Every Veteran Has a Story: Warren Oates

STAFF SERGEANT WARREN DURWARD OATES

United States Army Air Forces, World War II

Tail Gunner, B-17 #42-5777, 96th Bomb Squadron, 2 nd Bomb Group

©By Larry Hume, VFW Post 8904, Center, Texas

During the heat of summer, August 25, 1923, Warren Durward Oates was born in Shelby County, Texas
that can be found in the far East part of the state. His parents, both native Texans were Mary Susan
Eddins and James Oates were married in Shelby County on September 24, 1903. Warren was the
baby of the family with five older siblings, Jewel, Annie Victoria, Steven William, Primrose, and James R.
Unfortunately, it appears his parents’ marriage ended in the late 1920s and the children then lived with
Susan on a farm in rural Shelby County.
With the Japanese attack on the US Military Installations at Pearl Harbor, Hickam, and Wheeler Fields,
Hawaii, December 7, 1941, the United States found itself embroiled in a second World War. Warren now
18 years old complied with the Selective Service Act of 1940 and registered for the military draft in
Beaumont, Texas on June 30, 1942. His registration card, D.S.S. Form 1 showed; his residence was at
1159 Liberty Street, Beaumont where he lived with his mother Susan; employed by Lumes Construction
The company, Port Arthur; was five foot nine and one-half inches tall and weighed 156 pounds; gray eyes,
blonde hair, and light complexed. (1)
Seven months later on January 29, 1943, Warren voluntarily enlisted in the US Army Air Forces. Following
basic training, Private Oates was assigned as an aerial gunner and was required to attend a flexible
gunnery school that lasted nine weeks. The students learned how to strip down the .50 caliber machine
gun, reassemble, load it, clear jams and of course fire, effectively to protect their bomber against
enemy fighter attacks with machine guns aimed by hand (“flexible guns”) and electrically-powered gun
turrets. Typically, gunners made up half of a bomber crew, manning a top turret, ball turret, two waist
guns, and a tail turret. Training at Las Vegas, Nevada he graduated and received his Gunnery Wings on
August 23, 1943.
After a furlough home to see the folks, newly promoted Staff Sergeant Warren Durward Oates was
assigned to the 96th Bomb Squadron of the 2nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), Fifteenth Air Force. He
departed for Amendola Air Base in Foggia, Italy in December 1943 where he was placed with the crew of
Flying Fortress Bomber B-17 # 42-5777, nicknamed “The Gin Mill” as the tail gunner. Other members of
the crew was; Pilot, Second Lieutenant Richard M. Blomquist; Co-Pilot, Second Lieutenant Harper C.
Maybee; Navigator Second Lieutenant James S. Stewart; Bombardier, Second Lieutenant Dale E.
Wilkinson; Engineer, Staff Sergeant Harold A. Troutman; Radio Operator, Staff Sergeant Robert B.
Stamps; Gunners, Sergeants Benjamin F. Sheckles, Jr., Carl R. Foster, and Ascension Gonzalez, Jr.(2)

Aerial Gunner Wings, Air Medal with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster,
Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal,
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal,
World War II Victory Medal, Presidential Unit Citation.
The Champion Newspaper, Center, Shelby County, Texas, July 24, 1944, reported that Warren and crew
of The Gin Mill flew their first combat mission over Villaorba, Italy on January 16, 1944. They were part
of sixty-one B-17s from the Second and Ninety-Ninth Bomb Groups that bombed the landing field at
Villalba without opposition and were escorted to and from the target by forty-six P-47s. Their bombs
cratered the entire field and damaged dispersal areas and railroad tracks. (3) In the Twelfth Air Force the
“checkpoint” for rotation back to the states was fifty missions. Five months later, June 13, 1944 Staff
Sergeant Oates flew his fiftieth mission over Munich, Germany that qualified him to rotate back to the
The United States.
To just say “he completed fifty missions” and go on would be a gross injustice to his memory and the
sacrifice Warren and his fellow flying comrades made during World War II. Looking at the numbers that
were printed in a newspaper article and may or may not be 100% accurate, he finished his fifty in 149
days which would require flying combat missions every three days. Burn out or combat fatigue was very
common and a real problem from the beginning with combat crews. Consider this, all at the age of
twenty years; missions that penetrated deep into enemy territory could last up to eight hours and be
filled with many anxious moments looking for enemy fighter planes that wanted to kill you and the rest
of the crew; going through heavy antiaircraft fire from the ground; the planes were unheated and open
to outside air; the crew wore electrically heated suits and heavy gloves that provided some protection
against temperatures that could dip to 60 degrees below; reaching 10,000 feet oxygen masks were
required as the plane climbed to operational levels that could be as high as 29,000 feet; as they neared
the target each crew member would put on a 30-pound flak suit and steel helmet designed to protect
them again antiaircraft fire; parachutes were too bulky to be worn all of the time, but crewmen did wear
a harness that allowed them to quickly clip on their parachute when needed; prior to 1944 the tour of
duty was 25 missions and it was estimated the average crewman had only a one in four chance of
actually completing his tour.(4) Try doing this every three days!
After each mission, the crews were debriefed about what went on and what they saw during the
mission. Those who were eyewitnesses to events such as what happened to other planes in the
formation gave signed statements for the record. At Fold3.com four such statements by Staff Sergeant
Warren Oates was found. One can only imagine the nightmares and sleepless nights these sights could
cause.
1. February 17, 1944: Statement of S/Sgt Warren D. Oates, 38414283, the tail gunner of B-17 No. 42-
5777, 96th Squadron, which was flying in the second wave, second squadron, a first element, third plane.
“I was calling out fighters to the rest of our crew when I noticed that B-17 No. 067 was heading straight
down. This B-17 was on fire at this time with long trails of flame going over the wing. I am quite sure
No. 2 engine was on fire and seemed to be spreading. When about 3,000 feet below our formation, I
saw five (5) chutes come out of this plane, one right after the other. The plane was still heading straight

