SSgt Kennard Robert Wiggins, Sr. 781st Bomb Squadron, 465th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force
Entered active service with the U.S. Army Air Force on 25 Feb 1943, discharged from active service on 20 October 1945. Served briefly in the Delaware State Guard prior to his enlistment in the Delaware Air National Guard (142nd Fighter Squadron) on 6 September 1946 (Charter member) and discharged 24 January 1951.
In the Army Air Force during World War II he flew from Pantanella Army Air Base (South of Cerignola near Bari) in Italy with the 15th Air Force, 55th Wing, 465th Group, 781st Squadron, 35 Combat Missions, 168:55 Flying Hours in Combat, as ball turrent gunner in B-24 aircraft (Bellygun). Aerial gunnery credited with destruction of one enemy Me-109 Fighter Plane (July 1944) .
Decorations and Awards: Soldiers Medal Distinguished Flying Cross Air Medal with two devices The European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with 5 Bronze Stars Good Conduct Medal Distinguished Unit Badge Aerial gunner Aviation Badge Sharpshooter Badge Overseas Service Bar
B-24 Crew # 3-H-262: HQ 465th Bomb Gp AAF, AAB McCook, Nebraska, 1 Jan 1944 Thomas O’Brien, Pilot Joseph H. Saul Jr. Co-pilot Harold F. Achenback, Bombardier Seth H. Hawkins J., Navigator Sgt Horace E. Williams, Flight Engineer Sgt Paul E. Gordon Jr., Nose Gunner Sgt Carl W. Gruber, Radio Operator Sgt Quincy F. Adams, Tail Gunner Sgt Morris G. Godwin, Gunner Sgt Kennard R. Wiggins, Ball Gunner
The Chief is purely Irish A bricklayers son some say But when playing with a B-Two-Dozen For our money he’s O’K.
The Co-pilot hails from Texas What’s worse he proud of it But since he’s been to Trani He knows that Texas ain’t worth a damn.
Himrod, the navigator Is the pride of Wichita Course he doesn’t drink liquor Kansas bans that law.
If you want a jolly good fellow Tack Ack-Ack the bombardier For a man who comes from Iowa He sure can hold his beer.
In the nose we got old pop You know him, Mike’s old man It’s good he shoots better than stags Or we’d all be out of this land.
Williams the big engineer Is the cream of the Carolines When he’s not shooting the Upper He’s patching hydraulic lines.
Wiggins sits in his Wig-Wam That is when he’s not taking a piss But when the fighters start zooming It’s very seldom he’ll miss.
Godwin the old dog of the bunch When he’s back to satin and lace They’d better hide all their whiskey The bastard will drink every case.
Stretch has got back his stinger Way back down flak alley way The Jerries don’t seem to trust him As yet, none have come that way.
You know them now from Bow to Stern Oh yes, there’s the one we’ve left out He sits on his ass, and watches the gas And turns on the IFF.
By T/Sgt Carl (Archie) Gruber (KIA) Radio Operator on O’By’ Crew
Excerpt from Kennard R. Wiggins Sr. Autobiography
CHAPTER FOUR ( already ) OFF WE GO INTO THE WILD BLU...
Now if I say l was to be drafted you would be right. Only l will say its time for me to go into the “ARMED FORCES”. I went to Fort Dix in NEW JERSEY. From there l went to the AIR FORCE in MIAMI FLORIDA. For my basic training... On the train from New Jersey the temperature got mighty cold going through the mountains in West Virginia. l don’t know why we went that way took a whole day. Sure was warm when we arrived. I went on a bus over to Miami Beach. I was put in a hotel on the beach. The President Madison was the name.. I was thinking is this the way it is l can take this very well. And there is the ocean. You won’t believe it about the first two weeks went bye- bye before l wet a toe. (Except the shower. One of the first things we did after we were assigned to quarters was take a test. (l. Q.) this was to find out what you were suited for. I sure was glad l went to trade school now. Most the guys only had High school and were fresh out at that. l scored 129 on my first test and 135 the second time. I found out don’t skip a question take a guess you could be right. Skipping a question is the same as a wrong answer.
