I interviewed Bob Cash during a visit to Dallas in February of 2010. Bob recently passed away. For the benefit of the veterans and families of the 492nd Bob Group Association, I'm posting the full transcript of that interview. An audio double-CD of the interview is also available. Please contact me if you'd like more information. Thanks -- Aaron Elson
Bob Cash: Bob Cash, or Robert L. Cash. I was born in a little village in northeastern Oklahoma, about 40 miles south of Tulsa, named Okmulgee. It was the capital of the Creek Indian Nation. I don't claim to be any Indian, but that's where my father was in business and that's where I was born, on November 13, 1924. When I finished high school there, I hitchhiked down to Norman, Oklahoma, Oklahoma University, and enrolled. That would have been in 1942. I finished almost one semester as a freshman down there when I went in the service. This was early March of '43. I had been trying to get in the Air Force, I was like everybody else at that time, they all wanted to fly.
Aaron Elson: Did you have World War I flying fighter ace heroes?
Bob Cash: No, I didn't get into flight school. I wished I had, in a way. Of course I'd have probably been dead. But it seemed like everyone wanted to get in and fly. The guys that really made it were the men that got in from college. They enrolled in the Naval ROTC and they were welcomed when they went in. I have three very good friends that ended up as pilots in the Navy. But I didn't. I went in the service in the Army and I was sent down to Lawton, Oklahoma, Fort Sill, which was a base that specialized in artillery. And they were tickled to death when they asked me down there, "Do you have any military experience?" Well, no, none except the ROTC that I had there, and they said "What kind was that?" And I said "Field artillery." Well, they were delighted to hear that, so after I served my time in the mess hall, I started their indoctrination, and went through their primary training. And I finally bumped into an old master sergeant that was walking down the way there one day and he recognized me and said, "What are you doing here?'
I said, "I'm doing the same thing you are except you're not doing the dirty work" -- ha ha, being a master sergeant. And I told him, "You know, I voluntarily went in the Army at a major's insistence there, thinking that if all these programs were full you might have a little edge on it if you would just transfer at Fort Sill into the Air Force, Air Corps they called it in those days, and he said, "I'll line you up with a few tests. If you are successful in passing those, I don't think I'd have any trouble transferring you to the Air Force." And he was successful in doing that. I must have been about half nutty because I was able to sound the dit-dot-dits, and every time I would go to a new base -- I went from Fort Sill to a base in Wichita Falls -- every time I would go to a new base I would immediately go in and ask what were the possibilities of getting into flight training.
I'd already taken a 6-4 flight physical and I passed that, and I knew so many people that were flying that, you know, I wasn't the sharpest one in the drawer, but these guys were a little behind me, and I didn't think I'd have any difficulty passing the mental test, but I was discouraged every time I went to a new location. They'd say "the programs are still full, and it doesn't look like there are any holes that you could go to," so after basic training in the Air Force, at Sheppard Field, that's where I was, I was scheduled to go into radio school, and so I couldn't wait to get into that, at least I would be flying, but as a crew member.
About the time I was ready to ship out, I had taken field artillery basic and I had taken Air Force basic, and they screwed up my orders, and I was left off of the shipment that went to, up in St. Louis is where it was, and of course they didn't give me any encouragement, they just said, "Well, you stick around, and you can go through this basic again, only you'll be in charge of the guys since you've been through it, you're an old veteran."
Aaron Elson: How old were you then?
Bob Cash: I was 18 and a half. That's a picture of me right up there that I had taken shortly after I went in the service. But I finally did get to Scott Field in Illinois and completed that, and they had a big flood in early '43, and they took all the guys from Scott Field and gave 'em hip boots and everything and put us on lorries and sent us out for flood duty, tossing sandbags and filling them up. And so I finished that, and then I was nailed to go to aerial gunnery school down in Harlingen, Texas. I completed that satisfactorily and I was still discouraged about the cadets, and when I got into gunnery school they said "You're needed where you're at." So that didn't encourage me too much because that means they were shooting them down like flies. But anyway, I successfully got through that and then had my first time off. I had a six-day delay en route, they didn't call it a furlough or anything, to get to Salt Lake City.
We arrived there and there were thousands of men there that were in kind of all phases of the crew of B-24s. And they just picked one here, "What do you need, an engineer?" "Yeah." "Well, we got ten thousand of 'em here." "We'll take this man." And so, I met up with my crew at Salt Lake City. We were sleeping in tents there and it was pretty cool, this had been late in the year. I met my pilot, and it turned out that he and I had a class or two at Norman before we went in, and he had been in the service. I don't know whether he had some time off from where he was going to school when I met him the first time, but he was an Indian boy from Stonewall, Oklahoma, a very small place, and his folks must have been quite well to do, but George was an ace pilot. In fact, he had gone through pilot training and was held over as an instructor. And that gave me some comfort, because our co-pilot had never been in a B-24 until we started training. He was an ex-P-38 man, and I don't know how he fouled up, but they had too many P-38 pilots and they put him over in the right seat of a B-24 which was not a promotion. Wonderful guy. He was the oldest man in the crew, he was 26, and, bless his heart, he never learned how to fly formation in a B-24. And so it was George's lot to do most all the flying.
Aaron Elson: What were their names, George what?
Bob Cash: John Bronson, George McKoy, from Stonewall.
Aaron Elson: McKoy's not an Indian name.
Bob Cash: It is if it's a K-O-Y. I didn't realize he was an Indian boy either. He didn't have any of the characteristics of it, but I met his mother and his brothers and they had all of it. I met them after the war. They came to me trying to find out about their son, and I'm getting up to that.
Aaron Elson: Your co-pilot, had he flown a P-38 in combat, or only in ...
Bob Cash: No, he had just, still been in training and I guess he was about ready to get out. I think he had finished his training. But they had an abnormal amount of P-38 boys. I never had any desire, I liked that P-51. After we finished our training there in, we didn't do any flying in Salt Lake but our first assignment was at Pueblo Army Air Base, which was just a fairly short distance from Salt Lake, and we went down there and started our overseas training, and we were only there about three weeks because the preferential runway that was used at Pueblo, that's right at the foothills of the mountains there, they'd land down on those things and they'd put all the weight on the ground, and here'd come these top turrets down and they were squashing the radio operators. We lost several of them that way.
Aaron Elson: And they were being killed?
Bob Cash: Oh yes. Well if this boy, if he was standing by when that, of course we were training in the old B-24 D models which didn't have the turret in the front, had a flexible .50 up there in the front, in the nose, but there were so many accidents there, and with the loss of life, that they transferred us from Pueblo to Westover Field, Massachusetts. Are you a coffee drinker? Would you rather have coffee, or beer, or what would you like?
Aaron Elson: Coffee would be wonderful. No sugar.
Bob Cash: Might loosen my tongue if I had something a little heavier! No, that's fine, honey. Thank you.
Aaron Elson: Did you witness any of these accidents in training?
Bob Cash: It never happened to us, fortunately. We never had a top turret in our ...
Aaron Elson: How would you learn about them? Would people come into the mess hall...
Bob Cash: Oh yeah, yeah. I'd gotten moderately acquainted with some of the guys, not that I can remember their names but I just knew that they were in the same boat that I was in, but if you ever interview anyone from Pueblo Army Air Base during that time they will remember, in fact there was a little crater on this runway where they'd go down and hit that thing and that would jar the turret loose. But we got on troop trains and spent about four or five days getting to Westover, Mass. That was a great place. I enjoyed that duty there, except when we were still flying these old B-24 Ds on these training missions, we'd take over-water, cross-country flights for our navigator, and he'd do a little celestial navigation flying down to, what are some of the islands off the East Coast there? Cape Hatteras and so forth. And we lost a couple or three flights there from this, we called it a squadron, a training squadron. But these old D models that we were training in, they had all the good ones, the new ones, overseas, in Europe and the Pacific.
We finished our training there unscathed at Westover and got our orders immediately to take the northern route over to, the first station over there was in Ireland, Nutts Corner, Nutts Corner, Ireland, that'is where we landed but on the way over we went from, we picked up our planes at Mitchel Field. They had a line of them, you probably know where Mitchel Field is.
Aaron Elson: Yes.
Bob Cash: We took off from Mitchel and flew to Goose Bay, and we stopped somewhere along the way to pick up some more gas or something.
Aaron Elson: Bangor, Maine, right?
