Today’s story is about Lt. Col. James Buzick, a Fargo man who started his military career in WWII. Buzick was an original member of the 577th Squadron of the 392nd bomb group, which flew its first combat mission in September 1943. He was a ball turret gunner on a B-24H S/N 42-7495, the first ever equipped with nose-turrets.
April 29th, 1944, was a deadly day for the 392nd – the second heaviest in its combat history. They were to lose 8 of their 18 planes and suffer 77 aircrew casualties that day.
Their target was Berlin. Buzick and the rest of the crew were aboard the Axis Grinder when the bombers ran into trouble. For about five minutes, they lost their fighter escort planes, and some 50 German fighters took advantage by attacking the American bomber formation two abreast, in a double line.
The Axis Grinder was hit with five 20mm shells, which injured the navigator and the right waist gunner and took out the plane’s number 3-engine. The shell that wounded the right waist gunner also hit one of Buzick’s guns and hot shrapnel set off some of his 50-caliber ammunition leaving the ball turret inoperative. Luckily, Jim was not injured; he was able to get the guns pointed down and retreat back up into the plane.
Buzick found Sgt. Walter Kolczynsky bloody but still manning his waist gunner position. When Buzick tried to take over for him, Kolczynwky refused, saying, “No damn German is going to shoot me and get away with it.”
Concerned about his wounded men, 1st Lt. Floyd Slipp radioed from the cockpit to his crew – should they head for Sweden or aim for England, which was farther away? At this point, two ME 109s spotted them all alone and made a pass at them. Slipp dove down into the safety of heavy clouds and, in agreement with his crew, headed for England.
After some time of flying blind, the Axis Grinder pulled up out of the clouds only to be jumped by more ME-109s. This happened every time they came into the open, and Lt. Slipp figured German radar had a lock on them. He aimed downwards, hoping to fly below the clouds.
Buzick said when they emerged, they were in Holland and so close to the ground he had to look up to see the top of a windmill they were passing – a windmill with German troops shooting at them.
As they crossed the English Channel, the missing third engine became a more serious problem – at times they were only 15 feet above the water. As they neared the cliffs on the British coastline, Buzick said they threw everything out of the plane that wasn’t bolted down. The Axis Grinder cleared the cliffs and successfully made it to base in Wendling.
As a member of the ND Air National Guard, Jim Buzick was called up again to fight in the Korean War. He passed away in Fargo on this date in 2004.
By Merry Helm
Source: Scott Nelson, Solen, ND, who interviewed Mr. Buzick prior to his death.