EDITOR’S NOTE: The following feature series profiles Ellis County veterans killed in the line of service to their country during the 20th century.
The features, researched and written by Perry Giles, are read in first-person voice by area students during the annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony as a special way to remember and pay tribute to our friends, classmates and neighbors who gave their lives for our freedom.
“We Were Soldiers Once and Young” will appear every Sunday in the Daily Light through Veterans Day.
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Roscoe Wilson. All my friends call me Buddy. I grew up on the Skinner ranch and Singleton farm near Mountain Peak. I went to school in Mt. Peak, Midlothian and later at Milford.
I joined the Army Air Corps and trained in Dallas at a place called Love Field. That’s where I met Gene Autry; he was training there, too. We also trained in Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona.
There were exercises in day and night flights, cross-country navigation, simulated bomb runs, aerial-gunnery practice, and squadron and group formation flying. It seems to me that I was now part of something big. I don’t recall ever feeling this important back home.
In May of ‘44, they sent us the northern route to England by way of New Hampshire, Labrador, Iceland, Northern Ireland, and then onto Wales. Finally we were stationed at RAF Debach airfield, 10 miles northwest of Woodbridge in Suffolk County, England. Our airfield, built by an Engineer Battalion, had only been completed a few weeks before we arrived.
I served as a Tech Sergeant radio operator with the 862nd heavy bombardment squadron, 493rd Bomber Group attached to the 8th Air Force.
Our bomber group was the last one to become operational before the invasion. The first combat mission of the 493rd came on the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944. When we got our mission briefing, there was this buzz of anticipation. … Oh man, this is really it! The waiting is finally over. We are going to war.
We were read General Eisenhower’s proclamation that morning, “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. … Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!”
That speech just kind of left me with a big lump in my throat. I sure didn’t want to be the guy that lets anyone down.
In the excitement of that morning, we all cheered the news of the invasion. Everybody on the base seemed motivated by the release from mere practice.
I was actually glad that the waiting was over, but all the same, breakfast was not very enjoyable, the powdered eggs weren’t very appetizing this morning. Coffee and toast were about all I could stomach. Everybody’s nerves were just on edge I reckon.
Three squadrons of our new B-24H Liberators, for the first time fully loaded with bombs, formed up and flew southeastward to attack the German airfield at Liseaux, France. The first aircraft got airborne at 0637, but bad weather made assembly extra difficult. The assembly of 36 large planes into an organized flight of lead, high, and low squadrons is simple in concept and complex in actually doing. It took longer than normal but we finally got the 3rd squadron, the high squadron to join the group formation.
In the dark dawn sky, our group leader fired red-and-green flares to help the others in the flight to recognize their leader. After all the planes had reached altitude and pulled up in formation, we continued to circle until it was time to take our appointed place in the Eighth Air Force bomber stream heading for the continent.
It was crowded flying over the English Channel that morning, very crowded. There were so many airplanes on this mission; it was really something to see. Our planes were wing-tip to wing-tip for as far as you could see. And down below there were hundreds and hundreds of warships heading in the same direction. Man oh man, what a site to behold. It was truly an awesome thing to witness.
I kept a close ear on the radio, listening for any signal. Of course, we were on strict radio silence. There was time to sit and think. … time to reflect. I was nervous about the mission, but I wouldn’t say that I was scared. This was going to be a big day in history, so we were told, and I was so ready to do my part.
After making the flight over enemy territory all the way to our objective, we were all disappointed to see that cloud cover completely covered the target, making it impossible to drop our bombs. There was nothing we could do but abort the mission because we couldn’t bomb blind. It was a terrible letdown; we had trained so long and hard for this day.
We were flying back to base at 11,000 feet, just above the cloud deck. I scanned the radio closely for any news, any word at all. We were all anxious to know how the invasion was going down below us.
Without any warning, there was an unexpected jolt! A loud noise, something I had never heard before, it didn’t feel right. All of the sudden, our plane went out of control in a hard downward spin. There was no chance to get out. … We spiraled down for what seemed like minutes; down into the channel, all 10 of us.
It was a Tuesday, the 6th of June, and I was 23 years old.
They never found us. My name is on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery in Saint James, France.
We were Airmen once, and young.
Perry Giles serves as co-chair of the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Committee. The 2013 countywide tribute to veterans is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Waxahachie Civic Center followed by a wreath presentation at the Ellis County Veterans Memorial located in front of the center.