Interviewed By Steven F. Crane
12 March 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Steven F. Crane
12 March 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
John Udy, an oral history by Steven F.
Crane, 12 March 2013, WSU Stewart Library
Oral History Program, University Archives,
Stewart Library, Weber State University,
March 12, 2013
Abstract: John Udy participated in an oral history interview with Steve Crane of the
Ogden Rotary Club on March 12, 2013 to talk about his experiences as a veteran
of the Army Air Force. John served in the military from 1942 to 1945 as a colonel
and first pilot of the B-17 aircraft. During that time he flew 35 missions over
Germany as an aircraft commander and received the Distinguished Flying Cross
medal for his service in combat.
SC: This is the third session of the 2013 Ogden Rotary Club and Weber State
University Veteran’s History Project held March 12, 2013 at the George E.
Whalen Ogden Veteran’s Home. I’m Steve Crane, a member of the Ogden
Rotary Club, I’ll be conducting this interview. Also present are Stacie Gallagher
from Weber State University and my wife, Donna Crane. Our guest at this
session is John Udy. This interview will concern John’s military service. Once
again, I want to thank you for being with us today and especially thank you for
your service. We really appreciate what you and your generation did. Can you tell
me you date of birth?
JU: It’s March 20, 1921.
SC: You said you were in the Army Air Force?
JU: I started out in 1942. I went into the Army Air Force at that time. The Army Air
Force, was until after my wartime services and they changed it to the U.S. Air
Force. I stayed in the Reserves until I retired.
SC: What year did you enter the service?
SC: What year did you leave the service?
SC: What was your rank at the time you left service?
SC: What would be the definition of your job or your position?
JU: It depends on the time. I was a first pilot on a B-17 and I flew 35 missions over
Germany from August of 1944 until January 1945. What they called me there
was an aircraft commander.
SC: Okay. What awards or medals did you receive during your time?
JU: I got the Distinguished Flying Cross, the air medal with about six oak leaf
clusters, the European-African-Middle East Theater and the World War II Victory
Medal. I’d have to look at my records to get them all.
SC: The Distinguished Flying Cross.
JU: I got that for one hazardous mission over Germany when we barely made it back.
SC: How did you come to be in the service?
JU: I volunteered. I was working for the government as an aircraft mechanic. I went
to a movie in Salt Lake and all these airplanes were flying around. I thought,
“That’s what I want to be.” So, I signed up.
SC: What was your age at that time?
JU: I was about 20 or 21.
SC: After you volunteered, where did you have your training?
JU: I went to Santa Ana, California. When you go there they decide if you’re going to
be a pilot, a navigator, or a bombardier. I got to be a pilot and that’s what I
wanted. I went from there to Dos Palos, California for primary training. That was
the first airplane we flew. It was the Ryan PD-22.
SC: What characteristics did you have that made you a pilot?
JU: I don’t know. I wasn’t on the committee, but I had operated farm machinery and
stuff like that all my life. I knew a little bit about engines. I had been an aircraft
mechanic, so I knew about the airplanes. I don’t know whether that helped me or
not, but that was the background I had.
SC: Where did you go for pilot training?
JU: Dos Palos, California for the primary training. The BT-13 was the first airplane we
flew. If you could pass that then you went on to basic training. We went to
Lemoore, California for training there. At that time you had to decide if you
wanted to be a fighter pilot or a bomber pilot. I really intended to make flying my
career, so I went for the bomber pilot because I would get time in a four engine
airplane. The four engine pilots went to Texas and that’s where we took our
training in a twin engine airplane. After I graduated from there, they asked us if
we wanted to be in B-24’s or B-17’s. I, like a fool, said, “I want to go to the B-24
because I liked the tricycle landing gear.” They sent me to the B-17’s and that
was the best thing for me because it was a better airplane.
SC: So you felt like the B-17 was superior to the B-24?
JU: It was a superior airplane, but I didn’t know that at the time.
SC: Is that the “Flying Fortress?”
JU: Yes, the “Flying Fortress.” I went from there to Roswell, New Mexico where I took
the B-17 transition training. It was where I learned to fly the B-17.
SC: When did you go overseas?
JU: When I left Roswell, New Mexico, I went to Salt Lake City and down to Plant
Park, Florida and Avon Park, Florida where I received my crew. I got my pilot and
navigator, etc. We trained there in combat training and left there in about June
1944 for the European theater. We went up to Savannah, Georgia where we
were supposed to pick up a new B-17 and fly it across the ocean and in combat,
but they ran out of B-17’s so we had to ride the ship across. We spent 15 days
on a boat going across there.
