War on Their Minds
Maurice Rockett During the War   Maurice Rockett
Age in 1941: 21

Interview Team: Stower Beals, Shaun Daniels
  Maurice Rockett in 2001

Q: This is Stower Beals and I'm here with my partner Shaun Daniels, and we're interviewing Mr. Rockett in the commons conference room at Wayland High School. The date is May 10, 2001. For the record, what is your name?

Mr. Rockett: Maurice Rockett

Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. Rockett: In 1941, I was 21.

Q: What is your place of birth, and where were you raised?

Mr. Rockett: Boston, Massachusetts and I was raised in Sharon, Massachusetts.

Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930s?

Mr. Rockett: Well in Japan, I knew they were invading Manchuria, going against the Chinese. The Germans were testing their war equipment in Spain. And Italy was attacking people on horseback in Ethiopia, which is hardly a fair fight.

Q: Could you please explain how you became aware of these?

Mr. Rockett: Well in those days, we didn't have the media you have today. You didn't turn on the boob tube and they would hold you over with breaking news like every two seconds. It would be the newspaper, which we read in those days, I don't know if you people do read the newspaper. We had magazines and the radio. The radio would be our primary source for quick breaking things. There was no such thing as TV.

Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe? For example, the invasion of Poland, and the Battle of Britain.

Mr. Rockett: Well, not too much.

Q: You didn't feel any ties to like anyone on Britain?

Mr. Rockett: No. I was aware of it, but other than that I wasn't concerned about it.

Q: You weren't concerned at all about [the war] coming to America?

Mr. Rockett: No, no.

Q: What were you remembrances about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Rockett: I was coming back from New York City with a girl from Bridgeport, and I was just outside of Bridgeport when we had the radio on, and the news came over. Wow. But I didn't think it to be any big surprise.

Q: Did you expect it?

Mr. Rockett: Yes.

Q: Did you expect the attack in general, or the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Rockett: No, well they had been talking about it in a way for about two years, about the possibility, okay? And I don't quite believe that it was a surprise attack, but I don't think I should get into that and distort your view of history.

Q: What were your feelings about the American declaration of war?

Mr. Rockett: I just felt that here we are getting into another European conflict, and what the hell are we doing over there? That's the history of Europe is fighting. Thats all they know. Fighting, torture the whole bit, going back to the crusades. And I had a friend who was in World War One, his father was in World War One, and he said "Don't get involved with the war boys, because it's just it's... you're going to be used as cannon fodder." I didn't quite understand what he meant at the time.

Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces?

Mr. Rockett: I volunteered. Well before the war even started, I wanted to be a pilot, so I tried out for the United States Army Air Corps, and I didn't pass the physical. So then I tired out for the RCAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and everything went swell in my interview, but they said because I was under 21 they would need my parental signature. So I called home from New York to Sharon, and they said no. So that took care of that. But a year later I took the exam again and passed it.

Q: What branch of the armed forces did you join?

Mr. Rockett: Air Force. It was known as the Army Air Corps then.

Q: The Army Air Corps?

Mr. Rockett: [Yes].

Q: What was it like saying good-bye to your loved ones?

Mr. Rockett: Well I had been living away from home, working in an aircraft factory in [Schaumburg?] Connecticut and we were making Naval dive bombers. In those days Sikorsky, who invented the helicopter, made these two fragile things flying over the plant that looked like match stick crates, and he would be testing them. We would sit there during lunch at look at the damn things. And we didn't know, no one knew how it was going to developed, but there they were. And so I was used to being away from home, so the feeling of going away didnt bother me. And the only ones at South Station at the time were my two parents. There was no one else.

Q: What about the feeling of leaving everything you knew?

Mr. Rockett: We didn't have that much.

Q: You didn't have that much?

Mr. Rockett: See you today, you have everything. We just had some things.

Q: Yeah, because we think of moving as like...

Mr. Rockett: You see, my life-style moved up when I went into the service, not down.

Q: What do you remember of your training?

Mr. Rockett: Well, training went on for quite a while. I went to a place they call a classification center in Nashville Tennessee, and we took a battery of tests for a week to qualify as a Pilot, Navigator, or Bombardier. I was classified as a bombardier. And then I was sent to Santa Anna, California which is outside of Los Angeles and that was the good life, going to LA and Santa Monica, Hollywood, the whole bit. And we took that training and just before I finished it they asked for volunteers to learn flight training to train Canadians. I'm back towards the RCAF again. So I took fight training and washed out, that means I didnt pass. So I went back to Santa Anna again, I went through the third time. And after the third time I went to bombardier school in New Mexico. And that's where I got my wings.

Q: And then where were you sent?

Mr. Rockett: Well, then they combined men of different expertise, and they called them crews. And we had to train them as crews, on different assignments and bring us together as a team and that was done in two bases in Texas.

Q: If you were more experienced then another person were you responsible for training them?

Mr. Rockett: Well, I wasn't responsible for training anyone else, no.

Q: How did your faith impact you during the war?

Mr. Rockett: Didn't change.

Q: Didn't change at all?

Mr. Rockett: No.

Q: Could you please describe operations or battles which you were involved in?