Bob Cash: Yes. Bangor, that's where we went. From Mitchel to Bangor to Goose Bay. And I mean, you think it's snowing out here today, they had shoveled out the runways there, you know, and the planes, the B-24s come in there and land, and if you were on the ground you couldn't even see 'em. We spent the night there, a day and a night at Goose Bay, and took off the next Evening ... in the dark ... and it was snowing just about like this. I was supposed to contact a radio operator in Greenland, Bluie West, that was the routine, and you'd contact this guy and tell him what your condition was and what the weather was, well he knew what the weather was, it was snowing everywhere. And before we approached Bluie West where I contacted Greenland, we were in our heated suits, and all of a sudden the smoke started rolling up from the nose of the plane and the bombardier down there and the navigator were down there, and they reported a fire in the nose.
Well, we were over the North Atlantic at that time, just south of Greenland, and that's no place to be trying to land. And I had had to get out, this routine I had to change tuning units in this big old liaison transmitter that I had to talk to people thousands of miles away. And I had all that equipment out on the flight deck where my position was, I had all that stuff and I figured well, I won't have any problem because everything's peaceful until the smoke started rolling out there. And, "Fire in the nose!" and so my engineer jumped up and went down there and crawled up into the front end of the plane over the nose wheel, and the co-pilot was running back and forth, and quite a bit of traffic there, I thought they were going to stomp all of my radio equipment to death before we put that fire out. But my engineer, Calvin Schmelyun, from, he was from, how could I ever forget that, he was from Maryland, Schmelyun, he came back with a cigar box full of fuses, and I noticed it was getting a little chilly in the plane. He said, "I had to take all those fuses out," and I said, "Well, my god, I hope you left enough in this to get to Reykjavik," that's where we were headed.
In the meantime we had turned around and gotten, we took off as a group, because he was getting ready to go back to Goose Bay, and we lost time and our place in the flight, and it turns out after we were flying on past, I didn't even get the chance to talk to Bluie West, but we had lost a bunch of fuel. And as we approached Reykjavik, Iceland, they told us to get in line and they were circling just like a herd of geese, landing one at a time. We put up with that for about two circles and the pilot finally radioed in there on his command transmitter and told them, he said, "I'm coming in. I'm almost out of fuel." So he put that thing in a dive and got in the circle, and I thought, "Lord help us!" I'd never seen that steep of an approach. But he could come in like that, and bring that thing down and make a two wheel landing, before his nose touched, and that was the mark of an established B-24 pilot.
Aaron Elson: So you came down at a 45-degree angle?
Bob Cash: Oh, easily that, yeah. He had to get out of the circle, because we had lost so much fuel turning around and starting back to Goose Bay. They knew what the situation was and they kind of gave us a little bit of room. But I thought, if combat's like this, I don't believe I want to go on. I mean, that'll shake up an 18 year old boy, I'll tell you.
We took off from Reykjavik, I think the next day in the daylight, and after we got out and got all of our parts together, the pilot said, "Would you like to get up here on the stick?" And I said, "Well, I don't know, I guess, yes I want to but I don't know whether it's too ..." "Oh," he said, "we're just gonna fly a beacon anyway." And he said, "Why don't you get up here and Calvin can sit in the co-pilot's seat," he had had a little bit of experience in the air, but we were in tall cotton there, you know. We had control of the whole business and everybody was asleep, and we flew that beacon in to Nutts Corner. Of course we alerted him to come in and land it.
The minute we hit the ground and came to a stop, they had a cadre of people that jumped up into the plane and were kind of elbowing us out of the way and they started taking all the armor plating off that thing. The pilot had a big armor plate next to him and so did the co-pilot, and they ripped that thing down completely. They lightened the thing up, that's what they were doing, they were just taking as much of the weight off as we had to make room for the 12,000 pounds of bombs that we carried.
We continued over the Irish Sea to England in a few days. They always had a little refresher course for us on the way over. I don't know why they felt we were so dumb, but we had an opportunity to talk to some of the guys, it was a good experience because our instructors were guys that had finished their tour and were waiting to go back home.
Aaron Elson: Did they describe combat?
Bob Cash: Yeah, a little bit. Anyway, we got to our base in North Pickenham, and I can show you, all these black dots on here were B-24 bases, and there's this base, it was the 445th I believe, it was closest to Norwich. And you know, Hitler was bombing Norwich before he started bombing London.
Aaron Elson: I didn't know that.
Bob Cash: Oh yeah. He'd been softening it up over there, you know. And they took quite a bit of damage. And they had the room to expand the Air Force there, and these are all the groups, there were 14 groups around Norwich. And the 492nd was the furthest from Norwich. We got in there and they allowed us to make a few training missions, and getting used to the frightening experience of forming, where you could take off, you know, and there's probably 20,000 other planes in the air, and try to get us used to that, I never did get used to it, because you'd be standing up there, I may have been in the turret and I could see the planes coming by and just, near misses. And we lost a lot of, not in our group, we had some collisions, but it's a wonder that with that many aircraft taking off from that little dot over there, it's amazing that so many of them got to the target.
I got to fly D-Day.
Aaron Elson: Did you!
Bob Cash: Yes.
Aaron Elson: That makes you a D-Day veteran.
Bob Cash: M-hm. That was about our third mission, and fortunately, we didn't have any air to air combat with anything. There were very few fighters at that time. That was the only mission that we didn't come into direct combat.
Aaron Elson: Really. Did you see the armada?
Bob Cash: Oh yes. Oh yes. And that was the grandest thing you could ever imagine. And as an 18-year-old I was very proud to be a part of it. And I could see those, we were bombing targets where it would impede the Germans from fleeing, we were bombing bridges and everything like that. So we came back, it was such a short mission we almost made two missions that day but they called it off. And that was the 6th of June, and we'd fly every day, or every other day, at that time, and on our 12th mission, or our 13th mission, we were supposed to go out and hit an oil refinery in northern Germany here by the name of Politz. This point here is where they nailed us, 50 miles from the northern coast, out in the Baltic, between the island of Rugen and, there's another island over here. But they nailed us right here, and about 40 Messerschmitt 410s, that was twin-engine, high performance aircraft that had replaced the JU-88, the old Juncker, which had a ton of armor on it, but they took all that armor and put it into this Messerschmitt 410, so we had never even seen them before. But they could fire 20-millimeters all day at you. And they also had the capability of firing some 50-millimeters. And you're sitting there defending yourself with a .50-caliber, which is one of those, in the right corner, and these 50-millimeter rockets that they were hitting, they made two passes through our group and took 14 airplanes down. Two planes made it to Sweden. Of course I had a little difficulty getting out of that thing because we were immediately on fire, I mean they were pumping these 20-millimeter cannons and a few 50-millimeter cannons at us and in the right place that'll blow up a 24 like that because a B-24 has the swivel bellies that open up for the bomb bays, and that's just laced with hydraulic fluid lines and so forth, which was just as flammable as hundred octane gasoline.
They hit us so fast, and we didn't have any fighter protection so they could have their way with us, and we were trying to fight them off. And my engineer was in the turret. He and I would, on these longer missions, I would get in the turret and take it back to the base and he'd take it from the base to the target, which made it a little easier. He was in the turret at that time ...
Aaron Elson: Had you dropped the bombs?
Bob Cash: No, no. We still had our bombs. Our flight path was to take us this way, and our IP was about in here, and then we'd fly on an even keel, once you got on the IP you didn't vary yourself too much. But here's where our target was, and we were to come down like this and come in to Politz like that and go back the way we came. But we were here and still had our bomb load. We were carrying 500-pound general purpose bombs, and the minute they started firing at us, we were on fire. And it was just like standing in a bunson burner. My engineer dropped out of his seat. I'd heard him getting hit. I was standing right beside him, but he was up here, and they had some 3.5 millimeter small arms fire, machine guns that they'd squeezed off, I think just kind of testing us. But they caught him right at the base of the neck, he took about four .30-calibers I guess is what you'd call. He instinctively pulled that release under the seat and it dropped him right there at my feet, and then I was rolling him over trying to find out where he was hit, and I realized just about the time I rolled him over I could see where he was hit, and bless his heart, I mean he was, instant death because they just nailed him perfectly right back there, you know, the base of the neck. So I grabbed my chute, I kept it right down there by my heater, I grabbed my chute and picked it up and we routinely did this on the ground, pick up your, the chutes that we wore were chest packs, pick 'em up, and they hooked on a couple of hooks that you wore on your, this big harness that you wore that had some hooks, and you just, the hooks were on the back of the chute and the rings were there. I picked this thing up and I couldn't get the right one hooked, and I kept trying to ... by that time I could see that my engineer was gone and I had better get out of that thing because any nanosecond it was gonna blow. And I looked out there and I don't know, I guess the Lord opened the right side of the bomb bay about this far ...