SC: Instead of getting to fly a brand new bomber, you took a boat?
JU: Yes, that’s right. We were sent to a place where they would send you out to
different squadrons. They sent me to the 401st bomb group and that was in
Britain and that’s where I flew my missions out of.
SC: When did you get your airplane?
JU: I didn’t get a new airplane for a while. I flew other airplanes and I flew one by the
name of Packawallop II and I flew that several missions. Marlene Deitrich went
over there to entertain. Our group commander, Colonel Bill Sewell, took the
airplane to go pick her up at the airport and bring her back for the entertainment.
The next day, the crew that flew the Packawallop II was shot down. I don’t know
if she put a hex on it. She was German, you know. I don’t know if she put a hex
on it or what, but the airplane did go down.
SC: Did you then get a new airplane?
JU: Yes, I got a new airplane.
SC: So you were flying and bombing Germany?
JU: We bombed oil refineries, ball bearing works, and airplane factories. We didn’t
bomb cities. We bombed the industrial targets and mainly oil refineries. I went to
Merseburg Oil Refinery four times straight. When they captured that they found
1000 aircraft guns around it. That’s what they were shooting at us.
SC: Were you doing those during the daylight hours or the evening hours?
SC: Okay. That was more risky I’m sure.
JU: It was, the British wouldn’t fly in the daytime they flew at night.
SC: Can you tell us about some of your flights and the dangers and experiences you
JU: The first mission that I went on, they gave me an experienced co-pilot. My
regular co-pilot didn’t fly with me, so we flew to Leipzig, Germany. That was a
terrible target, it had a lot of aircraft guns and we got the oil system shot out on
the B-17 while we were flying. It acted like it was hit in the right side on the wing
or something because it went down on that side, but I managed to get it up again
and flew it back to our base. I called the base and said, “I’ve got no brakes, I
can’t stop. Can I land?” They said, “You stay up there until we get these other
airplanes down.” That’s what they did and they had the ambulance and a lot of
other people out at the end of the runway to patch us up if we got hurt. I brought
that airplane in and landed it with no brakes. It doesn’t stop very easily. I kept my
number one and number two engines running so I could control it a little bit. We
got to the end of the runway and there were all these people standing out there. I
could see over the end of the runway that there was a great big ditch out there
that I would hit and it would really wreck that airplane. It had a little patch of grass
between me and that ditch. When I got onto that grass, I pushed the number one
engine and opened it up and it turned the airplane and it caused it to ground
loop. I ground looped a B-17. I don’t know if anybody had ever done that before
or since. When it turned around and headed for all those people, they scattered.
The airplane kept turning around and it just spun around and stopped. It didn’t
hurt the airplane at all. That was my first combat mission.
I had another one on Christmas Eve of 1944. We bombed Koblenz,
Germany and we got hit in the number one engine oil system and it caused it to
lose all the oil. Normally, it had a stand pipe in there to save enough oil to feather
the engine. By feathering the engine I mean turn the prop out so it will stop. This
airplane didn’t have that in it. When the pressure dropped and we tried to feather
the engine it wouldn’t feather. It sat out there and wind milled after we turned the
ignition, fuel and everything off. It wind milled until it broke the crank shaft on the
engine. The prop was just spinning and the sparks were flying. It didn’t catch on
fire, thankfully. We dropped out of formation and headed back for England and
called for fighter support. We didn’t get it because no fighter heard us. We went
all the way back. This was at the time during the Battle of the Bulge when all that
fog moved in and covered our base and we couldn’t get back to our base. We got
back across the channel.
Some pilots would try to pull that prop off the engine and sometimes
they’d succeed, but it would come right back through the cockpit. I thought, “I’m
not going to do that.” So I just left it on. We came over an airfield and I turned on
my landing lights. I couldn’t contact them with my radio because I didn’t know
what base they were. I went around and landed. Lucky for us, the prop didn’t fall
off and get entangled in the airplane and we got out alright. They found later that
a lot of the counterweights in the wing were broken loose and were just rattling
around in there. They could have jammed that wing or a control anytime, but they
SC: The flight surface on the wing could have been damaged.
JU: We called our base and since it was foggy they wouldn’t send anybody after us
so we had to stay at that base.
SC: Was that your new B-17?
JU: No, it was another one. I don’t remember which one it was.
SC: As you flew over and back, did you say you usually had fighter support?
JU: In the latter parts of our missions we did.
SC: Were they able to follow you clear to the target?
JU: No, the fighter pilots are not dumb. They’re not going to fly into that flack.
