Sgt. Joseph A. Leo

(Posted: July 8, 2012)

I met Joe Leo at my first Air Force Association meeting several years ago.  I was a new member and Joe was giving the program.  I was most interested to meet the former B-17 waist gunner.  He had flown for the 8th Air Force and that, of course, caught my eye.  It was a great first meeting for me and we formed an immediate friendship.  The “we” I mention is Joe, his wife Betty, and myself.  From that meeting on, I would attend every one that it was possible for me to attend.  It’s a great group of Air Force supporters and, obviously, you don’t have to have served to be a member.  My Dad was in the Army Air Corps so the group is special to me.  The membership is comprised of all ages whether you join as someone who’s served in the Air Force or as a friend or just have the interest.  The magazine that you receive as an Air Force Association member is worth the yearly membership fee alone.  I look forward to the meetings with this special group and new members are always welcome.

Now that I’ve introduced you to and given the background on how I met my friend, Joe Leo, I want to share the following information that he wrote to me on July 19, 2007.  Since I met him, he has graciously provided information that was helpful to me in my journey to learn about my Dad and WWII.  I read this e-mail and the volumes of information that it contains still awes me. . . . . .

Joe entitled the e-mail “The Soldier’s Lot:”

I remember as a 19-year-old “kid” over Germany, that I did not want to be there and I thought: “I  am sure those below wish I weren’t here also.  Those that will suffer by my presence must fight back for self preservation – in a war they did not start – those who are not in danger, safely resting in a bunker in Berlin started the war and millions were killed by their mistake.”

I have discussed the war from both sides with my German friend and he tells me of the privations of the citizenry and soldiers, lack of clothing – supplies of all kind, and being constantly tired from frequent moves and always hungry.  Clothing was scarce, even for the military and always dirty with it being impossible to wash.

Hitler refused to end the war and insisted the military – and civilians – fight to the death.  My friend tells me that young girls were operating the anti-aircraft guns toward the end of the war, with men doing the loading, girls aiming and firing.  On the ground battlefront soldiers as young as 14 were being captured by the infantry.  Germany was destitute at the end of the war and General Eisenhower’s greatest fear was that starvation would come.  Priority was given to sending food to Germany.  I was on a mission to drop food to the Dutch and this was before the surrender – the Germans were still in occupation of that country and we dropped on an airfield.  We had to have all guns stowed, landing gear down and bomb bay doors full open.  I remember I went in to the bomb bay and pushed the sacks of rations out.  The Dutch wrote in large letters “Thank You Boys” on the field.  This is recorded on a picture in our 490th Group history book.

Dictators must be brutal to maintain their continuation.  It is not human nature to accept complete domination so dictators must exact a complete control and be ruthless in administration.  This was true of the Japanese as the military controlled the government and taught their soldiers and sailors that there could be no surrender.  Defenders of Iwo Jimo were advised by their commanders back in Japan that their plight was hopeless and all that could be accomplished was to take as many Marines as possible before being killed.

There were reports of German civilians killing airmen and we were taught the colors of the different military units and to try to surrender to specific uniform colors, especially the blue uniform of the Luftwaffe.  I thought, “oh yeah, I am going to try and run to find a blue uniform when I would be fully observed floating down from 25,000 feet!!”  We were issued 45 caliber pistols.  That brought on another thought; “the whole Allied Army was struggling to enter Germany and I, with one pistol, was expected to fight my way out!!!”

At the  Air Force Association meeting last month, Joe brought some photos that were taken at his Bomb Group reunion last year.  He had duplicates and kindly shared a few with me.  The reunion was in Georgia and a visit to the 8th Air Force Museum was included in the agenda of events.  I remember Joe telling me that his crew is remembered at the Museum on a plaque in the Memorial Garden.  The plaque was purchased years ago and during his visit he was able to finally see it in person!!

                                                                                               

 

Joe also took a photo of a picture that was hanging in the Museum – a print that was very appropriate and meaningful to him as a participant in the food drops that he described in “The Soldier’s Lot.”  The food drop missions were named “Operation Chowhound” and took place May 1 – 8, 1945 . . . . . . . .

The following is a copy of a page from Joe’s 490th Bomb Group History Book . . . . . .

 

The print in the middle of the page reads “Formation over Schipol airfield, where thousands upon thousands of food boxes and sacks covered the ground.

In a field next to the dropping zone the Dutch spelled out this simple, heart-warming message, ‘THANK YOU BOYS.'”

 

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