Heroes: the Army Air Corps
"...One afternoon when the planes come in, we had to refuel right away. I put a ladder against the wing to get up on it and I could not touch the wing, for it was so hot when I did get on the wing, I had to keep lifting my feet as they were burning through the leather soles. We had to fill one or two thousand gallons in the plane at one time. Then we had to check the oil tanks. They held about thirty nine gallons on each engine; number ninety oil..."
Michel S. Daninger
- Branch of Service: Army Air Corps
- Unit: 7th Bomb Group, 436th Bomb Sqn. [Heavy]
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: Pacific Theater: China, Burma, India
- Rank: S/Sgt.
- Birth Year: 1916
- Entered Service: St. Paul, MN
Michel "Mike" S. Daninger in later years.
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger.
My Life in Service
On January 5, 1942 I had bid it all good bye as my brother, Frank, drove me to Stillwater to board a bus to St. Paul where we were picked up in a canvase covered army truck and taken to fort snelling. At nineteen degrees below zero, it was a cold ride for all. Some boys didn't even have a heavy winter coat! Shortly after we got to Fort Snelling, we were inducted into the service. On January 6th I got my uniform and our first vaccinations. On January 8th, I got to see my brother, Sabin and also had my first tooth pulled in the service. On January 9th, we started out on the train for Wichita Falls, Texas. it was seven fifteen pm, we stopped at a number of towns on our way. Galesburg, Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri, where we stopped from 4 pm 'till 7:35 pm , when we took on another group of soldiers. The next stop was Muskogie, Oklahoma where we began to see shipments of cotton. Then, it was on to Denison, Texas, Whitesboro, Texas where we stopped for a short time!
Our train windows were of the old style that could be opened, so I was able to talk with a man along the tracks carrying a shot gun. He mentioned that he was just trying to shoot some birds.
When we passed through Gainesville, Texas, we saw the largest cotton shipping station. and lots of pretty girls waving to us as we went by.
The smell of oil was very noticeable in the air, as there were a lot of oil wells operating and some just being drilled. We did notice a lot of large pipes piled along the tracks that were to be used for oil wells. Our next town was Henrietta, Texas, where there were a lot of ranch houses and open country. On Sunday, January 11th, we landed at Sheppard Field, Texas, which was near to Wichita Falls. It was now four pm.
It was a new base just being built and it was surely dusty with the wind blowing most of the time. When we first arrived, we had no beds; only a mattress on the floor. Later we finally got our folding cots. At least, we were up off of the floor. We had barrack's inspection at least once a week and if your bed wasn't made as they liked, it was torn up so you had to make it over again. We got protective shots for about everything they could think of. It was mostly the biggest fellows who would faint at the smell of alcohol as we were in line for the shots. We were kept on the base until we were all through with our shots and were then given a pass to go into town, if we would like to go.
There was a bus carrying us into town and back without charge, but we had to be back at a certain time. We had U.S.O. (United Service Organization) where we had lots of entertainment, and were sometimes invited out to their homes for supper.
We had to serve on K.P. (kitchen patrol). the mess halls, six of them, serving about two thousand meals three times a day. We had to be at the mess hall at 5:20 am and were able to quit at 7:30 pm. Sometimes I had to work at 3 am and finished at 7 pm.
On February 17th, I got my first pay in cash (not a check), of seventeen dollars and twenty-seven cents. Our pay the first month or so, was $21 and I had signed up for a $5,000 life insurance policy, so some of my money was taken out for that. I saved about eight dollars for myself and sent the rest home for my dad and mother and my brother, Tom, and my sister, Phyllis. As I got up in higher rank, my pay per month, did increase. It did get to the point where i was only getting partial pay, and I told the officer I needed that to send home to keep my folks living.
"Well," he says, "if that is your problem, the Government will match whatever you want to send home." Well, it turned out that at the last, they were able to get a check of fourty-seven dollars a month, which was very good, at that time. You could, at that time, get a week's worth of groceries for three dollars.
On February 27th I went to school for the first time to learn to be an airplane mechanic. and in the afternoon I checked into the sick call. The doctor found I had a fever of 103 and sent me to the hospital. I had an awful sore throat by having breathed so much dust. The doctor let me stay in the hospital for two weeks and I sure felt a lot better.
The 15th of March, I went to a Wichita Falls church and attended a soldier's Mass. Afterward, as we walked around town, I got to see a German Messier/schmidt plane that six or eight bullets that had taken the pilot. The holes were where he would have been sitting.
If I remember correctly, it had a diesel powered engine.
I passed my time at the production center and made a table and assembled books. On the 18th of March, I made them a dustpan and trash box. My brother, Charlie, went into the army that day, too. I began to make them a round table the next day, but don't recall if I finished it as I had to start school again.
We studied blue prints and forms for inspections and the maintenance of airplanes. Everything was quite easy for me as I had a lot of mechanical experience back on the farm.
I met up with Dick Kunshier and Bernard (Barney) Boehm, both from Forest Lake. Dick and I used to go to town and church together 'till he had to leave.
The 30th of May, my brother, Juluis entered the service. I do not remember where they took him, but I do know he ended up going to England and Germany. He spoke of watching the big gun missiles going over head.
My brother, Charlie, had been down in some islands before he ended his time of service in Kobe, Japan, and was a guard on a Japanese ship.
On the 14th of May, we had the pleasure of Bob Hope and his group entertaining us at Sheppard Field. There were also a number of other groups that entertained us, but I don't recall their names any more.
July 11th, I got my first furlough to go home for two weeks. I helped put up hay that time, and also put in a day helping a neighbor, Leo Elliot, pull nails from lumber, as he had torn down his old barn.
I also had a great time with my neighbors, Ted and Edith Ekblad, and my niece, Theresa Daninger, at a dance at the Columbus Township hall.
My furlough ended with a party with friends and relatives on a Sunday afternoon and the last good bye to my dad. With tears in his eyes, he said, "I'll never see him alive again," and he was gone when I came home in May of 1945, (nearly three years later).
