Robertson Bruce Graham
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Dad was finally transferred for duty stateside and arrived in Miami, Florida, at the Army Air Base 36th Street Airport, on September 26, 1943. The next day, dad was given 20 days leave plus travel time. Having arrived home safely, it was not too long before he was asked to be the guest of honor at a one-hour show presented at the Merced Army Air Field, Thursday evening, October 7, 1943. Prior to this, however, he stopped off at Merced High School to deliver a speech to the student body.
As reported in the Merced Sun Star, October 9, 1943, "Lieut. Bruce Graham, who is being highly honored in his home town on his return as a B-17 pilot in the North African, Sicilian and Italian fighting fronts, made a speech Thursday afternoon at an assembly in the auditorium of the high school. It was easy for principal Meany to gather the crowd, and it was also easy to see that the student body would rather spend the rest of the afternoon there than be called back to class.
"Lieut. Graham was thoroughly at home with his school age audience, who hung on his every word. We venture to say that the young hero lieutenant will be highly honored on many occasions, but on none of them will he receive a more heart warming reception than he did as he stood before his alma mater which saw him graduate with the class of 1938."
That night, dad was also a hit with the community at large, taking part in the weekly a radio show broadcast from the Merced Theatre. As written in the Pilot Reporter, "A capacity house at the new Merced Theatre applauded enthusiastically as the officers and men of MAAF presented the weekly all-army radio show, 'Take Wing', last Thursday night.
"Headlined was Lieut. Bruce Graham, Merced's first returning war hero, who told of conditions on the war fronts in the North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns in which he participated. The Lieutenant emphasized the importance of teamwork in combat flying and also gave high praise to the untiring efforts of our ground crews in keeping our planes in the air. Also lauded by Lieut. Graham was the work of the American Red Cross and the things they are accomplishing overseas."
Dad received a letter the next day from an admirer, Mrs. Robert Murray, praising his efforts in the war and his appearance at the theatre. The letter reads "I don't know you very well. In fact I have never had a conversation with you. When you took inventory of the bolts in our store a few years ago there was no opportunity as everybody was in such a rush to get through. But I am one of the many Merced people who are proud of you and the grand job you are doing 'over there'.
After speaking in Merced, dad visited awhile and then took a long awaited vacation with his bride. They stayed at the Robles Del Rio Lodge in Carmel Valley and arrived back in San Francisco in the middle of an earthquake. After a weeks visit in San Francisco with the in-laws, dad reported to the Second AF, 18th Wing, Army Air Base, Salt Lake City, Utah.
While stationed at Salt Lake City, dad was sent to the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He took two weeks of instruction in a Weights and Balances Control Course, from November 15th to the 25th.
While taking the course, dad told of bombs hanging up in his ship's bomb bay. The story is told in an article printed in the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command newspaper on December 10, 1943, under the heading "Head Under Heals, Sergeant Frees Dangling Bombs, Saves Ship, Crew".
It reads, "How an American Sergeant hung head down from a Flying Fortress, suspended thousands of feet over enemy territory to free a pair of live fragmentation bombs that threatened to explode the second he touched them, was recounted here this week by the pilot of the Fortress.
"Lt. Bruce Graham, 23-year-old San Franciscan, told the amazing story to fellow airmen taking the Weight and Balance course. Graham was piloting his battle scarred Fort - 'Eager Beaver' - over enemy targets in Italy. 'Over the target, I ordered the bomb bay doors open, and when the bombardier, Lt. Bernard Heller of Brooklyn, was ready, we let them go. Fragmentation bombs just rumble out of your bomb bay. The plane's slipstream, apparently, caused two of the bombs to catch in the bomb bay. They just dangled there, alive. With every jar of the plane they threatened to go off. We couldn't close the bomb bay doors because of them, and we didn't know if they would go off in our faces if the crew tried to free them.
'The bombs couldn't be reached from the inside of the ship so T/Sgt. Cecil Newkirk of Omaha volunteered to go down headfirst and try to free them. He put a 'chute on and Lt. Heller held him by the heels and lowered him down as the entire crew held its collective breath. We were plenty worried because a few days earlier the same thing happened to another plane and the bombs exploded inside the plane and blew up the whole ship,' Lt. Graham explained.
"Newkirk inched down to where the bombs were lodged and nudged them loose. They slipped free and sailed away into space. They then pulled Newkirk up. The crew bombed him with thanks."