Aaron Elson: About six feet, or five feet?
Bob Cash: Oh no, it was ...
Aaron Elson: Oh, about three feet.
Bob Cash: When you stand on the catwalk, which goes from the front to the back of the plane, that gives you about this much room to get out of there. But it stopped right there, and I was fighting the fire, I couldn't see much of anything, and one of those 20-millimeters came by, and I had an old pisspot that your dad knows what those were, I put that down over my flight helmet, and it came down about like that, and one of those 20-millimeters went by and knocked it off of my head. And I used to be burned clear out to my ear here -- I've gotten a little hair back there -- but it just about knocked me out, and about that time I was standing, I was down on the catwalk, getting ready to go, to bail out, and I felt somebody nudge me and it was my pilot because he was a shorter man than the co-pilot. I couldn't see his face but I knew it was him, there wasn't anybody else there, but he was getting ready to go too, and he had trimmed the ship up the best he could before he left his seat, and I was setting there still trying to get that parachute hooked on the other side, I think it was on the left side, and I told him I wasn't ready, to go on and go out, and he had gotten down in a squatting position, he had to roll out of the thing. And several things to contend with when you're going down over water. First off, you want to go out where you're safe enough that you won't be blown back up into the rear end of the plane, you want to kind of free fall for a while to get away from it. But he was down ready to go and I was standing over him, and about that time the plane curled over to the left and it threw both of us over into the left hand side of the bomb bay which was closed, banging around with those bomb loads, and he fell on top of me.
I managed to get him up off of me and push him up to a vertical position where he could get back in the position to go out, and then I managed to get up there, and we were going down like this, so if you're pulling any G's that's about as close to a G as I ever, trying to get back up on that catwalk to go out. Well, he was up there and he was just frozen, he wouldn't go on. I finally told him to "Go on! Go on!" And he was still sitting there. And I finally just took him and shoved him out. He had on a backpack, all the officers wore a back pack. We had to go from the front to the back of that catwalk, and we did that without a parachute except in our hands. The catwalk's about that wide ...
Aaron Elson: About eight inches?
Bob Cash: It separates the right from the left bomb bay. Anyway, out he went, and that was the last he was ever seen. And I got down there and got in a squatting position to roll out after I pushed him out, and I'm fighting this fire and my clothes were on fire, and a fire's worse than anything else, anything, because I took a, one of these small arms fire that hit my engineer as I was down like this getting ready to go out, it came right under my shoulder here and through the fleshy part of my leg ...
Aaron Elson: Your right leg?
Bob Cash: Yeah. And went in here and came out down there, and didn't hit the bone. But anyway, I got up there and tried two or three more times and you know, you're in a state of anxiety anyway when you're burning up and you know you're going out over the sea, so I just held that side, the left side of that, and I had my ripcord over here, and I rolled out, and I was going right straight down. I got out, and as I jerked that cord, all parachutes have a pilot chute, you know, that pulls the main chute out. Well, that thing came out first and cold-cocked me as I was going right straight down, and that addled me for a few minutes. This eye had been burned shut and this one I could just barely see out of but I could see. The last thing I saw was my group, or the flight was going off, and they were about ready to make their turn to the IP, and I thought, "What is a kid like you doing over here, in this circumstance?" Well, I talked to the Lord a few times, but I was falling at a pretty fast rate because I was hooked to one side of that parachute, and it didn't have an opportunity to get all the air under it, since I was pulling it down on one side. And I was falling fast, and I couldn't see much of anything at that time, and I was in and out of consciousness, but I came to at maybe two or three hundred feet, I don't know, but I had a soft landing going into the water. And it was wet, too. I imagine it kept my clothes from burning.
Of course I didn't have any shoes or anything, your shoes are the first thing that pops off of you. I knew too, that, we were trained, if you're going down over water, undo the chest strap and the two leg straps of your harness and get away from the chute because once the chute gets in the water if you have any wave action at all, it'll take you to the bottom. So I managed to undo both of my, I couldn't lift this leg because I'd been shot in it. I did get out of this left hook and my chest hook before I hit the water. I'm just hanging in the chute with this one the only hook that was, I had to worry about, but I went into the water that way and they were right, it will take you to the bottom, because the minute it got into waves and everything it was taking me down, so I managed, the first thing I did was undo this right hook and pull my Mae West which I was wearing. And I always left about six inches of play in the crotch of that thing because you have so much stuff on that, but anyway, when I activated the Mae West it rose up like this, and when I got to the surface it was trying to drown me. I managed to control that and, I don't know, I've had people ask me many times, "How long were you in the water?" Because the Baltic even in June is cold. I would guess that I was in there maybe 15 or 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes, I don't know. Hard to read your watch at that time in those conditions.
I knew that I needed help. I was bleeding like a stuck pig from this wound in my leg and losing a lot of blood, but thank the Lord, here came a launch. The German marines were out picking up some of their guys that we'd managed to nail, and they came alongside of me and threw me a rope, and so, my hands had been burned pretty badly, and I grabbed ahold of this rope naturally, and so they were screaming at me, I couldn't tell what they were saying but they were telling me to hurry up because they needed to go pick up some more people. But I got aboard finally after, my hands just peeled off that rope ...
Aaron Elson: Because they were burned?
Bob Cash: Oh yeah. I didn't have any gloves or anything on when I was trying to get out of that durn airplane. I got aboard and they had two guys in there. One was the pilot that was flying on our right wing, and he had taken a rocket between the No. 1 and the 2 engine, and his wing just snapped like a cracker. Well, his right wing came over and almost wiped us out, we were flying in the lead of the element of three, and he couldn't, he tried to get out but he couldn't get anything to work, and so he sat back in the seat and ... I guess just gave up ... but about that time the plane blew up, blew him right through the canopy, opened his chute, and he hit pretty close to me because he was already in the boat when I got aboard. Fifty years later I met him in Kentucky when we had a reunion. He was an educator, and his name was Goodrich. And he still lives. I hope to see him in St. Louis.
Aaron Elson: He was the only survivor of his plane?
Bob Cash: Yes. Yes he was. But they had also picked up another guy that, down to his shorts, and I imagine that he, the plane did blow up. I never did, I couldn't visualize the plane, I never saw it blow up, but it undoubtedly, he was a waist gunner from our crew, and he, I guess he was blown out of the ship. His clothes were off, you know, he was down to his shorts ...
Aaron Elson: They were burned off?
Bob Cash: Yeah. And they managed to get him and take him aboard and he was dead, and they asked me if I knew who that was and I said no, I didn't, but I did know who he was because he was one of my waist gunners.
Aaron Elson: His name was?
Bob Cash: He was from Trotwood, Ohio. Bill Mendenhall was his name. And, fortunately, we were with these marines when we landed right up here, probably right in here (pointing to the map on the wall) is where we docked. There were people that were standing there ready to string us up.
Aaron Elson: Really?
Bob Cash: Oh yeah. And they had to fight 'em off. And there happened to be a truck nearby that they threw us in the back of and took us off, and got us out of the civilians. And Mr. Goodrich was kind enough to help me in and out of the boat and into the lorry that was picking us up and taking us to try to find a hospital. We finally did find one after, this was 9:30 in the morning when we got hit, and it was midafternoon before they had a hospital that would take us in. And it was a Luftwaffe hospital, I didn't know it at the time, but the little town of Greifswald here, and I was once again blessed. Mr. Goodrich and I were taken in there and they tore off the rest of my clothes and gave me some others, and started treating my burns. Goodrich went in another direction, I don't know, he was still in the hospital, but we ended up both of us in a big bay there that several pilots were in that were prisoners. American fighter pilots were in there recovering, and they treated their Air Force, their Luftwaffe, with kid gloves, and they gave me the same respect, so I was double fortunate. And I was in there about six or eight hours, they tried to feed me something and I didn't feel like eating, I was running a temperature, and they realized I had scarlet fever.
Aaron Elson: Scarlet fever?