Mr. Rockett: Well, all battles. In other words, I was stationed in England and our job was to fly over Europe and bomb targets. It's hard to describe but each one was like an invasion, where you face something for the first time. There could have been a hundred flak guns, there could have been one thousand flak guns, there could have been ten fighters, there could have been a thousand fighters. You never knew. But not every one was hit the same. The group of planes over there could have said gee this wasnt a bad day, but where I was it was terrible. You just never knew.

Q: You said you were stationed in Britain, did you feel safe in Britain?

Mr. Rockett: Yeah.

Q: Even though Germany was just...

Mr. Rockett: Across the street. Yeah, just across the Channel.

Q: You trusted all the defense?

Mr. Rockett: Yeah.

Q: About how many missions did you fly?

Mr. Rockett: I flew twenty-seven. But the number meant nothing. Some people saw more than one, when others saw fifty.

Q: And how long was the wait between missions?

Mr. Rockett: It could have been one day, or one week.

Q: Recently in the news, Bob Kerry, I don't know if you're familiar with this, has talked about how, given time to think back over his war experiences, his mind-set has changed. Did that happen to you at all? Like, given the time that you had to think over what you were doing, did your views on what you were doing change?

Mr. Rockett: Well, I'm less trustful of the government.

Q: What did you miss most about the United States?

Mr. Rockett: Well I was enjoying life there, so I can't say it was exactly missing things. A lot of people every day was mamma and home and everything. I never looked at it that way. In fact I had another way at looking at things. I always thought I was gonna survive, which I did. I did get hit, but I didn't go up every day in a mission trembling that I wouldn't make it. I thought I was going to make it. But if you didn't live with the positive, I mean you get nervous, you'd get the shakes, you'd get sick, you'd go to the funny farm. Whatever. You had to have a mind-set for yourself that you can make yourself live through it. It was a case of life and death, I was trying to kill you, and you were trying to kill me. That's what war is all about.

Q: So, did you think it was fate that you were going to live?

Mr. Rockett: It was fate. I would go up in a mission there's twelve in a [meson hut?] and I'd come back and there might be only four. So I just figured, well, thats the way it went. And everyone had to figure it that way.

Q: So every day you went into a mission you always expected you'd be coming home?

Mr. Rockett: I did. I had to give myself a positive thought. I didn't want to give myself a negative one. And when the mission was over, a lot of men spent and hour or so talking about it. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't look at the plane and count the holes. I cleaned up, ate, and left the base. If there was no mission the next day, I was gone. I didn't care about it; it was history for me. I didn't care to talk about it.

Q: I'd like to ask a question about something you mentioned before. You said that you were on [27] missions. Were those in concert with light infantry actions on the ground?

Mr. Rockett: No, this was before the invasion. My mission started in December 43 and I finished up in April 44. And the invasion wasn't until June. So my war was over. And the highlight of the winter '43-'44 they wanted the invasion to come up that spring, when the weather was right. Okay, early summer. But the couldn't do that unless the controlled the air. So they had an initial onset of attack called [BIG WIG?]. And they were willing, I didn't know this at the time, to lose two hundred bombers a mission to obtain their objective. If we didn't control the air you would not have had the invasion because all those boats out there puting along would have been sitting ducks.

Q: So was your mission more to take care of the German Air Force or was it to soften the targets on the ground?

Mr. Rockett: We flew as far as Poland, up in the air ten and a half-hours, to sucker up the German Air Force. In other words, they were willing to lose us if we shot down enough of them.

Q: So you were bait.

Mr. Rockett: We were, yeah. We were cannon fodder, we were jailbait. Right. But I didn't look at it this way; I'm looking at it that way now. If I had looked at it that way then I don't know what I would have done.

Q: But they also assigned you a mission, is that true, to bomb a certain target, [for example] a railroad yard?

Mr. Rockett: Oh yeah. They often today say that a thousand planes involved in a mission. They didn't all go to the same place. There could have been six or seven different targets. But why couldn't they all go to the same place? Well when the lead group bombed, there'd be fires down there and smoke, so the next group coming up couldn't see the target. If you all went together the German Air Force would say, wow, we've got it made, we know where they are, we'll hammer them today. So this way were spread out, they're spread out.

Q: What kind of targets did you guys hit?

Mr. Rockett: During the winter we used Pathfinder quite a bit. That means we bomb through the clouds. And the only thing that Pathfinder can do is look through the clouds and see a river, or a main highway they call an autobahn, or railroad tracks. So for the most part we were doing, don't fall out of your chair, terror bombing. Not just the Germans. We couldn't see the target, so I was killing people. Mostly civilians. In fact the civilians in the most precarious place during the war, not troops. Many more civilian deaths then infantry.

Q: How did you feel about that?

Mr. Rockett: I didn't think about it, I was thinking of myself. In other words, at that time, the bombing, I wasn't cognizant of the fact that I was doing terror bombing that I am today. These are the afterthoughts I'm having.

Q: Well, how do you feel today about it?

Mr. Rockett: It doesn't make me feel good. We have always embraced we were on the right side, were the Holy Grail, they were the terrorists. They were doing that, we weren't doing it. We were! We were doing it. We were bombing targets that we couldnt see.

Q: You could use your Pathfinder technology to at least figure out basically where these things were?

