Bill Giambrone: Walking in a Dead Man’s Shoes
By Samantha L. Quigley
Bill Giambrone was a 23-year-old B-24 radio operator and waist gunner in World War II. His last scheduled mission was July 3, 1944. It was his 21st, but because four earlier missions were so long, this would get him to the 25 required bombing missions, meaning he had a chance of going home. There were 10 crew members aboard that day, including photographer J.L. Morgan.
Here’s Giambrone’s account of that mission over Romania:
We were near the target … All of a sudden five or six fighters came at us from about 12 o’clock out of the sun. It all happened so fast, we really didn’t have any time to react. I had just left the radio compartment for the waist [gunner’s position]. They shot us up real quick and [the No. 4 engine] was smoking badly. All of a sudden the plane was in a dive.
I don’t have any idea what happened up front. I grabbed my chute and crawled up the floor, pulling myself to the hatch. Morgan had just opened it so he could take pictures at the target and hadn’t even had time to mount the camera in place. I got to the hatch and started to pull myself out when all of a sudden I was sucked out and it was real quiet. I finished hooking my parachute and pulled the rip cord. I didn’t know if anyone else was out until I hit the ground. I was captured immediately (by Romanian soldiers).
George Morrison was there and he had broken his ankle. Morgan was OK. They took me over to the crash site awhile later. The plane didn’t burn when it hit. The others were all laid out in a row and I really couldn’t look. I didn’t have any shoes on so I did take someone’s though I’m not sure who, as I couldn’t recognize them. I figured he wouldn’t mind, as I needed them. It was tough to figure these were my buddies only a little while before. Anyway, they took us away to [a POW] camp from there.
What Giambrone didn’t mention is that he was circled by a German fighter plane during his descent. Why the pilot didn’t shoot, he doesn’t know. He spent the rest of the war in a Romanian POW camp.
His experience didn’t end there, though. Nearly 67 years later, he was interviewed by a crew making a documentary about the air war over Romania during WWII. While on site in Romania, the documentary crew found the wreckage—one piece was being used to mend a fence. They bought two pieces from local residents and brought them back to the United States. The pieces of wreckage were authenticated and on May 6, 2011, a piece of the plane was presented to Giambrone.
–Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of On Patrol.
Stories in this Series
Jan 15, 2016
The 10th Mountain Division, the only combat division recruited by a civilian organization, was also the only World War II unit that trained outdoorsmen, rock climbers and world-class skiers for a fight in the mountains. Its story is a one-of-a-kind expedition frozen in time.
Dec 5, 2015
Cousins Become Brothers in Arms
They were cousins who farmed during the summers, hunted on the family’s land and worked factory jobs during cold Michigan winters. Despite their heritage, George and Russell Gobba shared another very important trait—They were ready to fight in World War II.
Nov 14, 2015
Surrender at Bataan Led to One of the Worst Atrocities in Modern Warfare
When the Battle of Bataan ended on April 9, 1942, about 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos became prisoners of war. What followed became known as the Bataan Death March—a brutal journey that left thousands dead.