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Interview with Norman Wesley Achen [12/07/2005]

Carl Raymond Cox:

Hello, and welcome to the Veterans History Project. My name is Carl Cox and we are here with the Voluntary Resource Management Service of the VA San Diego Healthcare System at the VA Medical Center in San Diego, California. I am a volunteer at this facility. I am the producer, and I will be the cameraman and your host conducting today's interview. Today's date is December the 7th, 2005. And today's guest is a veteran of World War II. Please welcome, Norman Achen.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your full name.

Norman Wesley Achen:

Norman Wesley Achen.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your date of birth.

Norman Wesley Achen:

July 11, 1921.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your current address.

Norman Wesley Achen:

2842 Luciernaga, Carlsbad, California.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Which war did you serve in?

Norman Wesley Achen:

World War II.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Which branch of the military did you serve in?

Norman Wesley Achen:

The United States Army Air Force.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was the highest rank that you achieved?

Norman Wesley Achen:

First Lieutenant.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Norman Wesley Achen:

I enlisted.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Where were you living at that time?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Tucson, Arizona.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me why did you decide to enlist in the Army Air Corps?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Mainly, because Uncle Sam's finger was pointing at me every place I went. I was already a pilot, and had a private pilot's license and I wanted to be in the Service. I wanted to be a Fighter Pilot.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you remember your boot camp training experience?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Very well.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Can you tell me about it?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Well, at boot camp at Santa Ana Air Base was a huge base of bringing Cadets into training and it was not only Flyers, but those that would be Bombardiers, Navigators and so forth. I went in, I went in by myself to the gate on the date of... that I was suppose to report for duty. And the Cadet group in Santa Ana Air Base was 240 peop...men, Cadets. There had been a Troop Train come in from Texas with 240 Texans on it and they, one guy got sick and they took it, took him off and put him in the hospital, and they said, 'You're lucky, you're going to be with the 239 Texans.' Most of the Texans and most of us, this was the end of the Depression and Texans particularly and still are very proud of their State. And very, very vocal about it, and they think the rest of us are inferior. And maybe they're right. And so they rode me mercilessly for maybe six weeks and I had the first bunk in the up, in the upper floor in one of the barracks and so one night about 20 minutes before lights out I lost control, which I shouldn't have done, but I did, and I got up and I said, 'okay, you S.O.B.'s, one at a time.' Down and about the eighth bunk was a guy by the name of Johnnie Godbolt. And Johnnie was very quiet, didn't say much, you, he, I'd been told he was an All- Z American end from Texas A and M. Johnnie stood about six-one and probably weighed in close to 210. And he slowly uncorked from his bunk and started up the aisle, and I thought, oh boy, you've made a major, major mistake. The War may end for you. He came up and spun around next to me and put his hand out and he said, 'No, two at a time.' And nobody moved. And Johnnie said, 'Good-night,' and walked back to his bunk and laid down. About two weeks, two weeks that the, that the harassment quit, but they didn't say anything. And about two weeks later a bunch of them cornered me again, seven or eight, and said, 'can we talk to you.' And I said, 'Certainly,' and I looked around for Johnnie but he wasn't there. And they said, we, they had had a vote and the 239 voted that I become a Texan. And they presented me with a Texas citizenship and life changed, totally. Very quickly. That was my greatest experience. And I flew with Texans then a lot during the War. And I admire them very much that they probably are the greatest Fighters overall that you ever see. So, that was, that was a tremendous experience. Boot Camp was, was kind of tough then at times you, as one Christm...we didn't, we weren't allowed out at Christmas 'cause we were still in kind of like a confinement type thing, but the Army did put on a pretty good day for us, entertainment and food and so forth. The other thing that you learn at boot camp, you do get healthy, very healthy, but the other thing that you learn is that every Sunday at four in the afternoon they would have a parade, and you would review, be reviewed in front of a General or something, and big bands would play and you became very proud that you were there. And that was boot camp. We were in boot camp for, gee, about 12 weeks and lots of, lots of shots and typical, you know, exercise and marching and learning to take orders and all those things that you do in boot camp.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Where did you go after Boot Camp.

Norman Wesley Achen:

I went directly from boot camp to Ryan Field, which is new, outside of, of Tucson, Arizona, about 15 miles.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What did you do at Ryan Field?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Ryan Field was a primary training base, Primary Aircraft. Flew the Ryan single-engine airplane and we had lots of ground study and, and flying study. Two interesting things that happened to me in that were interesting at Ryan Field. We were, one of the things was that we had to run around the airfield, three or four times a week, and then this would be in the after...usually in the afternoon. And this is in the high desert and this was in June of, of the summertime of 1942. And Johnnie Godbolt dropped dead on one of the runs around the field. And that was the first disaster of the war for me, type thing, because we'd become friends and he was quite a guy. Within two days of that, and it was accidental, I was made Commander, Cadet Commander of the A Squadron. And I tried to refuse it for awhile because I didn't think the Texans would go, would listen to me. And it turned out that it was just the opposite. They led the force for me. So, Ryan Field was, was great in many ways, because I went to the University of Arizona, which was in Tucson, and that's where I had flown force so I knew flying in that kind of condition was pretty normal for me and a lot of friends there. So, it was, it was a great base, it's still there.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you at Ryan Field?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Each one of the training bases before you were a Commissioned Officer was, was nine weeks. So, in nine weeks I was moved to Marana, which is Basic Training. And it's a bigger aircraft and it, more advanced, more maneuverable, higher altitudes you can fly with it. And it was pretty close to Tucson, which is in a different direction. And it was in the heart of the cotton district in Arizona, believe it or not, is a very large producer of cotton. But it's all irrigated and so, we were at Marana Air Base when the temperatures were running 110 and 115 per day. And that's tough by itself, even if the air is dry, but when you got a lot of irrigation going on, it's just as miserable as you, you couldn't touch the airplane. You got to get it up to 10,000 feet before you could close the canopy on it. And, it, Marana had another very, very unique situation for us. In 1937, this we were taught while we were at Marana, 1937, Madame Chang Kai- shek was able to get a guy by the name of Claire Chenault to come over and take over the Nationalist China's Air Force, which was not much of an Air Force, and the Japanese were just, just killing them. And he tried to get, he had been in the United States Army Air Force and had retired as a Major. He tried to get pilots from the United States, but the United States would not allow American pilots to go. They couldn't stop them from going, but they took their citizenship away if they went, because we were not at war with Japan at this point. Finally by '41 they, they, the United States, shortly before they rescinded their, their, that and they gave Chenault a hundred P-40's without engines, and told them that, the American pilots could then go to China and to, then fly with the Chinese. General Electric was able to get the engines for them and so, as you know, that proudly became, undoubtedly became our most famous Air Fighting Squadron, the 'Flying Tigers' of Chenault. While at Marana by this time in '42 when we're, we're changing training, we can now train Chinese pilots in the United States, we are at war and building up our facilities to the ability to do that. So, we, Marana was half Chinese and half Americans. The only problem, major problem with that was that the Chinese didn't speak English. So, when you were flying, the tower was both in Chinese and, and American, in English. So, we learned a great deal about how to protect ourselves in the air, because we didn't know that, they also went onto Luke Field, again, then. Really, really, really well educated, well-mannered, nice competitive people. That was a very, very unique experience to go through that kind of training with them. From Marana, if you complete...completed that, everybody that was going to be flying went through Basics, Primary and Basic. And then if you were going to go into bombers, you went to a specific field where they had multi- engine aircraft to do your advanced training. If you were going to go into fighters, single-engine fighters, you went to Luke Field, Phoenix, Arizona. And if you flew the P-38 there was a special base with the twin-engine, fighter-type aircraft for them. So, everybody wants to be a fighter pilot. It was interesting to me, particularly because I don't know what it is, 'hot-shot Charlie' or the scarf around the neck or whatever it is and the, the girls do like you better and you're treated differently. But, so everybody wanted to be a fighter. People have asked me why, why was I able to be a fighter and it, it's interesting. Because years ago I found that if I said, 'Well, it's because we were better qualified,' I was in real trouble with, with this, and I didn't like that at all. And so I said that the reason that I got to be a fighter is that they knew I couldn't handle the crew, qualified to handle the number of other people in the airplane, and so I had to fly by myself. And that went over very big, the bomber, guys felt good about that and so forth. And still do. And it's probably right, but from Marana I went on to, to Luke Field and when, when that was assigned we were really, really proud because we knew that, we knew that we would be i~ into single-engine fighters and that's where we wanted to go, unless we washed-out at Luke Field.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What type of aircraft did you train in at Luke Field?

