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Interview with Francis W. Flynn [4/12/2001]

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Today is April 12th, 2001. Would you like to tell us your name, please?

Francis W. Flynn:

Francis W. Flynn.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And your birth date?

Francis W. Flynn:

November 24th, 1922.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And your current address?

Francis W. Flynn:

67 Point Drive West, Dunkirk, New York.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And which war did you serve in?

Francis W. Flynn:

Pardon?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Which war did you serve in?

Francis W. Flynn:

I served in World War II.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And your highest rank?

Francis W. Flynn:

First lieutenant.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Well, Francis, would you like to tell us, just to start us off, what your most vivid memory or memories of your service was?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, of course there are many memories come to mind, but I think probably one of the most vivid was when -- after we were shot down, I was put in a prison for a few days and then taken to a hospital in Gronden (ph). And I had a bad backbone, and an Austrian doctor was assigned to me to take care of me, and it required surgery. And he was a tall, handsome man, and very likeable, and he came into the room where I was contained in and said, "Well, we're going to be operating on you tomorrow morning." I said, "All right." So he says, "Are you afraid?" And I says, "Yes." And he said -- he spoke English. He said, "Don't be." He says, "First of all, I'm a doctor, and second, I'm a German." So that relieved my mind a great deal. And he did operate on me the next day, and after another month or two in the hospital, I left.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

How did you injure your back?

Francis W. Flynn:

Pardon?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

How did your back get injured?

Francis W. Flynn:

I was -- when the plane was shot down, one of the shells in the German fighters got -- the oxygen tanks are located on the inside of the ship, and one blew up, and a part of the clamp that held the oxygen tank to the wall broke off and hit me in the back.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Wow.

Francis W. Flynn:

And they had an extra tank -- (inaudible). And it became infected because I didn't have medical attention quickly enough. But it went away, all cleaned up.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Were there other people injured that joined you in the hospital?

Francis W. Flynn:

There was one other fellow in there that broke his leg. And they gave us really very good treatment. The only thing that they wouldn't do was when they had an air raid in the city where the hospital is located in Gronden, they took all these German patients down to the bomb shelter, but they kept us in the room because they said that was our punishment for being the enemy.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Ah.

Francis W. Flynn:

But, fortunately, there was only one occasion where a bomb fell, and they had -- it's a U-shaped building, and then the U was like a pool, and a bomb fell in the pool. And I don't know if -- they had -- around the perimeter of the pool, there was a cage that they kept the rabbits in which they used for food. And the bomb killed all the rabbits, so we were eating -- eating stewed rabbit for weeks on end.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Did they have guards posted at, like, the hospital to keep an eye on you or --

Francis W. Flynn:

No

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

No, it was a little more --

Francis W. Flynn:

There was sufficient people there. You know, there was no chance of getting up and walking off.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

How long were you a prisoner of war?

Francis W. Flynn:

I was in the hospital for three months, and then I was moved to a halfway house over in Lanigan, which is in western (inaudible) for a term, and then from there I went to Nürnberg. And then they walked us from -- when the American Army started -- after they crossed the Rhine, they started getting closer to Nürnberg, they walked all of us down to (inaudible), which is about 120 miles. And then we were -- we were taken into the hands of the American Army and taken back to France.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What was life like -- you were talking about having been in Italy. What was that like?

Francis W. Flynn:

In prison camp?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Yeah.

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, it was -- I have to say it could have been worse. It could have been a lot better, but it could have been worse. They had no food themselves, the German soldiers. They had a piece of what they called black bread, which was made out of sawdust and some flour. And then they get a piece of (inaudible) along with it, and that was their ration for the day. So we got -- in the prison camp we got the equivalent of a small bowl of cabbage soup or potato soup once a day. But we used to get Red Cross parcels that were brought in once a month.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Oh. What was in the parcels?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, there was a chocolate bar, powdered milk, crackers, cigarettes, which we used at the time, and I can't remember what else. But we used to make what we called a kreegy (ph) pie out of the crackers. We'd break them up and make a flour out of them and take a little of the powdered milk and make a liquid and mix it in with the cracker crumbs and then pat it into a pan that we had, and we would take the chocolate bar, cut that up, and put that in with the powdered milk, and then take some of the powdered milk that we had left and we'd make like a whipped cream out of it, and we'd put that over the top, and it was delicious.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And those packages came to you never opened by the German soldiers or anything missing out of them?

