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Luck be a Lady Shamrock

An air force officer recalls a Tiffin airman and his service during World War II

July 3, 2014
By Col. Kent Cooper, USAFR , The Advertiser-Tribune

Harold C. Eckelberry,

U.S. Army, Technical Sergeant,

serving with Captain Jimmy Stewart

Article Photos

PHOTO?COURTESY?HAROLD?ECKELBERRY
The crew of the Lady Shamrock (standing, from left) Major James Stewart, Capt. Jerry Steinhauser, 1st Lt. John Ranken, Capt. Bill Conley, T/Sgt. Harold Eckelberry, 1st Lt. Gordon Parker; (crouching, from left) S/Sgt. Piercel Bordon, S/Sgt. Kermit Moon, S/Sgt. Edward Baumgarten and T/Sgt. Pappy Wilson. This was taken after their firth mission, when they were awarded the Air Medal.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, the government turned to ordinary Americans and requested of them extraordinary service, sacrifice and heroics. Many Americans met those high expectations and then returned home to carry on with their ordinary lives. They were proud of what they accomplished, but most said they were just doing a job - a job this nation had never seen to this magnitude. They once again became ordinary people, the kind of men and women who have always been the foundation of the American way of life.

That pretty well sums up Mr. Eckelberry, or "Eck" - an ordinary American doing extraordinary things during that time of war. At the age of 19, Eck entered the war on 4 Aug. 1942, enlisting in the Army and completing his "Boot Camp" in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

After completion of his three-week basic training course, he attended a three-month aircraft mechanic school in Lincoln, Nebraska, receiving training in aircraft hydraulics, electrical and fuel transfer procedures. He was on the 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift for classes and remembers the night being extremely cold.

Fact Box

Thirty missions in 218 days

Harold Eckelberry's

experience with the 8th Air Force, 445th Bomb Group, 703rd Bomb Squadron

Nov. 24, 1943

Landed in England after 13 days travel from Morrison Field. Came the South American route. Stationed at Tibenham near Norwich, England. Had a very interesting trip on the way over. Saw some very beautiful sights.

Combat missions

flown from England by

T/Sgt. Harold C. Eckelberry

Dec. 20, 1943 - 1st mission

Flew our first mission to Bremen, Germany. The flack was pretty thick and saw several fighters. Capt. James M. Stewart flew as our co-pilot. The length of flight was six hours and 50 minutes. We flew at 27,500 feet at 42 below zero.

Dec. 24, 1943 - 2nd mission

Flew to the Rocket Emplacement in northern France. Saw very little flack and no fighters. Maj. Evans flew as our co-pilot and we flew at 12,000 feet.

Dec. 30, 1943 - 3rd mission

We went to Mannheim, Germany. It was a rough mission. We saw lots of flack and approximately 25 enemy fighters, M.E. 109s. Our flying time was eight hours and 20 minutes and we were on oxygen for about six hours. Maj. Jones flew as our co-pilot. We flew at 21,000 feet at 36 below zero.

Jan. 7, 1944 - 4th mission

We went to Ludwigschafen, Germany. Was a rough trip - plenty of flack and fighters. We lost six aircraft. Stewart (now a major) flew as the co-pilot. Engine time was eight hours. Flew at 25,000 feet. Was 39 below zero.

Jan. 14, 1944 - 5th mission

Flew to northern France, went to the Rocket Emplacement. Stewart flew as co-pilot. There was very little flack and no fighters. Just another milk run. Were gone only four hours and 50 minutes. Flew at 12,000 feet. Received the air medal for this trip.

Jan. 21, 1944 - 6th mission

We went to the Rocket Emplacement in northern France. Was a very easy trip. Saw no fighters and very little flack. Lt. Colonel Gibson flew as the co-pilot. Was gone only four hours and 30 minutes. Flew at 12,000 feet. Siracourt, France.

Jan. 29, 1944 - 7th mission

Went to Frankfurt, Germany, today. Was a rough mission. Saw plenty of flack and lots of fighters. There was lots of flack over the target. Also plenty of M.E. 109s. Saw 12 in one bunch. Also had very good fighter support. Stewart flew as co-pilot. Got seven hours on this trip. Flew at 23,000 feet. 34 below zero.