Mr. Rockett: We knew where the city was, but we couldn't figure out the aircraft factory, or a sub pen, or an oil refinery--things like that we just couldn't figure out.

Q: Did your commanders ever require you to fly at a lower altitude so that you could be more precise in your bombing?

Mr. Rockett: Well they did that once, and I think in [Leslie?] and they creamed themselves. They used delayed action fuses, so the bombs are here, they dont go off right away. So these poor fools, coming over them. We were bombing our own planes! That was once too often, they didn't do that again. No, the lower you came down, the more accurate the anti-aircraft was. So I wrote down something here, (pulls out piece of paper) let's say this target had five hundred anti-air craft guns. There could be a thousand, but let's now blow hard, let's just say five hundred, okay? And let's say they shoot up ten rounds a minute, could be more, could be less, but this is a ball-park figure. And those ten rounds, there like big grenades, when they explode they just split into small pieces right? And they go into fifty pieces. And if you're in that barrage, for ten minutes thats one million two hundred fifty thousand things that can kill ya. Now, have you ever been to a forth of July fire works display? What happens at the end? The fire things rapidly right, and the air is just like an explosion? Well that's probably only ten portals on the ground doing that. Multiply that by a hundred; multiply that by all these things in the air, and you're sitting in the middle of that for ten minutes. What do you think your chances are to live? Okay, that's about the best way I can explain it. And you could look out in the distance like ten miles away, and they wouldn't shoot at you. All the guns would make a pattern, like a big square, and they knew you had to fly through it. And you just kept flying and flying, and you saw all those explosions, and you had to go right through it. You couldn't avoid it. And after that, on the other end was waiting for you, the fighters, because going through the flak would cause the planes to loose their formation. The plan to the formation was you concentrate your firepower. If you're out here, you're not concentrating on something as well, so they're looking for sitting ducks. If you have to fall from the formation, they dive in and knock you off.

Q: How defenseless were you against the fighter planes?

Mr. Rockett: Well if we had good formation, we could concentrate a lot of gun power.

Q: Did you have other escorts?

Mr. Rockett: Yes, but they weren't always there. Course, that's another thing. The Germans were at a severe disadvantage. They weren't up to dogfight. They're up to knock down the bombers. So here the bombers are flying, and here the Germans are coming like this (with hands demonstrates how a German plane would dive-bomb an American bomber at a 45 degree angle). They have their tail [pointed up] so the American fighters are coming in at their tail [and destroying the German fighters]. So they're not prepared. They had a horrible experience. In fact, the casualty losses for German fighters, I suppose, wasn't as bad as the German submarines, but very high.

Q: Were the gunners on your flying fortresses effective against the fighters?

Mr. Rockett: Not as effective as they say. You could take the numbers, divide them by two, by three, thats our propaganda.

Q: How bout the strength of the B-17? They say that those things could take a lot of flak and still fly.

Mr. Rockett: It could take a lot of punishment, but we came home several times with two engines, with fires, and everything else. And the cannon shells would go right through the wings. Their anti-air craft shells and their 20mm cannons didn't go off by impact.

Q: They went at a set height?

Mr. Rockett: They had a set height or a set range. So if they had ever developed a proximity fuse, they would have doubled their kills easily, because if they came close to us it would go off. This way they'd go right through us and not explode. Then twice I had fighters coming at me, just like this (with hands demonstrates his plane flying parallel to the ground, the other German fighter attacking at a 45 degree angle) he has a 20mm cannon, and four to six machine guns. I have two machine guns. So it's a case who's gonna go? Well the first one, his determination of the range was a little short. And you could see his explosions, like little gray puffs, puff, puff, puff, puff, right at your face. And they stopped short! Thank for it or I wouldn't be here today. And the other one, his shots were a little under. So I had a [xxx?] on me, they were all bursting under like this (claps hands together) and slamming into it. So, that's safe. But, I'm going two hundred miles an hour, he's going four hundred, so the speed of closure is six hundred miles an hour. So if you're not around with your guns ready, forget it. And they love to come around a cloud bank with the sun behind them, which makes it difficult for you to see them. They have aluminum skin, and the sky is a kind of a silver, it's blue but it's kind of silvery. So they can be hard to pick up. And we [the Air Force] finally caught on; we used to be painted olive drab. Reason being, when on the ground and someone came over in the air, you'd be harder to see. But we didn't spend that much time on the ground, and they weren't coming over to get us on the ground, so finally someone said, let's take off the paint, which would make us fly faster, and use less gasoline, and be [more] difficult to see. With the dark color you could see us way off, we stuck out like a sore thumb. But when they took off the paint, we were more difficult to see. But another thing would happen, would be vapor trails. If you get to a certain element of the altitude where there'd be moisture and the engines going through it would form vapor trails. So, the guys way back here following you would be in clouds. Now they couldn't see, because of your vapor trails.

Q: Did you regret ever going on any of the pathfinder missions, or any missions?

