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Unforgettable time gets its due

May 23, 2004|By KATE COLEMAN

The B-29 Superfortress has been called "the plane that won the war."

It could fly higher, farther and faster than other bombers and could carry 20,000 pounds of bombs and drop them with "deadly accuracy," according to "73rd Bomb Wing, An Illustrated History," a book by Turner Publishing Co.

That book includes an entry about Hagerstown resident Lloyd Pittman.

Pittman, now 80, was 19 years old and working as a signal maintenance technician for the B&O Railroad when he was drafted to serve in World War II. His mechanical abilities - he could "tear down" a Model A Ford and put it back together when he was 15 - helped him to be selected for air-force duty.

Lloyd Pittman hasn't been to Washington, D.C., to visit the National World War II Memorial, which opened last month. Neither does he plan to attend its dedication Saturday, May 29. But he will visit the memorial.

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"I'd like to see it," he said. "We haven't seen anything much about World War II."

Pittman recently recalled his service - from basic training in Miami Beach, Fla., where he was quartered in a hotel and ate food the likes of which he'd never seen in his hometown of Hancock - to flying B-29 combat missions in the Pacific.

He received airplane mechanics, electrical specialist and "Flying Fortress" training in Nebraska, Illinois, Seattle and Clovis, N.M., where he also served as an electrician on the flight line.

When he started his B-29 training in Seattle, an instructor told him he'd be able to work on the plane blindfolded, be able to start all engines and estimate the revolutions per minute by listening. The instructor was right. Pittman came to know the B-29 well.

Pittman shared stories of stateside adventures and misadventures. Always interested in having a little extra cash, while in Seattle, he got a job at a steel mill and would sneak off base and back through a hole in the fence.

Pittman finished his training and left from the United States for duty on Saipan in the Marianas Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. On the way he and his fellow crew members spent a night in bedbug-infested bunks the Japanese had abandoned on a small atoll between Hawaii and Saipan - "a terrible place," Pittman said.

He arrived on Saipan in January 1945.

"We started flying combat flights," Pittman said.

He was assistant flight engineer at the time. Each mission was about 15 hours long, and "Pitt" - the nickname his fellows called him - said the crew had trouble figuring how to equalize the fuel. The B-29s held 6,700 gallons of "gas" and 85 gallons of oil. Too much fuel offset the plane; not enough and they wouldn't make it back.

"We always tried to pick up a tailwind," Pittman said.

There were close calls.

While dropping bundles of food and supplies to American prisoners of war, Pittman leaned out of the plane - held by a couple of his mates - to cut free a bundle strap that had gotten caught on the outside of the plane. Unaware of his position, the plane's bombardier opened and closed the door, trying to free the bundle. Pittman was hanging by his feet.

He rode in the plane's tail - in the small space of the gunner's seat - for one memorable mission. The plane dropped bombs then turned back. The smoke and concussive force of the bomb blast resulted in a fierce tossing for Pittman.

Pittman was affected deeply by events during the war.

He still has trouble with elevators, and not too long ago, the flash of a camera photographing a traffic violator affected him greatly. Heart racing, he didn't know where he was.

"I just lost everything," he said.

American airmen dropped leaflets in Japanese and English to warn civilians that the city of Tokyo would be burned.

Pittman recalled the night the city was burned to the ground.

"God, if this isn't hell, what would hell be like?" he said.

After World War II, Pittman returned to Hancock. He went "across the crick" to the carnival in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., one night and met his future bride. Lloyd and Dorothy "Dottie" Pittman celebrated their 57th anniversary last November. They have one daughter, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

The National World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who, like Pittman, served in the U.S. military during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died and the millions who supported the nation's war effort.

The memorial lies between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument at the east end of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall.

A campaign to raise funds for the memorial's construction brought in more than $195 million in cash and pledges, including $16 million in federal funds.

Construction began in September 2001.

Two flagpoles flying the American flag frame the 17th Street entrance. The military service seals of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine adorn granite and bronze bases. Twenty-four bronze bas-relief panels depict the war years - at home and overseas. Fifty-six granite pillars, connected by a bronze sculpted rope, symbolize the unity of the country during the war.

The Freedom Wall displays 4,000 sculpted gold stars, commemorating the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives. The inscription states: "HERE WE MARK THE PRICE OF FREEDOM."

The memorial includes an online registry of Americans who served in the armed forces or contributed to the war effort on the home front. There is no charge to place a name in the registry. To enroll, visit www.WWIImemorial.com on the Web or call 1-800-639-4WW2.

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