Bill Aiken, Germany, 1945
Seen Such a Beautiful Sight in my Life,"
Being a G. I. Watching American Bombers Heading Towards Germany
January 12, 1995
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
Bill Aiken was born and reared in Granbury, Texas, a
small town just west of Ft. Worth. He graduated from high
school at 16 and was working at a bus station, "a
real good job for a boy," when a friend called to
tell him Pearl Harbor had been attacked. "I knew
then I was probably going to get to fight a war. But I
didn't volunteer at that time." He was drafted in
1942 and trained briefly in Medford, Oregon. He was
assigned to a battalion that would have an 85% casualty
rate on D-Day, but Aiken got a lucky break, partly
because he could type and mostly because he did well on a
series of tests which seemed impossibly difficult. To his
surprise he passed all the tests and was sent to Santa
Clara University in California to study engineering.
Years later, long after the end of the war, he was in a
bar and recognized someone from that battalion. This
veteran was disabled and still so angry with Aiken for
"testing out" that he barely spoke. "He'd
been my best friend," Aiken said, hurt at his
bitterness, yet grateful for being spared himself.
it took luck to get into the university program, staying
in took hard work and ability. There was a great
incentive to do well, as flunking out meant being sent
back to the army. The program was started under the
assumption the war would outlast the military's supply of
engineers. When the D-Day Invasion approached, the
program was abruptly terminated. Despite the fact that by
then he had a wife and twin babies, Aiken found he was
assigned to the 11th Armored Division, preparing to go
He got leave to see the twins when they were three
months old. Then in the summer of 1944, his division was
shipped to France at about the time the Germans launched
the offensive, which would become known as the Battle of
the Bulge. Aiken found himself driving a truck across
France, not knowing where he was going, only following
the truck in front of him. Later he would learn he was
part of history's biggest mass of army troops ever moved
in such a short time. They passed through villages
recently captured by the Americans, but at night were
strafed by bombers and were without air support. It was
the coldest winter in Europe in decades, and the 101st
Airborne was completely surrounded by the German army.
Hitler was relying on the bad weather to keep the planes
grounded. If luck was with the Germans; Hitler still
might win the battle. Aiken's ground division struggled
to get to Bastogne, France, a control point essential to
the Germans. Having lost most of their communication,
they didn't know who was where or what was happening.
German soldiers dressed as Americans compounded the
Then suddenly, on December 23, the weather broke and
planes from England soared above! "I've never seen
such a beautiful sight in my life. The planes started
coming over and they were stacked probably a thousand
feet above each other, up 6, 8, 10 stacks. Not only were
they going toward Germany, we could hear them bombing the
German front lines." Before long the empty planes
were coming back as others were on their way to bomb. He
remembers he could hardly see the sun for the airplanes.
"Historically, the GIs don't like the Air Force.
That day we loved them. We thought they were the greatest
people on earth - they were up there!"