Interview with Domenick D’Adamo
Conducted by James Triesler
D’Adamo: I am Dominick D’Adamo, Jr. and I was born October 12, 1920 on Columbus Day. My father wanted to call me Columbus, but my mother wouldn’t let him. I was raised in Richmond. My entire life was in Richmond, Virginia. I went to Saint Benedicts Parochial School and from there I went to Benedictine High School. I graduated there in the Class of ‘37. I went to work in a dental laboratory and I worked there until 1942.
One of my brothers had already enlisted in the Air Corps and been sent down to Florida and I was determined that I was going to get in. I always wanted to join the Navy. I used to build model ships and model airplanes and everything and I thought the Navy was a good thing to be in. But then when the Army Air Corps started their Aviation Cadet Program they weren’t getting enough people to fly, I think. So, they started this program where you could go through pilot training school, navigation school, or bombardier school, whatever they selected for you. We took some tests and they determined what you would most adapt to. So I was classified as a bombardier.
I enlisted in the Air Corps because they lowered the requirements too. At first they wanted people that had to have a two year college education. And then they said, either have that or pass a test. Well, I had to take the test and I was classified as a bombardier. It is so long, I don’t know whether you want to go through the training or not.
Triesler: It is fine, if you would like to talk about the training, sure.
D’Adamo: (2:43) I went to what we call Ground School Training in Santa Anna, California. That is where you got a lot of different things – navigation and mathematics, all kinds of stuff like that. And from there we went to flight training at Roswell, New Mexico. And there I was commissioned on December 12, 1942. And then we were assigned crews, which consisted of ten man crews on the heavy bombers, the B-24s and the B-17s. Our crew was formed and we were put in B-24s. We felt very fortunate because we got one of the brand new B-24s, which they say came off of Willow Oak, you know the Ford Plant, [known] especially for building B24s. From there we went through our phase training. We went through our first phase, which was Tucson, Arizona. And then the second phase, which was more advanced, at El Paso, Texas. And we wound up the third phase [which] was Denver, Colorado. While I was there I caught pneumonia and I thought my crew was going to have to move on without me. We had been together so many months, but anyhow, this doctor signed a waiver, and it said I still had a spot on my lung, but they thought I was able to go. So from there we went to England and we weren’t there very long. We were training in England and finding out how bad the RAF was getting banged up and everything. And they figured that the most missions anybody could take would be 25, but the majority of them didn’t make the 25. So we hadn’t been there very long, hadn’t done any missions, we’d been training, you know, formation flying and everything, and they sent us down to Africa. So we were at Benghazi, Libya, for two months, flying missions out of Africa. This was during the time of getting ready to invade Sicily. So we made quite a few missions down there.
I guess the most important one was, well all of them were important. I can remember my first mission was supposed to be on an airdrome in Malamy Creek, because it was supposed to be a milk run. But when we hit there, there happened to be a German fighter squadron and, you know, they banged us up pretty good. I think everyone had a baptism by fire. It was the first time for me to see an aircraft go down in flames. Everything else was great, but when it comes to the combat and you see something like that, it changes your mind a little bit. Anyhow, we didn’t do too good on that bombing mission. We did lose one plane and so many of us got shot up, some of them pretty bad. I had some missions that stand out along with the rest of them. I think it must have been my second or third mission. We weren’t allowed to bomb Rome, but we bombed the railroad yards north of Rome and coming back, that was about a 950 mile trip. Coming back, something knocked out our number 3 engine and we had to fly all the way back to the base on three engines. We found out what happened. A little piece of flak hit the oil line and oil was leaking out and the pilot had to cut it off. Here’s the little piece of flak [D’Adamo laughs and hands a piece of flak in a plastic bag to Triesler]. It knocked out the oil line on the aircraft and the mechanic who worked on it gave that to me.
Triesler: That was nice. Good souvenir.
