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Our Elder's Stories


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George William Bloss: Abstract | Full Story | Images and Artifacts

George William Bloss

George William Bloss, October 2008[What I have to say] is in line with what you’re going to do when teaching these young fellows. It’s all in line. It’s quite accurate and [will help you] see what World War II brought on the human race. A lot of [conflicts happened after] World War II and branched off into these other wars we’ve been having over the world, but not to the [severity] that World War II brought on the human race. What you’re doing here now with [these interviews] - training these young minds to find a way that [tension] can be settled before it can [build to] that pitch… this could [prevent] some…minds [from] getting all tangled up, like Hitler. He wanted to take command of the world. Hitler said, “We’ll start here, and I’ll show you guys how to take the world.” That’s what [these interviews] are doing here. You’re training minds [about Hitler’s] kind of thinking…what you’re doing [can] prevent [other conflicts]. There was no one [back then] that did anything to those [German] minds to prevent it. They couldn’t think. They were just like a bunch of cattle. They just blunder on. It will [happen every generation] if you don’t have country leaders that communicate together and get these little matters down before they get to be big matters, killing people and tearing people’s bodies...

A lot of the military-type work I done was with Potomac Edison Power Company in Cumberland in western Maryland [before the war]. I graduated from high school and went right into this firm because the principal of my high school talked to the president of Potomac Edison. That’s how I got the job. Otherwise, there’d have been no jobs then [because our economy was still in a recession from the Depression]. I was in the mechanical line as an apprentice helping the journeymen in the Potomac Edison repair and overhaul engines in their pusher-type busses, which they used all through Cumberland. [My principal heard] a lot [about me] from the shop teacher, and he also had some of his personal furniture sent into the shop, and several of us guys worked on the furniture. The job we done was in their estimation just about as excellent as you could get other than new. So it went right on from there. I gave the world situation little thought when I received my draft notice.

[When I got into the Air Force], you had to write down what you done in civilian life and what grade you graduated from, and I elevated through the top in my profession, which was aircraft. That’s where they sent me - to Wichita Falls and Shepardfield, Texas, from Fort George G. Meade in December, 1941. I got some basic training at Fort Meade in aircraft maintenance and repair. I learned machining, military procedures, and the maintenance and repair of all combat aircraft. In the military I learned to do what you’re ordered to do and everything will go smooth. Have a purpose and follow proper procedures.
[The training was excellent and was why after the war] I was able to become Foreman at the U.S. Naval Academy. It all started way back in high school. The job I had at the Naval Academy elevated me to the rating of Foreman, and I had sometimes sixty some men under me, and it worked that way up until I had thirty-four years of service. Then I had some back trouble, and it wasn’t very pleasant to go through that. Some of the people in the Academy said, “The best thing you can do is just retire. You’ll get a good retirement with a pension...”

The Army Air Corps was what I was in [during the war]. The Navy also had aircraft, but they were smaller types, mostly fighter type and recon type craft. The Air Corps had the large bombers [like the] B-17. I was sent from Shepardfield after I went through the training there, which indoctrinated the young men to military aircraft. I was picked to go to Boeing. Some of them went to Lockheed, some to Consolidated and Douglas. That’s the four that were putting the craft out for the Air Force... Now in the Navy they had a couple of more companies up in New York and New Jersey that made their smaller craft. To my estimation, every one of those aircraft I mentioned were tops. They had some very talented people designing them and also manufacturing them in these four factories.

On the way overseas we headed for the Middle East and traveled on the British ship called the Aquitania, a civilian ship with four stacks and extremely fast compared to a submarine. There were no other ships with us. This ship’s speed was why they would use it to get urgent troops into Egypt. We had fifteen to seventeen thousand troops on that ship. That’s a lot of troops to put out there subject to sub attack. The captain used the zig-zag method to avoid U-boats, and it took thirty-one days to make this trip. We went from New York harbor to Capetown, South Africa, and there was a U-boat attack just ahead of us. I don’t know if they intended on being there when we got there or what. That’s all we saw of the enemy action there. What got me was the food [on board] was so bad, I got so darn seasick, and it lasted so long, I wished I was dead. When you’re seasick, it would probably be much easier to take when you were chafing at the bit [to join the war], but when you’re sick, you couldn’t hold any of that dog food down that they fed us. I’m telling you, it’s really rough, and you got to be in the younger age class, or I would have never made it. A lot of guys had to be sent home because they were much older than I was and couldn’t take it. The trip was very rough, poor food, a lot of seasick soldiers, flooded bathrooms, a fear of being attacked by U-boat packs, and long hours without proper rest. When we entered the Red Sea, we ran into seas so bad there that this big ship would go down under a big wave, and water would get into the cooling ducts. Our head was flooded for I don’t know how long. Everything, all human waste was floating all around. What are you going to do? You can’t get off and go into town and get a hotel. You suffer the consequences. Thank God it didn’t get in the bed area where we had to try to rest. You can’t rest when there’s so much fear in you from these conditions. There were constant threats from the German Air Force, but the allied aircraft was able to contain them. The aircraft would come from land. I never heard of a British or American aircraft carrier in our area, so our planes all had to operate from land. It took superior planning by our military forces plus the knowledge that our leaders had back in this country, or we couldn’t have done it.