After living in Delaware all my days, Miami Beach seemed rather hot to me. The first week almost every one ended up with sunburn. (Me too) We had some classes to inform us of what the Air Force was about and lots of drill and roll call at least four times a day. The marching in the hot sun was a killer inspection and K. P. seemed to be the order of the day. This may bore some people but I'm on a roll now. l had forgot most the routine . Most of it is coming back to me now. About once or twice a week they had a parade for some High Brass, or senator. Most the time was drill and picking up cigarette butts l don’t know where they came from Soldiers in their right mind would not throw them down. One drill Sargent told us how to field strip a butt. I did not smoke. You tear the butt and dump the tobacco on the ground and roll the paper into a little bee bee and stump it all in the ground. The parade grounds were some sort of park with no trees. Some times we would march 20 abreast and 20 deep 400 guys trying to keep in step and we were all rookies this was what they call Basic Training... One thing we had to learn the M-1 rifle so to learn it we had to dismantle it blind folded. This was to insure that if there was a malfunction in the dark some time you were able to fix it (the rifle) so you would carefully lay the parts down as they came out. When you were to put them back they would fit nicely. Once in a while the instructor would move or replace a part. You better know where things go or you failed the test. I was so conscientious about learning everything that l listened very carefully...
After we learned all the parts of a rifle we went to the RIFLE RANGE. This is what l been waiting for. It seemed like we rode for about two hours in the back of a truck down a dusty road. After we arrived there we did a lot of dry firing. That is sight on the target and then squeeze one off. If and when the rifle sight stayed on the target you did well, after you did this five or six times. The range officer gave you a round to shoot. I fired my first round it hit 5 inches out at 3 o’clock, l gave it four clicks and fired my next round, hit almost the same place. I moved 5 more clicks. This time l got Maggie’s drawers. l fired two more and received Maggie’s drawers both times. Then l complained to the range officer. Something wrong with this peace l said.. They double-checked guess what the target was clean. The target to my left had eight hits three were bulls. I then knew what happened. I got a bad score that day, but l was satisfied that l did well. That won’t happen again... (Shooting another man’s target)
Basic training went along pretty smooth. We sang songs as we marched from place to place. One that l remember: ( BE KIND TO YOUR WEBBED FOOTED FRIENDS FOR A DUCK MAY BE SOMEBODIES MOTHER )... Some of the guys in the room were talking about the nice girls at the beach and around town. Frankly l didn’t see any all the time l was at Miami Beach. Some guys even had dates. They must have brought them with them. I sure didn’t see any. (Maybe l didn’t look) didn’t care neither...At that time in my life the war and the army was all l had on my mind. It wasn’t long now we are over basic and now we get assigned to new work and school. I now am headed for Buckley Field in Denver, Colorado. To study Armament, right down my alley. Must have been the aptitude test.
l leave Miami by train to go to Buckley Field . It was a long trip the way they went. We went all the way to CALIF. to drop some people off there and returned to Denver to let us off. Who knows for what. The school there was for small arms. The Cal.45 colt pistol, the M-1 Carbine and the 30. Cal. machine gun. We went to school every day for 6 weeks for small arms school. We learned all the parts of all these weapons. (I don’t know if the other guys learned or not) This school was great. One instructor said l should instruct. Because of the way l learned... After this 6 weeks l moved to LOWRY FIELD about 20 miles west. It was closer to DENVER. Now l get to learn the (BIG GUNS)... Big guns are Cal. 50 machine guns, 20 mm. Cannon and the biggest l studied were the 40-mm. cannon. I studied and worked on the guns more to know them and strip them down...Everything there was to know they taught us. We even learned to synchronize firing threw the props of airplanes. No one knew where we would end up, so we learned all weapons. From the .45 to the 40 mm and all those in between. Never did any firing at this school. On the Forth week we got a pass to go to town. I went to the local dance hall where all the guys said to go I forget who went along with me. I didn’t forget the girl l met by the name of Grace Gaster. I still remember her phone # 6723 I went to see her one more time after gunnery training... (I didn't remember the phone # l have a book with all that stuff in it.)
