GLEN WELLS

Master Sergeant | Marine Corps

 

The first week of combat operations for the 338th Bomb Squadron had been uneventful, but when Boot Hill approached the northern tip of the Brest peninsula the crew began to experience complications.  Their target, the Lorient train depot, was a routine mission, but shortly it would prove to be the beginning of a very long summer.  Before reaching the coastline, the Boot Hill’s leader and wingman had to turn back across the Channel due to their own issues, leaving the B-17 bomber unprotected on the right wing of group.  When the crew went on oxygen at 8000 feet, Roy Martin attempted to refill his tank – as had been his practice before crossing the coast – but the ball turret oxygen system failed releasing all of the precious gas.  Even with help from the waist gunner, they could not stop the leak from the frozen valve and Roy gave up when his hands began to freeze.   Since the walk-about oxygen bottles were not enough to use inside the turret, he resorted to sitting in the door of the radio room where Glen Wells watched him swing the turret from side to side as a bluff.

 

As they approached their target, black plumes filled the sky as anti-aircraft fire zeroed in on the gleaming bombers.  One burst tore off Boot Hill’s right stabilizer and the next blasts hit number two and three engines.  Thick black smoke poured out of the disabled engines and oil sprayed into the fuselage.  As they lost speed and were forced to drop from their formation into the group below them, nimble German fighters shredded holes in Boot Hill’s wings.  The tail guns went silent when a shell ripped through the wall and killed the gunner, Andrew Jorinscay.  Another 20mm hit the left waist gunner Bill Martin in his side, injuring his left arm and knocking him into the ball turret.  A .30-caliber round tore through Niles Loudenslager’s leg.  He propped it on an ammunition box and kept firing at the fighter zipping in from five o'clock.

 

The bomb doors opened, the 5000-pound payload tumbled to the ground, and they turned back over the sea to the Brest peninsula.  Another vicious attack of fighters swarmed the Boot Hill who was lagging behind at a mere 150 miles per hour.  Glen Wells abandoned his radio to take up a gun.  He and Herman Marshall were firing at the same plane when they scored a hit, sending the smoking fighter veering out of sight.  Another Fw-190 screamed in from seven o'clock perforating Glen's radio with shells and .30 caliber rounds that zipped through his clothes and between his legs.  Wild eyed and laughing from the shock of a near miss, he began to reload when the pilot rang the bell and gave the order to bail out.

 

Glen glanced around at the ship to see she was nearly shot in half where the radio room met the ball turret; the wings were shot to pieces and she was barely moving with two dead engines dumping fuel and oil.  He relayed Lieutenant Haltom’s order to bail and grabbed his parachute.  In confines of the fuselage, Glen met Loudenslager who was dragging his broken leg behind him.  Together they tried to pry open the waist door, but the emergency release was damaged and badly bent.  It was going to take force to break it open.  Glen pushed with his body and Niles put in effort while lying on the floor.  It was jammed shut against the slip stream, but they peeled it open enough for Glen to stick his head out.  He finally squeezed most of his torso out when Niles gave him a kick with his good leg, sending Glen tumbling from Boot Hill towards the French farmland 18,000 feet below.  He immediately pulled his rip cord, the quick jerk slowing his fall, and tied up his oxygen mask while the Boot Hill, the first loss for the 96th Bomb Group, broke apart spinning toward the earth trailing a sooty cloud.

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There was a French woman waiting for Glen when he landed.  He untangled himself, unbuckled his parachute and, after removing his Mae West, gathered his equipment to carry away and hide or destroy.  He quickly examined his map and with a compass bearing found he was somewhere near Corlay.  The countryside seemed especially pleasant and calm.  The last of the black smears from the Boot Hill had been whisked across the sky and the only noise above the breeze were lonely German fighters in the distance.  Knowing no French and the woman no English, Glen understood that the woman wanted him to follow her.  She led Glen to her farmhouse where she gave him enough drink to innervate him.  The airman waited patiently observing her humble home while she fetched a man who knew some English.  The three of them hid all of Glen’s equipment except for his boots and knife which he gave the Frenchman in exchange for civilian clothing and a coat.  He then followed the farmer to his home where Glen was delighted to find he was also harboring Boot Hill’s engineer Herman Marshall.

 

After dark, the farmer guided Wells and Marshall to the edge of the wood where they reunited with Lieutenant Haltom and Sergeants Loudenslager and Roy Martin.  The crew began their journey through occupied France on foot, except for Loudenslager who rode horseback to save his broken leg.  They found a car to take them to a town about half an hour away where they stayed the night.  Along the way they also picked up their sixth survivor, the wounded Bill Martin..  From scattered reports, they learned three of the officers had been captured and Flight Officer Forslund was unaccounted for.  Only Jorinscay was known to have gone down with the plane with a bullet in his head.

 

The group split when two boys with a truck picked up Glen, Herman, Roy and Bill.  The Lieutenant stayed with the injured Loudenslager and for the next few weeks the two groups remained separated.  The four sergeants took a bus out to St. Quay where Countess Betty Monderit offered shelter in her chateau.  Without much to do except wait for news of when they could move again, time seemed to pass very slowly.  The threat of exposure and capture constantly picked at their anxiety.  Their last day with the Countess came she was escorted away by the Germans one afternoon.  For hours the four men remained in hiding until Betty returned in the evening, only to be taken once more for an excruciating hour.  To spare her from anymore difficulties, the crew thanked her for her daring generosity and left that night.

