D: [That's how] circumstances are.
P: You couldn't possibly have anticipated something like that. What about when
you took off on your flights? Did you know if this were a particularly dangerous
mission, or as they used to say, this is a milk run?
D: Yes. We would know. We were advised.
P: Did you get many milk runs?
D: It didn't seem like we did.
P: It seemed a lot worse. [Laughter]
P: Describe your feelings when you were taking off on one of these missions. The
attrition rate, as you know better than I do, was ten to sixteen percent on any
given mission. There was a high probability that you wouldn't come back.
D: Yes. There was a great deal of anticipation and anxiety. As you know, there
was a lot of danger coming up and you're very vulnerable to be shot down. You
were nervous. That was our quality, we were nervous. You're anticipating and
anxious about it.
P: Did many people succumb to what was then called battle fatigue? They just
couldn't take the stress?
D: As I recall, we only had one in our group, and he had to be relieved because his
nerves gave out.
P: That's probably understandable for some people.
D: Sure it is. I'm surprised there aren't more. I don't know, there might have been a
lot more going on around me I wasn't aware of, but the only one we had was this
one fellow, and he had to be left home.
WWII-12: Dennis, Page 11
P: Of course, they couldn't take him because he might jeopardize the mission. In
the B-17 everybody has a function, if you don't do your part, the mission would
D: That's right. You've got to fulfill your job. Right on the spot, doing it properly,
because there's just too much involved and too many lives besides yours that
P: If there were circumstances where another gunner was wounded, would you ever
go and take his place?
D: [I] relieved somebody through a fuselage, and thank God I turned my neck in
such a way that this piece of flak [bursting shells fired from antiaircraft artillery]
just tore right across my throat and tore the skin. Man, if I hadn't turned my head
[it would have] went right through my throat. It was a flak almost the size of a
P: This was when you were substituting for somebody else as the nose-gunner?
P: So here you were straight on, right in the middle of it. Of course, the flak was
coming up from below. When you flew, and if you were attacked by fighter pilots,
you had to stay in formation, is that right?
D: That's right.
P: You couldn't maneuver to get away from them. It was up to the gunners.
D: The formation formed your shooting power and also your protection.
P: Were you ever worried about hitting American planes while you were firing at
D: Not to my recollection.
P: I do remember one occasion where they were flying in on a bombing run and one
of the B-17s dropped their bombs and dropped it on another Air Force plane.
D: Oh, my God.
P: I don't know, it could have been cloudy weather, it's hard to know. Talk a little
about the German fighters. I would presume you dealt with the Messerschmidt-
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 12
109 and 110.
D: The Fockwulf-190.
P: The Fockwulf-190. You knew these planes, and you knew the characteristics of
these planes. Were they not, at that time, faster than our planes? Weren't they
P: What would be the normal procedure when you would be attacked by, let's say,
Messerschmidts. How would they attack you usually?
D: They would either come at you from above or below. Sometimes from the tail,
but most of the time from up or down. They'd come in, as I recall, about a half a
dozen of them. They'd be a little bit above or below us, so they had clear
shooting opportunity. Once they'd come at you, if they're coming from behind
you, they'd of course, go down. They'd usually go down and then go above you
after they passed you.
P: They would fire bursts as they went past and then circle back down and get you
P: They were obviously very fast.
D: Yes. [They were] very fast.
P: How did you sight or fire at them? Did you give them quite a bit of lead room?
D: You had a Sperry sight. You didn't use it very often, because it would be
ineffective. We had tracer bullets. Every fifth or tenth one was a tracer. You
could see the line of flight, the trajectory of your bullets. You'd use that method
to guide yourself where to lead, how much lead you would need. It was an
estimate. You had to use your brain and that sight thing didn't help hardly at all.
P: Did you ever shoot down one of the enemy planes?
D: I got credited for what they call two and a half. I guess somebody else was the
other half. I got credited for two and a half.
P: One thing about firing tracers, I know, when you fire tracers, they can see where
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 13
it comes from. Of course, they can see the plane anyway, but it helps them a
little bit to hone in on you.
D: That's right.
P: How far out would they attack? Would you be fairly close to the target when you
met the enemy fighters?
D: [We would be] fairly close, I would say. I don't know why I didn't shoot them. I
didn't. I think I was so surprised. Of course, it happens in an instant. There was
this German fighter pilot, and he came up right underneath me. I was looking
down through my window, and there he was. I don't think he was that much
below me and of course, he was surprised. [Laughter] He looked up at me. I can
still see his eyes, and thank God I didn't shoot him. I wouldn't want to think about
that. I don't mind shooting them at a distance, but that was too close.