Norman Wesley Achen:

We trained in the AT-6 and the P-40. The P-40 was our airplane that we had the most, most of. And that's the first airplane that you were the only, the only person in the airplane. The AT-6 still had a back seat for a, for instructor, and, but it was, you could do almost every maneuver in the...the AT-6 took, probably was the airplane that we made the most of in the World War II, because the Navy used them as fighter aircraft, and with a little modification. So, it was a huge production airplane but, and you could do instrument flying in that and with the hood up, and so forth.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you assigned to that duty, that training duty?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Nine, nine weeks at, nine weeks at Luke Field until I was commissioned. And I'll bet nine weeks, two weeks was at Ajo where, where you were doing your gunnery training in the airplane, that is. We gunnery trained in everything you can think of. We had skeet fields that we shot at, we had for rifles, we had for pistols, moving targets, all of the stuff that you would want to learn to how to shoot a fighter from the fighter aircraft. Since I was a hunter from the time I was eight and hunted pheasant and this was, that was pretty easy because you learn, it's the same, same idea as the concept of leading. I think Luke Field, other than the P-40, in that is in experience that I, when I was seven years old my father had taken myself, and my mother, and my two older brothers to Casa Grande, Arizona for her health for a year. And we landed, we'd been there about two weeks when a very famous lady made an emergency or some type of a landing on the road about 300, three, 300 yards maybe from our house. Amelia Earhart was on the first cross-country flight of a woman solo pilot at that time. In the process of, of that landing and taxing, she tore her wings which were in those days were still cloth and she probably had an airplane of 35 horsepower, 40 horsepower, maybe, the most. We're talking 1928 at this point, Carl. And so my mother gave her a slip and she cut up and made patches and sewed them on to the airplane. The next day the airplane was I moved to another dirt road where she could take off and review. She completed her solo flight, but before she left she went around and thanked the few people that were there for being there, but she came up and gave me a big hug. And I stood there and watched that lady take-off, seven years old. I still remember it vividly. And that was my introduction to be a fighter pilot. Really. So when it came time to fly the P-40, I couldn't wait to get into the airplane and, and with all of the preparation for this and you got in it in the morning, it in, it had maybe an eight o'clock take-off time, first, first time, and that engine sticks out about eight feet. And it, it hypnotized me, almost. I mean I roared down the runway and just stood there looking at it. All of this power that I moved up from a six-hundred horsepower engine to almost a fourteen-hundred horsepower. And, and I just kept going straight, straight, straight out just staring at that. That was the transition into fighter type aircraft that, that you had that tremendous power. And when, when I took off with that P-40 I thought of Amelia Earhart and she had taken off in an airplane that had maybe 40 horsepower, 50 maximum in those days was flying cross-country. And I am taking off solo in a fourteen, twelve, twelve to fourteen hundred horsepower engine. And it's only 15 years later, or less than 15 years later. That was, that was, that was the big part. Then obviously the graduation ceremony. The, I did have a wonderful experience. When, at the end of your training they, they have, they had select pilots that went out and tested you. And this was about an hour, an hour and a half, depending on what it was and that was in the AT-6. And, and after the hour and a half this test pilot, all he had done is given me instructions in what to do, and land on one wheel and land on the tail, wheel, and we were to do rolls and all of this stuff. When we got back and got out of the airplane the rest of the group that we're going to be tested was standing there and the, and the guy said to me, 'I just had an airplane ride.' And I'm walking a foot of the ground and we got orders that day that we would be going to Tallahassee, Florida. And that meant that we would be fly..., probably be flying in the European Theater. And I was not really fond of the Pacific, I didn't like to swim that much, so.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Where were you stationed after Tallahassee?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Bartow, Florida. And that was the P-51 training base.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What happened after that?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Then, then the word came that, that they needed fighter pilots and this was just before D-Day, in Europe then. So, the Colonel, and I wanted to get married and the Colonel said, 'Well, if you'd ask for it,' he said, 'I'll give serious consideration to be an instructor and keeping you here on the base.' And I did get married, but I said, 'no, I want to go to combat, that's what I was trained for, that's what I've always wanted to do, and so forth. So, I did get married and I went through that and then they took us, another guy and myself up to New York City. Put us in a place called the Chesterfield Hotel and said, 'At eight o'clock each night call this number and we'll tell you what to do.' And this went four or five days, and he just said, 'call again tomorrow night.' And finally they said, 'have your bags down in an hour, we'll pick you up.' And they took us out to La Guardia Field. Kept us there for about, I'd say, two hours and finally said, 'No, we're not going to fly tonight,' and whatever the reason was. So, they took us back to the Waldorf-Astoria, which upgraded us quite a bit from the Chesterfield. And then, then the next night we did go back and it was a DC-4 and it was filled with mainly Generals and fighters pilots. Landed in Iceland and reprocessed and refurbished the airplane. Then went on to Ireland and then that, that was the process, then I went on down to Debden a couple days later, started in.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Is this where you joined your, your squadron?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Debden.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And which squadron was that?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Well, it was the 4th Fighter Group, and the 4th Fighter Group was made up of the original Eagle Squadron, and those were pilots that had gone over before we were in the War and flew with the, with the British. And then when we came in the War they were all transferred to this 4th Fighter Group in, in Debden. And it was a permanent base. So, living conditions were absolutely excellent. Private rooms and bath-men to take care of your clothes and, you know, you just couldn't live any better. ?