Back to Texas
It was back to school again at Sheppard Field, to finish my course in the general makeup of an airplane. It covered the electrical systems, and engines, and propellers.
We were told that the propellers should never be painted, because they were so well balanced that if you laid a cigarette paper on one of the blades, it would move the propeller. we had so many going to school there that we had to get up at three in the morning, so we would be in school by six am. Orange, toast and milk was the main part of breakfast, with dry cereal in little packages.
August 10th, about fifteen of us shipped out to San Diego, California where we centered our studies on the B24 bomber planes. It was a great trip on which we saw the first prairie dogs and coyote along the tracks. There were a number of tunnels that we had to go through. and on a bright moonlit night, we could look down on the snow covered city of Denver, Colorado. It was a beautiful sight, with little evergreens in the snow along the tracks. I got to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. We arrived at Camp Consair at 10 PM on August 12th. August 13th, we started school studying the B24. The meals were very good, as we had two old restaurant chefs to do the cooking. The eats just could not have been any better!
We were just a short distance from the cathedral in San Diego and I used to walk to Mass on Sunday mornings. They told us the temperatures varied only about fifty degrees all year.
Our wonderful time there didn't last too long, as we finished school and had our first ride in a B24. We were off on the train again, heading for Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. There we had gun practice and intelligence test and lots of parade dress drills (about three times a week). I was called in, I know three different times, being questioned because I had an old aunt left over in Austria (which Germany had already overtaken). They were finally satisfied and I had no more of that. We did have a number of hikes out into the country and when we would get back, we had to try to make a fire in our tents with hard coal and without any place to find any kindling wood.
We had to practice setting up our pup tents, as they were called. Some of them were so full of holes that when the colonel came around to see how they looked, he just tramped on them and tore them up. He said, "We should be able to have something better than that to learn with."
When we were out on our hikes in the country, we had to sleep out in these pup tents one night. at about midnight, we were all awakened and they called roll to see that everyone was awake. after that we could go back to sleep!
On October 31st, I got to see the Shipstead and Johnson Ice Follies in St. Louis, Missouri. It was a very nice show! (the Shipsteads had owned the pretty, large farm on 190th street, just behind the Taylor farm; at one time it was known as the Quigley farm).
November 20th, 10 am, we shipped out of Jefferson Barracks, heading for Camp Stoneman, near Pittsburg, California. From there we could see the mountains at a distance from us. We traveled on the train through the mountains in Utah, and went across Great Salt Lake, near Salt Lake City, Utah.
When we traveled at night, we had to always have the blinds pulled over the windows of the train. I was put on guard duty at the end of our car. I was there to make sure that nobody got off if we stopped. It was quite an experience, standing there for several hours and listening to those wheels as they were grinding a-way on the rails, and the smell of iron on the brake shoes as they were applied going down the steep grades through the mountains.
Passing through Nebraska, that first morning, there was a light snow on the ground and I could see the pheasants in the corn fields, as we passed them. It surely made me long to do a little hunting instead of riding the train!
We arrived at Camp Stoneman at 11:30 PM on November 23rd.
On the 24th we had our teeth checked. I had two teeth filled and one pulled. It was quite a deal, the way things went! You would get in the chair, get a shot of novocain, get out of the chair to let another fellow in. After a short time, you were back in the chair again, to get the teeth pulled or filled. It kind of was, as we used to say, by the numbers.
We had a fine Thanksgiving dinner at Camp Stoneman. I remember helping to clean a ton of turkey for the dinner. The only bad point was that some of the joints were bitter tasting already. It's odd, we never got food poisonening. On the second of December, I had two more teeth filled and got paid $65.27. December 3rd, we were issued our rifles. They had been coated with cozmolein, a thick grease that would come off with hot water, if you could find any of that! We had to run the obstacle course, which had a long v shaped trough that we had to run in, and as I got to the end, I made a jump and as I landed, I sprained my ankle badly. Two other fellows helped me back to the medics. They wrapped it with tape. This was November 30th. December 5th, we had inspection of our rifles and had the tape removed from my ankle.
Heading for India
Sunday, December 6th, I went to Mass in the States for the last time. I also had my last physical for overseas duty. I'll never forget the doctors remark, as he looked at me. "What a fine healthy looking body," he said.
The next day, we were on the train, heading for the ship we were assigned to depart upon. It was interesting on the train, as we got into San Francisco. There were places where you could not see between the oil well structures. A lot of the pumps were working at that time. that evening we got aboard the Ile de France. A young officer helped me by carrying my duffel bag as my ankle was still very painful. It was several weeks before it healed. This date, was just one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Mike's "boat pass".
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger.
Ship Cabin Aassignment, Dec. 7, 1942
Our ship, the Ile de France, was a 43,153 ton liner built in 1926. she had and overall length of 792.9 ft by beam 91.9 ft, three funnels, two masts, four screws and a speed of 23 knots. Originally a passenger ship, she was requisitioned as a troopship and on march 10, 1941 had sailed from Singapore to Sydney. It had six inch cannons mounted on the upper deck. That means that the shell projectiles were six inches in diameter. They shot them a few times and you could see them going through the air. I remember one young fellow got so frightened when they shot those big guns, that he ran to get his rifle thinking we were being attacked. The ship had a large number of lifeboats on each side that as they hung, they could be swung out on each side. It had a very big anchor on the upper deck. the hooks of the anchor must have been at least twenty feet apart and the chain links were oblong and about two feet in diameter.
We set out to leave the morning of the eighth, not knowing where we were headed for, until we got talking to some of the Hindus of the crew. We found we were headed for India!!! We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, which was quite a site. We headed for Pearl Harbor. We never ran a straight line, we were always zig zagging back and forth to avoid any torpedo hits.
