Brookline War Memorial
Pete M. Patterson

Sgt. Pete Patterson
U.S. Army Air Corps (1942-1945)

Pete Patterson

United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)

Imagine being in the nose of an unheated B-24 bomber, flying at 21,000 feet over Romania, a most dangerous place to be in May of 1944. The temperature in the aircraft is twenty-five degrees below zero, and the only protection from the elements is a sheet of Plexiglas, a thin layer of aluminum and an electrically heated flying suit.

Breathing oxygen through a rubber mask and wearing goggles, movement is hindered by the cramped space, thick flight suit, and the bulky 50-caliber machine guns pointing menacingly towards the horizon. As anti-aircraft shells burst all around, the threat of enemy fighter planes has the crew's nerves on a frenzied edge.

This is what it was like for Brookline's Pete Patterson, a nose gunner flying a mission against the heavily defended Ploesti oil fields on May 18, 1944. It was Pete's first mission, and as he steadied his nerves, a bitter reality set in. If he survived, there were forty-nine such missions to go before he could "Go Home."

Pete M. Patterson was born on October 10, 1922. His family lived on the lower side of Edgebrook Avenue until his teen years, then moved to Plateau Street in Carrick. After high school, Pete worked at A.M. Byers Company, a pipe mill on the South Side.

The crew of the B24 Liberator 'Worry Bird'.
The crew of the B24 Liberator "Worry Bird." Pete Patterson is top row, second from the left.

Along with his brother and a few friends, Pete signed up for the Marines shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, 1941. While waiting to be "called up", he was drafted into the Army instead, and left for duty in December 1942.

After boot camp, Pete was selected for the Army Air Corps and sent to Texas for Aircraft Engine Maintenance School. While there, he was chosen for Aerial Gunnery School and assigned to Tyndall Field in Florida for training. Eventually he was assigned to a crew as a nose gunner.

Their plane was a B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber that they christened "Worry Bird." They flew to an airfield near Foggia, Italy, in April 1944, to become part of the 15th Air Force. The tour would last six months, until October 4, 1944.

The 15th Air Force was responsible for bombing railway networks in southeast Europe in support of Soviet military operations in Romania. Throughout the summer of 1944, Austrian aircraft manufacturing centers at Wiener Neustadt were bombed and oil producing centers were attacked. The Fifteenth also attacked targets in preparation for Operation Anvil, the invasion of Southern France.

Pete recalls how poor the Italians were, and how the retreating Germans had destroyed the villages and took most of the food with them. His crew helped a young boy by having him do errands while they supplied food and clothing for his family.

B24 Liberator Heavy Bomber
A B24 Liberator Heavy Bomber.

While on a seven-day break, after twenty missions, he went to the Isle of Capri and had a picture of his "sweetheart" (later to be his wife) painted on the back of his leather flight jacket. It cost $20 and six Hershey bars.

During his tour in Italy, Pete kept a log called "A GUNNERS LIFE," where he recorded his feelings and some facts on each mission. From May 18, 1944 until October 4, 1944, Pete spent 240 tense hours in the air flying a total of forty-two missions, which equaled fifty because several "highly dangerous sorties" counted as double missions.

These were flights over places deep in Germany like Munich and Friedrichshafen, and four bombing runs over the Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania, which had a huge concentration of anti-aircraft weapons and large formations of fighters as protection. The dangers were enormous.

Some large-scale missions involved over 800 bombers doing formation bombing. If a plane was hit and went out of control, it risked flying into another bomber and they would both go down. Sometimes the bombers would receive a direct hit on their munitions and blow up like a "puff of confetti."

Others drifted out of control and went downward in tight spirals until they hit the ground. Pete and his crew members would watch these aircraft go down and try to count the parachutes to determine who managed to "get out."

Meanwhile enemy fighters were attacking "out of the sun" and in a flash would riddle their aircraft with bullets. An alarming number of bombers were lost. By staying in formation, some safety was afforded from enemy fighters, but if a bomber lost an engine and fell behind, the German fighters would pick them apart.

B24 Liberator Heavy Bombers over Ploesti.
B24 Liberator Heavy Bombers in formation over Ploesti, Romania.

Pete is not sure how he managed to survive while others were lost. He had some narrow escapes, and still keeps a jagged piece of metal as a reminder. The flack shrapnel came through his position and knocked his headset off it's resting place.

In his log, he writes, "If my head was turned the other way, I wouldn't be here to write this." Twice his aircraft was so badly damaged they had to throw everything they could out the door to get the weight down so they would stay in the air.

Each time they landed, they would count the holes in the airplane and make "nervous jokes" about surviving the mission. Still, some crews were killed on their very last mission, and that fact haunted everyone as they counted down to their final one.

After receiving fifty mission credits, Pete wrote, "I'm about the happiest guy in the Air Force. What a feeling to know that I am all through. Boy, I could jump up and down, I think I will!"

Pete's jubilation was short lived, for the war was not yet over. He was sent to a training base in Colorado to prepare for the Invasion of Japan. Pete recalls driving his 1941 Oldsmobile, for fun, up Pike's Peak.

Luckily, the War in the East ended and Pete Patterson was discharged on September 26, 1945. During his career in the Army Air Corps, Pete earned quite a collection of medals, commendations and Campaign Ribbons.

A stronger, more aware, and determined Pete returned home to marry his Brookline sweetheart, Cecelia Mancuso. The newlyweds bought a house on Creedmoor Avenue and raised two children, Kathy and Michael. Pete has led a busy life working at "The Mill," doing painting and maintenance work, and golfing.

Sgt. Pete Patterson, war veteran, avid golfer and retired steelworker, made his home in Brookline until his passing on April 19, 2018, joining his late-wife Cecilia. Pete was survived by his daughters Kathleen and Donna, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

* Information mostly obtained from The Brookline newsletter, May 2012 issue - Written by Dan Kaczmarski *

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Brookline Veteran's Park - April 26, 2014.

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