After small arm training l was sent to a weekend of range work. Just to see if l would like gunnery. (I guess). Any way we did some shooting and hanging out with some of the older G. I’s... anyway this was a camp out in the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains. This place was a rest area where we just did routine work and rested for what was ahead. One day we went after a rattlesnake that was in camp. That night at mess we heard this story. One of the pilots told that one-day in his P-39 fighter plane. He was at 15,000 feet and noticed down by the stick a rattlesnake coiled up there. He said that he pulled the canopy and rolled over. Flying upside down for a long time the snake would not fall out. The tower said climb to twenty thousand. Then the snake would freeze and could be thrown out. The pilot landed with the snake still in the plane.
This was a good rest before l went to GUNNERY SCHOOL. Davis Monthan Field here l come. Tucson, Arizona I never left the field all the time l was there l never saw downtown Tucson to this day and l was there for the next 3 months... Gunnery school was great we first went to the range and fired small arms then up to larger weapons. 30 Cal. machine guns on the range. The next thing was to shoot skeet ... they had shot guns on a turret instead of a machine gun. The next thing was they had the turret on the back of a pickup truck. Now it gets tricky the shot gun mounted on a turret on the back of a pickup. Now we ride down this road and without any warning a clay pigeon pops up. You have to hit it at around thirty miles per hour. You have to remember the shot gun is mounted. So you have to catch up, lead, and fire. The other thing, you are moving and the target comes out at different angles. This is to simulate airplane movement. I busted 24 out of 25 my best score (all time) with this setup.
Then next thing we fired 50 Cal. machine-guns on the range. The thing to do was to fire a burst of 5 or 6 rounds in order to keep control of the weapon. At a still target it was o.k. But when we were acquainted with the .50 Cal. then we went to air to air firing... This consisted of a B-17 loaded just like it would be over seas. The only difference was we only fired waste guns. We painted our bullets so we knew how many hits were in the target which was pulled by an AT-6. This is a funny situation we flew over the Grand Canyon and fired many a thousand round, where today it is a national monument. After doing this for a long time we got our wings and became (AERIAL GUNNERS) The thing l forgot to tell is, it was so hot that when you were assigned to a plane to go up one had to run from wing to wing to stay in the shade and keep cool. Other wise you would sweat and be very wet then when you were up it was cold up at ten thousand feet.
Now the next thing was to go to one more school. Everyone on the plane has to know two jobs so l chose radio school. This is a short class in radio operation. For this l went to Salt Lake City, Utah. The class didn’t last to long. l went from here to a 15-day leave before going o to be assigned to a crew and a airplane. When l got home some of the things l did were crazy, like l brought home my CAL .45 pistol. Paul and l shot holes in the back of that old Chevy that l mentioned before. MOM sold it later and got a good price for it bullet holes and all. Doing the war one could not find any good cars. I had a good time telling all about the service. No one knew anything about it. My brother Lawrence was over seas now and there was no way to know where. Some of the things l did was go to see old school friends and such many were already gone to the service. It was November now and getting cold. So the things to do were limited.
After the leave was over l went to McCook A. A. F. base in Nebraska. Here l met the crew. We were introduced in a mess hall meeting. This is what all the training was for. The crew l was assigned to seemed pretty nice to me. I won’t go into detail at this time because most every one has heard most stories about the crew anyway...
During the next few weeks we did every thing as a crew. So we could become adjusted to each other. Then we were assigned an Airplane. After this we became a squadron 781st. And the group was the 465th. Bomb Group. Most every day now some three or four of the planes would fly some where, up north or some where out west. I remember one such flight we were flying west over Wyoming and run right into a snowstorm. Hawkins the navigator found a small airfield so we tried to land, the only lights they had were two jeeps sitting at the end of the runway. We did manage to land O.K. And stayed in some kind of a cowboy bunkhouse. You can’t guess how cold it gets in Wyoming in January. The next morning we ate breakfast with some Firemen and some cowboys that were on this base. By the way l just looked up the name of the field. I was named PLAINS AIR WAYS WYO. They flew freight out of there when the weather was good. It took till noon to dig the B-24 out of the snow and take off for McCook airfield. One other mission we went on was a navigation trip up to Chicago, this was really great the moon was full and the snow was deep. With the bright moon and all O'Brien flew at about 3,000 feet. Talk about gorgeous... Going along about 200 miles per hour. Can’t describe the feeling. One more and l will move on. This one was a bombing run at night on a bombing range. Seems up north on the Nebraska plains is a place where they had a place to bomb with 100 lb. bombs. At night to find it they had lights in a cross, the center being the bulls eye. Now about 30 miles to the west was a little town that had two main streets. They were also lit up with lights. Now it being midnight there were no other lights. (DO YOU GET THE PICTURE YET) So after the first run then the second we could see we were hitting close to the bulls eye.