Bob Cash: Hah. Which takes about two weeks to germinate. I can't imagine where I got it because I was on the base the whole time. But anyway they hustled me out and got me in another ward where it was, you know, it's highly contagious, and I spent the rest of the time in the scarlet fever ward and managed to get my leg healed up. I guess I was in there maybe three weeks, and during that interim the 8th Air Force was flying over every day to some target up there, probably Politz again, and they'd start scrambling around and sirens were going off, and a couple of little guys, older fellows, would come in there with a hammock type litter and put me on it and carry me down three flights of stairs to the basement. And these old boys were, I learned a little bit later, they'd been on the Russian front for a couple, three years, and they did that two or three times. Like I say, I spent, oh, three, four weeks in the hospital.
Aaron Elson: Even though your leg was healing you were not ambulatory?
Bob Cash: No, this leg wouldn't allow me, I couldn't walk on it. That went through that main muscle, you know, and I couldn't do it, I couldn't move, I wasn't ambulatory at all, so I was at their mercy.
Aaron Elson: Now when you say they had been on the Russian front ...
Bob Cash: Well, I found that out from a young guy that was a German fighter pilot who got shot down, and he was about my age and he'd been flying for two years.
Aaron Elson: So did you kind of bond with the German fighter pilot?
Bob Cash: Slightly. Slightly. He could speak English and I couldn't speak German.
Aaron Elson: These ones who were like the ward boys, were they like shellshocked?
Bob Cash: No, I don't think so, they were just survivors, because that was a bloody mess over there you know. Each side lost millions of men.
A couple of guards came up one day and my leg was healing up fairly well, and they came up and told the nurse that they were there to take me to the interrogation center. This is our marching path (pointing to map)
Aaron Elson: Why did you go in a circle?
Bob Cash: That's what we wanted to know, because they told us after we, when they alerted us that we were going to do a little marching, the Russians were blazing in from this direction, but we, through the grapevine, we found out that that's the reason that we were getting ready to go, and there were 10,000 men up here. Most of them were American crewmen who'd been shot down. They said to prepare ourselves for a 16-day march, and there wasn't much preparing because we didn't have anything except, they did open up the larder and handed out a lot of the things that we could carry with us. And of course every can of anything had had a bayonet stuck in it, and had been sitting there for several days. A lot of the guys that took a lot of that canned goods stuff got sicker than a dog a day or two after we had gotten on the march. But as it turned out we were 16 days doing this ...
Aaron Elson: Going in a circle ...
Bob Cash: And finally, the Russians were getting so close that we had made this circle and then we went up to Schweinemunde and got on a cattle boat and stayed close to the, they put us in the hold down there where the pigs and everything else had been, we weren't too happy, but we came over into this area where we got off that thing and we were glad to get off of it because that's where we started our death march, right there. We went in that direction. When those guards came to get me, we came from here and went through Berlin from the hospital. They'd given me some clothes because my clothes were burned off, and they gave me one of these fighter pilot's clothes, with the green shirt and pants, and he must have been about this tall because ...
Aaron Elson: He came up to your chin ...
Bob Cash: Like that and they gave me his flight boots, I had no shoes, and they marched me through Berlin and I looked at the devastation there, they showed me all that good stuff, it was a real mess. And we got on the subway there and there were thousands of people down there, you know, and I had this, they were looking, I knew I was looking pretty scroungy because they had shaved my head in order to let those burns heal, and it's a wonder they didn't put a shiv to me, you know. And finally I looked down, and this little guy, this fighter pilot's shirt had a big 8th Air Force patch on it. I quietly removed that, and got down to Wetzlar after we left Berlin, and Wetzlar is located right here, that's where they did most of the interrogation. Then about three days in the hole there, solitary, and then they woke me up and they had about, I don't know how many hundreds of people to interrogate there. But they told me everything that they wanted to know, and they keep asking me questions, you know, when I was there and the guy could speak better English than I. He had been educated in the States, and he asked me what I was doing. What was my position. I'd just keep answering him with my name, rank and number, and he finally barked some orders to one of the gefreiders, the privates, and he came back with a big book, he flipped over to the 492nd and he had a full roster of everybody there. And he said "Well I'll just tell you if you're not gonna tell me." He said, "Did you know that your mess sergeant is on leave right now in London?" Of course my eyes kind of swelled up like that, you know, and I said, "No, I didn't know that." Well, they knew I wasn't gonna tell them anything so they kicked my ass out of there and got me back in a cell. And a day or two later they put us on a train and sent us down to, here's the Rhine River, sent us down to St. Wendel and they had determined that would be Stalag VI. Well, they forgot that they already had a Stalag VI up here in Poland, close to Auschwitz, but they called this Stalag VI, and what the deal was at that time, they were just, this is very small and they had us, they were putting us everyplace, they had so many of us. If they had a giant barn they'd stick us there, or some building that hadn't been leveled. They had enough troops to still patrol around on us, so we were staying in a big old barn type facility there, and we could hear tank fire, old Blood and Guts was right over here, close by, and he had been stalled, they'd taken his gas from him and sent it up to ...
Aaron Elson: In September.
Bob Cash: Yeah, that's when it was.
Aaron Elson: Yeah, they spent a month.
Bob Cash: I don't have a date on that.
Aaron Elson: I do. They spent a month ...
Bob Cash: He was mad as hell because it went up to Monty.
Aaron Elson: "Montgomery that glory happy bastard." That's the way one of the tankers described him.
Bob Cash: That's right.
Aaron Elson: They could have crossed the Moselle River and the fortresses at Metz were empty.
Bob Cash: Yeah.
Aaron Elson: And during that time they reinforced the forts and they had to fight their way across.
Bob Cash: That's right, and that was a bloody mess too. I have a friend that went across there.
Aaron Elson: Was he in the 90th Division?
Bob Cash: I don't know. He's a lawyer in Oklahoma City, we took the Rhine River cruise with him, and he got out there where that bridge was and he was telling us all about it. But anyway, the Russians were making such good time over here on the East, and here was Patton over here and he didn't take too many prisoners either, and they got nervous as hell with me settin' right here, and they put me and about 200 other guys on ten 40-and-8 boxcars and shipped us out. The first night was in Frankfurt, which was a target of opportunity every day. They'd get out and lock, of course we were locked in, and they'd get out and hopefully the 8th would kill us all. And we made another stop at I think it was Saarbrucken, and that was another target that they liked to hit, they were building ball bearings and everything down in here, there were many targets that they liked to hit. And then, along the way, we came this way, and we stayed I think in Leipzig which was a hot one, I never did get that far over, but we spent the night in Berlin and the British liked to hit that at night. So we got to hear them come and go, and then this is down here, that's the rest of the story. From Berlin on up to our camp up there. This is Berlin right here (pointing to map). Up here, close to Stargard, a P-47 came down and strafed the train, and it wasn't marked in any way, and the engineer must have been a daredevil because they liked to start at the engine and sweep a train like that to the back, and they killed about 12 of our comrades there, and we were stacked up like cordwood in there when of course we have any strafing going on.
Aaron Elson: You would hit the ground?
Bob Cash: No, I hit the floor. We never got off the train in eight days.
Aaron Elson: I meant the floor.
Bob Cash: Yeah, that was about the toughest eight days I ever spent, because we never got off the train, and guys had dysentery. You couldn't even sit down all at once. There wasn't that much room. It was a pitiful sight.
Aaron Elson: How about food?
Bob Cash: Oh, there wasn't any food. If we got a bucket of water, we were glad to get that. I guess maybe we got one food stop, and it was nothing but soup, but there wasn't any food. Anyway, that was our train trip. And then on the 6th of February, 1945, we evacuated Stalag IV and started on our march.
Aaron Elson: Now wait, I'd like to get some information about what life was like at Stalag IV.
Bob Cash: Stalag IV?
Aaron Elson: I mentioned to Ray that another person from Stalag IV who I'm going to see in Mesa, Arizona, his name is John Sweren, told me about reading he had done. I mentioned that to Ray, he opened his book, he had written down a list of all the books he read at Stalag IV. Did they have a library there?
Bob Cash: I didn't, if they had one I didn't know about it. Of course I was only there six months.
Aaron Elson: Only!