Francis W. Flynn:

There was nothing missing. It came in out of the -- the Red Cross trucks brought them in.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And they handed them to you directly?

Francis W. Flynn:

Right.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

I didn't know that. Did they make you do any work?

Francis W. Flynn:

No. According to the rules of the Geneva Convention, they could not make any officers do any manual labor. Some of the other -- I don't mean to be demeaning, but the pilots and others, made them do some work.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

But the officers didn't have to --

Francis W. Flynn:

No.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So what did you do to pass the time besides make pie?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, there wasn't an awful lot to do. We did a lot of walking -- it was in the compound. We got a shower once every three weeks, with cold water, and I guess really -- one of the fellows could read German, and so he would get like a poster -- I don't know, it kept us up-to-date on the war concern.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Oh, how large was the compound? How large was the compound? Because you said you did a lot of walking.

Francis W. Flynn:

I think -- you mean physically? I'd say probably it took around two acres, something like that. The housing that we had there wasn't that great, but -- and we had what we call cubicles, and in these cubicles was 24 men. And there was one, two, three bunks -- had four on either side, and we had only three boards to sleep on, plus a mattress made of straw and burlap. When things got real cold, we used some of the wood for firewood. I think in the book it shows -- in the back there's probably a picture of the inside of the prison camp.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

We'll take a photo of that to go along with the video.

Francis W. Flynn:

Um-hmm. So we just -- the Germans in charge of the camp were called the Wehrmacht, the regular army, and at times they were quite friendly. They didn't bother us at all, really. The ones that did bother were the SS troops, who were part of Hitler's elite. And we were told, "Don't ever try to escape, or you're going to be involved with the SS, and they shoot you right away." So we stayed in a group. We walked along these -- the road to Duesberg, and when we come to a farm, we'd stop there, and the farmers would give us eggs. And we never really had a chance to cook them, but they were very nice. When I look back, I'd have to say that the German soldiers and the people were much the same in that regard, you know. It was a learning experience. I mean, you meet an awful lot of nice people, and there's a lot of memories, some good, some bad. But all in all, I'd have to say that they were probably some of the best years of my life, from the standpoint of different people that you meet and -- like, when he were -- before we got shot down, the four officers and the crew -- that's two pilots and a navigator and a bombardier. We all slept in the same tent, of course, and for heat we had a gas tank mounted beside the tent with a tube running down inside. And we put some stones over it, and then we had a petcock, and we could allow just enough gas and get a decent flame out of there. And one night it sort of blew up, but no injuries. That crew that I went over with, they were all killed. We had gone up to northern Italy on a bombing raid one day, and on the way back I wasn't feeling very well, so I told this other fellow, I says, "I'm going to go up to the infirmary and have them check me out," which I did. And the doc said, "I think you better stay in the infirmary overnight, because you have a 103 fever," or something like that. So I stayed in the infirmary, and the next day the crew -- the rest of the crew went up with another pilot. And I remember his name -- his name was Rice -- because he was on his first mission. And we went up to a place called Blechhammer, Germany, and they were firing, is what they were doing, and they had a flack hit -- you know what flack is? Oh, flack is an antiaircraft shell, two and three-quarters inches around, about that long. It's fired from the ground to the -- at the plane. Anyway, this either explodes on contact or they have a predetermined exploding time. Well, the shell -- apparently, it hit the ship and blew up -- blew the front of the plane off. I assume it probably killed all the people up front, and nobody else got out of it. They were all killed.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So, if you hadn't been sick --

Francis W. Flynn:

If I hadn't been sick, I would have been killed. So --

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Do you think it was luck or someone watching over you or --

