Interview of Aloysius Sebian Transcript Number 351

Good morning.  My name is Paul Zarbock.  I’m a staff member of UNCW’s Randall Library in Wilmington.  Today’s date is the 9th of September in the year of 2002.  We’re going to be interviewing today Mr. Aloysius Sebian, a citizen of Wilmington, North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER:   Sir, how did you go into the military, where did you go into the military, when did you get into the military and why did you go into the military?

SEBIAN:   Well I have to give you a little background.  When I graduated from high school, I worked four years as a lab assistant for a company named Diamond Alkaline and during that period I went to night school in Cleveland and got all my chemistry up to physical chemistry.  Then I decided that I wanted to get my degree so I went down to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

INTERVIEWER:   What year was this?

SEBIAN:   This was in 1939, ’40 and ’41.  I was there for two years.  At that time all engineering students were in ROTC. 

INTERVIEWER:   What does ROTC stand for?

SEBIAN:   Reserve Officers Training Corps.  Anyway they told us at the end of the school year in May of 1941 that we had two choices.  If we loved the Army, stay in the ROTC.  We could finish our college and become a 2nd lieutenant in the Army.  If you didn't love the Army, you would be drafted.  So I looked at my roommate.  We both started to laugh (laughter).  We thought this was so ridiculous.  We told them, hell no, we didn't love the army.

So I was drafted on August 4, 1941.  I had my interview with the regular Air Corps for August 5, 1941, but my draft board would not hold me up one day so I could go through the regular Air Corps, so I was drafted in 1941.  I went down to Meridian, Mississippi which was down at Key Field and they had the 50th fighter group in there with P-39’s and P-40’s.

Well after Pearl Harbor, I signed up to go into cadet training because by 1939 they had what they called the Civilian Pilot Training, CPT. The government was already getting ready for eventual war.  I had no trouble getting in.  Now the 50th fighter group was sent up to the Aleutian Islands.  I went over to Maxwell Field and while I’m standing there, I looked down three paces from me, there’s a young fella, his name was Fran Kennedy, I went through grade school with him, I went through high school with him and I was with him at Ohio State University for two years, amazing, isn’t it?

Anyway we went through what they called a ______.  The first primary training in the BT-17, which is a fight plane, we were checked out in that.  I passed that.  That was at Arcadia, Florida.  Then the second phase was a BT-13.  That was a single engine, single wing monoplane, that was at Sumter, South Carolina.  So I went through that training okay.  Then finally I went to, I can’t think of the name right now, but anyway I went through advanced training in Georgia, Spencer Field in Moultrie, Georgia.

I got my wings October 9, 1942.  From there, Fran Kennedy, my friend and I, we were assigned to be instructors, single-engine instructors in AT-6 in Mariana, Florida.  I had three cadet classes, six cadets in each class and then I put in to go overseas.  Well they transferred me up to Smyrna, Tennessee, in B-24’s.  So instead of giving me a crew up there, they made me a B-24 instructor (laughter).

So I was there three months checking out new crews, mostly night landings and cross-country, things like that.

INTERVIEWER:   So you went from single-engine to multi-engine?

SEBIAN:   Right, as an instructor.  I was an instructor in single-engines first and B-24’s.

INTERVIEWER:   Is there a substantial difference in the techniques that are required to fly a multi versus a single?

SEBIAN:   Oh absolutely.

INTERVIEWER:   Where did you learn those?

SEBIAN:   They taught me, they checked me out.  You would go up flying and they would teach you the basics and then you would sit in the copilot seat and you would go through with your instructor.  Eventually when they thought that you were compatible enough, they’d let you land, but they would have their feet on the controls and would be ready to grab it if they had to.

Anyway I checked out all right.  Then I went through a short course in instructor school for that.  Well previously I went through instructor school for single engine, also at Maxwell Field.  So I spent three months there.

INTERVIEWER:   In Smyrna, Tennessee?

SEBIAN:   In Smyrna, Tennessee.  Most of our flying was at night.  Night landings, cross-country, believe it or not.  Then I got another transfer in New Mexico.  Here I thought I was going to get a crew again.  I went through the same procedure.  For three months I instructed new cadets and everything.  Finally I went down to El Paso, Biggs Field and I got a crew.

But just to back up a little bit, I’m trying to find, a number of cadets and personnel that were killed in training is not astronomical, but almost.  As I recall at about nine months time, the Air Force lost or killed 1700 personnel in crashes, takeoffs, midair collisions, training, training mishaps.  That’s only in nine months, okay? 

The group that I was with, I can’t remember exactly, somewhere here I have it if I can find it.  I can’t find it right now, but anyway, we had a ship go down and maybe seven would be killed out of the ten and so forth. 

But just to give you an idea, we got letters twice while I was instructing from the head of the Air Force reprimanding or counseling or whatever you want to call it, a number of people that were being injured, kicked out because they couldn't make the grade or were killed was hurting our effort in Europe and the Pacific.  They wanted everyone to tighten up and to improve that.

The thing is they wanted to get so many crews out so fast that we did things and normally you wouldn’t do.  Unbelievable, but being young and egotistical and gung-ho and all that, you just took everything in stride.  If you asked me to do that today, I’d say no way (laughter). 