P: That's one thing that's very different about the Army. If you're the ground troops,
you see who you're firing at. When you're doing it in a plane, it's a little more
technical. Particularly, you're dropping bombs and you rarely see what happens
with the bombs. The same thing when you're shooting down planes. You're
shooting down planes, not a person.
D: You don't see it as a person. That's right.
P: Is there a set drill that all of the gunners have when they're attacked? Do you get
a call of "bandits at two o' clock" or something like that?
P: Who makes that statement? Whoever sees them?
D: The pilot has the first option, of course. It's whoever sees them. Most of the time
it seemed to be the pilot.
P: Of course, the pilot, to a certain point, is concentrating on flying the plane.
D: It could be the co-pilot. It came from that position.
P: When you started out in 1943, at that point, you did not have long-range fighter
escort, did you?
P: That was too soon for the Mustangs or the Thunderbolts and all of those planes?
WWII-12: Dennis, Page 14
P: That eventually made your life a lot easier, obviously.
D: Oh, God, yes.
P: Neither the British, at that point, nor the Americans had developed those long-
range fighter escorts. Eventually the Mustang could go 600 miles, so it could
take you pretty much to the target. In effect, you guys were unescorted, as it
were, to the target.
D: That's right. It was quite a long time.
P: As you come in over the target, obviously you were notified that you were getting
into position to drop your bombs. What was your view from the bottom of this
D: I'm the ball-turret.
P: You're directly facing this anti-aircraft fire.
D: [Laughter] That's right.
P: There's nothing you can do about it.
D: That's right. There's nothing you could do about it.
P: You could see it coming up at you, I presume.
P: [You had to] just hope it didn't hit.
D: I don't remember if it did or not, for someone it might have. It scraped the side of
the ball or something. Thank God it didn't come through the ball or through the
P: Once you come in for your bomb run, it's there you're most vulnerable, is that
right? Because you lower your altitude, and you lower your speed. You're of
course, over the target, which would be the highest concentration of anti-aircraft.
D: Oh, God, yes.
P: Somebody told me, I've talked to a pilot, and he said, this is worse than hell.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 15
How did you feel about flying into that anti-aircraft fire?
D: I didn't feel too good. I was a little apprehensive at times. [Laughter] I just
crossed myself and asked the Lord to protect me. That's about all I could do.
P: Once you drop your bombs, everybody has to make that slow turn to go back
home. Then once again, you're vulnerable.
P: Were you often attacked on the way back?
D: Yes. At times. By fighters, of course.
P: Once you cleared the target, you had to be alert for another possible fighter
D: Most of the time we got one, too.
P: [You got one] both coming and going.
D: Yes, that's right. They were very good at what they were doing. [They were]
excellent fliers. We were up against the best.
P: So they had the best pilots and the best planes, at that point anyway?
D: Well, they did a good job, I guess. They were fearsome.
P: Did you know anything about the actual dropping of the bombs? Of course, the
B-17 couldn't carry as big of a load as the B-29, but when they dropped the
bombs, the plane would sort of pop up in the air?
D: Yes, because of the weight. You were relieved of that weight.
P: You would feel that instantly?
P: I know you probably talked to the bombardiers, once they got the Norden
bombsight [a mechanical analog computer used in World War II to determine
when bombs had to be dropped to accurately hit the target], did that help the
D: I think so, from what the bombardiers would tell us. They said it was very helpful.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 16
P: On the way back, did you ever have any problems with fuel? I've heard of
people who have had a fuel-line nicked or something and lost fuel and they had
to abort the landing. Did you ever have any problems with that?
P: When you returned to the base, what would be the first thing you did when you
left the plane?
D: You'd go to the briefing room to be de-briefed, which lasted quite a bit of time.
They had to wait for most of the crews to get back because they didn't want to
keep repeating. Then you go to breakfast.
P: Did they de-brief everybody in the crew or just the pilots?
D: They de-briefed just about everybody in my crew at least. We had different
views of what was going on, and they wanted to know everything.
P: Were you taking photographs as you went?
D: Yes. We happened to have a spotter photographer with us. He did most of that
sort of work.
P: That's what they would use to evaluate the effectiveness of the flight? When
they get back they'd look through the photos and see whether they hit the target
and how effective it was?
P: Were there times when you were aware that you dropped your bombs completely
off target for one reason or another?
D: Yes, we were.
P: I guess that happened periodically, didn't it?
