487th Bomb Squadron
B-25 Pilot Charles M. Cook
Edited by his son Doug Cook.Comments and corrections welcome.
I was sent to Fort Sheridan,
Illinois for indoctrination and clothing. I was at
Life was miserable in this unit. Everyone was discontented, including the officers. The food was terrible; in fact we pulled a strike and would not fall out for reveille. The Captain was really flabbergasted. He finally got us in formation about the middle of the afternoon and asked us what was wrong. Everyone complained about the food. He asked if any cooks had come with us. Two volunteered to cook, of which one was a mechanic. The next morning the mess hall was spic and span and we had a nice meal of bacon and eggs. That night we had pie for dessert which I never expected in the Army. This took care of the food problem, but the personnel discontent was still there. Everyone was trying to get out. The Colonel was not cooperative because he wanted to keep his unit at full strength to go overseas.
Since my brother Orrin had been accepted for pilot training I decided to try. [ Orrin V. Cook became a B-25 pilot assigned to the Pacific Theater with the 345th BG 500th Squadron at Port Moresby, New Guinea. He met with tragedy on his third mission when he was hit by anti-aircraft fire over the Japanese held base at Wewak, New Guinea. A 75mm AA round took off two of his fingers and ripped through his cheek and nose. Thankfully he survived and was out of action.] I started to get my credentials together. We moved to San Louis Obispo in California in preparation to go overseas, but I still kept trying. After I got all my papers together I was held up by the Colonel who did not want to loose any of his unit. I knew that the air force had priority and had a confrontation with the Colonel. The Adjutant agreed with me and convinced the Colonel he had no right to hold up my application. In a fit of anger he approved my application. I spread the news to the other men and there was a flood of applications for Air Force and Officer Training.
Before I had
all my tests completed we moved to Fort Ord, California to prepare for shipping out for overseas duty.
As it turned out I passed the physical
exam one morning, wrecked my motorcycle that afternoon and ended up in the
hospital. The next morning the unit got orders to go overseas. I stayed
in the hospital until my wrist was healed and was then assigned to a replacement unit where I pulled guard duty
until I was called to the Air Corps.
My next move
was to Charles Cook
learning to fly a Stearman .
Charles Cook learning to fly a Stearman .
After two months here we moved on to basic training at Merced Army Air Base at Ontario, California. Here we flew a BT-13A which was a low wing closed cockpit plane. We learned to fly cross country, formation, and night flying.
I graduated as a Second Lieutenant on July 28, 1943. 1 had asked to fly B-25s and I was lucky enough to get my choice. From Yuma I was assigned to the Sacramento Army Air Base at Sacramento, California, which was a transition school to learn to fly the B-25. The training was the same as in advance except it was in a combat plane. From Sacramento I was sent to the Columbia Army Air Base at Columbia, South Carolina, where I was assigned a crew. My training was to be in a B-25G. This plane carried a 75 mm cannon in its nose, therefore, I did not have a bombardier or co-pilot. The plane had only one set of controls and the navigator sat in the co-pilots seat. His duties included loading the cannon. We trained together for several months.
From Columbia we were sent to Savannah, Georgia, to prepare for overseas and to get our assignment for theatre of war. I was assigned to Southern Europe. From Savannah we went to Newport News and boarded a ship on which we spent nine days and landed at Casablanca in Africa. After a few days at Casablanca we were flown to a replacement depot somewhere in Northern Africa. I have forgotten where this was.
From here I was assigned to the [57th Bomb Wing- 340th Bomb Group] 487th Bombardment Squadron at Guado (Paestem) Italy. It had been at Pompeii but Mount Vesuvius erupted ruining the field and all the planes. They received new planes from the replacement depot in Africa and moved in with another group at Paestem.