Feb. 13, 1944 - 8th mission

Went to Bonniere, France, today. Was a darned rough mission. Got our No. 4 engine shot out on the bomb run. Also had the hell shot out of the ship in general. Eddie lost all the glass out of his tail turret. Had three holes in the top turret. One piece of glass cut me below right eye. Had 280 flack holes altogether. Shot out hydraulic system. Capt. Fisher rode as co-pilot. Completely destroyed the target. Worst flack I ever saw. Was no fighter opposition. Got four hours, 10 minutes time. Flew at 15,000 feet.

Feb. 20, 1944 - 9th mission

Went to Brunswick, Germany, today. Wasn't such a bad trip. Flew at 17,000 feet. Was about 25 below zero. Wasn't so cold. Stewart flew as co-pilot. Everyone was rather scared after the last one. The flack wasn't so bad. Was a hell of a lot of enemy fighters. Mostly 109s and F.W. 190s. Got a few burts in at one. We lost five ships from our formation. Had a pretty good fighter escort.

P.S. S/Sgt. R.G. Manning (Killer) kissed me when we got back.

Feb. 25, 1944 - 10th mission

Bombed an airport near Nurnberg, Germany. Was a long old trip. Was on oxygen five 1/2 hours - the whole thing was eight hours, 30 minutes. We flew at 18,500 feet in and came back at 15,000. The flack wasn't so bad. But was shot at four or five times. Had good fighter support. Only saw one enemy fighter (109). Lt. Parker flew as co-pilot. Saw one B-24 go down. Received an oak leaf cluster for on the air medal for this trip.

March 6, 1944 - 11th mission

Went to Berlin today. Was the first time our group had been there. Also the first time the B-24 had hit them in a daylight raid. Flew at 22,000 feet over there and over the target then came down to 15,000 on the way back. Maj. Fleming flew with us as co-pilot. Was on oxygen six hours. There was lots of flack over the target. Not many fighters. Had very good fighter support. We got five holes in the ship. Got eight hours for this trip.

March 9, 1944 - 12th mission

Went to Brandenberg, Germany, today. Wasn't such a bad trip. Had very good fighter support. Didn't even see of the Luftwaffe, guess there wasn't any up. Had very heavy flack over the target. Went through it once and made a 360 degrees and came back through and dropped the bombs. Fisher flew with us as co-pilot. Went in at 21,000 feet and came down to 15,000 - was on oxygen about 4 hours. Got 6 hours, 55 minutes for this trip. Was a screwed up mission. 10/10 undercast all the way over and back.

April 11, 1944 - 13th mission

Went to Oscherlaben, Germany, today. Was the first time we flew in a month on a mission. It wasn't so bad. The flack wasn't five or six enemy fighters M.E. 109s. Got a few bursts in at a 109 but didn't see if it did any damage. They were out of range. Flew at 20,000 feet - was 29 below zero. We got seven hours, 20 minutes for this one. Only 17 more to go.

April 19, 1944 - 14th mission

Went to Rathenau, Germany, today. Went up around the North Sea. Was flying at 23,000 feet. Didn't see any flack and very few fighters. Wasn't any that came into us. We bombed a M.E. 109 factory. Smoke and flames came up to 4 to 5 thousand feet. We got eight hours, five minutes for this trip. Was about 35 below. We led the division.

April 24, 1944 - 15th mission

Went to Gaglingen, Germany. Was a long old haul. Flew at 18,500 feet. Wasn't so cold, only about 24 below. Fisher flew with us. We bombed a submarine dock. Wasn't much flack over target. Ran into some very accurate on French coast. Saw five M.E. 109s - got a 24 on the way out. seven shots came out. They only made one pass. Got eight hours, 50 minutes for this one. Also another cluster for air medal.

April 26, 1944 - 16th mission

Went to Gutersloh, Germany, today. Was supposed to bomb airfield but had a 10/10 undercast so dropped the bombs on E.T.A. Saw quite a lot of flack in distance but didn't get hit. Flew at 20,000 feet - was about 24 below. They got us up at 2 a.m. Had very good fighter support. Didn't see any enemy fighters. We got five hours, 55 minutes this trip.

May 1, 1944 - 17th mission

Went to Watten, France, this morning. We got up at 1:45 a.m. and took off at 5:00. Was back at 10:45 a.m. Was a very nice trip. Flew at 21,000 feet - 26 below. Saw very little flack and no fighters. From the time we went in over the coast until we came out was only 12 minutes. We got five hours, 45 minutes for this trip.

