Articles about the 8th AFHS-Mn

The Bloomington Sun Newspaper published an article written by Joseph Palmersheim about the 8th AFHS-Mn and several of our members on March 1, 2013.

Flying high with the Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota

March 1, 2013 at 7:00 am

a

Sixty-seven years after the end of World War II, the question of America’s best four-engined bomber is still a loaded one in some circles.
So which was it? The B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-24 Liberator? The answer depends on who you ask.
“Is there any question at all that that old tail-dragger (B-17) was outdated?”asks Larry Taylor of Bloomington, a former B-24 navigator who wears a bolo tie with a B-24 clasp. “The B-24 flew higher, faster, farther and it carried a bigger bomb load.”
“Some opinions come in short jerks and they are to be ignored,” retorts Ray Prozinski, a B-17 tail gunner seated at the same table Feb. 20 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on American Boulevard in Bloomington.
“It’s what brought you home safely that’s the best,” says vice president Dick Hill, who is standing nearby.”
“Amen, amen to that,” Taylor said.
The hall hosts weekly meetings of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each Wednesday. The Eighth Air Force, a branch of what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps, operated from England during World War II and began combat operations in August 1942.
The society started more than 30 years ago and gradually shifted focus to serve as a local veteran’s group. Hill, the group’s vice president, has been with the group since the Eden Prairie-based Planes of Fame Museum closed in 1997.
“It started with a small cadre of Eighth Air Force veterans,” Hill said over the clatter of coffee cups. “We now have Navy, Marines, Army, 15th Air Force — it’s a veteran’s group that meets every Wednesday. We typically have a lunch. We were going to have a Tuskegee Airman today, but he was too sick to come. At his age, we don’t want to push it.”
Taylor and Prozinski once shared the dangers of bomber missions – an environment so hostile at 30,000 feet that a man would die after three minutes without an oxygen mask. Now, they shared post-Valentine’s Day treats.
Prozinski, who lives in Robbinsdale, served aboard B-17s during the last year of World War II. His crew flew 14 missions and he earned a Purple Heart when a piece of artillery wounded him during a mission over Dresden.
“It hit me on the head and pushed my headset, gave me a good cut on my sideburns,” he said. “It knocked me out and I regained consciousness rather quickly. The plane was flying straight and level, the engines were cranking, so I just stayed where I was and we made it back to England.”
On the same mission, Prozinski’s pilot and co-pilot were hit, but not too badly hurt, by another anti-aircraft shell. It would have been different had they gone the right way, he said.
“We were told to visually bomb the target for accuracy,” Prozinski said. “We couldn’t see the target on our first approach, so we were going to make a 360 and approach it again. But the lead navigator made a mistake. We were supposed to turn right because of known flak (anti-aircraft guns) down there, but we turned left, and we went over the known heavy flak area and that’s why we got the hell shot out of us.”
Taylor, a Bloomington resident, served on a B-24 Liberator bomber nicknamed “Wazzle Dazzle.” Like Prozinski, Taylor also served late in the war. On his first mission, Taylor and other planes in his squadron flew over Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s home in the Alps. Their reception was less than cordial.
“We got shot up, and lost our number two engine,” he said. “Flames were coming up, with 2,000 gallons of 100-octane fuel with just that thin aluminum cell between it (and the fire). When you see that for a long time, we were flying six miles high, it would have been easy to jump out. But the fire extinguisher finally put it out. The tail gunner said, ‘It’s really drafty back here.’ We got home and looked at the back of the plane and got sick. There were 156 holes in it.”
“Wazzle Dazzle” was likely reduced to aluminum scrap ages ago, but Taylor still wears a 715th Squadron insignia patch on his winter jacket.
Lloyd Flynn of Edina flew Dauntless dive bombers with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. He spent most of the war in the Pacific after volunteering for flying duty with two childhood friends around the same time that American dive bombers changed the course of the war during the Battle of Midway.
Flynn flew about 90 missions, he said, mostly land-bombing and anti-submarine patrols. He found out about the weekly meetings from a friend and has been coming for the last 15 years.
“It’s the nonsense,” he says when asked why he keeps coming back. “It’s the camaraderie — the baloney, the stories. A bunch of young guys.”
Malcolm “Spook” Johns, another Edina resident, also dropped bombs from a propeller-driven airplane during a war. But Johns served during Vietnam flying Skyraiders off the carriers U.S.S. Constellation (CV-64) and U.S.S. Ranger (CV-61). During that time, he flew with Dieter Dengler, whose shoot-down and escape from captivity later inspired the movie “Rescue Dawn” and the documentary “Little Dieter Wants to Fly.”
Johns discovered the group when he was trying to find passengers for a Sun Country charter trip to the then-new National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. He made a presentation about the trip during an Eighth Air Force Historical Society meeting, followed by a question.
“One of the best things in life I ever did, I said ‘How many of you guys were prisoners of war?’” Johns said. “Four guys raised their hands, and I said, ‘You’ve got a free ride.’ I enjoy the camaraderie with people who have been through the same things in life. Our service was different, but when we’re all here, we’re the same.”
Asked if the different eras bred different types of pilot, Johns said that a lot of the things were the same in flying. Differences boil down to the capacity of one plane over another, Johns said.
“A lot of times, it’s just, ‘You could do this, we couldn’t do that,’ like the guys in B-17s and B-24s,” Johns said. “They are still fighting that battle.”
Due to the age of most of those who fought so long ago, there are fewer and fewer veterans around to fight it. The Departments of Veterans Affairs estimated that 670 World War II veterans died every day during 2011. More than 16.1 million men and women fought with America’s armed forces during the conflict; the department estimates that 1.4 million are still living. The median age for a World War II veteran is 92.
The Bloomington group loses about three World War II veterans a year, Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota President Steve Marks said.
Both B-17s and B-24s had a crew of 10 men on board. Of the 10 men who once flew “Wazzle Dazzle,” Larry Taylor is the only one still living. Coming here helps, he said.
“The people at that table are almost like my crew on the aircraft,” he said. “You get very close to them. You don’t talk about blood and guts, but there are many stories that come from over there that we share. (My old crew) is all dead but me. I am the last.”

