Stanley Niemczura of Gardens of Gulf Cove south of Englewood, Fla. was a tail gunner in a B-24 “Liberator” in the 15th Air Force in Italy during World War II.
On Dec. 25, 1944, he and the other nine members of the four-engine bomber crew were part of a raid on Germany in which a couple hundred B-24s participated.
“It was Christmas Day and we were scheduled to bomb Drux, Germany. It was raining, but we were still taking off. Gas was pouring out of our No. 3 engine and ice was forming on the rudder and stabilizer as we were going through the clouds,” Niemczura, now 76, notes in his wartime diary.
“The sky was overcast and you can imagine a couple of hundred planes trying to assemble a formation without knowing for sure where the other planes are in the clouds,” he added. “It was a long mission requiring me to sit in one position under oxygen for four to five hours in the tail turret.
“Over the Adriatic everything cleared so we reformed our group and started for the target. About 50 miles from one of the alternate targets we turned and bombed Volkach, Germany’s railroad marshaling yards. We made two runs over the target before we dropped our bombs visually. We still missed the target by about two miles. Most of the bombs landed on a farmer’s home and field,” the former sergeant wrote.
“Returning to our field the overcast had lowered to about 400 feet. Most of the planes landed at Foggia, Italy, but we hedgehopped home to our base at Cerignola, Italy.
“When we landed they had to reopen the mess hall to prepare a meal for us. It was 1900 hours (7 p.m.) before our turkey dinner was ready. Everybody is highly PO’d, my journal entry notes,” Niemczura said.
Before the war ended, he flew 26 missions over enemy territory. Several times his B-24 came close to being shot down by German anti-aircraft guns.
His crew was the first one in the 15th Air Force to be sent home after the Germans surrendered. Because they were first, the crew’s homecoming was covered by the Associated Press, Niemczura recalled.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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