At El Paso, we had a mountain, I think it’s about 16,000 feet right as you took off one runway and you had to turn before you came to it.  Anyway I got my crew there and we had our training and everything was working out all right except my copilot.  He was what I would call a goof-off.  The crew was very unhappy with him too because of his attitude.  We’d be up and he’d say, “I’m sick, I got to go land”.  So we had to go land and get him out of the plane.

I mean that’s just an example of some of the things that he would do.  So we were already to start going overseas, to get our orders to go overseas.  So they gave me a choice.  They said, a couple days before that a plane ran into the mountain.  Of the ten men, five got out and five were killed running into the mountain with the plane.  So we took this fella named Hank Glazer and he became my copilot.  Sight unseen because they said anything was better than this copilot we had before.  Well Hank turned out to be a real gentleman.

INTERVIEWER:   What happened to the goof-off copilot that you had?

SEBIAN:   I have no idea.  What they usually did, they would put him into a non-flying status.  It could be anything, it could be a clerk, it could be an orderly, but they kept them in the Air Corps, but you couldn't get in a plane again.  My bombardier, he flunked out of pilot training and he turned out to be an excellent bombardier.

My navigator was a very intelligent fella, but he was what I’d call a nervous Nelly.  He’d fumble everything and get into his own way, but he was a very intelligent guy.

Anyway so we took the crew and we went up to Topeka, Kansas.  That was our getting acquainted to get ready to go overseas.  Some of the fellas had their parents there or friends or girlfriends and I know I stood up in a couple of weddings for fellows that got married just before they went overseas.

INTERVIEWER:   You were single at that time?

SEBIAN:   Yeah, I stayed single until after the war.

INTERVIEWER:   Are you still a lieutenant?

SEBIAN:   At that time I was a 2nd lieutenant.  I’ll get to that.  Okay, so we shipped off just before Christmas to Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia and that was a place where they shipped everybody overseas.  In the field there, we had the WACs, we had the infantry and we had the black outfits, the 99th from Tuskegee with Colonel Davis who was a famous black West Point man and head of the Tuskegee group.

They were getting ready to go over too.  After Christmas in January we got on a new troop ship, brand new one and it was a General A.E. Anderson, a new, fast, well-armed troop ship with our Air Force group.  Now we had 36 crews, 10 men to a crew, that’s 360 men.  We had regular Army with us, we had the WACs and we had some other groups. 

When we get over to Gibraltar, all of a sudden the rumor was that we were going to go to India, but all of a sudden they turned and went south into a place called Canestal Field and that’s about a few miles from Oram on the African coast.  We sit there until March.  This was the end of January when we got there.

INTERVIEWER:   This is 1943.

SEBIAN:   This is January ’44.  So what happened was some major went to the club with our major who was in charge of our group going over there and they found out that they needed all the other crews up in Italy because they had what they called the Big Week in February and this was the first few days of March.

Now the big week was a concerted effort from the 8th Air Force in England and the 15th Air Force in Italy.  Somewhere here I have the numbers.  As best I can recall it…I may be off, but I think it’s right, they sent 1500 bombers and fighters from the 8th Air Force and from the 15th Air Force there were 300 B-17’s and B-24’s.  The main target, they bombed almost every day of that week; that was the 2nd to last week in February 1944. 

They hit the targets of Steyr, Reidenfur, Weiner Neustadt and Schweinfurt and these were all aircraft factories, ball bearing plants and that type and these were some of the most heavily protected installations.  Anyway I’m getting ahead of the story a little bit, but I’ll get back to this.  So we got on a plane in Oran and we went to Tunisia overnight.  Then we flew into Italy, the main airport, the headquarters for the 15th Air Force. 

Before we go there, Major Sharp who was the head of our group, because I was a senior 2nd lieutenant, I was the oldest 2nd lieutenant with the group, he gave me all the records for 360 men and I was lugging them.  So I don’t know what happened to him.  We get in there, raining, cold, dead tired at ______ where the 2nd bomb group was. 

Now the 2nd bomb group is and was the oldest and the original heavy bombardment group from World War I.  They were in combat in France in World War I.  Anyway we get in there at night and the colonels and all the top brass are there and I bring the records in.  They were all uptight.  We didn't know what was going on.  The first thing they said to us, three things, “You’re lucky to be flying a B-17 instead of a B-24”.  That’s the first thing they told us.

Secondly, “Report for formation flying in the morning”.  Now this is midnight and we had to get up at 3:30 in the morning to get ready to fly formation.  The third thing, what the devil was that, oh, they split us up into their four squadrons.  They had the 20th, the 96th, the 429th and there was one other squadron.  I can’t think of the name of it right now.  So we knew something was wrong because you never saw a group that was so uptight and almost belligerent that we were coming in there, that we were a B-24 group.

They talked to us like we were inferior because we were flying B-24’s.  I’ll explain some things about that later on.  So the next day we got up and I was flying as copilot.  My crew was split up with different planes and everything to get to learn the planes and all that.  It took me seven different attempts.  On the first attempt, we were supposed to go to Monte Casino in March.

The Germans were in Monte Casino and they weren’t driven out by the bombs.  It looked like it was devastated, but the walls were 20 feet thick of the soft stone that they carved and built the houses and everything out of.  It took the Indian troops, the gurkas, later to come in around the back to wipe out the Germans in the final thing.  It took me seven attempts, bad weather.  On the first mission, I had a pilot from England.

INTERVIEWER:   I’m sorry, it took you seven attempts to do what?