Tthere wasn't much to do other than card games and gambling. We saw a PBY; a plane that could land on water. We saw numbers of flying fish, and I did a bit of letter writing. We never paid for postage, when we were in service. all we had to do, was to write "free" where the postage would have gone.
We landed in Pearl Harbor the morning of the 13th. It was a Sunday and a Catholic Priest came on board and offered Mass for us. There was a small chapel on the lower deck. I had bought a newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser, but that has long gone lost now.
We set out again on the morning of the 14th. The weather was calm and fairly clear. there were a lot of flying fish, small ones, and larger ones called sailfish. We headed toward the Equator and crossed it, with some fanfare on the 18th.
The 20th was a Sunday again, and one of the officers would lead the Rosary for us in the chapel. I wrote a lot of letters to the home folks and friends. On the 23rd, we crossed the International Date Line and were into a very bad storm. We had already ran out of fresh drinking water and water for washing. We drank filtered sea water and tried to shave with salt water. The storm was so bad, that the waves went over the top of our ship at night as we were all below deck. I was lucky, as I slept through it all. I laid crosswise of the ship and I was rolled back and forth on my mat on the floor.
One day, after that bad storm, I went up on fourth deck and saw a cement gun emplacement that surrounded a gun; it was smashed up against the deck by a big ocean wave. They must have been close to a hundred feet high. I had seen a destroyer going ahead of us during the daylight hours and the waves were going right over the top of it. They were guarding our ship from being hit by torpedoes from the Japanese submarines.
We entered Wellington, New Zealand harbor on Christmas morning, 1942. The ocean was calm, with no wind, the sun was out and bright. the airplanes were buzzing us overhead. Just one beautiful sight to see!!! As we anchored at the dock, a New Zealander man filled our canteen bottles with fresh water for us. that sure was a big relief to get good fresh water again!
A group of ladies in pretty dresses, came on the dock in the evening and sang Christmas carols for us. An English army band also played for us. During the day we were able to walk around town. It was sure beautiful! The girls were sitting in the windows waving little American flags, as we passed by. it was quite a treat to have such a warm welcome. An ice cream vendor on the dock, just gave us all of his ice cream.
The priest came on board and offered Mass again for us. there were so many of us on the ship that we were fed only two times a day: Breakfast was at ten AM and supper at 5:45 PM. The main menu seemed to be mutton stew. The bread was baked right on the ship and it was really good, though some would only eat the center of the slice and through away the crust.
We had some English fellows on the ship also. One of the fellows had an accordion and as he was playing, another fellow got an old wash tub and used it as a drum. The english fellow said, "leave it to the Yanks!"
I had my turn at K.P. as it was called (kitchen patrol). four days in a row!
A lot of the fellows got sick during the storm at sea, including myself. The 27th we sailed again, for Fremantle, Australia. As we left the dock, there were a couple of fellows left behind. They tried to get the ship to stop for them. We heard later, that they were put into another group.
On January 3, 1943 we anchored at Fremantle. It was Sunday, and another Priest came aboard the next day and offered Mass for us. On the 5th, we headed for Bombay, India. We saw a number of whales as we passed them.
The 5th, marked my first year in the service. From here on the weather was a bit more calm. we did calisthenics and group singing on deck.
Some of the fellows tried to wash their clothes by hanging them on a rope and letting them drag in the water along side the ship. but a few of the clothes lost off.
We used to play blackjack to pass the time and one young fellow had gotten off the ship in Pearl Harbor, with an officer and sent one thousand dollars home from his winnings.
January 14th, we came into site of Bombay, India. we saw many small sailboats. We anchored out in the open harbor. On the 17th, we were finally able to get off the ship and had a tour of the town. We saw a big cage; as I recall it was made with poles of wood and in it were girls. They seemed so depressed and down hearted. I asked the driver of our horse drawn buggy what they were there for? "Oh," he said, "they are diseased girls." The poor things, sure looked pitiful. we came upon an Indian in the street with a mongoose on a small rope. A mongoose is a small animal about the size of a squirrel. He waited until we tossed him enough coins on the ground and then he let a snake out of the basket. He then let the mongoose loose so we could watch the mongoose kill the snake. It didn't take the mongoose long before it chewed the head off of the snake. They surely were vicious little critters, and were at that time, not allowed in the States.
We boarded the train and were on our way to Gaya, India. that was Mahatma Gandhi's hometown. Mealtime on the train, we just stopped, and dinner was served outside the train, from one of the mess cars. As I got my plate filled and had some bacon, one of the Indian type crows swooped down and off he went with it! Whenever we stopped in any town, we were just surrounded with poor people begging for anything we could give them. It was in one of these towns that I saw the first case of leprosy. Their eyes were mattered and the ends of the fingers were dropping off. Just a pitiful site!!! It made me think of Scripture, where Jesus had healed the ten lepers, but only one thanked him.
It seemed like I was walking into a different world as the women would come to draw water from an open well with earthen bowls, which they carried away on their heads.
We passed through their holy city of Banaras. as we stopped, we were again, surrounded by several hundred people. Monkeys were just every where. The people were hardly able to grow anything for themselves to eat, before the monkeys would get it. In some places, the fellows had trouble with the monkeys carring off things out of their tents.
When our train started to move, the people would start to leave. One fellow had to go on one foot and his two hands. The other leg had grown stiff, as he sat on it. I imagine it had been broken.
India had three different widths of rail tracks; narrow gauge, meter gauge, and wide gauge. Everything had to be loaded and reloaded as they crossed the country.
When we were in India, sanitation was very poor. The average citizen never had toilet paper, only a little brass bowl of water to clean themselves. A loincloth was all the clothing that most of the men had. Most all of them were always barefoot. The women wore a sari, a long length of cloth wound around the body and tucked into make it stay in place.
We finally got to the city of Gaya where we were put in our separate squadrons. I was assigned to the 436th and Vincent Hill was our crew chief. We had crew chief stands along side the engines upon which we were working. It didn't take me long to get to know the entire plane.