Not so the home base called for us to return to base. Our hits set fire to a lumberyard in this small town. Seems we were off target by a little too much. No one to blame here there was two more planes with us and they were doing the same as we were.
After our training for over seas was over we had a brief lull in activity So four of us applied for a week end pass to Denver. That was Godwin, Williams, Gruber and I...Looked up my friend Grace that l had met when l was at Lowry Field before. We had a nice time for one day then l developed an earache. The very next morning it was so bad l went to sick call at Lowry and they kept me over. I had been to altitude the day before l went on leave, with a cold... Coming down we had to go back up to clear my ears. It didn’t work too well. Now l have this bad ear. In the meantime we were to ship out on Tuesday of this week. Every thing turned out O.K. I got back to base on Tuesday and had to get things fixed up. By that time orders were cut, They were going to leave me behind for a replacement. O’Brien came threw two crews had to go by boat while the others flew over to Italy. Our crew volunteered to go by boat, now we are off to New Port News Virginia. All the ground forces were at the boat already. When we got there they were loading the boat. As luck would have it being a gunner and already had the gunnery training. The four of us the same guys that were on the lost week end in Denver signed on as gunners on the trip over... With just two days briefing we were now navy gunners for 29 days. I was assigned a 20-mm on A deck gun with a navy man as loader. The drums of Ammo were pretty darn heavy. I don’t think l could handle. We would fire the guns every day which made the trip go by very fast. On the crossing there was only one encounter with the Germans. That was a SUBMARINE the navy destroyers handled it although we were ready. They told us to just fire in that direction and l did. For about an hour. I understand they made some hits with depth charges, if they sunk it l don’t know. When we got to the “ROCK” there were a lot of sunken ships that we had to maneuver around. Our first stop was North Africa. We stayed in Africa for about 3 weeks long enough to not like it. Some of the things that went on were crazy. One night two of the guards were killed for what who knows. It was so damn dark you could not see your own hand in front of your eyes. I got a chance to see some of the war damage. There was Ammo everywhere we were told to let it alone. Some of the guys didn’t heed the warning and were blown up by booby traps... l survived North Africa, and went on north to Italy. Had a one-day stop at Sicily. Then on to Naples Italy. The same thing applied here all things were booby-trapped. l spent about a week there and that was the time Mount Vesuvius Erupted. That was very nice to experience. It was some time in the spring and rain was black and even some snow was dirty. We stayed in an old building that was war torn. There were no windows but the roof was still on.
It came time for us to leave the engineers had all the supplies off the boat and on a train. That was the smallest train l ever saw. The train was loaded with every thing we needed to set up camp. When we got half way to Bari that is where we are going, the train could not make the grade. All the personnel had to get off and walk. I think we walked half a day. l remember eating lunch on a hillside over looking the valley it was called Pantanella that is where we will build our air field. I didn’t know at the time, but we were to start work on laying the mats on the runway. The operating engineers with their bulldozers had the clearing all finished. The front lines were just 20 miles away. Some times we could hear the big guns blazing away. I suppose there were about 200 enlisted men out every day putting down the runway mats. It took two men on each mat to carry it and every 3rd one had to be staked down to prevent slipping...The jobs were flexible and long as we worked it didn’t matter what job, so we switched off from place to place and job to job...