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you stationed there before your first combat mission?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Maybe four or five days. We did some testing.

Carl Raymond Cox:

(cough) Excuse me.

Norman Wesley Achen:

That's all right. We had a couple of dog fights with the pilots that, that were there. And then they assigned you an airplane and so, I didn't fly on D-Day, but I flew a couple of days after that.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Can you tell me about your first combat mission?

Norman Wesley Achen:

The, I, I don't know that this was the first one, it was not too many days after D-Day, maybe a week or 10 days. And when we went out on strafing mission somewhere in front of the troops off of Normandy, and we came, I was flying on the left flank, that was the lowest guy in the, in the squadron at that time, and coming down a road over here to the left was a car, which appeared to me to be a staff car and it was probably two miles to my left, and three or four miles down the road. And whoever was leading the squadron said, 'who's ever on the left flank take that staff car out, it's a, it's a German staff car.' I peeled off in, then thought just in terms of taking the staff car out and went on down and, and got my guns in position and on the P-51 we, we carried four 50-caliber machine guns. And when they concentrated those shells going out it was quite a few in per min...per second or minute. And as I pulled the trigger on that to get the staff car, they, they came to a stop and three guys jumped out. And this large amount of 50-caliber stuff hit them and they, they, the guy didn't, other than did the records, I didn't tell my family about this for 50 years, I couldn't talk about it. I have trouble now with it. That's the first time I'd ever killed anybody and it wasn't a nice looking thing, because those shells are heavy enough and they were just dancing in that thing. I actually had, I, I think I froze on the guns and there was a building right behind them, and I just barely pulled up and then I threw-up in my oxygen mask and that's not a place to throw up that's convenient. And I ripped it off and that was down at ground level. And then I threw-up again and sprayed it all over. You kind of stop for a minute and think about this and being a sophisticated fighter pilot and to throw-up is, was an embarrassing thing to killing is different, and then, but you had to take an airplane home for somebody to clean up. If you did that in training you had to clean it yourself. I never threw-up and I never had that problem. And so I, I knew that I was through for the day and I just asked the Commander, I said, 'I want to abort and go home.' And he said, 'Fine.' They sent two airplanes over, much higher than I was, to escort me back to England. The, the experience is not, the Crew Chiefs that took care of my airplane were much more sophisticated than I was. They just lifted me out and said, 'don't worry, every things okay.' I wanted to clean it myself. But they didn't take me to the Ready Room, which was normal, while I, when I thought about it, they didn't want anybody that looked like I did and smelled like I did in the Ready Room no matter what. The hell with that. So they took me to my room. I went and, and it's all in the book too, by the way, this part. I went and sat with all my flying suit on under the shower and then cleaned up and, and got cleaned up and got that mess rid...then went back to my room and the Chaplain showed up and tried to get me to discuss this with him and I, I couldn't do that, didn't want to really at the moment. Finally, I asked the Chaplain and he was sitting on the bunk with me, I said, 'Have you ever killed anybody?' And he said, 'No.' And I remember this, Carl, so well, he said, 'no, that's not my mission, when you get ready we'll talk.'

Carl Raymond Cox:

What happened after that?

Norman Wesley Achen:

I think that I became a much different personality, person, because of just, just thinking about it and that, I think most fighter pilots didn't think about killing anybody, it was shooting airplanes down or tanks or something and I don't think they, you never heard about them killing anybody. We didn't go out and kill soldiers or, you know, that wasn't what our duty was, our duty was somewhat different than that. So its, you grow up if that's what needed to grow up. It's one way of growing up. 1,1 don't have an answer for it, I asked God a lot of times. It doesn't make sense or...'

