Originally published Feb. 28, 1995, in Cavalcade: The Homefront.
Norm Adams had plenty of time to dream — 16 months, in fact. It was one of his most unpleasant dreams, though, that eventually came true with pleasant results.
Maj. Norman C. Adams, retired, of Nampa was a bombardier for the United States Air Force during World War II. He was involved in the North Africa campaign as a member of the Jersey Bounce, a new Consolidated Liberator (or B-24) that flew the first top-secret missions over Romania. The “Hidden Mission” was a plan to cripple the Nazis’ oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania.
“Romanian oil was supplying over 50 percent of the high-octane fuel to the Germans,” said Adams, who now lives with his wife, Wilma, in Nampa. “We just couldn’t figure out how to hit it until the low-level strategy was introduced.”
In James Dugan’s and Carrol Stewart’s book “Ploesti, The Great Ground-Air Battle of August 1943,” Henri Berenger emphasized the importance of oil in the new modern world.
“He who owns the oil will own the world, for he will rule the seas by means of the heavy oils, the air by means of the ultra-reﬁned oils, and the land by means of petrol and the illuminated oils. And, in addition to these, he will rule his fellow men in an economic sense, by reason of the fantastic wealth he will derive from oil.”
Adams’ life took a turn toward Romania while a senior at Laverne College in California. The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he, like thousands nationwide, quit school and joined the Army.
“I passed the initial exam and was sworn in and then waited three months to be called to active duty because they were overloaded with people who wanted to fly,” Adams said.
He graduated from training nearly one year after he enlisted and was sent to England with the 93rd Bomb Group, the first B-24 group in England.
“We flew five missions over France and Germany and then put on standby to practice low-level missions,” he said. “Then we were sent to North Africa to participate in a top-secret mission, that is all we were told.”
Adams and his Jersey Bounce crew participated in seven missions over Italy from their base in Benghazi, Libya, including the first bombing of Rome.
“On one return trip, we witnessed the invasion of Sicily. In fact, the (U.S.) Navy shot at us.”
After the seven missions were completed, the Jersey Bounce found out why they were sent to North Africa. It was revealed they were to fly over Romania and bomb the oil fields of Ploesti.
“We were one of the first, the first raid had failed, then we went,” he said.
“Our raid was somewhat successful, but the losses were unbelievable. Of our group, 36 planes went, only three got back.”
According to Dugan’s and Stewart’s book, hundreds of U.S. airmen volunteered for the mission, despite warnings that half of them may not return.
Flying lower than the refineries’ smokestacks, they would face the heaviest Axis antiaircraft concentration in Europe.
Just how low did they have to fly?
“Well, we were running into telephone poles. It was very spooky. They were firing everything at us, sling shots, rocks, you name it.”
All 11 crew members were issued flak jackets, but Adams altered the vest’s purpose by standing on it.
“I was lucky I did. I got hit from underneath and it felt like I got hit by a baseball bat,” he said. As bombardier, he sat directly in the nose of the B-24. “They got the navigator good (directly in back of the bombardier) and all I got was little bits of flak.”
Though an 88-millimeter gun ripped a gaping hole in the wing of the Jersey, it wasn’t the big guns that changed the war for Adams.
The low-level attack method called for the plane to dive from 5,000 feet, leaving the crew to rely on only the plane’s mechanics to pull them out of the dive at the right second.
But light fire from ground forces found their mark, and Adams’ plane hit the ground.
On impact, Adams, who was deaf for three days following, was knocked unconscious. He awoke to a surprise.
“Normally, even in planned crashes, nobody ever ends up in the nose, but I did. I guess I was lucky,” he said.
“After I came to, I thought I better get the hell out of there. The main part of the plane was burning and I knew it was going to explode.”
Then he remembered his crew mates.
“I thought maybe someone could be all right,” he said, not knowing then that only four of the 11-man crew had survived.
