June 3, 2013 Rotogram: 43

School Districts’ Consolidation

Rotarian Lewis Holloway, Starkville School District superintendent, will address implications and progress of the state mandated Starkville and Oktibbeha County school districts’ consolidation. Stuart Vance will introduce him.

Next Week: Bulldog Athletics

Mississippi State University Athletic Director Scott Strickland will review the successes of MSU teams this year and report on progress of the Davis-Wade Stadium expansion. David Boles will introduce him.

For the Record—May 20

Invocation and Pledge:    Giles Lindley

Attendance:                                   49.19%

Present — 87 (26 exempt, 1 honorary)

Absent — 92 (18 exempt, 10 honorary)

Guests: Member guests were Archie Anderson of Mike Cayson and Scott Hunt of Don Lasell.

Proposed Member

Jennifer Gregory, CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership is proposed for membership with the classification of Economic Development. If no objections are filed by Monday, June 10, she will be considered elected to active membership. She is sponsored by Debra Hicks.

John Robert’s Party

John Robert Arnold’s 90th birthday party two Saturdays back went on as scheduled, but he greeted folks who came by SKYPE from a hospital bed in Columbus.  He had the misfortune to fall the night before his birthday and break a hip. He chatted with friends and family via a SKYPE hookup as they signed the guest book. We all send John Roberts our best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery.

Flying a Liberator over Europe

May 20 — Fellow Rotarian John Fraiser, retired Chief Judge of Mississippi Court of Appeals, has a long and distinguished career of public service as an attorney, a legislator, and a judge. But among his keenest recollections are memories of harrowing World War II experiences 70 years ago. He shared more of these with us May 20 in a program especially appropriate the week before Memorial Day.

Judge Fraiser graduated from high school at 16 and enrolled in Mississippi State College for three semesters before enlisting in the Air Force. He completed training and as an 18-year-old staff sergeant was the top turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator.

He said he was lucky to be assigned to the flight crew with “the best pilot in the 15th Air Force.”  Bob Combs came from a wealthy family who had sent him to the best flying school available. At 22, he was the oldest member of the judge’s flight crew. The B-24 was faster, had a greater range, and carried a heavier payload than the B-17 Flying Fortress of WW II. But it was much harder to fly and sometimes referred to as the “flying boxcar.”  It was also very vulnerable to flak from German antiaircraft batteries.

Fraiser’s flight crew was assigned to the 15th Air Force in Foggia, Italy, located just above the “heel” of Italy inland from the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The B-24 squadron’s missions were strategic bombing of oil refineries, German aircraft on the ground, and factories manufacturing weapons and armor. They also flew some cover for the 5th Army and sealed off the pass that German troops used to cross the mountains..

The B-24’s Davis Wing was an innovation that increased the payload of 500-pound bombs. The aircraft was powered by four wing-mounted Pratt Whitney engines but it had a very poor glide ratio. “If it lost all four engines, it would glide a few miles then make a 90-degree angle to the ground!”

Above 10,000 feet, oxygen was required.  Air temperatures at normal operating altitudes of 20,000 to 25,000 feet were 50 degrees below zero – unprotected, you could survive no longer than four minutes at 25,000 feet, he said. Crew members had “electric suits” and wore silk gloves under heavier gloves to keep hands from freezing. It made it very difficult to fire the guns, arm the bombs, and perform other tasks.

“Our missions started early making bombing runs in daylight (the British thought we were crazy), but we wanted to see our targets for more precision.”  He admitted the odds weren’t favorable. The B-24’s were relatively easy targets for the German’s radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns. They flew in seven plane formation for greater protection. Flight crews were to fly 25 missions, but chances of survival for all 25 were only one in five, he said. “The Memphis Belle” was the first Liberator to complete 25 missions.

“We slept in tents at Foggia. A typical day would start at 4 a.m. We’d pick up a grab bag and a 45 cal. pistol for protection in case we were shot down. We’d have breakfast, attend a briefing (just like you see in the movies), and pick up our electric suits and parachutes.

“After takeoff, we’d check the guns, climb over the base to 10,000 feet and get in formation, put on oxygen masks and climb to altitude en route to our target. At the IP (initial point) to make our bomb run we’d hit “flak alley.”  They lost a lot of aircraft and crews.  He praised the protection from the German Luftwaffe afforded by fighter squadrons – especially the P-51 Red Tails piloted by the Tuskegee Airmen.

Fraiser’s crew had a number of very close calls. On the first mission to Vienna they took flak in one of the fuel tanks and weren’t aware of it until they tried to switch tanks and there was no fuel.  “Our pilot found a fighter strip in northern Italy and somehow managed to get us on the ground.”

One of the worst missions was losing two engines on a bomb run in Austria then having a third engine overheat just short of the Adriatic Sea. “The landing gear wouldn’t work and we couldn’t get it down with the hand crank. Bob (pilot) told us we should bail out, but when he said he and the co-pilot were going to try a forced landing on a steel mesh strip, we all elected to ride it out. When the plane skidded to a stop, people came out of the woods (they proved friendly) and called an air mission to come pick us up in a C-47.  The only injury was a sprained ankle.”

On one mission they noticed a B-24 with no markings trailing the squadron. They called in the Red Tails. They radioed the pilot of the Phantom Plane who responded in perfect English, but without a plausible story.  The P-51s threatened to shoot him down escorted him somewhere to land. Later, they learned the Germans had several aircraft they’d salvaged and rebuilt as spy planes.

Although our bomber squadrons suffered heavy losses, they were successful in destroying the oilfields and armament factories while our fighter squadrons won the air war. At the start of WW II, Germany had 28,500 pilots. Only 1,351 Luftwaffe crewmen survived. And Germany’s ground support system was virtually destroyed.

As the war in Europe neared its end and the Russians were moving in, the mission of the 15th Air Force became one of bringing POWs home.

When Judge Fraiser’s tour of active duty ended, he came home with enough credit hours to be admitted directly into law school at Ole Miss and launch his lifetime career in law and politics.

Our thanks to Judge Fraiser for sharing some of his interesting and memorable WW II experiences.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Keith Remy for covering the May 13 and 20 meetings.

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