Bob Cash: I was there one time, and of course our, I would get out and exercise myself and was walking around the compound, we had a trench inside the compound that you could get out and walk and yell over to some of the other compounds, you know, if somebody was over that wanted to talk, but you couldn't get close to the fence. We did play a little ball. They had a wooden fence, it wasn't a fence, it was just 2-by-4 rails and it was about two feet off the ground back away from the barbed wire, and if you got between that and the barbed wire, you were fair game, and I understand a guy that was cut down from the tower, he was chasing a ball, and they started screaming at him, didn't give him a chance to, he hadn't even gotten to the fence, but he was in that restricted area, so that made an impression on all of us that if the ball goes out there in that area just leave it until one of the guards can throw it back to you. But anyway, Stalag IV, I played a lot of bridge there, a friend of mine lives up in Michigan whom we talk to and see on occasion, and he started to march out with us too. Carl Moss was his name. Carl, after we did our loop, 16 days and then he was on the cattle boat when we got off, we were in columns of about 200 men, they had us split out, and he was in a column that went south and got on a train. He marched for about two days and got on a train and went south. Anyway, that was a pitiful thing, the march, and that trek on the map, I measured it out as best I could remember and the places, the little villages that we hit, it's got the names on there, and it, from the start to the finish, I measured out 1,256 kilometers. Which equates to 797 miles. I round it off to 8, that sounds better.
Aaron Elson: How many days?
Bob Cash: Ninety. Ninety days. And it was weather just like this, the worst winter that Germany had experienced and your dad could testify to that, and we didn't, we got inside a barn about three or four times. The rest of the time we'd just bed down.
Aaron Elson: I've got to go back to Stalag Luft IV for a moment. I'm going to say two words, and I want you to tell me what you remember about it. Three words. The Heydekrug Run.
Bob Cash: Yes. Well Heydekrug is now called Podborschko. That was the train station that we got off and it was a mile and a half from, I failed to mention that, but they had taken our belts and our shoes the eight days we were on this damn train away from us and then they gave them back when we got to Heydekrug, or Podborschko. And we got out there and they had guards lined up by both sides of the dirt road as far as you could see, and about every third guard had a dog. And after we got our shoes on and our pants belted on, they started running us. I mean, some of the guys were not able to run, and they'd sic the dogs on them. And they really got mauled up in bad shape there. I couldn't run either, but we were chained, and it was a mile and a half to the camp, and when a guy'd go down, you just hoped that it wasn't, you weren't chained to him. Because they'd put those dogs on him and they'd just chew him up. I don't see how I could have forgotten that incident, there's just so many close calls I tell you, it's hard to remember them all.
Aaron Elson: Oh, sure. Ray said you were on the Heydekrug Run.
Bob Cash: Well they didn't run everybody, because there were some guys that didn't have to run. They just marched them, and they didn't have any dog bites or anything like that. That was against the rules, the Geneva Convention, but where were they, who's gonna enforce that? With a guy with a bayonet, you know, rousting you all the time. But I had just short of a year when we finally got and made the turn and gone as far west as we could, and about 25 miles south of Hanover ...
Aaron Elson: Wait, I'm gonna back up again. Big Stoop.
Bob Cash: Big Stoop, yeah, Big Stoop, he was the enforcer in camp, and he would come in, he never bothered me, but Carl Moss was a little short guy, my friend up in Michigan, he took him, he could just throw you across the room, and he beat up on him pretty good. But he'd come in and say he was looking for radios or something like that, and he'd go through and turn what little food you'd gotten from parcels upside down and kick it around, and any food that you had he'd kick it around or step on it. I never knew what happened to him except I had heard that somebody cut his throat, and it was a PW too. He was found dead along the way.
Aaron Elson: Did he have a sidekick, a little ...
Bob Cash: A sidekick? Yeah, I sure did.
Aaron Elson: Not you, Big Stoop. Did he have a second guard who would patrol with him?
Bob Cash: I don't know about him.
Aaron Elson: Tell me about your sidekick.
Bob Cash: Well, you had to have a sidekick to stay alive on that march, and my sidekick got back and wrote a book about it. His name was Ed Dobrin, he shortened it from Ed Dobronski. He didn't use anybody's name. He always called me Tex. I don't know why. I was from Oklahoma. I hadn't done my stint in Texas yet. But Ed wrote that, and donated the fees that he made off of that to a hospital there in his hometown. But you had to have somebody that you could get close to when you lay down in snow like that, and slush around in it all day and then have to lie down in it.
Aaron Elson: Did you have a blanket?
Bob Cash: I had a blanket and he had a blanket. He got strep throat, and on the march I'll have to say this: Somebody found this high-wheeled wagon that we pushed and pulled for 800 miles, and if you or your partner were so sick you couldn't walk, you'd get on the wagon. And Ed had strep throat, like to died from it, but if your buddy was on the wagon, you were on the wheel, pushing and pulling, and that was a real, real chore. That's where I lost most of my weight. I weighed a hundred pounds when I was liberated.
Aaron Elson: What did you weigh when you went in. You're a big guy.
Bob Cash: Well, I weighed about 185, that was my average weight. I'm not there now. In fact, I had a little heart procedure a couple years ago and I lost about 20 pounds, I was about 195 at that time, and I got out of the hospital and so forth, and I lost 20 pounds in about eight days in the hospital, and I've never gotten it back.
Ed got over his throat due to a flight surgeon that was walking with us. I imagine Ray told you about him.
Aaron Elson: No, not at all. He wrote a book too?
Bob Cash: Yes. He was shot down in southern Germany and told them that he wanted to go to one of the camps where he might be able to render aid, and they sent him up to Stalag IV.
Aaron Elson: Oh, because he was an officer.
Bob Cash: Yes. He was a captain, and when he was shot down ...
Aaron Elson: What's a flight surgeon doing on a combat mission in the first place?
Bob Cash: Well, he probably shouldn't, I think he begged his way on. He would march along with us, every step of the way, and then at night, when we were laying diown trying to get some sleep, he'd be out going around and talking to the different places, with a guard with him, and, he didn't have anything to do for them except just comfort. His daughter made two or three of our reunions. He had since died, and his daughter was trying to get him a Medal of Honor which he deserved, because I don't know how many miles that guy walked, you know he never sat down. I'd see him, I walked with him, I did go to see him one time because my gut was just, I got to where I couldn't stand up I'd eaten so many kohlrabes and stuff like that, you know, that you could forage.
Aaron Elson: This was on the march?
Bob Cash: Yeah. Every now and again they'd get into a big potato mound, and we'd grab those, or beets.
Aaron Elson: And would you eat them raw?
Bob Cash: Oh yeah. They wouldn't allow us to build a fire. Another, a humorous thing happened on the march. We were laying there in a barn, one of the few times that we'd gotten to get in a barn, and there was a little hole in the wall of this barn, about down at ground level, and we were just eatin' anything, I tell you, we were so damn, we hadn't eaten anything in days. But this little ol' skinny chicken popped up and came through that hole and Ed grabbed him and he had that thing's neck wrung, and he had it dressed down just in no time at all. And we split that thing up. And they wouldn't allow us to build any fires, and we walked around with that thing and it was beginning to warm up a little big. We had him in our klim can, you know the klim cans, and finally, I told Ed, I said, "We're gonna have to do something with this chicken because this one's gettin' green." And we asked if we could build a fire and they said no you couldn't, it's just too much of an attraction for P-47s coming down. And they were scared to death. They were scared of the Russians and they were scared of strafing and so forth and I understand that. But anyway, we finally got to a point where we just ate that sucker like he was. And I lived through that and I keep telling my wife about that. Of course it makes her sick, that sonofagun was getting a little bit greenish, but it's amazing what a guy'll eat when he's starving to death. But you try to forget those things, and I've forgotten a lot of it, too.
We had marched, as I say, to the little community of Mehlbech and were starting back east again, and most of our guards, most all of them had abandoned us. And we were in a barn, and I couldn't go another mile. I was, my stomach was just killing me, and it was a combination of eating sugar beets and raw potatoes and everything raw, and I guess if I hadn't been so damn young, most of us would have died. But we marched out, three sets of German guards, and most of those old boys were older than we and maybe in their forties, up in their fifties, they were conscripts, they were just suiting up anybody, kids from 15 years old up, but we had marched to Mehlbech, and I told Ed, I said, "I can't go any further. I'm gonna just have to take my chances and if they push us on, they're just gonna have to shoot me, because I can't go any more."
Well, he was, this was the day, about the day before we were liberated, and he was out foraging for food. And he'd gone to a farmhouse and they'd given him a little bread and turned him out, and he saw a chicken hatch over there and he went over there and thought maybe he could get some eggs or something like that, and he heard this tank fire. It was Monty's 11th Armored Division coming over the hill and they lowered that 88, you know, and he managed to jump out of that chicken shack just in time because they leveled it, they just blew it to pieces. And he rushed back and told me about that and I said, "My god, I wasn't that hungry." He was looking for something to eat. But when they did come over the hill and down into this little village, that was a second coming. I don't know how, how the guys spent five, six, seven years in the Pacific, there weren't any that long too in Europe, but I don't know how in the hell they stood that. Of course they were stationary most of the time, and if you're not, if you're dormant, you can last a long time. But put you out on a 800-mile march ... I'm sorry, it's been 64 years ago ... 65 years ago ...
