I'M HIT. I'M HIT!
In August 1944, the 40th Bomb Group launched a B-29 strike from its forward base at Hsinching, China, against a Japanese factory in Western Japan. Our new Group Commander, Colonel William (Butch) Blanchard, led the combat formation flying with the veteran crew of Major Marvin Goodwin. Butch Blanchard was a large, likeable West Pointer from Boston who loved to tell of his experiences on the Academy football team. He was very popular with combat crews despite his pronounced habit of insisting that everyone salute him on the flight line.
This mission was Colonel Blanchard's first B-29 combat flight. Before the formation entered defended territory, crew members put on their combat gear. Colonel Blanchard learned that for a large man, putting on his equipment in cramped quarters was a very strenuous task. First came his shoulder holster with a loaded .45 caliber pistol. Then he put on his web belt with attached canteen, sheath knife, spare ammunition clips, and first aid kit. Next, he donned layers of survival vest, parachute, Mae West, and flak vest. By then he was perspiring heavily. He asserted his authority by sending Major Goodwin to the Copilot's seat while he climbed into the Pilot's seat for the bomb run.
Major Goodwin took control of the plane while in the Copilot's seat, and led the formation through the Initial Turn to the bomb run heading. Colonel Blanchard then signaled he was taking control of the plane's altitude and would make corrections using the altitude control knob. Bombardier Dick Seebach was controlling the autopilot and the Norden bombsight, and would direct the formation's course until the bombs were released.
All went well until the formation was about 10 miles from the target. Zero fighters began making aggressive passes, and a thick cloud of flak bursts appeared in the sky ahead. When the formation flew into the burst area, fragments hit the Colonel's plane, and a direct hit caused his left wing man to slide out of position. Colonel Blanchard was looking at the crippled plane when he suddenly called to Major Goodwin, "I"m hit. I'm hit!" He quickly unbuckled his seat belt, stepped out of his seat, and slumped down on the nose wheel hatch. Major Goodwin immediately took over the controls. Colonel Blanchard yelled to the Flight Engineer, "I'm hit. I'm hit!" He pointed to a wet stain on his left hip that the Engineer thought to be blood. He continued to hold his hip and yelled, "I'm hit!"
Major Goodwin paid scant attention to the Colonel during the bomb run. After the bombs had been released, he turned the formation to the withdrawal heading. Bombardier Seebach closed the bomb bay doors, switched control of his gun turret to the Upper Gunner, and moved to assist the Colonel.
He noticed that the Colonel's water canteen was upside down and was entangled under the life vest straps. Upon further examination, he saw water dripping from the canteen's cap. Assisted by the Flight Engineer, he rolled the Colonel over and looked for injuries. Then he carefully checked the moisture stain. Abruptly, he said, "Sir, your canteen is leaking water. You're not hurt!" Colonel Blanchard stared at Bombardier Seebach in disbelief while still holding his hip. In a few seconds, he realized the truth. Sheepishly, he stood up and returned to the Pilot's seat.
There was little discussion of the incident during the seven hour flight to their base at Hsinching, China. When the crew landed, Colonel Blanchard was met by his Operations Officer who drove him in a jeep to the debriefing building. While walking several hundred yards to the same building, Major Goodwin's crew briefly discussed their Commander's behavior on the bomb run.
When they entered the debriefing room, Colonel Blanchard was standing with some of his staff at the other end of the room. Major Goodwin was a reserved person and thought it best not to mention the canteen incident. Bombardier Seebach thought otherwise. The irrepressible Seebach could not resist the temptation of the moment, so he grabbed his left hip and shouted, "I'M HIT. I'M HIT!" Major Goodwin's crew fought hard to keep from laughing as others in the room wondered what was going on. Colonel Blanchard turned crimson, then quickly realized that it would be best to make light of the matter. He smiled, then turned to continue talking with his staff officers. While the crew was being debriefed by Group Intelligence personnel, Colonel Blanchard left the room with his staff.
Naturally, every member of the group soon knew about this incident. The details were embellished a bit depending upon who was doing the telling. No one deserved the right to "embellish" more than Bombardier Dick Seebach. He took his best shot at his Commanding Officer by saying that the canteen cap was not leaking, and that the Colonel lost control of his bladder on the bomb run while fighters were attacking and flak was so thick you could walk on it.
Later, when Colonel William "Butch" Blanchard was transferred to the XX Bomber Command Headquarters on another base, he no longer had chance meetings with members of Major Goodwin's crew. As one can imagine, this incident has not been forgotten. Thirty-six years later, during the 40th Bomb Group Association's first reunion in New Orleans, LA, Dick Seebach brought on a great response of laughter with his latest version of the canteen incident.
To my knowledge, Colonel Blanchard never bore a grudge about what must have been his most embarrassing moment.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *