Staff Sergeant John J. Sherman
Duke Center, PA.

B-17G Ball Turret Gunner

545th Bomber Squadron, 384th Bomber Group (H), 8th Air Force
The story of a B-17 crew over the skies of Germany.
(excerpts from a memoir by Gerald F. Foretich)

Radio Operator-Gunner School, Yuma, AZ.
"I want to tell a funny little story concerning a buddy of mine while we were at Yuma. We were living in tents with all the sand, and other comforts of home, including the cold winds that seemed to blow constantly all day. If there was anything nice about this place, it was leaving it. Well, here is the story about John Sherman and I. Each morning there was a roll call after which the whole group marched in formation to the mess hall for breakfast. Well, John and I would always get on the back row of the formation and when they started marching to the mess hall via the road, John and I would drop out and run across an area that was a short cut. We were always inside and eating breakfast when the rest of the formation got there. The officer in charge of our section was a young 2nd Lieutenant who was short and on the plump side, and wore horn rimmed glasses. He was a pretty good guy and we all got along pretty good."

"I think he got wise to what John and I were doing, because one morning as we skidded around the corner of the mess hall and were about to hit the door, out stepped our Lieutenant. 'Where's your formation?' he asked. John answered, 'We missed it and were trying to catch up with it.' 'Where's your hat?' he asked John. 'It's in my pocket,' said John, reaching for the flight cap that was in his back pocket. He half-heartedly placed the cap on his head. 'Straighten up that cap mister,' said the Lieutenant. John started twisting the cap with both hands, got a disgruntled look on his face and said, 'Aw hell Lieutenant, it's too early in the morning to play soldier.' The Lieutenant started laughing and said, 'Go on in and eat' as he walked away. John and I continued to duck the formation as long as we were in Yuma, but he Lieutenant didn't bother us again.

England 1944

Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, 30 November 1944

"On Thursday, 30 November 1944 (Thanksgiving Day), and the last day of the 11th month, the Group was briefed for a mission to Central Germany. When the map on the wall was uncovered you could hear the groans from the older crews. We were going to the Merseberg area, also known as 'FLAK Alley.' This didn't sound like a milk run. It was to the the first mission for Chuck Williams, Jack Chidley, Robert Love and Rodney Penrose. It would also be the first time all of us would fly together as a crew since leaving Gulfport. On this day 1,281 allied aircraft would drop 2,872 tons of bombs on targets in Central Germany to hasten the end of history's greatest war. Fifty-six aircraft would be lost this day. Our squadron would have twelve planes and would attack a synthetic oil refinery at Zeitz, Germany. Three B-17s would not return to our base. After briefing and picking up our parachutes, the trucks drove us out to the parking area where our plane for today's mission was parked. The plane was a B-17G, Serial No. 448409. My radio call sign for the mission was TSAN."

"We took off at 09:30 and after the formation of squadrons and groups, we headed east toward Germany with Second Lieutenant M. A. Gerlach as Navigator. Lt. Gerlach was flying 'spare' as we started getting over the continent. When we flew over Brussels, Belgium, I had a clear view of the city and mentioned on the intercom what a beautiful city Brussels was from the air. As we got deeper into Germany, the flak started, rather light at first, then heavier as we neared the target area where it was very heavy. We were being bounced around a little, but nothing real bad. I had just given the Navigator our third control point as received from Allied Headquarters, when someone (Chidley I think) asked me to go to the waist and help Sgt. Love who had become sick. I took an oxygen bottle from its place on the wall of the radio room and connected it to my oxygen mask hose so I could walk back to the waist on the portable system. It was about 13:40 and we were flying at about 26,000 feet. There were dense and persistent contrails and intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire over the target."