Aaron Elson: It's got to be like yesterday when you think about it.
Bob Cash: Well, the thing that, the thing that got me, you wondered how come you got through something like that, and why the Lord allowed you to come home and get to your family and start your family and so forth, and so many of those kids never had a chance to do that.
Aaron Elson: You must think about that ...
Bob Cash: I think about it every day. Every day. And mainly my crew. A couple of years ago we were in, someplace up in Ohio, close to Trotwood, where my gunner that I saw laying there dead, his sister, he had two sisters and a brother that came to this, I invited them to come over and have dinner with us and so forth, I got their names, and we had a nice chat with them, you know. I couldn't tell them anything about Bill except that he was in the back end of the plane and that I did see him and that he must have died quick. And he rests in Liège.
Aaron Elson: And his name was ...
Bob Cash: His name was Bill Mendenhall. He was from Trotwood, Ohio, I think it was. We were in Dayton, that's where we had our, he wasn't too far from there, it was on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio.
Aaron Elson: Who else was on the crew?
Bob Cash: My crew members were Bill ... lord ... my tail gunner, the reason I think that plane blew up because it was hard for him to get out of that, he was a pretty chunky guy anyway, and when he got in that tail turret, you almost had to help him out. But he was from Denver, and his body was recovered almost three months after we were shot down, he had washed ashore in Osterdorp, Sweden, and he was identified and buried over there. And Osterdorp is right on the Baltic coast there. The other gunner, my nose turret gunner, he was a boy from Myrt, Mississippi, he was a country boy, too, and he's unaccounted for. My co-pilot's name was John Bronson, he was buried over there on the island north of, he was recovered and was buried over there on the island of not Rugen, but it was out off the north coast of Germany. This is between, an island, pretty good size island, that we had to fly over, it's not on that map, it's off the map, but it's a pretty good size island out there by itself and then you've got Sweden to the north.
Aaron Elson: You had said you were going to tell me about when, was it the pilot's wife who came to see you, the pilot's family?
Bob Cash: Yes. Mrs. McKoy and another son of hers that was younger than George. George McKoy. And I think a cousin was with them, they brought her up there to Oklahoma City, that's when Dorothy and I were living in Oklahoma City after we got married, and it just broke my heart that I couldn't, that I had to be the last one that saw him alive, and I didn't say I pushed him out, I said he went out before me, but I had to push him. He was sitting there, and I couldn't imagine that he was afraid to go because he'd been in so many tight spots and was such a great pilot. We had to make a landing on one of our missions coming back to the base because we'd run out of gas. But he found a little, it was a Mosquito base is what it was, and they can take off just like that, you know, and there wasn't any runway but he put that thing down, and I was standing up between them, he and the co-pilot, and he said "Get ahold of something because it's going to be rough" and he just got past a fence line and then there was another fence line down there I knew we were going through, and he put that thing down and got all the weight off of it, and ground looped it, and the tail whipped around and he missed that fence about that far.
Aaron Elson: By about three feet.
Bob Cash: And we had a plane full of holes, but the main thing, we could have gotten back had we had the gas. But what a marvelous pilot he was. I recounted that to his mother. Of course they wanted to know if he was alive someplace, but he was never accounted for. They couldn't pick them all up I guess, and I just happened to be one of the lucky ones. If he hit the water, it could have been anything, I mean they were shooting us in the chutes.
Aaron Elson: They were?
Bob Cash: Yeah, they were shooting us. And I didn't have anybody shooting at me, but of course I was falling so fast I don't believe they could have hit me anyway, with that chute pulled down, you know, on one side. We were at 23,000 feet when I went out.
Aaron Elson: Do you ever think about that, you know, that here you're in the middle of a battle, everybody's trying to kill each other, you have somebody who's helpless, is falling to the earth, they're still to kill and then you hit the water, and then they pull you into a boat, and all of a sudden nobody's trying to kill you anymore ...
Bob Cash: Well they tried to kill us, if the marines hadn't fought 'em off.
Aaron Elson: Yes. But I mean all of a sudden, your enemy now is protecting you.
Bob Cash: Yeah. Yeah.
Aaron Elson: Did you ever think about that?
Bob Cash: Oh, I think about it all the time, because, it's just one of the many nightmares you have, but, yeah, we'd have been sunk. In fact my navigator, the day we were shot down, he was pulled out of our plane before we took off and was put in the lead plane, and he was shot down too, but he must have been ahead of us, he was in another group's plane, I mean not another group, another squadron's plane ahead of us, and he went down and had to bail out and he hit in shallow water and waded ashore. Of course they took him in, he wasn't injured in any way, and he came back, he just spent his time over there and came back to the States, I think he died of something two or three years later and he was younger than I, he was the youngest man on the plane. Just by a matter of months.
Aaron Elson: What did your crew do for a navigator on that mission?
Bob Cash: Well, they depended on me if I could have broken radio silence. That was the only thing, of course you can fly without a navigator if you're flying in a group, or a squadron, but when you've lost your whole squadron, you're dependent on radio. It was, I forgot, neglected to tell you that our squadron leader, a man by the name of Velardi, we got up and as we were forming and getting ready to go as a group, he was experiencing some manifold exhaust problems and he couldn't get enough juice to it to keep up. Consequently, his whole squadron, all of us were losing ground. That's one reason we were nailed, all of us.
Aaron Elson: You were like separated from the ...
Bob Cash: Yeah, and he made it to, on the mission, he was trying to make it, but he realized that he had jeopardized all of us and not aborted, he could have gone back. But he did go back. He aborted, and he was the only one in the squadron that made it back. Mr. Velardi.
Aaron Elson: The whole squadron was shot down?
Bob Cash: Yeah. We had 14 planes riding on him. He was the squadron leader and you formed on him. Three to an element, they called them. But he aborted about five minutes before we got hit. And they didn't, they'd rather take us all down, that's the reason they didn't bother him.
That outlines the mission I was shot down on. We (the 492nd) only flew 67 missions, and we got shot down, we were the first group over there with no color on the planes, they were just flying up there and easy to hit, and they were silver airplanes. It's so strange. My records, I guess, were burned up in whenever the fire was there, where did they store those things?
Aaron Elson: St. Louis
Bob Cash: Right. I think my records were there, because they hadn't even credited me with flying D-Day, and I made at least, I got two clusters on my the air medal, I got two air medals, and you had to have at least six missions to qualify for a medal. But it never showed up in the records.
Aaron Elson: How did you get the Croix de Guerre?
Bob Cash: That was for bombing in France. And that, they did have that in my records, that I had performed several missions in France, and one of the dignitaries came over to the VA and awarded that to me. But it wasn't anything individually, it was something they awarded all the people that had flown bombing missions over there.
Aaron Elson: I'd never seen that before. They couldn't have done that for everyone.
Bob Cash: Well, there were several orders of that, and I think this was probably the least one. I never did research that too closely, and that was another time that I would have been honored for that, on D-Day, and that's one I'll never forget. They didn't credit me with that because that was about, I told you it must have been about our fifth mission or something like that, and we didn't set around, if you weren't flying missions, you were either flying or asleep, and we didn't get that much sleep. But I started flying, I think it probably was the 29th of May, and we flew most every day leading up to ... I found that book. Eighty-nine days. That's how long my group lasted. There were so few left that they just dispersed the group and sent the guys that hadn't finished their tour yet, they funneled them out to different groups, and that's how this man that could remember everything, that's what happened to him.
Aaron Elson: Some of them went to the 445th
Bob Cash: I think so. There might be some of them got taken down there at Kassel.
Aaron Elson: Look at this, one of them was Web Uebelhoer, he was the pilot of the deputy lead ship on the Kassel mission. Here it calls him Wilbur Uebelhoer. I interviewed him in 1999. He's passed away. A wonderful man. And he said he'd come over from a different bomb group. And the lead plane was shot down and he took over. His was one of four that made it back to their base, out of 35. Twenty-five were shot down over the target, and the others crash-landed in Belgium, France, Manston, England. I'll be darned.
