The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

 
 

By Larry Nelson
For The Sun-Telegraph 

Veteran's History Project: William P. Tracy Jr.

 

William P. Tracy Jr.

Sergeant First Class

U.S. Army-Air Corp

World War II

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Sidney, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

William "Bill: Tracy Jr. was twenty one yrs old when the Selective Service System caught up with him. There was a war goin' on and they wanted him in it. He was a young man trying to find his was in Alaska and Washington State when he was notified by his draft board in northern Colorado.

In May 1943, Bill was at Fort Logan, Colo., passing a physical examination and taking other tests to find out what he was best at. He told his reviewers that he was most interested in flying or being a bombardier or a gunner. In very short order, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps and headed to Omaha for training. The training base was Offutt Field. After a brief piece of basic training, Bill was sent on to Wayne for more flight training.

Bill flew enough that he completed the solo flight requirement. As part of the flight training, Bill was interviewed by a psychologist at the training facility in Wayne. The psychologist was able to get under Bill's skin just enough to rile him up and lose control. As a result, the psychologist urged the military to reconsider Bill and marked him "grounded" in his personnel file.

Bill was returned to Fort Logan to find out what was next in his military career. When he was interviewed by an Army Master Sergeant (MSG), the MSG noticed that Bill had been grounded. He asked Bill what he wanted to do. Bill told him that he wanted to fly... so the MSG crossed out "grounded" and replaced it with "gunner."

Next on the schedule was gunnery school. There was training in Florida and on the island of Cuba as well. He enjoyed the sights there of the kids playing as well as appreciating how much the women could carry on top of their heads.

The training included in-flight training on B-17s and B-24s where shooting the 50 caliber machine guns was laid on. While going to school, he was required to be more than familiar with various weapons including the 1911 handgun, the M-2 50 cal machine gun, the 20mm anti-aircraft gun plus the turrets and the bomb bay parts. The gunners had to disassemble and re-assemble each of the weapons either blind-folded or in darkness. Lots of concentration and practice...because chances were that one would have to do this in wartime.

Once the training was over, Bill and others were sent on to California by train. The stop was near San Francisco. He has been training with a group of nine others which became a team or their "crew." After nearly seventy years, Bill could name seven of the crew members including the short guy who was the tail gunner. Their assignment was for the units of the 20th Army Air Corps to fly to Guam and fly bombing missions over Japan.

On Guam, the men lived in Quonset buildings. They had a mess hall. No P-38 can openers. The food was decent. The men would have a mission briefing for their next flight and then execute it. Bill knew of instances when planes would have to ditch in the ocean. If it was sure to happen, nearby submarine assets could be notified and try to rescue the downed crew. The bombs dropped were incendiary ones.

On night flights, things were scarier. There were lots of friendly aircraft in the air, flying in formation. Bill didn't care so much for this because too much bad stuff could happen. Bill thought he was on about 30 missions.

When on some of their missions, their plane was attacked by enemy aircraft. The top gunner (Bill) could control the fire of the other guns as well as his own. His guns were twin set-ups of the 50 cal machine gun. (Four 50s!)

There were instances when US Paratroopers were in the air, parachuting into combat when the Japanese Zero pilots would see the soldiers in the air and open fire on them. Bill's crew witnessed some of this and radioed the pilot. Their B-29 was faster than the zero but not as maneuverable. The pilot could catch up with the Zero. As the zero tried to pull out of the way, it flank became vulnerable to the crew's machine guns! "Bingo!" The airborne units bought the beer then next time!

The prior training for Bill did pay off. During one of the flights from Guam to Japan, the pilot notified the radioman that there was a 500 pound bomb that was stuck in the bomb bay. He wanted the radioman to take care of the problem. The engineer didn't know what to do. Bill Tracy did. He was monitoring the radio traffic and butted in to tell the pilot that he could handle the situation. Bill moved from his top turret position to the lower bomb bay and assessed the matter. He figured out which mechanism to release and how to do it. In a matter of moments, the bomb was dropped into the ocean. As they would say in today's language, "it's all good!" Without Bill's assistance, the plane wouldn't have been able to land. This heroic action resulted in Bill being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On their off time, the men would entertain themselves in various ways. Once they thought they would try to catch a large lizard. It was about six feet or more long. It was on their runway. Bill got on the front of the Jeep and intended to jump on the lizard. When it came time, he was glad to have missed the grab because he saw the critter's teeth and scales and knew he could have been seriously hurt. The men had to be very careful with what they said around local national people. The tail gunner of their crew liked to gamble and borrowed money from Bill. There was no opportunity to go home on leave.

Bill kept in touch with family/home by writing letters. The guys were entertained by a few USO troupes. Along the way, Bill was promoted ahead of time and the others. Bill thought his time in Guam made him feel blessed because he didn't have to be involved in the heavy fighting like that in Europe. He frequently heard the voice of the silky, sultry Tokyo Rose. Her voice was able to be heard on the Armed Forces Network. "yikes!"

In August, 1945, while the 20th Air Force was at Guam, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Afterwards, Bill's crew did get an opportunity to go look at the damage. It was a remarkable sight of utter destruction.

At some point it was time to re-deploy to the United States. On Nov. 2, 1945, the B-29s were flown towards home. It finally landed at the aircraft facility near San Francisco. Bill processed out, receiving his back pay.

Once he was discharged, Bill tried to keep in touch with many of his crew-mates. He has since outlived most of them. Bill earned several awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal (3x), the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Award, Good Conduct Medal, the American Theater Award and the Victory medal. The right side of his uniform featured the "ruptured duck".

Bill made his home in the Fort Collins, Colorado area and raised nine children there.

Good job, Tech Sergeant Bill Tracy! Thank you for your service!

 

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