Dakota Datebook

A Twist of Fate

Friday, December 8, 2006

Little did he know as he enlisted in the Army Air Corps
today in 1942, Jim Tronson was about to become a friend of fate. Despite
what seemed like unfortunate circumstances, destiny would bring Jim from
an ill-fated 13th mission, to friends in France, and back to his crew
several years later.

Jim Tronson was the ball turret gunner for the Esky II, a B-17 bomber.
The ball turret was a small enclosed ball beneath the plane, and was considered
one of the most uncomfortable and terrifying positions on the plane. There,
Jim remained cramped from the time they crossed the English Channel on
their way to a mission, to the time they returned. Despite the terrifying
and uncomfortable position this put Jim in, his duty as a ball turret
gunner would later prove quite lucky.

So far, Jim and his crew had been very successful in their missions, but
luck was about to run out. When Jim’s crew was ordered to bomb a
missile installation near Abbeville, France for their 13th mission, the
crew expected the mission to be a cake-walk. “That mission was supposed
to be a milk-run,” said Jim, “a quick 50 miler over the English
Channel and back.”

Just after crossing the channel, however, the fleet caught flak and the
plane was hit. Everyone but Jim bailed out. “I knew I was in trouble
when I saw the pilot and the co-pilot go by me in their parachutes,”
said Jim. Jim’s isolated position in the ball turret caused him to
be one of the last out of the plane, and he didn’t know what happened
to his crew. All he knew was that the Germans would be looking for him
as soon as he landed.

Jim landed in a small field where a French farmer quickly ran to Jim,
cut his parachute off, and took it away. Jim hid and tried to walk toward
Paris, but after three days, he found he was only going in circles. This,
however, would prove to be quite fortunate for Jim. After seeking the
help of a French shepherd, Jim learned that a German camp was in the direction
Jim wished to go. The shepherd took Jim in and hid him for about a week.

One of the neighbors, JoJo, was leery of Jim, believing he might be a
German. He interrogated Jim for about a week, before deciding Jim was
an ally, and invited Jim to move in. Jim stayed with JoJo until August
1944, when the Allies entered Paris. Upon the news of France’s liberation,
JoJo took Jim to Paris and they parted ways. The two, however, would keep
in touch. JoJo would even name one of his sons after Jim. After the war,
Jim also visited France and found the shepherd’s daughter who still
had a necklace he had fashioned out of airplane scrap for her.

Eventually, Jim learned that rest of the crew landed in the midst of German
camps and soldiers. Jim’s late exit from the plane proved especially
lucky considering the crew member who had jumped out shortly before Jim
landed right in the middle of a German airport and just 100 yards from
the jailhouse! As fate would have it, Jim landed among French allies an
event which made lifelong friends and, of course, a good story.

By Tessa Sandstrom

Source:
North Dakota Veteran’s History Project, Manuscript 10873, James Tronson.
Interview by Larry Wegleitner. State Archives.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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