Earl Joswick, B-17 Ball Turret Gunner, ex-POW

(Above) In his 2002 Presentation to the 8th AFHS-Mn, Earl Joswick described his time in the service. 
Photo: From Bill Morgan St. Cloud Airshow.Ride in the B-17 "Aluminum Overcast"

Earl talking to a TV reporter about the Honor Flight to Washington DC
VIEW "A Trip to the UK in 2009"
(a slide show with music on You Tube
in two halves.) Earl Joswick, Ralph Pettijohn, and Mary Berg traveled to the UK to visit Eighth Air Force Sites and Memorials.
"Ten Aces" aircrew. Earl is in the front row,  
  third from the right.
Delivered Cheyenne 6/1/44; Gr Island 16/1/44/ Assigned 334BS/95BG [BG-K] Horham 11/2/44; 45m, Missing in Action Schweinfurt 19/7/44 with Tony Hamlik, Co-pilot: George Rudloff, Navigator: Hal Smith, Bombardier: Bob Diles, Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Roy Brosi, Radio Operator: Wendall Theiman, Ball turret gunner: Earl Joswick, Waist gunner: John Pluenik, Waist gunner: Chas Dager,Tail gunner: Ray Revels (10 Prisoner of War); after bombing all engines quit, crew bailed and aircraft crashed Vielbrunn, SE of Darmstadt, Ger. Missing Air Crew Report 7409

Earl Joswick, B-17 Ball Turret Gunner

Earl B. Joswick, Staff Sergeant, Ball Turret Gunner, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress; United States Army Air Forces, Eighth Air Force, 95th Bomb Group (Heavy), 334th squadron, aircrew “Ten Aces.” European Theater, WWII Veteran. POW Stalag IV, Awarded the Air Medal, Purple Heart, and POW medal. Member of The Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota (past President), The 95th Bomb Group (H) Association, American Ex-Prisoners of War and proud to have been part of The Greatest Generation.

Earl liked attending air shows, and he was interviewed by Bill Morgan, Staff Writer for an article in the July 11, 2009 Sherburne County Citizen.

Earl Joswick, a World War II veteran from the 334th squadron of the 95th bomb squad group, remembers vividly his days of military service.

He enlisted in 1942 right out of high school. After training he was sent overseas in 1943 and after 14 missions, was shot down in a B-17 Bomber plane in 1944. Then he proceeded to serve 14 months in a prison of war camp.

The toughest three years of his life.

"We called ourselves the Ten Aces," said Joswick, describing his nine soldier friends in the squadron. "Four of us stuck together and ended up in a prison camp in Barth I in Germany."

Barth is a town in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. It is situated on the northern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Joswick had the opportunity to relive part of his past this week as he joined fellow veterans of the war at the St. Cloud Airport where a similar B-17 Bomber plane that he flew on arrived Thursday for ground tours and flight experiences open to the public through the weekend, July 10-12.

Joswick seized the opportunity to tell his remarkable story and to tour a plane similar in design to the one he was on in 1943. Being 85 years of age, it's becoming harder and harder for those like Joswick to attend many of these events, but this one he couldn't miss. . . .

"I was a ball turret gunner on our B-17 Bomber," said Joswick. "I was on the bottom of the plane in an area that was about four feet wide with a very clear view all around. I operated the ball turret and I had two machine guns that I could fire in any direction."

Joswick's B-17 was shot down on its 14th mission at about 23,000 feet. A fellow bombadier from the flight found Joswick on the ground with broken bones in his leg. They strapped some wood to the leg to keep it together and help him walk. They were then able to stay out of sight for five days, but were finally captured and sent to Barth.

"We were frequently beaten and kicked and had little food," Joswick said of his incarceration. "But it got even worse."

In February of 1945, the POWs were led on a death march - 500 miles of marching in the middle of winter through knee-deep snow.

"For me, it was especially bad," he said. "Because I still had my broken leg."

Joswick's weight fell from 170 pounds at the beginning of the war to a mere 98 in the camp. When liberated, he and his comrades hiked to France, then tried to re-enlist to continue the fighting.

"They wouldn't let us back in (the war)," Joswick said. "So they sent us back to the United States."

All 10 guys who flew with Joswick survived the downed plane and the war.

"We didn't lose one of them," said Joswick. "We were called the Ten Aces and we were lucky."

Earl was also interviewed in 2009 by the Chanhassen Villager.

Recognizing our Veterans: Earl Joswick — WWII Army Air Corp vet

If a person spends any time at the American Legion in Chanhassen, chances are that you have talked to Earl Joswick. This venerable soldier has numerous stories and experiences about his time in the Army Air Corp during WWII.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Deephaven. It wasn’t very busy out here in those days. We had a pretty nice life back then, played ball, went swimming and worked.

Q: Were you married when you served?

A: No, I got married after I came back from the war. I married the girl I was seeing before the war.

Q: Do you have children?

A: Yes, I have one son.

Q: What did you do in the military?

A: I was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Bomber. I was on the bottom of the plane in an area that was about four feet wide with a very clear view all around. I operated the ball turret and I had two machine guns that I could fire in any direction.

Q: Awards?

A: I was awarded the Purple Heart, the Air Metal and the POW Award.

Q: How were you wounded?

