A ball turret gunner in World War II, Roy Cheek of Lawson recounts the moments before and after his plane went down over Holland in 1944. Click to hear KMZU’s Chelsea Wade talk with Cheek:
Excerpts from Mission #14 by Roy Cheek (Nov. 1942 – Dec. 1945)
|22Feb44 – We were assigned a position in the formation to which we were to fly in the briefing. This morning, we were the last to take off, which meant Tail-end Charlie or Coffin Corner. (Low plane in the lowest and last formation).Our mission was Aschersleben, which was approximately 120 miles west of Berlin. We had a lot of fighter escort, but they couldn’t keep all the enemy planes away. Also a lot of flak. One burst hit the left wing, which carried a lot of fuel. Then another burst knocked out #2 engine. I guess this is about the time we left formation because we were attacked by a lot enemy planes.
Then sometime after that, a piece of flak hit the turret and barely missed my head, but it did hit the outside of my left leg. It felt like my boot was filling up with blood. So I climbed out of the turret and went into the radio room where I tore open my pants to stop the bleeding.
I was looking out the side window when I saw a ME109 coming at us from the side and about that time a cannon shell hit around the ball turret (where I should have been). That was when Norris Williams, the waist gunner, and I had the same idea. Then I jumped and as soon as I saw the plane go by, I pulled the rip cord.
I passed away the time reading the Bible my mother had given me to carry on my missions. The Bible has a metal front that I carried over my heart on every mission.
After two weeks, my leg had healed up enough for me to be moved.
After breakfast (we traveled in the daytime) but this time we walked. I followed some distance behind until we crossed the Nijmegen Bridge and went to the train depot. I had been given a train ticket, I got on the train and traveled with several German soldiers. I was to keep the guide in sight until we got to our destination, which was Roermond, in the SE part of Holland.
After 6 or 8 weeks the [family] thought it was time to move me to another place before I was discovered. This is where I met up with another American, Marion Gilmore from New York State. He was shot down on the first Berlin raid, 2 weeks after I was.
While I was here the invasions took place, so I saw a lot of military equipment being shipped by train. A little while after the invasion I could tell the soldiers were getting prepared to fight. They took over the garage by the house for their barracks. At night they would come in the house. Marion and I either went to the basement or into the attic. This went on for a week or two until they decided to evacuate all the houses between the railroads. We went to a Catholic church where a priest greeted us.
During the day we would read books, play chess, watch dog fights in the air and see bombers fly over. At night the British bombers would go over and we could see the red glow of fires in the distance where they dropped their bombs.
On day in the fall we were told to hide because the Germans were searching houses for young men. We got in our hiding place and one of the women placed rags over the trap door. I’m glad we didn’t cough or sneeze.
On the morning of December 31st, we were told that we would go across the river to the British Army as the Germans were searching for all men sixteen and older.
We were waiting for more to show up when we heard gun shots from a German who was chasing someone toward us. We all scattered. I ran around the building, slid down a bank, and crossed the road into a field that had several stacks of straw mixed in with cow manure. I went across the field, as I thought the river was in that direction. Just as I got to the road a German yelled “halt!” I ducked down and ran back to where I had come. He fired two or three shots at me. I lay down in the patch of small weeds, pulled my knees up to my chest and covered up with my top coat and waited. In a few minutes a squad of soldiers came close and the leader was just behind me. I think he could have kicked me, he was so close. They then shot several rounds out through the trees.
When I was going through the field I saw a bombed out house on the other side of the street. So I decided to go and see if I could find a place to hide in it. When I was inside, I said in a loud whisper “any one in here?” Voices said “yeah.” It was Marion and another boy named John. They said the Dutch policeman took them there and to stay until he came back. The next night Marion and John decided they were going out and find the policeman. They left and about five minutes later I heard a German yell “halt”. The two never came back.
I got up on the windows and peeked out the door to see if the coast was clear. My heart skipped a beat when a black boot stepped in the doorway. It was the policeman.
The next morning we decided to go looking for the British Army. We came to some farm buildings. We went into the barn and into the courtyard where I yelled that I was American. They checked my dog tags. From there they took me to Brussels to catch a plane to Paris. I was in Paris about ten days, then flew to London onto my outfit Jan 19th, three day less than eleven months MIA.