Staff Sergeant Louis A Godek: One of the original crew of Ken Rongstad' s B-17, who wasn't flying with them on the day of the Redlingfield crash, later wrote about Kenneth Rongstad: “For the records of the 95th, I would like one and all to know that our pilot, Ken Rongstad, was a gem and an extraordinary commander. We formed our crew in Moses Lake, Washington, and then went to Walla Walla, Washington, before that long hop to Bangor and the Great Northern Circle via Labrador, Greenland and Iceland to Prestwick, Scotland. There we received our assignment to our Group, and were able to talk to many people about combat experiences and received first hand information which later proved very helpful to us. We made it to Horham finally, and while checking in at Administration, we watched the Group returning from a mission, including firing off red flares to indicate they had wounded men aboard. That was an interesting introduction to air warfare.
“The 334th squadron was to be our home, nestled up on the hillside above the 13th Wing Headquarters.
“Our combat training started immediately, and it didn't take Lt. Rongstad long to figure out that we were going to be flying over a lot of water and we had better know how to get out of a plane quickly if we ever had to go down. We were at the plane day in and day out practicing what we thought were the best techniques learned from both American and British sources, augmented by ideas of our own. The ideal time we strived for in evacuation was under two minutes; and on land we managed to get there. Ken was a stickler and everyone knew their position and responsibility. This was a MUST: practice every day, while waiting for that first trip.
“After a few aborts, we finally climbed aboard an old clunker aptly named Spare Parts, and took off on what was to be our first mission, a very interesting trip to Daren, Germany! We had a lot of enemy company just going there and by the time we got to the target we had already lost one engine, and by the time we turned to go back home we lost another.
“Before we knew it the last engine went and we were on our way down just off the coast of Holland. One of our squadron crews followed us down, carefully to avoid flying through our jetsam, so as to report our position, and it did look somewhat hopeless for us. Ken Rongstad brought that dead bird down as easy as pie atop the crest of a wave, and after the second bounce and settling we were cleared out of that plane in less than 30 seconds. She stayed afloat for almost ten minutes even though she was in two pieces, broken at the ball turret. The ditching was flawless. We didn't get a scratch and the only sour happening was that the raft on the starboard was not tied down and started to drift off. Sgt. Louie Mirabile swam after it and caught up with it as it neared the tail section. Then Lt. Joe Spicer, our Bombardier (who before that day had never swum a stroke) swam to it and climbed in with Louie. The rest of us, all eight, climbed into the other raft. We figured out how to crank the Gibson Girl (a hand-cranked signal beacon narrow in the middle to fit between the knees). And we learned how to stay warm in the cold North Sea in waves that were probably 20 to 30 feet high. We also learned about frustration when a British Sutherland seaplane found us only to be able to wag his wings because of the high waves.
“Anyway, THIRTEEN hours later, some 20 miles north of the place where we ditched, a British Rescue Vessel found us. Thanks also to the flares we were able to shoot up overhead with our Very Pistol! They picked us up and transported us into Yarmouth, where we were given the treatment. There we got to thank a real spunky Captain by the name of Gable who managed to take good care of us and get us back to Horham.
“The morning after our return we were headed out to Wilhelmshaven, that great trip where we had to descend all 29,000 feet down through solid overcast. We made it home and immediately the following day we got to experience a trip to Blackpool for a rest period. At this point we knew we had a pilot who was going to take us there and back. Upon our return from Blackpool we were scheduled for a trip to Norway. On this mission I had my hands frostbitten pretty badly, even though we were only at 10,000 feet. Anyhow, when we landed back home, I was given a trip to the hospital, which is where I was when this saga (the crash at Horham) started.
“When I was finally well enough to return to active duty, I was “adopted” by the Squadron CO, Major Harry Conley, and I flew mostly with his crew or when he commanded. I did some instructing during the off days. The ditching procedures devised by Lt. Rongstad were so highly thought of after our report that they became standard procedures.”
Many thanks to the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association/Red Feather Club. Extracts from No Foxholes in the Sky by Harry M Conley edited by Mark H Miller and Stuart G Whittelsey Jr. - Food and Nutrition Press Military Division.