Standing room only at the American Legion for presentation by Dwight Stevens

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dwight Stevens, WW II bomber pilor
Text and photos by Jerry Pickard

On Tuesday, March 7, 2017 The American Legion Post 227 welcomed Dwight Stevens to relate his combat experiences as a Pilot in the 8th Army Air Force flying B-17 heavy bombers throughout Europe and Russia.

Flying out of England to targets from the Baltic to Poland to Italy, they sometimes dropped bombs and sometimes supplies to allies.

He was interested in becoming a pilot as he had listened to the Jimmy Allen Flying Club on the radio as a kid and had sent in enough cereal box tops to earn his "wings".

The war was raging in Europe, so while Dwight was still in High School he joined the Washington State Guard.

It was a volunteer organization with no pay, just uniforms and drills. He was assigned to the 4th Washington Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a Private First Class. 

In 1942, seventeen year old Dwight graduated from West Seattle High School and attended summer quarter 1942 at the University of Washington.

He was dating his high school sweetheart, Helen, who also attended West Seattle High School.

On December 7th 1941 he was helping his neighbor build a fence when Helen walked three miles from her home to where Dwight was working and told him that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japan and we were at war.

On September 9, 1942 Dwight joined the United States Army as an Aviation Cadet and was promptly sent home for three months as the Flight Schools were all full. He got orders in December to begin Army Basic Training. His parents and friends all gathered at the train station to wish him goodbye.

After completing Army Basic training he was sent to Basic Flight School, which was no flying, just Ground School. After completing Basic Flight School Dwight was assigned to Primary Flight School just north of Phoenix, Arizona at what is now the Scottsdale Airport.

After 4.2 hours of instruction in an AT-6 Trainer Dwight soloed and almost was washed out as he had a hard landing. He was told to go back up and do it again. He did much better on the second try.

Over 100 people came to hear Dwight speak

He got a new instructor who grilled him on his solo flight and after Dwight explained that he had followed instructions from his previous instructor went up with Dwight to re-enact what Dwight had done.

The new instructor also crashed the AT-6 on landing. Dwight got a pass on his check ride. He flew 200 hours to complete Primary school.

Dwight was sent to Luke Field west of Phoenix for Advanced Flight Training. There he learned about the engines and fuselage of aircraft with lots more stick time. After completing Advanced Training the Army assigned him to be a bomber pilot. He was sent to B-17 school in Yuma, Arizona. He was assigned and qualified to be a B-17 Co-Pilot. He met his Command Pilot Paul Fiess who was also from Washington, and the rest of his training flight crew.

They spent ten days in Salt Lake City learning to fly as a crew and then spent three months at Ardmore, Oklahoma in training flights. After completing training at Ardmore they flew to Florida for live fire Gunnery training, shooting towed targets in the Gulf of Mexico. They then continued on to Kearny, Nebraska where they completed their training and were certified as Combat Ready!

He and his crew boarded a train to ride to their embarkation point in New York City. They traveled up through Canada and then east and reentered the U.S. at Buffalo, New York. From Buffalo they traveled down to New York City.

To their delight they were housed in a hotel six blocks from Times Square. They spent the next six nights checking out the night life in NYC.

They had to check for orders every morning by 06:30am at the hotel. On day six Dwight was informed that his orders to his Duty Assignment had come and he was to collect his belongings and board a bus for the airport. They flew from NYC to Stephenville, Newfoundland where they stopped to refuel the plane.

Dwight was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by Post Commander White. 


While waiting for the plane to be refueled they were approached by some kids who were selling cooked lobsters for $1.00 each. Everyone bought a lobster and then reboarded the plane. The passengers clustered to the back of the plane and shortly after takeoff the pilot came back and made many of them move forward as they were past the center of gravity making the plane tail heavy. They then shared their lobsters with the flight crew.

After departing Stephenville, Newfoundland they flew to Prestwick, Scotland. There they had to exchange their U.S. Money for Military script.