Mr. Rockett: No, not at the time. No, I was always just glad to get home, and say there's one less to go. And, I got hit on my twenty-seventh [mission]. In an explosion, and there's another thing, the explosions, the percussion was so strong it spun me around. When I played baseball in high school one time, I was on deck to get up and bat and the fella at the plate his bat let go and smacked me on the side of the head, and nearly knocked me out. Well that's what happened here. I thought sure I got hit in the head and in the mean time it had blown off my oxygen mask, so I wasn't breathing right. And I looked down, and they [May West] we had, [May West?] was something in case you pump out into the water, you pull the two little tubes and you float. Well I could see spots of blood, then I realized I got hit in the face. And that blood was coming out from where the glass popped. It was called Plexiglas and the advantage of that was it wouldnt go into big pieces, just go to little pieces. So I had little splinter cuts all over here (gestures that they covered his face), and the flak went right through my eye. Fortunately it didn't go to my head, course I would be dead if it did that. And it cut right through the middle of my eye, so when I say I got hit in the face, that's what I meant. It wasn't a big facial wound, you know, it ripped me open, it just cut my eye open.

Q: Is that when you were discharged?

Mr. Rockett: Well, after that I didnt get discharged, I was in the hospital for a year. But I couldn't fly any more missions. Another thing I haven't explained, there were ten people on the crew. And the B-24 also had ten on the crew. And this would have been a crew, even though this was taken in the United States, there were four officers, and six enlisted men. And this is myself here, the bombardier, this is the navigator, this is the copilot, this is the pilot, and these were the gunners in different positions. You had one up on top behind the pilot, and you had one underneath...

Q: Is that what were looking at now (pointing to half cylinder located on top of the plane in the picture)?

Mr. Rockett: Right, and he would also be called the engineer. He'd be standing right behind here, and another one of his jobs was to watch certain instruments, and to switch gas tanks, if it was running low, he sent it to another engine. And then you had someone in the ball turret. You had a radioman, you had two waist gunners, and you has a tail gunner. That'd be ten all together. So this group you're seeing here, (points to the first man in the picture) he got killed flying with another crew. I flew with seven different pilots and seven different planes. A lot of people flew with the same ten guys, in the same, I wasn't that lucky. So I was a replacement. (Points to another man in the picture) He got shot down, and became a POW for two and a half years. (Points to another man in the picture) He made it. (Points to another man in the picture) He was picked up with the FBI for marijuana in St. Louis. I didn't know what the hell marijuana meant in those days. What are they talking about, marijuana? So how would you like to be flying with him, and he's staring into space back in the end oh happy day! (Points to another man in the picture) He got killed by friendly fire, well, see the planes are flying so closely, and you're tracking a plane down, before you know it, he raked the plane next to us. So a fifty caliber when through his chest. And this side [the wound] was about that (holds fingers to a size about one and a half inches in diameter), and over here is was about that size (hold hands apart gesturing that the size was roughly a foot and a half long). He was just splattered all over the plane. And, these other two made it. So we had several who didn't make it, I was the only one who was wounded as such. I'm sure the others were killed when they were wounded, two things happen at once.

Q: Do you still keep contact with...?

Mr. Rockett: Yes, my last pilot lives in Pana [?], California, and my co-pilot lives in California, ones in Sobaine, which is just north of Santa Barbara. Every three or four years I go out to visit them. And my second navigator lives in Wisconsin and we used to go to reunions but most of the people now are getting old, or they're decrepit, they can't move that well. So the number [of people at the reunion] has gone way down. And I'm sick of hearing these war stories; they're getting bigger and better all the time!

Q: What was your most memorable experience of the war?

Mr. Rockett: Well I would say my first and my last mission. The first mission we were going to bomb sub pens in Keel. That's up above northwest Germany in the North Sea. By the way, we bombed sub pens and the cement was so thick that the bombs would come down and just bounce off.

Q: What is a sub pen?