"We had just dropped our bombs, and I was helping Love get his oxygen mask back on, when we were hit. We had received a direct hit in the gasoline tanks between engines three and four. The plane immediately burst into flames and started to go down. It was standard procedure to get the plane away from the rest of the formation in a case like this so as to not endanger the other planes. As I was not on the intercom system, I had no way of knowing what was happening up forward. I did not hear the "bail-out-bell," but I felt that the plane had been seriously damaged. I did know that we could not last long with this kind of fire. Further, I didn't know if the violent maneuvering of the plane was intentional, or, if pilots Champ and Williams had been wounded, and the plane was out of control. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind in a very few seconds. I did know that we had to get out of those flames or perish, and the only way to get out of the flameswas to bail out. Our being over the very heart of Germany never entered my mind."

When the plane first took the evasive action, I was thrown across the waist of the plane and I motioned to Love to come to me as I was at the waist door, our only way out. He didn't move, he just stood there. He did not have his oxygen mask on. I tried to open the waist door, but I couldn't get it to open. I started kicking the door in ad effort to open it, but it wouldn't budge. I was still on my "walk around" bottle and was wearing a flak suit. Every time I would get a mask full of oxygen, the weight of the bottle would pull the mask away from my face more. The flames and heat were terrific. I was thrown back toward the front of the plane twice, but managed to crawl back to the waist door. the plane was out of control now and falling in a spinning motion. Love and I were both on the floor and we were both on fire (clothing). I remember looking toward the ball-turret to see if John Sherman was coming out. I was helpless to do anything for him and the ball-turret hadn't moved. I looked toward Love again and his eyes were closed. He was a ball of fire. I knew it was too late for him and I started to just lie there too, but, as I lay there I thought: 'If I don't get out this, Mama and Daddy will never know what really happened to me.' It sounds silly now, but I think that thought really saved my life. So, with new determination I made one more effort to reach the door."

"It was almost impossible to move because the motions of the plane had me pinned to the floor. The centrifugal force was terrific. I finally reached the door and looked toward the tail section. I saw Wesley on his hands and knees at his escape hatch. I figured he was ready to bail out. I kicked at the door again, and the next thing I knew, I was falling. (I learned later that the plane had exploded and I was blown out). My parachute was hanging on only one hook because of the flak suit, and I knew that I had to get the flak suit off before I could use my parachute. About that time more flak exploded and a piece of the flak creased my forehead and blood started to cover my face. I pulled my helmet and gloves off and started to get the flak suit off. The snaps on the flak suit seemed to be jammed. My right wrist was badly burned, handicapping me. I kept struggling with the releases and after what seemed ages, the suit floated free. I knew I must be close to the ground, so, not waiting to properly hook the 'chute to the other ring, I jerked the ripcord. The 'chute didn't start coming out immediately so I started helping it by pulling on the top folds still in the pack. In another second or two the 'chute popped open on the one ring that attached it to the harness. I wondered if the stitching in the harness would hold. They did. I knew I was close to the ground now. I just didn't realize how close. Two French prisoners-of-war and their German guards that I talked to later told me that the 'chute opened about 100 meters from the ground."

"I landed in a plowed field and fell over on my face after landing. The loose dirt rubbed into my burned and bloodied face. I looked toward a small village and saw a German soldier running toward me. I looked in the other direction and saw a civilian coming towards me too. He appeared to have a farming tool, such as a pitchfork in his hand. I had heard about what some civilians did to American and British parachutist so I started toward the soldier and his rifle after unhooking my parachute. I figured I would have a better chance with him. As we got closer to each other he asked me, by motions, if I had a gun. I shook my head to indicate a negative. He took me to the village and a woman brought me a glass of water and gave the soldier a peice of white cloth which he wrapped around my head and face."

