From the author of Chameleons, an Untold World War II Story and Left for Dead at Nijmegen, The True Story of an American Paratrooper in WW II
Release date for MARCUS NANNINI’S LATEST FIVE STAR REVIEWED BOOK: Left for Dead at Nijmegen in USA IS MARCH 14, 2019. Release date in UK, EU, Australia and New Zealand HAS BEEN MOVED UP TO MARCH 14, 2019. Casemate Publishers. AVAILABLE AT FINE BOOKSTORES WORLD-WIDE.
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1944-2019 Marks the 75th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden.
The true story of First Lieutenant/Flight Instructor, veteran of twenty seven combat missions, recipient of three air medals, seven battle stars and Market Garden veteran, Harry E. Watson, USAAF
Midnight Flight to Nuremberg
From the coal mines of Pennsylvania to the contested skies over Nazi occupied Europe.
Marcus A. Nannini
Ten year old Harry Watson was stuck, head-first, between a pile of fallen rocks and the top of an abandoned Pennsylvania coal mine. His mom, fighting a blinding snow storm, slipped several times as she struggled to the top of the rock pile, pushed Harry through the narrow opening and down into the mine shaft where he would gather enough coal to carry the family through the Christmas holiday.
After graduating high school and facing the prospect of working in the coal mines the rest of his life he sat down with his mom in an effort to find a way out. She told him: “Harry, there ain’t but one way out of here and that’s the military!”
Harry joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and when it was time for his first solo flight he nearly killed himself, along with everyone in the airfield’s Control Tower.
From that point forward Harry excelled and eventually became the youngest Flight Instructor at Bergstrom Army Airfield.
Harry and Golden Lang became fast friends. One night Lang confided he planned to bring his fiancé from Salt Lake City to California where they would be married immediately following their graduation ceremony and sworn in as Second Lieutenants. Harry did some soul searching and immediately following their graduation both Lang and Harry married their respective girl friends.
While Lang was sent to England as the pilot of a B-24 Liberator, Harry found himself locked into teaching new pilots how to fly multi-engine aircraft.
An affirmed risk taker Harry ignored an order to abort an emergency medical supply mission and flew his plane loaded with two tons of whole blood, and nurses, into zero-zero visibility conditions. His was the only plane out of more than 200 planes to complete the mission.
Later in the war he got caught on the ground while on an urgent fuel resupply mission for a platoon of Patton’s tanks. He had to dig a foxhole during a torrential rainstorm and stay overnight as he waited for the weather to clear. The following morning he came face-to-face with a German Mark IV tank, part of a group of about 800 German infantry and mechanized units seeking a way back to their lines.
He flew every Market Garden mission, losing his close friend to German anti-aircraft fire while taking some hits to his own plane.
Around midnight, in early April, 1945, he was sent on a secret mission to fly to a point near Nuremberg, Germany, which was behind enemy lines. Harry had to locate an empty meadow in the dark, land and take-off without being able to ascertain the conditions of the meadow, or even being certain it was the correct location.
Harry had several friends die, some of them right before his very eyes, and was a first-hand witness to various air-disasters. He managed to survive the war despite his penchant for taking risks.
Though he earned enough Battle Points to be sent home in May, 1945, he volunteered to stay on a couple of months. A few years later he would realize his long-time dream of becoming the Captain of a commercial airliner for Continental Airlines.
LAST FLIGHT WEST
HARRY E. WATSON
CONTINENTAL AIR LINES CAPTAIN, RETIRED
I had a dream the other night in which I had the opportunity to not only plan, but experience my last flight west. It was as though I was doing a practice run on the final flight that every pilot takes…his very last.
The first part that I remember of my dream was: I was sitting in the captain’s seat of a 707-320C waiting for take-off clearance on 24R at Los Angeles. I had lived through this scenario many times in my career, and it was a privilege to have the opportunity to take off with a passenger load of 165 and a crew of 8 bound for new, untold adventures. Once I was cleared for take-off by the tower, and throttles applied, the thrill of the surge of power was an experience that you never forget. A safe take-off with clearance from Departure Control to proceed on course left us with the low, throbbing roar of four powerful engines carrying us to heights never before attained.
Once cleared by Departure Control, we were given a new enroute frequency…one I had never used before. Immediately upon dialing in this channel, a cacophony of voices filled the air-waves, all of them easily recognizable of friends and comrades who had taken their last flight west many years ago. To name a few, there was John Fannin, Sam Bickford, Barney Barnwell, Red Stubben; even that of Freddie Gray who was killed on a flight in May of 1962. Most were urging me to try to catch up, all of the congratulating me on this new journey I was undertaking. A loud squawking interrupted my reverie with instructions from the tower to taxi into position and hold.
I’m very much looking forward to my “Last Flight West.” It appears I have already assembled my crew, and we’re on the run-up pad of 24R. Instructions from the tower were just given:
“Continental 1 cleared for take-off.”
Harry’s final take-off took place at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, January 10, 2019.
Copyright Marcus A. Nannini, 2018, 2019