_____________________________________________________________________________
Columnist Caryn Sullivan wrote an article about the 8th AFHS-Mn in the St. Paul Pioneer Press 11-8-2013.

Caryn Sullivan: 8th Air Force: Sharing meals and memories

By Caryn Sullivan
POSTED:   11/07/2013 12:01:00 AM CST | UPDATED:   ABOUT 17 HOURS AGO

They were pilots, engineers, bombardiers, navigators, gunners, and radiomen. Regardless of position, those who served in the Air Force in World War II were barely more than boys when they began their service but certainly had become men by the time they concluded it. The lucky ones returned home, many bearing physical scars, but all carrying memories. Thousands earned Purple Hearts and Distinguished Crosses for their injuries. About the emotional damage to spirit and psyche, many were reticent.

More than 200,000 Americans were stationed throughout the United Kingdom as members of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. Their mission was to help the Royal Air Force destroy the military and industrial power of Nazi Germany. Thousands of bombers and fighters were involved in air battles in which tens of thousands of personnel were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.

The U.S. Eighth Air Force has been termed the largest air strike force in history. Historians credit The "Mighty Eighth" with playing a vital role in devastating the Nazi effort and enabling the Allies to invade Europe and conclude the war. Dodging and taking flak, they flew the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator aircraft over towns whose names hold little meaning for Americans today -- Ploiesti, Romania; Wiener Neustadt, Austria, and Danzig, Poland.

For the better part of a century, those who served in World War II have quietly harbored their memories. Though they have raised their children and retired from their careers, they still recall the terror of spending hours in deafeningly loud airplanes in which temperatures were so cold they could not feel their fingers or toes; shooting at enemy aircraft; taking fire; and watching aircraft bearing brothers in war fall from the skies.

Some have sought professional help for the Post Traumatic Stress from which many suffered but about which few felt free to speak.

Others have found an outlet in a brotherhood of sorts. With more than 300 registered members, the Minnesota chapter of the Eighth Air Force Society is an active and welcoming unit. When and where its members flew matters less than that they did so. Veterans hail from the Eighth, Ninth, and 15th Air Force, the Naval Air Corps and the Marine Air Corps. They served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Since 1981, 40 to 60 men and a few women have been meeting weekly to share lunch and the camaraderie that is born of a shared experience.

The nonprofit organization offers a sanctuary in which veterans feel safe sharing their stories, says its president, Steve Marks, a Vietnam War veteran.

"All the emotions these men went through while being attacked welded them into a unit so they were like close brothers," Marks explains. "Theirs was a complex emotional experience so the weekly luncheons offer a safe venue for them to share. If they want to talk about something, nobody laughs, everybody listens. People give credence to what they say."

Virtually every Wednesday, 87-year-old Ray Prozinksi drives from Robbinsdale to the Bloomington Knights of Columbus for the 11 a.m. gathering. Wearing a bomber jacket and cap decorated with pins reflecting service in both World War II and Korea, Prozinski explains with pride that he enlisted at age 17, was called up just after his 18th birthday, flew during his 19th year, and was discharged at age 20, having served as a tail gunner on more than 100 missions aboard the four-engine B17 Bomber.

Nearly 70 years later, Prozinski still recalls the mission in which he earned his Purple Heart. The aircraft was taking a lot of flak, he says. He had just put on a steel helmet with earflaps when a piece of flak came through the side of the tail, striking him just above the ear and knocking him unconscious. Though the pilot recommended him for a Purple Heart, the commendation was overlooked during the rush to return home after the war. Years later, the tail gunner took matters in his own hands. He navigated the bureaucracy, obtained a letter from his physician verifying his wound, and in 1994 was overjoyed to receive the commendation he had earned in 1945.

The boys and he are a dying generation, Prozinski says. "I have no idea what will happen when the rest of us give up the ghost." However, the organization of which he is a charter member has a plan. Some members have been using technology to record verbal histories and posting them on the website (www.8thmn.org). They encourage others who have stories to share to make contact at mighty8thmn@yahoo.com so they can preserve them for future generations as well.

In a reflective essay on the website, Eighth Air Force veteran Don Kent writes, "We laugh and joke and reminisce, and sometimes sit in contemplative silence. The shadows lengthen; the mists cloud what once was. If it weren't for these gatherings, maybe these memories would be lived in solitude and sadness. But once a week, we are young again, pre-flighting, starting engines, taxiing to the end of the runway -- flying those countless missions once more ... We joke and cajole, because we're all too old to rock and roll."

Caryn Sullivan of Eagan is a contributing columnist for the Pioneer Press. Her email address iscarynsullivanscribe@gmail.com.

Comments