The airstrip is finished and the planes are starting to come in. The people that flew over are coming in first. They flew in from South America and then were hung up in Africa. They tell us that our crew will get a new plane ferried in this next week. Our plane came in and it is newer than any of the rest. It was worth waiting for. Now with a little training we fly over the Adriatic Sea every day now waiting for the day we go in combat. The word is next week sometime we will get orders to go on our first combat mission...We used up most of our off time readying up the tents and mess hall... Us flying personnel made ready by doing gunnery and flying formation which is very important to keep the enemy aircraft from flying between our planes...
Well the first mission came in, the target was the town of (PODGORICA, YUGOSLAVIA) There were some German troops concentrated there, this was supposed to be a (MILK RUN) I thought they didn’t shoot at you on a mission like this anyway we got back safe and did our job.
That number one is over and we are ready for the next mission. By the way the date of this first mission was May 5th 1944.... I won’t go into detail about most of the sorties that were flown and that l went on at this time. Things began to get a little worse as the days went past. The 781st Bomb (That’s us) Squadron flew 21 mission in the month of May. l went on on 13 of them that is a pretty good record from where l stand. l went on 14 missions in June and in July 6.... July was bad luck times on the 19th l went to Munich, Germany to bomb the Allach Air Craft Factory. Not only did we encounter lots of fighters but also we were hit many times with anti aircraft fire. (Flak) we just barely made it back to Italy crashed landed in a wheat field north of the base. On this mission we all got the D.F.C.
July 19, 1944
DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
For extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as crew of a B-24 type aircraft. On 19 July 1944, this gallant crew participated in a bombing mission against vital strategic enemy installations in Germany. Despite serious mechanical difficulties encountered en-route which threatened to preclude the successful completion of their mission, displaying outstanding professional skill and determination, they brought their aircraft directly to the target. Despite intense, heavy and accurate barrages of anti-aircraft fire, together with the crippled condition of their aircraft, they skillfully maneuvered it through the enemy fire in a highly successful bombing run. The bombs from their ship were concentrated in the immediate target area, inflicting grave damage to vital installations. Turning from the target, their aricraft was further damaged by enemy flak, however, despite the almost unairworthy condition of their ship, with outstanding resourcefulness and courage they brought their ship through for a successful crash landing at their home base. By their outstanding skill, determination and devotion to duty, as evidenced through over thirty successful missions against the enemy, these men have reflected great credit upon themselves and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
Kennard R. Wiggins, 32751695, Staff Sergeant 781st Bomb Sq., 465th Bomb Gp. Residence at enlistment: New Castle, Delaware
By command of Major General TWINING
The month of July 1944 will be one I'll not forget (EVER) I shot down a Me -109 received the air medal (3 times) and received the Soldiers Medal... On July 22, 1944 l went on a mission to the Ploesti Oil Fields in Rumania. This was the worst of them all we lost it the air plane we were hit by Me-109’s and whatever else the Germans could send up. After that we were almost to the Adriatic Sea and were hit with fighters again then more flack. We crashed and that was the end of the war for me... I will not go into details any more.
July 22, 1944
For heroism at great risk of life at an allied airbase in Italy. On 22 July 1944, their aircraft was forced to crash land due to serious damages sustained through enemy action. Assuming that all their crew members would do likewise, they immediately left the crash ship as soon as it stopped. Observing that no others left the plane which was now burning, with complete disregard for their personal safety, they immediately re- entered the wreckage. Heedless of the intense heat and imminent danger of explosion, they successfully removed all crew members from the burning debris to safety. By their outstanding courage, initiative and intense devotion to duty, in risking their lives to save the lives of others, these men have reflected great credit upon themselves and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
Staff Sergeant Morris C. Godwin, and Staff Sergeant Kennard R. Wiggins, 781st Bomb Sq., 465th Bomb Gp.
By command of Major General TWINING
So in July l had 8 more missions for a total of 35. I could say more on this subject, but for now l should let it rest. At some time when l was resting l met a young boy name of VINCE. This young man about twelve years old came to Italy before the war with his parents and they were both killed doing an air raid. So he had no proof he was an American. We let him stay in our tent and he showed us around the city near by. (BARRI) One more thing while l was in Italy l found out my brother Lawrence was at Foggia an air base 40 miles to the west of where Pantanella is. Lawrence was visiting me the day of the 22nd of July when we failed to return. He must have had bad couple days. It took about 4 days for us to return to base. One of the first things l did was go over and tell him l was O.K. After a brief rest (2 weeks) l was sent back to the states, and stayed in a convalescent Hospital for 6 months at Pawling , New York...