P: If you couldn't hit your primary target...
D: You'd hit your secondary one.
P: Were they in the same vicinity?
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 17
When you realized that you had missed, let's say, the oil petroleum fields, you
realized that you needed to go to the railroad tracks and drop bombs there.
Were you ever aware of dropping bombs on civilians per se, i.e. not a strategic or
No, I never was aware [of that]. I don't recall that we did that.
This is a question all military people deal with, what is a civilian in wartime? How
do you feel about the status of a civilian in warfare?
It's just tragic and horrible, really. They're so vulnerable.
Of course, you couldn't determine when you were dropping the bombs whether
they were going to hit a military target or somebody's house.
No, not always.
When they briefed you before the flights, did they ever talk to you about avoiding
cultural sites? When you were going to Cologne, Germany, don't go bomb the
cathedral and things like that?
Were your raids always daylight? Did you ever do any night raids?
No, we were daylight.
Obviously daylight is more dangerous than night.
Yes. The British had the night jobs.
They did all the night raids?
Would you have preferred night over day?
I guess I never gave it that much thought. No, not really.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 18
P: You did what they told you to like everybody else did. When you were back in
the barracks, what was your general feeling? Obviously you were relieved to get
through that particular run, but you know there's another one coming tomorrow.
P: How did you spend that time between that flight? If you're up at three o' clock,
you have to go to bed fairly early. How did you spend that day?
D: Probably praying. [laughing]
P: Did you have any entertainment or athletics? What did they do about morale? I
know a lot of people played cards.
D: Yes. When we started flying, we flew practically every day consecutively. Then
we got shot down after our [fourth] mission.
P: So you just didn't have much time between missions to do much of anything.
D: No, I didn't have much time for any socializing or visiting any sites or anything
P: Plus, you weren't there long enough to get any leave, so that was not good.
P: Did you, by any chance, take part in that well-known raid on Schweinfurt
[Germany]? Were you on that raid? Okay, you were on that raid. One of the
problems with that raid was, this was in 1943, out of 229 planes, thirty-six were
shot down. That's a very high attrition rate.
D: Over ten percent.
P: Was it worth it in the end? I remember 1944, I think the 8th Air Force lost 2,400
bombers in that year.
D: That's a lot.
P: Yes. That's a lot of bombers and a lot of lives. Do you think the bombing was
worth the loss of the lives?
D: No, I don't think so.
P: Some people argued that the air war can never win a war. It can cripple the
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 19
enemy's ability to produce goods, but the German army went by rail a lot, so as
you bombed bridges and factories, you could restrict their productivity in what
they did, but you couldn't quite win a war from the air. Some people argued that
you would have been better off if you took all the pilots, the number, and put
them on the ground and put them in the infantry. Would you agree with that?
D: I think I would, yes.
P: Would you have preferred to be [in the infantry]?
D: [Laughing] No, I'd prefer to be flying.
P: I can tell you, from the infantry point of view, they really envied you, because at
least you had a barracks to come to and at least you could take a shower. They
were out in the middle of the mud and the bad weather and people shooting at
them all the time. On the other hand, from their perspective, they had some
control over their future.
D: [They had some control over their] destiny.
P: Yes, where in your case, it was completely out of your hands. It was sheer
happenstance that one plane would be shot down and the one right next to it
P: Somebody told me that the more you flew, the better chance you had to survive
because you had more experience. Would you agree with that?
D: Yes, I would.
P: Then, at a certain point, not in your case, but if you were on the way to twenty-
five, by the time you got to twenty, people really started saying, well, my luck's
not going to hold. I've been lucky all this time and something is bound to happen
that's bad. Was that part of your thinking as you did them? You did one, and
you don't get shot, and you'd say, well, the odds are going to be against me
D: That's right.
P: Did they do anything to really help you deal with this anxiety? Did you have
somebody you could discuss your feelings with?
D: Just your own group and similar people around you; other crewmen. You're
WllII-12: Dennis, Page 20
experiencing the same thing.
P: They would be supportive in that sense. When you were on your way to the
target, did you have Pathfinders? You know, the planes that would go in and
drop flares so that you would know exactly where the target was? You just did it
all on your own? So in many ways, other than the pilot, the key person was the
D: I'd say so, yes.
