Smith, Howard headshotBorn in Cornis, Utah December 4, 1924  90 years old

Volunteered for U.S. Airforce as B-17 bomber pilot.   Flew 29 missions over Europe.


Pearl Harbor

1:48- I was skiing and we came down off of the mountain. We were about 30 miles from home, so we stopped at a drugstore to get something to eat and the lady announced that they’d, the Japanese, had bombed Pearl Harbor. So I said, “What the hell is Pearl Harbor?” So I was 17 at the time and then we found out what had happened.


Reaction to what was happening?

2:24 We were dismayed. We were aware of what Roosevelt was doing to help with the Germans and all of that, but we never expected the Japanese. So there was instant hatred across the country “those damn dirty Japs” or whatever we wanted to call them at the time. It wasn’t very nice, but that’s how everybody felt.


How did you feel?

3:25- Well, my brother was three years older, and he was going to school at the time. He was in the National Guard, so I knew that he was already inducted more or less. So they just transferred the National guard to the Army, and he became part of the war in the Pacific.


Army story Smith, Howard with his Mates

3:56 I, of course, wanted to be a pilot. I had seen the Air Force airplanes fly over in formation and that seemed to me to be a lot of fun. You couldn’t join until you were 18, so the following December I turned 18 and I enlisted the day after. So I was in the Air Force not really on active duty on December the 5th 1942. And in March of 1943 I started my aviation cadet career. I was originally stationed in college of training detachment in Lincoln, Nebraska, so essentially I was stationed in Lincoln, Nebraska, for college because I had 1 year or half a year in college. So they called it a college training detachment. So after we had three or four weeks of basic training and learned the Army way. We went to Lincoln, Nebraska, first and there they classified us as A, B, C, D, E. And we were called up to California, Santa Ana. So we started our training in Santa Ana and most was physical training, learning how to march and then we did classification tests. They put us in one category, either navigator bombardier or pilot, and I was designated for pilot training. I started that, I think it was, September so I went in active duty in March. And then I think we started in flight training in Dos Palos, California, flying in the open air. An open air cockpit with the boss in the front and the student in the rear and that was a two-month program. I finally finished what is called primary training, and after two months and about 65 hours of both dual and solo flights, I went to basic training in Bakersfield. I flew an aluminum airplane for the first time and these were two-seaters.

8:19 And after that they decided what branch you were going to be in, so I was sent to multi engine, so twin engine flight training and advanced training in Douglas, Arizona. That again was a two month program and each of those were 65 flying hours. I was destined to be a bomber pilot because I got the two twin engine training. So I graduated and was made a second lieutenant and was shipped to Nebraska and was assigned to B-17’s and went to Texas and did the transition training they called it. I was learning how to fly a B-17 in El Paso, Texas, and that again was two months training to learn how to fly a B-17 which was destined to be an airplane of combat. So we transitioned again and went to Lincoln, Nebraska, and picked up a crew and did some more flying around there and then we went back to El Paso, Texas, and started our training as a crew.   That was another two or three month,s I’m not sure exactly, and then we stopped in Labrador and were picked up by a new airplane to fly back across to England. That was October/November sometime and we flew from Labrador to Iceland and on into England and were assigned to the bomb group in the Air Force the 351st bomb group. We arrived their as a crew but they took our bombardier away because by then we were bombing in formation,so a bombardier was not needed. And then we were shipped somewhere else, so that brought the crew down to nine of us.


Bombing in formation

12:29 Originally they would bomb in tandem in lines going individually. Anyway, Curtis Lemay designed bombing in formation and each group was made up of four squadrons. So, anyway, three squadrons flying in a normal mission and Curtis Lemay designed to fly in formation so we would have a lead group of 12 and a high group of twelve and a low group of twelve. And that’s the way we would form ourselves to bomb

