Heroes: the Army Air Corps


"...He saw a gap in the side of the spinning plane and jumped out," said Jenkins,who explained that in the confusion Magee forgot he wasn't wearing a chute.  "He remembered tumbling, but at that high altitude, he quickly lost consciousness from lack of oxygen..."



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 Alan A. Magee

  • Branch of Service: Army Air Corps
  • Unit: 303rd Bomb Group/332nd - 327th Bomb Sqn. [Heavy]
  • Dates: 1943 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: S/Sgt., Gunner
  • Birth Year: 1924
  • Entered Service: Plainfield, NJ



     On 29 March 2004, a local friend, Leonard "Mickey" Hurley [305th Bomb Group, 364th Squadron (Heavy)] forwarded this exciting tale to us at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words via e-mail.

     He was curious as to the authenticity of this story...and frankly so were we.

     After a search on the internet, we came across two other versions of the following story -- complete with some images of Sgt. Alan MaGee as well as an image of the nose art of his plane, Snap-Crackle-Pop.

     For all intents and purposes, it would appear that this maraculous escape by Sgt. Alan MaGee is true.

     What a wonderful story it is, too!

     The other two versions of this story can be found in the set of links following the story.



Falling 22,000 Feet - And NO Chute!

     Alan Magee ranked among the luckiest of those who served in the Air Corps during World War II.  A B-17 ball turret gunner, Magee had no choice but to jump out of a disabled, spinning-out-of-control bomber from about 22,000 feet without a parachute...and miraculously lived.

     His incredible story was featured in a Smithsonian Magazine on the 10 most amazing survivals during World War II.  Magee seldom spoke of that death-defying drop.  He died 60 years later of complications from a stroke and kidney failure in San Angelo, Texas.  His niece described her uncle as "just a regular guy."  "He didn't like to talk about it...then he wouldn't dwell on it," the niece said.

     "One of the people who saw him fall through the glass roof of the railroad station tracked Alan down.  Before that, Alan wasn't interested in discussing this."However, he did mention: "God was certainly looking out for me."

     Magee, was born in Plainfield, New Jersey.  The youngest of six children, he enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attack.  He was 5-foot-7...and just barely small enough to fitin the B-17's ball turret...a cramped, donut-shaped plexiglas and metal turret on thebomber's underside.  It was a tight fit - a gunner's knees were practically against his chest- that Magee had to leave his parachute up on the (flight) deck of his four-engine Flying Fortress.

     "His ball turret offered a panoramic view, but it was also a vulnerable target for (the attacking) German fighter planes.  And there was a high casualty rate among B-17 gunners," said Don Jenkins, Magee's friend of 38 years and a World War II Navy veteran."  He was very easy to get along with - very cheerful, very talkative and a verysweet person," Jenkins said. But, he said, in all those years, Magee only spoke to him three times about the incredible events taking place on January 3, 1943.

     Sgt. Magee, 24, was one of the oldest of the 10-man crew who flew out of Molesworth,England, on a bomber nicknamed "Snap! Crackle! Pop!"  His pilot was only 19. His seventh mission was a daylight bombing run on St. Nazaire, France, called "Flak City" because of the many anti-aircraft guns defending the German's submarine pens.On that day, his 303rd Bomb Group had sent 85 B17s with fighter escorts.

     Over the target area, flak damaged Magee's plane...then German fighters shot off a section of his aircraft's right wing. Magee, who was wounded, scrambled out of his restrictive ball turret, and up on to the flight deck where he noticed his parachute was ruined.  "He saw a gap in the side of the spinning plane and jumped out," said Jenkins,who explained that in the confusion Magee forgot he wasn't wearing a chute.  "He remembered tumbling, but at that high altitude, he quickly lost consciousness from lack of oxygen.

     Eyewitnesses saw Magee's body crash through the Nazaire train station's glass skylight - breaking his fall.  When he regained consciousness, Magee said to his German captors: "Thank God I'm alive."

     Magee's injuries included 28 shrapnel wounds - a punctured lung and kidney - nose and one eye ripped open - right arm nearly severed from his body - a broken right leg and ankle.  The Germans decided that anyone who could so miraculously survive deserved "real special medical attention."  With the doctors' high priority assistance, Magee fully recovered.

     In total, 75 U.S. airmen were killed that day, 7 Fortresses were shot down - forty-seven damaged.  Two other members of Magee's crew survived.  McGee was a prisoner of war until May 1945.  He received the Air Medal for meritorious conduct and the Purple Heart.  "Alan was never the type to look in the past," said his friend.  Despite the harrowing experience, Magee still loved to fly airplanes and earned his private pilot's license.  He lived for the enjoyment of each moment - did a lot of walking and  backpacking, and led a pretty good life.

     On Jan. 3, 1993, Magee and the other two crew members were guests of the St. Nazaire,France townspeople.  They hosted a banquet and erected a six-foot-tall memorial to salute the flight crew of Snap! Crackle! Pop!  "He was very excited and honored,"  Jenkins said.

     Magee is survived by his wife, Helen; a sister, Adele; six nieces and three nephews. A celebration of Alan Magee's life will be held this Spring.


By Paul Logan
Journal Staff Writer (edited/abridged)


The materials depicted was forwarded to us by Mr. Leonard J. "Mickey" Hurley.

We at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words, wish to offer our THANKS for Mr. Hurley bringing this story to our attention.

Story added to website on 29 March 2004.



Here are some interesting links that are related to this story:

Hell's Angel's Newsletter

303rd Bomb Group Association


303rd Bomb Group

303rd Bomb Group History: Hell's Angels

303rd Bomb Group Association

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USAF Aircraft Serial Number Search Help

National World War II Memorial

World War II Causality Search


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