38BG Stories From The Front
Death on graduation day at Greenville, Army Air Base was indeed a tragedy. TRAGEDY AT GREENVILLE
David Gunn (405th) From "Target Tarakan". Copyright, used by permission
After serving as, an instructor at Mather Field outside of Sacramento in November/December of 1943, I was ordered to report to Columbia, SC, for RTU in January, 1944. I sat around on the ground with several others, not getting even one hour for the whole month. Most of us were ordered to report to Greenville AAB in early February. We were quickly assigned to training crews and instructors and started our training schedule.
Saturdays were Post Parade day and, at Greenville, that meant there was a minimum altitude formation flyby just before the parade. On our first or second Saturday, we stood on the runway in parade formation and watched the flyby. There were four flights of three planes each, one flight following the other and just a little lower than the flight ahead.
The men in the planes were clearly visible to us standing in formation and some of them waved at the windows as they flew by. The last flight was so low that the prop wash threatened to blow the caps off of men near the line of flight.
The third flight was just at the end of the runway, perhaps a quarter mile beyond the ground formation, when the number two man lost his formation position, slid in, and chopped the tail section off his flight leader. The lead plane nosed up momentarily. Both wingmen of the fourth flight saw this and immediately pulled away. The two planes nosed down and hit the fourth flight leader on their way to the ground. The midair explosion pushed the turning wing men away, almost stalling them in their turns.
A fireball erupted at the impact point just beyond the runway. Groans and cries of dismay from the formation on the ground filled the air and emergency vehicles raced by us with sirens screaming. The parade formation was dismissed and we were ordered to return to the Ready Rooms.
None of the crewman in the new group had flown in B-25s be before except the pilots. I had about 100 more hours in B-25s that the other pilot in our training crew. Everyone was in a state of shock. I gathered our training crew around me and told them, "What you saw was strictly a human error. Don't blame it on the plane." None of the men in our crew chose to ask for a transfer but an unusually large number of men in that training class did. Too soon these men had seen portents of combat fatalities, eighteen men in a few brief moments.
The six of us hung together and eventually wound up with the 405° in July of 1944. My radio man, John Apetz, was transferred to the 345th BG shortly after we reached Nadzab. After I flew a few missions as copilot, the remaining five flew several missions together with various radio operators.. We all eventually returned to the States in 1945.