Interview of Harry Lee (Bobby) Jordan Transcript Number 75

Today is July 31, 2001.  We are in the Columbus County Library in Whiteville, North Carolina.  Today we’re interviewing Harry Lee “Bobby” Jordan who was a navigator on a B-17 flying out of Italy in World War II. 

JORDAN:   I enlisted the 30th of May 1942 while I was at North Carolina State College in Raleigh.  I went on active duty in April 1943, as an infantry private at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  While taking advanced ROTC at North Carolina State…a group of the seniors gathered together and decided we wanted to be sure and catch the end of the war before it got over and see how it was like to have combat.  I’m certainly glad now that I saw it as an Air Corps man instead of an infantry man because I can understand they have a lot of problems sleeping and taking care of their normal business still.

I graduated from navigation school at Selma Field, Monroe, Louisiana, as a navigator, a 2nd lieutenant.  I trained with a bomber crew in Florida.  I joined them. They were about half through with their training.  We flew into Nova Scotia, England and then African defense.  Flying from Nova Scotia to England, I made some shortcuts in navigation and they recommended, they ordered you to make three fixes, navigation fixes an hour.

You couldn’t very well do that in the daytime because the center of the day was the only time you could shoot a fix at 5 minutes before 12 and 5 minutes after 12.  Of course time was changing and you had to change your watches every several hundred miles and keep up with the time change.  I got kind of lazy and loafing so I just started, every hour I’d shoot a speed line on the course line.  I used Solaris at night, took off in the middle of the night so we could use Solaris navigation.

I’d shoot that and I’d get a speed line from Rigel so I think that’s a star in the constellation Orion.  That way I just sat up there and loafed around and shot these two stars.  We took off with a group of 20 planes, not in a formulated group to fly together, but just a bunch of casualty replacement crews.  So I kind of loafed around and kept shooting these two stars and I gained about 30 minutes from the planes that took out ahead of us.  Thirty minutes means a lot in the air.  Sometimes it means the difference between living and not living.

Anyway I got there about 30 minutes ahead of the first of the group that took off and landed.  What we did, we went to town.  A group of English flyers were there.  They were probably coming over to get some planes and fly back.  So we went out on the town that night, had a good time, no girls (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER:   There weren’t any women there?

JORDAN:   They were all working.

INTERVIEWER:   Where did you land?

JORDAN:   Down in Wales.

INTERVIEWER:  So nonstop from Nova Scotia to Wales?  You didn't stop.

JORDAN:   No.  After we landed, about an hour before we got there, I figured this was not going to look good.  I don’t have any work to show.  I was getting pretty expert by now.  I quickly formulated two fixes so they would fall somewhere on the mountains.  We’d get in reach of Wales.  After landing there, we went out on the town a little bit and had a good time.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Where did you leave…when you took off, you left from where?  Nova Scotia?

JORDAN:   Gander, Newfoundland.

INTERVIEWER 2:  And you flew to Wales.  How long did it take, do you remember?

JORDAN:   About 10 hours.

INTERVIEWER 2:  And you were speeding along at what speed (laughter)?

JORDAN:   We were indicating 180-85, we had a tail wind luckily.  We were going about 250.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Now the aircraft is not pressurized, is that right?


INTERVIEWER 2:  And you didn't have any heater or people running up and down the line offering you coffee and tea?

JORDAN:   No, we had some coffee, but we didn't go get it because it was so cold and windy and all, I think somebody brought some in the nose because it’s extremely cold in the nose.  The lumen skin was about like tissue paper and it was very cold up there.

INTERVIEWER 2:  How noisy was it?

JORDAN:   I don’t know, you couldn’t hear (laughter).  It was very noisy.

INTERVIEWER:   You talked on the radio to different crewmembers, you had to.

JORDAN:   Right.

INTERVIEWER 2:  So you landed in Wales.  Despite the fact that you had flown for 10 hours…

JORDAN:   I never told anyone how I managed to do all this, but I figured out the system that happened to work and I got there.  It’s previous to this while we were flying in Florida, the pilot kind of…we were flying just oriental flights to get the feel of the land and how it was.  We flew one okay and the next one, he didn't say anything different.  Flew another one.  We got out of flying out of Florida to the east coast and he rudely called in and said, “Give me a course to land”.

I said okay, well I knew we were east of Florida so I said 270, which is taking you west.  So we went west and he picked up a radio band and we landed at ______Naval air station.  I had a bad night.  I didn't sleep any (laughter).  Got back to base though.  They scheduled kind of inspection to see whether I should go back to the infantry or stay in the Air Corps (laughter).  I took that flight and I stayed around another day, just happened to work. 