SC: Not like bombers had to, right?
JU: When you get up there and get ready to go into the flack to bomb the target, the
fighters drop back. They stay outside of that flack area. They did help a lot on
knocking down the fighters that attacked us.
SC: Did you have quite a few German fighters attacking you as you were going and
JU: We didn’t have too many fighters hit us. It was mainly flack with us. We did get hit
with some Focke-Wulf 190’s on one mission. I was flying along and this guy on
my left wing got a direct hit in the engine and he came up right into me and I had
to pull up to keep him from hitting me. It caused my airplane to slow up and the
Flockwelt-190’s were sitting back there waiting and they started shooting. You
could see the 12 millimeter cannons going through the right wing and the others.
We managed to get back into the flack away from the fighter and saved us
SC: So, the German flack would scare off the German fighters?
JU: Oh yeah, they wouldn’t go in it either. They knew it was dangerous.
SC: What other dangerous experiences did you?
JU: Those were my two most hazardous missions. One mission we came back with
250 holes in the airplane. Luckily, the crew didn’t get hit. None of us got
wounded. They asked our navigator to fly with another crew. They went over to
Hagenow and they got shot down. The pilot was killed getting out of the airplane,
but my navigator bailed out and he was supposed to make a delayed jump where
you don’t open your parachute until you get to about 3000 feet above the ground.
He pulled it right away and the people were standing around waiting for him with
pitchforks and guns and everything. He thought they were going to kill him right
then, but they didn’t kill him. The military came and took him over and he spent
nine months in a prison camp.
SC: Did you see him again?
JU: Yes, I did. I saw him after he came out. He was very thin. He lived on bread and
potatoes he said. He was really skinny. He died fairly young too. He was only 65
when he died. He was a schoolteacher in California. I thought possibly that the
time in there shortened his life. I’m no doctor, I don’t know.
SC: You must have become very close with your crew. Did you become close friends
with those that were with you?
JU: Yes, they were very close friends. We looked out for each other.
SC: Did you stay close to them after you served?
JU: That’s a funny thing. As soon as we finished our missions, we went our various
ways. We went back home and got really split up. I didn’t see too much of them
after that. My co-pilot I’ve stayed close with. We have a 401st Bomb Group that
the people flew in and they made an association here after the war and a lot of
people and their crews went there. My crew wouldn’t go for some reason. My
engineer and I went to the reunions they had and I tried to get my navigator, my
bombardier and my co-pilot to go and they wouldn’t go. They had one reunion in
Omaha, Nebraska and my bombardier, who I had to make my navigator after
Mack got shot down, said he would go to that one, but his ears bothered him and
he couldn’t fly anymore afterward. Sometimes we’d come down and his ears
would bother him so bad that we’d have to go back up and let his ears clear out
before we could go back down. He had to have operations on his ears after he
got out. He still would not go to that reunion.
SC: Can you tell me what the duties of each of your flight crew were? Since you were
the flight commander you were obviously in charge of everything. What duties did
the co-pilot have?
JU: He was there to take over in case something happened to me. He also had
duties at takeoff and would monitor the throttles and engines. He’d call it out if
the engine started cutting out or something or anything else that he saw wrong.
SC: The navigator, is that role pretty self-explanatory?
JU: Yes. I never did use mine much because he got shot down and I had to put the
bombardier up there to be a navigator and he didn’t really know too much about
it. He got me lost twice. The navigator that was leading the group had to be really
good and get to the target.
SC: Mostly you were following the group?
JU: We followed the group mostly. Due partially to the fact that I didn’t have a
navigator; I didn’t get to be a lead. I led six airplanes in the formation, but I never
got to lead the group.
SC: How about the bombardier?
JU: The bombardier would sight in on the Norton Bomb Site for the target and all the
other airplanes dropped when he dropped. When he saw the lead airplane
dropping bombs, the rest of us drop the bombs.
SC: So was there only one of those Norton Bomb Sites?
JU: No, they had a deputy, a number two man doing the same thing so that if
something happened to the first one, he could take over. They might have had
more, but I know they had at least one deputy.
SC: So your airplane wouldn’t necessarily have the Norton bomb site?
JU: It had the bomb site in it. We could bomb it.
SC: Did you have gunners?
JU: I had gunners.
SC: How many of those were on the B-17?
JU: There were six and they all had other duties too. The radio operator was a
gunner, and the engineer was a gunner. All the crew had a gun except the pilot
and the co-pilot. The navigators had a gun and they were all gunners.
SC: Wasn’t there one gunner on the very bottom of the airplane that was separated
from everyone else in a little plastic thing?