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me about some of the other missions that you flew in. Veteran. One of the, one of the most interesting ones that, that I flown in, it, it was flown just a couple of days before I was shot down. The intelligence spotted a convoy of German ships coming around the coast of Norway. And supply ships, and the English wanted to go in with their torpedo bombers and torpedo them. And, but the English didn't have fighters that could fly that far and escort them in to this thing and so, we were selected to, to go with them. And we flew across the North Sea at about 25 feet above the water for three hours to get there. And to fly the North Sea you knew that if you went down you had five minutes just to survive, it was that bad. And you, you couldn't in a fighter aircraft, get in a bolder, anything quick enough to, to be stand much chance. So you had to be alert all the time, that, but anyway we got in and then we pulled up to the side, maybe, at four or five thousand feet, we could hear the, obviously, the Commander of the two-party group. And they, they went in and each aimed, tell them which ship to hit, with each torpedoes. And they knocked out about 12 or 15 boats, sunk them. It was, it was a spectacular sight. But the flight was, was, we didn't run into any German Luftwaffe at, at that time. And, and so we tore for home from that one. That was, that was one of the most interesting to see that take place and the British were very accurate with those, with their torpedo bombers. That was then just a few days in, the, the reason I mentioned it to was that in the fighter aircraft during the War, you know, rubber was not available. It was very, very...and so on our parachutes that thing that we sat on they put straw in it. Well, that was for the first day, it was pretty good and then it impact and impact and impact and it became like, like cement, so when you were sitting there for three hours you, you just get paralyzed. And now that leads me to another point that's interesting to me. I'm not sure it has any significance other than humor, but, obviously, we had a relief tube on the P-51, because if you were out for six or seven hours sitting in that thing like this, you would have, have to relieve yourself and guys would sometimes want to do it just because it, it moved and it made them feel better after being paralyzed. The problem with it was that we were flying, maybe, at 25,000 feet and the temperature was probably 40 below zero and we didn't have heaters sitting in the P- 51, so we had a flying suit about that thick. And with your oxygen mask and everything on, and then, then this organ that the human male has that we all talk about expansion, but never talk about the fact what it can retreat, and it's scared and cold. And it becomes like a turtle and it's, it's just is gone. So, what they made, the relief tube on P-51 at sea level and without any combat or any of this stuff, and // so it was much too short to reach when you needed it. And this was kind of a problem because you, you needed to tie a string on your penis to find it because it, it had gone away and hidden itself and so, under normal conditions. So, can I go into the most...on the 15th of August, 1944, a convoy of three thousand ships and escorted by 300 warships was approaching the South Coast of France and were landing 100,000 troops the first day. The 15th of August they invaded Southern France from Italy, okay. And that, that at, at six in the morning we were called and, and the phone rang in my room. I kind of slumbered and finally got, got a hold of it and the guy said this was so-and-so and Lieutenant can you fly, the Colonel wants to know if you can fly today. And I thought that's a ridiculous question. If the Colonel wants me to fly, I fly, that's not an issue. And I said, 'Sure, I can fly, what, what's the problem?' He says, 'I don't know, but be in the Briefing Room at such and such a time.' What they, what they had decided was that we were going to escort some B-24's up to Hanover, Germany and try and draw the Luftwaffe away from Southern France so they wouldn't be down there. And that's just common practice to do that. We didn't draw the Luftwaffe, the Luftwaffe didn't come up that day as far as I know. And this was, I never had cited a Luftwaffe, really. Anyway, we went up, we did escort them, got out and went up and picked them up at the German border and escorted them in. As soon as we were through with the bomb-run, we, we, half of us peeled off, we were told to peel off and were told to go down and strafe targets of opportunity on our way back to the, to the Coast. And so we kind of split off single and I saw this, maybe, at 300 feet, saw this engine sticking out of kind of a little berg, German berg over here, engine sticking out with steam coming out of it, so I knew it was active. So, I went into, to make one quick pass. You couldn't destroy it totally, but you could take it out so it wasn't usable for weeks it took to repair it. And went in and just before, before I had my gun sites on the, on the train and ready to, and I probably had my head where it didn't belong close to my behind, and all of a sudden I got hit with 50-caliber guns from the ground and it knocked my engine out. And it hit me in a couple of places. First thing I knew was that I had the pain coming through my leg where a shell had gone through. I, I peeled, it peeled off and cranked the canope back and, and looked over the side, and I was never in favor of jumping anyway, so it wasn't high enough to jump and open the parachute, and so I had to crash the airplane. And I JZ had seen a little field over there with trees all the way around it that I could probably slip that airplane in and it would hit on hits wing, but I couldn't, you couldn't, you know, control it that way. And then we had a K-4 gun sight, which was all mirrors in front of us. And so I slipped it over, started to slip it over the side and I knew that I was going to crash at that, I wasn't, I wasn't going to be able to survive. And just before I crashed I threw my arm around that gun sight so my head wouldn't head hit all those glass mirrors and stuff. And, and I, I remembered that I said it out loud. 'It's all yours God.' And He did a pretty good job of, of saving my life, and I've always said, He'd been a bad co-pilot if, if you'd wanted that kind of help. I came to in a field, and I can't tell you how much time, it wasn't very much time, so somehow or another, I either got out of that airplane or was thrown out of it. And there was a farmer with a muzzle-loading gun and I opened one eye and I was laying on the ground and he was screaming at me with his muzzle-loading gun in my face. And I closed the eye quickly, and what had happened, that I didn't know the airplane had killed three of his cows. And cows were more important than Lieutenants in the United States Army Air Force. And he was going to shoot me and about that time I heard some kids, three farm boys with pitchforks over here. And they got in an argument with the farmer who was going to get me. And I knew if the boys with pitchforks got me that it was not going to be fun. And about that time a voice of a young girl speaking in English said she wants you to come with her. And I looked up and here's this little fraulein and, and she said, 'Can you get up?' And I thought, boy, you better be able to get up because this is your, you got something, something that's speaking in English to you. And I, it was, I was finally able to get up. And when over, the farmer's wife had decided she'd take possession of me. Another miracle. And, and so the farmer, the farmer's wife and the little girl, one on each side of me, the farmers behind, said, 'We're going to take you over to the house and explain that they would get the, the people to come get me, proper. So I asked the little girl, when we're walking, and she, she was probably 14, I said, 'Where did you learn English?' And she said, 'Oh, all of the Germans have to learn English,' and, and she said, 'I've had two years of speaking English.' And I thought, I, all my training had been in Latin, and I wondered where the Hell I could go and speak Latin, what good it was to me. It, it was the first evidence to me that Hitler had planned on taking the World. He had to speak English and get to ).B England and then to us, type thing, and it really has a lot of bearing on how I evaluate the War now that is going on. And I am sure you do too. Anyway, they came with the, finally, she took me into the house into the kitchen, the farmer went in and made a call someplace. He got me a cup of coffee and wet a warm towel and they cleaned my head off, which I was bleeding up here. And, and the eyes and cleaned this place down here on my shoulder where I got the shell that went through. Then they said, 'Okay.' And these, the German Police Officers were the ones that came, and they came in a car that was run with coal and wood burner, big burner on the back and they would, that would smoke and that's how they were running that car. Took me to Hanover and put me in a prison. And this was a maximum security prison. Put me in a little cell with barely any light, had no windows, nothing, or anything. And a guy came in and did a body search, which was interesting. And then I went. I went to sleep or passed-out. I woke up maybe two or three hours, I didn't, my watch wasn't running, two or three hours later, and it was in total shock. And that's when I truly became a prisoner of war. There was nobody to call for help. And even God, and I knew that He, He would help but I would have to help myself because I knew enough about shock that if you got it in the hospital and you were shaking like I was that you had real troubles. And that's, that's what I've always said, that's when I became indoctrinated to be a P.O.W. You can't change it, I am not an ex-POW, I'm a P.O.W. It's a wonderful experience to have, but ,1,1 did obviously came out of it.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Did the Gestapo interrogate you while you were there?