Mr. Rockett: Where they put submarines in. You know, like an aircraft hangar, but these were cement hangars. So they had water where they could go in and out of the pen, and they were just enormously thick cement. They called them pens, and that protected the submarine. A cement hut for each submarine. So we had engine trouble, so we had to abort, that means leave everybody else and come back by ourselves. We had at that point a fire and the other engine wasn't working right, so we had two engines out. So the pilot said, In order to make it back home with the gasoline we have, we have to throw everything out, so we threw out the guns and ammunition and everything. Well, just after we did that, a German fighter jumped us. (Laughs) He made a tail attack. It was just one and because of that we came down out of the clouds and came out over the North Sea. Well, we were so low that you could see the waves I said, dont tell me I'm going to drown to death. (Laughs) Cause we had a long ways to go to get to England. I found out later on that if we had gone down, the Germans would have come down to pick us up. We would be prisoners, but they would pick us up. And there was a reciprocity agreement; when the Germans went down in the Channel, the English would come out and rescue the English. Okay? But the thing is, during the winter, that icy water, in a couple of minutes I mean you'd be dead. So fortunately, we made it back with enough gas practically to land. The next one was my last one. I was on my twenty-seventh [mission]. I didn't know it was going to be the last. And I went up with a green crew, on their third mission. Well, every time you go up with different people, it takes me a while to get used to you and you. If we're going to do it and it meant life or death; I'd wanna know you damn well. So I'd never seen these people before and they're just a green crew. So we get in the air, and screaming over the intercom, they're shooting at planes way out of range, they're holding the trigger down to long, oh my god what's going on here! This is a nightmare, and we didn't have that, you see the movies you see them holding down the triggers [of the machine guns] and firing away. You couldnt do that. I had two boxes here (points directly to his left), and two boxes here (points two feet away on right). And one box would last about one minute, if you held the trigger down. But if you held the trigger back like that, the barrels would burn out, and you couldn't shoot anything. They'd over heat and just melt. So you had to use short bursts. But these people [on the green crew] were just firing away at will. These are assholes, pardon me, we're just never going to make it. So that was the mission that I got hit over the target. We came out over the target, was Berlin, and we were by ourselves, we couldn't keep up with the other people. And we went over this one place, and there's a battery maybe four to six guns. Well they tracked us; they didn't put up a barrage. So we'd go left, they'd go left, we'd go right (laughs), they'd go right. And why they didn't knock us down, I don't know! But they finally hit the plane close enough to hit me. Now I didn't see the plane afterwards to see how much damage we got, but we finally caught up with other cripples. That means people who couldn't keep up with the main formation say going two hundred miles an hour, we had to put along at say a hundred-twenty five. They were either one engine out, or two engine out, or part of the main frame, the wing was gone, or the tail was gone. So we came home as a bunch of cripples. So as soon as I got to base, they shot up a red flare, because any wounded aboard would get a priority. They took me out to the hospital so they operated that afternoon, that night, I didn't know which. But I thought for a week or ten days I was blind; no one was telling me anything. So that's that, I don't know whether they're the two worst, or you had times where you'd go up and there'd be a couple hundred fighters up there, and they'd come in at waves of ten a piece, and every time they'd go through, a plane would go down. So when you would read these reports coming back there what we called the Stars and Stripes the serving newspaper, how well we did I'd say well that isn't what I saw. (Laughs)

Q: Was it as if they tried to encourage you to keep going? Saying in the Stars and Stripes it wasn't that bad to like...

Mr. Rockett: It was propaganda to make us feel good. Just like you have propaganda today about what goes on in this country. Same thing about this movie Pearl Harbor coming out. I'm sure that's going to be nothing but propaganda, but I don't want to distort your view of what you think history is. I'm positive that the administration knew a long time before that [attack on Pearl Harbor] what was coming. Did you ever go to Pearl Harbor?

Q: No, I have not.

Mr. Rockett: Well, let's say this is an area, call this the water okay? (Arranges a piece of paper on the table) and the boats are all parked around here bumper to bumper (arranges items directly next to each other around the edge of the paper). And you would say, why the hell would any military man put the boats so close? If there was an attack, you'd be sitting ducks. Well they were lead to believe, this is my version of history, there wasn't going to be an attack the way it came, it would be espionage. Okay, so if you had the boats together, it be easy to protect. If you thought there was going to be the other kind of attack (moves items apart) you'd spread they all out right? So there's a big suspicion there. Why were they like that? [They were grouped] in a little cubbyhole, they were sitting ducks. How they hell could you miss them? How can a military man, and navy was military, ever line people up like that? But they did. I could never understand it while reading in the last few years of what took place in the war, I realized then that there was more to it than what they're telling us. And by the way, we were forcing the Japanese in a way, we were denying them patrol here, we wouldn't let them patrol the country, we wouldn't let them into international banking, there were several things. The same thing with Germany, the reparations after world war one, penned Germany in so bad, unemployment and everything. They just had to fight to get out of this. And that doesn't mean they should have taken on the world, I'm not saying that's right. But they had to do something. They had all these unemployed people around like we had when I came up. There was no place to get a job, what you do with all those young people hanging around? Nothing better than a war. I mean that's happened many times over history. You get the people's minds off of something, think of the enemy, give them something to do. Hello there. Oh before I forget this (pulls out picture of himself in uniform), can you see that picture where's it's creased? Okay, well this photograph was taken in London, before I got hit. And after I got it, I mailed it home to my parents in Sharon. Well they got this picture after they got the notice from the war department that I was wounded. Well they didn't know I got hit in the eye, and there's the picture, when I got home and saw it I couldn't believe it, it was creased right where I got hit. Isn't that amazing? And remember when I had talked about the North Sea, had we had gone down, what the problems would be?

Q: Yes.

Mr. Rockett: We had these whistles because if you're in the water with high waves, and you yell out, whose gonna hear you? So this would be shrill enough that maybe they would hear you so they gave you this whistle. Its an English whistle, they use it, you'd blow it assuming you saw someone there to wave to. If not, forget it your going to go down anyhow. I think we all had these little whistles.

Q: And that was attached to your flight vest?

Mr. Rockett: Yeah, I had it up here in my leather jacket. In fact, all my uniforms I had I threw away, but that leather jacket would be worth a fortune now. A fortune!

Q: Why did you throw it away?

Mr. Rockett: I dont know, I just sick of seeing it around (laughs).

Q: You were just sick of the memories?

Mr. Rockett: Well I didn't dwell on the memories. A lot of people would dwell on the memories, make themselves, you know upset. I didn't do that. I just kinda took it in stride, that was part of my life, now it was over.

Q: Getting rid of the leather jacket was kind of getting rid of the extra baggage?

