Mission #13 - July 10, 1943
LeBourget (Paris), France
Sixteen years earlier Charles Lindbergh had landed here on the outskirts of Paris, an American hero. Today, American airmen were fearful of a different kind of reception. But cloud cover frustrated Lead Bombardiers when the 96th flew over Paris at breakfast time. The overcast was just too thick. The force returned without bombing -- but not without fighting! The cloud cover certainly did not discourage the Luftwaffe from defending their air space. They continued attacks well out over the channel where, they mistakenly thought, the lonely and struggling Wabbit Twacks offered them easy pickings.
Flagg's gunners knocked down 9 enemy planes . . . an 8th AF record! During the furious pursuit, Flagg, with three of his crew wounded, soared his crippled A/C only 50 some feet above the Channel in an effort to minimize the German attacks. S/Sgt. John Wagner put out a fire aboard Wabbit Twacks II during this prolonged engagement. Finally, a grateful crew landed at Snetterton. Their record was broadcast and publicized in England and stateside. 1/Lt. Bernie Ehrenreich was doing the group public relations work now and Captain Flagg's crew had just provided him with a strong hand from which to commence dealing to the folks back home. The Wabbit Twacks experience resounded like a great Allied victory. For example, here is the text edited for the New York Times from the original story which ran in The Stars & Stripes (TS&S):
Ten men from Wabbit Twacks, the B-17 with the baby-talk name, now wear a total of 60 decorations. And before these crewmen go out again to blast Hitler's Europe, three more decorations -- Distinguished Flying Crosses -- will be added to the total. This will make the Wabbit Twacks team one of the most decorated crews in the 8th Air Force.
Only recently the Silver Star, the Army's third highest valor decoration, was awarded to nine of the crewmen who manned the plane . . . in a running battle beginning four miles up near Paris and ending fifty feet above the Channel. . . . Wabbit Twacks returned to base with more than 500 holes and with three men wounded. Each of the ten men have the Air Medal with three clusters. Eventually, every member will have the DFC. Three have the Purple Heart and all but one has the coveted Silver Star.
The nine men who received the Silver Star from Colonel Curtis E. LeMay are: Capt. Walter E. Flagg, pilot; 2/L Maxwell Barrett, co-pilot; Capt. Robert P Milliden, bombardier; Captain Merle C. Hamilton, navigator; T/S Bill Morgan, radio op; T/S Borden Christenson, top-turret; S/S John Solinsky, ball turret gunner; S/S John F. Wagner, right waist gunner and S/S Budd R. Schmid, tail gunner.
One of the regular waist gunners, S/S Hal Cooper missed this mission. [Editors' note: Cooper worked for the Associated Press both before and after the war.] The battle is tersely reported in the citation: "Prior to reaching the objective, one engine quit, forcing Captain Flagg to leave the formation. Shortly thereafter the lone Fortress was attacked by 25 German fighters! During the running fight that followed, Captain Flagg maneuvered his airplane with such courage and skill that his gunners were able to destroy nine enemy planes."
A shot of the damage incurred by Capt. Walt Flagg's WABBIT TWACKS even though the crew set an 8AF record by downing 9 E/A on this July 10 raid on LeBourget.
Colonel Curtis LeMay, 4BW Commander, awards Silver Stars to Capt. Walt Flagg and Lts. Bob Milliken and Merle Hamilton of WABBIT TWACKS.
Incidentally, Walt Flagg and his men had unconsciously recorded their unique victory for posterity. Unknown to them, the British had not only intercepted all their excitable talk over the radio but had marked the running battle on radar. Later, on Sunday night, July 25, the crew was featured on the BBC radio show "The Stars and Stripes in Britain." Interviews were conducted by Ben Lyons and Bebe Daniels. The Mutual Broadcasting System carried the broadcast in America.
A mission was abandoned on the 13th, but the next day Le Bourget was revisited.