P: I believe the bombardier made the decision of when to drop the bomb. Is that
P: That was his personal responsibility. The navigator probably got him there and
when he thought he was in the right place he dropped the bombs. Another thing
I wanted to mention to you, you're in this ball turret for thirteen hours. How did
you deal with the fatigue? You intend to be alert and you're up at three in the
morning. You've got to get tired. You've got to get sleepy. Did they give you
pills to stay awake, or coffee? They couldn't give you coffee, you had nowhere to
get rid of it [laughter]. How did you stay awake?
D: I suppose it was the anxiety and anticipation; the excitement. That's what did it.
P: The adrenaline is so high.
P: What would you say is the thing you feared the most, the anti-aircraft fire or
D: I think the anti-aircraft fire. You couldn't just shoot at the anti-aircraft fire, but the
pilots are up there shooting at you and you felt at least like you were trying to
protect yourself. I'd say the anti-aircraft fire.
P: There's no way you could defend against that.
D: That's right.
P: Talk about your [fourth] flight, which is the one where you got shot down. I
understand this flight was to Poland?
D: Poznan, Poland.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 21
P: What was your target, do you remember?
D: [Our target was] the aircraft factories, as I recall. As you came across France
and through Germany, the Germans kept pulling their factories farther into
Poland, so we had to go that distance.
P: That was really a long trip.
D: Yes, it was a long trip.
P: When you were starting off, it was kind of hard to get a B-17 up in the air.
D: That's right.
P: I would also imagine from these planes that the ride was pretty rough, wasn't it?
D: It was pretty rough. There certainly wasn't any extra comfort there.
[End of Side A]
P: Describe what happened to you on that [fourth] trip over Poznan when you were
D: We were practically over the target when we were attacked. I recall I looked out
in the distance and all I could see was a long row of fighters getting ready to
come in. They did. All of a sudden, Fockwulf fighters [came in] and they just
raked the hell out of us. We were outnumbered by a wide margin. They just
came right through and tore us apart, really.
P: Where were you hit? What was the cause of the bailing-out of the plane?
D: Yes. As a matter of fact, I think two of the engines caught on fire. We turned
over to the right and made a deep dive, and the pilot, somehow, God love him,
he must have been fighting those controls, because he pulled us out of the dive
momentarily. It gave us a chance to get to the door. Otherwise the centrifugal
force wouldn't have allowed us to open that door unless you straighten that plane
out, which he did momentarily. We were able to get that door open and get out.
P: Did he give the order to bail out or some of them had bail bells and he would
sound the bell?
D: He gave the order.
WllII-12: Dennis, Page 22
P: You were in the worst position to bail out.
D: That's right. But I got out. Obviously. [Laughing]
P: The side-gunners, it's pretty easy for them to bail out.
D: That's right.
P: Is there any order to bailing out, or is it whoever gets to the door goes?
D: That's about it. I was able to get the little door open that was above me. When
I'm in that ball, there's a little door above you that you get in with and get out of. I
was about able to squeeze myself out of there and crawl up the middle of the
plane on my hands and knees.
P: The plane must have been gyrating pretty wildly.
D: Yeah, it was. You had to grab onto anything you could grab on to to get myself
up to the escape hatch.
P: You were wearing your parachute the whole time you were down there?
P: That was standard procedure, right?
P: When you got up there, were you near the end of the group bailing out? Did
everybody make it?
D: I think everybody did. I'm not entirely sure if everybody up front got back or not.
I wasn't counting numbers. I just saw figures. I wasn't sure how many there
were. Frenchy Borradaile was my closest buddy and he was a tail-gunner. As
we were going down, I saw him coming on his hands and knees toward the
escape door. I went out before he did.
P: He pushed you ahead of him, is that what he did? So you went out?
P: At the same time you're doing this, the front of the plane is hit. Oil is spewing
back, it's on fire in the front. It's a pretty dangerous situation because that plane
could have blown any minute. Had you already dropped your bombs?
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 23
I think we had, yeah.
One of the things that pilots say that the greatest fear they have is being trapped
in the plane and being burned alive. Is that true for you?
Yes, it is.
You were able to jump out of the plane. Tell me what your thoughts were as you
first jumped out of the plane.
[I felt] relief. [Laughing]
You were just glad to get out of the plane.
I was glad to get away from that terrible mess.
You didn't, at that point, worry about what was going to happen to you, although
you knew you were bailing out over enemy territory?
No. The only thoughts you had was to get away from that immediate danger.
After you exited the plane, did you see it crash?
I don't remember if I did or not.
When your plane finally went down, you were near the Bornholm Islands of the
Baltic Sea. Where did you land? What kind of landing did you have? So you
bail out over the Baltic Sea, and you and your buddies drop into the sea.