Mr. Rockett: Yeah.

Q Did you participate in a welcome home celebration?

Mr. Rockett: No, I flew home since I was in the hospital; I flew home on the hospital plane. But on that plane, was all wounded infantry from the invasion. And I was the only one on that plane that could get up and move around. But there was one guy that with the help of me and the nurse could get up. And he got to the cockpit, because he wanted to see what the cockpit looked like. Well we got to the cockpit the copilot was sitting there reading a magazine (laughs) and the pilot was asleep! (Laughs) And he was horrified! I said well its on automatic pilot, don't worry about it. He said oh my god I want someone steering this thing! (Laughs). And he just couldn't get over that. So we landed in Mitchell Field, New York. When I came off the plane, there were all these reporters down there, and they said what's wrong with you? and I said, what do you mean what's wrong with me? and they said well we're here to get a story. So I got in a big argument saying none of their business. A couple of MPs came over escorted me though a hanger to get away from everybody to avoid a fight or something. So I came home to strangers. It was several months before I saw my family.

Q: On the flight back, did you feel different? Because you said they were all infantry, did you feel kind of like an outsider?

Mr. Rockett: No. I just felt like I was going home with these other strangers. Although while I was in the hospital in England, during the invasion, they brought men over right from the beach. They still had the seawater, and they still had the sand, and they lined them up to get in the hospital. Of course if he was seriously wounded, he'd receive special care. But if they had small wounds, things like that [they'd be lined up to get into the hospital]. So I was standing there candy and cigarettes like, to make them feel better. And this nurse came up, I had a big patch on my eye, [she said] who the hell wants to see you Rockett? Get out of here! (Laughs) They want to see people looking good, not like you.(Laughs). So I moved on. Yes?

Q: You said that you didn't see your family until several months later, how did you feel when you saw your family? Were you happy? Sad? What?

Mr. Rockett: We had something at the end of our tour if you had finished, finished a mission that started out as twenty five. Then they bumped it to thirty, to thirty-five, forty, fifty, so I though I should have finished at twenty five. If you finished you went into what they called the Lucky Bastards Club and you sat in the middle of the mess hall you got all dressed up, and you got a steak and the best booze, and everyone came up and shook your hand. Well, I'm ready for that! But I didn't make it, and I think that bothered me more than anything, that I didn't make the Lucky Bastards Club. And the second thing was, when I went to the hospital, I didn't see my crew anymore. And crew was family, I mean you went through life and death with these people. I depended on you, and you depended on me. And it was just close, I mean it was a family. And in one day [when I got wounded] it was gone.

Q: Did you feel that way with all your crews?

Mr. Rockett: Oh no, I flew with basically the same pistol men and gunners and copilot. It was the pilots that were changing, and the planes.

Q: Why would the pilots change?

Mr. Rockett: Because their crews were shot down, or they needed replacements.

Q: Because the pilot would die?

Mr. Rockett: Yeah. I flew my first three missions on different crews, because with the head on attacks, bombardiers and navigators are being knocked down like flies. So we had to fill in. That's why my first navigator got killed, he was flying as a replacement. I said it was nice for the people who said I flew twenty-five missions with the same people in the same plane. For me, I didn't come close to that. I had to go through this nerve-racking thing of adjusting all the time to different situations.

Q: Where does the bombardier sit in the plane?

Mr. Rockett: He's right in the front of the nose. It's like a glass window, and I didn't sit, I knelt. And we had what they call a flak jacket you put on, which was pieces of metal around here (gestures around his chest and stomach). I knelt on mine to save the family jewels (laughs). I fell more with something coming up this way (points towards abdomen), than this way (points towards chest). And if you had to get out, you know, fast, I didn't wanna play around with that heavy thing. And there was another thing; we didn't wear our shoots. We had what we call a chest pack. And we put it back here (about three feet off to the right) about this distance away. And there would be a place like a trap door, and I kept it near the trap door. But if the plane lurched or something, you know your chances of getting that shoot were remote. And if you got it on backwards you'd have a problem. You had to latch it on right, or you wouldn't get out. And sure, some people were blown out the plane, and they didn't have any chute. Or jumped out too close to the plane when it was on fire and the fire burnt the chute. From the time you get on the plane, till you get off the plane there was peril. Like for example, in one landing, I'm up in the nose, and I don't know the hydraulic [braking] systems gone. So we land, and the planes still roaring down the runway. I said what's wrong here? There were no brakes! So we kept going right off the runway, and ended up in a ditch. And it's a good thing I took a fetal position so I wouldnt slam into the window, and you know, do damage to myself. So I just rode with it. Like I said there are so many things that could happen.

Q: So you basically saw everything?

Mr. Rockett: Oh yeah, I was the first one there. I was exposed to everything. I had no protection but glass. You know when people are out there with guns shooting at you, your protection was that glass. And the only real metal protection on the plane was behind the pilot. He had metal here (behind his head).

Q: Were you responsible for reporting anything that you saw?