Norman Wesley Achen:

They did, one Gestapo Agent did later, but not at that, at that time, in the Hanover, they just were making sure I was a prisoner and they'd be getting ready to turn me over to the Luftwaffe. And, they didn't do any interviewing at all, there in Hanover. In fact, they, they did, two guys came in the next morning sometime, afternoon, and said, 'We're taking you to Frankfurt now.' And two, two Germans, and then only one of them got on the train with me. This was like four in the afternoon or five o'clock and there was a lot of people in the streets. This was shortly aft... sometime after the Great Escape had taken place. The citizens had been notified by Hitler that we were all fair target and that wasn't very helpful for us. Once you got to the Luftwaffe, you, you had better treatment than if you were IH- out with the civilians and so forth. The first night on the way to Frankfurt, the, the train stopped and we got off and the guard took me to a place in the, and it looked like an old warehouse at first. It was really close to the train station. Then went down some steps and I realized what we were in was a big wine cellar, huge wine tanks, and what-not, I found out later not used. And, and take their, I had chains on and chains, and chained me to one of those big, probably couple hundred gallon tank, wine tanks, and left me there. And he came back a little later with some coffee and some black bread, but he, he, also, had a lot of alcohol smell on him so I knew he was having more fun than I was. And then I didn't see him 'til morning. It was another one of those experiences you could hear the rats running and in around so forth, but there was no light in the place and no blankets. Then took me to Frankfurt, now, Frankfurt interrogation, they interrogated all five pilots there. They took wherever they were shot down and, and they took, they were taken to Frankfurt and interrogated. And we were told that we would be there for, maybe a day or two, and they would get a, your dog-tags and the Red Cross would be notified and so forth that you were a prisoner. And then you would be assigned a permanent camp. And I was in solitary confinement for ten days. Before they, before I was interrogated and it's an experience in itself, you had no, you couldn't shave, you couldn't brush your teeth, you couldn't clean, clean-up. They had a water bucket and this type of stuff. And then I was taken in for interrogation finally, and I'll explain that. The guy that interrogated me, his name was Chris Scharff, not Chris Scharff, that's the son, anyway, Scharff, Hanns Scharff and Hanns Scharff has been the, had a best seller a number of years called 'The Interrogater.' And was brought over to the United States after the war to train our people how to interrogate, the German, okay. So, I go in to, to Hanns Scharff, they take me into Hanns Scharff and we go through this rig-a-ma-roll of name, rank and serial number. And finally he said, and he, he said, 'How do I know that your Norm Achen?' And I said, 'Well, you have my dog-tag.' And he pulled in his and he said, 'Here I have my dog-tags, it says Eisenhower. Is that okay, am I Eisenhower?' And I knew that there was something, something going on that I didn't understand. He had gotten up and gone out and came back holding a reel of film and finally he said, 'Do you know why you've been in here for, for ten days in solitary confinement?' And I said, 'I don't have the slightest idea.' And he /J said, 'Well, we got the film out of your airplane and you've been accused of strafing civilians and, and shooting them. And if we can prove that we're going to shoot you,' he said in a very calm voice and I had a little trouble responding to that in any manner. And he said, 'We had got the film out of your airplane and it was sent to Berlin to be developed, and he said, 'I have it here.' And it doesn't take long to think how do I know that's the film out of my airplane to start with. And he said, 'Can you tell me what, what would be on it?' Well, Carl, I hadn't shot my guns that day and if you don't shoot your guns there's nothing on your camera. And you can't shoot your camera, I mean your guns without the camera running. And I didn't think that was a military secret that was so great. I said I thought maybe they would know that. So, he, he said, 'Can you tell me what's, what's on it?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'What?' And I said, 'Nothing, I didn't shoot my guns.' And he sat there and we'd, we'd been staring at each other for two hours, I think at this, and, and he, he was tapping down on the table and he you could tell he was thinking. Finally he picked up the phone behind him and said, got some number, this was all in German. Then he, I could, told him, I heard him say, 'Get Major Smith on the phone for me.' And finally the voice came on the phone and Hanns Scharff sitting here says on the phone, 'Snuffy, this is Hanns Scharff. Is it true on the P-51 that you can't shoot your guns without the cameras going?' He got an affirmative answer. He turned to me and he said, 'Do you know Maj...do your know Major 'Snuffy' Smith?' Well, Major 'Snuffy' Smith had been the Operations for, for the 4th Fighter Group, had been shot down about a week before. And I, I dog-fighted with him and flew his wing one day, so I knew 'Snuffy' came from Texas and had quite a drawl and been flying quite a bit. So, he, Hanns Scharff hands me the phone and he says, 'Say hello.' So I said, 'Hello.' And here's this Texas accent and I know it is 'Snuffy' Smith, they're not fooling me. So, we're talking and I ask 'Snuffy' how he was and he, fine, and he had gotten wounded and he was in the hospital and they were treating him. And he had been interrogated because Hanns Scharff interrogated all of the 4th Fighter Pilots. That's all he ever did, in the Eagle Squadron. That was his total job. So, he had a book, he knew where I graduated from. Showed me the paper that lists the student. And then while we were talking he, an orderly comes in and puts a paper down on his desk. Then this big smile comes in his face, and he said, he grabbed the phone, and he says, 'Snuffy, we just got Jonnie Godfry. He says, li> now we got L.C. Smith, you, 'Snuffy' Smith, we got Jonnie Godfry, we got Norm Achen, all from the 4th Fighter Group. We'll have a party for you tonight. And that ended the, the int... interrogate... and they did have a party for us. And the, the Colonel that was in the, the Colonel but the German that was in charge of the camp. And it was a very large camp. He had a house there and that's where we had dinner. And they had an Intelligence guy and then a couple of ladies that served food and beer and chatted, and basically, what was talked about, Hanns Scharff told about his experience and how he had become this interrogator. And he was a German, but he was living in South Africa when the war, when Hitler started. And with his family had come back to Germany and to visit. And that was common, we knew that, I remember hearing that Germans, if they went back they lost their visas and were kept there because they wanted all the help. And that's what had happened to him. And he became this famous interrogator and, and now his son is in this book. He lives about a mile from me, Chris Scharff. Un... unbelievable relation.

Carl Raymond Cox:

It's unbelievable.

Norman Wesley Achen:

In fact I had breakfast with Chris Scharff this morning. He wanted, he wanted four copies of this to give to his children, and so forth. So, that, that was, had the party for us. When I went back to my room, Hanns Scharff took me, he took Jonnie Godfry, too. And, and he gave me a pack of cigarettes. Before I went into the room he wished me luck. All in one day. And I laid on that bunk for, I'll bet you, for an hour trying to just conceive what the hell had happened to me in that one single day. He couldn't, couldn't gather it all in. So, the next day, we were immediately taken, and I never saw Hanns Scharff again, but now I've seen his son. I never saw Hanns Scharff. We were taken by train to a camp where they, they gave us clothing and shoes and you know, all the hygiene type things that, toothbrushes, all provided by the YMCA usually. But the Army clothing type thing. And then we were getting ready to go down to the train and Jonnie Godfry and I were called out of the column, and taken in for another interrogation. And this was an intelli... Army Intelligence guy. He offered us a beer, offered me a beer when I went in to talk with him. His questions were, 'Did the American people, did they know that the Germans could still beat the Russians if we'd get the hell out of the war. And did the American public understand that.' I don't think that's, that's true, or anything. And, and then, then he said, 'Did the Americans know that if you win the war that you'll have to fight the Russians eventually.' And I, I didn't know. I was an ignorant young kid at that point in that thought just didn't even occur to me, but that's what they were interested in finding out where were they going to go. So, yes we were interrogated by the Gestapo, but it was at a different level of interrogation than, you know, up to this type, this, so.