May 2, 1944 - 18th mission

Went to Siracourt, France, this morning. Was a very nice run. No fighters and very little flack. Flew at 20,500 feet, wasn't cold up there. Were gone five hours, 30 minutes on this one. We took off at 5 a.m. approximately one hour, 30 minutes before daylight. They got us up at 1:45 a.m. - one hell of a time to be fighting a war.

May 11, 1944 - 19th mission

Bombed a Marshaling yards in Belfort, France, today. Was a very nice one except in was too darned long. We flew at 19,000 feet and was 18 below zero. Saw very little flack and no fighters. Had very good fighter support. Quite a number of P-38s over target and P-47s and P-52s to the target and back. No. 3 supercharger went out on the way over. Length of flight was nine hours - was on oxygen six 1/2 hours. Only had 250 gallon of gas left when we landed.

May 19, 1944 - 20th mission

Went to Brunswick, Germany, today. Flew at 22,000 feet and was 35 below zero. Wasn't bad going over. After we left the target, 13 enemy M.E. 109s and F.W. 190s came in. Three P-47s tried to break it up. They knocked four out. Capt. Myers got a probable. Got about 50 flack holes at Oscherlaben on the way back. We got seven hours, 45 minutes for this one. Three oak-leaf clusters.

May 24, 1944 - 21st mission

Went to Orly, France today and bombed an air field. Lt. Col. James flew as co-pilot. Had moderate flack and no fighters. Had very good fighter support today. We led Wind and also division, was division - was 35 below zero. Flight time six hours, 15 minutes. Got up at 1 a.m., took off at 4:30 a.m. and over target at 8:32 a.m. Back at 10:45 a.m. Very nice mission. Saw Paris.

June 4, 1944 - 22nd mission

Went to an airfield at Ramorantin, France. Was a nice run. Very little flack and no fighters. Had P-51s for escort. Capt. Casey flew as co-pilot. We flew at 15,000 feet - was 8 below. Flight time was seven hours. On oxygen five hours. Came through the fog over Fenlon at 500 feet. Flew that way for 20 minutes. Boy did we sweat it out.

June 8, 1944 - 23rd mission

Bombed a railroad bridge near Rennes, France. Wasn't a bad trip. Had very accurate flack over the target. Had very good fighter support but no opposition. Flew at 20,000 feet - was 35 below zero. Got six hours, 15 minutes. Was on oxygen four hours, 30 minutes. Fisher flew as co-pilot.

June 18, 1944 - 24th mission

Bombed an airfield near Hamburg, Germany, today. Was a fairly long trip. Wasn't much flack and no fighters. Had good fighter support. We flew at 23,000 feet and was 30 below. Pretty darn cold. Flight time was seven hours, 10 minutes. Longest one we've flown for some time.

June 21, 1944 - 25th mission

Went to Berlin, Germany, today. Was a long old ride. Flew at 23,500 feet - 30 below zero. Heated suit didn't work. I was cold as hell. The flack wasn't so bad. Didn't see any enemy fighters, had lots of 47, 51 and 38s for escort. Blew hell out of the target. Smoke was 10,000 feet in air after we left it. Flight time was nine hours, 15 minutes.

June 24, 1944 - 26th mission

Was supposed to bomb an airfield at Britigny, France. There was an undercast so couldn't bomb it. Near Paris. Couldn't find any other target, so dropped our bombs in Channel. Had antifragmentation bombs and couldn't land with them. Flew at 23,000 feet and 20 below. Flight time six hours.

July 7, 1944 - 27th mission

Went to Leutkendorf, Germany, today and bombed an oil factory. Had real good hits. Flew at 21,500 feet and was 21 below zero. The flack wasn't so accurate but plenty of it. Saw no enemy fighters. Flight time was seven hours. On oxygen five hours, 30 minutes.

July 12, 1944 - 28th mission

Bombed Munich, Germany, today. Boy it sure was a long old mission. Didn't see any enemy fighters, had good fighter support. Has some rough flack over the target but wasn't hit. No. 1 engine ran out of gas on the base leg of approach. Flight time was nine hours, 45 minutes. Flew at 23,500 feet and 24 below zero.

July 20, 1944 - 29th mission

Bombed airfield near Gotha, Germany. Was a easy mission. Capt. Myers dropped our bombs right on the nose. Wasn't very much flack and didn't see any fighters. Had very good fighter support. Flew at 21,500 feet and was 23 below zero. Flight time was seven hours. On oxygen five 1/2 hours.