Mr. Rockett: The navigator did that, he was at a little desk and he was always writing things down. So if something came up unusual, he'd report it. Now in one flight, I looked out, and I saw this plane tracking. Its very hard for the planes who would track us, [we] either call down and let [them] know what altitude we're at, or what was going on. So all of a sudden, this plane accelerated like I had never seen before. I said that is strange. So after every mission you come back to an interrogation, and you too would ask these ten people questions. So I relayed to them I have never seen a plane go so fast in my life. They said that was a jet. Well the word jet I didn't know, a plane without a propeller I didn't know, I didn't know what they were talking about. So if the Germans had got those in numbers early in the war, you know what could you do? They really did wonders on their [German] ability to produce things. And they were building more planes at the end of the war; they were in the beginning of the war with all the bombing. It was just amazing what they [the Germans] did. I'm not saying this because I'm proud of it, I just mentioned the fact. It was just amazing what they [the Germans] did.

Q: Were you aware of the interment camps of the Japanese-Americans?

Mr. Rockett: Not at that time, no. I wasn't aware of the labor camps either.

Q: You weren't aware of the holocaust victims or anything?

Mr. Rockett: No.

Q: How did you feel about that, once you did learn about it?

Mr. Rockett: Well, you're not going to like my reaction. There were twelve million people killed, by the Germans, just not six. Not just the Jewish people okay? So I will always be concerned about the people who were mistreated in the entirety, the whole twelve million, not the six. That doesn't mean I don't feel for what they went though, it was terrible. But there were several other groups pegged for extermination. Right? The gypsies, the homosexuals, the communistic, the Serbs, they had to wear little badges around too. So it just wasn't the Jewish people. It was a hideous thing that went on. So when I think of that, the holocaust, I think of the whole thing.

Q: Well, how was your reaction to the Japanese internment?

Mr. Rockett: I thought that was terrible. We didn't intern the people of German heritage, we didn't intern people of Italian heritage, I couldn't believe we did that.

Q: How did you view President Franklin Roosevelt's leadership during the war?

Mr. Rockett: Very suspect. Not at the time, but now. And when he gave away the shop in Yalta and made the agreement with Stalin. And Stalin was going to come in and take over Berlin, and divide it up and start the cold war, I said how can [he do that]? But mentally was starting to go anyhow. But he made a terrible decision in [Yalta].

Q: How did you think at the time, of Roosevelt's leadership? Did you see him as like a brilliant war leader?

Mr. Rockett: I didn't think much about him.

Q: How did you feel when he died?

Mr. Rockett: Oh, I felt sorry for him. He went though like the polio and everything and a difficult life, and he had all these pressures of the war.

Q: But you didn't view it like the death of a hero?

Mr. Rockett: No.

Q: What was your opinion on President Truman's wartime leadership?

Mr. Rockett: Good. He did what he had to do. I'm so sick of now, of people, do-gooders standing up and telling me that if they were there, which of course they weren't, they would not have used the atomic bomb. But you had to end the war. You can't imagine; the Japanese were fanatic okay? You'd be fanatic if someone invaded the United States right? Save your family? So if we had gone in another invasion, we would have lost maybe a million or two men for what? You know, granted this was an evil thing to do, but you had to bring the war to an end somehow. I would have made the same decision. But for someone to tell me that they wouldn't have done it I say to you, okay then you go on the first landing boat, and you let me know what you think of your decision. Because they wouldn't have survived. End of speech.

Q: At the end of the war, did you participate future wars, or did it see that countries...

Mr. Rockett: Yes, like I do now. I think that there's more opportunity for war now then there was then. You read you paper at night, right? There's little wars everywhere. Everyone's unhappy. All over Africa right? All over the Middle East, we're not getting along with the Russians really, we're not getting along with China. No one likes anybody. I just can't believe we're in this state after two big wars. Human beings can't get along.

Q: Before World War II did you feel kind of the same that everyone didn't like everybody?

Mr. Rockett: No, I never felt that at all.

Q: You felt the opposite of that?

Mr. Rockett: No, I was never concerned about it. I realize that World War One, that the world was like it is today with the possibility of war all the time, and with wars going on. It just wasn't that way.

Q: What [lessons] did you learn from World War II? Did you learn anything?

Mr. Rockett: Well I guess you learned that you had to be prepared. I think I learned that the United States can't control the whole world. And I think I learned that our merchant in the death economy. Our economy has been so determined for fifty years on manufacturing things that kill people, its disgusting. I say to you, if there's a war going on now, there's an American bullet going both ways, because were selling to both sides (chuckles).

Q: How do you view teen Americans now? Do you think we're different from the way you guys acted?

Mr. Rockett: There's no comparison. See you grew up and your parents are very concerned about you as all parents are. But I think it's an over concern. I see the kids in my neighborhood [today], and they're programmed almost like drones. Their whole day is, do this, do that, and mummy and daddy have to drive you. Can't they get off their cans and walk somewhere? I go by playgrounds, there's no one playing. In our day, you'd pick up ten or twelve kids, and go and play a game. But now, let's just organize the uniforms, these klutzes sit around. They have no imagination to do anything on their own. And we were used to not having things okay? You're used to having [things]. So we were kinda hard in that way. We were used to it, if the policeman said not to do this, we respected him. Its just a different mindset than you have today. I'm not saying were necessarily right, and you're wrong, just that it's a totally different breed of cat. I don't think you could have gone in, to face things that we did. I won't use the word soft, but say a more accommodating life than what we had. We just didn't have anything; we were used to nothing. As I said, going to the service to me was upgrading in a way. I had money I didn't have before. If I made thirty-five cents an hour that was a big deal.

