Jim Dewhirst was a radio operator aboard one of the many B-24 “Liberator” bombers comprising the 467th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force flying out of Rackheath, England that was turning Germany into rubble.
“On one of our flights we were hit in the nose by flak. A piece of flak wounded our pilot in the leg end put him out of commission,” he recalled more than 70 years later. “Being the radio operator I was riding behind him when he got hit. I picked him up and laid him unconscious on the floor of the bomber. He was losing a lot of blood so I put a tourniquet on his leg which stopped most of the blood.
“At that point our copilot took over flying the bomber. It was his first time he flew by himself over enemy territory. About the same time our pilot was hit by flak one of our four engines was knocked out by flak from German anti-aircraft guns.
“Our squadron flew off and left us because we couldn’t keep up with it flying on three engines. We ended up flying all the way home at 10,000-feet which was less than half our normal bombing altitude,” Dewhirst said.
“Lucky for us we were picked up by a couple of our fighter planes who escorted us back to base. Enemy fighters didn’t have a chance to attack us,” he explained.
On their way back to base as they were crossing the English Channel the copilot decided all of the crew would bail out and would be rescued hopefully by allied ships waiting for such an eventuality. Then he would fly the B-24 back to base by himself.
“We didn’t do it because I opened my big mouth. I told the copilot I would have to bail out with the wounded pilot and pull his ripcord and I wasn’t going to do that,” Dewhurst said. “ When I made the comment the rest of the crew spoke up and said they weren’t jumping out either. All of us flew home together.
“The copilot did a great job getting us back to our base. Lt. Petit, our pilot, came to my wedding after the war. He was from North Jersey near New York City. “
During the 54 combat missions Dewhirst flew he flew three when they delivered “Jerry Cans” full of gas to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. It was stuck in France without fuel.
“Our plane was full of five-gallon gas cans. We didn’t even bring the waist gunners along. We replaced them with gas cans,” he said. “I remember on one of these flights we landed in a field in our B-24. I don’t recall where the other two places were that we landed.”
Dewhirst said he didn’t see Patton during his three gas delivery missions.
After his 54th mission he was headed home. He ended up on a hospital ship because he volunteered for an assignment.
“My job aboard ship was to watch two soldiers the doctors thought might try and commit suicide. I had to see they ate three meals a day and all they had to eat with was a spoon. I had to cut up all their food,” he recalled.
They returned safely to the USA.
“It took us three weeks to reach home because we took the southern route and on the way across the hospital ship was attacked by German submarines,” he said. “However, our destroyer escort and some of our planes kept the enemy away.
“A guy aboard ship had a shortwave radio so we listened to the Army-Navy football game that was piped into the ship’s PA system,” Dewhirst said. “It was a great game, but better than that in the middle of the game it was announced to the crowd at the stadium Congress had just passed the G.I. Bill.”
For most of the past two years he and the rest of the soldiers in the U.S. Army Air Force had been forced to wear their steel helmets whenever they were outside.
“When the hospital ship sailed into New York Harbor all the servicemen aboard ship took their helmets off and tossed them in the water,” he recalled with a smile. “A few weeks later I was discharged at Fort Devens, Mass.
“After I got home I decided I wanted to take advantage of the the G.I. Bill and go to Harvard. I went down there to sign up, but they wouldn’t take me,” he said. “They told me I would have to go to prep school first. For the next six months I went to prep school and after that I enrolled at Brown University.”
When he graduated four years later he went to work as a newspaper reporter for the Lawrence Tribune in Lawrence, Mass. He worked there a few years and eventually went to work for his uncle who owned a local funeral home. Most of his working life he ran funeral homes for his uncle or himself.
In 1986 he and his wife, Frances, came to Florida. The couple has four children: James, Ann (deceased), Pattie and Joan.
Name: James Haigh Dewhirst
D.O.B: 16 May 1924
Hometown: Lawrence, Mass.
Currently: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: 9 March 1943
Discharged: 12 Oct. 1945
Unit: 467th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force
Battles/Campaigns: European Theatre
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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