SEBIAN:   To get my first mission in.  My first mission, this was a transfer pilot from England.  What they did, if they had trouble with somebody, a pilot or usually just the pilots, they would send them to the 15th Air Force and the 15th would send them to the 8th hoping they could straighten out.  Most of them just ended up being transferred, becoming an orderly or some other ground job.  They kept them in the Air Force, but they couldn't fly anymore.

So on the first mission, I had this pilot from England and he aborted.  He said something was wrong with his oxygen mask so we came back.  Then the weather was bad.  We went up and got turned back because of weather.  So it took me seven attempts before I got my first mission in.  Then that was a real treat.  We went up to a place called Weiner Neustadt in Austria.  The weather was bad.  We got jumped by fighters.  We got hit by flack and the flack was so bad, you could smell it in the plane.  You could smell it, it was so close, that heavy asphalt you know.  Explosive smell.

My copilot, when that flack hit us, he took his seat, went down, put his hands over his head because that was a psychological reaction with his trouble with his plane crashing into the mountains, okay?  Now I reached over and cracked him on the back and he came up.  We never spoke about it.  When we got back on the ground, I’m getting ahead of the story.  My waist gunner and my radioman, they froze their hands, their feet, their ears.  The waist gunner, he passed out because he disconnected his oxygen somehow.

The crew got him fixed up and then my 20mm gun exploded in the ball turret and he got cross the head, he got wounded on the side of the face.  When we got back, they all went to the hospital, the three of them.  Get on the ground and my copilot, Hank, says to me, “Boy that was terrible,” and I was so tired that I didn't even want to talk so all I said to him was, “It wasn’t too bad.”  Well he could have killed me because that scared the hell out of him. 

It wasn’t until I finished my missions and we used to go to reunions with our group.  We were down in Tucson, Arizona, he and his wife and myself and my wife and three others with our group and their wives. 

He started telling in the third person this incident.  And we all started to roar because we never said a word to him about it all that time (laughter).  It was the funniest thing and it worked out so well, you know.  He finally got it off his chest.  He held that against me all this time, you know.  He was hurt.  He was mentally hurt, physically upset and everything, but he didn't realize that I was just as tired or more so as he was, okay.  But we were the best of friends.

Okay so at Anzio, I had a brother who was in the trenches at Anzio and they got bombed almost every night by the Germans.  They were there several months, I don’t know how long it was.  But anyway, he ended up going up into Germany and ending up in Germany during the war, after the war was over.

So we started to go to different places.  I told you about Big Week, all right.  Now in that week, oh here we go, the 8th Air Force of their group, they lost 137 bombers during that week and the 15th Air Force lost 89 bombers, B-17’s and B-24’s.  The 2nd bomb group received back-to-back citations on missions in Steyr and Reidensburg during that week.  When we got there, it was only about 10 or 11 days after this all happened.  That’s why all these top personnel were in shock.

At that time the English 8th Air Force flew 25 missions and the reason for that was two reasons.  They didn't have escort that could go all the way to the target like the P-47’s and P-38’s could go in part way and the P-51’s at that time couldn't go all the way either.  So as soon as they turned to go back, the Germans would come and jump them and hit them especially hard over the target.  When you land up on a target, they had what they called the IP or initial point.  That usually was about 10 or 12 miles to the target and that would give the formation time to turn around, get lined up, get your elevation and your air speed and everything settled down so the bombardier could get his bomb site working right.

That’s when the flack would hit you and the fighters would hit you before you got on that run.  Sometimes they would hit you on the run too and then they would hit you when you came off.  So they flew 25 missions out of England on the start.  On the 15th Air Force, we flew what they called 50 missions.  Now some of them were double missions, they counted for two missions like the big ones like Vienna, Bucharest, Munich, those places. 

They were called double because you got hit with the fighters going up over the Adriatic.  You got hit over the target and you got hit coming back.  The fighters in the area north of the Adriatic, they would come up and hit you, go down and refuel and when you came back, they’d be waiting for you, okay.  So we got doubles for that type of a mission.

The shorter missions into the Balkans or usually Italy or southern France, most of them were single missions.  Now that lasted until about May.  Now in May, we got 750 P-51’s in the 15th Air Force alone, but what they did, it was a redesigned P-51 and they put the big Rolls Royce engines into the B-51’s and then they had wing tanks and they could go all the way to the target.

Well the war took a different turn.  So what they did, they changed the number of missions in the 8th Air Force to 30, all right.  That was somewhere around August or something like that. 

INTERVIEWER:   This would be August of 1944?

SEBIAN:   Yeah, I’m only talking from March ’44 through September ’44, this was the biggest devastation and fighting in Europe.  Anyway then the B-51’s starting to take control because they were better than the ME-109 and the rest of them.  They were the best fighter plane.  P-38 was our main escort before that, but that was good up to 30,000, but not above it.  They were too heavy, but around 20-22,000, they were excellent.

So then in September or somewhere after that, I forget the exact month, that they changed the missions in England, the 8th Air Force to 35 and that began to equalize with the 15th because we were ending up with 35, 37, 38 with our different standard and they took some of the double missions and made them single because they didn't have the fighters coming after us like they did before us.

INTERVIEWER:   Take a minute and tell me, what was everyday living like?  Were you under canvas?  Were you in tents?

