After his first mission over Germany as a navigator aboard a B-17 bomber during World War II, 1st Lt. Ray Griffith of Lake Suzy, Fla. wrote in a pocket notebook he carried during the war: ‘I’m not going to survive my tour.'”
He did survive, but his plane was almost shot down four times over German territory.
They flew to Ludwigshaven, Germany, on their first mission aboard a bomber called “Miss America” piloted by 1st. Lt. Al Pillod. Their bomber took off at 7:15 a.m. It was part of the 325th Squadron of the 92nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.
“When I saw all the flak I had to fly through, I knew there was no way I would survive. Besides the black bursts from the 88s and the gray-white bursts of the 105s (anti-aircraft guns) there were brilliant red bursts. We learned later the red red bursts were signals the German fighters were gonna attack,” the 78-year-old local man said.
On that first bombing run, Art Weir, his bombardier, was hit in the hand with a piece of flak.
“When he told me he was hit, I pulled his glove off. It was full of blood. I grabbed the first aid kit and opened it. There were only a couple of packs of sulfur powder in the kit. I poured the powder over his bleeding fingers and stuck the envelope the powder came in over his injured hand. That was all I could do for him,” he said.
Because they were flying at 25,000 feet, it was 60 degrees below zero inside the bomber. The blood from Weir’s injured fingers coagulated quickly. The cold also deadened the pain.
When they returned to England seven hours later and checked their bomber over they found 47 holes in the plane. The damage was mostly from German anti-aircraft guns.
The toughest raids for Griffith and his crew were the five over Merseberg, Germany, and the one they flew over Berlin. Their target at Merseberg was the Luna Oil Refinery. It was protected by many anti-aircraft guns and lots of fighter planes.
“On our first raid over Merseberg, enemy fighters hit our low squadron of 12 bombers and downed 10 of them,” Griffith said. “We were flying in the high squadron. Three days later they hit the high squadron. Ten more of our bombers went down. We were in the low squadron.
“The fighters would come in high, three and four abreast with their cannons firing — Focke-Wulf 190s and Messerschmitt-109s. Our bombers fell from the sky or exploded.
“On one of our runs over Merseberg we had just come off the target when a shell exploded underneath our wing and flipped us completely over. We started down in a spin at 25,000 feet with two engines out. Our third engine was running away.
“Our pilot finally got us out of the spin, but we were still in a dive. At 11,000 feet, he brought us around,” he said. “There we were flying on one good engine with the second one running wild and two out. We didn’t know if the engine that was running wild was going to throw its prop. He got the prop feathered and keep the engine going.”
A lone B-17 bomber flying at 11,000 feet over enemy territory was a sitting duck for German fighters. They escaped that time with the help of a friendly fighter.
“It wasn’t long before a P-51 Mustang showed up,” Griffith said. “He dropped his landing gear and flaps to slow his air speed. He flew right on our wing tip all the way out to the coast. Then he peeled off and we made it back to base.”
On a bomb run over Berlin, Griffith was flying as group lead navigator for his squadron aboard “Little Runt,” the lead plane with Lt. Col. Al Cox at the controls.
“Just as we started our bomb run, a shell went through our wing and knocked out both engines,” he said. “The pilot and the co-pilot flew the rest of the run on two engines.
“Standard procedure after you made the bomb run was to make a left turn and go into a 2,000-foot dive to get out of there as fast as we could. We did that, but we couldn’t pull out of our dive.
“Our B-17 went down 4,000 feet, then 6,000 feet and we still couldn’t pull up,” Griffith said. “Our pilot called in and told ’em we probably weren’t gonna make it. Finally, at 10,000 feet, he was able to pull it out of the dive.”
All 10 aboard his bomber made it back to base in England once more. They flew on two engines and a wing and a prayer.
Through all 35 missions Griffith carried a New Testament he received while in gunnery school at Panama City. It had a brass cover on it with an inscription that read: “May this keep you safe from harm.”
He would read his Bible in the latrine before every mission. It was the only place that had a light to read by.
“About my third mission, Al, our pilot, came in and said a friend of mine had been killed. We palled around together all the time,” Griffith said.
“‘A shell blew his head off, so he didn’t know what hit him,’ Al said. “I couldn’t sleep all night. I made up my mind after that I wasn’t going to get close to anybody else.”
Things were so rough flying missions over Germany in late 1944 and early ’45 Griffith walked into his pilot’s Quonset hut and found Pillod drinking shaving lotion.
“‘My God, I know things are rough over here, but they’re not that rough,’ I told him.
“‘If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it,’ he said as he handed me the bottle.
“‘Al, if you can drink it, I can drink it, too,'” Griffith said. “I took a sip and said, ‘You SOB, that’s scotch.”
They couldn’t buy scotch in England. Even if they could, they couldn’t afford it. What Griffith found out was that the pilot’s wife would buy the largest jug of shaving lotion she could back in the States, empty its contents, fill it up with scotch and send it to him.
After his initial raid over Germany, when he believed he would never survive, Griffith developed a more fatalistic attitude about war.
“I adopted the attitude, ‘when my number is up, that’s it,'” he said.
By his 30th mission the flights were almost unbearable. The last five he flew over Germany, in the spring of 1945, were the most tense.
“Anybody that says they weren’t scared in a situation like this, there’s something wrong with them,” Griffith observed. “I was scared every time we flew.
“I never prayed to be saved. I prayed that if it was my time, I’d die quickly.”
Name: Raymond S. Griffith
D.O.B.: 4 July 1924
D.O.D.: 20 July 2006
Hometown: Pittsburg, Pa.
Currently: Lake Suzy, Fla.
Entered Service: 7 Dec. 1942
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross, European Theater Medal with four battle stars, Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters and the World War II Victory Medal. He was 20 years old.