We started out in the 12th Air Force, then they went to England, and we ended up in the 15th Air Force. Our unit was the 324th Air Service Squadron, 306th Air Service Group. The 340th Bombardment Group was the one we were attached to. They had all the aircraft, the flying personnel, gunners, line chiefs, and they took care of the planes when they came in from a mission and saw that they were properly parked, saw that they were properly serviced with fuel and oil, things of that nature. Stacks had to be put on new, and that’s when we got them. They would run those engines so hard and hot over enemy territory that they would burn the studs off, and we had to put a finger exhaust was on them. At first they had a collective exhaust on them, but it was too confining, holding the heat to the engine. The collective goes around all the cylinders and comes out down below. Then they changed to the finger-type exhaust, which had an individual stack to the exhaust on each cylinder. When the planes would come back and touched the runway, you could see the stacks flying out the bottom of the cowling because they burnt so many of them off. That was one of my main jobs - to make larger studs. When they found out I had machine shop experience, I made a lot of studs, and what I did was make a larger diameter stud that went onto the cylinder because it pulled the threads right out when it blew the stacks off. To make new studs, I had a trailer pulled by a jeep that had a generator on it to help me bore and tap out new holes. The pilots had to fly these planes at maximum throttle for prolonged periods of time, and when they’re in enemy territory with that ack-ack breaking all around them, full throttle!

We were generally acquainted with the flight crews, but they stayed in the area where the bombers were. [Our tents] were back, hidden in the brush to keep the Germans from getting everybody when they came in and caused damage since some of their old aircraft would still fly [behind our lines]. There for a while we weren’t bothered by them much, the German high command in the area, but then towards the end, they got gathered together when we pushed them way back into Italy and back into the Po Valley. Then they started hitting us, mainly real early in the morning, and we had to bring in 90 millimeters and 105s for anti-aircraft guns. [During attacks] we left as soon as we could to get out of the area where the bombs were dropping them and got into our foxholes – all the time foxholes - but sometimes we run so fast. I remember one time I was running down some railroad tracks as fast as my little legs would carry me, full of fear, and I thought I was out of range, and I turned in one direction, and I run into a wire fence, and I suffered the consequences there. But the bombs were being dropped in the railroad passage where we had our tents on a hill nearby. That left a place where you went down and up the other side, and it was safe for troops to be. That’s why we had our tents up on that bank.

[When we first got to the war], we landed right outside of Cairo, Egypt, at Hergula Landing Grounds. Occasionally British would come in there outside Cairo, [but] it was minimum, mainly US Army Air Corps. They had a huge building there that the Egyptians built for working on aircraft. This was a home base. When they went on their mission and got back, great, but some of them didn’t make it back because the Germans were pretty accurate with their ack-ack anti-aircraft. That was a home for the aircraft. We mostly had long-range bombers there, the B-24, which was [manufactured by] Consolidated. I can remember specifically I had to take the tank out of the right wing of one of those big, four-engine bombers, and what they had in they was a self-sealing type tank. It was heavy thing, and they had different kinds of composition in it that would resist that would resist the destruction of gasoline and prevent the gasoline from leaking out, which nine times out of ten would set the plane on fire. And that was something. Mainly I can recall having used the ability I had along these lines to get that tank out of there. The factory had other ways of getting it out, which were up to date, and what I designed was a metal device like a big needle that went over the top of the tank and come down the other side, and once you got in the middle of the tank with a rope around it and you pulled down on it, because we had tugs and stuff like that, why it would pull down like this and come down out of the opening, and that thing was really close in there. That’s only one of them I witnessed, and I’m glad of that. All along my life I was [able to solve problems]. When you pay attention and you don’t dilly-dally around, you get the job done.

