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William J. Miller’s story was published in the 379th Bomb Group WWII Association’s magazine/newsletter ‘CONTRAILS’ in August 1992.  Mr. Miller is now deceased.



September 16, 1943.  It was mission number thirty for the 379th Bombardment Group (Heavy).  The target was a ball bearing plant, Nantes, France.  The 379th flew as high Group in the formation of the 41st Bomb Wing.  The Triangle K Group scheduled nineteen planes.  One aborted due to mechanical failure.  Total bomb load was 164 X 500 pounders.  Leading the Troup was aircraft commander and pilot Lt. Col. Robert S. Kittel; navigator, Capt. James Edwards; bombardier, Capt. Joseph G. Glaser.


In the formation was B-17 No. 42-29876, “Battlin’ Bobbie”, piloted by 1st Lt. Elton “Pete” Hoyt.  Aboard with nine others of the crew was Technical Sergeant William J. Miller, left waist gunner.  Bill’s story of his twenty-third mission unfolds below.


Flying at 25,000 feet, “Battlin’ Bobbie” was under fighter attack from above and both sides while flying through heavy flak.  A shell went through the gas tank in the left wing and it caught fire.  “When an inferno fueled by one hundred octane gasoline is in front of you, there are no heroes around.  You need no one to push you out of the plane.  It’s all voluntary as fast as you can – out you go!”  Bill said.


“I dropped down and down in errie silence until at 5000 feet I pulled the rip cord.  The chute didn’t open.  When it didn’t ‘blossom’, I muttered, ‘Well, it’s no use to depend on the Army!’ and threw up my hands in disgust.  The flap opened and out came the chute.  One hand had been on the flap.”  He landed in an apple orchard and immediately was surrounded by Frenchmen.  They gathered up his chute and took off through the orchard heading north.  By this time he had his map and compass handy and he started south.  Scared stiff, with a “Boy Scout” knife held tightly in his hand, he was ready for anything.

It was just a few minutes after he started to walk down a country road that he passed a young man about twenty years old who was sitting on a fence rail.  He watched Bill go by, then jumped down and started to walk alongside of him.

“You are an American?” the young man asked in French.

“Yes.” Bill replied in French learned years ago in high school.

“The Germans are looking for you.” the young man remarked.

“I know.” Bill replied.

“Follow me,” the young man said.


 Bill went with him for about a mile through the brush and trees to a swampy willow patch.  They stopped and the young man advised, “Wait here on this log and I will return when it’s getting dark-about seven o’clock.”  It was then about three.  “When I return I’ll be singing La Marseillaise.”  What luck!  Bill had made contact with the French Underground.


That night Bill met up with Lt Hoyt and Staff Sgt. Herbert J. Dulberg, radio operator-gunner of his crew.  They compared notes and agreed that everyone had gotten out of the plane.  Bill was the last one to jump from the rear and Lt. Hoyt was the last one out of the front.


The next day they met Sgt. Edward R. Shaffer, tail gunner of the crew.  And Staff Sgt. Cyril G. Koval, right waist gunner on a plane from the 526th Squadron that was shot down, joined them, too.  They were picked up in the center of the town of Redon by a chartered bus run by The Underground.  Staff Sgt. Harry L. Minor, right waist gunner of the crew, was already on it.  They were taken to the home of Rene’ Pansart located on the edge of the town of St. Malo.  With their arrival, nine Americans were now there in hiding.  One was there since September 9th.


While hiding at Pansart’s, they were joined by another American.  For some reason the canny French didn’t feel comfortable with this American even though he spoke good English.  All of the fellows had conversations with him.  John Bielstein, one of them, asked what kind of a plane he flew in.  He said it was a Thunderbolt.  John asked what happened to the rest of his crew.  He replied they bailed out when they first got hit.  They knew then something was fishy.  From then on he was carefully watched.


That night when he was undressing for bed, he dropped a shoe.  The heel came off and a paper fell from it.  Written on it were the names of towns and the people who had helped him travel all the way from Holland to St. Malo.  They were members of The Underground.  He was from the Gestapo posing as a downed American flier.  He had lived in Chicago for eleven years before the war. Doubtless, that experience helped him learn to speak English as well as he did. The French hung him in a barn before dawn and buried him under the carrots in a garden.