SEBIAN:   Yeah, when we first got there, we were in tents, but we got a local Italian to build us a stone wall around and we put the tent cover top on it.  We had four bunks.  We had a heater and a water jug.  Everybody always sees the movies about the 8th Air Force, you know, with the showers and the parties and all the good stuff.  Well when we got there, the only girls we ever saw were a few Red Cross girls, that’s all we ever saw unless we went into _____.  We only went in I think twice to the PX in ______ or the USO. 

We got green beer and we exchanged that for eggs from the farmer.  We were on an old farm, old farmhouse.

INTERVIEWER:   Did you say green beer?

SEBIAN:   It was green, it was so bad I wouldn’t drink it.  Some of the guys did though.  Then we had cold showers in 55-gallon drums sitting out in the orchard.  We’d go out there and fill it with water and take our shower.

INTERVIEWER:   What about food, mess hall?

SEBIAN:   That wasn’t bad.  It was all GI food, but people complain about GI food, but it was substantial.  You just had to get used to it, that’s all.  Can’t complain about the food.

INTERVIEWER:   What about recreation?

SEBIAN:   We didn't have any recreation.  We just lived from day to day.  We didn't even think about tomorrow, we just thought about today because the guy next to you wouldn’t be there when you got back.  He’d be shot down.  Of the 36 crews, B-24 crews and they were all good pilots, 22 were shot down.  Some of them got back, you know, they were prisoners of war and a lot of them were killed.  But of those 36, we lost 22.  Now I got these figures when I was up at group operations because I was promoted later to assistant group operation officer.

In five and a half months, I was told, our complement of crews was 95, okay.  In five and a half months, the 2nd bomb group, just one group, lost that many planes.  The other statistic I’ll tell you, everybody says how great everybody else was, but we thought we were the greatest.  The Air Force, now there aren’t as many personnel in the Air Force or the Army or the Navy, but the Air Force lost 7% of their personnel in the air, 7%.  If you had 100,000, you lost 7%, just to give you a figure.

The Marines in the infantry lost 3%.  The Navy and the others lost less than 3%.  Those are actual figures, government figures.  I’ve got a diary here that tells all about the training and the difficulties and so forth.  I gave a speech, that’s what I’ve been talking about mostly, for the senior men’s club at the YMCA at the insistence of one of my golfing friends.  Anyway it went over very well.

Now I wrote this or I gave this speech in September of 2001.  It went over very well.  One of the questions I’m always asked, the B-24 or the B-17.  This is very interesting.  It depends on who you’re talking to.  If I was talking to a pilot that flew B-24’s and finished his missions, I would tell him whatever plane you flew, that’s the best damn airplane and don’t anybody else tell you differently.  But the B-17 was easier to fly, it was more stable than the B-24’s. 

When we went over a target, we invariably went 2-3000 feet higher in formation because we could hold the formation better at a higher altitude than the B-24’s.  The B-24 was harder because it didn't have that big wing span that the B-17 had, but it would come in, we’d go in 20-25000 and they’d come in around 22,000 or somewhere around that range and they’d fly below us.  They usually would come in behind us or they’d be ahead of us depending on how they were lined up.

Usually we had four groups of B-17’s to start with and they upped them up to six groups of B-17’s.

INTERVIEWER:   You’re now flying a B-17?

SEBIAN:   That’s what I’m flying, yeah.  And the B-24’s, I think there were 14 groups in Italy in the 15th Air Force, but they would go in lower because they couldn't hold the formation going up higher, okay.  So they would get hit by the flack and get more damage and the other thing about the B-24 was, it was all a hydraulic system and if they had a split hydraulic line, the oil would go all over and catch on fire.

I don’t know what their casualty lists are, but I’m sure it was higher than the B-17’s.  But I have in my diary, I have three or four comments complimenting the good formation flying of the B-17’s.

INTERVIEWER:   Did they have about the same speed?

SEBIAN:   The B-24 could fly a little bit faster, but when we went over the target, we all flew the same speed because if you didn't, you’d run into each other, okay.

INTERVIEWER:   What about bomb load capacity?

SEBIAN:   Exactly the same no matter what they tell you.  The standard bomb load was 12 500-pound bombs unless there was a special target or you had heavier bombs or different types of bombs.  You’ll hear some guy say they went in at 250 miles an hour.  Well what they don’t tell you is that’s ground speed, not air speed. 

When I led a number of times going over the target and when you lead, we were flying around 140 or 145 indicated air speed.  It depends on your altitude.  That’s air speed at 10,000 feet compared to 25,000 feet may be 100 miles an hour difference or more.  See because as you get up in the sky, at 18,000 feet you have one-half the amount of oxygen you have on ground level, okay. 

You’ll hear some guy writing a book or something saying we went 250-275 miles an hour.  They don’t tell you that it’s ground speed.  It all goes by air speed when you’re in formation because you couldn't fly a plane with that amount of power and so forth we had at those speeds.

INTERVIEWER:   Were the number of crewmen on the B-24 and the B-17?

SEBIAN:   They’re both the same, ten, exactly the same.  The firepower is almost identical.  It may be one gun difference, but that’s about it.

INTERVIEWER:   They were all 50-caliber machine guns?

SEBIAN:   50-caliber, yes.  Now on some experimental planes, they may have put a 20mm in the tail, something like that or in the nose, but that’s it.  To fly a B-24 or a B-17 in formation is like driving an 18-wheeler from here to Chicago nonstop without resting (laughter) in heavy traffic.  We had some kind of heat in the cockpit, but these poor guys in the nose and the rest of the plane, they had no heat, nothing.  They’d freeze their hands, their feet, at first, but then they finally would wise up and knew how to take care of themselves later.