[The eruption of Vesuvius of 1944
occurs shortly after the arrival in Naples of the allied forces in World War
II. The eruption caught by surprise the military and destroyed the air force
planes stationed in the
The only thing the men already over there could talk about was how rough it was flying over the Anzio beachhead. [Attacks on Monte Cassino on 17th January, 1944 resulted in the Germans reserves moving to the Gustav Line and on 22nd January the 6th Corps landed at Anzio. Lucas decided not to push straight away to the Alban Hills. This enabled General Heinrich Vietinghoff to order the 14th Army to return to the area and contain the 6th Corps on the Anzio bridgehead. General Mackensen counterattacked on 15th February 1944 but this was halted by the American troops. Winston Churchill was furious with Lucas and commented "I had hoped that we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale." General George Marshall accepted the criticism and Lucas was replaced by General Lucian Truscott. On 18th May, 1944, Allied troops led by General Wladyslaw Anders (Polish Corps) and General Alphonse Juin (French Corps) captured Monte Cassino. This opened a corridor for Allied troops and they reached Anzio on 24th May. The German defense now disintegrated and General Mark Clark was able to take his forces direct to Rome which he liberated on 4th June, 1944. Excerpted ]
All planes in the area were called in to help the allies break out and move on into Italy. The area was covered with a low overcast, requiring the flights to fly under them to hit their targets. This made them sitting ducks for enemy anti-aircraft fire. The losses were very heavy. Even the group commander was shot down. Axis Sally of the German propaganda station report that he was taken prisoner uninjured. On my third mission we were shot up pretty badly, having 107 holes in the plane. Our radio man was the only one injured. He got a small piece of flak in his thigh, but it was only minor. He was flying again three days later.
We were only on Italian soil about six weeks when we moved to Corsica. [The 340th Bomb Group moved to Alesan, Corsica from Guado (Paestum) on April 14, 1945. The base of the 340th Bomb Group at Alesan Airfield was attacked in the early morning hours of May 13, 1944 by the German Air Force.
[This according to “Axis Sally” was in retaliation for US bomber dropping phosphorous bombs on anti-aircraft gun positions. The US began this practice where anti-aircraft flak became extremely heavy and dangerous to tactical bombing missions. The attacking German force was estimated at 20-30 planes which bombed and strafed the airbase. The attack lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Casualties were exceedingly high from the strafing, bombing, and B-25’s blowing up with full bomb loads. (Excerpted from 489th Squadron Book from Q. Kaiser) Noteworthy is that my father never mentioned this horrific incident in any of his recounts of his duty on Corsica.
1) While on a training mission off Corsica, Dad was returning to base along the coast a low altitude and noticed some local women sunbathing on the beach. He banked the B-25 around for another “close” pass and got so close to the beach that his copilot remarked, “Damn! Charlie you flew the plane right underneath those girls!”
2) On a bombing mission, the plane took flak damage and the bomb racks jammed so the bombs wouldn’t drop. He did not want to land back at base with a full bomb bay, so when over open water, he crawled back into the open bomb bay and kicked on the stuck bombs until they let loose! That one reminds me of Slim Pickens in ‘Dr. Strangelove’. Thankfully, Dad held on tight, got the bomb bay closed, and landed safely.
Also noteworthy is the way he painted a rather mundane picture of the very real danger the crews faced on each and every mission. The only crew photo he had in his collection is posted here with him in front of the B-25 “McKinley Jr. High.” Soon after this photo, that plane was shot down by German flak over Griciliana, Italy killing the pilot and top turret and waist gunners. (The tale is well written by the surviving co-pilot Harry D. George in his book
From Corsica we could hit Southern France as well as Italy. We even flew across Italy to bomb a bridge in Yugoslavia. Bombing bridges was about the only targets we hit. We even got a citation for 63 hits in a row. The purpose of bombing bridges was to keep the German troops from getting supplies. [First Lt. Charles Cook was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while based in Corsica for his participation in the Allied “D” Day invasion of southern France. While bombing bridges in Avignon, his plane was hit by flak from German anti-aircraft guns. He managed to keep his plane on course and successfully dropped his bomb payload on target.]
We stayed on Corsica for the duration of my stay overseas. I had flown 70 missions and according to the group commander I automatically had combat fatigue. When I first arrived overseas the crews were sent home after 50 missions, before I had flown that many it was raised to 60. Before reaching 60 it was changed requiring us to fly until we had combat fatigue, whatever that is. [Note this is the “Catch-22” theme: Author Joseph Heller was in the 489th Squadron at Alesan, Corsica]
I saw enemy fighters only once. I
was leading a box of six planes on the
right side of a flight consisting of three boxes. Three ME-109s attacked the
box on the left. One was shot down and the only damage we received was one wounded tail gunner.
487th SQUADRON MISSION SHEET JAN. 20, 1945: Charles Cook now promoted to Captain is assigned as squadron lead plane 7H on a mission to hit German RR lines in Trento, Italy in the Brenner Pass. Note that plane and crew 7L did not return from the mission. Credit: Dominic Taddei.
