--photos courtesy Dale Van Patten, White County Historical Society
A seasoned veteran at 20, McEuen (2d from left, back row) is shown with his crew.
taff sergeant Richard W. McEuen of Searcy was a radio/gunner on a B-25 crew stationed in Italy in 1944 and 1945. He flew 57 combat missions for the U.S. Army Air Force and made it back safely to White County, bringing with him a bombing logbook in which he recorded where he and his B-25 crew went and what they encountered.
The flights, which must have been terrifying at times, are logged in terms devoid of emotion, abbreviated in routinely simple entries such as “heavy to moderate flak.” He was only 19 years old when he made his first entry. His log consisted of sheets of ruled, looseleaf notebook paper, kept in a three-ring binder. Following are random samplings taken from it. The term “flak” describes a projectile fired from an antiaircraft gun on the ground and preset to explode at a designated altitude. The entry “RR” means railroad, “ACC” is accurate, and “milk run” describes a bombing mission that does not meet enemy resistance.
Somewhere in Italy
12/14/44 Bridge – Brenner Pass. Target weathered in – did not bomb.
12/27/44 RR tunnel – Brenner Pass, San Abroglio. Moderate to intense fairly acc flak.
12/18/44 RR bridge – Canole D’isohza – milk run.
12/30/44 RR bridge – Crema – Scant inacc flak at landfall on return.
1/4/45 RR bridge – Brenner Pass, Colliano – heavy to moderate flak at two points.
1/17/45 Brenner Pass, Ora – Heavy intense acc flak.
1/31/45 RR bridge – Brenner Pass, Lavis – heavy intense acc flak
2/13/45 RR bridge – Brenner Pass, Lavis – moderate inacc flak. Two runs on target.
2/14/45 RR bridge – Brenner Pass, Lavis – heavy intense acc flak. Eight holes in radio.
2/17/45 RR bridge – Sicily – alternate – milk run.
2/28/45 RR bridge – Brenner Pass, Ala – heavy scant to moderate fairly acc flak.
2/29/45 Leaflets – Modena, Bologna area – milk run. Dropped leaflets at four points.
4/12/45 RR bridge – Marrbor – very heavy flak. Fifteen holes in wing. Radio and engine damage.
4/22/45 RR bridge – Palesella – very heavy acc flak. Six holes in vertical and horizontal stabilizer.
4/23/45 Pontoon bridge – Brenner Pass, Gardo Veneta – heavy machine gun, very acc. Gunner and engineer wounded. Engines hit. Twelve holes.
Brenner Pass was a regular target for McEuen’s B-25 crew. The allied air forces had been bombing the area since August 1944 to prevent German troops from getting supplies. With Brenner Pass frequently blocked, northern Italy was virtually isolated from the rest of Europe.
The B-25 made a one-time dramatic entrance in world news when Brig. General Jimmy Doolittle led the first air raid on Japan, flying B-25s from a carrier deck in the Pacific. Until that time the Japanese thought their empire could not be reached. The U.S. Army Air Corps used the B-25 to fly bombing missions from bases in Italy. It was used as support for ground troops, was capable of low-altitude combat, and bombed with pinpoint accuracy. While it did not receive the publicity that its heavier bomber cousins, the B-17 and B-24 did, its presence, nevertheless, was felt in the war against Germany. According to aviation historians, nearly 10,000 B-25s were produced from late 1939 through 1945. The twin-tail, mid-wing land monoplane was powered by two 1,700-hp Wright Cyclone engines. Normal bomb capacity was 5,000 pounds. Although Sgt. McEuen does not record the type weapons he used, some versions carried 75 mm cannon, machine guns and added firepower of 13 .50-caliber guns in the conventional bombardier’s compartment. One version carried eight .50-caliber guns in the nose in an arrangement that provided 14 forward-firing guns.
Richard W. McEuen was the son of William Lee McEuen and Florence Della Fullerton McEuen. He was born February 9, 1925, and lived on Market Street in Searcy. He grew up and attended public schools during the worst economic depression White County and our country ever experienced. His generation had to mature much too rapidly, childhoods lost in the largest military conflict in the history of civilization. For his contribution, which lasted a few days shy of two years, Sgt. McEuen was awarded three Bronze Stars and an Air Medal with five clusters. After the war ended, he enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, graduated and ultimately became a CPA. He remained in the Air Force Reserve and became a first lieutenant. In the interim, he married and raised a family at Kensett. He died April 23, 1994, and was buried at Oaklawn Cemetery. Following his death, the logbook was given to his friend Dale Van Patten of Searcy by a family member.
Those of us who knew Richard the boy and Richard the veteran feel a deep sense of appreciation for what he did for his country. Like the notes in his logbook, his contribution was no brag – just fact. Since the end of World War II, countless Americans have become so comfortable with their heritage of freedom that they never think about its value – what it cost in terms of sacrifice, courage and money. Truly, they will not miss the water until the well runs dry.
The author was a member of the White County Historical Society. He died October 30, 2001.