“I got our sergeant, our engineer, away but he was burnt terribly. I tried getting his flight suit off him, but before I could do that a German had his bayonet up my backside.”
Adams’ plane had landed some 100 yards from a German bunker.
Captured, he was taken to the bunker. The Germans continued fighting off the U.S. assault, and a member of the Nazi squad nearly had his arm ripped off by incoming fire.
The Germans never blinked from their post, something that impressed Adams.
“One thing I found about the Germans, they were a very well-disciplined bunch,” he said.
Understandably, Adams was frightened.
“It was kind of like the end of the world. My first concern was for my family. They’d never know if I was dead or captured. I’d be listed as missing, but they would never know,” he said.
The prisoner of war camp, Adams found, was actually a stalag for German deserters and prisoners.
“It was for their bad boys,” he said.
“I was put into a solitary cell with just a little hole to slide my food in, but I couldn’t eat it.”
He and the other prisoners from the raid were soon transferred to Bucharest and then to the high ground of Romania, near the mountain town of Timisul.
This was his home for 16 months.
“To me it was just too long.”
“I was fortunate the Romanians held us,” he said. “If the Germans had us and taken us to Germany, I’d have been a prisoner for a whole more year.”
Boredom was the daily norm.
“Wake up, drink coffee and make toast out of their black bread, which tasted a lot like shoe leather,” he said.
“Then the rest of the day you walked the perimeter of the camp. It wasn’t too bad, but you did get hungry, but the Romanian guards were eating the same thing as us.”
When boredom got to be too much, it was back to the bunk.
“I was lucky that I could sleep if I wanted. A lot of guys couldn’t do it, but I could go up to two days. That was nice to kill time,” he said.
That also gave him plenty of time to dream.
“You thought about everything, but the one I remember thinking about Idaho is kind of unpleasant. My dad, after he divorced my mom, moved to Idaho, to Pocatello,” he said. “He had told me I should move there but I wasn’t interested. I wasn’t fond of him.”
Adams awoke from one night’s slumber to quite a surprise one morning — no guards.
“It was kind of scary. We went to the commandant, a Romanian, and he said the Germans had pulled out. The Russians were invading Romania and Romania had just declared war on Germany.”
Adams and the more than 100 fellow POWs were free to go.
The group realized the Allies’ airlift of the prisoners would head to the Romanian capital, so that’s where they headed.
The road to Bucharest was a busy one — POWs headed south, while Germans flooded north to their homeland.
The Timisul group was right. An airlift did take place in Bucharest. They got there just in time to be among the 3,000 POWs transported out of Romania.
Adams was not quite through in Europe, though.
The Air Force major was called to testify in the trial of “Officer Z,” an American POW, who was charged with being too friendly with the enemy while captive.
The book on the Ploesti raids quoted an old fable used by Adams after a speech by “Officer Z” on how good life was in the camps was published in a Bucharest newspaper.
“A little sparrow sat on a telephone line, cold and hungry. A horse passed below and the little sparrow flew down and consumed a great amount of fresh warm droppings. He flew back up and opened his mouth wide in song. A hawk swooped down and devoured the sparrow. The moral — If you are full of the stuff, keep your mouth shut.”
After Adams’ speech, “Officer Z” left the mess hall and never had meals with his fellow POWs again.
Adams came back to the States the Christmas of 1943 and returned to school before being reassigned.
He was stationed at numerous bases around the United States and spent his last years in the service stationed in North Carolina, where he was a member of the Air Force golf team.
The team traveled the world playing against armed forces squads with Adams, who plays to this day, playing at a scratch handicap.
While stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., Adams visited Nampa and fell in love with the area’s hunting and fishing after visiting his relatives in Nampa.
In spite of his feelings toward his father, Nampa became his home upon retirement.
“Yes, as you look back, it was all worth it. This is what we were fighting for,” Adams said looking out of his home’s window.
“We fought for our families and our country — our home. I love this area, I always have. I would do it over again to protect what we have here.”