Pregnancy In Topeka
From Yale, dad reported for duty as a Weights and Balance Officer at the Topeka Army Air Base in Kansas where he was stationed for many months. Not long after, Lil got pregnant but it wasn't until April that dad wrote to Gran and John R. about it. In a letter dated April 4, 1944, dad says "Have been waiting quite some time to tell you this, and now I think it's time - You are going to be great-grandparents around October 7! How do you like that, huh! We've been dying to tell you for the last couple of months, but wanted to wait awhile.
"Can you imagine your grandson being a father? Wow! I'm tickled to death myself - I just know it will be a boy. If it's not, we'll try again real soon. Hope you are as thrilled about it as we are. That is the reason we've bought a car. I don't want Frenchie riding the bus out to see the doctor - it's too rough riding. Also it is why we can't come home for our furlough this time.
"John - I want you to find out about AAA insurance for my car. Can I take it out through your office here in Kansas. If so how? I want it thoroughly covered for everything. I had AAA insurance on my Ford, but couldn't afford to keep it up. Right now, I have no insurance at all on the car, but the car is all paid for. We paid cash for it. A 1940 Oldsmobile Tudor Sedan.
"Things have really been busy here, and I haven't had much time for writing. I have increased my section to 26 men, and have a new assignment and crew of 45 men. So all told, I have over 70 men under me now. It keeps me ample busy. Most of my new men are fresh draftees, and have to be taught everything. So it's going to be rough for awhile.
"Sure wish I were in California now for the spring weather. Kansas is lousy! We still have snow and ice here. How I hate the place...P.S. If it's a boy, we'll call him Ronald - a girl, Sharon."
In a letter dated September 27, 1944, dad writes to Gran and John R., "It won't be long now. The Doc told her Monday that it would be about two more weeks. She's getting so big she looks like she's going to bust. Feels fine though. I hope she has as little trouble as she has had so far.
"It had better be a boy. Darn near all our stuff is blue. At least all the important stuff is. Her folks sent us a beautiful bassinet. Her mother lined it all in pink and blue ribbon. Also they sent us a helluva nice baby buggy. We have about all we need now...5 dozen diapers...all kinds of nities...bottles...blankets for the crib and wrappers...even have a rattle."
It was a girl, Sharon, and she was born October 16, 1944 in the Jane C. Stormont Hospital in Topeka. They nicknamed her Cherie. The total hospital fees were $97.15 including 12 days in the hospital, delivery room, nursing, dressings, laboratory and drug fees. Dad wrote about her to Gran and John R. the day after she was born. He says, "How does it feel to be great-grandparents? If it feels as good as it does to be a father, then it's wonderful.
"I still can't fully realize I'm the father of a daughter - and my Frenchman a mother. Still seems rather dreamlike. The baby is so tiny! Only weighed 5 lbs. 2 oz. but it's gained 1 1/2 oz. already. The Doc says it's remarkable because they usually loose weight the first few days.
"She has beautiful features - ears are just right, and she seems to have her lips and chin. Of course her nose is still all flat and all over her face, so you can't tell much from it. Thank the Lord, Lil had an easy time. We took her to the hospital at 5:30 A.M., and the baby was born at 8:10. It happened so soon, I hardly realized what was going on.
"Lil is doing fine, and looks absolutely wonderful. I was surprised she looked so nice. Luckily we aren't too busy at the field these days, and I can spend lots of time at the hospital with Frenchie. Her Grandma is here, but she talks so much, it drives me nuts. Sometimes I want to gag her, she beats her gums so much."
Approximately a month after Cherie was born, and approximately 3 months before leaving the service, dad was promoted to Captain. He separated from active duty on January 7, 1946 at McClellan Field in Sacramento, California, 4 years after "joining up" and only 100 miles from his starting point in Merced. It was a short but distinguished 4 years in the service of his country at a critical period in history. His country called, and he answered with pride and determination. It was because of his efforts, and the efforts of others like him, that the United States was victorious in WWII.
During his hitch in the Army Air Force, dad flew single engine trainers, twin engine bombers, the famed 4 engine "Flying Fortress" B-17F, and the B-24. In Africa, he was wounded in action while bombing Southern Italy. He was awarded the Purple Heart. He was authorized to wear the Air Medal with nine oak leaf clusters and the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal. His unit received a presidential citation and he participated in the following campaigns: Air Offensive Europe, Air Combat Balkans, Naples-Foggia, Sicily and Tunisia.
It was a World War II experience that we, as his descendants, can be proud of.
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Published in U S Legacies Magazine October 2004