These two guys that got froze up and all that and the guy that got shot in the head, they all came back.  My ball turret gunner came back.  He finished his missions, 50 missions and the other two, they got medical discharges later, I don’t know what month it was, September or October.  They made 42 missions.

INTERVIEWER:   As you got closer and closer to the end of your missions, the final count, what did that do to the morale of people?  You know you can get killed on the one before you’re done.

SEBIAN:   Some of them did.  Like I think I mentioned before, I did and most of us, we didn't even talk about tomorrow, just today.  You get back on the ground, that was it.  You didn't even worry about tomorrow’s mission.  You just went to the briefing and you just took it as it came.  It affected different people differently.

For example, my navigator, he was always complaining at first, “I’m flying every day.  I don’t know what they’re trying to do.  They’re trying to kill me”.  So we finally got fed up with it and we tried to calm him down.  So I finally went to the C.O. of the 96th squadron we were in.  His name was Murphy, we called him Dirty McMurphy because he always had a dirty collar. 

So I said, “Murph, what’s with Sperco?”  He said, “What do you mean?”  I said, “He’s complaining all the time that you’re flying him too much.”  He started smiling, “He told me he wanted to fly every mission so he could get the damn things over with.”  But he didn't tell us, he just complained.  He was that type, we called him an old woman (laughter) which is not a compliment to women.

INTERVIEWER:   On an average week, how many missions would you go?

SEBIAN:   Anytime the weather was good, but if you flew more than two or three in a row, you got a break.  They would mix your crew up.  Like I flew with my crew maybe half the missions, okay.  The rest of them were makeup crews, new crews coming in or crews that where some of them were missing or sick or something like that.  They were always making up crews.  About half of my missions were with my crew. 

Then my pilot, he was checked out as first pilot.  Then he became a first pilot and he picked up his own group.  Well I better get on a couple more things I want to get to before time runs out here. 

So we hit all the main targets in Europe from France to Germany, the Balkans, even into Russia, which I will get into.  We had so many things happen.  I’ll let you read this if you want.  It’s time consuming, but you’ll get the real picture of what went on.  Two of the fellas that I went through civilian pilot training, a fella named Blakely was a top ace in England during the Spitfire and then another fella I was in grade school with, Jim Avey, they both went up to Canada first.  Then they came back.

Blakely went with the 8th Air Force or the British Air Force and Avey came back to the United States and he flew a lot of combat coverage with the P-38 for our group.  In fact, I heard him one mission, I hit my copilot and said, “Hey I know that guy.”  You’d have one ear for the crew, one ear for the lead ship and the pilot would usually be monitoring the fighters so you had noise and confusion all the time.

I have a list here of the different places that we went.  One mission we went up to northwestern Italy.  We’re going between Naples and the Vesuvias and all of a sudden

We see Vesuvias erupting.  It had been erupting, but we didn't know that.  It shows how little we knew of what was going on.  We would hear Axis Sally, you know, occasionally on the radio, but we knew very little of what was going on.

Like when I’d write to my dad, I’d say, “I can’t tell you what’s going on, but all I want you to do is read the newspapers, then you’ll know.”  I went over, one of the big missions, was on Palm Sunday.  The Walch Walker Ball Bearing Factory in Steyr, Austria.  I never saw so many, this is verbatim from my diary, “I never saw so many planes at one time lined up on a target bomb run.  A major public relations officer from Italy said that 169 enemy fighters were shot down and we lost 19 bombers in the largest area of combat raid that the 15th Air Force ever had.”

This was on April 2, in Steyr, Austria.  You heard of Ploesti.  Well I had credit for nine missions over Palesti.  I flew over six times.  The first high-level mission, I didn't go in the first low-level mission in ’43, but I went over the first high-level mission.  Six times I flew over and I got to hate that place, I’ll tell you the truth (laughter).  Then Vienna, plus they were the third heaviest protected target in Europe and they produced 55-60% of all the aviation gasoline and everything for the Air Force.

Vienna was the second highest defended target.  I went over the aircraft factory there, but I never went over Berlin because it wasn’t until later that the 2nd bomb group went up to Berlin.  Now another ________, that the was the first mission that I got credit for.  We went up there and this is in my diary verbatim, “We had good P-38’s and P-47 escorts.  Counted nearly 300 bombers at one time, most I’ve ever seen.  B-24’s had beautiful formations, almost always flew several thousand feet below us and caught more flack.”  Now this is verbatim.  A B-17 in front of us from the 99th group exploded and spun down.

The next one was a bad one, Geyer, Austria.  “These friends of mine, Applegate, Finn, Motola, Rosenbaum, Reeves, Kelly, Voss, all went down today. Applegate’s ship was hit by a rocket and exploded.  Reeves’ ship hit by a rocket, but all ten chutes were seen.  About 75-100 ME’s and VW’s jumped the tail end of our group.  The P-38’s were right on the job.  It would have been pitiful if we had no escort.”

I’ve got all different things like main missions and so forth.  It just takes too long to go through all of them. 

INTERVIEWER:   Skip ahead just a minute because I’m very interested, where were you when the war was over?  Where were you located, how did you hear that the war was over and what did you do?