I drew guard duty quite frequently, having a Thompson submachine gun for my protection. Some nights, it was quite cold through December and January. I remember it was for four to six hours at a time. We used to hear jackals barking a lot at night. They used to come around the mess hall. It was fun to scare them by tossing a piece of brick at them. There would be only a spot of dust where they had been.
Wy First War Eexperience
Our plane, the Sad Sack, was called into action. The following is from the Billings, (Montana) newspaper. This best describes it. There were actually one hundred and twenty patches besides fuel tank changes.
"March 29,1943, pilot reviews Ran-goon raid. Crew counted 100 holes in plane. Lieutenant German, 24 year old heavy bomber pilot, left St. John's University, Collegeville, Mn. in April 1941 to join the United States Air Corps. He was ordered to Java in January of 1942, but Java fell before he could get there. He proceeded to Africa and spent four months there before coming to the India Theatre. He's the single son of Mr and Mrs Matt German of Oakes, N.D.
United States heavy bomber base somewhere in India "(delayed)" We weathered a terrific ack-ack barrage over Rangoon the other day and then seven Jap zeros jumped us. We were last in the formation and the zeros came at us when we were on our bombing run. They were below-above-behind-and in front of us, blasting with everything they had.
One of their first shot bursts shot out one of our nose guns. Second Lieutenant William L. Deck of Waynesburg, Georgia, bombardier, and 2nd Lt. Louis T. Hagen, 23, of Ray, N.D. were up there but escaped injury.
Another burst hit S/Sgt. Owen E. Gladd, 29, of Long Island, radio operator who was celebrating his birthday by going on the mission. The boy sure had courage! After he was hit, he joked and smiled at me a few minutes before he died.
Although outnumbered greatly, we gave the Japs plenty to worry about. Sgt. Kenneth Stocker, 25, of Aberdean, Washington, manning the tail turret, shot down the zero that got Gladd. S/Sgt Elfred F. Christen, 28, of New Orleans, firing from the top turret, drove them off again and again.
Two other gunners were wounded, but they were back on the job. S/Sgt Melvin J. Baker, 23, of Detroit, Michigan, was knocked unconscious when hit in the head. S/Sgt R. H. Dolph, 28, Denver, was wounded in the leg, but continued to operate the side and bottom guns until the japs left us.
Lieutenant Ray H. Burkhart, 26, of Monte Vista, Colorado, did a great job of taking care of the injured, besides acting as co-pilot.
I escaped injury, but my worst moment in more than a year foreign service came when the rudder controls jammed momentarily after a large portion of the rudder was shot off.
It was the first combat mission for the "Old Sack", our plane. I counted more than 100 holes in her when I got back on the ground. She's back in service now, getting even with the Japs."
note: the "Old Sack" is still the plane that Mike Daninger is so ably crewing. This was reproduced from the paper for his benefit?.
(End of Billings, Mt artucle.)
The Indians were still building a number of runways yet, which employed thousands of Indians. Women would come to work and sit all day breaking bricks that would take the place of rock and gravel to make a hard surface. When that was spread on the runway, they had what looked like about one ton rollers which thirty Indians would pull on ropes to pack the surface down. Sometimes they had what I thought was a steam powered roller to work with. The women would do most of the work, carrying the dirt in baskets on their heads. Sometimes it was carried as far as we would be able to throw it with a shovel. They were paid by the amount of dirt they would move in a day. They would leave the center of the hole at its normal height to give a measurement of the amount moved.
There was a bomb service group which had the job of loading the bombs. working one night, they came upon a large python snake on the runway. They ran over it with the bomb service truck and killed it. It measured seven feet, ten inches. One fellow had an Indian skin it out so he could keep the hide. Another time one fellow had a tiger pup tied in the barracks to his bedpost and another fellow had a mongoose tied to his. The mongoose got loose and killed the tiger pup.
We had beds that I believe the Indians made and we had mosquito nets we put over them to protect us from being bitten by the malaria mosquito. It was fastened on a pole to each corner of the bed and we had to tuck it in on all sides. it saved me from getting malaria.
We had an Indian who was called our barrier; he took care of making our beds and cleaning our shoes and general cleanup. The first ones name was Glab. We learned Hindustanie from him as he could speak English. He was a christian man and was very honest. The fellows had sent him to Karachi to buy some liquor, but when he got down there, he became ill with malaria and yellow jaundice which killed him. Before he died, he had another Indian bring all the fellows money back to them. We all missed him a lot, because we couldn't find another like him.
Some of the Indians used to take our clothes down to the near by river to wash them for us for a small amount of money. They would beat them on the rocks to get the dirt out. Our belt buckles were useless when they returned the clothes to us. One officer let an Indian take his clothes to wash them. When they were returned, He didn't find his tee shirt. He asked the Indian where the tee shirt was, and here the Indian had it on. "Me borrow it, sob," he said, "me wash mine".
We had some odd incidents happen; like the time we had finished our work and we were sitting by our plane. The crew chief had his helmet laying behind him, one rather awkward fellow got up and just as the crew chief said, "don't step on my helmet," he started balancing on one foot and then the other, and put his foot right into the middle of the helmet.
We experienced monsoon season, when the heavy rain would come.
During these times, there was very little flying. We had one plane sunk in the mud, it took us two weeks to jack it out of the mud. We tried to run it ahead a little bit, and down it went again! We began all over again. One afternoon the pilot on my plane was taxiing and slipped off the side of the cement road. One side wheel was stuck in the mud. There was at least twelve tons on that one fifty-six inch diameter wheel. We had a ten wheel service truck for that type of work. At first, it just slid the truck backward with the power winch pulling on the back of the truck. Then, they anchored a big kleetrack tractor in front of the truck. the one inch wire cable broke. Then a pulley block was put on the landing gear, and it was finally on the road again. All this was done after dark; being much cooler after sun down. When there was a job to be done, it made no difference what time of day it was.