At Hergula we had in the neighborhood of twelve or sixteen aircraft, and they also had some P-40s there, which were fighters built by Curtis Electric. The British used a lot of those and called them the Kittyhawk. It had an in-line engine which was liquid cooled. All the others had air-cooled engines. Some of them had single rows of cylinders and some had double rows, one right behind the other one. The B-17 was a single row and it had nine cylinders in it, and the B-26 which was made by Martin in Baltimore had eighteen, double row, nine in each one. I was with mostly North American B-25, [and they] had fourteen, seven in each row. The P-40 had an engine made by Allyson-Rolls Royce which was made by General Motors and it was a piece of junk. They had nothing but trouble with the thing flying apart. They called it flying apart, but I never saw it [happen]. But anyhow, they got with England and got some kind of contract going about the Maryland Rolls Royce, and that was tops because we used that in the P-38, the Mustang P-51, and then the last part of the P-40. I’ve seen a P-40 come back from a raid once when I was in Sicily. It had a hole in one of the wing, and it looked like you could throw a washtub through it, and that guy was dolling that thing to get it back home in North Africa where his base was. It was really something what those guys could with those planes the way they were shot up.

At Hergula was when [German] Field Marshall Rommel was in the desert in North Africa. We worked on him. That’s the only one we worked on to get him to go back, and we did. That was mostly done by A-20s, which was made by Douglass, a twin-engine bomber, air-cooled engine. It played the biggest part. They would even bring them down so low that they would strafe trucks and tanks and destroy them, set them on fire. The P-40 was also there, and I worked many of those, mainly on propellers. They were into it too, but not much dog fighting went on there. It was destroying his tanks mainly, his trucks, his jeeps, his motorcycles. He had a lot of BMW sidecar motorcycles they used for reconnaissance and nuisance strikes that were fast and small. [The battle against Rommel] lasted around a year – I can’t say for sure - because once they got him on the move, Monte, [British General Montgomery] the English general in the desert, [just kept on him]. He stayed there with his troops and worked on Rommel constantly after the A-20s got into him and the P-40s. The British had some Halifaxes there outside Cairo. That was a twin-engine bomber. That was about the best they had.

It kept us busy. We had to borrow parts, send for parts. There were some planes down for quite some time…, mainly like that one four-engine bomber that I had to take the tank out of. It took a while to get that tank…Our supply chain was about as good as you could have, which in war conditions was pretty darn good. They had to dodge the German U-boats because they were sinking a lot of stuff out of this country, mainly coming out of New York. That was the thing they had because the Germans got so far ahead that they were over here operating on ships leaving our country. That’s what was bad. Now if they fooled around and engaged them in the middle of the Atlantic to the European side, it would have been OK, but they got clear over here.

During the war we knew only what we knew. We had no facilities to go into a radio [and hear news about the war]. The management would not mention much about it because they had no way of getting it. The only thing we had to do from the time we engaged the Germans was to stay on them, the faster the better, and that’s about what we knew – that we were advancing and we never had to retreat. We had very intelligent officers who were always learning. We had never been subject to a war like this, and they done a great job.

I had problems with one lieutenant in my squadron. I was firing a German Luger one day off in the woods down in a well, and he confiscated my Luger. I wanted to bring it home. That was the only problem I had. He could have taken my rating away from me, but he didn’t do that. I think the captain in the engineering department prevented that from happening. This lieutenant who did that was a scallywag. He’d waltz around the squadron and thought he was seeing what was done wrong or what was done right. Evidently, he was what you’d call a watchdog. Personally, what I saw of him was just when he was waltzing around from one place to another. I never heard him speak or question anybody. That’s the only one.

