For more than 40 years, World War II veteran Russell Bond couldn’t talk about his 33 top secret combat flight missions over Europe with the Office of Strategic Service as a Carpetbagger. He couldn’t even tell his family, including his eight brothers who also served in World War II — all of whom returned back home to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin alive.
It has been 72 years since the United States’ involvement in World War II began. With each passing day, about 1,000 veterans of the 16 million who served pass away — and with them goes a piece of American history. According to the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs, there are only 39,219 World War II veterans living in North Carolina.
With so few left, it’s becoming more important to get their stories told before their chapter in the history books closes forever.
As a Carpetbagger, Bond, now 89, flew low and slow dropping money, gear, munitions and spies into Germany and France, he said. One of the spies they dropped off was William Colby, the future head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
“We were left in the dark about what we were actually doing,” said Bond, a former Army Air Corps radio operator. “I didn’t find out what we actually did until 1987. Everything was still top secret until then.”
After one mission over Germany, the crew counted more than 1,800 fragmentation holes in their plane from anti-aircraft fire.
“The fire that night was so heavy you could walk on it across the sky,” said Bond, whose highest rank was tech sergeant.
Many of the missions Bond flew as a Carpetbagger were solo missions, meaning no other aircraft accompanied them.
“I never saw another plane except for the enemies,” Bond said. “We had a JU-88 right off our left wing once. We were dead tired and heading home... I could see the pilots face and everything. Then he just peeled off and we figured he would shoot us down but he didn’t. He let us land at our base. I’ll never understand that.
“To this day I still don’t understand it.”
One of Bond’s missions required him to fly over Normandy during D-Day operations.
“We flew over the ships,” said Bond. “Unbelievable the number of ships that we produced. You could walk across the water... I’ve never seen so many ships in my life and never will I again.”
After every mission Bond and his crew would return to England. This was especially difficult because of the secrecy of their missions and the covert nature of their B-24.
“It was all black,” he said of the Carpetbagger plane. “No lights outside. We had faint lights on the inside — little orange yellow bulbs. …Our greatest fear was our return to England because the American and English forces didn’t know a thing that we were up to. An unmarked, unlighted plane coming over England — they were amazed. I shot off the right communication signals so we were alright by the time we landed.”
It wasn’t always top secret missions for Bond though.
Initially, he flew seven combat flight missions as part of the 467th Bomb Crew.
“Many, many times, I think that if I stayed in the heavy bombardment group I wouldn’t have made it back,” he said. “We had so many scary missions. We would take off at 10:30 at night and come back at 5:30 in the morning. … We would fly so low over German occupied France that they didn’t hear us coming and their radar couldn’t pick us up. We were lucky to get back.”
At times, Bonds’ B-24 would carry more than 8,000 pounds of munitions that they dropped over Germany during bombardment missions.
“Sometimes there would be 30 (planes) on one mission,” Bond said. “Up to that time the losses of the Air Corps were tremendous. I remember seeing B-17s go down seven at a time with not one parachute coming out of them.”
Over the course of Bond’s 40 combat missions he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters and the European Theater of Operations Medal.
But looking back at his service Bond is proud, because he doesn’t focus on the negatives.
“We did things nobody knows anything about,” Bond said. “I see books out within the last five years and not one word is mentioned about the Carpetbaggers. We were such a small organization, maybe 2,000 people. We were told only the things we had to know to complete the mission. Nothing beyond that. That’s how secretive it was back then and it’s great to have been a part of that.”