What happens at that point?
As I recall, the Germans came along and picked [me] up.
It must have been very cold.
WWII-12: Dennis, Page 24
P: So you couldn't stay in that water for very long. Did you think you were going to
D: I wasn't sure. I figured if I didn't get out of that water fairly quickly I'd probably
pass out and drown.
P: You had trouble getting your chute released?
D: My chute?
P: Yes, your hands were too cold to release your chute?
P: So that was a problem as well. I guess almost out of nowhere, a German PT
Boat comes up, and they're picking up their pilots and they pick you up.
P: What did you say? Obviously you were concerned about your buddies. Did you
ask the German captain to pick up your buddies?
D: I think I did.
P: What did he say?
D: I think he said, just one.
P: He said, no.
D: He says, nein.
P: They just needed one prisoner.
D: He said, we've got you and that's all we want.
P: So the rest of the crew perished in the ocean?
D: Yes, they must have.
P: You were the only one to survive out of that plane?
D: Yes, because I never saw any others. They were all brought to a certain area
where they had prisoners of war, and I never saw any of my buddies around, so
WllII-12: Dennis, Page 25
they must have gone.
P: How did you feel at that point being the only survivor?
D: [I felt] pretty low and pretty bad. [I had a] sense of guilt.
P: It is, it's an extraordinary happenstance of war that they would pick you up
instead of somebody else. You guys must have been fairly close, I would
D: Oh yeah. That morning before we took off, we'd get into a large circle and a
Catholic priest would stand in the middle and he'd distribute Holy Communion to
each of us and said a prayer or two. It gave us good luck. That was very helpful.
P: You were the only one who took Communion in your group, and you were the
only one to survive?
P: Once they got you on board the PT boat, the Germans had you as prisoner.
How did they treat you?
D: Fairly well.
P: When you're on the boat, I understand, the Germans wanted that flight suit from
you because it was so good and warm. They took that away from you.
**From this point on, much of the information on his experiences is
provided by his wife off the tape.**
P: Did they treat you for hypothermia at all?
D: No. I just got over it.
P: They just let you shiver.
D: Until I stopped shivering.
P: Did they feed you? They brought you into the naval base at that point, and they
take you from there to Belgium, is that right?
WWll-12: Dennis, Page 26
D: I don't know anything about Belgium.
P: They bring you in, and now you're officially a POW. Did they ask you questions?
Did they interrogate you about the planes and how many people were on the
planes and where you were bombing?
D: Yes, they did.
P: They spoke good English?
D: Rather thoroughly.
P: Did you abide by the Geneva Convention? Did you just tell them name, rank,
D: Yes, I did. That's about all.
P: How long did they interrogate you?
D: About ten or fifteen minutes.
P: That's all?
D: No, I wasn't giving them very much information and they weren't pressing very
hard, and they gave up rather quickly.
P: [There was] no torture or anything like that?
D: No. [He has said he was batted around a bit.]
P: I understand you were so tired and exhausted and you went into prison, and
when you woke up the next morning, you looked out the window, and what could
D: [I could see] a swastika.
P: A swastika. So you knew you were in trouble then.
D: The wind was flipping and flapping it and I realized then that I wasn't dreaming.
P: What was your state of mind at that point? Were you relieved to be alive? [Were
you] worried about what was going to happen to you?
D: [I was] both of those. I was relieved to be alive, of course. I was very anxious
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 27
about what might be forthcoming. I wasn't sure whether I was going to be
tortured or shot. Thank God, neither one of those happened.
P: Did anyone know that you were alive?
D: I don't know.
P: It seems unlikely that anyone would have. What happened, as I understand, is
you were officially missing-in-action [for seven months]. Your mother didn't know
what happened to you. Nobody really knew what happened to you or where you
D: That's true.
P: Who finally located you and reported back that you were alive?
D: [The Red Cross found him for his mother.]
P: Now you are in Northern Germany. Where did they take you at that point? Did
they move you to Austria at that point or did you have an intermediate stop?
There was a distribution point, probably in Frankfort, so you were there. Then
you went to Stalag 17?
D: Stalag 17.
P: [That was] in Austria?
D: [Yes, it was] in Austria.
P: What were the living conditions like there?
D: They were fairly sparse. I can say they were livable. You realized you weren't
going to get any luxury or anything like that, but it wasn't as bad as I thought they
P: Were you mistreated in any way?
P: Did you have medical care?
D: I didn't need any, but we did have it available.