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, someone had to be, you know. And when we got shot down, why -- our escape route from up in front of the ship was to go back to the bomb bays, and the bomb bays have doors that open up like this in the bottom from the -- (inaudible) -- and when I got back to the bomb bays, they were closed. So I jumped out, and couldn't see for the smoke, of course. So there was this cabin walk about that wide, so I walked from where I was back to the midsection of the plane. But you couldn't get through there, because you wore these chest parachutes, so you couldn't get through it. I wanted to take it off. So, anyways, I tried jumping out of the doors again, and when I couldn't open them up. And I was on the catwalk, and I looked towards the rear of the ship, and I saw the face of Jesus Christ right before me. And I said, "I'm going to meet my God." So at that moment I looked down, and the bomb bays started opening up, and I saw enough daylight to get out, I jumped out. And I don't remember pulling the ripcord, but when I came to, I was floating down underneath the parachute. So I beat it twice, anyway. I'd say I really have no regrets about what happened. I -- I've always felt that I wanted to go back to really Normandy, although I was never there, because I always felt that the real heros of World War II were the men that had to jump off those landing barges in the water when they invaded Normandy. They're not the only ones -- the sailors who died out in the oceans and Marines on the beaches out in the islands, and there's a lot of heros there. I don't consider me to be one myself, because I didn't do anything extraordinary. I was just doing my job.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

But you were awarded the Purple Heart.

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah. Would I want to do it again? Not today, I don't think so. I had a -- I had a -- we went back to Czechoslovakia back in 1994, and we visited the Czech people who were instrumental in rescuing, if you will, some of the American flyers from the -- because there was nine planes shot down, nine United States planes. And we went back there, and of course they treated us like we were kings -- you know, liberated the Czech people, because the Germans had taken -- the Germans had taken them over. So we were in this auditorium, and they had these speeches and banquets, and I said, "We never want to leave this place. This is great."

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

They made you feel welcome?

Francis W. Flynn:

They asked people to get up and say a few words in the crowd. There was probably 300 people there, anyway. So I said, "Well, yeah, I have a little story to tell you." This is just falsehood, you know. But I said, "When we were being shot down, the bomb bay doors were closed. They weren't open." I said, "The fellow up on the front end of the ship that's supposed to open them, the fellow had the switch for them to open." And the fellow I was referring to, his name was Lloyd Dickinson. So I hollered up to him, and I said, "Lloyd, open the goddamn bay doors so we can get the hell out of here." So there was a pause for a couple of seconds, and he came back, and he says, "It's not in my job description." See, you had to be a union member to...

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Yeah. So, did you make a lot of friends?

Francis W. Flynn:

Oh, yes.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Do you still keep in contact with them?

Francis W. Flynn:

I haven't over the last couple of years because somehow it's difficult for me to write, you know -- physically really more than mentally. But I hear from them once in a while, and I promise them some day I'll sit down and write them just to let them know I haven't forgotten them. But they are truly great people.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

I've heard other veterans refer to the men they served with as not really other veterans -- when they talk about the men that they served with, have always, instead of saying -- they say, "Well, they're not my friends, they're my brothers." Did you get that feeling with these men in World War II or --

Francis W. Flynn:

It was strange. I don't know if I'm answering your question or whatever you said directly. It's strange, but we never really made real fast friends when we got overseas. I mean, it isn't that we disliked anybody, it was just that you may not be here tomorrow, you see? Or I may not be here tomorrow. Or all of us may not be here tomorrow. So it was a strange situation. It just really wasn't where you're calling your friends every day, how are you, this and that. We were really nice to each other and cordial and we liked each other, but didn't see any real lasting, close friendships

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

You didn't get close --

Francis W. Flynn:

Pardon?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

You didn't get real close to --

Francis W. Flynn:

