The recent World War II B-17 bomber visit was a great success, while a ride in the old warplane taught more than just reading about it. Despite the incredible armament on the plane the bomber crewman’s job was the second most dangerous of the war. Experimental Aircraft president and member Karen and Nelson Collins had put together a strong crew of helpful volunteers and interesting displays for the event. An added bonus was the World War II and Korean War veterans who were on hand. Of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II, only about 380,000, or three percent, are still living and the event highlighted a number of those now-rare warriors in a group who had wide spread of experiences. A youngster meeting those old soldiers could possibly carry the memory of the Greatest Generation into the next century.
On hand for the event was retired Lt. Col. Bob Harmon, who was shot down on his first B-17 mission and flew 36 more. Another B-17 crewman was Jack Booher, who served as a waist, belly and tail gunner. Joe Mack High was a Marine on Iwo Jima, while Frank Kyle was in the Okinawa invasion. Lyle Doty served In the Navy during the war, while Joel Potter serviced the Flying Tigers while in India. Gay Calhoun, Jules Benard and Clarence Dotson fought across Europe. Also on hand was Marine Korean vet Stan Porter. The following is Clarence Dotson’s story.
Born Aug. 3, 1925, in Fairview, North Carolina, Clarence was the youngest of Broadus and Rebecca Cauble Dotson’s four sons and three daughters. Growing up in a farm family during the Depression he recalled picking blackberries for 25 cents a gallon and beans for 10 cents a bushel. He attended school in Fairview from the first through the 11th grade, which was the limit of the school. Shortly after turning 18, he entered the service on Sept. 17, 1943. After being sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina, he was sent to Ft. Bragg, where he was trained as a mechanic. Sent on to Ft. Meade and to Camp Miles Standish, he left for Europe from Boston.
“They kept it secret where we were going and I had no idea,” the 94 year-old said. “On March 23, 1944, we boarded the U.S.S. Argentina and zig-zagged across the ocean. I was on the middle sea deck. We were fed two times a day if we were able to eat and they told us that if we got seasick just to eat bread and not drink a lot of stuff. I just got a little bit seasick.
“Back at Camp Croft had been the first time I had ever been out of North Carolina. We landed in Scotland on April 4 and were put on a train through England and on to Wales. The people there were very nice. On June 3 we took a truck convoy to the coast at Bristol and on to Utah Beach, where we stayed in the harbor. That first day was awful and I was scared absolutely to death. I was 18 years old and had grown up In the mountains and never knew what was going on. I could see dead bodies and smell the artillery. It was terrible.
“We stayed on the boat that night and at 5:30 in the evening of the next day we were put on an LST and pulled up on the beach in about a foot of water. I was an artillery parts man for 105 guns with the 343rd Field Artillery and was driving a truck that was loaded with parts and carburetors. There were tank traps and dead horses and humans. There nothing nice about a dead human and the odor will stay with you forever. When we got on the beach I got out of the truck to look at an 88 that had been put out of action and stepped back on a dead German.
“The hedgerows were terrible, but they put a dozer-like blade on the tanks and got though them. The French had covered our dead paratroopers with parachutes. It took about five days to get to St. Mere Eglise and the French were delighted to see us. We went on to Montage to the breakthrough at St. Lo. B-17s were plastering the whole place.
“On Christmas Day we were in Bavaria where we had captured a big building and had a good Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. I was standing in the back door when something said ‘Dotson, you ought to move.’ A ME 109 then came in straffing and tore the door all to pieces. It came back on another run and a man in a halftrack with quad .50s cut down on it and shot it down. I went down to see the remains and saw that the plane had a V24 motor made by Daimler Benz. Little did I know then that I would later work for 20 years with Mercedes Benz in Buncombe County, North Carolina.
“We didn’t stay around long and went to Czechoslovakia on May 6 and 7 where the Second Panzer Division surrendered. They were young and came down and handed us their guns. They were joyous. On May 8 a big German plane came over and we were ordered not to shoot. It flew on to Rheims where Gen. Yoder signed the peace terms. We went into the Army of Occupation and I was at a prisoner of war camp in Wieden, Germany. I made some friends there and would get this young man named Maxie and let him shine my shoes for candy and cigarettes. On Dec. 11, 1945, I went to get him and tell him I was going home. He was 16 and he cried. The Russians had his home. I saw Russians drink vodka and eat onions.
“I was sent to Marsailles for a short while and boarded the U.S.S. Maripoza. We landed at Hampton, close to Norfolk, where I was discharged. There were five of us and the bus to Asheville was full, but a man in a Chrysler was behind the bus and said that he would take us to Asheville for $20 apiece. It was so good to get back on these roads. When I got home, Dad was down at the barn and Mom was upstairs. I was 6’4” and weighted 230 pounds and Dad said: ‘Boy, you’ve growed up!’ I drawed $300 ‘rocking chair’ money then went to work at the Nash company for about a year and then to Oldsmobiles, before I started working for Mercedes Benz where I stayed for 20 years. They’re the best cars I’ve ever worked on.”
Clarence met Francis Frady on April 1943 in Sunday school and the couple were married Oct. 2, 1946. Clarence and Francis have daughters Beth Lynn Young and Jane Dotson and granddaughters Amy Forrester and Bonnie Kilgore, along with great-granddaughters Reese, Reagan, Riley and Katelyn. Following Francis’ passing on May 24, 1994,Clarence now lives with daughter Jane Dotson and his granddogs and cats.
“The greatest lesson I ever learned was in the service,” he ended. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it, but I wouldn’t do it again.”
-Jim Claborn is a retired history teacher and a historical reenactor, as well as a published historian.