P: Was the food acceptable? I know you got a lot of brown bread, flat bread.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 28
D: Yeah, the sawdust bread, as we called it. Partially made of sawdust. [There
were] big bowls of soup they'd bring in and hand it out in bowls. We called it
green horror because you never knew what was going to come to the top
[worms, for example]. As long as it didn't come to the top, you didn't mind how
you got your protein.
P: I presume at this point in the war that the Germans were preserving whatever
food and meat they had for their troops.
P: You were probably at the bottom of their list in terms of rations.
P: Did you get any exercise? Did you have an opportunity at any point to try to
escape? Did anyone try to escape? The people in your barracks did try,
because you were close to the fence? [They] tried to dig a tunnel?
D: Yes. [We played baseball and bridge.] We tried to dig a tunnel. We succeeded,
not entirely, because we never did get out, but we dug a lot of tunnel. They used
to have to get rid of the dirt.
P: How did you get rid of the dirt?
D: As I remember, there was a pipe nearby that had running water in it, so we were
able to disperse the dirt with the water.
P: I remember people would put extra bags in their uniform pants and have it tied at
the bottom and walk out and pull the little drawstring and let it drop on the
ground. You had to keep walking, I guess, so you wouldn't make a pile.
D: I agree with that, yeah.
P: The Germans didn't find out?
D: Not to my knowledge.
P: There was a German, apparently called the mole, would come in and smell the
dirt, and he could smell fresh dirt. He must have been a farmer or something.
P: So that's eventually how they found out about the tunnel.
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 29
P: Did you have a radio? A lot of Stalags built their own radio.
P: Did you learn what was going on?
D: Yes. [I learned] quite a bit.
P: You knew, in essence, the progress of the war?
D: Yes, that's right. Every night we'd get what was going on through the radios, and
then the next morning they would disperse the news to all of us by way of voice
P: You were, I'm sure, waiting for the Allies to win the war and liberate you. Were
you ever worried about being bombed by Allie bombers?
D: To some extent, yes.
P: In Austria [they did that] quite a bit.
D: As I recall, we would go outside and we'd see the bombers go by and hoping that
they wouldn't stop or lay any of their loads on us.
P: How long were you a prisoner all together?
D: Fourteen months.
P: How were you liberated? Tell me about the forced march that they made you
take from Austria back into Germany. What was that like?
D: It was very tedious. We were all underfed and very weak and tired most of the
time. [We had] dysentery.
P: What would happen if one of the POW's would collapse or fall out of formation?
D: I never really knew what happened to the ones who fell out of our group. They
kept us going and moving.
P: In some cases, I think they may have shot those individuals. It would stand to
reason that your guards probably would have been very young, fifteen or sixteen,
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 30
or older men, because the others were still fighting in the front.
P: Were you at any point, other than this march, tortured or mistreated in any way?
D: I don't recall.
P: So we are not talking about concentration camps like Auschwitz or places like
P: As you are moved back into Germany from Austria, when were you liberated and
D: I woke up one morning and looked around and all of the German guards had
disappeared. In a few minutes down a road comes this tank, and it was General
P: You were glad to see them.
D: That's right. The C-rations, and all that stuff.
P: What was the first thing you wanted to eat after being on short rations for such a
D: What was the first thing I wanted to eat?
P: Yeah. I understand that people who are in a situation like that, of course, they're
hungry, one of the things they think about is what I'd like to eat. Give me a good
steak, a glass of milk, apple pie, whatever.
P: You, obviously, were limited to C-rations, or K-rations at this point.
D: Yeah, I think so. Those tasted pretty good.
P: Anything tasted pretty good at that point.
P: At that juncture, you were passed back through the American lines?
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 31
P: You got food, you got medical care. Were you in pretty good health at this point?
D: I was. I was in pretty good shape, really.
P: How do you think you were able to survive all of this? Being shot down, being in
the Baltic, being captured for fourteen months. What does it take both mentally
and physically to survive those conditions?
D: I don't know. I'm the type of person that takes things as they come pretty well. I
seem to tolerate them quite well.
P: How important was your religion in all of this?
D: [It was] very important.
P: You think that helped sustain you?
D: Oh yes, absolutely.
P: What about your training? Had you been pretty well trained to deal with capture?
They told you what to do and how to act and all that?
D: Not really. We didn't get much instruction along those lines.
P: Another thing I forgot to ask you, when you bailed out, did you have an escape
kit? They used to give them a kit where you had a compass and a scarf that was
a map of Europe and morphine, or whatever was in that little kit.
D: I don't recall.