Right.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What did you guys do for fun?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, we were issued -- each officer was issued a .45 Colt revolver. And I knew when we first tried it in the United States -- I mean, I couldn't hit a bull in the rear end. But when we didn't have anything to do, we took out our .45s and we walked over into the -- over like a rocky area. And so all of a sudden this rabbit showed up. It couldn't have been more than 15 feet away, so we all opened fire. Not one of us could hit it. We had a deal with one of the local Italian men over there to clean our clothes, and so they cleaned their clothes on the rocks. It seems we were always going to go down to the GI issue place to get a new undershirt or underpants, because the rock beats the hell out of the -- there's holes in them as soon as you he brought them back. Oh, one day we saw Irving Berlin. He came over and entertained us. He wore his old World War I uniform, you know. That was nice. There wasn't much to do in -- in the (inaudible.) It was truly, I think, a great experience, and I think one really that youth of today somehow should maybe go through a couple of two years -- not of war, I don't mean that, but I mean just the training and growing up, because one day you're a boy and the next day you're a man and (inaudible).

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What were the uniforms like?

Francis W. Flynn:

Pardon?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What were the uniforms like?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, I guess -- well, I gave my daughter my chest coat. I think that's all that came back in my possessions. Also, I got an early -- for 15 cents, it was (inaudible.) That was my clothing. But they were really -- I think they were really excellent looking uniforms. They were made of fine cloth and materials.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Was it wool? Cotton? Wool, cotton or --

Francis W. Flynn:

It was wool.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Wool?

Francis W. Flynn:

Um-hmm. And I gave her the coat. It's still got the ribbons on it and pilot's wings and the Air Force (inaudible). So it was a good -- good three years spent.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Was it hot in Italy? Was it hot in Italy? Was it warm?

Francis W. Flynn:

Pretty much the same as it was here. We got -- well, up in the mountains, of course, they got a lot of snow. But we were in -- you got south of there -- we were right almost directly across from Naples. And I think after around 20, 25 missions, why, they sent us to a rest camp over in Capri, and we saw Rudolph Valentino there.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Oh.

Francis W. Flynn:

And Gracie Fields. I can't think -- and Mussolini had a castle there. It's a beautiful place. I think the water -- the water around that island is 75 feet deep, and it's just clear as a bell. We used to get lobster tails there for 50 cents.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What were the rations like?

Francis W. Flynn:

Pardon?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

The rations --

Francis W. Flynn:

The rations in the --

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

-- that the government supplied you in the service.

Francis W. Flynn:

You mean while we were overseas or --

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Yeah.

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, they were -- they used to have a mess hall, you know, and you'd get probably fried Spam and eggs -- I don't know if they were real or not -- and coffee and chocolate milk if you want it, like that. And they always fixed you a bag with sandwiches to take along on a flight. The longest ones we went on were probably, oh, 10 or 11 hours.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What was it like when you came back to the States?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, it was -- there was nothing like New York. We came back, we landed in Boston, and from there we went down to -- I think it was Newark, over to Fort Dix to process us for discharge, and from there I went back to New York, caught a train back to Tucker. And it was just something like you had been away for a few days and you came back. You know, everything just seemed to go as it was.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

It never felt like you had left, like you'd been on vacation almost?

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah, right.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Oh, gosh.

Francis W. Flynn:

I had no ill feeling towards anybody, you know. (Inaudible). That's all.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What did you do when you came back?

Francis W. Flynn:

I ran a restaurant for about six years. Oh, and I got married back in '46. I ran a restaurant until '51, and in '51 I went to work at (inaudible) Steel Corporation, and I worked there for 38 years.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Oh, wow. We didn't ask you -- we probably should have done it in the beginning -- but how did you get involved? Did you enlist or were you drafted?

Francis W. Flynn:

I enlisted, yeah.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And that was what year?

Francis W. Flynn:

'42.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

'42. And you served till --

Francis W. Flynn:

I think it was June of '42. I was really called up -- called into duty in October -- or October of '42. Went from there -- it was about a year -- a little over a year before I got my commission and graduated as a pilot. I went through a period of transitions, because they were training you (inaudible). It wasn't all fun, but it really wasn't all that bad.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

How many times did you have to parachute?

Francis W. Flynn:

Pardon?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

You were talking about having parachuted. Did you have to parachute?

Francis W. Flynn:

Only one.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Only one? Just that one?