Q: Right, whereas for us it would be an enormous...

Mr. Rockett: Yeah, you'd throw it on the ground. (Laughs)

Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth of today?

Mr. Rockett: Well I think, you'd have to appreciate your family more. I mean that is essential. We don't have strong families in this country, I mean you've got nothing right? But the family is everything. The source for the military, where you work, where you go to school, where you play. It's the family. And I think that's the nucleus of everything. And I think we have to learn to get along better...(tape changes over)... for the world. But we have a long ways to go.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add? Or any stories you'd like to tell?

Mr. Rockett: Well I think that's about it. We don't want to get over-indulgent. I don't know how to say this, but the war, there's nothing romantic about it. There's nothing heroic about it. People say, well you were such a hero. Well, I wasn't a hero; I just wanted to save myself. A hero to me was someone putting their life on the line for somebody else. That's a hero. Now the question is, how do you know you're the hero? You don't. When something happens, either you do, you act or you don't react. You don't know until it happens, what you're gonna do okay? So I was never challenged that way. I was challenged with death, about myself, but I wasnt challenged to go back and put my life on the line to save you.

Q: And do you feel there is a difference between infantrymen, in that respect, how they kinda had a chance to go back and help their friends, where you guys didn't really?

Mr. Rockett: Well, I could go back and help the people immediately next to me. Okay? But I couldn't help the plane over here. Or another thing that bothers me in the beginning, a plane would have to leave the formation, and you could see the Germans, they looked like Hornets out there, their fighters coming in. And you knew they [the Germans] were gonna knock them down. But you could not leave your formation to help them. You had to stay with your formation, which wasn't easy. But after a while you adjusted to it. Just like if someone was beating you up out there, and we knew we could help you, but we had to say here. Cause that was the order, we had to stay here. In then in death, I saw some death in my plane. At one time, an English bomber landed in our field, and I went out to see it. And I went to the back, and I could see where the tail gunner was, the glass part was all gone, so I got up close I saw the gunner. His head was gone. But in the infantry, all the people with you are around you. So if they die, they're just all around you. The trees that get knocked over, they're there. The buildings that get damaged, they're there. I was five miles above that. And the other strange thing is you have all these planes going and fighting, okay? They're exploding, there's fires, there's flack. And when this is over, the sky just cleanses itself. It's like nothing ever happened. It's just so eerie. I mean all this death was going on, all of a sudden there's nothing there. Things looked terrific (chuckles). But on the ground it wouldn't be that way. And of course, at the end of the mission, we got the chance to come home, and have a meal, and go to a bed. They didn't. But they could at least get into a foxhole and hide. We couldn't hide anywhere. We were bagged. We were just up there like floating around like sitting ducks. Just hoping they couldn't knock us down. And then in today's war, it's different right? Because who ever shoots first wins (laughs). You get these missile heat wave things, and once they lock on, you're done. We didn't have anything like that. You'd get a chance if some fighters came in they could miss you and you'd get a chance to shoot again. Not today, as I said, whoever shot first wins. Well, that's it I think. I showed you everything that I had in my little packages. Saw that?

Q: Yes.

Mr. Rockett: Oh, and you want me to fill this out?

Q: Yes please.

Mr. Rockett: Okay. (Tape stops)

Mr. Rockett: (Tape starts) These here (opens case with medals, SEE PICTURES) are, this is what they call the Purple Heart, [you get it if] you get wounded. And that's what they call an Air Medal.

Q: And how did you receive this?

Mr. Rockett: Normally that was given for X number of missions, when I was there it was five. And this is what they call the Distinguished Flying Cross, which you would get when you finished your tour, or you did something unusual. And this is the kind of patch we wore on our uniform. Dig that fellas.

Q: Is that the patch you had?

Mr. Rockett: That was one of them. Well you had to have one on every shirt; we called the jacket a blouse. By the way, everyone calls what we wore an Eisenhower jacket, we did not call it an Eisenhower jacket we called it a battle jacket, which was the design the English had for their uniforms. Eisenhower came over and designed one himself, but we were wearing one long before he showed up, or even heard of him.

Q: Who is this on the [Purple Heart] medal? Do you know?

Mr. Rockett: I don't know who it is. Looks like George Washington doesn't it?

Q: What did you do that was unusual to receive this [Distinguished Flying Cross] medal?

Mr. Rockett: I suppose going on some difficult mission. Shooting down planes, I shot down one and a half planes. One and a half means that someone else claimed the same plane. I'm glad one and a half was plenty, because two and a half I don't think I would have survived it.


Hear Mr. Rockett on German anti-aircraft fire. (Quicktime)

Air Medal
Air Medal

B-17 Crew (Mr. Rockett B,R)
B-17 Crew (Mr. Rockett B,R)

Distinguished Flying Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross

Mr. Rockett, 1944
Mr. Rockett, 1944

Purple Heart
Purple Heart

Air Corps Patch
Air Corps Patch

Dog Tags
Dog Tags