My First Time 


 By Sgt. Joe B. Tillery

It was the fall of 1944. I was fresh out of USAC basic at Keesler Field and was assigned to B-29 gunnery training at Buckingham Field, Fort Myers, FL As a lot of good "cadets" did then, I chose this instead of "on the line" training. Within the first week at Buck Field, I was fitted with a parachute harness and "invited" to take an orientation ride in a funny-looking B-24. I was told later that it's peculiar look was due to the fact that it had been retrofitted with B-29 gun stations and turrets for our training.

I found myself in a group of 12 very green students crowded into the waist section of this bomber. In 1944, after three years of the draft, the USAC,

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery B-24 Manual
Actual B-24 Training Manual Click image for larger view
as well as the other services, were scraping the bottom of the barrel for warm bodies. Some of this group of warm bodies had never been to town, much less in an airplane. The excitement was high.

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery B-24 Manual
Bail-out instructions from manual(Pg 135) Click Image for larger view*
Being young males, we were all very confident that we were invincible. We all had our chest packs (parachutes) securely snapped to our recently fitted harness – we were prepared! Our "prepared" world suddenly became a bit smaller when a sergeant told us to remove them and secure them in a rack on a bulkhead. It became much quieter after that. We settled down, jostling nervously to get as close to our chutes as possible. We had been given a quick course in intercom function and use which consisted primarily of dire consequences if we said anything at all. From listening to the banter between the crew members,

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery B-24 Manual
Bail-out instructions from manual (Pg 136) Click Image for larger view*
I determined that we were flying with a crew that had finished their tour in Europe and were awaiting re-assignment. This was to be a 3-hour mission. If anything caused it to abort, it would have to be rescheduled. They were not about to let this happen! I may have been only the first to see oil streaming off of the trailing edge of the wing opposite the No. 1 engine. In spite of the warnings about using the intercom, all twelve of us hit the talk button at once.

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery B-24 Manual
General Description from manual (Pg. 4) Click Image for larger view*
 We didn't even get the courtesy of an answer from the crew. We did hear the crew chief telling the pilot not to worry, "We have plenty of oil." When smoke began to appear where the oil was, we all hit the parachute rack as one, in spite of the threats and protests from the sergeant. In his haste to retrieve his parachute, one yard-bird grabbed the red handle (the rip cord) instead of the OD handle. The silk immediately filled the waist compartment and with the gun-ports open there was, to say the least, a lot of wind. An open parachute billowing around in a confined space with twelve nervous novices did nothing to calm the near panic. The sergeant was, by then,

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery B-24 Manual
General Description from manual (Pg.8)
Click Image for larger view*
thoroughly pissed at everyone. He did show a moment of "kindness" by assuring the offending yard-bird that "the plane is probably going down and you are the only one without a parachute!" The "yard-bird" in question spent the rest of the mission with that chute gathered up in his arms standing by the port. The pilot finally killed the No. 1 engine, feathered the prop and extinguished the fire which allowed him to complete the mission. As we were approaching the field there was a lot of conversation between the pilot, crew members and the tower; but I heard clearly in a break the pilot say, "OK, let's do it." At that point, the No. 1 engine mysteriously started smoking heavily again. The last thing I heard on the intercom was laughing at all the activity that we were causing along the runway. Every fire truck, ambulance and other vehicles on the line were chasing our plane down the runway.

That crew, those bastards, were crazy! I'll admit, however. the crew handled the situation professionally but they never even entertained the idea of aborting the mission because that would mean re-flying it. Their war-time mind-set meant they would have continued on two engines if necessary. 

This is the closest that I ever came to wishing that I had joined the infantry instead.

*Original B-24 Liberator manual pictures courtesy of Jim Stephens, Pensacola, FL

WWII Poster

Its For Your Own Good, Son

In 1944, the mothers who sent their sons and wives who sent their husbands off to war were assured that every possible effort would be made to not only send them back alive, but better for the experience. This was true. We underwent the rigors of basic training, we learned how, in general, to stay alive, and how to inflict more damage on the enemy than on each other. Our mothers and wives, however, were never told of the most serious, most horrendous threat to their sons and husbands that lurked just outside the gate of every American military facility in the world--VD!

We knew this to be the case because of the numerous and compulsory training films on the subject. Incidentally, these films quickly became very popular. They were the closest thing we had to xxx movies in 1945. They probably ranked at least 50% over John Wayne. Any time that we went off base, for any reason, not just leave or furlough, we were issued a handful of condoms, as well as the ubiquitous "Pro Kit." This was frequently preceeded by a "short arm inspection" before leaving the base and again after returning.

The short arm inspections* begin in basic training. Their purpose is to humiliate you and break your spirit. It's always done outside, on the coldest day possible and always just before dawn. The only thing that I can think of worse than being subjected to this undignified violation of our privacy was being that person who was doing the inspection.

In December 1945, at New Port News, Va. I boarded the USS West Point for a leisurely cruise across the North Atlantic. It's been over 50 years since this experience and I don't remember the exact sequence, but within no less than one hour before boarding, we were subjected to a short arm inspection (this time fully clothed) with our duffle bags and sleeping bags in tow. The picture of this will always be burned into my memory. We were transported straight to the ship and issued a handful of condoms and Pro Kits as we were boarding. To the best of my knowledge, there were no women aboard.

The crossing, as I recall, was about 7 days, possibly more. We disembarked in France into a large cold building and were greeted by a medical team. I will be the first to admit that I saw a lot of creative activity while in the Air Force, but it was beyond my comprehension how they felt that we could have contracted a social disease aboard ship, without women, in the course of 7-10 days! However, to the credit of the USAF this method seemed to work. Not a single one of the troops aboard the West Point contracted a social disease while on the high seas.

*See Letters for a question and answer about short-arm inspections. Click here to go direct.

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery VD film short arm inspections

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