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah, only one.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Did you pack your own shoot?

Francis W. Flynn:

Hmm?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Did you pack your own shoot?

Francis W. Flynn:

Oh, no.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

No, someone else did?

Francis W. Flynn:

I probably wouldn't be here if I did. I've got a -- I've got a portion of a -- it's a good size portion of a German parachute at home. Like I say, I don't recall how I came across it, but I did, while I was in Germany. I had -- I think I had 40 missions, got shot down on the 41st, so if I had nine more, I would have come home. You had to do 50 over there in Italy. I think the strange thing about it, though, is, and I'm not the only one, I'm sure, that never really thought of getting killed. It seemed sort of strange to understand, but we never -- I can't recall -- I mean, I'm not saying that I wasn't afraid. But we never really thought -- I don't think the other people did -- of being killed.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Did you think that was because of your age?

Francis W. Flynn:

I think a lot of it had to do with the training we went through. I think they trained us to -- one step above level to be able to cope with the various situations, you know.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So you felt prepared?

Francis W. Flynn:

Right.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Yeah.

Francis W. Flynn:

There are a lot of researchers who will be looking at this tape, plus probably teachers trying to make lesson plans and those type of things. So what kinds of things would you say to those people and to the students that they might be teaching or the paper that they might be writing? What would be --

Francis W. Flynn:

You mean the children I talk to?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Um-hmm.

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, I really basically just try to impart to them that they really should not forget World War II, because they ask questions of are we losing the war, and I -- I really don't think that they have really been exposed to what really went on. And when I think of the 20 million Russians dying over there, 10 million, 12 million Germans, you know, that's a lot of people. And I have always -- I always felt that there should be more past history, including wars, being taught in the schools today. I always -- I watch -- oftentimes, I watch the History Channel, and they have some good programs on there, you know, about the Civil War and World War II and Vietnam war and Korean War. But I bet if you ask youngsters today 10, 12 years old about any of those wars, they wouldn't know what you're talking about. There was something like 3,000 World War II veterans dying every day for 10 years. There's not going to be very many left.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

In my research getting ready for this, there were no remaining World War I veterans in Chautauqua County, and we are losing World War II veterans every day, and we were lucky that President Clinton passed this bill so that we can do this project. I'm kind of wondering, you know, as teachers and students will be looking at these, what words were used back then that aren't used now?

Francis W. Flynn:

Um-hmm.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Can you think of any?

Francis W. Flynn:

Words, you mean educational words?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

You know, phrases, they come in for a while, and then they leave. Like "Daddio," or I have found fourth graders don't know what the term "going Dutch" means anymore. Those kind of --

Francis W. Flynn:

Dutch treat?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Yeah.

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Are there any words that you can think of that may have been inspired by World War II or that era?

Francis W. Flynn:

I've never see -- I never see any.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Like Rosie The Riveter?

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah, Rosie the Riveter, yeah.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Did you get wires from home?

Francis W. Flynn:

We used to get these -- yeah. There's some in that book there. I -- I wrote -- all of my mail was where you write -- so you don't know any secrets.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So nothing was really private?

Francis W. Flynn:

No, no. My life was an open book. But I got -- I got mail. I don't know if you call it V mail or --

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Email?

Francis W. Flynn:

Email? Not email.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

I don't know. Did you get homesick when you would read those or --

Francis W. Flynn:

Not really.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

No? And your family was living in Dunkirk?

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah. We were -- except when we ran into bad weather, we would probably be flying every second or third day, anyway, and it was usually -- in the prison camp we used to make what we call these cookie bars, and as I said before, we didn't have an awful lot of wood, so we'd cut up wood into fine chips, light them with a match, then we had this thing that looked like -- it had a little fan on it, and we would take our tin, and it's like a blow torch. So whatever you wanted to heat up, it heated up pretty fast, much faster than just sitting it on the fire.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

It sounds pretty inventive, like you guys were adaptable.