Carl Raymond Cox:

So when did you arrive at Luft Stalag III?

Norman Wesley Achen:

: They took us back down to the train, and we arrived, we arrived at Stalag Luft III the next morning. And Stalag Luft III was where the Great, I, we call it the 'Great Escape.' It was the 'Great Disaster.' It was, it was probably one of the most great in, in what they prepared themselves to do and all they went on. As you know they intended to take out 200 and something prisoners of war at night and get them going all over the country. They had an air raid and nobody got 74 out of the tunnel. But they had come up 20 feet short of the forest from the tunnel, and then they had an air raid. Then when they had the air raid, they immediately came into camp after the, they turned lights all off, all the lights on the towers and things. But then they came into the camp and counted and they knew that, that just how many they had, the first 50, the first order from Hitler was to shoot them all when they caught them. The story is that, that they talked them into not doing that, many that, that then for some reason he reduced it to the first 50. And they were to be shot in the back of the head based on that they were trying to escape, so that nobody would get blamed for it. The only interesting, to me, the only interesting part, the Gestapo guys that did the shooting, all of them as far as I know, all of them were caught after the war and were in those Nuremberg Trials. And all were either life in prison or shot. So, it, there is some retribution but the, the escape, nobody had tried to escape out of Stalag Luft III again. And for, we weren't there but about eight months more, so what he did affected the prisoners. And it affected us when we were thinking about it, obviously.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me, what was the food like in that prison camp? 12

Norman Wesley Achen:

Sometimes good, fairly good because we got Red Cross parcels, one per man per week. And then the Germans would supply some vege...yeah, vegetables. Once in awhile sauerkraut and then about, I'm going to say, once a month, maybe, they would provide meat, horse meat, that they killed a horse and ground it up and come in and distribute it. And then as it, as the war progressed they, they reduced the Red Cross parcels. They couldn't get them in. They could, and the problem was that they came from Switzerland and the Swiss had Red Cross trucks that they brought them in and tried to distribute it. And the orders for the United States Fighter Groups is to stop everything moving in, in Germany. And I guess they frightened the, the Swiss, and finally the United States Army got, made some type of an agreement with the Germans and they brought food into us. So, it was, when they moved us from Sagon III up in Stalag Luft III to Nuremberg, then they took us in January of '45 in mid-winter. And we didn't have clothes for this and they didn't have food for us. And that came as close to a major disaster as I ever want. That there were like 86 out of the 2,000 that was in the same section of this camp that I was in. Eighty, 83 or 89 of them couldn't move at all. So, they were left there and then supposedly put on trains, and I know, because one, one of my friends was put on trains. But on the second night there were 800 out of the 2300 that couldn't go any further and they were put in barns. And it was cold and freezing and as far as I know, most of those got down to Munich, later. So, the disaster was close, but not like the Japanese. But you couldn't escape, either, at that time, because it was miserably cold. Guy, guys would sit down there, and say we were going to rest for 10 minutes. Well, it was too cold to rest, but they were so tired they'd sit down on their pack or whatever it was. You, you could hardly wake them up. And then I got visions, I could see ahead these big castles in places where they were going to let us in. You talk about your visions of grandeur or whatever it may be. That was, that was that and they finally put us in those 40 innate boxcars. And they had 53 of us with a guard and they locked us in them. And it, it took a little over two days to get to Nuremberg. And they had a had a can for the toilet, maybe, maybe, 50 gallon, a hundred gallon, anyway. But there's 53 guys locked in and most of them had diarrhea. And, and so when you moved in the boxcar, it, it was so rocky that the sick guys would, we had to move the can into the middle of the boxcar so it didn't be passed over everybody's head type thing. And then the Ct II sick guys would sit in the middle of the, you know, that, that couldn't move and the rest of us stood around the edge so we could lean against the wall. And that was, that was, that was kind of close to a disaster.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What happened after you arrived in Nuremberg?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Nuremberg, Nuremberg is in, all the records show that Nuremberg was, was not even compatible for prisoners. And the guys were sleeping on the floor without blankets and it was cold and again, we had this problem of severe diarrhea going on because most of the food. It got to a point that this, they would provide some type of a grass soup and you could see the snails, the bugs in it, and so forth, and you got so you just shut your eyes and ate it. And so you learned that you could eat anything, really. And it was, it was, all kinds of reports out on Nuremberg and, and the desire. The report was that, that they were going to move us to, to the Munich, out of Nuremberg, and this was a long march. And the Red Cross parcels that, guys that had come in had said the word is that you, this 2,000 here is going to be held in caves down in the Bavarian Alps as hostages. And Hitler is going to try and deal with something, that and... another guy stopped me on the street one day, a Major, and said he was chatting and went down the walk area type there. He said, 'What do you think about escaping?' I said, 'Well, Jesus, I'd love to escape but,' I said, 'You know, so careful that you don't want to do that.' For a couple of weeks he and I talked. Then, he was an interesting guy. And I, I explained because when they escaped, the Great Escape took place they had to get to Switzerland or Sweden or Spain, then you, miles and miles and miles to going. So they had to have all this extra passes and worksheets and clothing and everything, and they made it. And so from that point of view, they did a miraculous job. But that's a tough escape, getting out of the fence is one thing, but then moving all the way across the country is, or a long distance, that a totally tougher thing. We didn't have the, neither one of us spoke German and we didn't have the clothing to do so. If we escaped it meant that we had to find a place to hide out and wait. It just was so clear that, that when we thought about it and so, we decided that if they didn't move us, we weren't going to move. We weren't going to try and escape, it was safer. But if they moved us, we didn't want to go to the Alps. We didn't want to make the trip and, Zo and I guess we were crazy enough that, that we wanted to take the chance. So we did and we succeeded in getting away.