One morning, I was called to get my plane off the runway at three am. It had a flat tire. a large rim made of aluminum alloy had broken into three pieces as they landed too hard at night. They used to get me out of bed early lots of times to start their little light plant engines for the mess hall. Any time a new single cylinder engine came to our squadron, I was the one who had to get it started.
One day I made an allen wrench for removing the allen screws that held the carburetors on the plane engine. They had missed up, not sending enough of them for us. we had each our own tool kit. I wish I could have brought mine home, but was not able to do so.
One of our main jobs was to change engines. Being fourteen cylinder engines, there were two sparkplugs on each cylinder; twenty-eight sparkplugs on each engine. The fastest we were able to do it was eight hours with five men. This job and many others went into the night, as it was just too hot during daytime. Other hard task were to change the fuel tanks, when they got holes shot into them. There were one hundred screws to remove before we had an opening under the wings, to remove the tanks. One then, had to go inside the tank to remove the braces inside that held it in shape. We surely did a lot of sweating!!!
Before every mission, we had to fill the plane's oxygen tanks. This usually took two large bottles of oxygen.
We were located at Daca, where it was a little cooler. We had a chance to visit a tea farm, where they were picking leaves, placing them into baskets. The leaves were then rolled onto wires to dry. This is where our orange pekoe tea comes from. it was most interesting to see.
I believe it was there that one of our planes blew a tire on takeoff. They tried to come in for a landing, the wheel caught fire and the entire plane burned. A couple of the fellows were so badly burnt and disfigured, that they wished they could have died.
We went to the horse races; that was quite funny! One of the riders fell from his horse and came walking back. It appeared to me, that any one of our horses at home would have beat all of them!
We had the opportunity to visit the Berhanpore steel mills. They were operating day and night. They had three places, like furnaces where you could see the metal was boiling like soup. We saw very hot metal pieces going through rollers making it into long flat pieces of metal. All was operated by electricity. you could hear the switches when they closed, sounded like shot guns being fired.
We were located at one place where there was a small spring of water coming out of a hillside. The Indians had circled it with bamboo poles close together and banked the ground on the outer side to make us a swimming pool, but the bamboo was green and it turned the water brown. It smelled very bad. Yet one of the Indian boys dipped a hollow piece of bamboo into it and had himself a drink! We opened the side of the pool, let the water out, and then we had fresh clean water. Some of the fellows had heat rash; they would go there at night to take a cold bath, but as they would start to sweat again, they would itch something awful! I had heat rash too, but as soon as we got hot water to shower with, it was all done with; nobody had heat rash any more.
Some places where we were it was so hot that we would have to take a towel to bed at night to wipe sweat running down our necks. One afternoon when the planes come in, we had to refuel right away. I put a ladder against the wing to get up on it and I could not touch the wing, for it was so hot when I did get on the wing, I had to keep lifting my feet as they were burning through the leather soles. We had to fill one or two thousand gallons in the plane at one time. Then we had to check the oil tanks. They held about thirty nine gallons on each engine; number ninety oil.
Another fire happened when one fellow was cleaning his guns in the tail portion of the plane. He was using gasoline and another fellow was operating a vacuum cleaner, it ignited the gas.
It burnt the tail off the plane before they got it out. But it wasn't long before the repair group had it all rebuilt back onto the plane again.
May 19th, 1943, I was flown to Jar-hat to work with the air transport command, where they were hauling supplies. August 19th, I came back to Bishnupur on Major Bissel's plane, a C47. We moved to several different places as time passed, Panagar, Madagange, and Tezgaon.
B-24 #73, flying over the hump. Painting is from the personal collection of Mike Daninger.
B-24 #73 was one of the planes under Mike Daninger's care. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger
#73 Over the Hump to China
Finally, I was sent into China where we were moving gasoline for the Indian AirForce. These planes would bring back lead and tungsten, which is a very hard metal, used a lot for ignition points. We had to replace a lot of regulators for the generators on the engines. They seemed to cause the loss of many planes.
One evening a B24 was taking off with a load of bombs, and one engine caught fire and they downed the plane too fast; one fellow was pinned under the top gun turret, another was pinned between the bombs in the bomb bay. All of a sudden, the bombs exploded and blew it all to pieces. It made a hole about four to five feet deep.
We had an awful time trying to dry clothes or towels. The Chinese kids were always around the tents stealing them. They would then sell them on the black market.
One day, while in China, there was thirty-two B29's came into our runway to pick up a little more fuel to get back to its home base. I understood that Ray Tolzmann of Forest Lake, MN was a pilot on one of the planes. Speaking to him years later, he did recall that time. I did not get to see him, being that near to each other in China, (half a world away).
I spent Christmas in China that year. I remember Tokyo Rose had told us they were going to bomb us that Christmas Eve, but they didn't.
We had made a number of trips into the town of Luliang, China. There were a lot of interesting things we saw. The first was the crippled feet of the old ladies, who, in youth, had their feet bound so they wouldn't grow large. Now they were walking with the support of canes. We saw burial spots most everywhere, they buried their dead on their own property. A dead woman was laying in a hallowed out log along the way into town. There were rocks on the roads, they used them as stepping stones. They were worn down in the center from the number of feet that had stepped on them.
Arriving at the town, it was walled; we entered through a gate. A number of shops lined the street; there were two little children there. They had been taught English and they were able to tell their parents what we wanted. It assured them that they did a good business! Food was fairly good; we were able to get a wine; una wine. I don't know what it was made of, but it was fairly good.
About the middle of January, 1944 we returned to India. we were at fifteen thousand feet on the return run that night, and we were only at twelve thousand feet going up to china, during the day.
Back in India, I had the opportunity to go to rest camp. that was up at Darjeeling, Nepal. Roy Gray and I went together, along with others whom i have forgotten. we went by regular rail, until we came to the Hymalaya Mountains, then it was a little steam engine, just a four wheel engine and passenger and box cars, similar to a regular train. The track was twelve inches wide. Roy and I were able to sit side by side.