down after the last chute was seen to come out. A very short time after this I saw the plane hit the
ground and explode.” (https://www.fold3.com/image/28613358)
2. February 25, 1944: Statement of S/Sgt Warren D. Oates, 38414283, tail gunner on B-17 No.
42-5777, 96th Squadron, flying in the second wave, first squadron, the second element, second plane.
“Plane No. 42-31390 was still in formation in the second squadron until about six or seven minutes
before bombs away. It then burst into flame between No. 3 and No. 4 engines and immediately went
into a dive. I happened to be tracking a fighter in his direction as No. 390 went down and had a chance
to see it most of the way down. I don’t believe any of the men got out”.
(https://www.fold3.com/image/28737721)
3. April 14, 1944: Statement of S/Sgt Warren D. Oates, 38414285, tail gunner on B-17 No. 652,
flying in the first wave, first squadron, a first element, number two position.
“The fighters made a pass at the rear of our group shortly after our bombs were away, but before those
of the second wave, were away. I noticed the silver aircraft (B-17 No. 058) wobble his wings, perhaps to
show that he was going to leave the formation, and I noticed a fire in the number three engine. He
started angling off to the right a bit and losing altitude. As he got a little distance from the formation,
the chutes started coming out and he made a 360-degree circle. I counted seven (7) chutes come out
while he was making this circle, and then I lost sight of him.” (https://www.fold3.com/image/29635444)
4. April 17, 1944: Statement of S/Sgt Warren D. Oates, 38414283, the tail gunner of B-17 No. 006
flying in the second wave, third squadron, the second element, first position.
“B-17 No. 581 had been flying on our left wing since B-17 No. 069 turned back and we had taken the
lead of the element. It apparently was having no difficulty in staying in position until the formation
made a left turn at 1127 hours. He then started falling back and dropped back behind number four
squadron the last at that time. He opened his doors and salvoed his bombs at 1129 hours just as we
were straightening out from the turn. After he salvoed his bombs, he caught up a little, but he never did
get back in formation. At 1152 hours, when we saw flak from Caransebee, I noticed B-17 No. 581 out at
4 o’clock low with all four engines going. Just after we made a right turn. This caused B-17 No. 581 to
go under the formation where I couldn’t see him, and I never saw him again.”
(https://www.fold3.com/image/28632163)

The Champion Newspaper of July 24, 1944, reported Warren had been awarded
the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters for successfully completed missions over
enemy territory and was spending a 20-day furlough with his mother, Mrs.
Susan Oates in Center. Information about his military service from then to
honorable discharge on September 14, 1945, is lacking but in all probability
Warren with his combat experience would have been assigned to help train
new bomber crews in the United States.

Returning to civilian life, he married Myrtle Louis Blackmore. They had two known sons, Michael Dean
and James Reed. At the age of 52, Warren passed at the Jasper Memorial Hospital, Jasper, Texas of a
heart attack on February 19, 1976. He had been employed a carpenter in the construction industry.
Funeral arrangements were by Griner Funeral Home, Newton, Texas. Warren Durward Oates, a member
of that “Greatest Generation” was laid to rest in the Spears Chapel Cemetery, Burkeville, Newton
County, Texas. The day is done, God is nigh.