Veterans

November 26, 2012

Sixty-five years later, World War II veteran returns to England

Theodore Penn as he looked while serving in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Penn was stationed at Royal Air Force Alconbury, England, from October 1942 through October 1945, with the 685th Air Materiel Squadron. He visited his wartime assignment for the first time in 67 years, on Nov. 13, 2012.

On a typical day from 1942 to 1945, the flightline on Royal Air Force Alconbury, England, would be full of activity as aircrews, maintainers and weapons troops prepared as many B-17 Flying Fortresses as they could for missions in Germany.

One of those troops was Ted Penn, a quartermaster in the 685th Air Materiel Squadron, who returned to RAF Alconbury Nov. 13; the first time in 67 years; to discover the installation in a far different state than when he left it in October 1945.

On his tour of the base, Penn shared some of his experiences about World War II RAF Alconbury.

“We’d play baseball in the summer and football in the winter,” the 92-year-old Penn, of Berkeley Heights, N.J., said. “We’d organized a baseball team and played against Jimmy Stewart and his team when they were here at Alconbury for a little bit.”

The soldiers had many activities to choose from during their downtime to keep them occupied and not go stir crazy, Penn said. The command provided trucks to take us to local pubs and towns where we would buy a meal and some drinks and socialize with our British neighbors.

Not all of his time at Alconbury was peaceful, as he was present when an explosion rocked the runway. On May 27, 1943, after delivering some supplies to the flightline, Penn stood around talking with “the munitions folks” loading 500-pound bombs on the B-17s before a mission. As the loaders were finishing their task, they told Penn he should head out for lunch and they’ll join him.

“One of the guys, I didn’t know his name, told me to get on my bike and beat them down to the mess tent so I could be first in line,” he said. “Halfway down the hill, I heard a terrific explosion and the force rocked me on my bike. I hopped off and saw a tremendous fire.”

The ground personnel were arming a B-17F (tail number 42-29685) in the dispersal area when the 500-pound bomb detonated. The explosion, in turn, set off several other bombs. In an instant, 18 men were killed, 21 injured and four B-17s were destroyed on the ground. Eleven other B-17s were damaged. Penn survived by mere seconds.

Ted Penn sits in front of Alconbury House while assigned to the 685th Air Materiel Squadron at Royal Air Force Alconbury, Englang, during World War II. His squadron worked out of temporary buildings in front of Alconbury House during the war, and Penn visited RAF Alconbury Nov. 13, 2012, for the first time in 67 years.

“The fellows I was talking to were all gone, and I could just as well have been killed if they hadn’t told me to go ahead,” he said. “Nothing was left of their plane but a big crater.”

Penn was also responsible for delivering supplies throughout the island, including in the run-up to the D-Day landings.

“My boss, Lt. Sheets, and I would be on per diem where we wouldn’t see the base for weeks at a time,” he said. “We were hauling equipment back and forth all over, preparing for the invasion. There were times where it seemed like if we brought more men and equipment, this island would sink!”

During their time in Britain, the soldiers could also get passes to travel, giving Penn the opportunity to visit Ireland, Leicester and London. Penn happened to be touring London when victory in Europe was announced.

“There were so many people out you couldn’t even move,” he said. “Everyone was just happy, laughing and crying on the streets and hanging out of windows.”

The post-war days at RAF Alconbury were not all full of joy, however. While Penn and other soldiers stood in formation waiting to depart RAF Alconbury one last time for home, in October 1945, the officer present asked for a volunteer to run and fetch the paperwork necessary to get them all home. A soldier volunteered and hopped in the waiting jeep for what should have been a 10 to 12 minute trip.

“About 30 minutes after he left, someone drove up and said the guy had rolled the jeep and died,” Penn said. “It was very sad to see someone make it safely through the war, only to die right before we went home.”

After departing RAF Alconbury, Penn boarded the USS Lake Champlain, an aircraft carrier converted to carry soldiers home from Europe. All of the aircraft were removed from the carrier and there were soldiers all over.

“Near the States, we hit the tail-end of a hurricane,” Penn said. “The waves were so high, they came up and washed over the flight deck of the carrier. They’d also pick the ship up, and it would start vibrating because the propellers were hanging out of the water.”

Once he got home, he surprised his parents, since they weren’t aware he’d be coming home so soon.

“I was walking down the street and saw my dad walking toward me,” he said. “My dad did a double take and then ran to greet me. He led me back into the house and in the kitchen to show my mom, and said he wasn’t going to work that day.”

Penn was accompanied to RAF Alconbury his son, John, who grew up hearing stories of his father’s time in the Army.

“My father kept in touch with his Army buddies after he left the service in 1945, but of the dozen or so friends he wrote to each year, there is only his friend, John Swisher, and himself left from the group,” said John. “I’ve always marveled at how much he remembers from those days and hearing him tell of his experiences back then allowed me to have a greater appreciation for what he experienced as a 22-year-old soldier away from home for the first time.”

John was the driving force behind the visit, as he was determined to see where his father served. It took several months to convince his father to come, but he was finally able to convince his father to return to England.

The men of the 685th Air Materiel Squadron pose in front of their temporary building at Royal Air Force Alconbury, England, during World War II. Veteran Ted Penn visited RAF Alconbury Nov. 13, 2012, for the first time since leaving England at the end of World War II.

“This was my father’s second time in England and my first,” he said. “I would have felt something was missing if we had not visited the air base that was the source of so many memories for him, both good and bad. Alconbury played an important role in his life as a young man, the three and half years he was there, and now I have a better feel for the context of his stories, having seen the base personally. It was important for me to give him the chance to pass on his knowledge and experiences to today’s airmen.”

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines April 24, 2015

News: More than $1 billion in U.S. emergency reconstruction aid goes missing in Afghanistan - A total of $1.3 billion that the Pentagon shipped to its force commanders in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014 for the most critical reconstruction projects can’t be accounted for by the Defense Department, 60 percent of all such spending under an...
 
 

News Briefs April 24, 2015

German defense minister: widely used rifle has no future A widely used assault rifle has “no future” with the German military in its current form, Germany’s defense minister said April 22, escalating a dispute over the weapon’s alleged shortcomings. Ursula von der Leyen said last month that a study showed the G36 rifle has a...
 
 
Army photograph

Composites key to tougher, lighter armaments

Army photograph XM-360 test firing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in 2007, is shown. The Army is on the cusp of revolutionizing materials that go into armament construction, making for stronger, lighter and more durable weapo...
 

 

Northrop Grumman signs long-term agreement with Raytheon

Northrop Grumman has entered a long-term agreement with Raytheon to supply its LN-200 Inertial Measurement Unit for Raytheon optical targeting systems. The long-term agreement with Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business extends through 2018. The LN-200 provides camera stabilization on optical targeting systems that conduct long-range surveillance and target acquisition for various...
 
 

NTTR supports first F-35B integration into USMC’s weapons school exercise

The Nevada Test and Training Range was part of history April 21, when four U.S. Marine Corps-assigned F-35B Lightning IIs participated in its first Marine Corps’ Final Exercise of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course on the NTTR’s ranges. The Final Exercise, or FINEX, is the capstone event to the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Aviation...
 
 
AAR-Textron

AAR awarded new contract from Bell Helicopter Textron to support T64 engines

AAR announced April 22 that Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. awarded its Defense Systems & Logistics business unit a contract providing warehouse and logistics services in support of upgrading T64 engines for the Bell V-280 Val...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>