Traveler, writer, reviewer, all-round observer. I like anything cool & fast, but occasionally sit at a cafe watching the world go by.
Activated in 1943, the 13th Air Force is considered as one of the oldest, continuously active numbers in the branch, and has never been stationed in the continental United States. At the age of 22, Roscoe Loper joined the Army Air Corps, and was assigned to the 13th as a Radio Operator and Waste Gunner of a B-24 bomber in the Pacific theater of the war. “I did 1 year of training states-side in 1942 before being sent overseas. After my tour, I was sent back to the states for a year before my discharge in September, 1945.”
Since its introduction in 1941, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber was the most produced military aircraft in American history with a staggering number of over 19,000. The B-24’s popularity was due to its faster airspeed, longer range, and heavier bomb load than anything at the time. “During my time overseas, we were on bombing missions every other day.” Emphasizing the number of times he and his crew went up, Roscoe repeated those words, “Every other day.” Although there were missions every day, taking turns going up with other squadrons, he and his crew survived more than 50 missions over enemy territory in the Solomon Islands, New Britain, New Ireland, New Guinea, Central Pacific, and Bismarck Archipelago. “I shot down 2 confirmed Jap planes, and 3 unconfirmed. I know they went down, but they were considered unconfirmed.”
Despite the horrors and risks involved while fighting in a war, he did whatever he had to do. “I even operated the ball turret once!” He said quite proudly. “The turret gunner refused to go down there one time. Our pilot, Lieutenant Scott, kept ordering and yelling at him ‘Get down there! We got incoming, we need you now!’ He just wouldn’t go -he had a bad feeling about it. So I chimed in the mic that I’ll go.” When I asked him about that experience, all he said was, “It was a very tight squeeze in the ball, but I did what had to be done.”
Having heard stories about flight crews becoming like a tight-knit family, my next question was if he still kept in touch with his. “Out of all of them, I became real close with our pilot. Lt. Hugh Scott. Scotty was an incredible B-24 pilot. He’d put us into maneuvers a few times to avoid flak or attacking aircraft. Sideways even!” He described it showing his hand mimicking a B-24 turning to a 90-degree angle. “One time I yelled out, ‘Oh no, we’re going in!’ But he always brought us home.” Out of the 5 planes Roscoe shot down, he owes one of them to Scotty. As they were being attacked during a mission-run, Roscoe couldn’t get a good aim, so Scotty lifted the nose of the B-24 and he got the shot.
“Scotty and I kept in touch after the war. Even came over for dinner many times. It’s been 20 years since I’ve last seen him.” Roscoe’s daughter told me that one of his wishes is to know whatever happened to Scotty, whether he passed away or is still alive. It seems to be his family’s wish as well, as they all feel indebted to him bringing Roscoe and his crew back mission after mission.
As a few vintage WWII aircraft flew by us during the air show, he continued to tell me a couple of more stories. “One time we got hit pretty bad. I called out to Scotty about it but he didn’t believe me. I called out again, ‘Come to the back. Come to the back.'” As Scotty came to meet Roscoe in the back of their B-24, what they saw surprised both of them. A Japanese fighter had done more damage than they both realized. “Scotty looked at me and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me our tail got shot off! I better go back to fly the plane!'”
His next story described their caring nature and willingness to sacrifice everything to ensure the safety of others. “Coming back from a mission, another B-24 crew got shot down over the water. There’s no telling when they’d get rescued so we kept flying around above them.” When Roscoe’s crew couldn’t stay because of their fuel, they threw everything they had into the water for them. “We didn’t have much. Just whatever supplies we could find. All our drinking water, life vests, emergency supplies. Everything. It’s all we can do for them.”
A little later, Roscoe’s granddaughter told me that years ago someone had asked him, “If your country calls on you again, what would you do?” His answer was straight forward, “I was proud to wear the ‘silver wings’ and Sergeant stripes.” That’s an obvious yes.
By the end of the war and his discharge, Staff Sgt. Roscoe Loper had earned the Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters (the Oak Leaf Clusters were in lieu of additional Air Medals) for meritorious achievement while participating in sustained combat operational missions; the Distinguished Unit Citation (a Presidential Citation); Asiatic Pacific Service Medal; Good Conduct Medal; and the NY State Conspicuous Service Cross with 2 Clusters.
With their risks and sacrifices, it’s no doubt about it, they are ‘The Greatest Generation’ this nation has ever had.