The War Department wasn't saying a whole lot about "psychological warfare" in late 1944, when a 10-member air crew left Georgia for a war tour in Europe.
The men picked up a brand-new B-24 in New York and made the trans-Atlantic hop to their duty station at Cheddington Air Base, 35 miles northwest of London.Once there, their new bomber was traded for a "more experienced" model that had seen more flying time over European skies than any of the men had ever imagined. Along with the older B-24 came a cloak of anonymity and a mission that left some members of the crew disappointed.
Their job: drop propaganda leaflets on battlefields and at the front lines.
"I tried to transfer out," said bombardier Russ Bain, who now lives in Sacramento. "I wanted to drop real bombs."
The air crew was together through the remainder of the war. And even though the only explosive charge on the bombs they dropped was a device that split open the leaflet canisters as they neared the ground, the bombing runs were just as dangerous as any others.
The "Secret Squadron" flew at night. Advanced navigational equipment on the B-24 allowed them to fly in weather that kept other bombers on the ground.
And they flew alone, protected from ground and air attacks only by the 10 machine guns on board.
Some of the flights took them over France, where they dropped sabotage devices to the underground. A number of sorties were made to Holland, where they dropped bundles of "The Flying Dutchman" newspaper. Germans would often shoot anyone they caught with a copy of the allied newspaper, but its reports on the war from friendly sources brought hope to the Dutch, according to crew members who have talked after the war with their unknown subscribers.
But most of the 41 or so missions the squadron flew took them over Germany.
"Others in the (American) 8th Air Force didn't know what we were or where we were," said flight engineer Jack Brandt, who had previous war experience as a pilot and was the oldest member of the crew of mostly 18- and 19-year-olds.
The identity of propaganda bombing squadrons was held so closely by the allied command under Gen. Eisenhower that waist gunner Everett Dexter said he lost a friend in another plane when the British, not knowing the bomber was an ally, shot it down.
Brandt said the crew's most intense work came in mid-December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, when the crew flew missions over the battlefield on nine straight days while other bombers were grounded because of bad weather.
The B-24's bomb bay could carry 12 leaflet bombs. The nature of the bombing runs allowed them to drop canisters on four to five targets a night, said tail gunner Chuck Olson, of Yuma, Ariz. Nine-hour flights over enemy skies, cruising at 200 mph and dropping their mail from 20,000 feet were, a typical night's work.
The crew was back in the states on furlough when the war ended. Some of the crew members continued their military careers, fighting again in the Korean War, while others took civilian jobs.
It wasn't until three years ago, when co-pilot George Done, of Salt Lake, initiated the work of getting the crew back together, which they have done once a year since then.
The reunions take place in Salt Lake City because Done's health keeps him from traveling. Six of the eight former crew members who are still alive drive to Salt Lake from as far away as Iowa and Missouri and plan to keep up their annual reunions indefinitely.
Fifty years ago, the United States became embroiled in another world war. In a yearlong series of weekly articles, the Deseret News is looking back on the major events of World War II with insight from Utahns who participated in them. If you have "war stories" you'd like to share, call Chuck Gates, Deseret News assignments editor, 237-2100.