Bob Cash: If you'd like to look that over, you may take that with y ou.
Aaron Elson: I'm going to leave it with you, I have a habit, people lend me something, they never see it again. You even have it autographed. I could always find one of these if I want. Now, I'd just like a little bit of background, gee, I come here, I've got all these war stories. Here's a chance to get some oil stories.
Bob Cash: Oil stories.
Aaron Elson: Ray said that you were ...
Bob Cash: A geologist.
Aaron Elson: But first you've got to tell me a little bit about how you met your wife ...
Bob Cash: (laughs) How'd we meet, Honey?
DOROTHY CASH: Who, you and I?
Bob Cash: He wants to know how we met.
DOROTHY CASH: Well he tells me he picked me up.
Bob Cash: I picked her up off the street. She was a registered nurse, and there was about three or four of them in a bunch there, they were standing on the corner ...
DOROTHY CASH: Oh, we were in a car and you were in a car, there were five of we nurses in a car and five of his fraternity brothers in a car, and we stopped at a stop sign and started talking to them, and one of the girls knew one of the boys in his car because they were from the same town. That's how we met. It was kind of a pickup.
Bob Cash: It was a pickup.
Aaron Elson: Were you going to college under the GI Bill?
Bob Cash: Oh yeah. She was still in nurse's training.
Aaron Elson: Was she a nurse during the war?
Bob Cash: No, but she would've had she stayed in. She would've probably ended up in the Pacific. But they had uniforms and everything else, ready to go. Anyway, we were married in 1947, I'd pledged a fraternity, I didn't have the money really to be in it so I washed dishes and got my house bill paid for, I think it was about $40 a month at that time. After I met Dorothy we'd go out, I'd borrow somebody's car, and go to Oklahoma City and pick her up, that's where she was in training, at St. Anthony's. And she was just about finished, and she was scared to death about taking what they call, it's kind of like the finals, before you got your full-fledged nursing degree. And she had a book about that thick that she had to account for, they'd take questions out of that. And I would quiz her with that, I'd just turn to a page and take some quote out there and I'd quiz her about that, which she could always answer but she was scared to death that she just wasn't going to pass that. It was kind of frightening when you're, even though, the book was about that thick, and they could pick any part of it out and ask you a question. Some was written and some was oral, I told people that I got her through nurse's training because I quizzed her on that book.
Aaron Elson: And where were you studying, the University of Oklahoma?
Bob Cash: Yes, we finished there in '49.
Aaron Elson: The year I was born.
Bob Cash: Really? That was a good year, for me.
Aaron Elson: Now I see that sign that says "My Dad, my Hero," so I assume you have at least one son...
Bob Cash: I've got two girls. I never could get a yard boy, but I got a blonde and a brunette. This is Becky and this is our first born, Glennis. I named her for my mother, Glennis and Becky, and they're very close. Glennis is 60 years old now. And Becky is her little sister. We had the two girls, and they are real charmers. Becky didn't get married until she was 50 years old. Good looking thing, running around, but she never could find one that she liked well enough.
Aaron Elson: It happens.
Bob Cash: She and David, he worked for TXI, Texas Industries, and they're in sand and gravel and cement and so forth. And he's their comptroller. He had to go in this morning to give a little speech at one of the meetings that they have. Excellent guy. I couldn't be more proud of him. And Glennis taught young, real young children, she taught them for about 35 years and retired from the state of Oklahoma. She worked with autistic children, a lot of problem kids, which we are very proud of her, very compassionate girl, as is her sister. Those girls, you know, we moved out here in 2000, no, I'm sorry, 2004, and ever since we've been out here, our health has gone south on us. She started out 45 years before that and had to have a mastectomy, and she fought the attendant stuff that goes with it, it's not radiation, well it's a form of radiation, what in the hell is that ...
Aaron Elson: Chemo?
Bob Cash: Well no, they didn't have chemo at that time. But she, 45 years later she had another suspect thing in her body which was not related to the breast at all, and she had to go through chemo, and a little radiation, but not much radiation, enough to practically ruin her anyway, and then, this is during a five-year period, she got a little tumor up her in her throat, which is again unrelated to the rest of it, and it was operable and it was up near her thyroid. So she had to go through a little more chemo. And bless her heart, she's been fighting ever since. She has to go in three months to have a PET scan or something like that. And she's lost so much weight, both of us are twenty pounds off our regular weight.
Aaron Elson: You don't have the twenty pounds to lose.
Bob Cash: She had it to lose, but she's never been able to gain it back, and I've been trying to get her to go to a good dietician. Her oncologist made a recommendation that she's got now, this woman, she's highly educated. I had a brother that was two and a half years older than I, and he went in the service, and he went through radio school, and he was a high speed operator, he could take I don't know how many words a minute, I wasn't that type of radio operator. He was a control tower operator, and he spent three years up in, off the coast of Maine.
Aaron Elson: Block Island?
Bob Cash: No. It was a stopoff for some planes coming back from Europe. He handled a lot of that traffic.
Aaron Elson: Not Bangor.
Bob Cash: No, not Bangor. It wasn't in the States, it was an island off there, and I don't even know ...Honey! Tell me where Bud was stationed out there. I'm trying to remember where Bud was stationed, off the coast ... Newfoundland! Yeah, he was in Newfoundland. It wasn't too far away. He had a chance to fly home quite a bit. I gave him credit on the World War II Museum. He had lung cancer, smoked too long. I tried to break him of that. I quit 30 years ago or more, I used to smoke. I smoked everything that came by, cigarettes, course I didn't get too many of those over there. I smoked cigars and pipes and everything. But I quit, I knew that it was gonna get me.
Aaron Elson: What did you do as a geologist?
Bob Cash: I would manipulate some electric logs in an area that had been drilled, had a few wells on it, run electric logs on it and then, if, they'd take what they called drill stem tests, as long as they're drilling if they get a show, they'll run a drill stem test. The results of those can give you a clue to oil accumulations or gas accumulations, and I'd go through all that stuff and work up a deal, a drilling deal, and then work the maps up and show how good a deal it was, and I'd go out and try to sell it. That was after I'd been 20 years with Amoco. I came to Dallas, I was living in Fort Worth at the time, and was disgusted with Amoco because you couldn't sell 'em anything, I got disgusted with them, quit them, and almost the next day an independent operator here in Dallas, a man who'd been in the business about 50 years, called me and offered me a job to come run his company for him, which I did, for 20 years. And I could sell him things, and then I'd carve out a little override for myself, and that's what I'm living on. Of course it doesn't last forever, you know.
Aaron Elson: What do you mean you could sell them things?
Bob Cash: Well I would show him the merits of the prospect, and I'd have an idea of what the potential was, and if he likes the looks of it, he'd agree to drill it. Of course, he was not a field man, he had an engineer who worked for him, and we would drill as an operator, after we got out and got the leases and so forth, and if it was successful then he would carve me out a little override, and he was good to me wage-wise when I went to work for him, about three times what I was making at Amoco. And I didn't know too much about him except I knew that he was a hard sell. And he was a hard trader. But they said if he told you he'd do something, he did it. And he had friends that he worked with and partnered with and so forth that were that same way, and so that gave me an entree into their office, and he would rope them in on some of our deals. So it made it a little easier for me. I'd go by and tell them, they'd just say, Look, if you're gonna take a piece of this, if you're gonna operate it, I want in on it. They knew how, what a hard sell he was. And those were some good years. He died a few years after I left him, but he got to where he was playing things too close to the vest, and I wasn't able to get him to participate at a level where I could have gotten something out of it. But through the years I did make him several millions of dollars, and he rewarded me for that, and we were fortunate in order to get some acreage positions when the government was putting this lottery out and you could bid on these tracts for almost nothing, and we acquired about almost 50,000 acres up in the Colorado and New Mexico, Wyoming, and one day he said, "Bob, what do you think about selling all that acreage?" He said, "You know, we got a pretty good thing on it, we got" -- actually 48,000 acres is what it amounted to -- and he said, "Do you suppose we could get five dollars an acre for that?" I said, "No, hell no." I said, "I wouldn't even try to sell it for five." I said, "I'd sell it for $25." And he said, his eyes swelled up, and so I put together a little package there and sold it to American Airlines. At $25 an acre, and so that was another pretty nice little piece of change for him and so he rewarded me nicely for that. But that damn business is so cyclical, it's a tough business, and people, you could show them where they could get four or five to one on their money, and it just wasn't good enough. Of course that's their privilege, but when you've got a whole business full of people that you had done business with before and you couldn't get them to bite on anything, I told J. Lee, my boss, I said, "You know, I don't that you're enjoying me this much, and I know that you're paying me well, but why don't I just pick up my pencils and my map, and I'll get out of your office."
