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Beating the odds

Verona veteran survived shell fire, landing in Switzerland

Published: Friday, May 25, 2012 3:00 p.m. CST
Caption
(Jeanne Millsap photo for the Morris Daily Herald)
Verona’s Bob Gallup, pictured today and in 1943, was a bomber pilot in World War II. Gallup was told that his chances of surviving his missions were 25 percent.
Caption
(Photo submitted)
U.S. Air Corps pilot Bob Gallup, in the back row, far left, was a B-24 bomber pilot during World War II.

Bob Gallup of Verona knew his chances of coming out of World War II were not the best. When he arrived in England to begin flying his missions over Germany as a bomber pilot in 1943, he was told his chances of surviving were only 25 percent.

And one afternoon, as he was returning from his 23rd bombing mission, he thought his time had come.

He remembers the day well. It was July 11, 1944. He and his crew of nine had completed their mission over Munich and were returning home over occupied France when the Germans began firing at them.

“We lost our inboard fuel tank, and we were down to two engines,” Gallup recalled.

The Germans would constantly move their artillery by railroad, he said, and the Allied forces never knew where they would be.

They never flew the same flight plan back as they did there, but the Germans often caught them anyway.

“They would fire shells up at us,” Gallup said. “They would set them for our altitude. The Germans were very good at that. One of the most frightening sights was black flak. ... Very seldom we came back without holes in the plane.”

On that particular day, Gallup’s B-24 was shot up pretty badly. Fortunately, one bomb went up right through the plane and exploded not in the plane, but above it. They were alive, but hobbling. And if they landed in occupied France, they would most likely have become prisoners of war in a German camp.

Gallup, by this time a seasoned pilot, took all the damage into consideration and told his crew he thought he might be able to make it out of French airspace.

“We were halfway across occupied France,” he said. “I told the crew I think I can take this thing to Switzerland, and I did. We landed in a rye field. That old B-24 was rattling and shaking. We were pretty shot up. It was very difficult to control, and it was difficult to land with only two engines.”

In addition, Gallup wasn’t exactly sure when they were over Switzerland. The crew was missing their navigator that day, and the bombardier was serving as navigator.

“He said he thought we were over Switzerland,” Gallup said with a smile.

About that time two Swiss fighter planes greeted them in air and escorted them to the nearest landing strip.

“It was an old fighter strip,” Gallup said. “I had to land downwind on a hundred-yard concrete strip, and it had been raining.”

Gallup landed the plane safely, but it slid onto the slippery, wet grass still going 50 or 60 miles an hour, then into the rye field where it came to a stop.

It was a harrowing experience, but he got his whole crew to the neutral country safely, without even any injuries. The Swiss took them into interrogation, and they officially became P.O.W.’s, but as Americans, they were free to go about as they pleased.

Gallup had grown up in Verona and was raised on the family farm. He had never been closer to an airplane than seeing one fly by now and then, but flying became a dream of his.

“I wanted to fly since I was a kid,” he said.

He signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corps, before it became the U.S. Air Force, in April of 1942.

“We needed to get involved,” he said.

He can still recall the exact dates, locations and duties of everything related to his service, in addition to the names of the men with whom he served.

His training included stints in Nashville; San Antonio and El Paso, Texas; and Muskogee and Enid, Oklahoma. He trained in single engine BT 13’s and BT 15’s, and ended up flying  B-24’s in liberator combat mission operations over Nazi Europe.

The B-24 was the backbone of the United States’ offensive attacks against Germany in World War II, as well as making important contributions to the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. According to Gallup, each plane had a pilot, a co-pilot, an engineer, a tail gunner, a bombardier, a navigator, a radio operator, a left waist gunner, a right waist gunner and a belly gunner, for a total of a crew of 10.

He still remembers the names of the men in his crew. They were stationed in England. The Americans made day flights, and the British flew their missions at night.

“The British said we were crazy,” he said of the Americans choosing day missions. “But we wanted to make sure we hit the right targets.”

He was told he would be required to make 25 missions while there. About half were over Germany — many over the “river valley,” where the Nazis manufactured their munitions. Some were over occupied France, such as his 14th mission on D-Day, when they bombed a bridge about 120 miles inside of France to keep the Germans from coming up into Normandy.

While in England, Gallup served under a man he and his crew knew of before even setting foot in Europe, actor Jimmy Stewart. Already a movie star by the time he entered the service, Stewart was pretty down to earth.

“He was a major,” Gallup said. “He gave us briefings. He was the nicest guy you’d ever want to know. He didn’t have a big head at all. Everybody loved him over there. He was a combat pilot. He completed at least 20 combat missions.”

A typical day for Gallup was rising at 3:30 a.m., eating a breakfast of powdered eggs and powdered milk, then getting briefed about the day’s missions. The food was pretty bad.

“But you ate,” he said, “because you’d have 10 hours before you ate again.”

Gallup did get a bit of a kind of R and R while in Switzerland after being shot down. He said he felt more than a little guilty at enjoying some of life’s pleasures there while others were still fighting, but there was no way to leave Switzerland at the time. They were surrounded by hostiles for seven months until the Allies broke through.

“We were under the jurisdiction of the Swiss Army from July 11 to Feb. 17,” he said. “I learned to ski, and I took up photography. We used to eat at an Italian restaurant called Renaldi’s. We’d get spaghetti and wine, a moscato d’asti, a sparkling muscatel. Mary Renaldi, the daughter of the owner, asked us one time if we wanted an egg. I hadn’t had a fresh egg since I left the states.”

She didn’t want everyone else seeing the restaurant had a supply of real eggs, so she served the two Americans a fried egg each, sunny side up, hidden underneath a pile of spaghetti. It was such a delight, the two returned at least once a week for the special meal.

“To this day,” Gallup said, “I love it.”

Gallup returned to the States to continue his service and left the Air Corps in September 1946, going home to Verona. He married his wife Marilyn in 1949 and made a long life with her working on his grandfather’s farm, driving a school bus and delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service. His wife passed away last summer, and he has since married his current wife, Georgia.

Gallup still lives in the house just 200 feet from the one in which he was born 89 years ago.

He doesn’t talk much about why he served, he just knows it was the right thing to do. It was for the best, he said.

“I’d do it again if the country was attacked,” he said. “We did a service. We lost a lot of people, though. The Air Corps lost more than 60,000 people in Europe. That was a lot of good people.”

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