IN OUR MUSEUM: A monthly writeup from an artifact located in the Van Zandt County Veterans Museum in Canton, Texas. This week we visit Gerald Burgess (case #3), a waist gunner on a B-24 during WW2.
The B-24 Liberator bomber during WW2 were protected by several machine guns mounted in the front, rear and side of the plane. The two “waist gunners” suffered the most casualties by incoming fighters ready to strafe the sides of the bomber. Gerald Burgess was one of those “waist gunners” who flew an incredible fifty missions, a very rare feat during the war. Gerald, from Tyler, Texas flew with the U.S. Army Air Corp 449th, Bomber Group 15 known as the “Flying Horsemen.”
“I was an assistant engineer and assistant radio operator and was wounded during my second mission. Four of my crew members were killed and the others were prisoners of war for nine months. When I left the hospital 21 days later, they put me on Cowboy Powers’ crew because one of his boys had replaced me on my crew’s plane when it was shot down. I flew 28 missions with that crew and then started flying with different crews,” said Gerald in an interview taped in 1993.
“One day, I flew with Colonel Bill Tolt, our flight commander, in the lead aircraft. We were going to be the first ones over the target. I kept watching a German ME109 fighter plane about 1,000 yards away. When an ME109 turned toward the sun, the sunlight would reflect off the aluminum armor beneath the belly of the aircraft. I kept looking back and finally saw that reflection. I called the tail gunner and told him we had an ME109 at six o’clock coming in. Trying to see the fighter plane, Colonel Tolt said, “Burgess, how in the world did you see a 109 coming in at six o’clock?” I said, “I’m looking for them, colonel.”
“I was flying as a right waist gunner when I saw a German ME-109 about 1,000 feet away and gave him a burst of gunfire. But I could see my shells weren’t hitting anywhere near him. He had a bigger gun (20mm) and hit our ball turret. The explosion knocked the other waist gunner and me down. Both my legs were hit, and a big chunk hit my buddy in the back. When I got up first and looked at my buddy, I knew he couldn’t live more than five minutes because he had pulled his oxygen loose.
After flying so many missions and losing so many buddies, it took guts to keep going back to those same targets. But we knew that was the only way we could whip the Germans. Oil field, refineries, railroads and airplane factories were our main targets. Patriotism and our faith in God kept us going. I arrived in Italy on March 28, 1941, and turned 22 years old in May.”
Interview excerpts 1993: Gerald Burgess
The VZC Veterans Memorial Museum is opened Tuesday thru Friday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Admission is FREE.