Life expectancy was eight missions. The requirement was 25. They were on the way back from bombing the Hamburg railyard. This was mission No. 19. Suddenly all hell broke loose. They were hit, the two starboard engines on their B-24 were out.
“Gas was going everywhere. We were about to explode, and I felt a complete calmness come over me. We were at 14,000 feet, just to the northeast of Bremerhaven and suddenly we were out over the North Sea. The plane didn’t explode and was still flying. We were losing fuel and altitude; I didn’t know how much or how fast of either. The plane was full of holes, but by the ‘grace of God,’ none of us were hit. I took a quick vote. Do we want to turn back and bail out over Germany, or do we want to try to make it to England? All wanted to try to make it. Once over England, our mood and morale lightened. And once again we took a vote. Do we set down at the first English airfield we find or do we go for home?”
“For home; our food’s better.”
“When I started my approach at Bungay (our field), I still had 5,000 feet and too high. If I didn’t get this right, I wouldn’t get a second chance. I couldn’t get altitude again with only two engines. Thankfully, the landing gear deployed — we made it.”
And that was the 19th mission for 1st Lt. Lloyd G. Furthmyer and his crew. Along with two destroyed engines, there were 87 holes in “Sweet Moonbeam.” She did survive to fly another day.
Before missions, pilots and navigators assembled in the briefing theater. As they entered, the side of the stage was visible.
“We always had an instant preview of how far we were going. The smaller the spool of cord, the further we were going. Long missions at that stage of the war generally meant about one-third of us weren’t coming back.”
“The Americans flew in daylight; the Brits flew at night. When we took off and formed up, our group commander would get above us in a P-47 and start yelling at us to tighten up our formation. He was an SOB. We didn’t need a tight formation until we were over enemy territory. He only stayed while it was safe.
Tight formation was stressful and burned more fuel. My co-pilot was technically a better pilot in formation. The group commander was unexpectedly shot down. Someone in our group did it. Unfortunately, the French resistance got to him and he was back in six days.” Lloyd tells of his co-pilot always “messing” with the engines. He would keep trying to “lean them out” to get better gas mileage. “Damnit, George, leave them alone. They’re running aren’t they?”
Well, they were back from No. 19 — barely. They were awarded an R and R break at the Palace Hotel near Southport. This was the largest of the Eighth Air Force’s rest areas. It was up north of them — the landing field was Birkdale. This trip was described extensively in the book by Tim Russert “Big Russ and Me.” Actually, “Big Russ” was bored and just went along for the round-trip ride. The pilot was Donald Cheffer. He was described as a “cocky showoff.”
Most of the passengers were other pilots. The plane “Ridge Runner” was not on the flight line that day and was used for the short trip. Birkdale was heavily fogged in. Cheffer was told not to land. Lloyd was quoted in the book: “The visibility would have made any sane man not land. There was a field 20 miles away where conditions were good but he was blockheaded and determined to land.” On the third pass, the plane banked sharply. His co-pilot, Alva Tompkins, shouted, “You’re too low, you’re too low.” Cheffer replied “Shut up.” The right wing hit the ground, the plane “cart-wheeled” and burst into flames. Big Russ was rescued with his clothes on fire. Although injured and burned, Lloyd was the only one to walk away under his own power. He was not on fire. Killed instantly were the pilot and co-pilot — and Lloyd’s co-pilot — the one who kept fiddling with engines and as Lloyd said was a better pilot than he. Ten were killed — eight survived.
Two months later when being examined for dismissal from the hospital, the doctor said, “I think you’ve had enough war. There are plenty more coming on to take your place.”
“I didn’t hug him, but I felt like it.” Lloyd spent the rest of the war as a “ferry pilot.” One who moves planes around the country. “I thought this job was reserved only for senators’ sons.”
Lloyd was raised in Greenwood County. It is east of Wichita. He was an only child, and they were dirt poor — as were most rural families during the Depression. Actually, most families. Lloyd, like most boys, wanted to fly airplanes. When the war broke out, he rushed to join the Army and applied for the Air Corps. They of course gave a test. I suppose it was much like the SAT test of today. After it was over, he was asked to remain.
“I felt I did well, and asked the administrator why.”
“We are checking, we think we may have a record.” They did. He had the highest score they had ever recorded.
He did his flight school training at several bases in Texas and Arizona, but he took his four-engine training near Winfield. This was close to home — very close. “On one training mission, I was about 5 miles out and about 5,000 feet. I started letting it down giving full throttle. I drove that B-24 down Main Street at 300 mph. My bombardier said he looked up at the water tower. When I pulled up, the cowling of one engine blew off.”
The war ended. Most came home and many went to college. They had the benefit of the G.I. Bill. Uncle Sam paid tuition and some living expenses. This was a much-needed and deserved reward. Lloyd came to Fort Hays State and declared two majors — mathematics and physics — “for my own enjoyment.” He was in a hurry and enrolled in 22 hours. Professor Doyle Brooks, his adviser, while picking up his chart indicated that was not possible, but with one glance at the SAT score — “OK.”
Renate Nasty was the first foreign exchange student at Fort Hays State. She was from Vienna, Austria. In one Reveille yearbook, she was pictured as a homecoming queen candidate. At that time, the State Department forbid exchange students from marrying while here. They were supposed to return to their own country. Anyway, she and Lloyd were married, and it did cause some State Department gastritis. All worked out well.
Graduation time was coming. Lloyd informed his friend and Registrar Standlee V. Dalton he wasn’t going to bother with the ceremony. “Lloyd, you’re going to be honored, now get your cap and gown and be there.” “I knew I was going.”
Lloyd had the highest grade-point average at Fort Hays. Physics and mathematics.
He was offered a Rhodes Scholarship but couldn’t take it. He had a widowed mother and a new wife — and a need for money. So what does a person with two degrees do? Central Kansas Power and Light company had a power plant. It was located near Vine Street and the railroad track’s southwest corner. They needed someone to run the plant at night. Actually, he had worked there while in college. So why would he keep something like that? He could study mathematics and physics — and of course for his own enjoyment. Some people join civic clubs. He belonged to an international group. It had no organizational structure. Their mission was to pass around “unsolvable” mathematic problems to see who could solve them — of course for their own enjoyment. These kind of people seem to find each other. In his spare time, he ran physics experiments — especially with electricity.
Central Kansas Power was well aware of his history and that they were wasting his talent. They said, “Now come use your education and be an engineer.” The offices of Central Kansas Power were where Gella’s is today. He enjoyed his employment with CKP and described it as being part of a family.
In his office, he had a reproduction painting of a B-24 named “Ronnie.” Ronnie was famous for flying 54 missions without ever being pulled from the flight line. Lloyd said I flew Ronnie on five of those missions. He and his crew kept in contact throughout life. He was especially proud of a letter from one of his crew saying, “You were the best of the best.” All had survived the war except his co-pilot, George H. Kostrey, who was killed in the crash. Lloyd survived the longest. His tail gunner died just three weeks before he.
In retrospect: The Eighth Airforce lost more than 26,000 killed in action. Most of the boys flying those missions were 18 to 20 years old. Most rushed to join the fight for their country. They were “the Greatest Generation.”
A look back in history through the eyes of Stan “Bud” Dalton.
Stan “Bud” Dalton is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.