P: You probably didn't have time to take that with you when you left the plane. You
were probably like many of the POWs, since you didn't have a very good diet, I
suspect you lost quite a few pounds.
P: What were you, about 150 pounds or so when you started? What were you
when you were liberated?
D: I'd say about 118 [pounds].
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 32
P: It took you a while to get your system back in order, as it were, to start eating
again. If you hadn't eaten in a long time, your stomach just won't tolerate that
kind of food.
D: That's right.
P: But you had no other injuries or illnesses as a result of your wartime experience?
P: When did you get back to the States? You were brought back to Atlantic City,
where the military had taken over hotels. That was a recuperation visit for you?
P: How long did you stay there? A couple of months or so?
D: I don't think it was that long. [It was] one month.
P: Then you were officially released from the service? You were never on the list to
go fight in Asia?
D: Apparently not.
P: Do you remember May 2, 1945, when Germany surrendered? Were you aware
of that date when the war in Europe ended?
P: What was your reaction to that?
D: I was delighted, of course, that it was over.
P: What was your reaction when you heard about the atomic bombs dropped on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, finally ending World War II?
D: I guess I was delighted and very pleased by that happening.
P: Do you think they did the right thing in dropping the bombs? There's been some
criticism that they wiped out two cities and killed a lot of civilians. Do you think it
was the right decision to end the war?
D: Yeah, I think it was. I was somewhat distressed by the casualties, but I felt that
our government didn't have much choice because it would have just prolonged
WWII-12: Dennis, Page 33
P: Plus it saved a lot of Japanese lives as well. You could argue that.
D: Yeah, that's true.
P: While you were in captivity, April 12, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died. I guess you
heard about that on the radio? What was your reaction? Did you think America
might lose the war now?
D: No. I knew what our democratic system was all about, and there probably would
be some minor changes, but we just continue on with the same policies and so
P: Plus, the military at that point, you were aware, had landed at D-Day and were
moving across Europe. You understood the end of the war was pretty close.
P: How did being a POW affect your life from that point to now? A lot of people talk
about in many ways, it made them a better person. It made them appreciate
what they were fighting for.
D: I could certainly reiterate that.
P: Did it change your attitude about anything?
D: Not really.
P: So you were a person who could really deal with adversity.
D: I go with the flow pretty much.
P: Is that the way you grew up? When you were a young man, your parents
instilled that self-sufficiency?
D: I think so. I had to fend for myself in certain instances, to fend for myself more
than I ordinarily would.
P: If you look back at your experiences during World War II, what do you most
regret about it?
D: What do I regret about the war?
P: Yes. Most veterans I talk to regret the loss of their buddies. Did you have any
residual guilt about that? That you were the only one out of that plane that
WWll-12: Dennis, Page 34
D: Oh yeah. I've had a lot of guilt along that line.
P: Of course, it's sheer happenstance. [There's] no reason to feel guilty about it, but
you lost your buddies, so that's hard.
P: Tom Brokaw called your generation who suffered through the Depression and
World War II "the greatest generation."
D: Yes, I know.
P: Would you agree with that?
D: Yes, I think I would.
P: Why, in particular?
D: I think it was the greatest generation because we were able to deal with it
effectively and emotionally and otherwise to the extent that we overcame the
adversity of it.
P: [You overcame] both the Depression and World War II. That's a difficult set of
circumstances for people to have to go through.
P: Do you think about this war, World War II, people call it the "Good War" because
we were fighting for a righteous cause. People argue that we weren't doing that
in Vietnam, and we're not doing that today. Is there a distinction in your mind?
D: Yes, there is.
P: Do you think we should be fighting the war in Iraq today?
P: Are there any stories that you have that we haven't touched on that you would
like to tell?
[Break in tape]
P: At this point, Mrs. Dennis is going to discuss some of the circumstances and
WWII-12: Dennis, Page 35
events that her husband might have forgotten or left out.
D: As a young boy, growing up during and after the Depression, I think this made a
mark on him to begin with, because his family lived under very rigorous
circumstances. As a youngster, he helped provide the family with money by
selling papers on the corner of the street in the town he lived in. He went to
Catholic schools all the way through school, which I think gave him a lot of good
foundation for his religion and the type of person he became. He went on into
the service right after graduating from high school. [He] trained in Miami, Florida,
Las Vegas, Nevada, and South Dakota, where he went to England as a ball
turret gunner on a B-17 bomber.
P: Why did he join the Air Force instead of the Army?
