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Lyle Nelson

I was drafted into the army in 1942 at Fort Lewis, Washington, along with about 40 others and sent to Camp Barkley, Texas, for training to be in the medical corps. The highlight of this training was that I was picked to teach mathematics as most of the new draftees were short in this field. I was given the rank of Cadet Lieutenant and had a few other privileges that the other draftees didn't get. After graduating I was called into headquarters and given the option of going to Officer's Candidate School or I could go into any branch of the service that I wanted. These options were given to me just because I had some college experience. My choice was to go into the Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force. I made that choice because my brother Harley was already a navigator in the Army Air Corps.

I was sent to Camp Barkley in Texas to start training to be a fighter pilot as we were short of pilots at that time. I could take off all right, but my landings were terrible. I would cut throttle, but I was still about 12 feet too high, and we would come down with a bang. So my instructor would tell me to open up the throttle and come around again but to no avail. It was just the same as the first landing. My depth perception was way off, so I was washed out of pilot training and sent to navigation-bombardier school in San Angelo, Texas. After training, I received the rank of Second Lieutenant as a bombardier and was sent to a pool of flight personnel for assignment to a crew. My pilot was Lieutenant Robert Woods, my copilot was Lieutenant Gery Cruea, my navigator was Lieutenant Stan Symolin, my engineer was Sergeant Berbiglea, my waist gunner was Sergeant Walters, and my radio man was Sergeant McCoy. We flew practice missions to get acquainted with the plane and the gunners with their guns. After about a week of practice, we were sent to Grand Island, Nebraska, to be issued a plane (#699617). Up to this time we weren't sure what type of plane we were going to fly in combat. To our surprise, we were issued a silver B-17, and this was one of the first ones that didn't have camouflage paint. We made several flights around there to make sure everything worked.

We were given orders to fly it to a base in Italy. We would be in the 353rd Bombardment Squadron (H) of the 301st Bombardment Group (H) in the 15th Air Force. Our first stop was at Palm Beach, Florida, for refueling, a final check of everything, and an overnight stop before flying to Bel6m, Brazil, for another refuel and overnight stay. We then flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Dakar in Africa. Here we stayed overnight. They gave us strict orders to stay away from our planes until morning as our planes were being guarded by the local troops. Boy, you didn't want to fool with them as they had strict orders that no one should go near the planes. They couldn't understand English, and they had long guns with bayonets, and they all looked to be seven feet tall. We felt pretty safe that no one could sabotage our planes. Then we flew up to Casablanca for another overnight stay before flying to Algiers for our last night stop before flying to Foggia, Italy, which was to be our home base for our tour of duty for the war. When we landed we tried to park our plane in an empty revetment, but no one would let us park our plane. We circled the whole airstrip before we were able to find a place to park our plane. We found out later that our group had put up 16 planes that day and lost 12. The ground crews of the vacant spots were just hoping that their planes might still make it back to base even if they might be shot up somewhat. Due to the heavy loses before we got our fighter cover, we were put on the battle order almost every day the first month we were there.

Our first combat mission was on January 15, 1944, to destroy a railroad bridge in northern Italy. It was a milk run because we had no ack-ack or enemy fighters. It was a good mission to get broke-in. We found out the hard way that the B-17 wasn't impregnable even with all the machine guns we had. We still needed fighter protection on the long flights. Shortly thereafter we were given the P-51 fighter that had a longer range and could cover us all the way to the target and back home again. From this time on, we didn't have much trouble with the German fighters. We still had to contend with the ack-ack though. We had a few scary missions. I recall coming back from a mission when our lead navigator took us over a restricted area, a mountain where the Germans had a battery of 88's, and we were really shot up. We lost two engines that day, but being at over 30,000 feet we were still able to make it back to base. We didn't have any casualties, only a bit of a scare as a piece of shrapnel hit just under my foot. If a crossmember hadn't stopped it, I might have lost my foot. The very next mission, the same navigator took us over the very same area, and we were shot up again. Again we lost two engines. That navigator was demoted, and we never saw him again. It was at times like this that we realized how good our own navigator and pilots were.

On February 12, 1944, we flew a mission against a German troop concentration to help the troops break out of the Anzio Beach-head where they had been bottled up for several months. I flew high-right, or second in command. While on the run, I noticed the bomb bay fly off the lead plane and they dropped out of formation, so my crew had to slip over into the number one position and in the lead. I was the lead bombardier that day. We were called on again to the same area because the Germans had put their heavy artillery on top of the mountain overlooking Anzio Beach. This was quite touchy, because the Americans had strict orders not to bomb cities, churches, hospitals, schools, or anything like that. We ended up bombing them, and our troops were able to break out and move up the boot of Italy, and they took Rome in three days. This was the raid on Cassino Abbey.

After we got more crews, our crew was sent to "R & R" (rest and recuperation) in Naples and the Isle of Capri. While there, my navigator and another navigator caught a flight to Rome in a B-26. We weren't supposed to be up there, but as the other navigator could speak Italian, we got along pretty well. We toured everything: the lost city of Pompeii, the Coliseum, St. Peters and all the other sites of Rome. On our return to Naples, we were treated to the show Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin in a large theater while our fighters patrolled the skies.

When we arrived back to base, we were surprised to learn that while we were gone we were promoted a grade. We Second Lieutenants to First and our enlisted men to staff. Also, we were put right back into action. Our next mission was to Regensburg, Germany, a factory where they were making fighter aircraft. Sometimes I felt that someone was looking out for me. When we got up to altitude that day, my tail gunner called in to report that he couldn't get oxygen so of course we had to abort the mission and come home. We sent out 16 planes that day and lost all but one plane and that one with only three men: the pilot, co-pilot and engineer. The fighter escort couldn't stay with us that far into Germany, so the German fighters had a hay-day. The one plane that returned was shot up also, and the pilot ordered everyone to bailout, so the crew parachuted out. Then he waggled his wings to indicate that he was going to land at their airfield, so the Germans left him alone. When he got down to lower altitude, he opened the throttles and headed for home, and he made it. Such were the men fighting this war. You see, the Germans wanted these planes so they could fly into our formations to report our height for their guns below. I see by the statistics (compiled after the war) that we were losing 20% to 30% of our planes on these long missions without fighter protection.

Shortly after this mission, the generals corrected this and brought in a group of fighter pilots who flew the new P-51 with wing tanks who could now escort us all the way to our target and home again. These were the colored pilots from Tuskegee, Alabama. Up to this time our generals didn't think that the colored troops could do anything. These pilots had an incredible record of never having lost a bomber to enemy fire by fighters although we still did have some problems with their ack-ack. Sometimes it was so heavy that the phrase was "The flak was so thick that you could almost walk on it."

We flew to the Ploesti oil field in Romania four times. This was a very well-defended area because of the great need of fuel to run the German war machine. It was very heavily defended by their 88's that could shoot up to our height of 30,000 feet, and we had quite a bit of damage. I can recall on one mission we lost two engines over the target so had to fall out of formation. Our fighters were able to cover us from enemy fighters, but still our pilot gave the order to prepare to bail out in case of more trouble and to throw everything of weight out to save fuel. We were able to keep flying but were losing altitude. He even jettisoned some of our fuel as with only two engines running we wouldn't need so much. He wanted to get back to friendly territory before he would give the order to bail out, but it began to look that we might make it back to base, so the order was never given. Then we lost the third engine, but as we were close to base, our pilot was able to bring it in on just one engine, a remarkable piece of flying. Such was the caliber of pilots we had. I flew my 51st mission over Ploesti, Romania, and then was sent back to the states.

Our crew was given its orders to return home and report to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. We were put on the Normandy and were put in charge of the lower section of the ship. I got seasick and was sick all the way to the states. I hadn't been there more than a couple of weeks when I was given orders to return to my base at Foggia, Italy, and this time we were put on a Liberty ship, which was the second SNAFU as we were considered more valuable due to all the training we had. I saw ships torpedoed and on fire. Not a pretty sight when you realized the pour souls on board those ships. When I got to my base and presented my orders, they looked at them and said we weren't supposed to come back, so they cut new orders and sent us right back home again, and this time on another big ocean liner. I don't recall which one. I reported back to Fort Sam Houston where I spent the rest of my time in the war years and was honorably discharged sometime in 1945.

During my service to my country my unit received the Presidential Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters and the Europe Theatre Operation medal. The most terrifying experience of my tour of duty was to see these German fighters coming at me head-on with the leading edge of their wings on fire and not knowing who they were firing at. We were never hit like this, but my crew managed to get a few kills.




Back Row: Lloyd McGuire - Engineer
Phillip H. Walters, Jr.- WG
John, W. Gallareto - TG
Americo Longo - RO
Thurman A. Via - LT

Front Row: Lt. Robert M. Wood - Pilot
Lt. Gerald L. Cruea - Co-Pilot
Lt. Stanislaus H. Symolon - Navigator
Lt. Lyle M. Nelson - Bombardier

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt. Lyle Milton Nelson was assigned to the 301st BG 353rd Squadron.
Military Occupational Specialty (MOS): Bombardier.

The following information on Lyle Nelson is gathered and extracted from military records. We have many documents and copies of documents, including military award documents. It is from these documents that we have found this information on 2nd Lt. Nelson. These serviceman's records are nowhere near complete and we are always looking for more material. If you can help add to Lyle Nelson's military record please contact us.

  Rank General Order Date Notes Award Ribbon & Device

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

125

03/13/1944

 

AM

Air Medal (AM)

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

308

04/28/1944

 

AM/1OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

956

06/10/1944

 

AM/2OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

957

06/10/1944

 

AM/3OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

959

06/10/1944

 

AM/4OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

LYLE NELSON

2LT

960

06/10/1944

 

AM/5OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

960

06/11/1944

 

AM/5OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

Lyle Nelson

2nd Lt

1168

06/19/1944

 

AM/6OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

2/25/1944 PUC 2/25/1944 PUC

Please contact us with any biographical data, pictures or other information regarding the service and life of Lyle Nelson.

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