THE GRIZZLE-ALLISON FAMILY FARMS, where the three sons grew up, were situated in eastern New Mexico, about 30 miles south of Roswell, a city of about 40,000 people in the 1940s, near the small town of Hagerman in the Pecos River Valley. About a thousand people lived in Hagerman at the time and many more on the farms surrounding the town. In the years before and during World War II, one-third of all Americans lived on and operated farms. By 1981, this number had fallen to only 3 percent, and today it is even less. World War II strongly stimulated the trend toward urbanization in American society. Events on the Grizzle farm bore witness to this dramatic change.

Both Harold and Oscar graduated from Hagerman High School. Harold began college at New Mexico Agricultural and Mechanical College (now New Mexico State University) in Las Cruces after graduation in 1935 and transferred later to the University of New Mexico. He studied mechanical engineering but never graduated.

Oscar was more intellectual. He had done extremely well in school and graduated in 1936—one of 900 New Mexico seniors recognized by the state for scholarly achievement. After graduation, he explored the country and worked at odd jobs, one of which was operating a motion picture projector. He also worked in the oil field near Hobbs. But by 1940, he was back home and entered into a farming venture with Harold.

The outbreak of war, however, changed the boys’ plans for farming and just about everything else. Oscar’s memoir takes up the story here, in which his bomber is shot down on a mission to Regensburg, Germany. This is his recollection of that day, February 22, 1944.

The young men made the front page of the Roswell Daily Record on April 25, 1944. Courtesy of public domain.

"AS I FELL OUT THE DOOR BACKWARD, I thought my helmet was going to blow away. I grabbed it with my left hand to hold it on. As I lay there on nothing, it was the softest thing ever, and I had no sensation of falling. A [Messerschmitt Bf] 109 passed slowly above me just a few feet away traveling in the direction we’d been going. I clearly saw the pilot’s face as he leaned over to his left slightly and seemed to look me right in the eye. He was gone in a split second, but I’ll never forget it.

I was still above the overcast and my right hand pulled the D-ring. I was still lying on my back, on that soft bed of nothing, not tumbling. The ring, with about a foot-long piece of small steel cable, came out of the pack, and it separated completely from the pack. I didn’t remember if this was normal or not but since nothing happened, I dropped the ring and hung onto my helmet thinking I’d have to dig the chute out by hand. This was my first experience with a parachute, and I thought when you pulled the old ripcord you got jerked out of your shoes. I started to go into the pack with my right hand (it seemed everything was in slow motion, and the sound of silence was deafening) when out popped the little “pilot” chute, then the main canopy blossomed slowly. I was gently pulled upright and started floating down. Just as Mama disappeared into the overcast, I saw a chute open. I guessed it was Deane or Jackson, but it could have been someone from the rear section. I hoped everyone could get out in time. I don’t know what our altitude was, but I had no trouble breathing.

Ollie Grizzle with son Harold Allison, circa 1944. Photograph courtesy of Austin Allison.

All the things I’d heard about bailing out didn’t happen to me. I never thought I’d have to jump but after the peaceful feeling of the softness and the quietness of free fall and the gentleness of floating down under that beautiful white nylon canopy that was like a huge, inverted magnolia blossom, I can see how one could easily become addicted to skydiving.

Everything disappeared for a minute as I went through the overcast. Then I could see Mother Earth coming up to meet me. Beautiful rolling hills and mountains covered with some kind of evergreen forest with small clearings here and there, and soon I could distinguish houses widely separated and some of the clearings. The slow-motion effect stopped, and one house started to come up just directly under me.

I landed in the middle of a steep rooftop covered with about six inches of snow, slid down the side, and landed softly in a deep drift of snow beside the house. I couldn’t think and still, to this day, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t. It’s more puzzling to me as I write this than it has ever been. This is the first time I’ve seriously tried to bring the thing back to mind, and I find it a bit disturbing. I have an odd feeling that I’d rather just go on trying to forget it.

I remember wondering if anyone was in the house. I heard nothing. I hadn’t heard a thing since the 109 roared above me just after I bailed out.

All the Allison-Grizzle boys, 1942. Photograph courtesy of Larry Allison.

My ears were still covered by the earphones built into my helmet, but sounds were very loud in the plane before I jumped. I thought I might be deaf.

There was no wind at all, and my chute had just settled over and around me on the matching snow. I would be invisible to anyone not really close to me. I unsnapped the complete harness of the chute and crawled out into the open. It was a beautiful scene. I didn’t wait to see if anyone was in the house. I plowed my way through six or eight inches of snow to the top of a small tree-covered hill. I didn’t look back. I would be out of sight in the trees, and maybe I could think of what to do next.

