October 10, 2016 Rotogram: 12

World War II: Taking Life and Death as They Come

September 26— At the age of 16, John Fraiser left Greenwood for Mississippi State College. At 17, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. At 18, he was a staff sergeant, turret gunner, and armorer aboard a B-24 Liberator flying out of San Giovanni, Italy.

In the fall of 1943, the Allied invasion of Italy from North Africa had established a foothold in what Winston Churchill called the soft underbelly of the Axis. The primary air war strategy was to weaken Germany’s ability to defend its possessions by air. Target number one was the Romanian Ploesti oil fields, producing more than a third of all Axis oil supplies.

On the first three raids, the 15th Air Force lost 1,351 crewmen, about a third of its force.

“Ours was always a strategic bombing of specific targets by day as opposed to blanket night time bombing by the RAF,” said Fraiser. “Churchill wanted the civilian population to get a taste of what was happening in England.”

With a short body and long wing span, the B-24 was nicknamed the “Flying Boxcar” or “Flying Mack Truck.” Its fabled Davis wing was made for high speed, not for landing maneuverability.

Controlled by flaps, the Liberator had a glide angle that was “right angle to the ground” said Fraiser. “Essentially, instead of landing we made a controlled crash at 110 to 120 miles per hour as the pilot cut the engines right above the ground.”

In an anecdote fit for a Joseph Heller novel, Fraiser told about a flight engineer, Fritzi. Scheduled for his 22nd mission, he broke his arm playing touch football and was grounded for weeks.

When he missed the next mission, he also missed the plane’s crash into a mountain in the fog about 60 miles north of the base. Fritz had to identify his fellow crew members and didn’t get over it. So, Fraiser’s crew invited him into their tent.

Later, flying with a crew composed of others also taken from broken units, the engineer experienced flak over northern Italy. With one engine disabled, the pilot aimed for Switzerland 50 miles to the west.

After four weeks of not hearing anything about the crew’s fate, Fraiser and his mates heard a knock at the tent door, and Fritz appeared.

He had made it to Switzerland where his plane was impounded and the crew ordered to not fly again in accord with Switzerland’s neutrality.

Although they had dumped their bombs and Norden bombsight in the mountains, the crew’s last sight of their plane was the Swiss dismantling its weapons to join the 40 other B-24s on the neutral air field.

The assistant US ambassador to Switzerland gave each crew member two months’ pay. And, after two weeks of paper work, they were sent back to their squadrons before heading to the USA on a cargo plane.

When Fraiser asked Fritz why he was wearing a jacket in warm weather, the engineer shed the coat to reveal both arms covered with Swiss watches. He certainly had enjoyed his two weeks of neutral confinement with a two-month paycheck

Fraiser said he was lucky to be assigned to the flight crew with “the best pilot in the 15th Air Force.”

The nine-member crew comprised a pilot, co-pilot, engineer/waist gunner, turret gunner/armorer, navigator/bombardier, radio man/waist gunner, ball gunner, tail gunner, and nose gunner. Each member was equipped with an oxygen mask, Mae West life vest, and flak helmet.

His 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.”

For the Record—September 26

Invocation and Pledge:                  Stu Vance

Attendance:                                          70.3%

Present — 104 (40 exempt, 1 honorary)

Absent — 78 (20 exempt, 11 honorary)

Makeups reported: Carey Hardin, Larry Mullins, Nancy Lifer and Zach Rowland.

Guests: Visiting Rotarian was Jimmy McCluskey. Member guest was Guy Hargrove of Nancy Hargrove. Guests of the club were Joshua Starr, Tom Johnson, Pepito Thelly, Sean McDonald, Elisa Malzanni, RYE student, and Alex Onken, Starkville Daily News.

Secretary of State’s Office

Sherri Bevis is responsible for external marketing with Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office.

Next Week: MSU Business Outreach

Jeffrey Rupp is director of Outreach and Corporate Engagement for the College of Business at MSU.

Meeting Notes for September 26

  • President Briar reminded members of the first-ever Rotary tailgate open to members from other clubs at the MSU-Auburn football game on October 8.
  • RYE Student of the Week Pepito Thelly was welcomed. The Starkville High junior holds a 4.0 grade-point-average, is on the robotics team and in student government, and does community service through the Casserole Kitchen ministry.

Fall Social Focused on Fun and Service

Boasting a record attendance of 134, the annual fall social on Oct. 3 featured 108 Paul Harris Fellows. Also a record number, the fellowships were a result of the club’s response to a challenge to celebrate The Rotary Foundation’s centenary.

District leaders took special note of our achievement. Guests included District Governor Amanda Fontaine, Assistant District Governor Tom Johnson, Past District Governors Barbara Travis, Paul Bucurel and Roscoe Green, District Resources Coordinator Jen Bucurel, and District Governor-elect Bill Walker and his wife, Lucy Ann. Seventy-one members hosted 50 personal guests.

There were 16 new Paul Harris Fellows. Eighteen members received Plus-one pins, four Plus-twos, one Plus-three and two Plus-fours.

Members also honored 67 family or friends with fellowships through points from previous donations.

The event’s success is due to Chair Bobby Crosland, the Fall Social Committee and the cooking team, as well as Annual Giving leaders Larry Mullins and Nellah Taylor.



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