In February 1942, a B-18 aircrew of the 40th Bomb Group was scheduled to pick up a load of U.S. Navy depth charges on Aruba Island in the Caribbean Sea, and deliver them to Hato Airfield on nearby Curacao Island. A young Navy Ensign was to accompany the shipment. He was an ordnance expert who would train B-18 aircrews on the technical aspects of depth charges. During the preflight briefing, the Pilot described parachuting and other emergency procedures to the Ensign who had a great curiosity, and asked many questions. When the briefing was completed, we entered the plane, and the Ensign was instructed to sit in the aft section with the Bombardier and the Radio Operator during take off.

When we were airborne, the Bombardier came forward, went down the stairs under the Copilot's seat, and headed for his bombsight located in the nose compartment. Our passenger moved to the Pilot's compartment and asked for permission to join the Bombardier. The Pilot agreed, and told his Bombardier to watch for the Ensign as he came downstairs.

The door of an opening in the floor of the plane was clearly marked in red: WARNING. DO NOT OPEN IN FLIGHT. The opening was used as an entrance hatch from the ground, except when the nearby engines were running.

Bombardier Staff Sgt. James Dozier turned in his seat to watch for his visitor. The Ensign went past the Bombardier's level, and when he reached the bottom step, he paused and stared intently at the door covering the hatch. Since he did not look up, Sgt. Dozier unbuckled his safety belt and moved down the steps toward him. Suddenly, the Ensign leaned down and gripped the red door handle. Fortunately, his first pull failed to open the door. He tightened his grip and started to pull again.

Sgt. Dozier grabbed the Ensign's wrist and shouted, "What are you doing, Sir?" The Ensign was startled because he had not expected anyone to appear from above. He answered, "I was looking for you. I thought you went down through this door." Sgt. Dozier responded, "Sir, THAT DOOR LEADS TO HELL!" He removed the Ensign's hand from the handle, and pointed through a small side window to the blue surface of the Caribbean Sea below. Then Sgt. Dozier led the Ensign up and forward to the Bombardier's compartment.

The 30 minute flight to Hato Airport was completed without further incident. In that short time, one young Naval Ensign learned a lot about B-18 type aircraft.

* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *