Albion Central Schools Veterans History Project
Click here for a complete transcript of Mr. Walsh's interview
Albion veteran James Walsh at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had asked families to put blue stars in their windows if they had a loved one in the war, and to put a gold star in the window if that loved one lost his/her life.
Here, at the memorial, each star represents 100 Americans who gave their lives for their country.
There are 4,000 stars, representing a total of 400,000 lives lost.
JAMES WALSH: BIOGRAPHICAL & MILITARY SERVICE INFORMATION
- Birthplace: New York City
- Place of Residence*: Albion, New York
*at time of interview
- Wars of Service: World War II
- Branch of Service: Army Air Corps
- Unit/Division/Regiment/Ship: 437 Troop Carrier Group, 85 Squadron
- Other Information: Rank: First Lieutenant
- Date of Birth: Nov. 8, 1923
- Method of Induction: Enlisted
- Service Dates: 2/43 - 2/45
- Place of Service: George Field, Ill.; Malden, Missouri; Ramsburt, England; Villa Coublais, France; Marfa, Texas
Like many Americans who were alive on December 7th, 1941, Mr. Walsh remembers where he was when he first heard the news that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Naval Base in Hawaii. He had been at home with his parents and they had heard it on the radio (most homes relied on radio for news and entertainment, since television wasn’t common at that point). President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan almost immediately, and the next day, the U.S. was engaged in World War II.
A little more than a year after the U.S. entered World War II, a friend of Mr. Walsh’s convinced him to enlist in the military, rather than waiting to be drafted (selected at random for military service by the government). The two thought enlisting would be better, because people who enlisted were allowed to choose the branch of service they entered, and the two felt that they’d prefer to go into the Army Air Corps instead of being drafted into the ground forces. Ironically, however, Mr. Walsh’s friend, who had talked him into enlisting, didn’t pass the exam process and did NOT go into the military, but Mr. Walsh did!
Mr. Walsh’s first few days in the military were like what most other new recruits had to do: learn to march, shoot, follow orders, and so on. He then went on to be trained as a pilot. In March 1944, after Mr. Walsh had completed his flight training, he graduated from flying school as a second lieutenant. There were so many new men coming in who needed to be taught how to fly that Mr. Walsh and some of his fellow airmen were assigned to teach. As a new instructor, Mr. Walsh was given five students to train in two-engine planes. During this time, the U.S. and other Allied forces invaded the German-held mainland of Europe in the battle of D-Day (also known as the Battle of Normandy).
Mr. Walsh then continued on to another flying school, called a Transition School, where he learned how to fly bigger planes, C-47s, which were used to transport troops and supplies. After learning how to fly these planes, he was sent to England to help with the war effort.
Mr. Walsh recalls that the English had been having a tough time for years because of German air raids on the British Isles. German bomber pilots had flown many missions over England and had dropped thousands of bombs on the British cities and especially on their factories. To make matters worse, the Germans had invented V1 and V2 rockets, which could be launched from as far away as the European mainland. Mr. Walsh remembers hearing these rockets overhead (many people learned to recognize the "buzzing" sound that these rockets made, which earned them the nickname "buzz bombs"); when that sound stopped, it meant that the rocket’s engine had cut out and the rocket was about to hit. These rockets continued to inflict great damage on Britain, but the British persevered and continued to resist Germany.
As the U.S. and Allied military pushed ahead towards Germany, they took over airfields in France that had formerly been used by the Germans. Mr. Walsh was reassigned to these captured airfields to help bring supplies to the ground forces. He flew planes that towed gliders (planes without engines) that carried men and supplies into German territory. One of his biggest missions was the Invasion of the Rhine (the Rhine is a river that runs through Germany itself). For the Rhine Drop, five squadrons were used for a total of 50 planes. These 50 planes towed 100 gliders (each plane towed two gliders, on two separate ropes or cables, which was called double-tow). The British were also dropping their own gliders and troops in the operation, but they came in from England. After this mission, which was extremely successful, the Germans crumbled and the Allies were able to continue charging all the way to the German capital city of Berlin itself.
Below is a 1945 photo of a plane towing two gliders in the double-tow method Mr. Walsh used in the Rhine Drop. Can you see the cables connecting the lead plane with the two gliders?