They would let us know the night before that we were going to fly the next day, and they would come and wake us up at six o’clock or so. We’d have a debriefing at 6:30 and they would tell us where we were going and how long it was going to take and the route that we would all take. And then we were assigned our position in the group; whether we were put in groups of three, whether we were a lead three or positioned above or to down below and one back here, and we would form a squadron. So we would all take off, one after the other. We would take off and fly til we got to four thousand feet, and then we’d fall into formation. And in that formation, we had the lead group of twelve and then a high group and a low group of twelve, and we’d start out over the channel headed for our target. We were always introduced to a little flack when we hit the coast. We were usually going over the Netherlands or depending on where we were heading. We would stay in pretty tight formation until we’d start the bomb run. We’d do it by time, we all had the same watches, so we knew exactly what was happening. And so when the lead ship took over to make a bombing run, that was a 15 minute ordeal, so everyone had to stay in a reasonable tight formation. But in the last 15 minutes we had to really close up the formation. Whether we were bombing railroad yards or industrial area or bridges or whatever it was we were trying to hit it as tightly as we could. So the lead ship would drop his bomb first with a smoke bomb and everybody would wait till they got to where that smoke bomb was and the togglier would pull his toggles and the bombs would drop out hopefully to hit the same target that they did. After the bombs were dropped it was retreat time because in the meantime during the run was when we would get the most flack, because we were all scrunched together. Berlin, for instance, the flack would be so thick it looked like black clouds and you could tell when it was close enough to throw shrapnel at your airplane. If you saw the red explosion that meant it was close enough you could get some damage. So after we dropped the bombs everybody peeled off and lost one to two thousand feet and regrouped out in friendly territory of our choosing and headed back to the base. If it was Berlin or one of the interior target,s it would take about 11 hours and the airplane could fly for about twelve hours. We came back on three engines six times, but the B-17 without the bombs, three engines was fine. It could even fly on two but that was an iffy thing, and they’d throw everything off that was moveable. But it could survive on two engines.


How old when he started these missions and how long and how many missions.

19:47 Just turned 19 when I started it , and I was the boss. I think there were several others that were 19.

I started in December and finished in March.


Moments that stood out?

22:18   We, of course, knew that these were dangerous times, but that’s when being 19 was probably an advantage. You develop a camaraderie with your crew and, therefore, you aren’t allowed to act like you’re afraid of anything, you know? “We’re in this together we’ll get out of it together”


Did you feel like the same person when you came home?

22:45   I certainly grown up a bit and a little more mature and a little more directed in what I intend to do. They asked me if I wanted to be in the reserve and I said, “No thank you” and I immediately went back to college. I kept in touch with the crew members for a few years and then that kind of died down.


Where you ever afraid?

23:50- I don’t know how you could not be, but when they started shooting the flack at the tail gunner, we’d pay attention. Then he’d let us know they were tracking us, and we would go off to the side and go up 50 feet or just dodge around. You could have lucked out and pulled into one just as easy but we had some control over what was happening.

But at the time we were there, we never got attacked by fighters, because we had air superiority. And B-51’s were always up there ready to come and help you if anybody came.

25:45   We’d lose about two airplanes per mission out of every group out of 36, at least two on average of every mission.

26:35 During the beginning they had to watch where they would go, and Berlin wasn’t one of their targets back then until they got some control over the air. But it’s true the casualties in the 8th Air Force were the worst of any.


How much war was left when you finished?

27:44   It was in March and the war ended in Germany in May, so I was back home on leave when the war ended in Germany.

The war wasn’t over, so you couldn’t be completely jubilant, but getting rid of Hitler’s regime was a glorious day! I was sent back home and we landed in Boston. And it was a royal welcoming, because we were one of the first ships to come back. A troop ship we flew over, but road the troop ship coming back and the Bostonians were out in force welcoming us home. We had a nice steak and ice cream dinner which was far better than anything we had in England.


After war

28:47 Went back to college –Brigham Young College, then graduate school for organic chemistry, University of Utah. Then moved to California to start career working in high polymers which is plastics and developed paints used in aircraft industry.


How the military prepared you for the rest of your life

30:34   It was a part of it. I didn’t have PTSD or anything like that and mentally I was fine. It was an experience, but back then everybody was ready to go and help the fight. So we were certainly mad enough at Hitler and Japan to make it easy. When I came back and was done with tour of duty, I was sent back to Santa Ana where it all started and not long after that Germany was defeated. They had set up a point plan and if you had 85 points you could put in for a discharge. Well, with me, I had 6 air medals and the time I spent overseas, I had 87 points. So I opted out and I was home as a civilian when the war ended.


About what was happening to the Jews

32:33 We were well aware of the problem while we were flying the missions, and there were Jewish members of our group and they talked to me especially about getting shot down and it was incentive to fight. One of my best friends was Jewish and we used to play Ping-Pong, and he was shot down and we never heard from him again.


