by Esther Oyster
The 319th. Bombardment Group, flying Martin Marauders, reached its stride in the spring of 1944 when it was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations for its precision bombing of rail yards at Rome and Florence.  
At this time the unit was based at Decimomannu on the island of Sardinia, and it was here that the six-ship takeoffs and landings were instituted for which the unit achieved wide fame. Known officially as the "Big Tail Birds," it also acquired the lesser nickname of "Col. Randy's Flying Circus" from those who witnessed the six plane elements come roaring down the wide runway and liftoff in unison or come flashing down in line abreast for a landing. The procedure cut join up time significantly, thereby extending the range, and was used without mishap for over 100 missions.  
Joseph Randall Holzapple, an original pilot with the unit, became its Commander in August 1943 and remained in that position until the wars end.  
Formed at Barksdale Field in June 1942 around a cadre supplied by the 17th. Bombardment Group, The unit trained there and at Harding Field. After three months they were on their way overseas via the Northern Atlantic route.  
England to be only a staging area on the way to North Africa. The ground echelon went into Algeria with the invasion forces on 8 November and the flight echelon was brought in soon afterward. The 319th. went into combat on 28 November.  
Trained for low level work, the unit flew over 25 missions against rail yards, bridges,, airdromes, and harbor installations. It also used the skip bombing technique against enemy shipping in the Mediterranean.  
Losses were high, and following an evaluation of the aircraft, the unit was temporarily taken out of combat in mid February and retrained for medium altitude work. This height proved to be compatible with the B-26's capabilities, and the aircraft went on to achieve the lowest loss record of planes in the war.  
Operating from bases across North Africa, Sardinia, and Corsica, the 319th. played a key roll in campaigns such as OPERATION STRANGLE whose objective was to cut all enemy supply lines to southern Italy by knocking out vital bridges and rail centers. It also flew in support of the U.S. Fifth Army in Italy and the Sixth Army's invasion of southern France.  
The group's B-26's were identified by a wide white band around the rear of the fuselage, and the Squadrons were identified both by a large white two-digit number on the vertical stabilizer and by a color ring around the engine nacelles. These were: 437th. Squadron, 01-24, blue; 438th., 25-49, red; 439th. 50-74, yellow; and 440th. 75-99, white.  
On 1 May 1944 a 439th. Squadron plane flew its 100th. mission and was the first Marauder in any theater to reach that number. It was a/c #64, S.N. 118322 named "Hell's Belle II."  
Ashley E. Woolridge, an original pilot in the 437th. Squadron who became Group Operations Officer and later Commander of the 320th. Bomb Group, set another record. He flew 106 combat missions in the Marauder in one continuous tour of duty.  
By fall of 1944 when the Marauder was no longer being manufactured and parts were becoming scarce, the unit began training in the B-25 while continuing to fly missions in the B-26. The conversion was made on 1 November without losing a day of combat.  
Two months later the 319th. was once again taken out of combat and became the first AAF unit to be redeployed in toto to the Pacific theater, after a period of retraining in the Douglas A-26 Invader at Columbia AAB. The Group reached Okinawa early in July and flew 22 missions over China and Japan. On 9 August the crews on the mission to Kanoya airfield saw the atomic cloud over Nagasaki which finally brought the war to an end.. In all, the 319th. had flown 515 missions and had been awarded twelve battle streamers..  
The 319th. had in its ranks several men who have achieved national prominence. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. was the Intelligence Officer of the 439th. Squadron before going up to the 42nd. Wing. William B. Monroe, Jr., who was the Group's PR Officer and Historian became the Producer-Host of NBC's "Meet the Press." Astronaut Donald K. "Deke" Slayton who had already flown a tour of duty with the B-25 units in Italy, went to the Pacific as a pilot in the 438th. Squadron.  
The full story of the unit is told in a book put out by the 319th. BG Reunion Association, "The 319th. in Action." is available for $15.00 per copy including shg/hndlg. Orders should be sent to 319th. Sec/Treas Joe Madrano at 5842 Winterhaven Dr., Windcrest, TX 78239. The book includes Administrative History, Daily Account Records, Human Interest Stories and Press Releases, Commendations and Citations and Diary of the lost crew. It is a durable soft covered 300 page Book.