It was decided to split the group - too many men hiding in one place.  Shaffer, Koval, Dulberg and Bill went to a garage (second floor) behind a hotel that housed German officers.  They ate food from the same kitchen that prepared theirs and it was fine food.  They smoked their cigars and cigarettes, too.  The woman who ran the hotel had lived in Chicago for thirteen years.  She wanted the Germans to stay at the hotel until the end of the war.  They had killed her husband and she wanted revenge.  She was optimistic that the American army would arrive some day and if the six officers were still occupying her hotel she wouldn’t have to find them.  The day of reckoning arrived and she retaliated by killing them.

The Underground eventually moved Bill and Shaffer to Paris.  In February 1944 they lived with Monsieur Ernest Bernard at #3 Rue de Emile Zola in the Livery Gargan section of Paris for over three weeks.  Then they moved to a place on Avenue De La Convention.


In January 1944 eighty men of The Underground were lost because a spy penetrated the organization.  Koval and Technical Sgt. Samuel M. Blatchford, 526th Squadron, radio operator-gunner on pilot 2nd Lt. Walter C. Euwer’s crew (Euwer was killed on the mission) were taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III after many days of torture by the Gestapo.


Bill related an unbelievable incident that began on July 14, 1943, Bastille Day.  The ultimate conclusion came to light in February 1944 while he was in Paris.  It pertains to the eleventh mission for the 379th and Bill flew on it.  The target was an aircraft components plant located at Villa Coublay.  There was a camera aboard his plane that was activated by the radio operator on the bomb run.  It took pictures at three-second intervals.  Approaching the target there were broken clouds but it could be seen.  There was fighter opposition from Goering’s Yellow Nose Squadrons from Abbeyville and some “ack-ack” fire.  The bombs were dropped.  On the way home the B-17’s met their fighter escort about fifty miles from Paris and arrived safely.


After landing, he and other crew headed for the film processing laboratory anxious to see the photos as they came out of the developer.  They were great!  There were photos of the bombs leaving the bomb bay in a good cluster.  One bomb, however, went off to the right immediately.  Since they were at about 25,000 feet, it wasn’t likely that it would land near the others.  Captain Paul Crum, the bombardier, and Bill took a good look at the series of photos and agreed that the bomb had a bent fin as it drifted out of the series of pictures.  “Well,” Crum said, “it won’t hit anything.”


One day in February 1944 during Bill’s stay with Mr. Bernard, they, along with Shaffer, were talking about the war.  Mr. Bernard remarked he was working in the machine shop at Le Bourget on Bastille Day in 1943 when American bombers came over about three o’clock in the afternoon.  He said they were always glad when they came because all the workers quit and headed for the underground shelters as soon as the sirens started.  He said when they returned, the machine shop was a real mess and the barracks, about two hundred yards away, hidden in the woods, were wiped out completely along with the German army personnel present.  It was accurate bombing with all the bombs in a group except one.


Mr. Bernard said the one bomb landed two and a half miles away on a large German bomber set in concrete.  It was a Heinkel III used to teach students how to load bombs and to study the bomb racks.  It must have been the bomb that went astray, Bill thought.


“I don’t know how from that high in the air you could be so good at placing the bombs,” Mr. Bernard remarked.  “That’s nothing,” Bill replied.  “If there had been two planes set in concrete over there, we would have sent two bombs that way.”  Shaffer almost swallowed his tongue when Bill told him in English what he had told Mr. Bernard in French.


In due time The Underground moved Bill and others by train to Toulouse.  It took three days.  From there they moved on to St. Godens, a ski resort town in the Pyrenees Mountains.  Three weeks were spent there in sheepherder huts.  Their number grew to sixteen airmen: two Australians, two Czechs, three English, one Dutch, and eight Americans.  They were waiting for the snow to melt so they could cross the mountains into Spain. 


Around the first of May 1944, one night with three guides they walked thirty miles through streams with floating ice, and through snow into Spain.  They arrived in the small town of Bosost and were promptly thrown in jail by the Spanish Frontier Guards.  The Captain of the Guards let Bill use his phone to call the American consulate in Madrid but he could not speak in English.  His French was good enough to make conversation.  He told the embassy person that sixteen airmen were being held in Bosost.  In a few hours they were out of jail and were taken to a hotel by the governor of the territory.  The next day they moved on to Zaragoza and two weeks later to Madrid.  Next stop Gibraltar.  From there the Royal Air Force flew them to England.


Bill spent nine months and three days in France evading the Germans before reaching Spain and freedom.  He traveled about one thousand miles aided by the French Resistance Group or The Underground.  On one occasion he rode on a German troop train part way that was enroute to the Russian front.


Since the end of World War II, Bill has returned to France four times on visits.  He has had the pleasure of meeting with some of the folks who were part of The Underground that helped him.  “Let me tell you, it’s great to be alive!”




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