Technical Sergeant John J. Murray

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Dress jacket: Technical Sergeant John J. Murray (ASN: 32252324)

Technical Sergeant John “Jack” Murray was a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress combat gunner/togglier in World War II. He served in the 547th Bombardment Squadron (384th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Army Air Force) flying out of Grafton-Underwood bomber base in England. He voluntarily flew two combat tours for a total of 65 missions! His first mission was in July 1943, which was at a time that bomber losses were so high that a normal tour of duty was 25 missions. After WWII Jack was a career science teacher in the Stockton, California schools until he became disabled.

John enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942. He first went to Lincoln, Nebraska for his basic training which took about ten weeks. At that time, the Army started a big pilot program. Apparently, they anticipated the need for a tremendous number of combat crews so they sent the men to different colleges under the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). It was like an Air Force training school throughout the United States. John got sent up to Montana State College in Bozeman, which was only about 90 miles from his hometown. He was there for about 3 months, and after that he went down to Santa Ana Air Force Base for preflight training.

He stayed there for about 12 weeks and got tested to see what category was best suited for him. John qualified for all three (pilot, bombardier and navigator), as far as the mental capacity and psychological tests. Then he was sent to Thunderbird II Field near Phoenix where he had primary flight training, and it was there that John got dismissed for flight training.

While waiting to be assigned to a particular class at Hondo, Texas (navigation school), John went over to gunnery school at an air base out of Las Vegas. He completed gunnery school and as soon as he graduated, they sent him back to Hondo, Texas to the navigation school.

While attending navigation school, John was getting pretty antsy. The war was going on, and he felt he was missing all of it with all this training. He asked to be dismissed on his own accord from the navigation school. He didn’t want to become an airborne bookkeeper. They threatened to send him right through to Okie U (an overseas training unit) which was exactly what he wanted. John was fully qualified as a gunner so he agreed and was sent to Kearny, Nebraska where he was assigned to a crew. This all took place in about 6-7 months, before they flew to Gene Autry field in Oklahoma, to finish off their training. Then they went back to Kearny, Nebraska, picked up their bombers and went overseas from there. Jack left around June 30, 1943 from Kearny in a B-17F, and went through Bangor, Maine; Newfoundland; Notsberner, Ireland and England. They spent the 4th of July 1943 in the European Theater of Operations.

In Notsberner, Ireland they broke up his crew. They sent the officers of the crew to their combat training areas; and they sent all the gunners to another training, where they had reinforcement courses, aircraft identification, operation of turrets, machine guns, etc. This took about 12 weeks.

The first night in England they slept in a tent and they were told things would improve. However six months later they were still in a tent, but it had improved because they had taken old bomb crates and put a floor in it. They moved a coke burner, potbellied stove and then the guys could move into a hut. But they didn’t want to change their good luck so they wouldn’t move out, and stayed in the tent for the rest of the time they were there.

John’s first combat mission was on July 11, 1943 to bomb the railroad yards at Hamburg. That was his introduction to combat. He flew as a waist gunner and got to see the bombs strike. The tail gunner reported that the group behind them was hit rather heavy by German fighters. John and his crew escaped with just the jitters.

John got training in all gunner positions. He flew his first six missions as a waist gunner and he flew once as a tail gunner. Then he went as a ball gunner and back to the waist for several missions. After his 15th mission, his crew became a lead crew which meant that they had to get rid of one of the waist positions and since John was the youngest assigned to the crew, he had to leave. He then became the togglier* to the squadron bombardier. A squadron bombardier trained him on the base. He just moved up to the nose and became bombardier with a chin turret. So John finished out his flying with new crews, or crews that had their bombardier wounded or killed. Crews that needed someone to drop the bombs for them, he filled in.

When John became togglier he stayed with the enlisted men in his crew. He didn’t got a new crew and he stayed in the same quarters. But any time there was a crew that needed somebody to release the bombs for them, they woke him up and told him what crew number he was flying with and what time to be at breakfast, briefing and take off.

Once John got the bombardier job, he was the only bombardier on the plane. This saved the government money, because they could send up a Technical Sergeant instead of a Captain or 1st Lieutenant. John also manned the chin gun turret since that was also part of his defensive position. He really enjoyed the nose because he got to see everything ahead of him. When he was still working as a waist gunner or tail gunner he only got to see where they had been, and that used to scare him.

On his first tour John flew 25 missions and then five more. He volunteered for those 5 extra missions because he, and another togglier, decided to stay in operations until they knew what was in store for them when they got back to the States. They found out that they were given 30 days leave, then retraining with a different bomber and crew. The next stop was the South Pacific. They talked it over one night in the pub and both decided to stay in the European Theater of Operations. He then got on leave, but not stateside. He and a buddy went to Ireland. For a short time after they got back, John was assigned to a skeet range for gunners to practice shooting at a moving target. He did this between tours right on the base for 5 to 6 weeks. He then started his 2nd tour, when he already flew 30 missions. John flew a total of 65 missions above Europe. When he came back from the Berlin raid on February 3, 1945 Captain Vivian, the medical doctor, kept him in interrogation, shook his hand and told him he was all through and going home.

*A togglier was usually an enlisted man who rode in the nose compartment and could see the lead bomber. When the lead bombardier dropped his bombs, the togglier saw them and dropped his bombs. In this manner the whole squadron dropped and a pattern of carpet-bombing resulted. A togglier didn’t had the official training in a bombardier school. In being that, they didn’t necessarily used the Norden bombsight all the time, it was set up, the (bomb) release panels and sometimes they toggled the bombs out, sometimes they released them in intervals and sometimes they released them in salvo. So they figured a toggle would be a good name because sometimes you had to toggle the bombs out. So that’s the way it was given the name togglier.