"It was at Zippzendorf that I learned what had happened to Wesley. A French POW came in the next day and told me that he had seen the plane come down in three pieces. It was confirmed later that the plane had exploded and broke into three pieces, the wing section, the tail, and the waist section. The French POW said that he and his guard were looking at the pieces of the plane when they heard a moan coming from the tail section. They went over and pulled a young fellow out and brought him to the village where I had seen him the first night being a captive. Later, Wesley came out of it and when I asked if he remembered what happened, he said he didn't even remember our being hit by flak. I believe that flak had damaged the oxygen system a short time before we received the direct hit. This would explain in part, why Love had gotten sick, lack of oxygen. If the Frenchman is correct, and everything tends to prove that he is, Wesley fell about 25,000 feet in that tail section and come out of it with a cut in his left eyebrow, and being knocked out for about two days. I must have fallen close to that distance before I could get my 'chute to open."

"Three for four days after we reached Zippzendorf, I heard from one of the Frenchmen that the bodies of the rest of our crew were still lying on the ground in the area where the plane came down. He said that one of the men had bailed out but a piece of flak had struck him in the head, and his body was some distance from the others. I asked Dr. Chennet (a French POW) to see what he could do about a burial for the men. Later he hold me that they were buried --- six men in one plot, and the one that was killed after bailing out, is in a plot between a British and Canadian flyer. All of them were buried at Wintersdorf, Germany on or about 3 December 1944. Note: The doctor told me at the time in 1944 that a total of seven bodies were buried. I accepted his information as correct and that would mean that Wesly and I were the only survivors. It would be months later that I would learn that there were only six bodies from our plane that were buried at Wintersdorf."

"Diary: May 25, 1945. I received the best news today that I have heard in a long, long time. Jack Chidley, our bombadier, is here in this prisoner camp. He is okay and was not wounded when he was blown out of the plane. Just like Wesley and I, he thought that he was the only one alive out of our crew. I found out about him when I me up with Perry Gaye again and Perry told me that he had seen Jack over in another area. Perry remembered Jack from our Gulfport days and he recognized him when he saw Jack go into a tent. After getting instructions from Perry on how to get to the tent where he saw Jack, I went over and found it. I asked someone in the tent where Chidley was and was told that he would be back in a few minutes. I found Jack's cot and lay down on it to wait for his return. In a little while I opened my eyes and there stood Jack with a horrified expression on his face. He looked like he was about to turn and run. I smiled and got up on my feet and said, 'Hi'. He still wasn't sure it was me. Well, it was quite a shock to him for a few seconds and then we both laughed and hugged each other. He was at Barth, Germany the whole time I was there but he was in another compound, so neither of us knew the other was there. my hopes raised now that some of the rest of the crew made it also. Jack said he was sitting there in the nose of the plane watching the 'pretty puffs of smoke' (flak), when the next thing he knew, he was outside the plane and falling. He pulled his ripcord and floated down. He didn't even get a scratch."

Front L - R: Champ, Chidley, Williams and Borgeson.
Back L - R: Penrose, Sherman, Love and Foretich.
545th Bomber Squadron, 384th Bomber Group, Heavy
B-17G (Serial No. 448409) Crew

Pilot : First Lieutenant Arthur D. Champ, KIA
(Bemis, West Virginia)
Plot K, Row 27, Grave 17
Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

Co-Pilot : Second Lieutenant Charles L. Williams, KIA
(Detroit, Michigan)
Plot K, Row 33, Grave 13
Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

Bombadier : Second Lieutenant Jack R. Chidley, POW
(Casper, Wyoming)

Navigator : Second Lieutenant Menceslaus A. Gerlach, KIA
(Chicago, Illinois)

Engineer/Top-Turret Gunner : Sergeant Rodney Penrose, KIA
(Chineese Camp, California)

Radio/Gunner : Sergeant Gerald F. Foretich, POW
(Gulfport, Mississippi)

Waist/Gunner : Sergeant Robert L. Love, KIA
(Butler, Indiana)

Ball-Turret/Gunner : Staff Sergeant John J. Sherman, KIA
(Duke Center, Pennsylvania)

Tail/Gunner : Sergeant Wesley C. Borgeson, POW
(Park River, North Dakota)