by Hughes Glantzberg
Most WWII veterans are gone now. Their stories should not disappear with them. We need to hear their stories. What they experienced is a part of history. The only way we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past is to learn what happened. I have spent the last 20 years learning about what went on during WWII, and I strive to make their stories live today so others can appreciate what our veterans did to preserve our freedom.
Born in 1942, I am not a WWII veteran. I was too young to have been involved in WWII. I did not even realize a war was going on. My father served in WWII, which is the reason I am writing this story. You see, my father was like so many other men who served during WWII. They never talked about their experiences. They considered it a period in their lives; they did their duty and moved on with their lives. My lack of knowledge was like that of so many other people today. We know WWII happened, but that’s about all they know unless they have a reason to explore the history of that period.
My eyes were opened in 2000 when I was invited to a veterans’ reunion; the only thing I was told was that my father had been a member of that organization. This piqued my curiosity, and I decided to attend the reunion. This was the beginning of my story. Read on to discover the details of what I learned and what I continue to learn today.
My father had been a career military man. He went into the service in 1929 and retired in 1959. I never thought to ask him what he did prior to my being born. I sort of assumed that if I needed to know about what he did, I would be told. Over the years I did learn a few things about my father. For example, I learned that he had an accident in 1932 that resulted in his having a hole in his head. I also knew that he had been promoted to the rank of major general. That was enough for me to be proud of him. Other than moving around in my younger years, I really didn’t pay much attention to my father’s career.
In 2000, I received a phone call from Maj. Gen. James B. Knapp, who had served under my father during WWII, inviting me to a reunion of the 461st Bombardment Group (H) in Shreveport, La. My first reaction was to ask why I would be interested in the reunion. He told me that my father had been a member of that group. I never knew this. I knew my father had been in the service for many years but had no idea what he had done during WWII. I was curious enough to drive to Shreveport to find out what the 461st Bombardment Group (H) was all about. The reunion ran from Wednesday through Sunday.
As I walked into the hotel that Wednesday afternoon, all these men about 20 years my senior stood up and started walking toward me. My first thought was that I had done something wrong, and I almost turned around and left. I stayed. Several men came up to me and asked whether I was Col. Glantzberg. I chuckled under my breath knowing that my father finished his career as a major general. I said, “No, that was my father.” Nearly every one of them said they had known him and wanted to tell me a story about him. I spent the weekend listening to stories I had never heard before about my father.
The first thing I learned was that my father had been the commanding officer of the 461st Bombardment Group (H) from October 1943 until September 1944. He had seen to the training of the group, the deployment of the group to Italy and the 15th Air Force. The group started flying missions on April 2, 1944, and he had flown 50 missions by the time he returned to the States in September.
I learned about him getting a P-40 fighter that he used to shepherd the formations as they were heading out on a mission when he wasn’t actually flying the mission himself. I heard about his B-24 being hit by flak, knocking out the #4 engine and starting a fire in the #3 engine, and about how he still managed to get his plane and crew back to base. I was stunned to find out he had used his P-40 to shepherd the formation across the Adriatic Sea only to be attacked by two ME-109s that he outraced back across the Adriatic. Needless to say, I was interested in learning more about my father and his time with the 461st Bombardment Group (H).
The following year (2001), I found out that the person maintaining the website for the 461st and publishing the newsletter for the group had suddenly disappeared and the group had no way of notifying its members about the reunion that year. Having some knowledge of websites, I volunteered to pick up that work and see what I could do to publish a newsletter. This was the start of a long and extremely rewarding project.
Since there was at least a website for the 461st, I had a starting point. I couldn’t access the existing website, but I could at least pick up a lot of the material from it to create a new website. I created www.461st.org. This website still exists today, and, after over 20 years, it is still growing. I’m constantly finding new material to add to the website.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that the 461st Bombardment Group (H) didn’t win World War II all by itself. The 461st was just a small part of the overall plan to defeat Nazi Germany and save the freedom we enjoy today. The next thing I learned was that the 461st shared Torretta Field in Italy with the 484th Bombardment Group (H). I found out that the 484th was shutting down and would no longer be holding reunions and would not support its website any longer. Because the 461st and the 484th flew missions together, I felt this was not a good idea, so I picked up the 484th website (www.484th.org).
The 461st and 484th were part of the 49th Bomb Wing along with the 451st Bombardment Group (H). I decided to help the 451st get started on their own website (www.451st.org). The 451st had been holding reunions with the 455th Bombardment Group (H). Upon checking I discovered that the 455th didn’t have a website so I started one for that group (www.455th.org).
