Black Hawk County

Sgt. Gerald Burbank




Tech Sgt. Gerald Burbank and his wife Evelyn are shown above examining a few of the 644 bullet holes in the parachute which carried the sergeant from his crippled plane still flying over the front lines to safety inside Belgium. The holes were from .50-caliber bullets that had penetrated Burbank's station to the top turret of a B-24 during a battle with German fighters. Sergeant Burbank is now home on a 21-day furlough.

His Chute Riddled by Bullets,
He Lives to Tell of Escape Jump

By Evelyn Rohde
Courier Staff Writer

Sixteen planes out of the group he was flying with had already been shot down by German fighters when the B-24 bomber Tech. Sgt. Gerald Burbank was aboard limped out of Germany on one engine to drop its crew, via parachute, behind Allied lines in Belgium.

This experience was told last Tuesday by Sergeant Burbank, a flight engineer, now home on a 21-day furlough because of combat fatigue.

During the return from a deep penetration into Germany his ship was in a group attacked by 250 German planes. Two gunners were seriously wounded. One boy had a 20-mm shell in his stomach, and even two shots of morphine didn’t ease the pain, Burbank stated.

In the meantime the sergeant was kept busy in the top turret fighting off the enemy as they dropped on the B-24. He is credited with downing one plane in the encounter.

During this time he lost contact on the interphone with the rest of the crew and only remembers “firing constantly.” From his perch in the top turret he could see furrows appearing as if by magic in the metal surface of the plane as Jerry shells raked the crippled bomber.

“I can't understand why they quit when they did; another run would have finished us completely,” Burbank stated.

With the ship still an hour inside Germany and losing altitude the crew started throwing out excess weight, including flak suits, radio equipment and extra clothing.

The fuel was running low and the gas lines were cut, making it impossible to replenish the supply from the auxiliary tanks. The plane was still losing altitude steadily.

At last, over the Rhine river and into friendly territory, the two wounded men were helped on with their parachutes and they halted a moment to say a prayer before they went out the camera hatch. In turn the remaining men of the nine-man crew slipped out into the open and from then on every second was packed with excitement for Sergeant Burbank.

“I fell a long ways to clear the plane and then pulled the cord but for some reason only the small pilot chute came out and that didn’t stop my fall.”

Dropping horizontally through space, the sergeant began clawing frantically at his chute, still in its chest pack. With a “poof” the chute finally opened but this did not eliminate his troubles as the suspension lines became twisted and tangled. He succeeded in swinging his body around and finally straightened out.

“I started drifting toward earth backwards and when I looked up at my chute I was startled to see it was full of small holes. That was a real scare because I figured they would start tearing, but again I was lucky and got down O. K. The holes were from .50 caliber bullets that had penetrated the plane during the fight with the German planes.

“In all there were 644 holes in the parachute – I counted them.”

From then on life was not so tough for the sergeant in the small British artillery outpost where he landed. He was fed and taken to Brussels where he joined five of his crew.

The gunner who was wounded in the stomach was found dead where he landed and the other was taken immediately to a hospital where he later recovered, Burbank said.

When the men reported back to their Eighth air force base in England, Burbank discovered he had been listed as dead, but this message had not yet been sent to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Guy E. Burbank, at 1031 Independence avenue, or to his wife, Evelyn, who is principal of the high school at Fredericksburg, Ia.

Although the ship they were flying was so new it had not been christened, the crew was appropriately known as “Ya Can’t Beat It.”

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday, March 18, 1945, Page 5 (photo included)