Lt. Col. Bob David's Story

Lt.Col. Bob David served with the 3rd Air Division, commanded by General Curtis LeMay. Colonel David was a Squadron Commander and "Combat leader." He flew 42 combat missions. I interviewed him on December 26, 1998.

Interviewer: You flew for the legendary Curtis LeMay. Did you ever meet him?

Meet him? I got my butt personally chewed out by him. We were on one of those 800 plane B-17 missions. Right down the gut to Berlin. I was the leader of the second element. I had 36 aircraft and the guy just ahead of me had his group of 36. The weather was terrible, so the mission was off-again on-again. The fighter escort was never able to get off, but we started in anyway. While still over the channel, a recall went out. We never got the recall because the jamming was so intense. Our 800-plane mission was down to just 72 with no support when we crossed the coast.

We made our run over Berlin in extremely heavy flack. The group in front never found their target so they never dropped. My navigator/bombardier did find ours so we were able to complete our mission successfully with no losses. Later, over the rally point, the leader of the first group decided to go back for another shot at it since he still had a full load. This was a very bad and foolhardy idea. He ordered me to take my 36 back in with him. I refused. It would be a waste of planes and good flight crews to go back with no bombs to drop. We waited at the rally point. He came back with only six of his 36! Later, at the critique General LeMay was there chewing his cigar and listening to our explanation of why we didn't get the recall. Then, after explaining why I wouldn't follow the other flight back over Berlin, he chewed me out severely in front of the group.

The next day, I was busy nursing my chewed out butt when I was called to my commanding officer's office. General LeMay was there. To my amazement they offered me a cup of coffee. General LeMay went on to explain that, although he couldn't condone my disobeying an order, I did the right thing. He sent the other officer back to the states because "he had obviously been here too long." General LeMay then pinned my second DFC on me. That was it. That was the ceremony — but it was the one most moving for me.

Editors' note: I particularly like this story! It is a good example of what experts have said was the genius of the American fighting man. They knew how to take orders but they never stopped thinking! Also, as is often noted (most recently by Tom Brokaw in "The Greatest Generation") combat veterans are very reticent about talking about their exploits and usually end with something modest like Bob did: "Whenever someone got a big medal like this, it was usually due to a big f___ up!"

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