Phase Training -- Pyote/Dalhart, Texas

With my new commission in hand, I was assigned to the 19th Bomb Group at Pyote, Texas, to prepare for being sent to overseas active duty. With fourteen days leave en route, everyone went home on the way to Pyote. My trip home was via Union Pacific railroad through Reno, Ogden, Cheyenne, Omaha, and Chicago. The trip from home to Pyote was by way of St. Louis, Little Rock, Texarkana, Dallas and Ft. Worth. I arrived at Pyote on June 11, 1943, and was assigned to B-17 crew number 19-5-15, with the following ten members:

1/Lt John Beriont, Pilot
2/Lt Tom Dempsey, Co-Pilot
2/Lt Nevin Beam, Bombardier
2/Lt Marshall Stelzriede, Navigator
S/Sgt Ross McKelvey, Radio Operator and Gunner
Sgt Joseph Dwyer, Tail Gunner
S/Sgt Armand Cetin, Engineer and Top Turret Gunner
Sgt Albert Everhart, Right Waist Gunner
Sgt William Comfort, Ball Turret Gunner
Sgt Kenneth McCann, Left Waist Gunner

Ranks shown are those held by members when the crew was formed. All members were promoted while overseas. Except for three of our 25 bombing missions, all of these ten members flew together for the entire combat tour, with no injuries beyond frostbite.

First-phase training at Pyote was directed primarily toward checking out pilots and co-pilots and the training of individual crewmen in their designated positions. The first integrated crew training also took place during this phase. Navigators were not included in this first phase, so there was no reason for me to be there. For that reason, the rest of the crew had already been at Pyote for several days before I arrived there on June 11. Two days after my arrival at Pyote, our new crew was reassigned to Dalhart, Texas, as part of the 333rd Group (the Major William F. Savoie Provisional Group). We travelled there by train, via El Paso, and arrived on June 15, 1943. Second-phase training at Dalhart was for additional training at the crew, flight, and squadron level. In the third phase, also at Dalhart, there was practice bombing; formation flying; short-range navigation flights; and long-range navigation round trip flights to Denver, Oklahoma City, Galveston, Dallas, Albuquerque, El Paso, Gulfport, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Our one long-range, over-water flight was to Orlando, Florida and back. A limited amount of air-to-ground gunnery was taught to navigators, including stripping and cleaning the guns, and fixing simple stoppages.

A worrisome event happened while at Dalhart. Since our training for combat was now complete, our crew was considered to be ready to head overseas. But prior to departure for overseas, we were awarded eight-day home leaves, from August 4 to August 12. Major Savoie preached a stern sermon about returning on time, since we were to leave Dalhart for Scott Field, Illinois, as the first leg of our overseas trip, on August 14. His final declaration was that anyone who arrived back at Dalhart later than August 12 would be court-martialed. My return reservations to Dalhart (bus to St. Louis, airline to Amarillo, bus to Dalhart) were such that I would be back in plenty of time. However, when my plane reached Wichita, Kansas, I was replaced on the flight by a colonel who had a higher military priority than I had. There was no plane I could catch from Wichita until the following morning, but I could catch a train that would get me to Dalhart at 10:00 on the morning of the thirteenth -- ten hours late! But all ended well, because no one on the crew reported me, and no one else missed me.


Dalhart to Scott Field for New "Flying Fortress"

On August 14, 1943, the Savoie group transferred to Scott Field, Illinois, with 32 crews. We were assigned a brand new B-17 there (# 42-30646), to deliver to the United Kingdom, and during the eight days we spent at Scott Field, we calibrated its navigation instruments, made a number of familiarization flights around the area, and were thoroughly briefed on the upcoming flight over the North Atlantic to the United Kingdom. On one of the calibration flights, we "buzzed" my home town, Orient, a tiny place in the coal fields of Illinois which is not far from Scott Field. I could recognize several of the people on the ground, including my parents, who waved wildly, realizing that one of their own was on the crew of the B-17. Even today, when I visit my home town, someone is likely to bring up the subject of the B-17 that buzzed Orient.


The Trip Overseas


On August 22, 1943, the Beriont crew left Scott Field, Illinois, for the first destination of our trip overseas, which was Bangor, Maine. Since John Beriont had allowed us to fly over my home town of Orient, Illinois, while we were at Scott Field, I paid him back for his favor by giving him a very slight change from our planned heading, which would carry us over Linden, New Jersey, where he was born and raised. We circled there for a short time, but did not buzz Linden, because of its proximity to New York City. Then I gave him a corrected heading that took us directly to Dow Field at Bangor. Flight time from Scott Field to Bangor was 6 hours and 40 minutes. Apparently no one there ever checked my flight log, or we might have had to explain our change in flight plan. The three days we were at Bangor were spent making final preparations for the trip to England.


The course over the Atlantic was very nearly a great circle route, which represents the shortest distance between any two points on the earth, by way of Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland, and the course was plotted on Mercator projection charts. We left Bangor on August 25 for Goose Bay, Labrador, where we spent only one night, and where it was much colder than my home town of Orient ever was. Flight time from Bangor to Goose Bay was 4 hours and 10 minutes.


Departure from Goose Bay, heading for Greenland, was on August 26. We made landfall there at the correct fjord that led us to our destination, which was a base with the code name Bluie West One (BW-1). It was even colder there than at Goose Bay. Flight time from Goose Bay was 4 hours and 35 minutes. During the one day we spent at BW-1, we tried our luck at fishing for flounder, which turned out to be no sport at all, since we could dangle a bare hook and the fish would bite. Take-off at BW-1 had to be made down-wind, since the wind blew from the direction of some nearby mountains.


On August 27, we flew to Meeks Field, Keflavik, Iceland, in 4 hours. During our three days there, we were able to spend one day at nearby Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. These two towns were our first taste of European-type cities. The course for the final destination, Prestwick, Scotland, took us over the Outer Hebrides and the Inner Hebrides Islands, and the flight time was 4 hours and 35 minutes. Total flight time from Scott Field to Prestwick was 24 hours over nine total elapsed days, with an arrival date of August 30. I was rather proud of my first real navigation experience, since I reached each destination on course and within a very few minutes of my estimated time of arrival (ETA).


New B-17 assigned to crew at Scott Field to fly to European Theater of Operations

Pilot J. Beriont on flight to Bangor, Maine

Co-pilot T. Dempsey

M. Stelzriede navigating to Bangor

M. Stelzriede getting feel of .50-caliber machine gun. When under fire, bombardier and navigator served as gunners unless crew was lead crew on the mission

J. Beriont in nose as plane leaves U.S. at Canadian border

Eastern Canada

Small icebergs in fjord leading to BW-1, Greenland

Small icebergs in fjord leading to BW-1, Greenland

On ground in Greenland

On ground in Greenland

A. Cetin in Greenland

A. Everhart in Greenland

K. McCann (with fish) in Greenland

M. Stelzriede navigating from Greenland to Iceland

Arrival at Keflavik, Iceland, near Reykjavic

Arrival at Keflavik

Landing field at Keflavik

Approaching Scotland


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