Enlisting in the Air Corps

Air War and Returning Home


Roland M. Lee was born in Punta Gorda, Florida where he grew up and attended high school. The town population was only 1,800. His father was a motion picture operator in the local movie theater. His mother worked part time in a grocery store. He was never hungry during the Depression [Annotator's Note: the Great Depression was a global economic depression that lasted from 1929 through 1939 in the United States]. Lee was 18 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941], but he does not remember hearing about it. He had just graduated from high school in 1941. He enjoyed sports, and played tennis. Lee enlisted for pilot training and went through training in Tampa [Annotator's Note: most likely at Drew Army airfield in Tampa, Florida] and Alabama. He was made a navigator in the Air Corps rather than a pilot. He trained in reading maps and did a lot of flying. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant once training was completed. He was sent home on leave [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time] for a while, and was then assigned to a unit, the 386th Bomb Group, 553rd Squadron [Annotator's Note: 553rd Bombardment Squadron, 386th Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force] and flew over to England. There, they were stationed in Great Dunmow, about 40 miles north of London. Lee was a navigator on a B-26 [Annotator's Note: Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber]. It was a great machine, very stable. Lee flew 66 missions total. Their targets included German airfields and transportation centers. He sat in the nose of the airplanes during missions. His responsibilities as navigator and bombardier included pulling the trigger to drop the bombs. On a few missions, he was navigator on the lead airplane [Annotator's Note: in the formation].


Roland M. Lee encountered flak [Annotator's Note: antiaircraft artillery fire] on most of his missions [Annotator's Note: Lee flew 66 missions as a navigator aboard Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber with the 553rd Bombardment Squadron, 386th Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force]. Most of the time they had escorts. Once, they had to fall out of their formation because they were hit. Right as they landed, they ran out of fuel. They were hit often, but Lee was only wounded once and not while in the air. He got sick and was hospitalized in England when the Germans bombed the hospital. He was wounded in the head and received a Purple Heart [Annotator's Note: the Purple Heart Medal is an award bestowed upon a United States service member who has been wounded as a result of combat actions against an armed enemy]. Missions generally lasted between two and four hours. The B-26 was a fast airplane. Its payload was four 2,000 pound bombs, or several 100 pound bombs. Lee would go into London [Annotator's Note: London, England] when he had leave [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time]. The British were cordial and welcomed the Americans troops. Lee's unit mostly flew daytime missions. The British and American heavies [Annotator's Note: heavy bombers] did night flights. Lee and his crew were sent back to the United States before the war ended, having reached their mission quota. He was in Europe when the invasion [Annotator's Note: D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944] took place. Once Lee was sent home, he was discharged in 1945 and went to college until 1948 using the G.I. Bill [Annotator's Note: the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was enacted by the United States Congress to aid United States veterans of World War 2 in transitioning back to civilian life and included financial aid for education, mortgages, business starts and unemployment] at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He remained in the Reserves for 25 years.

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