It climbed the steepest grades of any outside of the cog tracks. Sometimes we would back up on a "z" and then start up again. Two Indians were standing on the front of the engine to watch the track ahead. One Indian stood at the back to turn on the brakes when needed. The rains had washed out the earth underneath the tracks, so we had to get off and let the engineer run over that area, then we reboarded.
When we got to our destination, there was no fresh milk. We had to wait until the next morning. I drank a quart before breakfast and another two cups with breakfast. This was the first fresh whole milk we had since we left the States. We heard there was an Englishman who furnished the town of Darjeeling with milk and meat. We visited his business and he had hogs on cement floors enclosed with cement walled pens. His barn was nice, equipped with Louden barn equipment made in Wisconsin. He was getting thirty cents a quart for his milk. here in the States, at that time, it was ten cents.
We were at seven thousand seven hundred feet above sea level. You could see down below and see the tea trees. On a partly cloudy day, you see a cloud down below and all of a sudden, it was a big fog over us, then instantly it was gone.
When we arrived at Darjeeling, the commander told us if we met any English fellows we liked, we were free to bring them to the mess hall for a meal. The poor English have three different ranks; the poor private whom we had met, the sergeants and the top rank. We brought this young fellow in to eat. he surely did feel great, and it made us feel good to see how much he enjoyed it.
One Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to go to Tiger Hill, by horseback. At six a.m., with a pair of binoculars, we looked at Mount Everest. this was the 20th of August, 1944. The snow was blustering down the side of it, as if it were a cold day in January here in Minnesota. We were some seventy-five miles from the mountain. Most of the Himalaya Mountains are gray barren rock with no trees. The elevation is too high.
When we were at Darjeeling, we saw men sawing lumber by hand. One end of the log rested on the hillside, the other end on a scaffold to hold it. This way, one man could work underneath, on the other end of the saw. When they got a couple of boards cut, one man would tie them together. He then, would put them on his back with a headband on his forehead to support them on his back, and he'd walk to town to sell his work, at a little church up there where I attended Mass. the Priest had an old man, about seventy-five years assisting as altar server.
We rode the little train back down the mountain until we boarded the larger train. They put the little engine backward ahead of the coaches and let the train cars push against the engine. The brakeman on the back was helping to let down the grade slowly.
It was good to get away from it all for the two weeks, but when we got down to where we were sweating again, we could feel the miserable heat rash again.
I met a priest at the train station, and he told me he was Father Monahan from Alaska. It was quite a change in climate for him!
When I got back to our squadron, I took the task of driving our Catholic chaplain around to other squadrons to offer mass. our chaplain was Father Sweeny, who became the head of chaplains in Washington, D. C. after the war. I was present at his last Mass which he offered at the St. Paul, MN cathedral. it surprised him and the other priest who were there to know we had been together in India.
Shortly after getting back to my squadron, I was appointed as the maintenance crew chief on the plane on which I had been working. I remember Roy Gray and Gordon Edleberg were on my crew. they were really good at their work. but like always, there were some that were useless.
Mass was offered every morning by Father Sweeney; so the first thing I thought of was to attend Mass and ask the Lord for His help.
It wasn't long before most of the crews wanted my plane. I told them I knew that I had their nine lives on my hands when they took off.
I remember one incident when a crew came out to go and they felt unsafe that night. Their first statement was, "Mike, can't you find something wrong with that plane, so we don't have to go tonight?" "Yes," I told them, "the pilots compass was not working."
This prevented them from taking it. that was surely a happy bunch of men. they jumped in the jeep and headed back to their barracks. There was a specialist in that type of repair. I got him to take care of that job.
Mike and his crew (Mike 3rd from left, standing).
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger
Another World -- Unusual Things!!
In a particular area where we were, there was a type of lizard that was about three feet long. It was an insect eating creature. There were also a lot of small ones that would crawl over-head in our barracks. They chirped like a little bird.
There also were a lot of termites; so many, that if you left a canvas on the ground for two days, it would be so full of holes that it was useless.
Railroad ties were made of iron, because of the termites. They would also eat wooden ties. Telephone poles were also iron, for the same reason.
We also experienced large birds, turkey buzzards. There were scavengers that eat dead animals.
Many Different Caste
In Bbombay there was a caste who believed that nothing should go to waste. They had the Tower of Silence, where they would put their dead. It had three entrances; one entrance for the men, one for the women and one for children. Bodies of the dead were put there for the birds to eat the flesh from the bones, then the bones were put into the Ganges River (and on out to the ocean).
Here were some who buried in graves: covering with bamboo sticks with just small amounts of dirt. that would fall in as the bamboo rotted away. There was no special cemeteries, burial was on their own grounds.
Many different languages, causes confusion. You would understand in one area, but moving to another area: it would be another language.
Newspapers carried advertisements for husbands or wives: marriages were arranged by the parents. often, the couples would have not seen each other until the act of marriage.
Cows are a religious element in India. They were allowed to roam through out the city. Poor people would pick up the dung, put it into a basket, and carry it home for fuel. It would be plasted against their huts to dry.
Map of China with location of Mike's unit.
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger.
Even the Trees Were Different!
In some places, there was very little wood, yet in other places there would be quite a variety. There were different types of bamboo, tall ones and shorter types. The banyon tree can have five or six trunks. Teak wood is very hard wood. this was used in ship building and for carving. I came home with a mug of teakwood, lined with a shell casing. I also brought home a teak wood elephant. The banana tree had such long leaves on it. The wild orange fruit was of no value. The breadfruit tree produces a large fruit like a watermelon. It's outside is rather beaded, rather than smooth. Seeds are on the inside and they usually burst when they fall from the tree. Birds soon have them all eaten. The mango tree bears fruit about the size of a pear. It has a piney taste, for which I did not care. Some of the fellows really liked them.
The Big Fire
One afternoon, our gasoline service truck was filling their tank from fifty-five gallon drums when their pump was leaking around the drive shaft seal, I suppose, and being that it was powered by a gasoline engine, it caught fire. There had been a hundred seventy-five thousand gallons and eleven carloads of bombs on the railroad side track. what a fire that was! Two boys finally put the fire out, only after it had burned the tires and all off of the truck. I understood that it was thirty or fourty years before they got a medal for their heroism.
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger
(Photo developed in India)
My Elephant Ride
Eearly one morning, an Indian came along on a road by our barracks. He stopped to see if anyone wanted a ride. He made the elephant get down and he then held the end of the elephants tail to make a loop for us to step in and we made it to the elephants back. We rode a short distance and with the elephant down, we disembarked. We tossed coins called annas on the ground and the elephant picked them up with the end of his trunk and handed them to his master, then up on its back. It was amazing that it could pick up coins about the size of a dime (of our money).
Passing Time - Studying
My second year in India, we were offered a chance to take any coarse of study we would like. cost was only two dollars, so I took to learning how a diesel engine operated. I got the entire coarse with twenty manuals for the two dollars. it was so hot all the time, I had to put a towel over the paper to keep the perspiration from soaking in. It took me a year to complete the coarse. At exam time, I passed with eighty-five percent. As I was the only one who knew something about diesel engines, the commanding officer had me write a explanation on why a diesel light plant engine broke its block.
Changing a plane engine
Mike, Gordon Edelberg & Evans
(Photo courtesy of Mrs. Florence Daninger)
The last week I was over there, I had an engine on a plane to change. We got our replacement engines from the Bangalore air depot. I noticed the first one, had a flaw in the casting by the carburetor. I called the engineering officer to look at it. He rejected it. The next one we received we got on the plane, but when we tried to start it, it made one big bang on the inside. This was it for this one. That was replaced; Roy Gray took over after me, as I had received my orders to go home.
Leaving Overseas Service
My dad had passed on, the 16th of March, 1945. I told the commander of it and that I should get home, as I had business to take care of at home. He kept this in his mind and when he found an opportunity to send two of the older fellows home, he put me in as one of them. Returning to the barracks one afternoon, one of the men told me I was wanted over at headquarters. Not knowing what was up, I took off in a jeep to see what it was about. to my amazement, there were my orders to go home!
With a boost in rank from sergeant to staff sergeant. I was to fly, with a number two priority. the commander told me, "I tried to get you more, but that was the best I could do". That last night at the squadron area where we were waiting to see a show, they called out over the loud speaker.
"We are losing one of our best crew chiefs, give him a big hand, Mike Daninger!" Right there and then, I knew the Lord has helped me, as I had asked when I took over the management of that plane. The next day, I was taken to another base where there was a group of us to leave. We were to leave the next morning. About ten o'clock that last night, I was awakened by a loud blast and a fire. A plane was taking off for a bombing mission and it blew up as it was taking off. I was told that the largest piece of human flesh they found was a headless body. the fire had set the buildings around the area afire. I've always suspected that part of the problem was that you had to enter the plane from the under-side, near the bomb bay doors, and at night you weren't very aware of what you were taking a hold of.
The bomb fuses were kept inactive by a piece of wire holding the fuses, until the bomb was dropped. that wire could have easily been pulled in the dark.
The next morning I and another fellow from our squadron joined a few others, got on board a B24 and took off for Karachi, Pakistan. Passing over Agra, we had good view of the Taj Mahal which is built of white marble and is considered to be one of the world's most beautiful buildings.
It was begun in 1623, as the tomb for the most favorite wife of Shah Jahan. We arrived in Karachi and had lunch there. It was a big surprise to meet a fellow there whom I had shaken hands with two weeks earlier. I had told him that "I may pass you up on the way home." "I'll be dog gone," he said, "I've been stuck here two weeks".
I was off shortly, in a C46 and headed for Abadan, Persia (now Iran). Here I bought a copper plate with a map of Persia (Iran) on it. I don't recall sleeping at all, but we were soon off for Cairo, Egypt. We flew over the Dead Sea of Jerusalem and all the Holy lands. as we approached Cairo, I saw camels pulling rubber tired wagons loaded as high as they could load them. One camel per wagon. I was outranked once by another officer, but was on the next plane going out. This took us over North Africa, making short stops at Bengasis, Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers. We saw the bomb craters in the Libyan desert from Romel and his army, as they were driven out of Africa. We landed in Casabllanca, Marocco. From here we went to the Azora Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean). Here we were familiarized with life jackets, as we boarded a DC3, a four engine plane headed for Gander, Newfoundland. We departed about three a. m. and were in Gander about one p.m. a nine hour flight, provided time for a shave. Dinner was served here and next stop would be New York! We set down at Laguardia Airport (now JFK) that same afternoon. The trip was uneventful, we just watched the waves below us. We saw a great number of fjords on the coast of newfoundland.
Back in the States
This was an occasion I shall never forget! We headed for Grand Central Station in New York. We would leave via train the next morning. There were numbers of young fellows here also, who had just gotten back from overseas. One played the piano and sang. others followed. It was "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louie, Meet Me at the Fair. Don't tell me the lights are shining any place but there."
The juke box was going strong! Much to one old duffers dislike, he said he'd had a hard day at the office! No one paid any attention to him ------- we just enjoyed ourselves.
The next day we arrived in Chicago: breakfast was great! We were able to get fried corn meal mush!
Soon we were on board again, Winona, MN was our destination and then on to St. Paul, MN. Brother Sabin was there to meet me. What a reunion! I had been given a thirty day delay in route, as I later reported to recuperation center in Santa Anna, CA.