SEBIAN:   Well when the war was over, I was back in the States at Lubbock, Texas, checking out as an instrument instructor. 

INTERVIEWER:   How many missions had you been on?

SEBIAN:   Fifty, I had 50 missions.

INTERVIEWER:   And how did you get back to the States, by ship?

SEBIAN:   By ship, the Santa Rosa.  It was a ship from South America, an old ship.  Got into New York harbor, went up to where there was concessions and everything and I see apple pie.  So I get a piece of apple pie and I gulp it down and I go back to the gal and I said, “I’d like another piece of the apple pie.”  She gave me a dirty look and said, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”  I was just deflated.

INTERVIEWER:   Where is this in time in history now?

SEBIAN:   That was the first week in September of 1944.  I was only over there in combat from March of ’44 to the end of August ’44.

INTERVIEWER:   And in that brief period of time, you flew 50 combat missions?

SEBIAN:   Oh yeah, yeah. 

INTERVIEWER:   Your feet were hardly on the ground.

SEBIAN:   That’s right and one thing I didn't mention is, when you’re on oxygen for 3-4-5 hours, you are exhausted.  Okay, there’s so many things that happened that it’s hard to remember them, but it’s easier to read them.  Another thing that we didn't know.  All of a sudden they’d say, “Okay Sebian, get your crew together, you’re going on R&R.”  We never even heard anything about getting a break or anything.

They sent us over to the island of Capri for a week.  That was great.  But it just goes to show how little we knew.  Now before that when you’re in the States or training or anything, you know everything that’s going on, but once you got in combat, we were just as isolated as the guys in the Pacific.

INTERVIEWER:   Did you have the Stars and Stripes newspaper?

SEBIAN:   No, we didn't have any newspaper, in Italy?  No.

INTERVIEWER:   Let me ask, all the time, all the combat that you saw and all the training before the combat and the events after, what did war teach you?

SEBIAN:   It taught me that war should never happen again.  As far as I’m concerned, what our government is doing right now and I’m speaking not politically correct, I think they’re on the wrong track and they’re only boosting up our industrial…our present government if they continue on this track are going to get us into a war that we’ll never see the end of and it will put us in the same category as Russia and we’ll go bankrupt.  I mean that’s how I feel about it.

There’s no justification for war.  I’m digressing a little bit, but when the Twin Towers went down, we had a meeting with the senior men’s club and our president got up and was saying we couldn't understand why they did it and all that and how great our country was and all that.  Usually we have comments after so I put up my hand.  I was the only one that put up their hand. 

I said, “With all due respect to what you say, if the American people could visualize how bad the Twin Towers are compared to what happened during World War II in Europe, Russia, the Far East and so forth, it’s not a thousand times worse than what happened in New York, it’s thousands and thousands of times worse than what happened.” 

They leveled city after city.  They devastated London and the Pacific.  The B-29’s on one mission, they had 325 B-29’s, they killed more people with one firebomb mission than they killed at each of the high air machine men at Nagasaki.  They killed over 80,000 people on one mission.  They devastated Tokyo.

INTERVIEWER:   Does war ever stop when the shooting stops?

SEBIAN:   Really no, no and I can get into that if you have more tape.  Okay, most people don’t know that the 15th Air Force flew into Russia and we flew missions out of Russia.  Arnold and Statz and Ecker were anxious to get bases in Russia to bomb strategic targets ahead of the Russians coming in towards Berlin.  They wanted to show the Russians that we could bomb from high altitude accurately and the main reason was we wanted to get bases in that part of the world so we could bomb with the B-29’s, we could bomb Japan.

Now this was a political deal and Harrimen and Dean of our government remained negotiators.  So they called it Operation Frantic.  There were seven Frantic missions and I’m only going to speak about the first two Frantic missions.  On June 2, 1944, the 15th Air Force B-17’s, four groups were picked to fly this mission with P-51 fighter escort.  Acker and Twining, they flew with the 97th and the lead group.  The second bomb group that I was with, we went to Dobruja____, Hungary, to bomb  ____  and then we flew in across the Russian German lines. 

When we flew there, the bombing mission at Dobruja was a success.  We did a good job on bombing.  For our colonel, I flew the number two ship.  I flew off his wing so if something happened to him, I would have to take over which I did over Polessk, we had a bomb mission over Polessk and I flew with the colonel on three other missions, it’s all in my diary.  We don’t have time to go through it.

So anyway the Germans shot at us and the Russians shot at us.  We had to go in a dead reckoning.  In other words, the radio signals were intermittent and very poor.  The navigators did a good job.  We went in and circled the fields and did our usual peel off landing and the Russians had never seen anything like those bombers coming in.  We had 130 bombers and 70 P-51 fighters.

We landed the bombers at two fields, Mirgorod and Poltava.  These are towns south of Kiev in the outer Russian Ukraine and the fighters went into a town called Pyratin.  It turned out to be a beautiful success.  It was unbelievable the reception we got.  They had never seen bombers like we had.

At night, they had guards guarding the planes, but we felt that they were all technical people to copy everything they could which they did, everything right down…to one plane, it was in the literature later, there was a hole in one of the planes.  They put a patch on the plane believe it or not.

