11/4/2013 11:50:00 AM He trained to fly B-29s, B-17s in WWII
Richard King, a long-time Stewartville resident, left, shows a model of a B-29 Superfortress plane to Ron Johnson at the Stewartville Public Library, where King shared his World War II training experiences with about 15 listeners on Thursday, Oct. 24.
Richard King still remembers visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. He is one of many veterans who flew from Rochester to visit the site that honors the 16 million Americans who served and the more than 400,000 who died in World War II. "I think I shook 1,000 hands that day," King said. "It was just a wonderful day. When we got back to Rochester, there were 1,000 people there." More than six decades ago, King trained for 33 months to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Superfortress airplanes. But he never served overseas. He and his crew were loading a plane to head across the ocean when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the U.S. dropped another bomb on Nagasaki, and the war was over. King came close to heading overseas two other times as well, but as it turned out, he never got the chance. Now 90 years old, the long-time Stewartville resident spoke at the Stewartville Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 24, sharing his World War II training experiences with an audience of about 15 listeners. On the B-17, King was a top turret gunner. He spent a lot of time in the nose of the plane, where he fired 250-caliber guns. "It can get very cold (in the nose of a plane)," he said. "It was 40 to 50 below. We all froze. It was terrible." Piloting or riding in a B-17 was considered the most dangerous thing a service member could do, King said. Of the 12,351 B-17s U.S. pilots flew during the war, more than 3,500 were shot down. Most were hit by flak. Some went down after being hit by bullets. "At Pearl Harbor, they destroyed a lot of B-17s," King said. Once the planes reached 10,000 feet, occupants put on their oxygen masks, King said. "If you wanted to walk around the plane, you would hook up to an oxygen bottle and you could walk around for 15 minutes," he said. Bathroom breaks? Going to the bathroom was a big problem for servicemen on both planes, King said. The tail gunner used a six-inch hose known as the "pee tube." Servicemen agreed on a rule that the first man to use the tube had to empty the can into which the urine flowed after the plane landed. "Everybody held it," King said. "We didn't want to go...You never realize how long you can hold it. Relief was quite a problem." Six emergency landings: King was in six B-29 Superfortress planes that had to be guided to emergency landings. "I watched an engine burn one day," he said. "It burned like a candle. It does get scary when you're trying to land. You meet the meat wagons every time." Vicki Meredith remembers: Vicki Meredith, a physical education teacher for the Stewartville School District, attended King's presentation. Meredith's dad was a ball turret gunner in World War II. Several years ago, Meredith honored her dad by riding in a B-17 from the Rochester International Airport. "I loved it," she said. "It was a memory for my dad." The plane flew over Stewartville because Meredith wanted to see what her home looked like from the air. "We did a fake bombing run over the Elevator," she laughed. Drama on practice flight: King, a sergeant, was a central fire control gunner as a B-29 crew member in training at Rattler AAF base, Pyote, Texas in July 1945, less than a month before World War II ended. King's crew, the 833rd, had been scheduled to take a practice flight to Minnesota, but didn't go after Captain Charles O. Bock refused to fly the plane-in-waiting because he noticed the heavy odor of fuel. King was disappointed when he found out that his crew would not be flying that mission. He seldom got a chance to fly over Minnesota, his home state, and he had hoped to get a look at his family's farm from the air. On July 14, 1945, a B-29 with 11 crew members left for a 3,000-mile practice flight. The crew was scheduled to fly to Duluth, Minn., then on to Wolf Point, Montana, before returning to Pyote. The plane had been in the air about five hours when Engineer 2nd Lt. Keith Hudson began transferring fuel. Suddenly, gas fumes were detected. In seconds, Hudson became semi-conscious as the fumes filled the cockpit. Air Commander 1st Lt. E.J. Szycher, fearing an explosion, ordered the men to adjust their oxygen masks and prepare to bail out. Szycher hooked the straps of the unconscious Hudson, then dropped Hudson out of the hatch. Szycher made sure all crew members had left the plane, then put the plane on autopilot at 9,000 feet and directed it toward Wolf Point, Montana. Szycher then bailed out. Although the men were either dazed or unconscious when they left the plane, they were revived by the cold, fresh air. All the crewmen landed safely. Two were injured: one with a broken ankle and another with a bruised back. The Army abandoned its search for the lost plane on July 18, 1945. At the time, no one knew what happened to it. Some believed it may have hit a mountain in the Rockies or perhaps even flew all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Is the plane in Red Lake? Some people believe that the plane landed in Red Lake, Minn., King said. "A man who lives there is sure that's where it is," he said. Searchers are negotiating with an Indian tribe to gain access to the lake, King said. "Unbelievable": Given the fact that so many B-17 Flying Fortresses were shot down during World War II, King is amazed by the courage of those who flew in those planes. "What they did over there was unbelievable," he said. "I don't understand how those men could get out of bed in the morning knowing that there was a 50 percent chance that they were going to die."