By Tim Farley, News Editor – Carroll Norman flew top-secret missions during World War II that only he and five other pilots had been trained to pull off.
Norman, 93, of Yukon, took orders from Gen. George Patton, who knew the advantages of conducting low-level, night bombings against specific German targets. Armed with intelligence reports, Norman would hit German military assets such as trains armed with war goods.
“I chased a lot of those. I would hit anything the (U.S.) Army needed support on. I was the only one (U.S. pilot) flying those types of missions at the time,” the longtime pilot recalled during an interview with the Yukon Progress. “I also flew missions over the (English) Channel and I did that until D-Day when I was reassigned to the 3rd Army in France.”
Norman didn’t become Patton’s top pilot without a lot of training, which can be traced back to his teenage years. Norman grew up as a farm boy and started taking flying lessons as a teen. He obtained his pilot’s license by the time he reached 16.
As the war began heating up in Europe, the Royal Air Force came calling in the U.S. in search of top pilots and they found a few select men, including Norman.
“I went through every training the course the RAF had at an accelerated pace,” he said. “I started with the Beaufighter and then flew the Mosquito which was used for night training and low-level exercises.”
When those exercises turned into real-life missions against the German military machine, Norman used the aircraft’s eight, 5-inch rockets and the four, 20-mm cannons to hit the targets. The ground-controlled missions typically lasted anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.
“I would be given a time when I’d hit the target and intelligence was usually right,” Norman recalled. “I did that for 42 missions before I was shot down.”
After crashing in German-occupied territory, Norman spent 10 days in the woods walking back toward American-held positions.
“One of the train cars I had shot blew up next to me,” he recalled.
Almost instantly after crashing, Norman thought to himself, “What am I doing here?”
“I always carried plenty of rations so I wasn’t going to be hungry,” he said. “But I did kill a deer, cut off a quarter of it, roasted that and carried it with me.”
Fortunately for Norman, he did not encounter German troops during his 10 days in the woods. Finally, the young pilot saw an American tank scouting for Germans. At last, he was rescued.
“Keeping warm and staying out of sight were my biggest obstacles,” he said. “I wasn’t in a mountain region. Most of it (terrain) was pretty level.”
Norman talked about his tenure with Patton and the lavish way he was treated by Patton, also known as Old Blood and Guts.
“I was considered a tool of Patton’s. He always wanted me to have the best of everything. I had fresh eggs every morning, which is something most people didn’t have. I lived alone in a four-person test and they eventually put me in a French hotel,” Norman said. “I was doing something nobody else was doing by flying those low-level, nighttime missions.”
Norman was shot down earlier in his military career outside of Paris, France, when he was flying a P-70, but he was rescued quickly. The rescue was deemed critical because of the specific expertise and knowledge Norman had acquired.
“I had a lot of privileges because of that,” he said. “I was one of a kind. Every mission I flew and everywhere I went was classified. I had one of the highest security clearances I could get. I could go anywhere I wanted to in my airplane as long as I didn’t have any missions.”
After WW II ended, Norman remained in fighter units and bounced from unit to unit depending on the needs of the U.S. Air Force.
“I had gone through classified schools for radar and language. I had every job (in the Air Force) you can think of,” he said.
One of the assignments was filtration missions flown in B-50 aircraft over Bikini Atoll, which is part of the Marshall Islands. The filtration missions were needed to detect the level of radioactivity from nuclear explosions that occurred from nuclear devices detonated by the U.S. between 1946 and 1958 at seven test sites on the reef itself, on the sea, in the air and underwater.
“We were finding out the damage it would do to people and places,” Norman said. “Those islands still have a lot of radiation today.”
Norman said large tanks placed on the wings of his aircraft collected the air from around the detonation points and provided U.S. officials with information about the radiation that still existed.
“Those were 30-hour missions, and they were boring to me,” he recalled.
In 1947, Norman was assigned to escort the bodies of dead soldiers back to their homes.
“It was rewarding, but I didn’t like it,” he said. “Every family welcomed me with open arms. Some of them would want me to stay for the services.”
Later in his career, Norman worked as a judge advocate for the Air Force and tried several smaller cases. He also helped organize the military’s first air-to-air defense school, which taught fighter pilots how to fire their unguided rockets at enemy planes.
Finally, Norman ended his military career after almost 30 years in the Air Force.
But he and his wife, Dorothy, didn’t sit on the couch and retire. Instead, they bought an airport in Kingsland, Texas, where they rented hangar space to aircraft owners. They also restored World War II planes and flew them to air shows for years.
“Dorothy was a pilot, too. She loved to fly. We would restore those planes, fly them and sell them,” Norman said. “We had a pretty good business going there.”
But then the diagnosis came in the mid-1990s. Doctors told the couple Dorothy had Parkinson’s disease. Given only a short time to live, Dorothy outlasted the prognosis by living an extra 10 years.
Sometimes, the military and personal memories are tough to recall for the aging Norman, but the medals, photographs and commendations are proof this living legend and war hero contributed in significant ways to America’s success in World War II.