D: He wanted to be in the Air Force at the time. He didn't want to be drafted. He
wanted to go on in and volunteer, and he wanted to be in the Air Force, so he
went that route. Being a small guy, he was put into a ball-turret on a B-17
bomber. On his [fourth] bombing raid over Germany and Poland, he was shot
down on the way back. He was sent back to Stalag 17-B, where they weren't
treated too badly, because the Air Force was respected by the Germans. I think
they treated these boys a little better perhaps than they did some of the others
that I have known. After being there for fourteen months, he was on a forced
march out of Austria into Germany where the conditions were quite severe. They
didn't have any food and neither did the people along the way. They had to
scrounge along the railroad tracks for coal which they crushed and used to help
their dysentery that they had very badly. A lot of the boys were ill from that. It
was rainy and cold because it was April, and I'm sure some of them must have
developed pneumonia. Later, [they were] picked up by [General] Patton's army
coming into Germany from Austria.
P: He comes back to the hospital in Atlantic Beach where he comes home on leave,
and that's where you met him?
D: That's where I met him. One thing I'd like to say right now before I go any
farther, like many of the guys who lost all their buddies, this has been an issue all
his life. Why me? I've always told him, because he met me. We have four
lovely children as a result. We met two months after he got back from Germany.
At the time, he was stationed in Atlantic City. One incident that was kind of cute,
I always thought, is when he was in Atlantic City and was being examined by the
doctor, having a kind of round chubby face, even after being in a prison camp,
the doctor thought he had fared pretty well. But when he had him take off his
clothes and saw his skinny frame, he had a different thought about the whole
matter. He did go home, and his mother was very aware of his condition, and
she would give him steak and milkshakes, and his brother used to kid and laugh
about it saying, he gets steak, and we get hamburgers. She did build him up and
WWllII-12: Dennis, Page 36
he recovered and came around. About that time, I met him. It was kind of a cute
incident. I met him through a girlfriend who was dating his best buddy. We
started dating and continued to date for two and a half years and then got
married. We've been married fifty-seven years and have four children. His
saying, why me, I always told him was because of me and the four children.
P: When you met him, he would have been twenty at that time?
D: [He was] twenty-one. I was seventeen.
P: You told me that his career was mainly as an accountant?
P: What did he do after he got back and was out of the military?
D: After I met him, he decided to go back to school. He had finished high school
and was an excellent student. He was always encouraged by the men to go on
to college. With the G.I. Bill that was available to the boys, he did go on back to
school. He attended Bryant College in Rhode Island. Having been there one
year, he decided he wanted me with him. He came back and we were married
and we went back and I worked while he went to school. He was an excellent
student, by the way. He was in the accounting and business management
program. He went on to get into the business world and did very well. While
attending Bryant College, we lived in a little one-room efficiency, along with a
house full of G.I.'s and another couple who were married, which was a very
interesting experience after the war. We made some nice, long-lasting friends.
One thing, as well, after a few years, he had problems with his nerves, like many
of the boys coming out of prison camp. [He had] anxiety and that sort of thing.
He was called a workaholic, which he was. Later that got the best of him, and he
had to retire. Fortunately, Veteran's Hospital has treated him very well.
P: Do you think that was essentially a result of being a POW?
D: Yes. As I understand, I've done a lot of reading on the POWs, Stalag 17, and all
the events in his life, one factor, with many of the prisoners of war, they're
diabetics, they have heart problems, and anxiety work problems, which he does.
He still, to this day, has nightmares. In fact, a week ago he was firing the ball-
P: [He was] firing his machine gun? Well, it's such an extraordinary experience.
Everybody I've talked to remembers that experience so vividly. It's the most
important experience of their lifetime.
WllII-12: Dennis, Page 37
D: They want to put it out of their mind. Even to this day, he still has flashbacks and
things that bother him and he wakes up at night and has to take medication for all
these things and for other things as he's gotten older. He's eighty-one years old.
I have heard these stories so many times I have been able to help him through
this a little bit.
P: If you were to say what that experience meant to him in a collective sense, there
are obviously some negative aspects to this, but collectively, how has he talked
about over the years what that meant to him?
D: I believe that his being a very strong-minded person and very determined to
succeed [stems from his thinking about] why me, and not my buddies; I have to
do this for them to prove that I am worthy to still be here. He's been a great
daddy and husband and very determined that all his children would be educated,
which they have been. Through his efforts, they've all succeeded very well.
P: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this?
D: No. I'm getting a little emotional.
P: That's fine. On that note, we'll end the conversation. I want to thank both of you
[End of Interview]