INTEVIEWS with SGT. FRANK DANCEY
Bomb Group, 414th Bomb Squad, North Africa and
Col. Hank Tillman, Sgt. Frank Dancey, and author David Shelby at 97th BG Reunion ca. 2006
Sgt. Frank Dancey flew 50 combat missions as a ball turret gunner and all but one with Col. Hank Tillman, Jr. as pilot.
Frank Dancey -
August 3, 2006, March
3, 2007, Sept. 29, 2007 and other dates
I described Doug Cook’s website again and then asked and received permission from Frank to post his memories and photos on Doug Cook’s website.
After inquiring if I could ask questions about the experiences that Frank had during the war he said “Yeah sure go ahead. I don’t have anything to hide”.
Training and shipping overseas prior to going to
I asked Frank about how superstitious they were.
For good luck Frank carried a tiny skeleton head, a little metal frog and a coin with a hole drilled in it. Some of these things were given to him by friends or family before he went overseas.
On June 11, 1943 Hank
Tillman and Frank Dancey and crew flew from
June 13th from Puerto Rico
June 14th from British
June 15th from
Each individual bomb painted on the ship indicated a bombing mission accomplished. “There were maybe one or two guys that would paint the bombs on each plane. The ground crew would come over and see if the planes got back all right and then they would start putting the bombs on it for every mission. The pilot would fill out a slip for the mission saying what was wrong or if we had flak holes in the wing and report if anything had been damaged on the plane. The guys would see it anyway. They worked hard. Often they would work all night to get the planes ready for the next day. The ground crews were the unsung heroes. ”
described six Airmen that were poisoned by formaldehyde when going out to eat
When you flew over the med would you have rafts on board or lifejackets in case your plane went down?
Yes, rafts and life
vests. “We had May West’s, they were
life preservers. Each man had one of
them. How you used it was that each side
had this string that you had to pull.
We had life rafts that were in the plane over each wing. If you had to make a water landing, in the
top of the radio room there were two releases like a pull start on a lawnmower
and when you stopped in the water you would pull these handles and right away
over each wing a compartment would open and the life rafts would start to
inflate automatically. I radioed back
the position of a downed B17 in the Med so that they could be picked up. One time flak came up through the
“One time my heated suit went out, it malfunctioned. Just out of the clear blue sky. I don’t know whether it was old or what. I was just freezing to death. I was in the turret when it went out. It was so cold. (short pause as Frank thought about that cold – it was as if the chill passed from him to me). I kept knocking my knees and ankles together to stay warm and keep the circulation going.
Did you bother to report what was happening back there, that you are freezing you butt off, to Col. Hank?
“No, you just have to keep going. I turned the bad heated suit in to supply and they gave me another one”.
Can you think of anything else humorous that happened during a mission?
“I don’t know whether I’ve
ever told you this or not, but if you had to urinate, you got in the
Frank told Hank prior to the final 97th Bomb Group reunion that he would be there even if he had to crawl to get there!
In Constantine Algeria he enjoyed visiting the officers club.
Was there any way to know how many rounds you had fired on a mission?
We had a belt that came down to our guns, and that’s where our rounds came from. Someone told me that I had 1,400 rounds. That’s what I was told. So I had 700 rounds for each gun. My shell casings were ejected right out of the plane.
What happened to all of the spent shell casings?
The other gunners were tripping over their spent shell casings, so their cases were usually thrown out of the ship at 10,000 feet on the way back to our base.
How did each gunner monitor their ammo supply? Each gunner just had to make a guess at how many rounds he had fired. Every fifth round was a tracer so that you could see where your rounds were going.
At what point in the mission would you get in and out of the turret? Frank would be helped out of the ball turret when the pilots determined that the ship was out of danger.
What type of planes did you have as
escorts? Col. Tillman and
Frank said that they often had P-38’s.
They had the Tuskegee Airmen
as escorts on the mission in which they bombed a ball bearing factory at
Frank often did not know if his 50 caliber rounds ever hit the attacking fighters except for the time when his rounds hit one plane and a piece of the cockpit flew off. He watched as the pilot immediately made a forced landing in a field.
How many bombers went out on a mission?
If we were up front and if
we were leading, and Hank said take your positions since we were in enemy
territory, sometimes I could count the planes that went with us on a
mission. One time I counted 125. We didn’t have big missions like they had in
“Talking about crazy stuff, a crew that had a tent near mine had a dog named Flak. We didn’t fly one day and around noon Flak became excited and ran down to the spot where his crew normally parked their B17 and acted upset and strange. When we heard that Flak’s crew was knocked down, we asked the other crews what time they hit the target. The time that we were told was just about the same time that Flak became upset. It was crazy that the dog knew what was happening.”
Col. Tillman was
the wingman for Doolittle when they bombed
Major General Jimmy
Doolittle (right) Commanding General of
the Twelfth Air Force in
Imagine the thoughts going through the bomber crews minds as they have to precision bomb such a historical place! Note the Roman Coliseum at upper right.
