Veteran shares WWII experiences chronicled in new memoir


Ponte Vedra resident Howard “Mike” Spencer shared some of his experiences with local seniors Feb. 21, when the World War II veteran and recipient of the French Legion of Honor regaled the audience with some of his wartime adventures.

The senior center was one of the few stops Spencer has made since the recent release of his autobiography, “One Man’s Journey.” Co-authored by Kenneth R. Overman and chronicling his days during World War II, the book carves out a place in history for the local veteran.

Spencer’s appearance filled the house at the community center, as members poured in to express gratitude and amazement at his tales. Among Spencer’s admirers were a few other heroes: Nelson Johnson, a veteran who also fought in Europe during World War II; and Joe D’Aloia, a Marine Corps veteran from Brooklyn who fought in the South Pacific.

With buoyancy and tongue-in-cheek wit, Spencer recalled memories from his time as part of the 405th. His stories ranged from the weather woes of General George Patton to his introduction to the Moulin Rouge and close scrapes with the enemy.

Aboard a P47 Thunderbolt, Spencer supported Patton’s advance across Europe, carrying 500- and 1000-pound bombs. When asked about the pilots he’d taken down in his time as part of the 405th, Spencer smiled wryly.

“I only got one,” he said. But it was a night he wouldn’t forget.

During that particular mission, Spencer’s unit had been instructed not to engage in battle with any German aircrafts.

“Of course, we wanted to do something,” Spencer said. “But our mission was to go and support a unit on the ground – unless they attacked us. Then we could drop the bombs and fight.”

Spencer’s unit had been at “top cover,” wherein pilots fly at 40,000 feet two flights above the ground. While the ground units did what Spencer referred to as “the hard work” of destroying what they could, in the air, pilots came under attack.

“Each guy’s trying to get behind the other one … and take the lead on them because you’re flying in a circle,” he said. “The lead determines whether you can shoot them down — so I had to do something odd.”

It was at that moment Spencer remembered something he’d been told by a representative of Republic, who built the P47 aircrafts, in the event that a pilot needed to get away: climb straight up full throttle, then suddenly drop the climb. When Spencer dropped down, the German pilot who’d been behind him was just ahead, dropping to such a low altitude that they both began to hit trees. Spencer acted quickly, firing a couple of shots and successfully taking a piece of his tail off, causing the pilot to open the canopy and bail out.

“So that was my only one,” he laughed.

But for all the grandeur of his recollections, Spencer’s original goal was simple.

“My initial goal was just to tell my children about my life,” he said. “I wanted to show them what this old man could do!”