Two things had to get together, the course and speed.  I hadn’t told anybody how I did it.  I was lucky enough that these two courses, these two subjects worked out together.  That’s not the right word (laughter), but we’ll work on it a little.  Everything worked out and we got there.  We got there 30 minutes ahead of the first plane that took off.

INTERVIEWER 2:  What was the name of your aircraft?

JORDAN:   B-17 heavy bomber and the name everybody put on it was the Flying Fortress. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  How did you name the aircraft?

JORDAN:   A lot of people, everybody did that, it was just a kind of thing, but a lot of people, the crew got together and painted a picture of a girl and had a fancy name and so forth.  By then, when we got there, we didn't keep an individual aircraft.  They were losing so many of them.  You didn't fly the same aircraft consecutively.  We’d get one airplane one time and the next mission, we’d get another airplane.  But earlier on, they did have separate airplanes.

INTERVIEWER:   When did you land in Wales, do you remember what date, what month and year?

JORDAN:   Yeah, I got it here. 

INTERVIEWER:   Just the year would be fine.

JORDAN:   We picked up the airplane in April ’45.  Flew to Nova Scotia, England by way of England, Africa and from there to Foggia, Italy.  We arrived in Italy in January 1945.

INTERVIEWER:   January ’45, okay.

JORDAN:   It was on the 301st bombing group, the 419th squadron, 15th Air Force.  Started flying over to Germany.  While we were flying over Vienna, Austria, this was our third mission.  The first mission, for some reason or another, I don’t remember.  I don’t know whether I was scared to death or freezing to death.  Probably both (laughter).  On the 16th of March, we were bombing the oil refineries at the edge of Vienna.  You would wonder why you’d have an oil refinery at the edge of that city, but nobody believed there’d be another war.

World War I was supposed to have taken care of that.  But anyhow we started flying missions over Germany and Austria and the first mission, as I said, I don’t remember.  The second mission was a disaster.  We flew over three targets, got shot at three times and came back home and had to land with our live bomb.  What made them safe, you had a fuse that you screwed into the head of the bomb.

INTERVIEWER 2:  It was a fuse?

JORDAN:   Yes.

INTERVIEWER:   And those three targets were weathered in you couldn’t bomb.

JORDAN:   That’s right.  You had a 50% clear visibility.  When we got back to base, they said they didn't know if they were going to let us count that mission or not, the colonel said.  Of course he’d been with us; I have to say that.  Some sucker, namely me, said I’d been shot at three times.  I wanted it to count (laughter).  I think we deserve it.  They didn't decide then, but later on it showed up on our mission sheet where it was counted.  I won that one. 

The third mission, we were flying over Vienna, Austria on the 16 th of March 1945.  We were bombing the Florisdorf, an intensely heavy flight.  Our plane sustained damage and began a rather rapid descent.  What happened was we had a hit on the left side of the airplane and the airplane engines were numbered.  Number one was the extreme one on the right and number two was the second one.  So, basically, it would be the second engine from the right.

The flack was kind of like the fourth of July.  The black flack was 88mm.  The 105mm was white and the pink colored flash was 155.  They had mounted mainly 88’s because they were lighter on railroad cars.  They could move those around easily.  The area, the target that was getting hit the most, they could just shuttle these railroad cars in there with 88’s on them and build up their flack concentration, double and triple overnight if necessary.

INTERVIEWER 2:  You used the word flack.  What does the word flack mean?

JORDAN:   The flack is a word…

INTERVIEWER:   It’s a German word, it’s probably an abbreviation for something like…I don’t know.  It’s antiaircraft fire of course. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  But flack means antiaircraft fire, is that right?

JORDAN:   Absolutely.  As I said, number two mission was a disaster.  On March ’45 we were bombing the Florisdorf oil refinery and in number two we began a rather rapid descent.  We were probably going down at about a 30 degree angle which is fairly steep.  The reason why the prop wouldn’t feather, we were wind-milling out of control like a windmill.  It appeared to be burning the shaft with all this speed and friction.  We were afraid it was going to come in. 

The way it was situated, it only had two directions it could go in.  One would be into number one engine and the second place would be into the navigation place about 5 feet away from me.  I could have reached out and touched it if I had a window there. 

INTERVIEWER:   Well had you dropped your load at this time or not?