I used to go up in the mountains of Corsica with a serviceman who worked in the parachute shop. McMurray was his name. He had a motorcycle. I think he borrowed it from Transportation, and I would always go with him when he had a chance to get off work and I did too. I remember sometimes coming down some of those roads. I wondered if he was going to be able to handle this thing or if it was going to go down [over the cliff] where I’m looking. Well, we got through that. One day I borrowed a motorcycle from a guy named Kiefer, one of the top sergeants in Transportation, and I was going up the main road in Corsica, and the gas gauge was on empty. So I stopped at one of these places where [our troops had] dropped gas off in some forgotten place and camouflaged it in barrels and put pumps on them. They had one GI there taking care of it. I pulled in there with this motorcycle, and I didn’t have enough knowledge on motorcycles and heat and gasoline running over on the tank. The tank got full and run over, and the stupid thing started to burn. I took my hat off or whatever I could get a hold of and beat the flames out. The guy that was running the thing didn’t know what to do. He was running around. It was one of those things, but I got away with that. And another time I was driving one of those British motorcycles which shifted with a floor lever down by the bottom of the motorcycle. I was going over a real rough road, and for some reason it didn’t make any difference to me how rough the road was or how much the motorcycle was jumping up and down. I went fast, and something threw me to one side and that thing went to the other, and the motorcycle went up in the air and come down on its side! I got out of that one too, straightened the thing up and went back to the squadron, but that was it for motorcycles.

The only real place I was able to get away [from the war] was when we were in Corsica, and I applied for leave to go back to Naples, Italy, and go to Rome. There was no one else who was going on leave with me at the time. They wouldn’t let too many out of the squadron at the same time. I went alone. That’s a bad place to go alone in enemy territory. Like going into Italy, I got out onto the main road which was all bombed up and went all around and down and all that, and I got the feeling, “This is not so hot.” I was dressed as a American soldier, class A uniform, and lo and behold, along came four Negro soldiers in a GI truck, and I was naturally hitchhiking. I thumbed every time someone would go by, and they’d all go by, but these guys stopped! I thought so much of them. That’s the only thing in the service that I’ve thought of that was really gentlemanly like, and they took me all the way into Rome, and there everything was OK. In Rome, it was new, still in a warzone, a lot of limitations where they wouldn’t allow you to be. I spent some time away from the squadron and the constant grind. That was the main thing that I had in my heart that I wanted to get away from. I rested up the best I knew how. It lasted about a week. I spent four years in the service, and I had two weeks off that I know of overseas and none back in the states because once I got enlisted and they started me on the ball, I couldn’t ever get leave to come home. The only time I got loose to get home was when I went AWOL from New Jersey. Another fellow and I from Westminster went AWOL, and we came home, and he took me in the hospital where he used to work. We got a couple of small containers of milk and drank it and took off again. I think I took a bus, yeah, to western Maryland. I had to see my mother and what family was there. A couple of sisters were still there. I think my brothers worked at Martin at the time, twin brothers. My older brother worked on a railroad. He wasn’t home. I saw my sisters and mother. I think I saw my Dad but I’m not certain yet, but it was fast and I was worried about getting back fast before they found me going AWOL. When I got back to the squadron, they put me through the paddle line, and that’s as worse as it got. They run you through a line and the GIs were lined up with paddles.

The object was that our armed forces from the generals on down had to get that German on the move and keep him on the move. If he stops, run over him, do something, but keep after the rest of them. That’s all that was driven into our heads. We had to drive at night a lot of times when we were going up through North Africa when we left Cairo. In the dark they had what was called night lights on the machines to keep them from running into one another. You had to have a tight convoy to get from point to point and do what you had to do. I had to drive one of the trucks one night, and I thought, “If that’s all some of these guys have to do, this is not bad.” But they had to have so many trucks at this time that they solicited anyone who could drive a truck. Get in one of ‘em. Follow the lights.

The only funny things I remember was the jokes we’d play on each other once in a while, mainly turning the guy over in his bunk when he was asleep. If somebody annoyed you at night snoring, throw a helmet at him across the tent. [Mostly while we were in the war], we looked at each other and knew that he was suffering the same thing I’m suffering, so why say anything? Everybody goes on. It got so hot in North Africa one time that we had to be relieved and go in the Mediterranean Sea because you couldn’t hold a metal tool in your hand. It would almost burn it. It lasted one day. Some kind of heat wave.... I never wanted water. It was so full of iodine. We ate K-rations and C-rations sent from the states by ship, airplane, whatever, to get it to the troops, and until we had a firm set up like I remember we had in Corsica where they set up a kitchen, and they had a mess sergeant, they would serve half-decent American food there then because they had pots and pans and stoves to cook. We all had mess kits. That’s how we ate. The C-rations had so much gooey grease in them, but I ate a lot of it. Mainly I liked the bacon and beans. We had one big meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas, no time off, no gifts. The mail was irregular, but when the sergeant hollered, “Mail call!!” then everybody who could get to that call would flock to where he was and get their letters from their girlfriends, which for me was Bea [George’s wife-to-be], or momma or some relation in the family. It made you feel good. They had something called V-mail where they would run a letter through a machine and bring it down real small. They wouldn’t send mail longhand from people in the states. Before our letters home left the base, they were all censored. When I first got back to the family, my letters home got saved, but due to the years and mother passing away, they were all lost some place, just disappeared. I used to send her a lot of my service money because I knew that things back home were so poor, and she come up through and awful poor life with eight children. Sent her all the military money I had, and she was able to move out of the old farm house area and go up along one of the main highways and get better living conditions because mainly I was contributing so much to her.

