Cecil Coleman was a young nose gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber

BARBARA SHERMAN - Cecil Coleman, with his WWII photos spread out on the dining room table, has a great sense of humor and enjoys chatting with passersby on his street in Summerfied.Cecil Coleman's life in Summerfield is pretty tame these days compared to his time serving in the Air Corps during World War II, when he participated in 33 missions over Nazi Germany in a B-24 bomber.

Born in Peabody, Kansas, Coleman was 9 months old when his family moved across the border to Oklahoma, where he picked up a slight Midwest accent that he maintains to this day.

In 1936, the family moved to Bakersfield, California, where at age 19, Coleman married his wife Peggy. In September 1943, Coleman was drafted into the Air Corps and shipped overseas, where he was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 453rd Bombardment Group, 735th Bombardment Squadron, based at Old Buckenham Field near Norwich, England.

The 453rd Bombardment Group was a B-24 Liberator heavy-bombardment group that completed a total of 82 consecutive missions without a loss, which was a record, and Coleman was a nose gunner.

Explaining that 25 missions comprised a tour of duty, “I stayed on and did eight more missions,” he said. “I didn't want Hitler to win the war.”

{img:121733}Coleman, who served combat duty in Europe from July 25, 1944, to May 5, 1945, and his fellow fly boys were young – in their late teens and 20s - while the captain was “probably 30 years old,” he said.

For the most part they felt invincible. “We were young and crazy,” Coleman said. “We thought what we were doing was kind of neat.

“Our longest run was 10 hours. We would fly three miles up on bombing missions and take flak from the Germans. Sometimes we could feel the concussions under our feet and used to joke about it. On one mission, we had to kick out a bomb that was stuck.

COURTESY OF CECIL COLDMAN - Cecil Coleman (back row, second from right) poses with his crew that was based at Old Buckenham Field near Norwich,  England.
One time a flak shell came in through the bottom of the plane and went right out the top and then exploded. Another time one missed us by 6 feet. If you could fit a quarter through the hole a shell made, it counted as a hit. We had 126 holes after one mission. The worst we got shot was just little holes, but once we had to land in France and leave the plane there.”

According to Coleman, there were 12 or 13 planes in each group, with 45 groups based at his airfield, and on missions they flew three to five minutes apart.

“When we did saturation bombing, we got close to the target and dropped our bombs as a squadron,” Coleman said. “The lead plane would open its bomb bay doors, and then everyone dropped their bombs at once.”

Coleman's crew had the good fortune to fly its last six missions in a “modern” B-24J, “which was a much better plane,” Coleman said. “It was sure tough – we got shot up. As the old saying goes, 'War is hell.'”

COURTESY OF CECIL COLEMAN - Cecil Coleman, posing here under a bomber, was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 453rd Bombardment Group, 735th Bombardment Squadron.Jimmy Stewart was his commanding officer after being assigned in March 1944 to the unit Coleman joined, the 453rd Bombardment Group. Stewart was the command pilot in the lead B-24 on missions over Germany, flying a total of 20 sorties with the 453rd Bombardment Group.

“He was a wonderful guy,” Coleman said. “He went from private to brigadier general while in the service. When he came and we found out he was going to be our lead man for the day, we thought it would be a milk run, but we went right to Frankfurt, and it was one of our first runs.”

And Coleman, who said he “never got a scratch,” knew men who were killed. “But I only saw six enemy aircraft the whole time I was there,” he said. “We had a job, and we went out and did it. We've never had a war like that again. War is a terrible thing.”

After Coleman was honorably discharged, he returned to Bakersfield, and he and Peggy had two daughters. Coleman joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Fillmore and worked at several jobs in Bakersfield before the family moved to Los Angeles after 10 years.

Coleman worked in precision grinding and then ran his own business until he retired. Both their daughters were living in the Portland area - older daughter Sherian in Clackamas and younger daughter Brenda in Tigard - and the Colemans moved to Clackamas in 1986 for four years before returning to California.

After Brenda's husband Jim Stentz retired, they moved to Summerfield in 2011; Peggy died in 2012, and after the house next door to the Stentzes came up for sale, they persuaded Coleman to buy it and move here, which he did in 2013.

Coleman has five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

And one of Coleman's favorite pastimes is to sit in his open garage and chat with passersby. “I'm a people person,” he said, joking, “I talk to 10 or 15 people a day. I insult them, and they insult me back, and I tell them to keep walking.”

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