Excerpt from “Chapter 5 – Chicago”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 5 – Chicago”:

As Pvt. Atkinson sat staring at the olive drab army bus that was waiting to depart Keesler, he felt glad to be leaving the base and the debacle surrounding his attempt to avoid radio school. He thought about Sgt. Bell and hoped he would not be dealt too much misery over his part in the scheme. Suddenly, a shout broke his concentration as a group of about thirty airmen boarded the bus. Pvt. Atkinson followed the group of men onboard. The group was headed to New Orleans where they would disperse to their various duty assignments.

The bus left Biloxi and headed west down the coast road past the Mississippi towns of Gulfport and Pass Christian before crossing the bridge over Bay St. Louis. Turning southwest on U.S. Highway 90, the bus and its occupants soon entered Louisiana. For the first time since leaving Scooba, Pvt. Atkinson felt a pang of nervous anxiety. Up until this moment, he had been wrapped up in the excitement of a new experience, and so far as his military service was concerned, he had not yet ventured from his native state. With the exception of his stint in the CCC out in Oregon and a summer spent working at Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama, fabricating nuts and bolts for the military, he had never really left home before now. Pvt. James Atkinson was beginning to realize that he was headed for a potentially dangerous adventure the conclusion of which was uncertain, and he suddenly felt apprehensive and home sick.

As the bus crossed the bridge spanning the Rigolets, the so-called outlet from Lake Ponchartrain to the
Gulf of Mexico, Pvt. Atkinson gazed out of his window toward the railroad bridge to the east. Soon he would
be crossing that bridge on his way north to Chicago and he wondered when he might see his family again.

Excerpt from “Chapter 4 – Biloxi”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 4 – Biloxi”:

Soon after the New Year of 1943, Pvt. Atkinson, dressed in his new uniform and carrying his barracks bag, boarded the GM&O railroad in Scooba and rode south to Meridian. There, he boarded a troop train filled to capacity with brand new soldiers and continued south to Keesler Field located in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Keesler Field was a new military facility built in 1941 and opened in early 1942. The Biloxi city authorities had offered the necessary acreage in a prime location for the base, and the Army Air Force accepted their offer over those of other locations around the country. The U.S. Government then directed the Army Corps of Engineers to build a state-of-the-art base on the site. Training bases were popping up all over the country, and the local economies of the selected locations boomed. Biloxi was no exception.

In addition to offering a Basic Training program, Keesler served as an Army Air Force Aircrew Classification Center. It was this Classification Center to which Pvt. Atkinson was headed. Also, the facility housed a B- 24 bomber Aircraft Mechanics School and kept six of the four-engine beasts on site for the mechanic’s training regimen. By the standards of the day, the B-24 was a huge airplane, and with its high wing and boxy fuselage, it had an unconventional appearance. This would be Pvt. Atkinson’s first glimpse of the behemoth, and he hoped he would not end up flying such a cumbersome-looking aircraft.

Excerpt from “Chapter 3 – Hattiesburg”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 3 – Hattiesburg”:

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, 1942, Bilbo hitched a ride with Bill Parker, Homer Watkins and Billy Lipscomb, all students at East Mississippi Junior College, to DeKalb to sign up at the recruiter’s office for induction into the armed services. All had exercised their option to enlist rather than be drafted, and that had put their academic pursuits on hold.

Each boy filled out a card listing their personal information along with their choice of service branch. Bilbo thought of Uncle Ebb puffing his pipe on the wagon and wrote in bold letters: ARMY AIR CORPS.

Upon returning to Scooba, he walked over to the administration offices at the college and asked to speak with Mr. J.M. Tubb, President of the college.

The secretary ushered Bilbo into Mr. Tubb’s office and closed the door behind him. Mr. Tubb looked up from his desk at Bilbo.

Excerpt from “Chapter 2 – Kemper County”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 2 – Kemper County”:

It wasn’t unusual for young James to fall asleep lying in the furrows of the warm, plowed earth. He felt comfortable and secure nestled between the rows. Just as he was drifting off, he was startled to consciousness by his father’s loud voice.

“Keep up, Bilbo! It’s nearin’ dark and I’m a-lookin’ to finish this ’ere row ’fore your Ma calls us to supper.”

Bilbo walked along behind the plow mule his dad was driving picking up dirt clods that were overturned in the process. According to his dad’s instructions, he was crumbling the large clods in order that the earth would be smoother for planting. He had grown to love the smell and the texture of freshly plowed dirt and took his job of crumbling dirt clods seriously.

“Bilbo!” It was his mother calling…right on time. “Time for supper and bring your Pa along, too.” Bennett Atkinson gave his son a nod toward the cabin. “Run on up and wash your hands. Tell your Ma I’m puttin’ up the mule and I’ll be right behind ya.”

Excerpt from “Chapter 1 – The Jump”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 1 – The Jump”:

There were no visible flames, only intense, searing heat. At once, his entire flight suit caught fire, and with no conscious thought he reached for his parachute at his feet against the waist window bulkhead. Instinctively, he tucked it under his arms like a football and dove through the open window, the force of the leap tearing loose the attachments to the airplane of his headphones, throat microphone and oxygen mask.

Through a hurricane of wind rushing past him, he frantically ran his right hand over the chute searching for the metal clips to snap onto the D-rings on the front of the parachute harness he wore. The wind burned his eyes, and he was unable to see anything clearly. With his left hand, he maintained a death grip on the chute’s carrying handle, instinctively unable to let it go. The ground was getting ever closer, although he was unaware of just how rapidly it was approaching.

Excerpt from “Preface”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Preface”:

When I was about nine years old, I came home from school to find that my mother had baked a very unusual cake. It was dark green and had the shape of a four-engine airplane. In the center of the cake, a toy soldier parachutist was landing. I immediately asked her about the cake, and she told me that it was April 5th, the anniversary of my dad’s plane having been shot down in World War II. She was planning to surprise him with a little celebration.

We celebrated Dad’s war service upon his arrival home from work that evening. I listened intently as he told me and my brother and sister about how, while serving as a radio operator/gunner, he had bailed out of a burning B-24 bomber over Ploesti, Romania. The story was burned into my mind, and as I got older, I endeavored to learn all I could about Dad’s wartime experiences. To this day, the events of April 5, 1944 fascinate me, and I apologize to my friends and family who have heard me tell the tale over and over.