As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the State Bar of Texas would like to honor some of those who served our country by spotlighting interviews from The Veterans’ History Project, a joint project between the Texas Court Reporters Association and the State Bar of Texas. The following post is an excerpt from an interview with John Dwight Burcham who served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942-1945.
MR. TARRANCE: You were running out of gas?
MR. BURCHAM: Running out of gas and running out daylight. And so the navigator, he's so distraught, he said, I'll jump out. I'll jump out. I said you can jump out if you want to. Everybody else is going to stay. So you do what you want but whatever you do, do it now because we're going down. And so I drug the field with the landing lights on. It was that dark. The field — the beach. And I couldn't see anything. It looked fairly level. So I said boys, we're going in.
And so after buzzing it a couple of times, I came in and touched down. And boy, it was – I thought, oh, boy, this is nice. I can't believe it's that smooth. And all of a sudden we hit a ditch. The nose wheel went out and the sparks from the nose gear coming up just filled the cockpit absolutely. It was just like a ton of fire. And then when the nose wheel let go, then the left main gear let go and the left wing went down in the sand and the engine on the side went down in the sand. So all of a sudden we were there. We went up – the tail went up vertical. I swear it was vertical because in that ditch – it went up on the nose of the airplane. And I thought we're going to burn. All of a sudden it stopped there and settled back down on the tail.
And I got out of a window I swear wasn't much bigger than that (indicating). I knew I couldn't help the guys in the back so I thought we all need to do the best we could to get away before it exploded. And it was a pretty good drop down there to the sand. But, anyway, I got out. This whole time I was the calmest I think I've ever been. I never got excited. I never got afraid. And I jumped out and ran away where I thought I was far enough from the airplane that I knew it was going to explode and my knees just gave out. All of a sudden, I just, woe. We had the right wing was up in the air as a result of the left wing being in the sand so we got on the radio again, tried to raise somebody, couldn't raise anybody.
MR. TARRANCE: Everybody got out all right?
MR. BURCHAM: Everybody got out. One of the belly– the belly gunner got hit by a gun and just got a small cut on his forehead, and that's the only person who was injured at all.
So we got out and everybody got out and since the number four engine was up in the air, we got it started. That's when we tried to call on the radio and couldn't raise anybody. So I said, well, somebody has got to go downtown where this town – we didn't even know where we were. And it was Reggio de Calabria which was an old town on the Mediterranean there just across the straits of Messina from Italy. So I selected a guy name Tex. I've forgotten his name now. He was our top gunner. He was from Nocona, Texas. He and I – all we had was our 45's. We started in towards town. And what I wanted to do is call the Air Force.
So I ran into – we ran into a donkey-drawn cart and we talked them into taking us into town and to the Mayor's office. He was very gracious. He called – got Rome on the phone for me – Air Corps in Rome – headquarters in Rome. I told them we were down. Nobody was hurt. The airplane was not flyable out. And so they said, well, we'll send somebody for you as soon as we can. Well, three weeks later – we lived under the wing of the airplane for three weeks. Read the full interview.