Santa Barbara residents Bill Livingstone and Bill Boyd don’t just share the same first name.
Both served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II and both were taken as prisoners of war in Germany while fighting in the European theatre.
If that weren’t enough, both men flew bombing missions in B-17 Flying Fortresses and became POWs after their aircrafts were shot down.
Their lives prior to serving were quite different, however.
Born in 1924 and originally from Los Angeles, Mr. Livingstone had a semester of college under his belt when he was drafted in January 1943 at the age of 18. He turned 19 a month later.
Mr. Boyd was born on Aug. 6, 1922 and grew up on his family’s farm in Callaway County, Mo. Mr. Boyd graduated from high school in 1941 and didn’t have money to go to college, so he decided to spend a year working.
When Japan attacked the United States’ naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. Boyd knew that America was going to enter into the conflict that would come to be known as World War II. He was 19 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor, it didn’t take long for him to be drafted.
Both men ended up flying bombing missions, but Mr. Livingstone was originally assigned to be a gunnery instructor while he and his fellow American GIs were stationed in England. However, there was a lack of available equipment for gunnery instructors and the Army Air Forces needed more men for bombing crews, so Mr. Livingstone ended up getting assigned to the 334th squadron of the Eighth Air Force Group’s 95th Bomb Group. On the B-17 named “Worrybird,” he served the role of bombardier.
Mr. Boyd also served in the Eighth Air Force in its 305th Bombardment Group. Like Mr. Livingstone, he too was a bombardier. In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Boyd said he filled that role because he didn’t particularly enjoy piloting the Flying Fortress. However, bombardier was only his second choice.
“I didn’t enjoy flying… I qualified for all three, but I ranked navigation first and bombardier second, and pilot third. They only had room in the navigation school for a few people, so they took guys that were 20/30 visual and we were put in bombardier training” he said.
Getting shot down was a somewhat different experience for the two men. On Nov. 2, 1944, Mr. Livingstone was recruited as a substitute member for a bombing crew going on a mission to destroy the Leuna oil refinery in Merseburg, Germany. His plane was hit by enemy fire as it approached.
As the battle-damaged Worrybird held 2,500 feet altitude, a German Focke-Wulf 190 flew up beside the bomber and the fighter’s pilot gave a handwave to the B-17 through his cockpit window.
Because his crew’s engineer was putting the bomber’s landing gear down, Mr. Livingstone said it is possible that the German fighter pilot took it as a sign of surrender. However, the engineer could only get one of the Worrybird’s landing gears down, so bailing out was the only option.
However, before the crew members knew for sure that they were going to bail out, Mr. Livingstone dropped the bomber’s Norden bombsight out of the plane. The Norden bombsight was a secret device of the USAAF, so the crew didn’t want the Nazis to get a hold of it if the plane landed intact. When Mr. Livingstone dropped the bombsight out of the plane, the Focke-Wulf 190 started shooting at the B-17, perhaps thinking the bombsight was ordnance.
“When he saw this bombsight falling out of the airplane, he may have thought that it was a bomb,” he said.
Mr. Livingstone and his crew members bailed out of the descending Worrybird. Casualties from the jump included the plane’s tail gunner, who was hit by flak and killed during the jump, and the co-pilot, who broke his leg when he hit the ground.
Mr. Boyd was shot down on his 17th bombing mission, during which he was flying with a different crew than his usual, filling in for its regular bombardier was wounded and in the hospital. As the B-17 he was in flew over German city of Mannheim, they encountered enemy fire and flak tore through the hull of the plane.
“All at once it was a bam, bam. Two 88-millimeter shells exploded right above my right shoulder outside of the plane and it just pulverized all my instruments. I lost my intercom and I couldn’t talk to any of the crew,” Mr. Boyd recalled.
He smelled gasoline fumes coming through his oxygen mask as he tried to keep wires on his instruments from sparking and blowing up the entire plane. Suddenly, a piece of flak pierced his right shoulder.
For this, Mr. Boyd was later decorated with a Purple Heart.
With their aircraft damaged, the B-17’s navigator told Mr. Boyd that they weren’t going to make it to the bombing target or back to England. Therefore, the crew headed for Switzerland. When the bomber lost two of its four engines, the commander ordered the crew to bail out.
Though near Switzerland, the crew missed the neutral country upon landing and were still in Germany. All of the men got out of the plane, with Mr. Boyd and four other men captured and sent to POW camps. The five other crew members were captured by Nazi civilians and while on route to be taken as prisoners, were killed and buried in the middle of the forest.
According to Mr. Boyd, when the tide of war turned to the point that the Axis powers had no chance of beating the Allies, the Nazis who killed his fellow crewmen exhumed the bodies and reburied them in a proper cemetery. This effort to conceal their crimes was unsuccessful. While one of the Nazis wasn’t punished, two were sentenced to prison, with one taking his own life.
Life as a prisoner of war was “boring,” as Mr. Livingstone recalled. While incarcerated at Stalag VII A in Bavaria, he was hungry and often cold, as Europe was undergoing the most brutal winter it had experienced in 25 or 30 years.
Mr. Boyd also experienced that bitter winter while a POW at Stalag Luft I in Barth. As he recalled, it was enough to make one not take showers whenever they were offered every month or two.
“The water was as cold as ice, so I missed one or two of those showers,” he said.
Mr. Boyd also attested to being hungry while a prisoner. Sometimes he and his fellow POWs had food to eat from Red Cross parcels, but they were constantly losing weight.
“You’d look down at your knees and your leg was small, but your knees look like a football or something. The bones don’t shrink but the flesh does,” he said.
While American servicemen didn’t experience physical torture as POWs in Germany like those who were taken prisoner by the Japanese, Mr. Livingstone said the Nazis made extensive use of psychological torture by putting prisoners into solitary confinement. While getting interrogated before getting sent to Stalag Luft I, Mr. Boyd experienced this.
“It was blacked out from midnight to midnight,” Mr. Boyd recalled of the room he was put in.
Liberation for the two veterans came at the hands of different Allied powers. Whereas Mr. Livingstone and his fellow prisoners at Stalag VII A were liberated by American troops from General George S. Patton’s tank division, Mr. Boyd and the POWs at Stalag Luft I were freed by the Soviet Red Army.
After the war, Mr. Livingstone finished school at USC, where he graduated with a degree in architecture, and got married in 1946. He got redrafted during the Korean War but didn’t see combat like he did in World War II.
He then worked in the building materials industry with his father and brother until he started working for the Riverside County Planning Department. Before retiring in 1994, he also worked as the city of Irvine’s planning director and then as a planning consultant in Santa Barbara.
Mr. Boyd started college at Iowa State University in 1946 and studied engineering before transferring to the University of Missouri.
After working in the refractories industry as a salesman in Indianapolis, where he met his wife and got married, the company he worked for merged with Kaiser Aluminum and became the company’s refractories division. This led to him getting transferred back to Missouri for a number of years before getting transferred to its headquarters in California.
Mr. Boyd has four sons and one daughter.