D’Adamo: Yeah, I don’t guess it is any good to anybody but me, but I’ve kept it all those years. And then I guess the most famous raid was the one on the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania on August 1, 1943. Up to that point it was the longest bombing trip of the war, but of course it was exceeded later. We lost six aircraft out of our group. There were five groups that bombed there. Am I rattling on too much?
Triesler: You are doing great! You really are. Thank you for sharing.
D’Adamo: There originally were two B-24 groups in Africa, so we were in the 8th Air Force and the 8th Air Force sent our three B-24 groups down there, with Cicely and all the other bombing. We bombed Ploesti at 250 feet, which was almost on the ground. After we bombed them we had to get down low so fighters couldn’t get under us. We had five groups on that raid, counting the two from Africa, and out of that we lost 54 aircraft. Some of the others got back so badly shot up they’d never take off again.
Triesler: About how many planes are in one fighter group, sir? You said there are five groups. How many planes would that be?
D’Adamo: Each group had four squadrons and each squadron would put up six aircraft. On a maximum effort like this, they would fly everything they could get in the air. But ordinarily it would be four squadrons with six aircraft each. Of course you had your regular formation and you had to stay in as close as you could. I guess one of the most memorable air raids I went on was the submarine pens at Vegesack, Germany. We had bombed our target and come around to go back. I was standing in the nose and the navigator had a table to work behind me. Flak hit our aircraft and I was standing right there and it knocked out two glass panels of the nose. If it had been six inches closer it would have got me. The air was just rushing in and so we pulled the tabs on our flak suits and I dropped them over the hole there and sat on them all the way back to keep the air from coming in. When you are going a couple hundred miles an hour, you can imagine what the air pressure would be.
Triesler: The temperature was pretty cold when you got up high?
D’Adamo: Oh yeah, usually about 40 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Of course when we were flying out of Africa and Italy and Cicely the temperature was a little warmer. And the water was so bad, our drinking water in Africa, that we would take our canteens up to altitude level where it would get a little colder and it would deaden the taste of the iodine or whatever they put in it. Anyhow, we had another long raid which was in Austria which was Vienna, Wiener-Neustadt or something like that. And we did that while we were down there because it took a long range, you know, but then we went back to England and did some more training and then they sent us back down to Tunis. And we were down there a month.
Triesler: Did you ever do any bombing in Africa against the German tanks?
D’Adamo: No, they had gone. You could look down at the desert and see millions of tank tracks and truck tracks. It always looked like a can of worms down there. It was quite a sight. But, they had been moved out, pushed out by the time we got there. And I was stationed at Alconbury, in England. That was our permanent base. In fact, it was our base before we left, our home base, you know. We were just on temporary duty in Africa. Then we started regular bombing trips, and then I think it must have been about December that I was with the 389th Bomb Group. I was in the 566th Squadron. I think they took four aircraft from our group, including my crew, and they sent us to Alconbury, which was about sixty miles north of London. It was a big radar base. And they were going to get us trained so that we could do all the flying and bombing by radar and come back and lead other crews. We did that for a good while and then they decided to make our base a school for radar navigators. All the groups wanted their own crews to lead, so they made it more like a school. Then they had us flying night missions. The night missions we would drop leaflets, and also the navigator would be photographing. We would come in on towns like it was a bomb run and he could see on the radar what the town looked like. And actually we would have two bomb runs on the same target cause we would take the pictures going in and then you would make an abrupt turn and go the other way and get a picture of it from another angle, you know. We did that for quite a while. They counted those as night missions for us, which they should have. Sometimes we would see an aircraft somewhere around and hope they didn’t see us [D’Adamo laughs]. It wasn’t too bad flying night missions, although we did get caught in a cone, which is three lights. They were so bright it lit up the inside of our aircraft. But the pilot, he was a good pilot, he must have dropped about 10,000 feet, and I couldn’t move myself, I mean for gravity. And he finally got out of the searchlights. We never got hit or anything.
Triesler: Who was your pilot?
D’Adamo: Cecil Whitener from Fredericktown, Missouri. He was an excellent pilot. He was a Major when the war ended.
To be continued….