 

By mid-July the six survivors reunited and made their way to Paris with the help of other downed airmen, organized Resistance, and sympathetic citizens.  Among those willing to help with escape and evasion ranged from a young couple with their newborn to the elderly, all whose names are forgotten or remembered vaguely as Paul, Maude, Kitty or ‘a man with glasses’ or a ‘blonde lady.’  When they entered Paris, the six parted once more to avoid conspicuous interaction for several days.  The next contact Glen had with any of the crew was when he met Marshall at the train to head to Barcelona.  Despite Spain’s questionable neutrality, the country was still a safe haven and quick path to Gibraltar where, on August 19th, Glen finally arrived back in American hands.  With amazing coordination and careful travel, the survivors of Boot Hill made it from the Lorient raid back to the United Kingdom over the course of three months.  Upon arrival they were met with a deluge of interviews, paperwork and debriefing where they recounted their journey in detail and quickly slipped back into the routine of Army life in a rather anti-climactic conclusion to their odyssey.

*

 

Flights from Japan to Korea proceeded under any circumstance during the first few months VMR-152 was in action.  Though the schedule was relentless, it became very routine.  Days began at five in the morning to shake down aircraft and fly the first leg to Ashiya Air Force Base for loading supplies.  From there, flights went to Wonsan, Yonpo, Seoul, and Pyongyang and between to other critical points on the Korean epeninsula.  The return flight by night brought wounded in to Osaka General Hospital.  The Wing had been granted full control of air operations in support of X Corps and began their fine performance at the beginning of December.  The first five days of the month were spent flying constantly to evacuate Wonsan and Pyongyang while the enemy swept within two miles of the air bases near the end. 

 

It was very calculated and predictable – far different from Glen’s combat in World War II that plunged him into a thrilling journey on foot.  He enlisted in the Marine Corps after a few restless months following his discharge from the Army and though it had taken a few weeks to regrow his bootcamp haircut, he quickly adjusted to life in his new branch.  He was pleased to be promoted quickly due to his prior service and was particularly distinctive since few Marines sported ribbons for European service and even fewer wore Army wings in addition to Naval aircrew badges.

 

At the height of the Marine Corps’ breakout from the Chosin reservoir, one R5D was called on to support the operations as an airborne tactical air direction center.  Glen volunteered for this duty and despite lack of facilities the crew worked on refitting the ship for its new function as a TADC.  Technical Sergeant Harold C. Stuart worked the entire night to pour 2400 gallons of fuel by hand in the absence of a refueler truck.  He was discouraged when dawn came and an engine would not start and he went to work at an overhaul to get the craft airborne.  Only the addition of one radio fulfilled the technical requirements and on December 6th the modified craft was aloft.

From sunrise to sunset, the crew operated in the area with situation maps and extra radio equipment.  It was the first time in actual combat that an R5D has been utilized for this purpose.  Beginning the night of the seventh, a blizzard prevented all aerial observation and operations, but they resumed with vigor when the storm cleared the next night.  For twelve hours during the day on December 9th, the crew – unarmed, unescorted, and completely exposed to enemy anti-aircraft fire and observation – circled above the column moving to Koto-ri.  They were able to call upon every available sortie to direct strikes in areas not otherwise visible by observers on the ground.  Their position also allowed them to constantly report the movement of the convoy as well as keep track of the flow of refugees trailing the Marines.  As radio operator on board, Glen was taxed with the constant flow of communications throughout the day.  The provisional TADC flying above performed flawlessly and proved to be essential to the success of the breakout.  The Marine histories consistently mentioned the modified R5D for years and the Army graciously commended the operation as ingenious and remarkable, allotting a fair portion of the 1st Marine Air Wing’s Presidential Unit Citation to the value of the airborne TADC.

 

It was a high point for Sergeant Wells and VMR-152 during the most challenging days in the Korean campaign.  After the breakout from the reservoir, the squadron return to their routine duties of transport.  The forward echelon at Itami flew air lifts locally, but many of the RD5s made long trips from Hawaii, the Philippines, and Formosa.  Glen continued his career as a radio operator after Korea, most notably for four years directly under Lemuel Shepherd where he was senior aircrewman on the Commandant’s personal aircraft.  Their May 1955 flight to Europe was pleasant trip for Glen and his efforts were well appreciated by General Shepherd who, understanding of the demand international flights place on the radioman, commended Glen cordially after the conclusion of the trip.  The general was especially thankful for such a stellar crew as they remembered his wife’s birthday – a bit of thoughtful attention that was perhaps more meaningful to the commandant than the overall success of the trip.  Later that year he personally saw to the issuance of Wells’ certificate for the second award of his Air Medal.  A small and maybe superfluous article of paper, but a testament to how the general valued Glen and intended to treat the sergeant with respect and not let deeds from five years prior remain unaddressed.

Sources:

Montross, Lynn. U.S. Marine Operations in Korea 1950-1953. III, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2015.

United States, USMC, History Division. 1st Marine Air Wing Historical Diaries September - December 1950, 1950.

United States, US Army, Office of AC of S, G-2, and Glen Wells, et al. Escape and Evasion Report No. 74, 76-80: Evasion in France, 1943.