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, I told you about -- those pies I told you about? There were fellows that were selling pies on IOUs, on return, 700 and $750. Jeez. And today you couldn't give them away. But, well, people were hungry. I mean, we weren't starving. I went down to 125 pounds, but you see some of these fellows coming out of these Japanese things and like over in Auschwitz and that, those people were starved. But we got enough to keep away the (inaudible).

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Sometimes it made it look like you had a lot when you'd see those other folks, huh?

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah. So --

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Is there anything you can think of, you guys, that he didn't mention? We sometimes found in these interviews that afterwards, the person we were interviewing, when they got to the last and we're off the camera, they go: Oh, I forgot to mention this. UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Did you want to mention anything about the last night? The last mission? What happened? Your last mission.

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, I told that. UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Did you tell them what happened to the whole squadron?

Francis W. Flynn:

I told -- well, that is pretty much the whole story.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

He told me -- UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You were shot down. How it happened -- there was a mission (inaudible) there was only one plane left that -- did you say that?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

There was a lagger plane in formation on your last mission?

Francis W. Flynn:

A lagger plane, yes. That got shot down, too. UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes. But I said, in your last mission, did you explain the whole thing?

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

He explained how he was injured and how that happened.

Francis W. Flynn:

The only -- what really happened was that we were one of four squadrons in making up the second bomb group, and we were the fourth squadron in the group. There was the first squadron that was the lead squadron, there's one over here and another on the right, and we were in the back. And during the process of going over the Adriatic Sea and getting up to altitude, as far as -- well, it's a long process. I mean, you have to get in formation and all these other things. But, anyway, there were four other groups in this thing, and another one way up in front who was the leader -- the leader of the group, and another 28 planes over here that was another group, and another one over here, and we're in the back. Well, the leader of the group somehow or other got lost from the lead group up in front, and as a result of that, we began to fall back further and further from the rest of the formations. And the fighter group, the fighter squadron, which was for protection of all the group of planes, they stayed with the main four rather than coming back and stay with us. So about 90 German fighter planes attacked our 28 planes, and so we were outnumbered. So they shot down nine -- nine of the 28. Our whole squadron was made up of seven planes. They were all shot down, plus two planes from the other squadrons in their group. But I knew -- I knew -- what happened, one of the funny things, the colonel that was leading the group and one of the fellows that I went to the reunion with a couple years ago stated he heard he got some kind of a commendation. What it was, I don't know.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Did you name the plane? Did you have a name for your plane?

Francis W. Flynn:

No, because we changed -- we changed -- we lost -- well, we lost the one we took over. I don't think we even had a name on it. If you -- you don't know -- you hardly ever flew the same plane two missions in a row.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

What kind of planes were they?

Francis W. Flynn:

D-17s.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And what kind of bombs and ammunition did you use?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, we had -- we had ten 50-caliber machine guns, two on the tail of the plane, two on the front, two on the top, and two on the lower, and two on the wings. And the bombs -- the bombs that were used were really dictated by what we were going to attack. If we wanted to destroy a factory, we would use high explosive bombs. If you were going after oil fields, we'd probably drop some incendiary along with the regular bombs -- set fire, you know. For some targets that were heavily reinforced, you would have a thousand-pound bomb. We could carry four of those. The machine gun bullets, they had -- they had one regular bullet which, if it hits you, would kill you, and they had two armor piercing bullets, which was for -- they would penetrate the thickest steel, you know. And then they had one incendiary and one tracer bullet. The tracer bullet was -- you've probably seen in the movies sometimes, they fly -- firing over whatever, it will show you where your bullets were going.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Was there any new technology that you guys used in World War II that you didn't use in World War I?