A: On our 14th mission, our plane was hit by flak. The flak was so thick it looked like you could step out of the plane and walk on it. We bailed out at 23,000 feet and made it to the ground through all that fire. I hit a tree and cracked the bones in my leg. One of guys on my plane, the bombardier, saved me. He helped me strap wood to my leg to keep it together and helped me walk. We were able to stay hidden for five days but we then came up on some farm people and Hitler Youth. They came after us with these huge corn knives but one of the farmers held them off with a shotgun and he took us to town. He brought us to the Gestapo near Mannheim, Germany. We were POWs for 14 months, with little food and frequently beaten and kicked. The worst time was the Death March in February, 1945, when they marched us 500 miles in the middle of the winter through knee-deep snow. For me it was pretty bad because I still had a broken leg. If it wasn’t for my friends, I would not have made it. I went from 170 pounds to 98 pounds. When we were liberated, we hiked to Camp Lucky Strike in France. We tried to stay and continue to fight but they wouldn’t let us stay in; they then sent us back to the United States.

Q: Have you lost close friends during combat?

A: Yes we did lose friends but in some ways, I was very fortunate. All 10 guys who flew with me came back after the war. We didn’t lose one of them. We were called the Ten Aces and we were lucky.

Q: How did the people back home respond to your military service?

A: It was very positive. Everyone supported the soldiers when they came back. It was a different world back then and everyone was proud of the soldiers.

Q: Were you apprehensive about joining the military?

A: No, I enlisted. Everyone did back then because we were in the middle of a war.

Q: What was the toughest part about being in the service?

A: Well, we were just plain scared, flying missions, being shot at everyday. It was hard too when we were POWs because we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Q: What was the best part of being in the service?

A: We learned respect. We stuck up for each other, supported each other through anything and took care of each other. We didn’t have as many rules and regulations so we had to depend on each other. I still hear from the pilot of our plane. He has said many times that when he was flying missions, he always thought about me way down below in the turret. It was like that, you looked out for one another and worried about them. If one guy had 5 cents and another had $20, we would go out and everyone would have a good time. You didn’t just think of yourself.

Q: If you could go revisit your combat duty experience, is there something you would have done differently?

A: No, I wouldn’t do anything differently. It was a lot of fun because we were young; we didn’t take things so seriously … that is what young people do. I don’t have any regrets.

Q: Have you traveled back to the foreign lands where you served?

A: We are going back this year in May. I am excited to see it all again.

Q: What words of advice do you have for someone considering military service?

A: You cannot compare the service now to the service back in 1942. They are decades apart and times have changed so much. It is a different world we are living in now and the people have different expectations.

Q: What would you say to your child/grandchild about serving in the military?

A: I don’t have any thing to say to someone now. Everyone has their own way. You cannot compare my years of service with someone now. Each person has to make that decision themself. No one can tell them what to do. Besides, some people don’t adapt to the service and it may not be the right choice for them.

Q: What do you think of the new Chanhassen Veterans Monument?

A: I think it is beautiful. It will be a great place for people to visit.

Q: When you were deployed, what did you miss most about the United States?

A: I missed my family, everyone back home. But I was young then and we just did what we needed to do. I had such close friends in the service and they were like family to me. Being in the military was hard, I wouldn’t want to do it again but no one can take those experiences away from me. I just know that the guy upstairs protected me.”

A DVD of Earl describing his time in service and some of his experiences was shown as a tribute to him at the December 29, 2010 meeting of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota.

Enlistment and Training

“I enlisted. I went down to Fort Snelling when I went in. We went by train to Lincoln, Nebraska, and that’s where I started my training. Lincoln, Nebraska was our Basic Training. This was in 1942. From there I went out to Denver, Colorado for some Basic Training and some Flight Training. From there I went out to Las Vegas, Nevada and that’s where I did my flying training. I was in the Eighth Air Force, 95th Bomb Group, in B-17s, and I flew as a Ball Turret Gunner.”

Hospitalized from a training accident

“In a practice flight out to Denver, Colorado, a plane came down on top of us. So I laid in the hospital for 36 days with an ear infection, and they were going to ground me, and finally my crew says “No way.” They all came to the hospital, and they said, “We’re gonna stay together.” We stayed together.”

Shipping out to England

“I was stationed quite a few places through my service life. After I got out of training in Texas and Denver, Colorado we went back to Kearney, Nebraska and Kearney, Nebraska is where we got shipped out of. Then we went to New York and we were going to fly a brand new B-17 to England, and finally they took that away from us. We went in a ship instead.”

Shot down on the fourteenth mission

“We had quite a few casualties during World War II--we were in England--but then we didn’t hear too much about it. We got shot down on our fourteenth mission. I bailed out, and I hit a tree. So I banged up my leg, and I broke it, and I never had a shoe on for six months. And so I was in prison camp from there until the end of the war. I was in prison camp for, like I say, fourteen months.”

Resisting the guards

“But we were twenty years old, and we were daredevils. We went into prison camp, and it had a fence. And from the fence they had a ten foot place where we weren’t supposed to go in. But just for spite we’d throw the ball in there and go in and get it. We’d dare ‘em. And I think that’s how we got by a lot during our prison camp. The old Germans were pretty decent, but the younger Germans, they didn’t like our attitude, or anything like that.”

Escape from Stalag IV and recapture

“One day I went out to the infirmary, which was outside the gates of the prison camp, and I thought it was pretty smart, so I take off--three of us took off. And we got caught, so they brought us back to prison camp. We were just about to Holland, and this was in Stalag IV, and Stalag IV was up near the Baltic Sea, northwest of Berlin, and that was the coldest winter that Germany had had, so it was quite an experience. I don’t want to go through it again, but they can’t take it away from me.”

Table Display donated by Norma Ley. (One typo: Stalag "14" should read Stalag 4.)

K Callahan,
Feb 4, 2011, 11:04 AM