|Ramrod to Munster|
I felt warm. How was that Walrus going to manage to get off? I passed out. Later I learned that the Walrus cracked a pontoon trying to lift off. They were picked up by the other ship that had come to the rescue. They tried to tow the Walrus to port. It sank!
That night I woke up at an R.A.F. hospital on the Thames Estuary. The next day I was back at Fowlmere. The day after, October 7, I flew my second mission... Ramrod to Bremen...
I had it made! I knew that I was going to live through the war. I knew also that we were going to win!
I don't think I ever thanked Tom for all he did. He had called Air Sea Rescue and vectored two P-47s, a walrus, escorted by two Spitfires and the two ships that finally rescued me.
When the walrus arrived at the scene, I had been in the water an hour. The pilot realized I could not survive much longer and asked permission to land. He knew he would be lucky to make the landing, let alone the impossibility of a take off! I had been in the cold water too long and he felt he had to risk it.
Of course Tom's quick thinking, and expert flying, kept me from drowning on splash down. All those people trying to keep me alive! How could we have ever lost the war? I am very grateful!
All in all I was in the "drink" for one hour and twenty minutes. That Mustang flew, losing oil, for over forty-five minutes. I still can't believe I was hit by one shot from an anti aircraft gun. I'll always be indebted to Tom Rich for his great flying and quick thinking! Flying low over water and deflating a parachute is some sort of stunt! Why I was able to survive in that cold water, with gale force winds, and ten foot seas, I'll never know.
To top it all, those R.A.F. flyers, in Air Sea Rescue. Attempting a landing under those conditions, and making it! Yes, someone up there loves me!
Come to think of it, I don't think I ever paid back Chet for the loss of his plane. Chet, I owe you a beer. Tom, I owe you my life, and my undying gratitude! Thanks! Thank you all!
Upper Five Four out!...
1st Lt. Stephen C Ananian
Below is an excerpt from a letter written by Aviation historian IAN McLACLAN.
Author Norman Franks, in his book "Another Kind of Courage" writes this account:
"Bedford and Leading Airman Westbrook took off in a walrus at 12:15 pm on 5th October to search for a missing Mustang pilot from the 339th Fighter Group. They were escorted 40 miles out by Spitfires and found the survivor clinging to a dinghy, but the sea was far too rough for the man to pull himself in. Bedford landed and tried to rescue the man, but due to severe buffeting they were not having much success. Westbrook managed to retain a line hold on him until the trawler HMS George Adgell arrived, which lowered a boat and got him out of the water. With the man safe aboard, Bedford went to take off but lost his port float, so the Walrus (HD933) was taken in tow by RML 547 which had also arrived. Westbrook was out on the starboard wing, RML 547 came alongside and took him off, then got Bedford off. Soon after the tow was taken up, the Walrus turned turtle and sank. Nevertheless, it had been a good rescue in a Force 4 Sea and the Walrus crew, by getting a line on to the exhausted pilot in such difficult circumstances, certainly saved his life."
I appreciate the advanced copy of Steve's article. This is a story which should have been told much earlier. First, make no mistake, the hero of this episode is Steve Ananian - a totally green fighter pilot, on his first mission, who displayed more guts than the average pilot needs to get through an entire combat tour of duty. The life expectancy of a pilot who could not get out of the water at that time of the year was about eight minutes. Steve made it for more than an hour. The day he returned to Fowlmere our flight surgeon, Dr. Fred Scroggin (505th), told me he had arranged for Steve and I to take three days off to go to London and "let our hair down." This delighted me, but when I mentioned it to Steve he said "No way! The next mission that leaves this field I want to fly!" And he did!
I never felt that Steve owed me a debt, but apparently he felt differently. Even though he could have transferred to another flight, which would have enhanced the possibility of being promoted, he chose to stay in my flight. Since I had an element leader that was senior to Steve, this left him to fly as my wingman. If I had known more about leadership responsibility at the time, I would have literally "kicked him out of the nest." Instead I selfishly accepted the luxury of having one of the best fighter pilots in 8th Fighter Command as my regular wingman.
We didn't talk unnecessarily on a mission I knew Steve would always be covering my rear unless he told me otherwise. He never did -- the maneuvering was never too violent, the flak never too intensive, and the weather never too bad. Never did I look back for Steve without finding him there. When we were close enough for me to see his face, he was always smiling. I feel I did nothing but perform the job expected of me. if Steve did feel an obligation to me he repaid it many times over. As an aside, we both remained in England until V-E Day and then came home together on the "Il De France" -- the first troop ship to leave the United Kingdom after V-E Day.
God Bless you Steve, I love you. Tom Rich