The only enlisted man that would go to a mission briefing was the radio operator. The rest of us didn’t know where we were going until we got to the plane. When I took to the photo of Doolittle I think that we were celebrating our hundredth mission. Spatz was there as well.
“Kilroy was here” was written all over everything.
Often the bombs would stray because of miscalculation or winds and they would miss the target or hit civilian areas so many civilians were killed by the Air Corps bombs.
Frank remembers their group
buying a huge bottle of wine from a very old hunched over Italian man that
drove a cart pulled by a donkey. He
would drink the wine himself and they were told that it was all right to buy
from him. They used public baths in
After you got back to your base and got something to eat at chow time. Often there wasn’t much to do. After returning from a mission your eyes were tired from searching for fighters. You would use normal eyesight when searching for bombers, no binoculars. You were glad at night to rest your eyes. There were 6 enlisted men in each tent with a single light bulb. One time I got a spot of oil on my glass (plexiglass of turret?) and it looked like a fighter in the distance and I would start tracking it every time I moved the turret, it looked like the fighter moved and I felt like a damned fool when I found out what it was. Crazy stuff that you laugh at later on.
Robbie got ice cream once when Col. Tillman loaned him his jacket as this was normally reserved for the officers only.
They left from
Frank said that
Humphrey Bogart and Bogey’s wife were in
“After my service was over
in the war I was stationed in
I asked Frank if he thought
about the fact that other young kids were trying to kill them and that they had
to kill other young men on the opposing side.
He said, “We all thought about that a lot, but I decided that I didn't
care who I had to kill, as long as I could return to my hometown in
Frank showed me a large
stack of photos that he had shot while in training in the states and serving in
North Africa and
“During one mission their B17 was shot up very badly. Enemy rounds hit the turret and later in the mission when they attempted to get Frank out of the turret the release was jammed. Then they tried to lower the landing gear and that was stuck as well. After several attempts, the crew was able to release Frank from the turret with a crow bar and to manually wind down the landing gear. When a B17 has no landing gear and a stuck turret, the trapped Ball Turret gunner would be killed when the plane landed. Frank was raised as a faithful Catholic and made a promise to God that day that he would go to Mass every week for the rest of his life if he got out of this situation. He held up his end of the bargain and only missed several masses during the next 60 years due to illness etc.
“Sometimes the bombs would be off target, so we were very worried about hitting civilians by accident. Occasionally a bomb would hang up in the bomb bay and then release about 10 seconds too late. On one mission the target was covered over with clouds and on the way back we found what we called, a target of opportunity. The bombardier saw some railroad tracks up ahead. There were six tracks together. I could follow the bombs as they went down until they got towards the ground and I would see the explosions. They bombed the tracks alright but I swear a couple of bombs hit some houses right by there. I never felt so rotten - my God those poor people.”
Returning to the States
When we got to
What were some of the things you did when you got home?
I wasn’t married before the
war. Before I went in the service, I
Even after we returned
stateside after our tour, guys in the infantry were still worried about having
to go fight more against
We could have been called back even after flying 50 missions in the ETO if the Air Corp needed us but they were flying mostly B29’s in the Pacific. We would have had to be retrained all over again since the gun positions were all different. Time went very slow when you were in combat.
Frank Dancey told this Tractor Trailer joke at dinner on Friday night at the hotel during in October 2006 at their bomber reunion.
At a diner on an interstate highway a motorcycle gang was bothering an older guy by adding lots of salt, pepper and sugar to his food. They were pushing him around and humiliated him in front of the other customers. When the old guy left, the bikers were still laughing at all they had done to the man and saying how “He sure wasn’t much of a man for allowing us to push him around like that.” Another customer commented “Well, he’s not much a good driver either. He just backed over 3 motorcycles in the parking lot with his truck!”
Frank described a story
relating to his friend who they called “Gene the Marine” who has served in WW
II in the Pacific. Many years after the
war when Gene and Frank and some other guys were working on a
carpentry job at a shopping mall in NJ, a Japanese man came up to them
and asked directions to somewhere.
Gene’s response was “You didn’t have any trouble finding
Frank Dancey told the story about what his daughter said during a Friday night dinner at home, “How come we have to eat fish sticks every Friday night for dinner?” said Cathy. Frank replied, “We do this to remember Jesus because he died on a Friday for our sins”. “That’s true,” said Cathy “but he didn’t have to die EVERY Friday!” Frank said that he told this to some nuns that he knew and they loved this story.
After the War
Frank returned by boat to
Frank did not like to fly after the war since there were so many bad situations while doing combat duty.
He brought back his A2 jacket after the war.
Frank was given a softball jacket with his name on by a local girl’s softball team since he had helped support the team.
Frank said that he told his
friend’s at the fire house that this was his final trip for the Fireman’s
weekend and parade in
Frank knew a guy in his town for more than 30 years and then one day he found out this friend was a gunner on a B24.