Prewar, Training and Overseas Deployment

Flying Combat Missions

Postwar and Reflections


Oscar Higgenbotham was born in January 1924 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His father, a mechanical engineer, found employment with an American sugar company that opened a sugar mill in Cuba, so he spent several years living there. He recalls that since they were living outside the country, they didn't really suffer any effects from the Great Depression. When World War 2 began, they returned to the United States where his father, a World War 1 veteran, got commissioned in the U. S. Navy. He comments that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which he heard about on the radio, came as a shock. Coming from a patriotic family, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Having earned his private pilot's license at 17, he wanted to become a pilot but was told he couldn't so he trained as a waist gunner on the B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] bomber. He found his military experience "exhilarating," and took to the rigors of military life quickly. His training consisted of classes about the guns and aircraft, followed by target practice on the ground and in the air aboard Lockheed Hudson [Annotator's Note: Lockheed Hudson light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft] aircraft. He recounts firing at targets being towed by other aircraft. He remembers the B-17 as a "beautiful" four-engine bomber. He remembers no particular details about his first flight in a B-17, but it was exciting. He shipped overseas, leaving from New York and arriving in England.


Describing a typical mission as a B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] waist gunner, Oscar Higgenbotham comments that preparation began the day prior, when he would head to the aircraft and ensure his gun was in working order. The day of the flight, he would be awakened at five or six in the morning to begin the day. While he and others were "green and scared" at first, after a few missions he found it more exciting than anything else. His first mission was flown against what he describes as an easy target, but he recounts that the German flak [Annotator's Note: from the German Fliegerabwehrkanone, "aircraft defense cannon"] was much different in real life than that he had seen in the movies. He comments that the crew was very carefully picked and well-prepared for the missions that they flew. He doesn't remember any specific targets, but recalls that he flew several times on targets in the Ruhr Valley, which was the heart of Germany's industrial complex. He also discusses American fighter aircraft and that the bomber crewmen loved them since they warded off the German fighters. His bomber group lost some aircraft over the course of his tour. He again iterates just how dangerous flak was to the airplane and crew.


Reflecting on his wartime experiences, Oscar Higgenbotham comments that if you managed to make it through the war without being wounded, which he did, the experience was "exhilarating." He makes a brief remark about the German Focke-Wulf fighters; he considers them an excellent aircraft. He was sent home after his tour of duty, and he recounts the great feeling when he saw the Statue of Liberty as the ship entered New York Harbor. After the war, we went to college in Louisiana on the G. I. Bill. He feels that future generations should learn about the war; not necessarily the horrible details, but they should know that it happened. In closing, he quotes his father, "protect and honor your country."

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