1Lt Edward P. Gwin was a B17 pilot with the 100th Bomb Group. His B17 was shot down by a ME262 on 18 March 1945 over Salzwedel/Bretsch. He and three of his crew are buried in Margraten.
Recollections of Donald H. Reichel: The Co-Pilot
Upon arriving in England in late September 1944, we were assigned to the 100th Bomb Group, 351st Sqd. Everyone told us it was called "The Bloody Hundredth" because of all the losses it had incurred. They said we didn't have a chance of finishing all of our missions. What a way to start a tour! We were also told we would have to drop one waist gunner. Ed Gwin and I talked it over and decided it would be Charles Meadel, as he was the youngest, having just turned eighteen (18). He was shipped out and we lost track of him.
We were assigned to fly "The All American Girl", a plane that had already seen many, many missions. Our first mission was on October 30, 1944. It was to be Merseburg, but we bombed the alternate. Just so we wouldn't be disappointed, our next mission was also Merseburg. I guess the first mission is always the most memorable, and this certainly was. As we approached the target we thought it was clouded over. How wrong we were. It was flak from all the flak. We we got close enough, we could see the red bursts and hear the "WHUMP WHUMP", and also feel the jolts from exploding shells. We didn't take any serious hits, but still had quite a few holes in the ship. I remember vividly seeing an anti-aircraft shell coming up from under the nose of the plane. It must have been near the top of its trajectory and slowing down. Ed Gwin and I watched it go above us and explode. We spoke if that many times after. We hoped that would be as close as a shell ever got to us.
Missions from then on never seemed quite as bad, until December 31, 1944. Hamburg was the target. It was out 13th mission. Flak was heavy and coming off the target we had a head wind of about one hundred (100) MPH (Miles per hour). It seemed like we stopped. That's when the Me 109's hit. Our P-51 escort was nowhere around. The attack of the 109s seemed to go on forever. Just before the attack broke off a 20MM shell hit the plane, exploding right behind me. It wounded me slightly but knocked me unconscious. Gwin told me later that I was 'out' for about twenty (20) minutes. Our plane had over three hundred (300) holes in it. One in the left wing was big enough for the Crew Chief (M/Sgt L. Holland) to crawl through. (That's the day the 100th lost 12 planes) I spent only three (3) days in the hospital and since we had a standdown of three (3) days, I was able to join the crew for our next mission.
After about ten (10) missions our Bombardier Stew Laidlaw was made a lead crew Bombardier. David Ackerman joined the crew as Togglier. About the same time, Earl Hamilton was grounded with a bad back. Charles Koons replaced him. Sometime in January 1945 our plane "The All American Girl" was lost in action, and a new plane was assigned to us. Ed Gwin named it the "Sweet Nancy" after his wife.
"We had our tail shot off"
Our next most memorable missions was on March 18, 1945. This was our 31st, and final mission although we didn't know it that morning. Berlin was our target. Our C.O. (Commanding Officer), Major Harry F. Cruver, was leading the group that day and the Gwin crew was in the high flight. We were all relaxed and figured we would have our 35 missions in within the next two weeks. Everything started out fine. Ed Gwin and I always took turns flying, thirty (30) minutes of flying and thirty minutes to relax. I had just taken over the controls when someone yelled 'Bandits'. I saw tracers going past our plane. I remember thinking "watch it guys, don't hit us." Suddenly the nose of the plane came up and it shuddered; it then 'mushed' and fell off on the right wing. I gave it full left rudder and aileron, but the controls were gone. I then cut both left engines and put full power on the two right ones which kept us from going into a tight spin by bringing the right wing up somewhat. I looked at Gwin and he said, "Let's go," and motioned with his hand to get out. I got out of my seat and grabbed my chute. I looked back and saw Herb Hamann, the engineer, was out of the top turret. He was on his hands and knees feeling around. I found out later that he had forgotten to take off his sun glasses and couldn't see. He was feeling for his chute. Bob Landino, the navigator and Dave Ackerman, the togglier were already by the hatch. I looked up at Gwin and he had his chute in his hand ready to put on. Just then Landino opened the hatch and he and Ackerman bailed out. Hamann was all set to go by then and he poked me in the back. Since I was in his way I bailed out and he bailed out right after me. Gwin was right behind him. Why he didn't get out I don't know. The only thing I can figure out is that he went back in the plane to check on the rest of the crew. We were going down too fast for him to have time to do that. We were already below 10,000 feet when I bailed out.
Floating down, I could hear the firing of machine guns and the sound of the planes fading off into the distance. The quiet after that gave me the loneliest feeling of my life. I came down in a plowed field and took off my chute. There was a small clump of trees and bushes near me. I ran into the bushes and looked around. There were about twenty (20) or thirty (30) Wehrmacht soldiers coming toward me from one direction, and about twenty (20) from the other direction. There was nowhere to go. The one group already had Landino and Ackerman. I thought of my .45 automatic and figured I didn't want the Nazis to get it and shoot some Americans with it. I saw a pile of rocks, so I pulled some away and buried the gun. I walked out of the bushes then and gave myself up. They searched me and found my holster with no gun in it. I told them it must have fallen out when I bailed out. One of them said I was a bad soldier for not taking better care of it.
The marched me back to the town of Braatsch and one old man kept yelling at them to shoot us. I could speak German so I understood what he said. He ran up and hit me in the back. Some of the soldiers pushed him away and told me that a month before they would have shot us all, but they had gotten orders not to harm anymore POW's.
They brought us together and put us in an old building which had at one time been a firehouse. There was Landino, Ackerman, Hamann, Heilbuth, Griego and myself. This is when I found out why the plane's controls went out. Joe Griego told me that the tail of the plane was completely shot off. They kept us there overnight and the next day put us in a truck and drove us to the town of Stendal. On the way they stopped where our plane had crashed. They showed us what they said were four (4) bodies and told us it was Gwin, Danielson, Disher, and Uhler. That was the first we knew of Gwin being killed.