I’m going to read from my diary verbatim my feelings and what I thought about this mission.  “Took off for Dobruja___, Hungary.  Good job of bombing.  Headed for Russia.  We were the first Americans landing at Mirgorod in the Russian Ukraine and Poltava and Pyratin.  We saw miles and miles of trenches of scorched earth.  The people are stoic and quiet.  They all work long and hard.  Clean, simple and progressive.  Very much impressed by their cleanliness and what they’re doing.  There’s complete security here.”

“The townspeople didn't know we were coming until the planes came.  At first the Russians were cool toward us.  By now and yesterday, it’s almost like a holiday.  We came here to show the Russians high altitude bombing, but it turned into the best good will tour.  Sunday we went to church in a Russian Greek church with Hurkey____.  Amazed at the generosity of the people in a quiet sort of way.  A lot of the girls dressed in native peasant costumes.  They have money, but don’t seem to know its value or care about it.”

“Have central community food storage.  Everybody is smoking American cigarettes and eating candy.  Their discipline in the Army is rigid.  Rather than change an order, they will change the guard.  The girl soldiers are a rugged bunch, would put our WACs to shame.  They how their rifles, do guard duty 12 hours at a time right along with the men.  The people are all healthy because they all work hard and live a healthy life.  They are simple and straightforward, but yet bright and all seem to read and write and have an education.”

“They clean up all rubble and are rebuilding all over.  Everyone works.  Beginning to like the Russian’s black bread.  So far the Russians are better than the rest of the Europeans I’ve seen, but they are not super.  The amazing amount accomplished is due to their complete cooperation and discipline.  They are amused and spellbound by our open-air movies at night.  You can tell that they have never laughed so much for so long a time since we came here.”

“I met a sergeant and first lieutenant Russian who first gave us vodka and took us over to the farmhouse for a meal.  We had fish, fried potatoes, fried eggs and vegetables from the garden and more vodka.  They drink the stuff bottom up.  Picking up some Russian fairly well.  Briefed for a mission to go back to Italy.  At the last minute, changed minds and returned here.”

“Mission #32.  Galatia, Romania.  Up at 5:00 a.m., took off with full load using 1/3 flaps and ____.  Scudded 300 feet, never thought we’d make it, but it cleaned up after crossing the ______ River.  First bombing mission out of Russia by American very successful.  _____ Russian play at night.  It seems it’s their form of general news and information to public.  Had the Fascist, capitalists, Germans, commandants, partisans, communists and religious representatives.  Of course the partisans and communists won out.”

“Discipline and security here is amazing.  The news of D-Day invasion was announced.  All the people were really overjoyed.  Along the Napier____ and all along every town area were all pockmarked with shells and trenches.  The Russians were amazed at our flying.  They have a barter system here and a public market.  The Americans are closely watched from disrupting their rate of exchange.”

“Today Hank and I and Boris____ were learning a little Russian from a little old Russian professor of mathematics.  He learned English from a book 25 years ago in Kiev.  Everything was progressing fine when a Russian lieutenant showed up and told all of us to go with him.  It turned out where he and the commandant of the town were satisfied

and told us they were sorry.  It seemed they thought we were bartering, but we never did find or saw the professor after that.”

“Rubles to them seem to mean very little, but to us 17 point rubles is equivalent to a dollar.  All the gasoline is carried by drums from the railroad station to the planes in little wagons by the peasants and loaded by hand into the airplane.  Met a 14-year-old kid in the Army for two years and spent one year of it at the front.  Wounded in the chest and arm doing 12 hour guard duty.”

“Even Mongolians around and some German war prisoners.  Talking to an old Russian guard, 54 years old, he’s been in the Army since 1919.  He told me when the communists came in, they shot and bayoneted Catholics and priests.  He shook his fist and said, ‘Nie dobri,’ no good.  I was surprised he would tell me that.  Gave him a bar of soap.  At first, he didn't want to take it.  He took it.  The Russians are severely punished if found accepting any American goods.”

“There are 6-8 Russian gal soldiers in each barrack.  They told me the Russian gal soldiers fight at the front like the men.  The people are held away by fear of severe punishment.  They are more than glad to see the Americans and be friendly.  A lot of them speak a little German.  Hank and Red and I were talking to a Russian school teacher.  He told us when the Germans first came, the people thought it was good because of German propaganda, but soon learned different when the Gestapo got there”.

“The Russian tanks and equipment were slow and cumbersome while the Germans had fast mechanized equipment.  They annihilated the Russians until the American and British equipment started coming in.  He said allied help was the reason the Russians were able to stop and start beating the Germans.  He told us 50,000 Russians down to the general were encircled and killed at Kiev.  Nearby he showed us a building where 200 Germans were lined up against a wall full of bullet holes.  He didn't seem too much in favor of Communists.”

“Number 33 and 34 missions.  Left Russia much to the sorrow of the local population.  Bound for ______ Airdrome, Romania, good job, intense and very accurate flight.  Five holes in the wing and stabilizer.”

I want to get to the second Frantic mission.  The original Frantic mission was supposed to be out of England, but because of D-Day, June 6, they went in June 2 and came out on June 11.  It was supposed to be by the 8th Air Force, but because of D-Day, that’s why the 15th Air Force led the first Frantic mission.

INTERVIEWER:   And how many days were you in Russia?

SEBIAN:   Nine days.

INTERVIEWER:   Where did they put you up?

SEBIAN:   We were all in tents.

INTERVIEWER:   Were these supplies sent in advance?