JORDAN:   We were on the way in.  The intercom didn't seem to work, but suddenly the bail out bell started ringing.  The bail out bell was a warning bell to warn us that things were getting kind of critical (laughter).  I had my chute hanging from my shoulder and luckily I had it already adjusted to fit me.  So I grabbed it, hooked it up.  It had a little clamp sort of like a C-clamp that opened out where you could slide it over, like a belt buckle.  The clamp would keep it from keeping loose if you stuck safety pins in it.

It would keep it from opening up.  As soon as I jumped out, you were supposed to wait about 50 or 60 seconds so you’d clear the ship and all that and anything that was flying off it.  After the bail out bell rang, I sat down beside the hatch that opened up.  It was about 30 inches by 36 inches and you were not supposed to bail out of it in this situation because if you did, the winds weren’t right and the descent wouldn’t be in the right position and you could be decapitated.

So I thought about that and I said as badly as I hate to do it, I’m going to go out first.  So we didn't have time to wait or we didn't think we did anyway. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Had you ever jumped out of an airplane before?

JORDAN:   No, absolutely not. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Had you ever had any training in parachute?

JORDAN:   I think they had some slides they showed us, but that was all, no physical training.

INTERVIEWER 2:  How old were you at that time?

JORDAN:   This was ’45, I was 23 soon to be 24.

INTERVIEWER 2:  You hoped you would be 24.  At age 23, most people think they can do everything and anything.  Were you scared or was it just youthful bravery?

JORDAN:   I wasn’t really scared.  I was very concerned (laughter).  To revert back, when I was in the infantry, we had had a lot of training in the infantry with guns and marksmanship and survival, not as such.  They didn't teach it as such, but they gave us a lot of good tips.  I got a lot of this from the infantry.

INTERVIEWER 2:  So out you went head first.

JORDAN:   Head first.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Was it the static cord that tore…

JORDAN:   No, I had a hand grill.  This harness had a safety clip that you clipped around part of the screw type mechanism of the chute that would keep it from dumping you out when you hit it.  The first thing I saw when I got out of the airplane, I wasn’t going to wait a second or two, I was going to see if that chute worked.  So as I looked over my left shoulder and saw the plane go by, I pulled that chute and the first thing I saw and I went flying through the air at about 250 miles an hour, the first thing I saw was this safety clip where it was dangling in the wind (laughter). 

I knew it wasn’t hooked because I didn't hook it.  So I put my arms across my chest and kind of held myself together.  Well the main thing, I had this bail out bomb and I didn't want to entangle that thing because it could come loose and knock you out.

INTERVIEWER:   That’s oxygen.

JORDAN:   Right, it’s about 18 inches long and about 5 inches in diameter.

INTERVIEWER:   Do you remember the altitude were when you went out?  I know you were descending; you didn't have time to look at it.

JORDAN:   We were bombing at 20,000 feet.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Okay, so you’re out of the airplane and you’re having this peaceful descent.  Did you see other crewmembers’ parachutes?

JORDAN:   In England seven of our crew, as I said my instructor, we joined them in mid-term and this particular day, the pilot, the first pilot, myself and the engineer were breaking in a new crew because we had experience.  I had three whole missions and was teaching somebody else (laughter).  So it really kind of shook us apart by being separated like that, but it’s what had to be done, what needed to be done.

So we were training them so we were not really, we didn't really have the bond of congeniality that we would have had as a crew that hung together and stayed together and so forth.  We did stay in the middle of an olive orchard and for a floor we had metal matting and thank goodness it didn't rain while we were there.  It was still kind of dirty and dusty, not too comfortable, but it was alright considering.

After we landed on the ground, two German soldiers, civilians got there first, five or six of them and they had some farming tools like a bush axe, a blade.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Did you have a weapon on you?

JORDAN:   Yes, I had my 45 and behind my 45, I had a $5 hunting knife that I had picked up in Nova Scotia.  I had it to cut myself loose if we were flying over water.  That liked to prove to be my undoing (laughter).  I took out the 45, that was bad enough.  I reached back and took out my knife.  Well I almost got lynched.

INTERVIEWER:   Did those civilians harm you or were they just threatening you?

JORDAN:   They were threatening rather violently.  The soldiers had to level their guns at the civilians to keep them from doing what they wanted to do.

INTERVIEWER:   In other words, the soldiers really protected you.

JORDAN:   Yes they did.  First, the civilians took me to a local jail and they didn't have any real secure means there so they put shackles in my wrists.  So I had two happy days and a night there shackled to the waist.  I didn't have any problems though because I hadn’t had anything to eat and not much water.  I made out alright. 

INTERVIEWER:   Well you made it out alive (laughter).  Now exactly where did you land?

