1st Lt. Dave Hettema - Pilot / Nose Artist
323rd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group
A Distinguished Veteran
|David Hettema was one of eight children who grew up enjoying childhood in the Pasadena, California area. As a young man, he studied to become an artist and cartoonist. After graduating from high school, he attended Biola University for a semester, and then went to work at the Cal Shipyards in Long Beach, which were busy building Victory transport ships. In the summer of 1942, he volunteered for pilot training, and reported for basic training in Santa Ana, California, in February, 1943. He then reported to Ryan Field in Hemet, where he received primary training in the Ryan PT-22. After receiving advanced flight training in the BT-13, and then the multi-engine AT-17, he graduated on December 5, 1943, as a second lieutenant. Remembering tradition, he gave a dollar bill to the first GI that saluted him. In January, 1944, he reported to Roswell, New Mexico for B-17 (specifications) training, learning from B-17 pilots who had completed their 25 missions over Europe or Africa. He met his crew in Salt Lake City, and the crew headed for Sioux City, Iowa for crew training. Upon completion of their training, the crew flew a B-17 across the Atlantic to England, and reported to the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourn. He flew his first of 35 missions on July 24, 1944. He received the Air medal with four oak leaf clusters and the Group Presidential Citation medal. The following are some of his accounts, given with his permission, of his experiences in the 91st BG.|
|Dave Hettema signing "Full House - Aces High"|
|Old Battle Axe and Supermouse|
When we were issued a brand new B-17G, I decided to name it Old Battle Axe, proceeded to make a rough sketch of my idea, and then painted the nose of the ship with a cartoon of a young, angry, but angelic gal, chasing somebody with a hatchet. A couple weeks and several missions after completing the nose painting, the squadron decided that they needed that ship for electronic countermeasures, or carpetbaggers aircraft; a device for electronically frustrating the enemy anti-aircraft radar. They removed the ball turret from the belly of the plane and replaced it with a radar dome.
These countermeasure ships were flown by specially trained crews, and were used extensively in the last months of the European war. The group replacement depot issued us another B-17G, which we promptly named Supermouse. Once again, I had the pleasure of working up a rough sketch of Supermouse, and painted my cartoon character on the nose of the new ship. We had a photo of the crew taken while posing in front of Supermouse, the big bird that carried most of us to the finish of our tours. Of our original crew, there was no one killed or wounded.
|The Mexican Standoff|
On November 30, 1944, on my 33rd mission, our crew had a strange experience. The mission was to Seitz, in eastern Germany. A long flight, four hours into the target, and four hours back. Supermouse was again assigned to the low element lead. Part way into the mission, the aircraft on our left wing left the formation for some reason, probably mechanical trouble. About a half hour later, another older looking B-17G pulled into the empty slot on our left wing. This was not unusual because on any given mission, stragglers and lost aircraft would attach themselves to another group for mutual protection. I did notice that the olive drab plane had replaced the original waist escape door with a light blue one, meaning it had been salvoed at some time.
|My attention went back to flying our plane until the top turret gunner called me on the intercom saying that the strange ship had all of their machine guns pointed at our ship. This was a no-no from the first day of gunnery training. Since the orders were strict radio silence, we had to handle the situation ourselves. I immediately ordered all the guns on our ship that could see them to swing around and point their weapons at the other ship. I hoped that everyone on the intruder ship would wet their pants. We were right on the verge. If the first shot were ever fired at that close range, both ships would disintegrate in the battle. Next, we checked the identification codes for the day for the cockpit signal lamp. We challenged them to identify themselves by pointing the lamp at their cockpit window, flashing the Morse code letter of the day through a certain color lens in the lamp. If friendly, they would respond with a proper code letter and color from their lamp. We waited, no response. We were certain then it must be a captured B-17 with a German crew. We watched them closely with all of our guns ready. The Mexican standoff with the German ghost ship, high over Germany, lasted about two hours total, but as we approached the target and flak started up towards our group, they dove away. The Germans came up there to monitor our altitude, direction, and possibly identify our target.|
|Dave Hettema is one of our Rogue's Gallery members.|
|(Thanks are due Dave for providing photos and stories)|
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