When I got to Santa Anna, I received another two weeks of what was called a ration and a half, which meant just a lot of good eating and entertainment. It was now July, 1945. I visited Olivera Street, which was near the depot. It is a typical Mexican street and very interesting. A person playing a harp, was doing it for every ones enjoyment. After we finished at the recuperation center, we were told what was waiting for us. One item I have never forgotten, was the commander saying that if anyone wanted to go golfing, we were to say so and the staff car would be at our command. Usually the staff car is for top rank or the commander only.
Another day, a young lady in charge of entertainment had a bus pick us up and took us into Los Angeles. We saw Capistrano, where the swallows return each St. Joseph Day (March 19th). Workers were still uncovering parts of the old mission which had been destroyed and covered by the earthquake many years ago. Many people were feeding pigeons; they were so tame that they would sit on you.
We were then taken to the Stage-door Canteen. Here we were waited on at our tables by actors and actresses. I have a card signed by Rita Hayworth, Edgar Bergen, and Frances Parsons.
My two weeks of fun came to an end when I was sent to Clovis, New Mexico. I had already gained ten pounds in the two weeks. This was a B29 base, and being a staff sergeant, they wanted to know if i wanted a crew chief job. If I would not lose my rank, I told them, "No, I didn't want it". They then assigned me to a crew that had a corporal serving as crew chief. It seemed he didn't feel he could tell a staff sergeant what to do, so I did nothing! I was on the night shift, so I could slip off to the mess hall to grab something to eat any time I wanted to.
I believe this was about the time that the big bombs (atomic), were being dropped on Japan. Aug.,'45. Soon now we could count our points to see when we would be discharged.
I remember a B29, that had something wrong with it, which caused trouble with landing on a runway. So they set it down on a plowed field at the side of the runway. The crew was fine, only one fellow with a few scratches. I never did hear how they got it out of the field, but most likely they had to take it apart.
Soon I had the correct number of points and was sent to Camp Mccoy, Wisconsin, near Sparta. A sign reading "the real mccoy", greeted us. I was standing in line at the post exchange and a fellow soldier thought I looked familiar. What a surprise! It was my brother-in-law, Russell Peterson's twin brother, Ray. We had seen each other when I was home in July on the thirty day delay in route. We spent time together before he left the day before I did.
There was a fellow soldier, whose name they had trouble pronouncing. To my surprise, when I got home, here he was rooming at my brother, Sabin's home in South St. Paul.
September 18th, 1945 was my discharge date, with three years, eight months, and thirteen days in service! Receiving it, I had my picture taken with it and was very soon off to take the train home. we were taken into Sparta, where several others were going to board also. One young lady from service too, was boarding with two large suitcases. I asked if she needed help and she gladly accepted my offer. She got on first and found seats for both of us. There was a civilian lady standing at my side and I asked the service lady if I should give up the seat. "Oh, let her stand, it will do her good," she said. Next stop was Winona, MN and then on to St. Paul, MN.
This was then end of my trip around the world! What an experience to have and thanks to the Lord, for my safe keeping all the way!
----- Mike Daninger
We Bombed That Bridge -- the Bridge Over the River Kwai
by Charles F. "Curley" Linamen
The following story was printed in October, 2005 in the magazine entitled: "CBI Roundup" (CBI stands for China, Burma, India).
It was written by the pilot, Mr. Charles F. Linamen, in one of the planes dispatched to bomb the bridges over the River Kwai.
This story is an account of one of the bomber crews that were assigned to the bomb squadron that Mike Daninger belong to and and worked as a crew chief.
We Bombed That Bridge -- The Bridge Over the River Kwai
Mike's unit: 10th Air Force, 7th Bomb Group, 436th Bomb Squadron markings
B-24J Similar to the ones that Mike Daninger worked on
" He passed as he had lived,
peacefully, with dignity and grace."
Mr. Michel "Mike" S. Daninger
6 March 2006
Entered Service: St. Paul, MN
10th Air Force, 7th Bomb Group, 436th Bomb Squadron
World War II Veteran
United States Army Air Corps
A Special Tribute to Mike Daninger... GRANDPA'S HANDS 1916 ~ 2006
Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have. How they have served you well through out your years.
Grandpa's hands, though wrinkled, shriveled and weak have been the tools he used all his life to reach out and grab and embrace life. They braced and caught a toddler's fall as they crashed upon the floor or down the stairs. They put food in mouths and clothes upon backs. These hands taught us to fold ours in prayer. These hands tied shoes and pulled on boots. They dried the tears of childhood and caressed the Love of his life.
They held his rifle and wiped his tears as he went off to war. They have been dirty, scraped and raw, swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when holding his newborn sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-granddaughter.
A wedding band he never wore, yet he loved someone special. These hands wrote letters home and trembled and shook when he buried his parents and when he walked daughters down the aisle.
Yet, they were strong and sure when he repaired planes in India. And too, the machinery on his beloved farm for years. They have held children, consoled neighbors, and shook in fist of anger when injustice he saw. These hands have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw. And when not much of anything else works for him, these hands held him up, laid him down, and again continued to fold in prayer. These hands are the mark of where he's been and the ruggedness of life.
But more importantly it was these hands that God has reached out and taken, leading him home. And with these hands He will lift him to His side and Grandpa will use these hands to touch the face of Christ.
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
10th Air Force, 7th Bomb Group
7th Bomb Group Home Page
7th Bombardment Group
436th Bombardment Squadron
USAF Aircraft Serial Number Search
USAF Aircraft Serial Number Search Help
World War II Causality Search
National World War II Memorial
The materials depicted on this page were reprinted with kind permission of Mrs. Florence Daninger.
We, at the World War II Stories - In Their Own Words web site wish to offer to Mrs. Florence Daninger our most profound THANK YOU for sharing her late husband, Michal "Mike" S. Daninger memories of his experiences -- during World War II. We will always be grateful for Mr. Daninger's contributions to the war effort and to the countless other men and women who put forth their "finest hour".
Original story transcribed from e-mail notations received beginning 14 April 2006.
Story added to website 16 April 2006.
September 5, 2002.
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