AN EIGHTH AIR FORCE BOMBER STATION, England -- First lieutenant Norman Elson, former New York track champion now an Eighth Air Force photo officer, provokes curious stares as he walks about this B-17 Flying Fortress base. On his chest, the wings of an air crew member are topped by gliderist insignia, and his European Theater of Operations ribbon is emblazoned with four campaign stars. His shoulder patch is that of the colorful Allied Airborne Command.
"I'm just an Army Air Forces officer," LT. Elson remarked, "who hasn't had time to change his shoulder patch. You see, I was away from the AAF for a while, but I'm back now."
Then the 23-year old New Yorker consented to fill in the details -- the story of an officer, four enlisted men, two jeeps, gliders, of places like Nijemegin and Bastogne.
Two months our of photo school at Yale University, LT Elson arrived in England on his birthday, in August, 1943. He was assigned as photo officer of a fighter group. While with this group, he managed to fly a number of missions in enemy held territory, armed only with a camera.
The fast growing Army Pictorial Service announced a shortage of officers for combat photo units soon after his arrival. LT Elson volunteered an became commanding officer of an outfit composed of a couple of jeeps, two corporals, a couple of privates and some excellent photography equipment.
The rigors of training, simulated invasions, practice parachute and glider landings filled the time of the small unit which LT Elson headed until finally the day came for action. During this period of expectancy the members of the unit tried various sorts of picture angles, the most unusual of which was a movie series of the opening and behavior of a chute from the moment it was unfurled til it was collapsed. LT Elson took these pictures by holding a small moving picture camera waist high and pointing it straight up.
The unit became closely knit group. The two corporals, both small town newspapermen, and the two privates, photographers, lands safely with LT Elson at Nijemegin. Then with the other gliderists, the photo unit stuck on the front line for 78 days -- a new record for airborne troops on the line. Here they took pictures of glider landings, jumps and the action on the lines. Later, when they returned to England, the men saw some of the shots they took in newsreels.
A short rest. The unit went in again -- this time by GI truck. Their destination was Bastogne. Here one of the privates, a 21 year-old movie cameraman was killed by NAZI artillery. The other privates was seriously injured and another man was slightly wounded. But they got their pictures -- pictures of sniping, hand-to-hand fighting, pictures of the epic of Bastogne.
His job done with Army Pictorical Service, LT Elson was transferred back to the AAF. Where he is stationed with the 486th Bomb Group, a unit of the Third Air Division -- the division cited by the president for its England-Africa shuttle bombing of the Messerschmitt plants at Regensburg, Germany.
Before entering the Army Air Forces in May, 1942, LT Elson was a student at New York University. While attending NYU he won the Metropolitan AAU indoor low hurdle championship and led off the national AAU championship sprint relay. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Alex Elson.
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