AIR MEDAL WITH TWO OAK LEAF CLUSTERS
Under the provisions of AR 600-45, as amended and pursuant to authority contained in Circular No. 26, NATOUSA, 6 March 1944, the Air Medal and/or Oak Leaf Cluster for the Air Medal, in the categories as listed, is awarded the following named personnel 781st Bombardment Squadron, 465th Bombardment Group, Air Corps, Army of the United States, residence as indicated, for meritorious achievement in aerial flight while participating in sustained operational activities against the enemy between the dates as indicated, and/or , for meritorious achievement in aerial flight while performing an act of merit as indicated:
Kennard R. Wiggins, 32751695, Sergeant, New Castle Delaware. From 5 May 1944 to 22 May 1944. The Air Medal From 19 May 1944 to 13 June 1944. First Oak Leaf Cluster (Bronze) From 14 June 1944 to 22 July 1944. Second Oak Leaf Cluster (Bronze)
The idea here was to get your nerves back. When you lose it, one has a hard time getting back to normal (whatever normal is) l had all kind of treatments to get settled down. Mostly to just do things, they had classes and sports and, on every Saturday they had dances. Lowell Thomas would do his 15 minute radio show from there once a month. l was on his show once. Just for a couple questions. Then one day a radio show called “ WIN A FIN” came to the hospital ... By the way this place was once Vassar College for girls and they shut down this part for the war to have room for men coming home from over seas. ANYWAY GETTING BACK TO WIN A FIN. l was selected to try my luck. There was a punch bowl with subjects in it. l was to draw one. You have to talk for one minute while the host drops quarters in a milk bottle. My subject was girls l had a hard time talking for one minute on that subject anyway. l got my “FIN” $5.00 so every one was happy. While l was at Pawling one week l would go home and the next week l stay at the hospital. Lots of things happen in a week’s time. They had all kind of classes and old fellow Stanley Missiuda showed me how to shoot pool. I never had the opportunity before.
One Sunday l went to church, a nice girl sat beside me. We became friends the for the rest of the time l was at the school...This girl called me “SHAKEY” mostly because of the plane crash. l was just having a tough time with my nerves. All my life l had lots of names given me... Some of them were WIG, WIGGLES, KEN, KENNY SHAKEY THE FARMER, TROOPER, THE COOKIE KID, POP, DAD. BOY AND HEY BOY...Some l liked and some l didn’t. I liked KENNARD best. On one of those going home trips l met MARIAN LEE DEPUTY. I liked to go roller skating so on one of those outings at the rink l met MARIAN LEE and her friend Ruth Hastings. I would chase both girls around the rink, and one day MARIAN LEE caught me. We were married on July 18,1945.
A short time after that l was sent to Albany, Georgia. It was the hot time of the year and l got to spend it in a swamp. MARIAN LEE came down for a couple months September and October and the in November l was discharged from the Air Force for good. The time spent in Ga. turned out O.K. l was in charge of some German war prisoners that worked in the machine shop At Turner Field. The prisoners were just like us hard working and a lot of fun. I’m glad l got to know them. I think it took some of the pressures off being shot down and all...
When l was a teenager me and a lot of friends around NEW CASTLE made model airplanes. My brother LAWRENCE was the best. Raymond Evans was his equal... Well while in Georgia waiting to get out on discharge. l made a P-51 MUSTANG. It was rather nice and l even put the engine in the rear like the real thing. So it came time to be discharged and after all the routine things l still had my P-51. The only thing l could do was hand carry it to DELAWARE. We (MARIAN LEE and l ) got our train tickets and climbed on the train for Wilmington... There were no seats the train was full. l stood in between cars till some where in Virginia With people complaining all the way MARIAN LEE got a seat along the way some where. I got a seat around Richmond, Virginia.... Some trip home after so much traveling for the past three years. The war is over and America is ready to start over and build back up and they sure did.