Lisle Neher was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in August 1924. Life in Oshkosh was wonderful. There was a lot to do and Neher took part in numerous activities. His father taught him to shoot and he hunted with him in later years. His mother was one of eight children but one of the sisters died young and the rest were all brothers. His mother was from a small town in central Wisconsin and changed her name after leaving home. She moved to Oshkosh to work as a secretary. His father bought hides from trappers and that was how his parents met. His father was about eight years older than his mother. Neher is an only child. It took three days for his mother to deliver him. She suffered quite a bit. He was born in St. Mary's Catholic Hospital where his father later worked as the chief engineer. The hospital was run by nuns. The head nun took a liking to Neher and he had the run of the place. Being around the hospital so much made Neher want to be a surgeon. His father's business took him throughout Wisconsin, Michigan and New York. By the time Neher was 16 his parents were divorced. He and his mother moved near the airport where Neher was taking flying lessons. Later he and his mother bought a house in the southern part of Alexandria, Virginia. On 7 December 1941, Neher's family was visiting friends in Washington DC when they learned of the attack [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor]. Neher's patriotism prompted him to announce that he would not take a deferral. To Neher, his country came before his family. He gave up the idea of being a surgeon and wanted to get into the military. Neher ended up in the Army Air Corps. He went through three different specialized service schools. The first was to get to flying. The second was to get to know the B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber]. The third school was in Florida. That is where he learned gunnery. After gunnery school he was sent to a place in the middle of Kansas for training on the actual equipment he would be using. They would take long fights down to South America. On some flights they would be intercepted by fighters. This was all done to get them ready for combat.
Lisle Neher was flabbergasted when he first saw the B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber]. It was so much different than the other planes. General Curtis Lemay was in command of two divisions of bombers in England when he was called back to the United States to take over the B-29s. Initially, there were problems with fires on the B-29s. On one trip they were conducting gunnery training when one of the engines on their plane caught fire. Neher believes it is because of the low grade steel used in the exhaust systems. Fortunately, the fire suppression system in the B-29 was excellent. After they landed the plane they were given another B-29 to take up. That plane also suffered a fire in one of the engines. The pilot of Neher's plane refused to take another B-29 up that day. The most advanced part of the B-29 was the fire control system. There was nothing else like it. The turrets are not anywhere near the gunners. The gunners used a special sight which they kept locked onto the enemy plane. The sight gave the computer the speed and other information necessary to fire the guns in the correct manner. The computer also had a safety mechanism in it which prevented the gunners from shooting down their own planes. One problem they did have was with what they called bullet jump. The bullet jumping when it left the barrel gave a slight error to the computer. This was the beginning of computer directed fire control systems. Having a pressurized cabin was another advancement of the B-29. The pressurization allowed the B-29s to fly as high as 41,000 feet. The interior of the cabin would not exceed 12,000 feet which a human can tolerate. On a few occasions they were hit by gunfire from enemy fighters which caused an explosive depressurization. On about 50 percent of the missions he flew his plane suffered some type of damage. When they flew in formation, they usually flew in a 12 plane formation. Sometimes they would end up with a twin engine Japanese aircraft flying parallel to them. The purpose of the small plane was to radio the altitude, speed and direction to the gunners on the ground. When it got close enough Neher would shoot at it until it left. The B-29 was armed with 12 .50 caliber machine guns, each with 1,000 rounds of ammunition. In the tail there was a 20 millimeter cannon in addition to two machine guns. The machine guns could fire at a maximum of 600 rounds per minute but Neher had the gunners trained to fire in bursts of eight to ten rounds. The B-29 had two bomb bays which could carry 20,000 pounds of bombs. The bombardier could select how the bombs would be released.
Lisle Neher took part in all five of the fire bomb mission. On those missions they would fly between 300 feet and 700 feet and flew at night. Neher was sent to Hawaii then another island before finally arriving at Saipan where he would be based. He was with the first group of aircraft to arrive and begin flying missions from there. Neher took part in the first bombing raid on Tokyo on Thanksgiving Day 1944. There was quite a bit of fighter opposition during that raid. During that raid they destroyed 13 percent of Tokyo itself and were able to do it with only 76 airplanes. Neher had a very good crew. The mission that stands out to Neher the most was the one on which he was wounded in March 1945. Fortunately, Neher was wearing his flak vest. Five of the 11 men on the crew were wounded that day. Neher was firing the guns when several bullets came through the plane. His flak vest stopped most of it but Neher was hit by fragments from the rounds hitting the plane. He was given two days off then returned to duty. Neher saw many Japanese planes shot down. The Japanese learned early on not to attack the B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] from behind because of the two machine guns and the cannon. The Japanese planes would usually hit them after they dropped their bombs and were heading back to Saipan. The enemy fighters would make strafing runs on the B-29s but, in nearly every attack, the gunners on the B-29s would shoot down at least 50 percent of them. Neher is an atheist and has no religious affiliation at all. He saw the war as a duty he had to do. When they returned from a mission, if they had wounded aboard, they would fire a red flare. On the day Neher was wounded the radioman was the only one who was bad off. Neher had some medical knowledge so he bound up the radioman's arm as they were headed back to base. Neher flew most of his missions in a plane named Hells Bells. Another crew was flying that plane when they had to make a wheels up landing. There is another airport on the island down near sea level. That is where Hells Bells was crashed landed. There was a squadron of B-24s [Annotator's Note: Conolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] based there.
Only one of the fire bombing raids Lisle Neher flew was to Tokyo. The others were to other big cities. Each raid killed as many as 200,000 people. During combat missions, Neher's plane always led the formation. When they carried out the raids there was so much fire coming up that they were blinded. On Saipan nobody went to the chapel until bunks started getting empty. Every once in a while they were selected to fly on the weather detail. Three aircraft would be sent out over Japan to determine what the weather would be like. After each mission the radio operator of the lead plane had to call Washington to tell them the result of each mission. Neher feels that the B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] and the men who served on them do not get the credit they deserve. The B29s had destroyed every factory in Japan before the atomic bombs were even dropped. They received damage on 50 percent of their missions. The Japanese liked small planes. The Japanese planes could get up to 41,000 feet. Neher thought that the Japanese were idiots. They had no way to take care of themselves. They had to import all of their oil. They also ran short of food. Additionally, their houses were built of wood or bamboo so they burned like hell when they were set on fire. Neher was already back in the United States on a 45 day leave when he learned about the atomic bombs being dropped. The United States only had two of them but the Japanese did not know that.
After the war, Lisle Neher stayed in the Reserves. He ended up with an M Day assignment, or Mobilization assignment, in the Chief of Staff's office. This assignment prevented him from being recalled to active duty for the Korean War. He was given this assignment because of his knowledge of air traffic control and combat as well as his eight combat decorations. Right after leaving the service, Neher went to work as an air traffic controller. After nine years he decided that he was not making enough money so he went to work for an airline as a pilot. Neher worked for the airline for 33 and a half years, retiring as a captain. Neher believes that it is very important for students to study World War 2. The wars that were fought later were important but not like World War 2. Neher does not feel that the war changed him at all. His message to future generations of Americans is to be a patriot and give your life to your country. When Neher married his wife she was a widow who had lost her father, husband and first daughter. She was living with her grandmother next door to Neher. They were married and had six children in addition to the child she had from her first marriage.
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