Carl Raymond Cox:

So, were you on a forced march?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Uh huh.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And you escaped? Veteran Uh, huh.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Well, tell me about it?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Well, I'll tell you some of the inter...we were 15 days loose. And we, we were on the forced march the first day and they had a truck, I mean a wagon with a horse-drawn wagon in the back where they put the guards bags and a few seats or, you know, people who couldn't walk. And that kept getting further behind or shorten up and Moose faked, faked that he had a bad leg and we almost got shot at, at, at that point from the guards. But I guess we talked them into, and we moved back and just as we got to the wagon we broke to the woods. And, and often thought we were crazy when we were out there. I'll tell you, now, food is now even getting worse. Because we don't have enough food for five days let alone 15 days. And, and two, two events that, that when you read it, you, all of a sudden we, where we got our water from, I saw snails. And I woke up in the middle of the night and I said, 'God damn it, I've eaten raw oysters why can't I eat raw snails.' So these were in a canal-type thing and so the next morning I said to Moose, the guy that escaped with me about the, says, 'Well, let's try it.' So we went, went down and were able to get a little can full of them, came back. Learned a lot of things and we rinsed them and we had some iodine. We rinsed them in iodine water and then to get them out of the shell was to, but we couldn't put fire or anything. We learned that if you hold them up close and blow at them, your warm breath they'll start coming out, foaming, and grab them with your pen knife and skin them up. So I did the first one and I gagged and it almost, almost didn't climb back out. And Moose, Moose tried it and he did, he had the same problem. Then he said, 'Hey, we've got one bar of that D-Bar they called it, that came in the Red Cross parcel chocolate. We got one of those. He said, 'Let's just take a little bite of the chocolate and then pop that thing. We'll have a chocolate-covered,' so we did that for five days and ate those God damn oysters, snails. And neither one of us got diarrhea or, it's just amazing what, what the hell, happened there. And the other thing that when your escape like that is your, we knew if we got caught by the gentler youth, the Gestapo, or the SS, we'd had it, okay. Now, we were so intense that you didn't sleep very much, you just kind of, you were held in to a different position. And to have, we had sign language we used in the middle of the night if we heard something or something like that. But one of the things that Moose had gotten, the book called The Razor's Edge from his sister at, up at Stala..., up before you got to Nuremberg. And, and The Razor's Edge if you haven't seen the picture show or read the book, the lead guy is a fighter pilot from World War I, that wanders off and something happened to him and, and in this thing that made him out searching for the purpose for life and went to India in all of this, this stuff. So we got in great discussions about this, what is the purpose of life and is there a God and we, we found out that we believed in the God. We didn't know how to describe him or we didn't know, the very much detail other than, than believing. And one day, one day we were land, we stayed and we built a shelter and you couldn't see it from 20 feet away. And we would crawl in, and one day I said to Moose, That's the only thing we have to read or talk about.' And we just kind of, you know, in to that. And I said to Moose, I said, 'Moose, what are we going to be when, what are we going to be when we go to heaven?' And he thought about that for awhile and he said, 'Well, we're going to be souls.' And I thought about that and I said, 'Moose, are you telling me that you're willing to be a soul for the rest of eternity.' He said, 'Yea, as long as there's female souls.' I said, 'How the hell are you going to tell a female soul from a male soul?' He said, 'She'll smell better.' I, like you, I laughed down to the bottom of my feet for 30 minutes, good. That was our salvation. Anyway, that part of it was, we, that, I think that same night where we were was a canal where we could get water and there was a bridge across it, and it rode over near, we were back here in this thicket, it was really a German thicket. And one night we heard this terrible noise, trucks going along here, and across this bridge that they had a guard on. Then they came down this road and they, they obviously backed in, we found that out in the morning. What, what had happened was the heavy ar..., the German heavy artillery was AZ retreating. And they came by and they circled us. We're sitting over here and they're over here with these 90-millimeter guns sticking out of the woods. And all the next day they shot about 20 miles off in this, and over the top of us, and it raise us, about this high off the ground. And, and they then moved out that night. They had a party before we moved. The guard was taken off of the bridge and we decided we had to move that we were close now because they were shooting. Somewhere within range where we could get. So after dark we proceeded to go across here and down that road and finally got into, we were chased twice, and finally, finally about midnight we came into a clearing kind of, and from across the, the clearing a flashlight with a code. And, boy, we knew we had run into some troops, again, or something. And we pealed back and found a creek going down and walked in it. And they, they had a dog but they, they did not catch us. That I was ready for in the morning, the boots had frozen on our feet and I was ready to give up. Then if somebody had stuck their head around and said, 'You guys give up,' I said, 'I do. But the sun came out and we were, we got our shoes off and got our feet so we could walk in them. And I'll shorten that up, and that, by that evening we heard tanks running down the road. And saw that an L-5 airplane leading them. And I knew that, because I'd flown the L- 5. And I knew that these were planes leading tanks and troops and they were our planes and tanks. So we went tearing over and through this forest, really, and got yelled at in German one time from way to the right, to halt. And we just kept going. Got over to this road and walked out with our arms up, and I'm shortening this story. And the first thing we saw was a jeep pull out from the middle of the tanks as they were coming down the road, and come tearing up with a 50 machine gun aimed at us. And everyone of the tanks coming down the road, their cannon was immediately foe... run over, and all the tanks cannons were aimed at us. That was a, that was a short period there. And finally the, the guy in the, the jeep, they, they pulled up to us and stopped and recognized we were really prisoners of war and escapees. And said, 'Okay, there'll be another jeep for you, and in 15 minutes or so and you can come in and when you can stay with us tonight.' And so we stood there as the tanks are going by and you could hear, hear the, I think he was a Major in the jeep telling the tanks what to do. And as they went they all took their guns and swung them back straight up the road and as they went by us standing there, the, the Commander of the tank, you know, that c^-J stands up, would salute us. Tears running down, that stuff. You think I didn't think about it and I still, still remember that.

Carl Raymond Cox:

So, that was your liberation?

Norman Wesley Achen:

This was the liberation, yes. They, they, we went and stayed with them that night and they had a party. And somehow or another, they, somebody had found a bunch of booze. And a warehouse or something and, and they had occupied this small hotel. And Moose and I both had rooms and we got cold showers because they didn't have, in Germany at this point. But they, we got out and had dinner and they had eight French girls they found. They were slave laborers in Germany and that we, we knew this was happening because the Germans needed all kinds of help and they, they took them in. What they were slave labor for was, not for sure, because they were not bad looking girls, most of them. And, and obviously we couldn't eat or drink, either one, then you'd throw it right, almost back up quickly. I went to bed and the tanks had all parked along the street on the other side. I got up in the morning, finally, and looked out the window and no tanks. Oh, God almighty, had they left me? Have the Germans reoccupied this city? And so I went down to the kitchen where the people were, the older couple, and they didn't speak any English, but they had owned a hotel and they fixed breakfast for me, and Moose comes in with a Major and said, 'We have a car now.' And they had, they had taken a beautiful four-door convertible with the top down and on the back seat were two cases of Five-Star Hennessey, you know, priceless liquor. And Moose, Moose had gone out with the guy and they had some food and stuff. And then they had a map for us to take because we were on the front lines and they said, There's all kinds of occupied spaces by the Germans back which haven't, will have to be cleared out, so you be careful and go the right roads.' And there was a, a French girl, okay, and she wanted to go to Nancy, France and we were going to go to Paris, and this was ail talked out. Nancy, France is enroute to Paris, obviously. And so we got back, maybe, 50 miles, they stopped us, M.P.'s directing traffic, tanks rolling, supplies trying to keep up with Patton. And, and we said we're escaped prisoners, and this M.P. that stopped us finally saw, looked at that, and he says, 'I suppose she's an escaped prisoner, too.' He said, 'No, she's once lives in Nancy, Nancy, France and we're going to drop her off.' He said, 'You just JLf stay there.' And finally a Major comes out and driving up in a jeep and made, it was at least an hour, and we started to tell him our story. He said, 'Don't tell me your story.' He said, 'What we heard this guy tell us, we knew you were escaped prisoners, nobody else could have a story like this. But they took the French girl, they took the car and they said, There's a DC-3 coming in tonight with a General and we, we'll put you on it. And you can take as much of this Hennessey as you can carry in this, this bag. So I had three bottles of it. And the DC-3 did come in and it was a lot of excitement getting into this, but they flew us to Nancy, France. Now this is when, when the war is moving at 25 miles per day and they're just, you know, going like hell. And they had called, they had called the 7th Air Force in Paris to find out what to do with us and the 7th Air Force says, 'Well, just get them to Paris and we'll take care of them.' So, we got into Nancy is where the plane stopped. They put us on the Berlin Express, which goes directly to Paris through there. Got into Nancy late in the afternoon. I woke up at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, probably finest hotel in the world, and at that time, and in this luxurious bed. From Nurenberg Prison, which was such and such and such and such. And, and the voice, and the phone rang and it was a woman and she said, This is Corporal so and so. Major so and so would like to know if you would have time to be debriefed and have breakfast with him at nine o'clock.' And she said, 'If so, I'll come up and pick you up.' And so I got all cleaned up, couldn't clean up my clothes, obviously, and so, got showered and perfumed and all, all of that. She came up at nine o'clock and as we were going through the lobby, all this, the Air Forces occupied the hotel, and ail these officers and they're looking at me and I'm trying to hide. Finally, one guy said, 'Are you the guy that one of the guys that escaped and we were told about this morning?' And I said, 'Yeah.' I tell you the next 10 minutes there everyone came up and shook my hand. It was the most e... just emotional kind of thing. And then finally this Corporal got, got me out and took me in the dining room and here's this Major. And we decide we can either go down to Southern France in the Mediterranean and have a couple of weeks of R and R before we go home or we can go directly home through Lucky Camp, Lucky Strike and so forth. Moose decided to go down to the Mediterranean, I said, 'No, I'm going home.' So, we, we said goodbye. I don't know his name, never did hear his name. I think I know who he is. I.I tried to call him, and he said, 'No, I wasn't in that barracks.' And the guy that escaped with me was in the barracks. And so you'll, you'll see that it's only Moose.

Carl Raymond Cox:

So, tell me, what happened when you got back home?

Norman Wesley Achen:

I had two, two months of leave. And fortunately my wife had come out from Florida to live with my mother and stepfather. And she had gotten a job at Elizabeth Arden's on the Sunset Strip, and it was called the Red Door, and it's still is called the Red Door. And it was the, the Beauty Shop of the Stars. And my wife had gotten a job as receptionist there. Elizabeth Arden took me over and every other day I went in and had a steam bath, a body massage, a facial, hair treatment, because I was a messy looking guy with all the flea bites and all the, in two months with, with some sunshine and Elizabeth, all on Elizabeth Arden. And probably each trip I was in there was worth 500 or 800 dollars if I had paid to for it. In just falling off the curb and coming in, it's just unbelievable. And so from there it, when we were called back to active duty, the Air Force had taken over the Del Mar Club down in Santa Monica on the beach. And the Del, Del Mar Club I was told to report there. And what they were doing was debriefing certain people and, and finally when they got through, and my wife went with me, and so it was like a second honeymoon, really. Beautiful facilities and everything and they said, after the debriefing they said, 'We need fighter pilots in Asia, we would like you to go.' And I, and I had enough points not to go. They had a point system. And I said, 'Well, I, I want to go, very much so.' So they sent us back to Luke Field to, because I hadn't flown in a year. And to take 51's out, Luke was now a 51 base. And, and while I was there, it really just got started and they dropped the first Atomic Bomb. And I said, 'I want out.' And so by December I got out. Otherwise I would have been in, in Asia, and I did want to go.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Did you utilize the Gl Bill?'

Norman Wesley Achen:

I did. I certainly did.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And what did you go to school to learn?

Norman Wesley Achen:

I was going, I thought I was going to go into Medicine, so I went to UCLA and took, and took a Science Course, Science ^ Program and finished that. Had two kids, then went to work for a company and became National Sales Manager within three or four years, then went to Highland Laboratories, then became President of that. And I started my own company. Believe it or not, I sold it to a German company. Then I went to school and got a Law Degree.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you belong to any Veterans Organizations?

Norman Wesley Achen:

Sure, the ex-POWs and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, _ the Purple Heart. I don't belong to the American League, while the VFW, yes certainly, and life-time member. Life-time member in the ex-POW's. Life-time member in the Purple Heart. But that's more than I can handle.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Is there anything that you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

Norman Wesley Achen:

One of the most important things that I talk about now is that I was not much of a joiner. I belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and, but never went to a convention or a meeting. And a couple of years ago I realized that, that I, the VA had obligations to me that I had never participated in or never even wanted to. And that if my wife had to put me away, the VA would be as good a place as anything. And so I did go to the VA and became a patient. I have never been treated better anyplace than the VA has treated me as a patient. And, and I can say that openly.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Is that a book you've written?

Norman Wesley Achen:

It took 60 years to decide to do it. In 1946, 1946-7, Groucho Marx and, and Zeppo Marx told me that I should write my experiences and it took me only 60 years to decide to do it. And this is it. And I, it just come out being produced by Bradford, Trafford out of Canada.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And the name of it is 'Go With God.'

Norman Wesley Achen:

'Go With God,' He's a good co-pilot. They, they don't come any better. Anyway, it's based on the war experiences, and some of the things that you learn in war. As an example, that, the Geneva Convention is a great idea, but when somebody starts losing the war, they're not interested in the Geneva Convention. So, you have to kind of take that in a grain of salt.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Mr. Achen, I would like to thank you for participating in the Veterans History Project and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Norman Wesley Achen:

It's really my pleasure to be here, it really is. And I thank you and I hope that, that it is of some value.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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