About being Jewish

I’m not religious and I’m not Jewish but that’s one of the things the war did to me, I thought if there was a supreme being how could he let this be.


About war

34:45 When Eisenhower was President he said, “Don’t ever start a war unless you know damn well you can win it.”  If you can’t win it, don’t even get involved so all this helping people that don’t even want to be helped is a waste of our time.

There’s no doubt that what we were doing was important, and we were all dedicated to do it, not like Vietnam and some of the others, this was total dedication across the board.

There was a fellow crewmember who was Catholic and before each mission he would go do his religious thing and I would say, “Look, if he’s going to help you then he’s going to help the rest of us, so have at it.”

37:00   We felt so disgusted after the war ended to see the pictures of these Holocaust victims, skinny as a rail and emaciated and the inhuman way they were treated. It was so disgusting and that just added emphasis to the fact that we were damned glad that we were able to do something about it.

38:00   The weather was always a problem. We always had to make sure that we could see the target before we flew missions, so a lot of times they were cancelled while we were in the briefing room. They would say the weather went bad and that was always a problem coming back because England in the winter time has a lot of rain. So a lot of times we had to fly blind in the clouds and land under minimum conditions, so maybe 100-200 feet. So we would come in and we would personally decided how we would handle it as a crew. And I didn’t tell anybody this except for our whole crew, because we didn’t want anybody else doing it, too. We could come in under our commercial radio, listen to our commercial radio, tune it into our navigation system and when we would hit right over where it was being broadcast then the radio compass would go back down. So we knew exactly where we were and we would hit that around three thousand feet something like that, high enough to miss anything around. And we knew exactly where the field was and we’d come down and let down slowly till we could see something around, a hay stack or a barn house and we would come in at the end of the field and turn the airplane on its side, because its minimum visibility, and make a tight turn and come in on the end of the runway and pick up the wing and try to land within the first third of the runway so we wouldn’t go sliding off the end. And this would happen maybe a third of the time that there would be cloudy conditions.

We lost a crew: they were on their 32nd mission and they got hit a mile and a half from the field in a midair collision. I would guess that mid-air collisions were 25% of those that were lost

43:40- 47:00 About flack(?) leave in England and the Brit’s and Kate talking


Have you been back?

47:10- 49:14   Story about revisiting one of the fields that they used to fly onto


When you look back

49:41 My dad was born in England and I went back and visited where my grandpa used to live before he was proselytized by the Mormon church, and they moved to Utah. My dad was 2 or 3 years old when he moved to Utah.

51:48- I didn’t ever feel exceptionally heroic, because I was just doing what I was trained to do. And the training they gave us was thorough. We really knew how to fly airplanes, and it was just a duty that everybody felt. You know ‘Rosie the riveter’ and everybody was just doing their part, and that’s really what I felt like, I was just doing my part.

53:08   I wanted to be a pilot and everything just clicked into place, and I felt lucky to be able to do exactly. Of course, in the beginning I wanted to be a fighter pilot but with the rationale that it’s the bombers that are winning the war.

53:40- 55:00   Julia speaks about grandmother in the camp

The legacy of the greatest generation

56:33   There may have been a few people who tried to avoid being involved in that for religious or other reasons, but you had to respect that because it was an honest thing. But the whole country was more or less dedicated to end the war. Roosevelt had all the backing in the world. As you can see he was elected four times so what he was doing was appreciated by the whole country.

57:45 The commentator said that we were the greatest generation. Well we were the generation that had to do something at the time and being great is just being successful and got the job done. Guys like Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and Eisenhower were prominent heroes. They really came through at the right time. Eisenhower, especially, I was just amazed at the insight, because he wasn’t that well liked in the general public but he knew about wars. He knew how to win them and he knew how to avoid them. So from that standpoint it was just something we appreciated we were able to do.

1:00:26   Even Harry Truman made a right decision, even though people find a fault with it even now, but it was a right decision because it saved an awful lot of lives. And Iwo Jima, 23,000 Japanese lived there, and when we were finished with them only 400 survived. They were incarcerated because the people were willing to die for it. Imagine if we had gone into Japan and they fought like they did in Iwo Jima? There wouldn’t be any Japan, so Harry did the right thing.

Advice for future generations

Don’t enter a war unless you’re damn sure you can win it.