[From the first to the end of the war], we were based in North Africa in Egypt, and from there we moved to Benghazi, [Libya]. We left the mainland North Africa and went to Sicily, and when they were out of the area there, we went to the arch of Italy, and after that, we went to Corsica. See, we were flying into southern France then and over in northern Italy. After we had that under control and secured, we went to Bologna in northern Italy. From there they started adding up points [for how long you had been on duty in the war zone] …, and I got in the early gang [going home], and I came home from my squadron alone to the states. We flew from northern Italy to Naples, and from there I was put on the American ship West Point, and we went out past Gibraltar and went home in six days and didn’t have to zig-zag like coming over.

[What was it like when the war ended?] You saw what happened in the World Series when the Phillies beat the Rays, that’s what it was like. Everything went up in the air! It happened fast. We came to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It took a couple of months [to get out of the service]. I had little work assignments, but nothing meaningful like what I had done before coming there. Then I was [transferred to] Fort Dix, New Jersey, and that’s where I separated. The places that were offered for employment was what most servicemen went for. Bea was living in Sparrow’s Point then, and I had an offer from an airline in Chicago and one from the [Navy’s] Engineering Experimental Station in North Severn. I was interviewed by the captain there and accepted, and from there on, I stayed with it until the opening came to be a machinist with the Naval Academy proper. From there I kept going up until I came out as foreman. We moved into this house before ’51. The GI Bill helped me with a mental condition I suffered from probably what strain I mentioned. It got up to me, and I had to have help then…Civilian doctors in Baltimore helped me, and I was able to go right along then.

After the war I went to several reunions in Nashville, Tennessee, and one of them in Ashville, North Carolina. One [of my buddies] was named Wilmer Erb was the one I went AWOL with to visit my parents when I was going overseas. He lived in Westminster, and we visited quite often. And one by the name of Daniel Rowe who lived in Hagerstown. I contacted him. Mike Wozny, my sergeant right above me, he lived in New Jersey. We contacted each other quite a few times. Raising family like we did we couldn’t always [get together]. I’ve been going on about my business since I left the service and the stuff still stays there. There’s something about those memories that’s causing it. If [memories of this war] are lost, the country’s lost. A couple of the words I wrote [for this interview] pertain to that. One was about being dedicated and make what you are in worthy. And like I mentioned, the military type life compared to the civilian. To any young person going in the military, number one, you’ve got to have endurance. If you don’t have any, don’t go in the military. Number two, you’ve got to be able to take orders even if you don’t like to. And number three, keep on in education. Whatever you specialize into, keep on the education. Don’t dilly-dally around and think you can get on in life without an education. Those are three things I think would do it. The military has their way of life. Civilian has their way. If you done what you’re ordered to do, everything went smooth, but if you didn’t and you look around, you see what happened to some of these guys that didn’t have it all upstairs about do’s and don’ts. If you do what you’re told, no problem. They didn’t do it, so they were wheeling wheelbarrows of coal from here over to there with sometimes no reason why, but they were ordered to do it, and they did it or else. That’s the difference when you go out of civilian life into military. These guys that were corporals and sergeants, they had the authority, and if you resisted, you suffered the consequences. If you had enough ability to know what discipline meant and were learning it all along, you had no problems. They made you into and informed you into what they wanted you to be. They molded you right into that. So that when the time came, they said this guy goes overseas, he goes with this type of squadron, that’s it. They knew it. It’s all down on paper. There’s the word success. You could see that all over what they were trying to do with the young guys that came in…I’m most proud that we won.

George William Bloss: Abstract | Full Story | Images and Artifacts

 

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