And he said, "Well, I kind of hate to see you go, because you've been good to me and I've tried to be good to you, but if that's what you want to do, maybe it'd be best for you." So that's the way we parted.
I hooked up with a couple of other geologists that were working different areas and had some ideas in different areas, and we put together, worked about eight years putting together a prospect south of, over in east Texas, and it was shallow drilling, which was, principally gas but we'd have been happy to have oil too, and we got together and I was able to encourage a bunch of my friends -- one of which was Ray, Ray took a little piece of one, about a 2 percent interest -- and we drilled six or eight wells, and every one of them had good shows, but we didn't have an engineer that could get it to the surface, and he was calling the shots, he was operating these things.
We'd be out setting the wells, and he had a son, the operator was a friend of mine, we were in school together, and he was a graduate petroleum engineer, and he had a son who was not college educated, but he'd been out and learned a lot of the tricks, what needed to be done, but he still didn't have the brain power to take over for his dad, and we had one well that has made two or three million a day, and my friend looked at that log that we had perforated a zone down deep, and he said, "Why don't we perforate a little more of that zone," then we can make it up to four or five million a day ..."
Aaron Elson: When you say million a day, do you mean cubic feet or dollars?
Bob Cash: Yeah, cubic feet. What we had is the whole thing on this prospect, or this well, cost maybe, at that time, about $200,000, to drill incomplete. And we warned him about that, but he went ahead and did it anyway, and went to water. He perforated too far down, and water's always beneath you, whether you have gas or oil. But he ruined it, and a lot of times he would not test where we suggested that he test while we were drilling, and it turned out to be a rotten deal, and his health went south on him, he had a heart problem, and he was having a tough time. We've still got the prospect, but our acreage went out, it expired on us, and in order to put it back together we'd have to go out and renew the leases, which we could do.
Aaron Elson: And how does the water ruin the ...
Bob Cash: Well, when you have oil or gas here, in this interval, and it's all water down here, depending on the size of the reservoir, if you've got a big, strong water drive, and you perforate into it, it'll come out and your gas or oil will depreciate and you've got a water well. So it's a touchy situation. My partner and I put that deal together. He lives down in Ennis, he's an old grunt, in the third wave of Iwo, and he attended SMU, Southern Methodist, but anyway, he's a good geologist, and we got along pretty well together, and we've done a lot of selling, a lot of work selling, but this prospect just kind of died on the vine. I told him, I said, I can't spend any more time on that, I've got to get on to something that's gonna be more appealing, maybe something deeper, that has some reserves that would be attractive, because you've got all kinds of buyers out there. Some people want the deeper stuff, where they can make ten million a day or something like that, and quick results, even though it's costing them more money to drill those prospects. But it was a good ride, I enjoyed it, and I've still got maps sticking over here in the corner. If we live long enough we might revive that prospect, it's over in East Texas. But that's what I was doing. And then, you know, after we sell the thing, and we sell it on us watching the wells, and that's fine, that appeals to a lot of people, if they think you know what you're doing. So the success of the thing not only helps them but it helps us.
Aaron Elson: When you do this, do you go out physically to the wells themselves?
Bob Cash: Yes. We charge them five or six hundred dollars a day, and expenses.
Aaron Elson: So have you seen, like in the movies, when they hit oil, a gusher comes up?
Bob Cash: I've had a few of those.
Aaron Elson: Do you get soaked with oil?
Bob Cash: Well, no, we've got valves that they can shut the thing, when that happens. They didn't used to have any valve equipment, well heads and so forth that they can shut something, they'd go hit something big and it would just go all over the country, cover everybody up. But it was a fun business. A lot of times, when you try to carve out a little piece for yourself, they call that an override, and you take a prospect to them and show them what they can make out of it if it's successful, and then you sell them maybe, if you had seven-eighths leases, that means you had an 81 and a quarter percent of the prospect to sell. And a lot of times we would encumber it with an override position in which you might sell 75 percent to 100 percent of the cost.
When times started getting bad they didn't think you deserved that override, plus money. And so that made it hard to sell, and a lot of times we backed off a little on the override, where we might retain a 2 percent or something like that, but I've sold a lot of them at almost full interest for 81 and a quarter. But it got to where a lot of people you used to do business, they got to where they didn't like taking those 75 percent leases, and they didn't think that the geologist was entitled to that much. We'd try to talk them into it, by diluting our interest, and they still weren't that much interested. That's their privilege. But anyway, it's a good business, and we, I was able to get a house paid for in Dallas and we came up here and I kind of liked the looks of the deal, and I wanted to get out of Dallas, our neighborhood there kind of went sour on us and we had a lot of blacks and we had a lot of Mexicans moving in about a block from us, and they were dealing dope, and gunfire was going off at night. I told Dorothy, "We're getting out of here."
Aaron Elson: That was about ten years ago?
Bob Cash: No, we've been here five years, and I started trying to get her out when this was still in its embryonic stage, but it was kind of hard to get her out of the house and come out here in the country. And it was country when we moved out here.
Aaron Elson: When you were telling me where it was, I was expecting a dirt road.
Bob Cash: Well there's all kinds of things that have moved in there in the last couple, three years. They've got every damn store out there at Exit 37. Both sides of the street, and there's many good places to eat, there's Cajun food, there's Mexican food, and everything else that you have in Dallas, so we don't care about going into Dallas.
Aaron Elson: Did your plane have a name?
Bob Cash: It did, but it wasn't one that we gave it.
Aaron Elson: You inherited it?
Bob Cash: Yeah, ours was shot up, they hadn't filled up all the holes by the time we pulled that Politz raid. We got another guy's plane. I'm sure he's glad he wasn't on it. But this, the name of this plane, and it was a good one, it made about 17 missions, but not to Politz, you know, I can't remember anything anymore. Sorry, I have to refer to history here ... here's my crew members:
Aaron Elson: 2nd Lieutenant John Egbert Bronson, that's the co-pilot, he was married, Mrs. John E. Bronson, wife, Pomona, California. Second Lieutenant George C. McKoy, pilot, unaccounted for. So this is right after the war, immediately. Mother, Mrs. Cecilia B. McKoy, Stonewall, Oklahoma.
Bob Cash: They own Stonewall, I think.
Aaron Elson: Staff Sgt. Calvin W. Schmellyun ...
Bob Cash: That's my engineer.
Aaron Elson: Mrs. Catherine N. Schmellyun, mother, Washington Blvd., Hale Thorpe, Maryland. Sgt. James. G. Morrow, assistant engineer, Myrt, Mississippi, Rural Route 1, he was married, Mrs. James Morrow, wife. Sgt. William C. Mendenhall, assistant radio operator ...
Bob Cash: That's the boy that they picked up in the boat.
Aaron Elson: Oh, look at this, Mr. Russell L. Mendenhall, father. His mother had passed away?
Bob Cash: Yeah, but he had two or three, eleven sisters and a brother. 11 South Broadway, Trotwood, Ohio. Sgt. William B. Dooling, Jr.
Bob Cash: Bill Dooling.
Aaron Elson: Bill Dooling.
Bob Cash: And he's from Connecticut.
Aaron Elson: Ansonia, Connecticut. And Sgt. William E. Henry, he's the one whose body washed ashore ...
Bob Cash: Yes.
Aaron Elson: Oster Torp, Sweden, on Oct. 13.
Bob Cash: Right on the coast.
Aaron Elson: Denver, Colorado. Mrs. Nellie B. Henry, mother.
Bob Cash: If they had a name, I thought it was here, but it must have been some other periodical that they quoted what the name of the ship was. I think it was, hmm ...
Aaron Elson; You know, I'll bet it's on the Internet.
Bob Cash: Could be. It was a May 20 mission. There's a nice picture, that's what they look like when they're on fire and they blow up. Hazardous duty.
The audio of this interview is included in my three-interview set "March Madness," which also includes conversations with John Sweren, a tail gunner who flew 58 missions in a B-26 before becoming a prisoner of war; and Hubert Peterson, a B-17 crew member who was shot down on the first daylight mission over Berlin. The set is available as an audiobook from audible.com, or for more details, email me.
A chance to order it...priceless (well, actually $19.95 at amazon)