ONLY 1 MORE TO GO.

July 24, 1944 - 30th mission

Bombed the German Infantry ahead of our guys in France. Silo was near there. Had a little flack and no fighters. Was at 13,000 feet. Boy we sweat it out as it was the last one. All our missions are in now and we are a happy bunch of guys. Total length of flight six hours.

Enlisted: 8/4/42

Discharged: 9/18/45

After his AM school was completed, he was shipped to Laredo, Texas, for gunnery school, where the guys shot ammunition at "sleeves" pulled by the famous T6 "Texan" aircraft. Then he was off to Salt Lake City, Utah, for 10 days to meet up with his aircraft crew. The guys spent a day together, then were sent to Pocatello, Idaho, for training as crew members on the renowned B-24 "liberator" bomber.

Once the crew was trained, they were sent to Harrington, Kansas, to be shipped out as replacements for B-24 crews serving in the South Pacific war zone. Instead - more training. The crew was assigned to the 703rd Bomb Squadron, 445th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force where they met up with Captain James "Jimmy" Stewart. That's right, Eck served with Command Pilot Jimmy Stewart as his aircraft engineer.

Once the crew completed training, hey were sent to Morrison Field, Florida, where they flew over to the European Theater of war, stopping for fuel at places like Belize, Central America, Lajes Field, Africa and finally, at their duty station, Tibenham Field near Norwich, England.

From Tibenham, Eck and his crew flew 30 missions in their B-24 Bomber. Their B-24 Liberator named "Lady Shamrock" had a picture of the lady painted just after the nose of the aircraft holding a highball in her hand! Those were the days.

I asked Eck of all the 30 missions he flew, which one did he most remember and why. He said it was his fourth mission to Germany and back. In his documented 30-mission log book, he describes the mission this way: "Jan 7, 1944 - 4th mission. Went to Ludwigshafen, Germany. Was a rough trip - plenty of flack and fighters. We lost six aircraft. Major Stewart flew as co-pilot. Engine time was eight hours. Flew at 25,000 feet. Was 39 degrees below zero."

Eck said he was a little scared on that mission. He said that Maj. Jimmy Stewart made the comment to the crew on the aircraft mission intercom system that "I think those --- are trying to kill us!" On the return trip, Eck said they came in on two of the four engines, had to manually crank the landing gear down and throw everything out that wasn't attached to the aircraft. This included guns and mission supplies, making the aircraft lighter for landing. But one thing they didn't throw out was their "Mae West" vests and parachute straps. They were the only B-24 out of seven aircraft on the mission to return that day. They were pretty shot up, but made it in.

On a typical mission, they were armed with fragmentation "frag" bombs, fire bombs, heavy duty bombs, depending on the targets. The turret gunner would climb into the bomb bay to arm bombs just before release. This was one of the last things they would do before dropping their bombs. He had to be a little guy to fit in the turret nest and climb around in the bomb bay. While on takeoff, sometimes the superchargers would start on fire, so the pilot would lean the engines in hopes of putting out the fire.

Back at their duty station, Tibenham, England, they would sleep in Quonset huts as a crew, minus the officers. The officers would stay in their quarters. Everyone had to heat their own water for shaving and other necessities. Eck said you had to stand by your water or else someone would grab it for their use.

Eck flew a flying mission with the Navy once. His brother was assigned as a crew member on a PB4Y, the Navy version of the B-24 Liberator. Eck decided to go on a mission with his brother to see how they operated. They flew a mission off the southern coast of England where they hunted German submarines and dropped armament.

After the crew completed its 30 flying missions, they returned to the U.S. for duty. Eck was sent to Boca Raton, Florida, where he was assigned as a flight engineer to train other B-24 crews. Then he was assigned to Keesler Field, Mississippi, for additional aircraft maintenance training. Once he completed his training at Keesler, he was sent to Chanute Field, Illinois, as an instructor on the B-24 hydraulics systems. On 18 Sept. 1945, Eck was discharged from the U.S. Army.

I have to tell you, it's pretty unbelievable sitting across from a guy that did 30 flying missions in a B-24 bomber describing in detail everything that went on like it was no big deal - just doing what they had to do. I'll never forget the men and women who were simply doing their duty, answering the call from our Armed Forces. In my eyes, they are all heroes. I salute you, Eck, for serving!

 
 
 

 

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