Two WWII pilots meet again after 70 years
While attending a history flight of a C-47 at the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, CA. this past December, I met retired Capt. Herbert Guiness, B-24 Bomber Pilot with the 15th Air Force during WWII. He told me he lost two of his four engines to enemy fire following a bombing raid. As he tried to clear the Alps and return to their base in Italy, the third engine overheated and shut down. Both Herb and his co-pilot stood on the right rudder pedals with both feet as they tried to control the Liberator. They finally managed a water-ditch landing in the Adriatic Sea.
Bleeding badly from windshield fragments that pierced Herbert’s face and arms as he was thrown through the windshield, he escaped the bomber along with eight of his ten crewmen. They were able to get one of two five-man life rafts out of the plane and inflated before it sank. Choosing to stay in the water, Herb looked up to see the P-38 Lightning that following them down circling overhead.
After sending a radio request for a rescue, the P-38, running low on fuel, dipped its wings one last time, rolled off and headed back to his base. An RAF amphibian arrived shortly afterward to rescue the B-24 crew.
In hearing this story, I mentioned to Herb that my neighbor Lynn Shubert is a former 1St Lt. and flew P-38 Lightings out of Italy during that same time. Herb lit up and told me “if that’s the same guy, thank him for saving us…I’ve been trying to find out who that pilot since I was hospitalized after the crash”.
While stationed in Italy, Lynn primarily flew night time recon missions over pending targets and radioed weather and other conditions directly to two Generals. He also swept ahead of scores of Bombers on their way out to their targets. In one incident, Lynn had one of his engines shot out over Germany and managed to fly his crippled P-38 400 miles back to his base in Italy where he belly flopped in as the landing gear would not retract. In another, he had 4 M109s on him when his flight leader said “drop your belly tanks”. Two of the M109s were on his six and ready to open fire. Lynn thought it was all over for him but suddenly both of his turbo-charged in-line six Allison engines quit! The immediate loss of over 100 MPH caused both M109s to zip past him. Realizing he had forgotten to switch over to the main tanks, he cranked the switch over…the left engine fired first and since he had the throttles wide open the P-38 began flying “ass over tea kettle” as Lynn tells it. He finally gained control after the other engine caught and was able to outrun the slower M109s. Lynn chuckles when he says “that error saved my life and I wonder what those two German pilots were thinking”.
When I returned home that day, I called Lynn and told him the story. Lynn confirmed that he had followed a B-24 Liberator to a water-ditch in the Adriatic and radioed for a rescue before running low on fuel. He recalls the Bomber having only one engine running before ditching. He also told me of how helpless he felt as he looked down even though he knew help was on the way.
I immediately called Herb and arranged a meeting for the two of them at the Air Museum the following morning so they could meet each other and Herb could thank Lynn in person. After close to 70 years the two former pilots, both decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross medals (among other medals) spent an hour together recalling their adventure. Recently, they were invited to tell their story as guest speakers at a Rotary Club meeting in Mission Viejo, CA. Previously, Lynn was one of 3 Veteran’s invited by the Mayor of Mission Viejo to speak at last year’s Veteran’s Day Ceremonies. Prior to that event, Lynn was invited to speak at the Planes Of Fame Air Museum during their presentation of the P-38 Lightning and the Lockheed “Skunk Works” where they were designed and built. This June 10th 2012, Lynn and Herb will be on hand for a “meet and greet” at the 1st Annual Bikes and Bombers event from 10:00 to Noon at the Lyon Air Museum.
Recently, I took Lynn to see the George Lucas film “Redtails” on the big screen. Seeing it in a theater gave me some idea of what Lynn and Herb experienced during WWII.
Dana F. Welch
Historic Aircraft Enthusiast