August 1943,1 was assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron of the 56th FG. For whatever reason, I was chosen quite frequency to fly wing with both Col Hub Zemke and Col Dave Schilling when they led the 56th into combat. We were expected to fly in a certain manner. If a guy screwed up, he was told to ‘get on the ball or get out’. As a result, our group became very aggressive and a close-knit nature developed whereby you could trust anyone you flew with. Sometimes, though, in the heat of battle, lack of communication between the lead and wingman could get a guy killed.
During one mission I was on, I flew wing to great pilot and a hell of a tactician. He allowed only his friends to call him ‘Chief’. I was very fortunate to be included in this circle. He was like a father to me and took me under his wing. Unfortunately, on this particular mission, my wing got in the way! We were coming off a bomber escort when Col Schilling spotted a 109 on the deck. We were at 25,000ft when he called the bounce. He peeled off and dived so fast that, in order for me to keep up, I cranked the ‘Jug’ over and momentarily blanked him out. I lost sight of him on the way down. As we dived, I spotted the 109 he was after.
At that same time, Schilling was called over the RT by the rest of the group. They had encountered a whole gaggle of Bf110s and thought Schilling might be interested.
Schilling broke off his bounce and pulled skyward. I continued downward, never seeing him. He claimed later that he called me to break it off and follow, but I never heard it. We became separated as I lowered my wing, searching for him. I should have looked up instead of down, because Schilling was in a whole heap of trouble.
I returned to base wondering what the hell happened to my flight leader. I soon found out, as Schilling jacked me up in the corner and proceeded to tear me a new ass! When he went to find the 110s, some Fw190s and Bf109s bounced him and he nearly got his own ass shot off. Bob Johnson had to rescue Schilling, and Schilling wasn’t very happy about that. From that moment on, even after the war, Schilling would always introduce me to people as ‘his good friend who left him in combat and then was almost shot down by the enemy!’ He was a great boss and a great joker.
On 30 January 1944 I was White Two to Maj ‘Gabb/ Gabreski at 23,000ft near Lingen.
We spotted a formation of about 15 Me210s below us and dived down on them. We broke up the formation but weren’t able to get a shot off. We were at 12,000ft when the Colonel spotted a lone Me210 below at 6,000ft. We made our attack, and I saw the Colonel open fire on him as the 210 headed into the cloud level. Just as he was about to head into the clouds I let him have a short burst. Maj Gabreski had already broken off and I’m sure he destroyed that Me210.
Later we were at about 13,000ft when we saw two aircraft at about 6,000ft. They didn’t look like enemy aircraft at first, but later we decided to go have a look. I was on the inside of the attack and as we dived I was out ahead of the Colonel. As we closed in on these two ships, I noticed that they were Bf109s, so I cut loose at the one on the right. I didn’t see any hits on this one so I shifted to the one on the left and ran up him from dead astern. I opened fire at about 400 yards on these two and closed in on the second one, which I destroyed from 100 yards out. I saw several strikes all over the fuselage and on the wing roots. It started to catch fire, and as I pulled up to the right I saw the Bf109 I’d shot at going straight down with white smoke trailing. I also saw Maj Gabreski shooting at the 109 that I had shot at first, and it rolled over and headed straight down.