Although Mr. Walsh flew over enemy territory in the war, he wasn’t extremely terrified of being shot down. This was partly because his groups flew very low, usually about 400 or 500 feet above the ground, which was too low for most flak. They did, however, worry about small arms fire, since lots of ground weapons and artillery could hit their planes at that height. Although he was never shot down himself, Mr. Walsh does remember seeing a plane in front of him get shot down as they were invading the Rhine. Luckily, all four men in that plane bailed out and parachuted to the ground safely, where they were picked up (by either a Canadian or an American division of soldiers). The plane crew returned to the airbase a few days later and, although they all swore they would never fly again, after a few days of rest, they were all back on duty.
One of the most gung-ho, driven military leaders of the war was General George S. Patton. Mr. Walsh remembers flying supplies to Patton’s army, which was moving towards Germany so fast that the Air Corps had to deliver new gasoline, shells, or other equipment to it every single day. And since these drops took place in a war zone, the pilots had to get in, drop off the material, and get out again as quick as they could. Mr. Walsh thinks Patton’s army would have continued straight into Berlin, Germany, if the Allies hadn’t forced him to turn away and move his army Southward into Austria instead (so that the Russians could have the honor of entering Berlin (from the East) first, as a way of respecting efforts during the war).
At the end of World War II in Europe, the Allies focused on freeing prisoners of war from German camps. American POWs were taken out of Germany and brought to Camp Lucky Strike in France so they could be sent back home to the U.S. The British and French prisoners were also returned to their homelands. Mr. Walsh recalls hearing some things about the other ‘prisoners’ the Germans were holding---the Jewish people who had been put in forced-labor camps as part of the Holocaust---but even though there were rumors, stories, and even some pictures in the U.S. Army newspaper, the Stars and Stripes, the full scope of the horrors of the Holocaust didn’t seem to sink in until some time after the war.
After the war in Europe ended, Mr. Walsh continued to fly planes for the Army Air Corps. Mostly, he flew as part of an air line, to fly people and equipment around to different parts of Europe. The army set up two air routes, one in Northern Germany and another further south, and Mr. Walsh often flew people back and forth to Paris, France. During this time, Mr. Walsh got to meet numerous people, some of whom were very important, high-ranking generals and other officers.
When Mr. Walsh was given a day off from his flying duties, he sometimes went into the German towns near the airfields at which he was stationed. Based on conversations he had with some of the typical German people in these towns, some of whom spoke English, he didn’t feel that most Germans held much hatred for the Americans or the Allies. If anything, Mr. Walsh thinks the average German citizen might have actually felt a little guilty about what his/her leaders had started.
The food Mr. Walsh ate wasn’t all that great, although he has to admit that at least he never went hungry. When he started his flight training, at a civilian (non-military) school, the food was great, but once he started his more advanced training, he was put on what he called the “government diet” or the “army diet.” Much of what they ate had been powdered…powdered eggs, powdered milk…and the cooks had to mix in water with this powder before serving it to make it ready to eat. The grapefruit juice was nicknamed “battery acid,” which gives you an idea of how much it was disliked. And the men sometimes thought that the chicken they ate had been left over from World War I, which had ended over 20 years earlier.
Although the war was over in Europe, the Japanese kept fighting for several more months. It wasn’t until the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese islands that Japan finally surrendered as well. Mr. Walsh (and just about everyone else in the America) had no idea that, during the war, the United States government had been inventing a weapon as powerful as the atomic bomb. He did, however, “cross paths” with this tremendous historical event, although he didn’t know it at the time… Near the end of the war, Mr. Walsh was on a cross-country flight back in the United States. At one airfield, his crew was told to cut their engines and sit and wait on the runway as another plane came in and landed. The other plane was a B-29 Superfortress, one of the largest planes that Mr. Walsh had ever seen! An armed guard was placed around that plane and no one would be allowed near it. Mr. Walsh didn’t realize it then, but that plane was destined to be the one that would drop one of the atomic bombs on Japan and end the war.
Mr. Walsh was up in Canada on leave visiting some family up there when the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. He didn’t have enough “points” to get out of the Air Corps, so he was given 30 days off and was then going to be shipped off to the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater (region) of the war to continue to fight against Japan. Because the bombs were dropped, however, Japan surrendered and the war ended...and Mr. Walsh didn’t have to continue fighting after all.