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, we were just glad -- we were just glad that they advanced from the planes that Eddie Rickenbacker, who I guess -- I don't think -- it just really came so suddenly, all we could do is get together the best plane they could at that time, which happened to be it. He had -- I'll tell you one thing that I didn't mention before, that the reason the United States lost a lot of heavy bombers over Germany was because of the fact that the fighter escort didn't have the range to stay with them long enough. By that I mean they would run out of gas before they got back to England or Italy. And then, in 1944, the United States came up with this North American Mustang, and it was really the best air -- fighter airplane in World War II. And even after we got shot down, I was in prison there for three days, why, these two German pilots came in, and in so many words wanted -- one spoke a few words of English, and he said the P-51, the Mustang, was a good airplane. They were all afraid of them because they -- what they did was, they took -- it had -- their power unit was an Allison engine in the initial P-51, and they came up with the bright idea whoever in the -- of putting this English Rolls-Royce in it, you know, and they picked up 50 miles an hour speed, so at that time it was the fastest fighter in the world.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Were there any German planes that you guys were afraid of?

Francis W. Flynn:

We were afraid of all of them. Well, they had two excellent fighters. One was the Messerschmitt Me 109, and the other one was a Focke-Wulf 110, both very good. The Me 109 had 50-caliber guns in the wing, plus a 20-millimeter cannon on each frame, and the Focke-Wulf had about the same thing. 20-millimeter shells, they -- they burst just like a white ball of cotton, and they fired a lot of them.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Were most of the missions that you had been on, were they done at night?

Francis W. Flynn:

Oh, no, we were always daylight bombing. The British did night bombing. We -- we did what we called -- or the hierarchy called precision bombing. Of course, that's sort of (inaudible), because they didn't always hit what they were supposed to, but that's neither here nor there. But the British, they would just pick a city, because they couldn't find the factory in the city at night, you know, so they would just try to obliterate the whole city. I don't know if you've ever heard about the bombing of Dresden. Dresden was the -- oh, I want to call it the center -- the art center in Germany in terms of paintings and -- I don't think they had a factory in the place. But the British bombed it one night, and it was such a fire storm, it burned practically the whole city down.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Oh, wow.

Francis W. Flynn:

There was some criticism about doing that. But we always -- we always bombed during the daytime. They shot down the other planes at night, too, so...

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So the night, being in the cover of night didn't --

Francis W. Flynn:

It didn't cover me. In fact, we used to go out to where the British railroad -- railroad yards at Nürnberg where the prison camp was. We had dug trenches outside of the barracks so we could get in them, you know, in case a bomb fell. So we'd take a piece of wood and put it over our head because the flack from the bursting antiaircraft shells, they break up into pieces. Get that piece there. They'd break up into pieces, and if one of them hit you in the head, they'd kill you.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So your helmet wasn't enough. (Pause.) Oh, that looks pretty sharp. I wouldn't want that hitting me through my head or through my skull.

Francis W. Flynn:

See, the shells break up into hundreds of fragments like that, and of course -- of course if you're close enough to a ship, it would go right through it. We used to be able to tell whether they're close or not because if you see the burst, then you're safe. If you heard a boom, why, you know they're getting close, and that's just the concussion of air, you know. And if the -- if you don't see it and you get hit, well, forget -- forget it.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Were a lot of casualties caused that way?

Francis W. Flynn:

A -- a -- they said that the survival rate of a bomber crew was 33 percent, so one out of three.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

So, you were one of the lucky ones.

Francis W. Flynn:

I was one of the lucky ones, yeah.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Because of your injuries, is that why you received the Purple Heart?

Francis W. Flynn:

Yeah.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

And you were talking about the other award that you won or received. I shouldn't say won, because you didn't win it, you received it.

Francis W. Flynn:

Well, we all got -- we got the ribbons, you know. The ribbons -- one was for the Purple Heart, and one was for service in the European Theater of Operation, and the other was for -- I forget what it's called -- it was for the number of missions that you flew. And then they had an oak leaf cluster that goes on there, and that's the first X number of missions -- for, like, every five you got a new oak leaf cluster.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

I don't have any more questions. Is there any other thing that you can think of that you need -- any other memories? Actually, we're just short of an hour, so we've been talking for a little while.

Francis W. Flynn:

Okay.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

If you think of anything, let me know. I may not be able -- I won't be able to put it on videotape, but I can add it in writing.

Francis W. Flynn:

All right.

Christine Derby-Cuadrado:

Well, thank you very much.

Francis W. Flynn:

You're welcome.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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