Traveler, writer, reviewer, all-round observer. I like anything cool & fast, but occasionally sit at a cafe watching the world go by.
In my interview with Martin Weinstein, he’s talked about his final mission before returning back home, and his experience during the post-WWII era of the 40’s and 50’s. Having joined the war effort to stop Nazi Germany at the young age of 19, Martin survived 47 harrowing missions in a B-17 bomber over Europe. 71 years later, at the experience-rich age of 92, Martin shares his war stories with me…
Aki Solomos: I remember you telling me when we met that you were on 47 missions in a matter of 5 months.
Martin Weinstein: Yes.
Aki: That’s phenomenal. It’s practically a mission every 3 days.
Martin: Yeah. That’s what we did. It wasn’t phenomenal for the time. As far as I knew, everybody was flying missions like that. Obviously, I didn’t go up by myself -there were times when 700 airplanes get into the sky.
Aki: Were you also part of the Kassel mission?
Martin: No, I didn’t. I was flying missions at that time, but not there.
Aki: Oh right -Kassel was an 8th Air Force mission. It nearly wiped them out during one of those runs.
Martin: That happened to us but it was the Remagen aerodrome. We lost 14 of 16 airplanes in our squadron. But you have to understand how the bombings were done. If you’re going to get 700 airplanes in the air all flying in one direction and all flying in formation, that’s going to take you four hours over your own territory. You keep flying around in circles, and each time you fly around, a group joins in and adds itself to your group.
There’s three parts to an airplane raid. There’s getting all the planes together –preparing for the raid. Then there’s the return part -coming back from the mission. And in between, there’s 20 minutes of activity. Most of the time in the mission, you’re flying over your own territory.
Aki: So, it’s those 20 minutes when your life’s on the line.
Aki: Besides Remagen, what other missions have you done?
Martin: I did Ploesti three times -the oil fields there. I celebrated my 20th birthday by flying a mission on August 19, 1944 to a place called Ploesti – which I didn’t know about at the time. I was really dumb.
As I explain in my autobiography, when you go into this room to be briefed on the mission, you walk through a long hallway, and you sit down. And just as they did in the movie Twelve O’Clock High, the Major goes over to a map board with a string, lifts the string up to the target. So, one end of the string is where we are in Foggia, and then the line goes up this way to where we’re gonna be. As he revealed the target, you hear the voices, “Oh no.” “Where is it?” “Ploesti!”
All around me, the guy’s cried out, “Oh, no. Not Ploesti!” The Germans had 600 guns at Ploesti, and they shot the crap out of us every time we went there. So now, everybody’s panicking. My first mission was Ploesti. I never heard of it, and I was too dumb to be scared. It had nothing to do with bravery.
Aki: It’s just ignorance. You didn’t know.
Martin: I just didn’t know what it meant to be scared.
Judy Weinstein: Did he tell you about the electric suit?
Aki: No, I haven’t heard about it. What electric suit?
Martin: On my 15th mission, the Air Force sent us new electrically heated suits. So, you didn’t have to wear all that bulky stuff to keep yourself warm up there. I thought I was going to be careful, until I wasn’t careful.
Well, Weinstein the idiot, chose one of these electrically heated suits. Everybody else got two pairs of gloves, and sweaters, and everything. Meanwhile, I’m wearing a suntan, lightweight uniform. My bombardier said to me, “What are you doing? Look at the way you’re dressed.” I said, “This is an electrically heated suit and I’m gonna be perfect when we fly. The electricity will keep me warm.” He said, “What if they shoot out our electrical system? What are you gonna do?” I said, “You’re always worrying.” He said, “Okay. You’re on your own.”
So, I hoist myself up into the airplane and we go off on our mission. Sure enough, they shot our electrical system! We’re over the target at about 27,000 feet, and it’s like, I don’t know, 60 degrees below zero.
Aki: What time of the year was that?
Martin: It was in July, but from up there, it’s still minus 60 degree, and I’m starting to freeze. I’m feeling it in my fingers and my toes. We hit the bombsite, dropping our bombs, and now we’re heading back. And I’m freezing!
On our way back from the mission, my bombardier, he was the only married man on our crew, motions to me. He signals to me – he puts his left hand between his legs, takes his right glove off, and gives it to me. I put the right glove on until I could feel my fingers again, and then I give him back the glove and we switch giving me his left glove. Then he motions to his A3 bag. It was a beautiful thing. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a large duffel bag, but with a zipper that goes all the way around. A beautiful thing. I open it up and he pulls out two pairs of socks and he gets me to change my shoes – put the socks on. I managed to survive the six hour flight coming back, and avoided what a lot of other guys got, frostbite.
After the trip, he asked me, “You gonna wear your electrical suit again?” I said, “Don’t be a smartass. That suit is gone. In the trash.” That night, in the officers’ club, the guy’s joked about me saying, “Weinstein got his ass kicked and he’s not gonna be wearing that suit anymore.” So much for 19-year-old bravado.
<At this point of the interview, Martin hands me a folder filled with photos, documents,
Aki: Oh wow. Mission pictures. This one shows Belgrade at 24,600 feet….
Martin: I don’t even remember when those were, but those are just bomb photos.
Aki: Bomb impacts -from the air, it looks like tops of the trees.
Martin: We hit Remagen Aerodrome. We hit a lot of stuff in Romania and Austria. We hit Vienna. I didn’t even know it was Vienna at the time. But who knew? What did I know about Vienna? I knew Grafton Street in Brooklyn. That’s it. Nothing else. Talk about dumb.
Aki: Here’s Budapest and Austria. I can see the smoke coming up.
And what made you decide to be in the Air Corps? Did they just put you in that branch, or were you able to choose it?
Martin: I enlisted, much to my mother’s dismay. There were two things I wanted. I wanted to be a Marine, first of all. That’s what my father was between the two world wars, a Marine. But that’s another story. The next thing I wanted to do was to fly. So, when the opportunity came to enlist in the Air Force, I did.
Stay tuned for Part IV, the final segment of my interview with Martin Weinstein at his home.