A member of the 376th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, S/Sgt. Gayle Cruthirds is a Diboll native who left his home and family to serve his country as a gunner in the Army Air Corps in 1943. He served 2 years, 7 months, and 17 days, from March 5, 1943 to October 21, 1945. Throughout his time of service, Gayle earned a Purple Heart medal, an Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Good Conduct Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with 3 bronze stars, a Presidential Citation with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters on his unit citation, an Aviation Badge, and Overseas Service bars.
Mr. Cruthirds loaned his flight log, several photographs, correspondence and his military records to The History Center for the 2005 exhibit Angelina County At War, and at the conclusion of the exhibit, donated the items to The History Center to become part of the permanent collection. The Cruthirds World War II Collection is an invaluable collection of documents and photographs that not only document his time in the war, but also allow The History Center’s visitors and researchers, as well as local students, to peek into the daily life of a World War II aviator.
Of particular interest in Mr. Cruthirds’ collection is his flight log. He kept this log while he was a nose gunner stationed in Italy to record each mission he flew. This log is fascinating in that he tells where they flew, described the weather and flak conditions, and some of what he experienced as a nose gunner flying over enemy territory in Europe in 1944. The log doesn’t contain many of his feelings or thoughts, but occasionally he records his relief after a particularly rough landing or the details surrounding the mission when he was wounded. The log is fully transcribed and will be available soon as a PDF file within the exhibit, making Mr. Cruthirds’ words available to anyone who wants to read them.
The purpose of this exhibit is give students and teachers, as well as any one else interested, a chance to look at history from its most basic level. History is the story of the people involved in the events of their day – and Mr. Cruthirds was a Diboll native involved in one of the most pivotal events of the 20th Century – World War II and the battle for Europe. In addition to reading a textbook describing the events of the war, students can read the words of a man who experienced it, look at his photo and see his Purple Heart.
Flight Log June 24, 1944
Like many aviators of the period, Gayle Cruthirds kept a flight log during his combat tour. For each flight, he recorded the flight number, date, time, destination and the major events of that bombing run. Most entries list the amount of flak and its accuracy, damage to the plane, if other planes were lost and the weather conditions. This small (3 inches x 5 inches) bound notebook allowed Mr. Cruthirds to record this vital information and it also allowed him to keep an accurate tally of his combat missions, since he would be eligible to come off of combat duty after 50 missions. Today, it gives us a pocket-sized peek into the world of a World War II aviator – the conditions he endured and the kinds of missions he was tasked with. This image is of the June 24, 1944 entry into Mr. Cruthirds’ flight log, the day he was wounded in a bombing run over Romania.
Download a complete transcription of the entire log. The full flight log is also available on our digital resources page.
B-24 Flight Crew
S/Sgt. Gayle Cruthirds and his flight crew, 15th Air Force (Italy), 376 Bomb Group, taken at their training field in Kansas shortly before they traveled to Italy. In the background is a B-24 bomber, similar to the ones Cruthirds flew overseas as a nose gunner.
Front Row, Left to Right: Lt. Jim Carrender, Navigator, Kansas City; Lt. John Griffen, Pilot, Rochester, New York; Lt. Peter Arth, Co. Pilot, Los Angeles, California; Lt. Hubert Schlatter, Bombardier, Jennings Lodge, Oregon;
Back Row, Left to Right: S/Sgt. Slim Limbocker, Waist gun, Ranger, Texas; S/Sgt. Jo Janosko, Engineer, Auburn, New York; S/Sgt. Gayle Cruthirds, Nose Gun, Diboll, Texas; S/Sgt. Edward Blunt, Ball Gun, Fresno, California; S/Sgt. Russell Martin, Radio, Top Gun, Mounds, Illinois; S/Sgt. Ray (Mundo) Lane, Tail Gun, St. Louis, Missouri.
Men from all corners of the United States and from all backgrounds came together as a team, dependant on one another for the success of their missions and their very survival. The crew depended on the pilot’s skills for every second of their journey, from takeoff to landing. They depended on the navigator to get them where they needed to go, to point them to the correct locations for dropping their bombs, and to get them home again. Each gunner was important to the defense of the plane – they would spot fighter threats and shoot them, while the pilot flew, the navigator navigated, and the bombardier dropped his bombs. Every member of the crew had an important job and they all needed to work together at every moment.
Purple Heart Medal
On what he described as his “worse [sic] day so far,” Gayle Cruthirds was wounded on a mission over Ploesti, Romania on June 24, 1944, and was later awarded the Purple Heart. According to his flight log, his crew was tasked with bombing the Romano Americano oil refineries and made two runs over their target. He was hit on their second run. Flak came through his turret and hit him in the head. With the absence of any water or antiseptic, a fellow crewman used hot coffee to wash the blood off of Gayle’s face and head. He spent several weeks recuperating from his injury and returned to combat duty on August 9, 1944.
April 20, 1944 Letter Home
Like soldiers before and since, Gayle Cruthirds corresponded with family and friends throughout his time in the Army. In this April 20, 1944 letter to his parents, Cruthirds writes to tell them where he is stationed and how he is doing, explains why he needs more money, and updates them (as much as he can) on his future orders. At this point, only a couple of weeks before he would be shipped to the battlefront, he still did not know if he would be fighting in the European or Pacific theater. He seems resigned to his fate, ready to get going and get his missions accomplished so he can head home and see his loved ones again.
Gayle Cruthirds October 2005
Gayle Cruthirds points to himself in The History Center’s 2005 World War II Exhibit. The History Center honored Angelina County’s World War II veterans with an exhibit as part of a statewide effort to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the End of World War II. Veterans and their families loaned or donated photographs, journals, uniforms, weapons and medals to The History Center, and we were overwhelmed with the community’s response. Mr. Cruthirds permanently donated his flight log and many photographs, letters, and records pertaining to his service during World War II so that future generations of Angelina County citizens would remember the sacrifices of his generation. The History Center is proud to use his flight log and photographs as examples of the intersection of local and world history.