While in Prestwick they had to run to a bomb shelter as a German plane was flying over. It was determined to be throwing out propaganda leaflets trying to get allied forces to not resist in combat.

From Prestwick, Scotland they flew to Stow, England where they were assigned to St 119 at Horham, England with the 95th Bomb Group. 

At St 119 they learned to take off in groups of four. They took off in the dark with no navigation lights and after climbout flew in formation out over the Channel. They had to unlearn stateside training and learn to fly formation at six foot intervals which made it much harder for German fighters to penetrate the formations.

After perfecting their formation flying they were ready for combat. They were awakened at 02:00am for a bombing run to Munich, Germany. The Germans had prepared for the bombers by setting their anti-aircraft guns in a box around the town so the bombers had to fly through the guns to get to their targets.

Out of a flight of 200 aircraft they only lost three or four on their first run.

Those aircraft that were too heavily damaged to return to England were authorized to fly to Switzerland which was a neutral country. They were told that there were two lakes that they had to cross to reach Switzerland, The first lake was still in Germany so don't land there! Dwight's plane got thru the bombing run undamaged and returned to their base in England.

One morning they checked the assignment board and found that they weren't on it. They inquired and were informed that they had a "special mission". They were to fly General Keller and his staff to Russia for a meeting. General Keller and staff arrived at Dwight's plane and General Keller chose Dwight to be his co-pilot and sent Command Pilot Paul Fiess back to the rear and climbed into the left seat to fly the plane. He told Dwight that they were flying to Russia.

Dwight told the General that they only had enough fuel to reach Russia. The General told him not to worry as it was a one way trip with destination Poultava, Ukraine. Dwight found it was too cold to sleep that night and he was miserable all night.

The next day their plane was strafed by a German plane, leaving sixty holes in the fuselage.

They patched the holes with tape for a temporary fix. They ended up flying to Italy on the way home and the patches came off one by one as they flew along. The plane grew quite noisy with the wind whistling through. While in Italy the holes were correctly patched with metal so the final leg of the trip was much quieter.

As they neared England they saw the channel was covered in more than 1200 ships. The D-Day invasion was under way.

During the Battle Of The Bulge his squadron was ordered to bomb a Panzer Division in France. Normally the B-17's flew at or above 24,000 feet to get above the anti-aircraft fire. On this mission they were ordered to fly at 10,000 feet.

While on their bomb run, Dwight's plane was hit in the left wing, knocking out one of the engines and severing oil and fuel lines. The severed fuel lines drained the left tanks, causing the other left engine to die and the were in a fight for life. They gradually lost altitude on the way back to England and were down to 500 feet when they neared their field. Lots of alcohol was consumed that night.

When Dwight completed his required twenty missions he asked when he would be going home. He was informed that the mission requirements had changed to thirty missions and was later requirements were changed to thirty five.

The war in Europe ended and Dwight was finally given his orders to go home. He was ordered to travel by convoy on the ship Santa Rosa which had been a Banana boat prior to the war. The Santa Rosa was to be the lead ship in the convoy but could go no faster than the slowest ship in the convoy. 

The ship carried six hundred wounded Paratroopers and and twenty eight men rotating home. The ship departed Swansea, Wales and headed through the North Atlantic in December. It was a rough crossing. The ship arrived in Boston Harbor seventeen days later on December 27th. They had missed Christmas by two days but had gotten the best Christmas gift of all, a trip home!

updated 3-23-2017

1 comments:

Anonymous,  March 16, 2017 at 4:54 AM  

My father, Fred Rosenzweig, was also a pilot with the 95th Bomb Group, stationed in Horham. He flew 35 missions beginning October 26, 1944, and ending March 17, 1945. His stories, and those of so many veterans that we have met at 95th BG, are as remarkable as Dwight's. We will be going to Horham, England, again in April for another reunion of the 95th BG veterans and friends at the restored non-com officers' club (Red Feather Club) at Station 119. Thanks to Dwight Stevens and all the veterans who served our country so well.

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