The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 10, 2013

Memories of combat: Man recounts World War II service

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Jim Dodson still remembers flying his B-17 bomber over France and Germany during World War II.

Dodson, 92, of Enid, was a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 until 1946 and flew 25 battle missions, both as co-pilot and pilot of a B-17 heavy bomber. Called the Flying Fortress, the Boeing B-17 is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft. The plane complemented the Allied effort to establish air superiority over western Europe during the war.

Dodson joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and was sent to pre-flight training in Santa Anna, Calif., then to various flight training in Glendale, Ariz., Bakersfield, Calif., and Douglas, Ariz. He was stationed in England, in a small farming community about 60 miles northeast of London. Most of his missions were over France and Germany with one especially long mission over water to Denmark to take out a German submarine just before the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive campaign near the end of the war. By the time of the Denmark mission, Dodson said his bomber group of 36 planes met little resistance.

That was not the case in the beginning, as his bombers met heavy resistance from Axis guns on their missions.

“At first, we ran into heavy resistance, heavy ground fire,” he said. During the first six missions he flew, his plane lost an engine due to fragments from ground fire. The bombers normally flew above 16,000 feet, until his final mission, a low-flying 1,800-foot anti-personnel raid to knock out German defensive positions and assist advancing ground troops.

Dodson was working in St. Louis, Mo., when he enlisted. After training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, then was sent to Rapid City, S.D., to qualify for the B-17. Then he was shipped out on a convoy ship, which landed in London. England was split into a number of bases; his was northeast of the city and one base on the cliffs of Dover.

“It was a farming community. In fact, the bunk I slept in was right against the farmer’s fence,” Dodson said. “It was a cold day in late May, and I thought I would freeze to death for a couple of days.”

As a pilot with the 379th Bomb Group, he served as co-pilot for his first six missions, then was named first pilot and promoted to first lieutenant. When the plane flew a mission, there were 36 planes together, and they all dropped their bombs at the same time so they made a pattern on the target. The main bomb group flew in the middle with six planes above and six planes flying below in the formation.

“Most of our missions, we flew south and west. We bombed bridges, railroads, and into Germany ammunition factories, ball bearing companies — anything that made rolling or moving equipment,” Dodson said.

During one mission, when Dodson still was serving as co-pilot, an ammunition fragment flew over the windshield and the firing pin assembly fell into his lap. He does not remember what he did then.

“There was flak (part of a shell burst) every mission. The worst was when it hit the left tail piece and came through and hit the pinion controlling the vertical pin,” he said. “I had to go back and get the tailgunner and bellygunner out. We had to be careful going back, but we made it.”

On one mission over the south of France, they flew above heavy cloud cover and did not think they would be seen. However, someone shot four large shells at them. Although the shooter was not their target, the flight commander immediately dropped his bombs, followed by the other planes. They had not known anything was below them, but they hit an oil dump and a fuel station. Large black clouds began rising through the air.

The pilots flew about every other day, he said. A weather plane would go up every day to see whether the visibility was good enough to fly. “Many times, we were socked in,” he said. “Once, the weather was so bad that we landed at the white cliffs of Dover to get down.” There was an airfield there, but the planes had to land in a 40 mph crosswind. All of the planes made it down safely. The plane ahead of Dodson landed in mud and had to be hauled out of the way so the other planes could land, he said.

“Everyone made it down, but that was the hardest landing I ever had to make,” he said.

The worst landing he made was his first flight as first pilot. When coming back from a mission, he overshot the runway, and had to overcorrect to get down properly. As he exited the plane, he was told the commander wanted to see him. Dodson returned to his quarters and took off his flight suit and put his uniform on. When he entered the commanders’ office, the man looked at him a while, then told him he was dismissed. “I expect I was about to get a real bawling out, but I looked like a 14-year-old kid, so he let me off,” Dodson said.

When Dodson went through his examination while entering pilot training, the Army Air Corps physician was concerned about his right ear, which had slight hearing loss. He consulted with a Navy doctor, who said if the Air Corps didn’t want him, the Navy would take him. The Air Corps doctor passed him.

His flight in the Battle of the Bulge was his last mission. Having reached 25 missions, he was sent back to the United States and kept in reserve. He regularly flew planes from the factory to St. Paul, Minn., where they had further equipping.

While in the U.S., Dodson returned to the University of Oklahoma, where he already had spent a year. He received a degree in civil engineering and worked for the Oklahoma Highway Department for 36 years before retiring in 1985. His first assignment was in southeast Oklahoma, but a year later, he was assigned to the Perry District and lived in Enid.

Dodson received the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two battle stars.