The citation that accompanies his Distinguished Flying Cross reads:
“For extraordinary achievement while serving as a navigator of a B-17 airplane on bombing missions over enemy territory on 27 Sept. 1944, 30 Nov. 1944, 24 Feb. 1945 and 18 March 1945. On these occasions Capt. Griffith exhibited confident skill, attention to detail and execution of his assigned task. His navigation proficiency … contributed materially to the successful bombardment of enemy installations. The courage, coolness and skill displayed by Capt. Griffith in these operations reflects the highest credit upon himself and the Air Force of the United States.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 14, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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Raymond S. Griffith
Raymond S. Griffith, 82, Lake Suzy, died July 20, 2006. He was born July 4, 1924, in Russellton, Pa.
He served in the cadet program of the Army Air Forces, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant along with his navigator’s wings in 1944. He was a captain at 20, completing 35 heavy bomber raids over France and Germany. He was the recipient of the European Theater Ribbon with four battle stars and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He received his discharge from the Air Force as a major.
He attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Melon in Pittsburgh). He earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1950. He maintained an architectural practice for 38 years with registrations in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and Florida and a certificate with the National Council of Agricultural Registration Boards. He was a squadron commander and then a group commander of Southwest Florida Civil Air Patrol with the rank of lieutenant colonel, held a single and multiengine private pilot’s license, and served on the Charlotte County Commission from 1972 to 1976.
He was past Potentate and charter member of the Araba Shriners in Fort Myers, past president of the Florida Shrine Association and past president of Southeastern Shrine Association.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Betty; children Barbara Taylor of Worthington, Ohio, Mary Perl of Mobile, Ala., and Janet Wagner of Covington, La.; twin brother Richard of Amherst, N.H.; a sister, Ruth Simpson of Washington, Pa.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday and from 10 a.m. to noon Monday at Roberson Funeral Home, Port Charlotte Chapel, with services following at noon. Military graveside services will follow in Restlawn Memorial Gardens in Port Charlotte. Paul Schelm Funeral Home, Port Charlotte Chapel, is in charge.
Memorial donations may be made to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, c/o Araba Shrine, 2010 Hanson St., Fort Myers, FL 33901.
Published in Sarasota Herald Tribune on July 22, 2006
– See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/heraldtribune/obituary.aspx?n=raymond-s-griffith&pid=86246724#sthash.7g3jZgas.dpuf
Architect left his indelible mark on Punta Gorda
By Kristen Kridel
Sarasota Herald Tribune
July 23, 2006
LAKE SUZY – Raymond S. Griffith handpicked Punta Gorda as the new home for his family in 1958, thinking he could make his mark on the small Gulf Coast town.
He was right.
Griffith, an architect who served one term on the Charlotte County Commission, designed the Charlotte County Memorial Auditorium, First Presbyterian Church on Harvey Street in Punta Gorda, and numerous other churches, condominiums, office buildings, club buildings, fraternal lodges, strip malls and civic buildings.
The longtime resident of Charlotte County died July 20, 2006. He was 82.
“When he brought us here, there was nothing here,” said Barbara Taylor, the eldest of Griffith’s three daughters “But he saw the potential in it.”
Griffith, his wife Betty and their three girls had moved to Punta Gorda from Pennsylvania.
Grifith, who ran an architectural practice for 38 years, was elected to the County Commission in 1972.
Griffith joined a board of five first-time commissioners right as the country was in the midst of transition, said Robert She’d, a former Punta Gorda city councilman on the County Commission.
Charlotte was developing rapidly in the early ’70s and the commission created the country’s first planning board.
“I think, the way all of us did, he just wanted to participate,” Shedd said.
Griffith joined every organization he could, said his daughter, Taylor.
He served as a group commander of the Southwest Florida Civil Air Patrol, and was a member of the Masons, Elks Lodge, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Reserve Officers Association.
But he was most dedicated to the Shriners, and organization that helps burned and disabled children, Taylor said. Griffith had a granddaughter with cerebral palsy.
He was a potentate and charter member of the Araba Shrine in Fort Myers, president of the Florida Shrine Associatin and president of the Southeastern Shrine Association.
“It was a passion for him,” Taylor said. “He couldn’t idle by. He wasn’t a person to sit around and go play golf. He had to keep busy.”
Taylor said Griffith spent his life trying to learn and gain as many experiences as he could.
Griffith and his twin brother were born in 1924 in Russelltown, Pa. He enlisted in the cadet program of the Army Air Forces in 1942. At 19, he received his commission as a second lieutenant and his navigator’s wings.
Griffith ws assigned to a bomber crew in 1944. At 20, he became a captain and completed 25 heavy bomber raids over France and Germany. He received the European Theater Ribbon with four battle stars, the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Griffith remembered the details of the raids vividly, Taylor said.
“It was a very big part of his life,” she said. “Because he went in so young, it affected him very deeply.”
When he left the service in 1945, Griffith went to Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburg. He was married in 1946 and got his bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1950.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Betty; daughters Barbara Taylor of Worthington, Ohio; Mary Perl of Mobile, Ala.; and Janet Wagner of Covington, La.; twin brother Richard of Amherst, N.H.; sister Ruth Simpson of Washington, Pa.; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Griffith was preceded in death by two brothers, Wilbur and Carl.
Visitation will be held today from 3 to 6 p.m. and Monday from 10 a.m. to noon at Roberson Funeral Home, 2151 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte. Funeral services will begin at noon Monday. Military graveside services will follow at Restlawn Memorial Gardens in Port Charlotte.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Shriners Hospital for Children, c/o Araba Shrine, 2010 Hanson Street, Fort Myers, Fla. 33901.
Friends can sign the guest book and send condolences by visiting http://www.robersonfh.com