JU: Yes. That was the ball turret gunner.
SC: I’ve heard you had to be kind of a small fellow to fit in those confined spaces.
JU: Yes, and he had to have a lot of guts too. I had two guys when we were
assembling our crew in Avon Park, Florida, they sent me one guy to be my ball
turret gunner. As soon as he found out he was going to be the ball turret, he said,
“I’m through flying.” All he had to do to get out was say, “I don’t want to fly
anymore and they put him on a ground job.” I had two guys do that. Finally, I got
this little guy from West Virginia and he didn’t quit, he stayed in there.
SC: You must have been very reliant upon those gunners to shoot down and ward off
JU: Well, I didn’t rely on them too much because if we got out by ourselves, we
wouldn’t depend on the fighter support because we didn’t have it and then we’d
have to rely on those gunners. We never got in that situation except that one time
that we didn’t get hit.
SC: So you were pretty protected as long as you were in formation with the B-17’s
other than from the flack?
JU: That’s right. They flew in a particular formation so that the German fighters could
come in and many bombers could put their guns on them. That’s why they flew
with three airplanes up here and three airplanes here and three here and three
back here. That was the formation to fight off the fighter.
SC: So you wouldn’t get in the way of each other’s shooting at them.
JU: That’s right, and we could concentrate all of our fire power on an airplane.
SC: How did this military experience affect your life? Did you feel like it was kind of a
defining period in your life?
JU: Well, I guess it affected me, but I didn’t realize it too much. I was going to go on
and fly civilian airplanes. So, when I got through with my combat mission, I got
into the C-54’s which were the best transport the Air Force had. I took training in
that and I would have been flying from America to Casablanca, Africa. But, I got
married about a year before that when I came back from combat. I didn’t know
what to do with myself. I thought, “Well, I think I better get married or something.
So, I had my girlfriend waiting for me and we went and got married. Then we
couldn’t find a place to live. You could only stay in a room in a private home and
you’d have to go out and eat and after about a year of that, before I made any
trips in the C-54, I decided to get out. I signed the paper and got out. I’d had all of
that living in private bedrooms that I could stand.
SC: What have you done with your life? What has been your profession?
JU: I’ve been just drifting here and there. No, I wanted to get a ranch. I grew up on
the farm and I wanted to get a big ranch, but the bankers weren’t too free with
their money. They had the G.I. Bill, but that didn’t help so I didn’t have enough
money to buy a big enough ranch. I ended up back working for the government. I
started out as a laborer. I went from a first pilot on a C-54 down to being a
SC: Where were you at this time?
JU: I was here in Ogden. I worked my way up and I got to be a clerk, then a
manager, and ended up being a supervisor buying spare parts for F-4’s and F-
16’s and distributing them.
SC: Was this at the Defense Depot in Ogden?
JU: That’s where I started out as a laborer.
SC: Do you have children?
JU: Yes, I have five children.
SC: Are they nearby?
JU: Yes, they all live here in the Ogden and Salt Lake area.
SC: Is your wife alive?
JU: No, she died in 2001. She had a hysterectomy and then she found out two years
later that the doctor hadn’t taken her ovaries out. We should have took her right
back in and had them out, but we didn’t do it. The doctor said it might not have
helped anyway, but she got ovarian cancer. She actually had to tell the doctors
what she had. They assumed that she didn’t have these ovaries in there.
Anyway, her stomach was swelled out a little bit and she’d been studying some
literature from our daughter who is a nurse. My daughter was a teacher at Weber
State in nursing for many years. She’d send her literature on. So, my wife told the
doctor after they’d check and say, “I can’t find out what’s the matter with you.”
She said, “Check for cancer.” They did and that’s what it was.
SC: Do you have grandchildren in the area?
JU: Yes. I have fourteen grandchildren and six great grandchildren. They’re not all in
this area. There are some in California and some in Nevada.
SC: Is there anything else that you think you ought to tell us about your service?
JU: I don’t think so.
SC: I want to thank you for your service.
JU: Well, you’re very welcome. I was glad I was able to do it. It’s just what I wanted to
do at the time.
SC: It’s what you wanted to do at the time?
JU: Yes, it was.
SC: Well, my generation certainly benefited from what you and your generation did.
America has a debt of gratitude to pay to you and your associates for what you
SC: Did you happen to know Lamar Buckner? I think he also flew B-17’s.
JU: I knew him, but not until later on.
SC: You didn’t know him during the time you were flying?
JU: No, I didn’t know him then.
SC: Well, thank you for your time today. It’s been really wonderful for us to share this
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