JORDAN:   I landed right straight in Vienna and on the evening of the second day they took me to a Luftwaffe airfield and things changed there.  The Luftwaffe officers took me down to their headquarters operations and brought me some black coffee.  That’s exactly what I needed (laughter).  I had never had any without a little sugar and cream before.  It was good and they were good to me.  They treated me like one of their own really.

INTERVIEWER:   Did they question you, were they trying to pull information out of you?

JORDAN:   In the civilian jail out there, they put the shackles on me, but when they carried me to the airfield or the air base, the man who interrogated me, I never told many people, maybe my wife, the man who interrogated me was Hitler or his double.  I didn't tell people this because they wouldn’t believe me.  I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me.  This fellow was Hitler or his double.

I did some research later and found out that Hitler did have 10 doubles and perhaps the SS people had a set of doubles.  Perhaps the partisans themselves had doubles that they could use to fool the fanatic Nazis.  So there were all kinds of people floating around looking like Hitler.  He looked exactly like him.

INTERVIEWER:   This is who asked you the questions.  Do you remember what he asked you, Bobby?

JORDAN:   Yes, he asked me where I was from, why this mission and since I was wearing a state ring, I kept denying where I was from. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Did he speak English or did you speak any German at all?

JORDAN:   I couldn’t speak any at all, but they spoke not good English, but I understand that all high schools had been forced to teach English and they could speak it, but you couldn’t understand it too well.  You could keep asking and say “What?” and they’d keep on with it.  They had to do it physically until you did understand it. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  How long did he interrogate you?  Hours or days?

JORDAN:   Probably a couple of hours. 

INTERVIEWER:   Did any other crewmembers land near you?  Were you alone?

JORDAN:   I was alone and stayed alone for a pretty good while.  These two guards, both of them had POW brothers in America.  I don’t recall where they were at.  One of them was in Texas, I’m pretty sure.  I remember thinking one of these guys might be at the ballpark in Whiteville (laughter).

INTERVIEWER:   That’s right, we had a POW camp here.  Now you told me before that these were Luftwaffe fighter pilots who didn't have enough fuel to fly so they put them on guard duty.

JORDAN:   That’s right.  They were Stuka dive-bomber pilots.  They treated me very well. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  How long were you there?  Did they keep you at the airfield or were you transferred?

INTERVIEWER:   Where was the headquarters, downtown in…

JORDAN:   Downtown in Vienna. 

INTERVIEWER:   Do you remember how you went from the airfield downtown, in a German truck or walking or train?

JORDAN:   Walked, we walked down there. 

INTERVIEWER 2: Through the city streets?

JORDAN:   Right. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Did the civilians boo or throw things at you?

JORDAN:   They did pretty good.  We were going down the street.  My two guards, one of them was just along for the trip.  I think he was going on vacation to leave since they didn't have fuel.  We went out to the airfield and it was the individual that interrogated me that looked so much like Hitler.  After that we traveled 400 miles from Vienna to Frankfurt.  I guess it was in Frankfurt, we were going down the street, my one guard and the fellow who was going with us, his friend, and this old man…the previous night we had slept on a little round marble top table like I saw one in the library here, a smaller scale.

We slept with our heads on the desktop, tabletop.  Anyhow the next day, we were just two guards and myself, we were going down the street…

INTERVIEWER:   This was in Frankfurt?.

JORDAN:   Yeah, and suddenly there was an old man in this place where we spent the night that was looking at me all night, every time I opened my eyes, I didn't sleep much, I’d look over there and this old man was staring at me all night long.  The next morning the old man showed up again.  We were in the street and a mob of people come rushing out at us.  This old man was leading them kind of. 

They wanted to do another lynch job on us.  So one of the guards gave my arm a little tug and we ran out into the middle of the street and as luck would have it, there was a German transport, Luftwaffe truck, the Germans on it reached down and got a hold of our arms and lifted us bodily into the truck.  During all this time, I’m still wearing my flight boots, like overshoes except they had in the inseam they had the electrical wires and you wired them up to your suit and then you wired your suit up to a socket in the airplane.

Anyway after we cleared Vienna, we proceeded to go to wherever we were going.  They didn't tell me where we were going.  We were going to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to the Dulag Luft prison which was a specific camp to orient Air Corps prisoners of war.  Back then they separated the officers from the men, which they shouldn’t have done, but they did, and the blacks from the whites and all of that.

