CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Donald W. Brooman was born in December, 1923, in West Orange, New Jersey. As a youth he worked many hours at his parents’ ice cream store when not attending school. When Brooman was drafted at the age of nineteen, he was given options as to possible branches of the military to serve in. He was undecided, and a friend advised him to choose the Army Air Corps. The friend further suggested that he might enhance his chances for the Air Corps by telling the recruiter that he “enjoyed making model airplanes.” He did, and was mustered into the Army Air Corps at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in February of 1943.
Brooman received basic training in Miami Beach, Florida and was sent from there to Chicago for sixteen weeks of training as a radio operator. On completion of the radio course he went on to Yuma, Arizona for six weeks of aerial gunnery training, and then to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was assigned to a B-17 bomber crew. At the completion of training Brooman’s crew was assigned to the 390th Bomb Group, 3rd Air Division of the Eighth Air Force.
In September, 1944, Brooman’s crew flew in stages, via Langley Field, Virginia, Bangor Maine, Goose Bay Labrador, Reykavich, Iceland and Scotland to an American base in Framlingham, Suffolk, England, from where Brooman, serving as an aerial gunner and radioman, flew five combat missions in his first six days. Over the next six months, Brooman’s B-17 crew flew a total of thirty missions. He described a typical mission as “five hours of boredom, followed by fifteen minutes of terror.” Among the raids were attacks on the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany.
There was danger enough in those fifteen minutes. On December 24th, 1944, as the Battle of the Bulge raged below, Brooman’s crew participated in a 3:00 a.m. surprise attack on German airfields. In his haste to board his plane he forgot his shoes, which aircrews routinely tied to their parachutes for use on the ground if it became necessary to bail out. (The flight boots they wore during missions would always come off with the shock of a parachute opening.) As Brooman’s squadron flew into German occupied territory, it encountered intense antiaircraft fire. One engine of his plane was disabled and another was damaged. As the aircraft wobbled, he tied wires to the top of his boots, in the hope they would stay on during bailout. At the last moment, however, as Brooman and his fellow crew members prepared to bail out of the B-17, the pilot, who had maneuvered back into Allied occupied territory, spied an airfield and made a very skillful emergency landing. Brooman served with several pilots during his tour of duty, and he spoke very highly of all of them, including Warren Jones, Jim Kenny and Col. Joe Moller.
Brooman recalled that on returning from one mission, he looked at the B-17 parked next to his plane and saw that it had been hit by enemy flak, noting a large gaping hole the size of a garbage can “right in the same area where I sat in my aircraft.” On another occasion he witnessed the accidental death of a soldier who was run over after exiting a truck. The vehicle backed up, driver and soldier did not see each other, and the man was killed.
Brooman remembered that he had a great deal of admiration for the British Royal Air Force, as they were not clothed nearly as warmly as the Americans were and had to endure far more physical discomfort on air raids. During the course of his interview he often mentioned how very cold it was to fly bombing missions, particularly at 28,000 feet.
Brooman escaped the war uninjured. He flew his last combat mission on April 20, 1945 and returned safely to the United States in March of 1945. He traveled home via ship, along with many recently liberated prisoners of war as fellow passengers, whose emaciated appearance left a lasting impression on him. Once back in the United States, he was promoted to the rank of technical sergeant and served as a control tower radio operator at 2532nd Army Air Force Base Unit, Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas until his honorable discharge on October 1, 1945. Unfortunately, while he was traveling back to New Jersey after discharge, Brooman’s luggage, which included his uniforms, photographs, discharge papers and other personal items, was lost.
Donald W. Brooman flew on B-17 bomber missions in the service of his country all over central Europe. Among his awards were four battle stars, an air medal with four oak leaf clusters, and a good conduct medal. After the war he worked for the Canada Dry Beverage company for thirty-eight years before retiring. At the time of his interview Brooman was residing in Barnegat, NJ.