Staff Sergeant Frank DelMonte was the Ball Turret Gunner on aircraft 42-3069, when it was shot down on the mission to Hamburg, 25 July 1943. This is what happened, in his own words.
That day, the flak was heavy on the long strike inland. The Germans sent up all types of fighter opposition. Estimates of the number of enemy planes ran as high as 300 or more. They had ME 109s, ME 110s, JU 88s and Focke Wolf 190s. I was told they even had what looked like British Spitfires and if true, they probably were captured machines. On the way back to the base, our plane was hit by flak and fighters. Before I had the chance to bail out, both my legs, my chest, right arm and face was hit by flak. I fell and could not get up. I was the last one in the plane, so I had to crawl to the door and I fell out into space.
I remember being told, if ever you have to bail out, fall as far down as you can before pulling your rip cord so not to be shot by fighter planes. As I was falling, I tried to raise my arm to pull the rip cord but I did not have the strength to lift my arm. I used my left arm to hold up my right one so I could pull the cord. As soon as my chute opened, a German 109 came down and tipped his wing, as if to say "Happy Landing" and then I passed out.
When I awoke, it was night time. I spent the night in the woods and when morning came around I found my way out of the woods and spied a farm house. On my way to the farmhouse, I came across two farmers who stopped me and asked me if had a gun. While the one stayed with me, the other went back to get a two wheeled cart pulled by oxen. In the back of the cart there was hay, which is where I was told to get in and they covered me with the hay. In my mind, I thought they were going to help me get to an underground. Instead, the farmers took me to the farmhouse and called the German Officer. He took me to a hospital, where I spent two months. Upon release from the hospital, I was taken as a prisoner to Stalag 7A and then on to Stalag 17B, in Austria, by boxcar. I spent 23 months there until I was liberated because the war had ended.
All the crew members of the aircraft "Passes Canceled" survived but were taken prisoners. The 544th became known as the "Ghost Squadron" because all the planes were shot down that day.
Account by Frank DelMonte