Share This Article

Tales of the 319th

by Joseph W. Connaughton, The Ardent Writer Press, Brownsboro, Ala., 2014, $29.95

Part history, part memoir, Tales of the 319th chronicles World War II as author Joseph Connaughton and others in the storied bomb group experienced it, in the air and on land, in Africa, Europe and the Pacific. With the keen focus of a bombardier/navigator, Connaughton charts the history of the 438th Squadron, from its hurried beginnings—in July 1942 at Barksdale Field, where green recruits were inspired to learn they’d be flying with five veterans of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid— to the final days in Okinawa, when seasoned airmen, preparing for the invasion of Japan, instead celebrated the war’s end and eagerly planned for peace. (One airman, Donald Slayton, confided to Connaughton that he wanted to go home to Wisconsin and be a private bush pilot.)

These carefully curated stories, one of which Connaughton told in the pages of this magazine (“Operation Mallory Major,” November 2009), are accompanied by a wealth of charts and photos. They trace the squadron’s lows (a snowbound plane in Goose Bay, on the ill-fated northern crossing to the UK) and highs (Martin B-26s taking off six abreast: the famed “Col. Randy’s Flying Circus”).

This is warfare, up close and personal. Connaughton, 20 and fresh out of training, was anxious to begin combat service, but what he saw the day he landed in Naples sobered him: the bombed-out harbor, GIs feeding starving children from their own mess kits, a pilot cradling his dead bombardier. By his side, Connaughton’s pilot intones, “Welcome to combat, Joe.”

Connaughton re-creates Colonel Joseph “Randy” Holzapple’s patient and relentless training regimen, which led to the best accuracy record in the Mediterranean theater, and the intense coordination between bombardier and pilot that contributed to the success of Operation Mallory Major, knocking out 22 bridges on Italy’s Po River.

An intense humanity shines throughout. Bob Hope, in North Africa on his first overseas USO trip in August 1943, jokes in front of the B-26 Big Ass Bird. On Christmas Eve 1944 in Corsica, Connaughton listens to a choir on the radio singing “Silent Night” in German and muses: “Why, I wondered, were we at war with these people….They must be a lot like us.”

Two days later the crews were in their Marauders, bombing again, many worried they’d “buy the farm” just when they had orders to return home. And yet, once home, Connaughton signed up to follow Holzapple to the Pacific, mastering the Douglas A-26 and chalking up a total of 47 missions. Like Don Slayton—who later gained fame as “Deke” with the Mercury Seven astronauts—the men of the 319th had the Right Stuff.


Originally published in the May 2015 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.