My project documenting the 461st Bombardment Group (H) was expanding. I now had websites for all the groups of the 49th Bomb Wing and the 455th that belonged to the 304th Bomb Wing. This started me looking at what other parts of the 15th Air Force were involved in WWII. The 15th Air Force was a huge organization that consisted of several different organizations. There were bombers and fighters, of course, but there were many organizations – weather recon, photo recon – that supported the air war. I couldn’t imagine creating a website for every organization, so I stayed with just the bombers. The 15th Air Force had five bomb wings: the 5th Bomb Wing that consisted of six bomb groups flying B-17 Fortresses; the 47th Bomb Wing that consisted of four bomb groups flying B-24 Liberators; the 49th Bomb Wing that consisted of three bomb groups flying B-24 Liberators; the 55th Bomb Wing that consisted of four bomb groups flying B-24 Liberators; and the 304th Bomb Wing that consisted of four bomb groups flying B-24 Liberators.
The bomb groups of the 55th Bomb Wing asked for help with their websites, so I picked up the 460th Bombardment Group (H) (www.460th.org), the 464th Bombardment Group (H) (www.the464th.org), the 465th Bombardment Group (H) (www.465th.org) and the 485th Bombardment Group (H) (www.485thbg.org).
I noticed the 454th and 459th bomb groups had pretty good websites, but the 456th had very little. Moreover, the 456th had ceased to exist a few years earlier, and their website had disappeared. Since I already had the 455th website, I decided to try and recreate something for the 456th in order to have a complete 304th Bomb Wing. As a result, I created www.456th.org.
A good picture of the 15th Air Force bombers was developing. But how did all these bomb wings and bomb groups fit together? I started looking for a website for the 15th Air Force, figuring that it would show the big picture of everything I’ve mentioned so far. I couldn’t find one, so I created one (www.15thaf.org). Now there was a nearly complete picture of the bombing of southern and eastern Europe during World War II.
At one of our reunions, I met the president of the 483rd Bombardment Group (H). The 483rd was one of the six bomb groups of the 5th Bomb Wing that flew B-17 Fortresses. The president mentioned to me that he was not satisfied with the website for his organization. I told him of my work with the other bomb groups and offered to create a new website for the 483rd. This resulted in another website: https://15thaf.org/5th_BW/483rd_BG/default.html.
At another reunion, I met a veteran from the 98th Bombardment Group (H). This bomb group had helped the war effort before the 15th existed. Initially, the 98th was part of the 9th Air Force in North Africa and the Middle East and its website had disappeared. But the old website had been preserved in the archives and I was able to build a new website with that information: www.98th.org.
The above information is shared with you to encourage you to share your WWII information. Only by sharing the information we have about WWII will we have a better understanding of our history and be able to share it with those younger than we are. This is not a criticism of our relatives who served in WWII and kept their silence with us, because we have some sense of what they endured to defeat the Axis powers and re-establish world peace. We have a duty, however, to learn as much of this history as we can and to share it with future generations, so they know it better than we did. The better we know our history, the better our lives will be.
Over the last 20 years I have learned a great deal about the air war over Europe. The story of this air war is not a simple one. We may be familiar with the 8th Air Force flying missions into German-occupied territory, but the 8th could only go so far. There were targets the 8th could not reach. The 15th Air Force was created to provide another front against Nazi aggression. With headquarters in Bari, Italy, and bases up and down the east coast of Italy, the 15th had the capability and range to reach the targets the Eighth could not. Some of the targets for the Fifteenth included the following: Ploesti with its massive oil refineries that fueled the German war machine; Blechhammer, where the Germans were developing synthetic oil; Vienna, Linz, and hundreds of railroad marshaling yards, communications and manufacturing facilities. That’s the big picture, but how was the 15th organized? How many different organizations were there to support the mission of the 15th? What equipment was needed to carry out the missions? Who were the men who carried out the missions?
Of course, I have tried to share the big picture of the 15th Air Force because it’s important to know how the various organizations fit into the picture and supported the overall mission of WWII. The men who did the work to accomplish the 15th's mission were the husbands, fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers of those who remained stateside. I have tried to tell the individual stories of those men to help their relatives understand what was endured during that time. These servicemen didn’t live in Hilton Hotels or Holiday Inns; they lived in tents and had to come up with their own solutions to problems such as mud and snow and cold temperatures. The men actually flying missions were not flying airliners, but drafty aircraft in which the temperature might drop as low as 50° below zero. The men wore oxygen masks in order to breathe because they would pass out in seconds if their oxygen was interrupted for any reason. Men came back with frostbite because their heated equipment failed. Aircraft didn’t always make it back. Over 3,000 aircraft were lost. The men on those aircraft had to jump out of their crippled aircraft. Some were captured and were guests of German Prisoner of War (POW) camps. Conditions were less than ideal; some men didn’t survive. In the websites above I have told some of the stories about the men who fought to preserve our freedom.
My wish is to instill in others some of the enthusiasm I have for studying the 15th Air Force, as well as the many other organizations that made up the U.S. military might during WWII. These WWII veterans are almost gone now, but the stories I tell on these websites and the many untold stories are very important. If you know a WWII veteran’s story, share that story. It’s our duty to remember!
Freedom is not free!