Green Eyes

On February 23, 1943, seven men crammed inside a B-25 bomber for a routine sea search over the Mediterranean. Only one man knew this wasn’t a routine mission, but Major Ivan Ferguson didn’t share that information with pilot Capt. Leonard Eddy, a school teacher from Nebraska; Lt. Nicholas Katzenbach, the navigator; Lt. Frank Hawkins, the co-pilot; Lt. Perry Pickett, the bombardier; Sgt. Milo Taylor, the radio operator, or Sgt. Hank Schave the gunner.

The Green Eyes crew took off on a crystal clear day from a base in Tunisia. At the time, the ground war was focused on the Battle of Kasserine, a key supply route through the Atlas Mountains in Central Tunisia. While the Allies fought the Germans on the ground, the Green Eyes crew took to the air and headed east searching for a supply convoy. They found one, and it was huge – fourteen ships in all.

As they swooped down to attack, the second wave of three bombers missed the signal. There were only three bombers remaining and one was quickly shot down leaving Green Eyes and their wingman to attack alone. They were successful, hitting the targeted convoy below. “It looked like the Fourth of July,” remembered Katzenbach, as he described watching the ammunition barge explode.

Katzenbach didn’t have much time to bask in the glory before Green Eyes was hit. As the bomber plummeted to the sea, Eddy miraculously maintained control of the plane which softened the blow as they made impact. To Hawkins, it still felt like they hit a “brick wall.”

All seven men survived the crash and floated on the Mediterranean Sea in life rafts for two days before being rescued by the enemy. For Katzenbach, that moment marked the beginning of his 27 months as a Prisoner of War. He was only twenty-one years old. Today he is ninety.

 

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