I was wearing my heated suit which was like one piece, long-handle underwear made of material like an electric blanket. It plugged into the electrical system of the plane and usually kept one comfortable even when high altitude temperatures went to forty degrees below zero or worse. Heated gloves and shoes plugged into outlets on the suit, and I was wearing the whole works. Over my shoes were thick, heavy boots made of sheepskin with the wool inside and a zipper up the front, very loose fitting, and I was lucky not to be jerked out of them when I pulled the D-ring, but I’ve always been very lucky. I think my helmet was leather, lined with soft material. Earphones were built into the flaps that covered the sides of my head and face and were supposed to be snapped together under my chin, but it wasn’t snapped and I nearly lost it. I’ve always been careless, too, I guess. I still had my throat mic around my neck, like a choker necklace, the latest thing at the time—very fashionable. This was mainly for conversation among crew members, but if the ship’s radio was on group frequency, everyone in the group or anyone on that frequency could hear us and be heard by us. Most of the time we were on radio silence except for intercom. The Luftwaffe could home in on our group frequency if they knew what it was, and although it was changed every day and was given out to radio operators just before a mission at a secret briefing for “static chasers,” only I think the enemy knew nearly every day what we’d use, so we just didn’t use it much. I think everyone had been taking a nap. Not a word had been said for 15 minutes or more until Jackson yelled from the nose turret that they were coming in level and head on, a whole gaggle of 109s.

Pistol Packin’ Mama’s crash site near Koglhof, Austria. Photograph courtesy of Christian Arzberger, used with permission.

Waist gunners had enough room to wear flak vests and steel helmets, but power-driven turrets were small, especially the ball turret in the belly, and even though none of our turret gunners were more than five feet, eight inches tall or more than 150 pounds, there just wasn’t enough space for this protection. Most turrets, though, had a little armor plate here and there, but only the Emerson Electric nose turret had the bulletproof glass, and I knew this saved Jackson’s life. I didn’t have a flak vest or steel helmet. Over my heated suit I wore an ordinary pair of OD GI coveralls with no markings of squadron or group and no designation of rank (I didn’t have any rank until 1944 when I was promoted from private to sergeant. A lot of GI red-tape was involved when I changed my mind about going to B-29s, and I’m sure some of the clerks in Personnel loved me).

In one pocket of my coveralls I had my “Escape Kit,” a little clear plastic box about six by eight inches and about two inches thick. In it were maps printed on light-weight, waterproof cloth, a compass, and thirty or forty pieces of bad-tasting hard candy squares. I guess the taste is what stretched them into a week’s rations, although I had never eaten but one. I had a half of a pack of cigarettes and a book of paper matches. So, I sat down on a log, lit a cigarette, unwrapped a piece of candy, put it in my mouth, got out the compass and the map, and tried to guess where I was and what to do next. It didn’t seem to be very cold. There was no wind, and I still couldn’t hear a sound. I found Austria and Germany on the map (I’d like to have that map now. It was a beautiful thing, in color and great detail, about the size of an oil company road map, but much lighter. It must have been silk or nylon and would make a great thing to frame and hang on the wall of your den or trophy room).

from left Sammy, his wife, and Oscar, circa 1970. Oscar and his sons, circa 1950.

I located Graz [Austria] and Regensburg and although I’d liked to have hiked to Switzerland to be interned there for the duration (we heard all kinds of fantastic reports about how American flyers were taken care of there. They couldn’t be allowed to leave a neutral country, but they really lived it up at Army expense they said), I decided it was maybe not impossible but very impractical.

I figured I was closer, but still not very close, to Yugoslavia which was partially occupied, as I recall, by Germany, but Marshal Tito and his communist guerillas dominated the country, and his underground had a very good record of evading the Nazis and cooperating with the Allies. I guess I’d finally started thinking and remembering parts of the mornings’ long briefing instructions. I didn’t know exactly where I was and not even sure of my directions, so you might say I was lost. I seemed to be getting colder. I finished my cigarette and started walking through the woods on what appeared to be a narrow road for sleighs or wagons, but there were no tracks of any kind. I soon came to another clearing where another house stood. The ground floor was a semi-open shed with a closed room and door at one end. In the shed were two cows, a goat, and a small deer. I walked right into the shed and to the door of the room, and none of them did more than look at me and flap an ear or two. I thought to myself, “Well the animals aren’t hostile,” so I knocked on the door to see what would happen next."

Oscar’s first letter home after his capture.

OSCAR ALLISON WAS QUICKLY turned in to the authorities by the Austrian family who opened the door. In April 1945, he was liberated along with other Allied POWs by General Patton’s armored forces at Moosburg, Germany. He reunited with his family after being discharged from the army, then went to New Mexico Agricultural and Mechanical College, married, and raised four children. In 1973, the pilot of Oscar’s B-24, Bob Bird, returned to Austria, hoping to find the remains of Pistol Packin’ Mama and was able to give each crewmember a small piece of the bomber. Oscar displayed his piece of Pistol Packin’ Mama proudly in his office at his home on the Allison Brothers farm. He passed away on January 1, 1982.


My Darling Boys: A Family at War, 1941–1947, by Fred H. Allison (University of North Texas Press), is available at online booksellers and