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Mission to Nantes, France on July 4, 1943


McKee was born on September 19, 1921 in Southern Oklahoma. As was the case in most births in those days, he was born on the farm. He submitted his application for Army flight cadet training on his birthday in 1941 and was awaiting the official response when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was ordered to Tinker Field in Oklahoma City in order to take his physical, which he passed, and then report for pilot's training. McKee passed a 2 year equivalent college exam for entrance into the pilot training program even though he had only attended college for one semester at Southwestern Tech. He was told to wait for call up and went to the post office on December 7th to see if his call up papers had arrived. Later in the evening on that day he turned on the radio and heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He assumed that he would be called up for service immediately, but as it turned out he was not called for duty until February 21, 1942.McKee's initial assignment was to Santa Anna, California where his order for pilot's training was ignored. He was selected for navigator training and he was sent to Mather Field in Sacramento, California for navigator's training; he graduated there on September 5, 1942 and was assigned to Salt Lake City to a replacement center; from there he was sent to Boise, Idaho. In Boise, McKee was assigned to a heavy bomber crew. For his second phase of crew training he was sent to San Antonio, Texas and then to Rapids City, South Dakota. Fourth Phase training was at Smoky Hill Field in Salinas, Kansas. McKee and his crew received their first aircraft in Topeka, Kansas.His provisional group was originally assigned to North Africa in Oran. After travels through South America, his crew left Brazil for their destination of Bathurst, New Gambia [Annotator’s Note: now Banjul, Republic of The Gambia]. On the flight across the Atlantic McKee learned to trust celestial navigation as it was his job to get his crew to their destination. From Bathurst, McKee and his crew went to Marrakech, Morocco. His crew was reassigned to the 8th Air Force in England. On the 22nd or 23rd of February his crew arrived at Chelveston, England where they were absorbed into the 305th Bomb Group.Part of the procedure in the 8th Air Force at that time was for a new first pilot of a new crew to fly as co-pilot with an experienced crew in order to break the new pilot in. McKee's pilot apparently left the group and his crew was broken up; McKee was assigned to a crew that had already flown 7 missions.


McKee relates the story of how his new crew lost their original Navigator and Bombardier when they bailed out of their aircraft after it was hit on a bombing raid over Wilhelmshaven, Germany.On May 17, 1943, McKee and his crew went on a mission to Saint-Nazaire, France [Annotator's note: the 305th Bombardment Group’s actual target on this date was Lorient, France]. Over the target his aircraft was severely hit and four crewmen were wounded. His pilot, Lyle Adams, was awarded the Silver Star fo bringing his wounded crewmen and shot up aircraft home safely. McKee was wounded by a shell fragment in the back on this mission. After his recovery he went back on flying status in June. Meanwhile his old crew [Annotator's note: Adams’ crew] had finished their 25th mission tour and rotated back to the United States.McKee describes his final mission to Nantes, France on July 4, 1943 in which his aircraft was shot down by German fighters. Bill Huelett was one of McKee's original crewmen and was flying his 25th mission that day. The target on this mission was a German airfield. The target was bombed successfully and antiaircraft fire damaged one of the engines. His aircraft lagged behind and 3 enemy fighters attacked McKee's aircraft for a period of over 10 minutes; an engine was on fire and the bomb bay was on fire after the fighter attack.The bailout alarm was sounded and McKee didn't hesitate. The wing of the aircraft was on fire as was an engine. He shook the Bombardier Lieutenant Allen and told him to bail out. As he left the airplane McKee could see a lot of fire on the airframe and thought that the aircraft couldn't hold together too much longer.As he bailed out of the aircraft, he thinks he hit the ball turret and in turn fractured several vertebrae in his back. McKee pulled the parachute rip cord at high altitude and assumes he passed out at that high altitude from lack of oxygen [Annotator's note: Anoxia]. McKee’s aircraft's serial number was 42-5053, "Bloody Tangier Show" was the nickname of the airplane.As he descended in his parachute, McKee noticed that he would land in a wheat field and made a decent landing despite hurting in his back. He hid the parachute and left the field as soon as he could. Almost immediately he was met by two Frenchmen who had followed his parachute as it came towards the ground. He communicated with the Frenchmen who helped him out of his Mae West [Annotator's note: Yellow inflatable life preserver issued to aircrew]. McKee was told to follow the Frenchmen through some hedgerows and then he got on a bicycle. The Frenchman led him through a small village past some German soldiers. He was wearing his flight suit with his flight jacket and the Germans never questioned McKee's being there. He was hidden in the Frenchman's hay loft and McKee shared his cigarettes with the man.