[BRENNER PASS: Operation Bingo On 6, November 1944 the
Germans were holding the high ridges in the Northern Apennine mountains they called THE GOTHIC LINE. This defense line ran
through the mountain ranges that reached, almost unbroken, from La Spezia on
the north west coast of Italy to the City of Rimini on
the Adriactic. Near the center and behind the German lines was the important
transportation center of Bologna. Rail lines bringing war supplies from
Germany, were for the most part routed through the
weapon was the 8.8cm. Fliegerabwehrkanone, shortened to Flak. The 88 fired a 9.24KG (20.34 pound) shell to over 49,000 feet. It was coupled with the KG 40 gun director and the 41D gun laying radar. The primary defense fell to the German 5th. and 127th. Flak Regiments that manned the 366 heavy, anti-aircraft guns that were stationed from Verona, in the south, to Innsbruk, in the north with more heavy guns moved in around Ala and Rovereto. In January, 1945, flak batteries continued to increase. More guns moved into Bressanone and Verona. There were now 475 heavy guns guarding the Brenner. Some were stationed in the mountains as high as 3000 feet above sea level. One battery, west of Ala, was reported at the 4100 foot level. Anti-flak operations continued with a new twist, with a formation of three B-25 anti-flak planes leading the bombing formation, dropping chaff and white phosphorous bombs to burn the gunners and hide the formation with the smoke. Despite these efforts, of the 48 missions flown over the Brenner, 1250 sorties, that month, 39 drew flak, Two hundred and twenty four aircraft were holed and 5 lost. Excerpted from an article By Frank B. Dean, 380th., 310th.]
[Losses during the battles over the Po River Valley and Brenner Pass were high during the interdiction campaign these units conducted. The 489th BS lost 75 aircraft (three times its assigned strength) while was flying out of Alasan, Corsica, either because they didn’t return from missions or couldn’t be repaired after limping back. ] I flew home by Air Transport Command, starting from Naples, Italy. We had three day layovers at Casablanca, Dakar, Africa, Natal Brazil and up to Miami. [Arrival in Miami February 12, 1945] I went home for two weeks and then back to Santa Ana for redistribution in the training command. From here I was sent to Minter Field, at Bakersfield, California. My stay at Minter was short. They turned the field over to the Chinese and we were sent to Yuma of all places. At Yuma we were training bombardiers and navigators in radar bombing and navigation. We would fly the planes to 10,000 feet and set them on automatic pilot and let them fly to the training target and back. When back over the field we would let down and land again. I came back from overseas as a Captain and therefore, I was appointed as C.O. of a training squadron [ at Yuma, AZ] which consisted of 80 pilots and 80 students.[ Dad’s promotion must have been effective in the field before the papers got to Washington, D.C. It obviously took paperwork a long time to get to and from Washington. Charles Cook’s citation on promotion to Captain was effective September 28, 1945 and signed December 15, 1945.] The Armistice was signed while I was at Yuma and I elected to get out of the service and was sent back to Fort Sheridan for discharge and was released in September, 1945.
Charles Merle Cook was born on March 17, 1918 in a farmhouse in Alexis, Illinois to Edward (born circa 1865 died circa 1955) and Fanny (McCaw) Cook. He was number 14 of 15 children. After his service in WWII, Charles Cook and Bonnie Rahn met in June, 1945 and were married November 11, 1945. Then Dad went to college on the G.I. bill at Augustana College and graduated from University of Illinois (Champagne) with a BS in Ceramic Engineering (circa 1950). Charles was the first in his family to graduate from college. He first worked for Frigidaire in Clyde, Ohio, then Whirlpool in Clyde, Ohio. While he and Mom lived in a 28 foot trailer, he built a house in Miamisburg, Ohio with Al Siska’s help. All three children were born in Ohio (Karen Sue- July 6, 1951; Gregory Charles- July 13, 1953; Douglas John- March 25, 1955). In 1957, we moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan where Dad worked for Whirlpool for 18 years. In 1975, Dad and Mom moved to Rock Spring, GA where Dad worked for Roper until retirement in 1983. He was fond of fishing, gardening, and engineering projects to enhance their home. Charles Merle Cook died on March 25, 1994 in Ft. Oglethorpe, GA. He is buried in the Chattanooga, TN National Cemetery (Site RR 434) with a headstone citation of his war service record.