|By Carmelo Turdo and Mark Nankivil|
Before the main program, a special guest, Mr. Paul Haglin, was welcomed to a (maybe not so) surprise 90th birthday celebration. Haglin, as a young engineer at McDonnell Aircraft and a private pilot, started the process to develop an airport in St. Louis County that would eventually become Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield. He was flown from Spirit of St. Louis Airport to the meeting place at Creve Coeur Airport by Andy Sharpe in his Cessna 195, the type that Haglin once flew. He is pictured below in the aircraft and during the portion of the meeting he attended.
The keynote speaker for the March meeting was Captain Ralph Goldsticker, Jr., a B-17 bombardier flying with the 728th Squadron of the 452nd Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, in 1944-1945. He flew bombing missions over France and Germany, including two missions on D-Day, from his base in England. He returned from several missions with flak damage and one or two engines out, but the crew of the Deuces Wild flew their 35 missions before being rotated out of front-line service. Surviving a tour of daylight bombing over enemy territory was a significant accomplishment, with over 4,000 Eighth Air Force four-engine bombers lost in combat (10-man crews each) plus combat losses in medium bombers and in training accidents. The display of awards and memorabilia illustrates how hard-fought these missions were as the Allies turned the tide in Europe leading to, and beyond, the D-Day Invasion of France.
"The whole country was at war," Goldsticker said as he reviewed the state of the nation during World War II. "I was one of sixteen million who served. We all did our job, and it took all of us to win the war." His part of the war effort included flying into the heart of France and Germany to attack military and industrial targets in an effort to reduce the enemy's ability to wage war. Goldsticker's military service began when he volunteered for USAAF service in March of 1942. He passed the tests for entry into the Aviation Cadet Program and soloed in the Stearman trainer after ten hours of training. He received 46 hours of training in the Stearman before failing a flight exam and transferring to bombardier training. He was commissioned as 2Lt in December of 1943 and was assigned to the new B-17G model of the Flying Fortress. After more stateside training, Goldsticker's crew flew a new B-17G to England. They were assigned to the 728th Squadron, 452nd Bomb Group as a replacement crew. "It took the whole base to make us ready to fly," he said, again giving credit to all who supported the combat crews on each mission.
Wake up call for a mission was usually at 2:00 A.M. Briefings for pilots, bombardiers and navigators included a review of the minute-by-minute flight schedule, navigation points, radio frequencies and many other details of the mission that may involve coordination of hundreds of aircraft over the target. The response of the enemy, including the anti-aircraft artillery and fighter attacks, were considered as serious threats to the mission and vigilance was required at all times. Missions lasted nearly ten hours round-trip, most of it over enemy territory.
"On the fourth of June, we were called into briefing about ten o'clock at night but then were told to go back to bed. It was called off," he recalled about the first attempt to launch the D-Day invasion. "At ten o'clock on the night of the fifth of June we were called in for briefing, and D-Day was ON." The bombers took off at 2:00 A.M. to rendezvous over Scotland and fly south in three bomber streams totaling 1,500 planes to attack coastal gun emplacements and other targets on the invasion beaches in Normandy. Goldsticker showed the audience the pin from the first bomb he dropped that morning and read the inscription: "6:58, first bomb out of Deuces Wild on June 6, 1944." The bombers returned about 9:30 A.M. The second mission of the day was launched at 2:00 P.M to bomb a railroad junction used to transport supplies for German defense forces. The crew flew over 14 hours that day. On June 8, the Deuces Wild crew flew a mission carrying six 1600-pound armor-piercing bombs on board to drop on the bridges at Tours, France. Other targets in the coming weeks were in Germany: the Bremen Airfield, the oil refinery in Magdeburg and areas outside of Berlin. A deployment to Russia ended in disaster after a German bombing mission wiped out most of the B-17s at the base in Poltava, Ukraine. Following the Russia adventure, the crew flew eleven missions in seventeen days. In July 1944, the bomber they were flying was hit by flak, lost two engines, and co-pilot Marty Atkin was seriously injured by shrapnel. Goldsticker applied first aid throughout most of the flight home as American Mustangs drove off the Luftwaffe fighters. Following his 35-mission tour, he served as a staff officer and returned to the U.S. in March of 1945 to become a bombardier instructor.
Captain Goldsticker's presentation held the audience spellbound for nearly an hour as he retold the story of his wartime service as a B-17 bombardier. Many in attendance were inspired by the story of how a store clerk from St. Louis joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942, became a bombardier on the B-17 Flying Fortress, participated in the D-Day invasion and helped turn the tide of World War II in Europe for the Allies. We remain confident that the current generation of warriors, including the Air Force ROTC students at right, will ably follow the example of Captain Goldsticker and the other veterans present when their military service is required by our nation.
The Aero Experience salutes the military veterans of all generations, and we thank those who worked to make this event a great success!