They treated us all alike, but they did have us separated like we had over here I guess.  But anyhow to revert back on our trip, we traveled anyway we could possibly go.  We walked, we caught rides on a bus type.  At night the trains would run.  They wouldn’t run in the daytime because of our fighters knocking them out.  So in the daytime, we would move anyway we could by walking or catching a ride.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Were you by yourself or were there other airmen that were with you?

JORDAN:  By myself. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  But you’ve got a guard with you.

JORDAN:   Right. 

INTERVIEWER:   You still had two guards at this time.

JORDAN:   A guard and a half (laughter).  One of them I think he was just going along for company.  It worked out well.

INTERVIEWER:   Do you remember how many days it took you to get from Vienna to Frankfurt like that?

JORDAN:   I’d say about 12 days.

INTERVIEWER:   And did you have anything to eat, Bobby, on this trip?  Did they have food?

JORDAN:   Yes, they had the black bread, the German bread.  They had a tube of liverwurst.  I tried to eat, but I didn't know what all was in it so I didn't eat much of it.  I didn't have the bread so I didn't eat anything for about 10 days, but I drank all the water.  I drank, only one guard had the water and he would replenish it every time he could.  I don’t remember them drinking water, but they must have had a severe water rationing program.  But anyhow, I drank all the water.  Finally got to Frankfurt every way we could.

INTERVIEWER:   Did you see any action or any allied planes flying around while you were on that trip?

JORDAN:   One day we were walking along and suddenly a B-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt flew by strafing at us.  I was one of them then, and they were strafing.  We were kind of on the side of mountains, like the Piedmont area of North Carolina.  We scrambled up the mountain and everybody was helping everybody else that they could to get out of the range of the fighters.  We finally got high enough up there and spent the rest of the day up there until night. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Did the guards talk with you?  Did they speak English?

JORDAN:   Just a little bit.  We could by motion and all we could communicate.  They spoke English, but I couldn’t understand it very well. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  When you got to the prison camp, how did they process you in?  Were they filling out forms on you?  Did they interrogate you?  What happened?

JORDAN:   When we got to the prison camp, I got there late at night.  It was just dark.  They carried me to a holding cell.  The next morning early, they came and got me and took me out.  The commandant of the American camp, the prison camp also had the German big boss, and our commandant was Colonel Charles Starke.  He was pretty good.  He noticed that I was limping when I came in.  I don’t know, my left leg, I don’t know where it came from, whether it was a sprain or a bruise or a ligament or what have you.

But anyhow I know I was limping.  The reason I remember that vividly is that you had to have a flesh wound verifying disability and I never could have any…early on it was difficult because my skin hadn’t been broken.  As I said after I got there, I saw this old man leading a mob and when we went on out to the prison camp.  Got there late at night and early morning they took me out of the American side, took me out to the parade ground where everybody congregated every morning to be sure that no one had escaped.

The American commandant, they started moving everybody out that could walk and he pulled me out of the crowd because he’d seen me limping the night before.  This is where I was interrogated with this Hitler look-alike.  After the interrogation, they moved me on into the regular officer’s part of the camp.  I got some coffee and the treatment was good as I said. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Tell us about being released.  Who opened the jail doors for you?

JORDAN:   At one point I was in the prison camp because I was the lowest ranking officer, 2nd lieutenant, I was on the gate, minding the gate to keep anything from going out and in that wasn’t authorized.  Then after we took over because I was the lowest ranking officer, I was still on the gate to keep fanatics, Nazis, from coming into the camp and starting another massacre.  So that worked out.

In the timeframe before we got there, we noticed on the side of the mountain a bunch of tanks moving to the west and I surmised that these had to be American tanks moving in that direction at this time.  So it was looking real good now and sure enough I was holding the gate still, and it turned out that these were Patton’s tanks moving to the west.  So as I said, I took charge of the gate.  I left being in charge of the gate under American supervision.  Since I was the lowest ranking officer, I kept my job on the gate.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Sir, with all of the experiences that you had, what did you all learn from all of that?

JORDAN:   I learned that as individuals, we were all about the same.  We had the same ideals, the same morals and the same desires, morally and physically, there really wasn’t much different in any of us.  We had this trait, this idea that everybody is different.  We have a caste system and all of that.  It’s real stupid.  Individuals are the same no matter where they come from and what they do or what color they are.

INTERVIEWER 2:  Did you find a difference between you as a prisoner and they as guards?

JORDAN:   Not really.  It was just a physical difference in the jobs that we were pursuing at the time. 

INTERVIEWER 2:  Would you go back in again if you had to?

JORDAN:   If I had the same situation, I’d do the same thing again.