Jim Ashlock has a good friend in Tallahassee.
They meet with friends every day for coffee at the Village Inn restaurant. Most of the time the conversation is about friends, family, grandchildren, and politics. Occasionally, the talk turns nostalgic.
“When it does,” says Ashlock, “we learn things about each other that sometimes surprise us.”
For instance, at one of the coffees recently, Ashlock’s friend told him how he bailed from an airplane over France during the war. He landed in friendly territory, but broke his leg on landing. He said he bailed from an A26 Invader on November 29, 1944 at 4:30 p.m.
He was a gunner, Ashlock’s friend said. He said he was in the 642nd squadron of the 409th Light Bomber group of the ninth Airforce.
‘I remember that moment like it happened just minutes ago,” said his friend regarding the jump. “I didn’t have time to think about much but clearing that plane. It was on fire and breaking apart.””
“We called it ‘hitting the silk.’ We knew we might have to do it sometime,” said Ashlock’s friend, “We preferred not to think about it too much though. Just hoped the shutes would open up when we needed them to.”
Ashlock wrote Sixfox asking her if she could share any information about his friend. Sixfox wrote back confirming his squadron and said that he was on Lt. Bullock’s plane November 29, 1944, on a raid against a supply depot at Landau. They lost both engines, bailed out and were picked up by friendly ground forces.
The 409th history book on page 292 said this about Lt. Bullock’s plane – “…lost power on left engine but continued to target. Returning toward base, the right engine cut out and he left formation and a few moments later the entire crew bailed out. All landed safely and picked up by ground forces.”
The history book did not identify the type of light attack bomber Lt. Bullock was piloting. It may have been an A20 instead of an A26.
According to the history book the first A26 mission for the 409th was December 15, 1944. So, Ashlock’s friend may have confused the A20 Havoc with the A26 Invader. The Invader had just arrived at Bretigny, France, and 409th personnel were receiving training on the A26 and preping the planes for combat.
That was a long time ago and a lot was going on in the transition from the A20s to the A26s besides flying combat missions and repairing airplanes. So it”s understandable that Ashlock’s friend might mix up the two planes when telling his story.
When Ashlock had asked his friend if he had any official records all he could say is “I have it right here in my head and I was awarded a Purple Heart for the broken leg.”
So he wrote Sixfox because he needed records confirming his friend’s story. Sixfox had Ashlock contact Donetha, the widow of Ralph Bullock, pilot of the plane that went down and she confirmed that Ashlock’s friend was a crew member on her husband’s plane. She also knew about their parachute jump from her late husband.
With these records, said Ashlock, he could get his friend a certificate and lapel pin in the Caterpillar Club. This club recognizes those whose lives were saved by a parachute. After authentication by the parachute maker, in this case the Switlik Parachute Company of New Jersey, the applicant receives a membership certificate and a distinctive lapel pin.
Ashlock submitted the information he’d collected. Now he’s waiting for them to induct his friend into the Caterpillar Club.
“He’s a great guy,” said Ashlock, “a wonderful friend and I just wanted to gain him some extra recognition. He was only eighteen when he had to bail out of that plane.”
Over a cup of coffee, sometimes you hear surprising stories. Ashlock did recently from his friend, Pace Allen, a member of the 409th.