Remembering WWII- Carl Nichols
I was 25 years old and a graduate of Fresno State when I joined the service, a civilian working as a training instructor and a coach. Six months after the war started,
the government said they didn't want any more civilians.
I was the first one from Fresno to go to Officer Candidate School. There I met a base adjutant that happened to be from Hanford, who was married to a girl that I went to school with. He said, "Carl, I have a good job coming up, how would you like to go into the Intelligence Service?" "How do I do that?" I asked. "Well, I will put in orders for you and send you there."
I wound up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was one of those schools that if you went to O.C.S. and wanted to go into Intelligence, it was a prestige thing. If you graduated in the top 10, they said they would send you anywhere you wanted. I came back to Hammer Field in Fresno for a few months after graduation, and I said I wanted to go to China. But I didn't get where I wanted to go. I was assigned to the 8th Air Force in England. I stayed in Intelligence the rest of the time.
I served under General LeMay who told us when I got my first star, "Put "em on, you didn't deserve "em, but you wear them." Then he told us that he wanted us all to go to the 100th Bomb group. He said, "There will be an alert tonight. It's top secret. Nobody knows about it yet. Since you are new here, tomorrow I want you to watch and listen to what they do, how they pull the targets out, give a number, pull a number out of the file. You go to the map board, and put it on the map."
He gave us the whole procedure of what we would do. We all went into the war room, and there was this big map at the end of the room, all considered secret, why I don't know, because all the Germans knew exactly what we were going to do. They drew a co-ordinate on the map, and one of the guys that was to be the lead pilot in the squadron that day was Jack Swartout [from Fresno]. He was a major at the time. He said to me, "How the hell are you?" And we hugged each other and talked.
He said, "Well, I'm not going to fly today," and I said, "Jack, you mean you're quitting?" He said, "Well, you can do that when you've done 25 missions." I was leading the group for the last mission we went on to Berlin. I'd done the briefing, and Jack and I had breakfast together. We hung around until the interrogation. Then we went outside to see the planes return. I looked up in the sky and saw two planes return. I said, "Jack, where are the rest of them?" Jack said, "Well, I guess they didn't make it." We had 21 that went out, and 19 didn't come back. Actually, a few more survived, but they landed on other bases. Jack said, "Now you see why I'm a major that's alive and not a Lt. Colonel that's dead. I'm going home." Another Lt. Colonel deep wing commander who lived through the attacks was Billy Connely. I knew him as a cadet at Emmet Field. He lived near me, and I wondered how he earned his rank. I yelled at him, "How'd you do it so fast?" He said, "Easy, you just have to live through it."
The worst part of the war was in 1942 - 1943. You had to do 25 missions and half of the pilots made it. After we got over there to England, we were the only group, (the 100th Bomb Group), that never lost a plane to enemy fire until one day, the enemy came into our base. They shot four of our planes down. The rest we lost to anti-aircraft fire. On V-Day, we were on a late mission, about dusk, when an enemy plane, the night fighter, came in with our formation. He just tucked in with our planes and shot them down. He actually hit six planes, and four of them crashed.
Intelligence officers were not supposed to fly, even if we were pilots. One guy snuck out and flew a mission and was gunned down. General LeMay said, "If anyone does it again, you'll be fired. I don't want anybody from Intelligence flying these planes. That's all there is to it." We had two Intelligence officers in our group.
General LeMay signed for the main targets we had: a ball-bearing factory and an airplane factory. He was a Colonel then with one star. When we were in the war room, you knew he was there. You might not see him, but you just had a feeling that the boss was around. We would get a report every day, very secret. The old man would read it and give us the co-ordinates of where the enemy airplanes were stationed.
We had one report that came in, and no one knew where this was. It was called Operation Fury. We would load up a B24 with explosives, a bomb. Another plane would fly right beside it, and guide it into a submarine. They'd drive it right up and turn, and the other one would blow up. What happened this particular day was they had the crew jump out, one with the bomb, but this time, when they turned on the switch, the other plane blew up. The next day, we got an Intelligence report that a Navy Lieutenant was killed with a copilot and crew chief. It just so happened that the plane was carrying President Kennedy's brother. No one knew it was Joe Kennedy. I don't know if they named him in the report or not at first. At that time, no one knew who Kennedy was. After a later time, to put the report together, we did come up with Joe Kennedy's name, Jack Kennedy's brother. The plane was about five miles from us when it blew up. It was a terrific blast, and of course, we knew everyone was killed.
When the war ended, they said, "We don't know what to do with you guys. Go back and stay the night. We'll see what to do with you in the morning."