Ball turret gunner remembers bombing beaches in the dark

Frank Coleman flew his 13th combat mission 60 years ago today. A member of the U.S. Army Air Corps' 95th bomb group he was with the first wave of aircraft to cross the English Channel.

Coleman would fly 36 missions curled up in the fetal position common to all ball turret gunners before he returned to Nevada in 1944. Lying on his back with a .50-caliber gun six inches for each side of his head he remembers stuffing his leather helmet with cotton, handkerchiefs and anything to keep the jarring noise down.

On D-Day he was flying in the B-17 named Tornado Jr. carrying two 1,000-pound bombs and a dozen 500-pound bombs. H Group's mission was to bomb the beaches 500 yards ahead of the troops.

"We went in to bomb the beaches. It was still dark. There was just a little bit of sun; you could tell the beaches because they were a different color than the ocean.

"The troops hadn't landed yet. When we were still out a half mile we dropped our bombs. They never hit the ground. They weren't supposed to.

"The Germans would place big steel pieces under the water that would tear the bottoms out of our landing craft. We had to break it up.

"It was a dicey situation and being in the dark made it worse. We'd watch the exhaust to tell where the other planes were. We couldn't use lights.

"There were 25 bombers to a group. A couple thousand planes. We had to be perfect. We did the job we were there for and didn't lose any planes on the invasion.

"We had to go in over land about 90 miles and make a big turn. There were planes behind us coming in fast and we couldn't slow down or they'd run into us. We were the first to go so the rest had to go farther out to make their turns.

"We landed in England where we rested about three hours and then we went back a second time and went farther inland to bomb the troops.

"Planes had been flying from 4 a.m. to 8-9 at night. As we came in, (second mission) in the heaviest rainstorm, we had to sweat it out. There is not much you can do about it. You just sit there and sweat it out. It's very difficult remembering. All the time we knew about those ground troops just being massacred. We knew if we didn't do everything just right we'd be dropping on them. We had to be synchronized like a symphony."

According to the pilot's log, the Tornado Jr. encountered no flak and no fighters on the first of two missions they would fly that day and only meager flak for its second.

Coleman was never injured in the war, but survived a near miss when a piece of flak pierced the window of the ball.

"It came through the window and landed white hot on the bottom of the ball," he said. He has kept both the piece of flak with its sharp edges and the broken window and says only "I am well taken care of."

This quiet soldier didn't want his photo taken, but wanted to share his story about D-Day - lest we forget.

"We should be recognized for what we did that day," said the now 83-year-old member of the 95th bomb group which flew the first B-17s over Berlin. "People don't recognize that. It was too long ago."

Coleman grew up in Pioche. His family moved to Carson City while he was in the war. He came back in 1944 and has "been here ever since." He married in 1945.

Contact Kelli Du Fresne at or at 881-1261.


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