SEBIAN:   Everything there except the uniforms that the Russians made and their rifles came from the United States.  The airfield was fit with the steel mats that we landed on, the trucks, the jeeps, the food, the bombs, the gasoline, all came up through ______ and down _____ through the Persian Gulf.

I’m getting to the best part now.  So the second Frantic mission, I’m going to put something in here.  “On June 27, I led number #3 squadron.  Colonel complimented me on my leading, but flying, I flew in number 6 position.  Treadway and Kestle all went down.  Saw 25ME’s, two 10’s and one ME109 and FW-190s and JU’s all around.  Four FW’s made passes at us, lots of flack and so forth.  In the air mass, there was haze and cirrus for over half an hour.  How we ever got out of it is a miracle.”

“Everyone under the sun flying and milling around, B-17’s, P-38’s, P-51’s plus Jerries all over.  Boy lately they’ve been getting rough and seem to be worse all the time.”  What happened was I was flying the high squadron and the weather was so bad and the flack and the fighters and everything, it was a mad confusion.  We had the four squadrons.  The other two squadrons, they got lost.

The major leading one squadron, he never even got on the IP, initial point.  But he did a good job coming back.  He circled several towns and the flack, he didn't get any damage from the flack.  So he got the DFC.  Now the weather was so bad, what I had to do, the lead squadron was up here and I was over here at high squadron.  I had to come down and get under the lead ship with the other six planes on my wings.  That’s the only way I could see them so I could stay with them.

So when I got on the ground, they told me to report up to headquarters.  Because of my flying, I was promoted to assistant group operations officer and then to captain.  Okay, now getting back to the Frantic mission.  The second Frantic mission came out of England and this fella Blakely that I told you from near where I lived, he led the, he was in charge of the fighters and he was one of the top fighter pilots.  He was an ace three times in England.

They landed at _____ and the other planes from England, they landed on Miragorod and Poltava.  But when they came in, they saw a plane on the outskirts monitoring and it was a German plane.  So the Germans got together, got all their bombers together and they got set up to bomb Poltava and Miragorod that night.  The peculiar part of it was that when they started to bomb, there was no Russian fighters to go after the German bombers.  Stalin and the rest of them had all promised our people that they had plenty of night fighters and everything else.

In the meantime, when Blakely and his fighters wanted to get in a plane and attack the German fighters, I was told at the time that they would be shot if they got in their planes.  Now this is all in the record in this book here, the government report and it was prohibited from being published until just recently.  So they destroyed, I forget how many planes, they circled the field and destroyed or damaged every B-17 and a few other planes on the ground.

They were over the field for two hours.  No Russian fighters to counteract them.  No Americans were allowed to fly, the fighters.  They didn't get down to Miragorod because either they didn't have the proper location or the weather was bad, one of the two reasons.  So that was the start of the Cold War.  There are several theories that they mention in this official report – that either the Russians tipped off the Germans that we were going to be there because this plane just kept with them all the time coming across the German line.  Oh and the thing about it was when this plane went over the German line, nobody shot at him and when this plane went over the Russian line, the Russians didn't shoot at him either.

It’s all documented.  So Dean Harrimen tried to convince Roosevelt, Arnold, Churchill and the rest of them all the things that were going on.  This report on Poltava actually explains all the difficulties that the Russians put in our path.  They were always late on making any promises and always asking for more all the time.  It really will turn your stomach if the average person would read what had happened.

But Roosevelt and the higher American command, they wanted to get fields so badly to be able to go to Japan that they would sacrifice almost anything to do that.  Well there was a lot of consideration whether to stop operation Frantic, but they still held onto it and they flew some fighter missions out of these two airfields or three airfields.  It really was not a success because the Russian army was advancing so fast that the targets were as far away from the Russian fields as they were from England.

They couldn't get permission to bomb ahead of the Russians because they didn't want the allies to get credit for it.  That’s a fantastic article.  It’s by Infield.

INTERVIEWER:   Would you read the title of the report?

SEBIAN:   This is the report, The Poltava Affair by Infield.

INTERVIEWER:   Published where and when?

SEBIAN:   Well my son-in-law got this from the Catholic Historical Review in Washington, D.C.  I’m sure it’s in the Library of Congress.  A Russian Warring and American Tragedy, Glenn B. Infield, McMillan Publishing Company, Inc., New York, Catholic University American Library, Washington, D.C., but I’m sure it would be in the Library of Congress.

It gives the contents, the preparation, the difficulties, the stalling, the demands of Russia.  Every time the Americans got something, they had to give twice as much to the Russians.  It will blow your mind.

INTERVIEWER:   How did the air crews of the destroyed American bombers get back to allied lines?

SEBIAN:   They had to fly in DC-3’s and fly them out, oh yeah.  The next day, they flew all the planes out of Miragorod because the next night, they came back to bomb Miragorod, but there were no planes there (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER:   A DC-3 is not an armed aircraft either.

SEBIAN:   No, DC-3’s are not armed, no.  The red tape was so bad that you couldn't fly from one field in Russian to another without getting permission from the top.  It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.  But anyway, I have some nice pictures here if you’re interested in looking at them.  I’ve got Vesuvias erupting.  I’ve got some legitimate official bombing pictures of Ploesti and some of the other towns and so forth.

INTERVIEWER:   Do you have anything else you’d like to add to the tape?

SEBIAN:   No, I think I’ve said enough for today.

INTERVIEWER:   I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.