McKee slept in the Frenchman's hayloft over night and suffered from his wounded back [Annotator’s Note: after bailing out of his aircraft over France]. He was served an omelet, ham, milk and coffee for breakfast. The next day McKee was moved behind the barn in some brambles because the Germans were looking for two crewmen from his aircraft. He could hear the Germans searching the barn and house looking for him. The next morning the farmer moved McKee in a 2 wheel cart and covered him with hay. He was taken to a marsh area with some cheese, bread and wine. The farmer gave McKee some brandy that helped him get through the cold night in the rain.A Catholic priest who was fluent in English told McKee that he was a danger to his people [Annotator’s Note: the French community] and he couldn't permit his people to help him anymore in fear of German reprisals. The next day he was picked up in a wagon and brought to another farm where he was hidden in a hen house. McKee was told he would be taken to Nantes the following day. He was issued civilian clothes and shoes by one of the Frenchmen. Then McKee and two Frenchmen rode bikes into Nantes and were taken to a safe house. Jean Legrande was a pharmacist who sheltered McKee in Nantes. The following morning McKee was told by Legrande to come downstairs and meet a friend. He went downstairs and saw his pilot, Bill Whitsell sitting there. McKee stayed with Legrande for about a week and Legrande's girl started talking about the "Americans who fell from the sky" who were at her house while in school. Legrande was a resistance leader in Nantes and he feared that his house was being watched.


McKee and Whitsell were moved to a woman's home until arrangements were made to travel to Paris via train. He was issued identification papers and ration cards prior to going to Paris. They were told to act as deaf mutes injured in a bombing raid if questioned by the Gestapo. They were put up by a doctor for 2 or 3 days while in Paris. The doctor's mother spat on German soldiers from her balcony as they walked by. From Paris they took a train to the South of France. Twice on the train ride Gestapo men checked his credentials. McKee states that "that is a gut wrenching experience" to have the enemy that close checking forged papers.Upon arrival their guide had picked up 2 more Americans, Lieutenant Green and another Sgt. as well as Free Frenchman bound for North Africa. They were travelling on a bus when the bus driver became suspicious. McKee and Whitsell escaped through some back streets and the next day got on a truck headed south. The truck let them off in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. They stayed in a sheep farm where they were treated to a stew before moving across the mountains to Spain. McKee crossed the crest of the mountain sometime after midnight and headed down the other side. He had been briefed that some Spaniards were capturing Allied airmen for a reward.After venturing deeper into Spain, McKee was captured and taken to a jail in a Spanish village. He spent the night in jail and the next day he was transferred by truck to a larger jail where he was registered and given a haircut and bath twice a week. The four Americans were put in one cell with a straw mattress to sleep on. McKee came down with amoebic dysentery when he crossed the mountains and was sick for a while in jail.After being in jail for 3 or 4 days a Red Cross man got the Americans’ names and 10 days later an American attaché came and told them that food would be ordered in for the prisoners.


They were warned by the American attaché to not attempt an escape from the jail [Annotator’s Note: in Spain] as he would try and arrange their release. They spent 2 weeks in the prison and were released. From the jail they were taken to a spa where they were taken care of. John Dunbar was an American who escaped by himself without Resistance help. They were issued new clothes and ate good meals; after 3 days a Spanish Air Force Major who spoke English introduced himself and told them they wou be sent to Madrid and finally Gibraltar. Once in Gibraltar, McKee and his crew walked into Allied held territory. They were then sent to Morocco and then finally to England. Once in England, he was escorted to a Red Cross hotel by Military Police. The Military Police held them in the Red Cross hotel until their identity could be established by members of their 305th Bomb Group. McKee believes that he arrived in England on September 5, 1943.They went under intensive interrogation after they returned to Chelveston, England in order to possibly help other downed aircrews. McKee was rotated back to the United States. Rules at that time did not allow for evaders to fly in the theater again.In 2003 McKee received correspondence from a Frenchman in Nantes who claimed to know the location of his downed aircraft. At this point most of his crew had died and McKee was the only surviving member of his crew. A monument was erected in their honor in 2004. His 2 daughters and nephews went overseas and attended the dedication of the monument. When his family went to Nantes, Jean Legrande's son greeted them.

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