[During Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer’s presentation at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley, Minnesota on February 25, Harold Kempffer raised his hand to ask Joe a question. Mr. Kempffer had some items he wanted to give Joe as well and they spoke at length while Joe was signing autographs. I was intrigued by the fact that Mr. Kempffer said that Tuskegee Airmen protected his bomber and asked if I could call and talk with him about that. This blog is the result of that conversation.]
Harold Kempffer was just 18 when he became a ball turret gunner on a B-24 named “50 Missions From Broadway.” “We were all so young,” he said. “Our tailgunner was 28, married with two kids. I think he understood the risks more than we did, but we all just did our jobs.” His crew started flying in Italy in August, 1944 and their B-24 was shot down on September 10 during a mission over Vienna, Austria. He said, “We bailed out over Yugoslavia and that same night nine of our crew – me included - got flown out. We just happened to be in the area where the partisans were helping to get Allied troops out. It was pitch black with just two fire barrels at each end of the runway – which was really just a pasture - to guide the pilots. I still don’t know how in the world they got the plane in and then back out again – some flying, that’s for sure. The 10th member of our crew got separated from us and was in Yugoslavia for a month before they could get him out.”
The crew got another airplane and resumed flying missions. In all, Mr. Kempffer flew 50 missions and 33 combat sorties. He recalls having the “red tails” in the mix of the fighters protecting them. “We knew they were really good pilots and were glad to have them with us on the missions. However, at that time, we really didn’t know what they had had to go through just to be allowed to fly and fight. I’m so glad their story is now being told and retold.”
Mr. Kempffer also told about actually staying at the 332nd’s base at Ramitelli, Italy. “Our base was basically snowed in because it was in higher elevations. 175 of us were at Ramitelli for five days because we couldn’t land at home. One day, a group of us were just out walking around the base to see what it was like and to see the Mustangs. Along comes B.O. Davis with a bunch of other officers, doing an inspection. Boy, was he tall! I didn’t talk to him but I remember seeing him to this day.
“The men at the base were very nice to us. Six of us enlisted men slept on tables pushed together in the non-com “club” because there were so many of us to have to put up. They gave us one blanket each to stay warm but the food was good. On the day we were told we could head for home, when we got to our airplanes where the radioman sat there was a note telling us how much they had enjoyed our stay and telling us we were welcome to come back anytime.
Here is that note:
TO THE VISITING PILOTS AND CREWS:
YOU HAVE BEEN THE GUESTS OF THE 332ND ALL NEGRO FLIGHTER GROUP. WE HOPE THAT OUR FACILITIES, SUCH AS THEY ARE, WERE SUITABLE AND ADEQUATE ENOUGH TO HAVE MADE YOUR STAY HERE A PLEASANT ONE. ON BEHALF OF COLONEL DAVIS AND THE COMMAND, I EXTEND TO YOU OUR MOST HEARTY WISHES FOR A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND MANY HAPPIER LANDINGS. YOU ARE WELCOME TO RETURN HERE AT ANY TIME AND I AM SURE THAT WE CAN MAKE YOUR STAY AN ENJOYABLE ONE. THE PILOTS OF THIS COMMAND HAVE EXPRESSED THEIR DESIRES TO HAVE IT MADE CLEAR THAT IT IS A PLEASURE TO BE ABLE TO PROTECT YOU AND LOOK AFTER YOUR WELL-BEING BOTH IN THE AIR AND HERE ON THE GROUND. REMEMBER, WHEN YOU ARE UP THERE AND SEE THE RED TAILED MUSTANGS IN THE SKY, THEY ARE YOUR FRIENDS OF THE 332ND FIGHTER GROUP. HERE IS HOPING FOR A QUICK ENDING OF THE WAR AND A BETTER AND MORE PEACEFUL WORLD.
MANY HAPPY LANDINGS,
/s/ Eugene D. Weaver
Capt., Air Corps
Public Relations O.
Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to read more about that incident.
Click here for a video featuring the 485th’s 2011 reunion in San Diego that many Airmen were also invited to attend
AND click here for a short photo essay featuring Mr. Kempffer (a.k.a “Red”).
Our thanks to Harold Kempffer for attending Joe Gomer’s presentation last month and sharing his story with us this month.
Air Show Update
The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen” are featured at the New Smyrna Beach (FL) Balloon and Sky Fest this weekend. Admission to the air show is only $2.00 (!) and of course, admission to the Traveling Exhibit is always free. Tuskegee Airman Hiram Mann (see his interview in the most recent newsletter) will be presented with a Golden Baton by the Army’s elite parachute team, the Golden Knights on Sunday at about 1:30 p.m. This air show has quite a lineup of great acts scheduled and they even have events at night so if you’re in the area, c’mon over!
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.