Veterans Day 2018



WORLD WAR II B-17 tail gunner’s memories remain vivid

ing. His eyesight isn’t great. But the memo- ries of his flights as a B-17 “Flying Fortress” tail gunner remain vivid — especially of his first mission. It was on Christmas Eve 1944, at a critical time in the Battle of the Bulge. *** They called him “Charles” in the ser- vice, but he’s been “Stuart” to family and friends all his life. His father, Charles J. Bachmann, fought in France in World War I as a machine-gun mechanic in the 342nd Machine Gun Battalion of the 89th Division, the “Rolling W.” Stuart grew up farming with his par- ents four miles south and two miles west of Bertrand. He would spend most of his post- war life there. But the

United States had been in the war a year and a half when he graduat- ed from Bertrand High School in 1943. Bachmann enlisted in the Army Air Corps in Kearney, home to a major wartime train- ing base, then reported to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He soon was shipped to Biloxi, Mississippi, where the Air Corps was train- ing combat pilots. “I don’t know if I’d have made a pilot or not,” Bachmann said. “Of course, being a bomber pilot was the farthest thing from my mind. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, up where the action was.” He washed out. But he was bound for the skies anyway. After gunnery train- ing in Harlingen, Texas, Bachmann was assigned to a bomb- ing crew for further

training in Pueblo, Colorado. As a tail gunner, Bachmann’s job was to help hold off attacking aircraft as the plane neared its target, dropped its bombs and headed back to base. He and his buddies sailed to England and joined the 874th Bomb Group at Lavenham, England, north- east of London. They went on alert almost immediately — for Nazi Germany had launched its last des- perate offensive on the Western Front. With Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s forc- es stalled along Germany’s borders, Adolf Hitler had launched a surprise assault in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest on Dec. 16, 1944. Aided by overcast skies that grounded Allied planes, the Nazi units

created a 65-mile- deep “bulge” in Eisenhower’s line. As ground troops fought to reduce the bulge, the 487th and the rest of the U.S. Eighth Air Force waited for the skies to clear. On Dec. 24, Bachmann’s crew got its first chance to fly — in one of the largest Allied air attacks of the European war. More than 3,000 air- craft, two-thirds of them bombers, took off to attack targets along the battle line and deep inside Germany. Bachmann’s B-17 was part of a sortie that flew over the disput- ed French province of Alsace-Lorraine, where the Nazis were also trying to regain ground, and headed for the major Rhine River city of Koblenz. “I remember sitting in the tail and watch-

ing the bombing,” he said. “We were bomb- ing railroad yards, and we were dropping hundred-pound bombs and seeing them track down to the railroad tracks just like they were planted there.” But even before the B-17s dropped their loads, the Germans were laying down a thick carpet of bullets. As a group, “we got the hell shot out of us,” Bachmann said. “We didn’t think the shoot- ing was too bad, and all of a sudden, there it was. You could get out and walk on it.” His crew set its re- turn course to steer clear of the fierce fire, though “you might run into something worse,” he said. “You didn’t know.” When they returned to England, he said, “we didn’t have much damage. There might have been a hole or two.” No one was hurt. But Bachmann’s plane was one of only three in its 13-bomb- er formation to make it back. The others were shot down. But those 3,000 planes helped to turn the tide. By the end of January, the bulge was gone. Four months lat- er, Hitler committed suicide and the Nazis surrendered. Many years later, Bachmann said, he was at a veterans meet- ing when two veterans from Phillipsburg, Kansas, spoke about seeing the Eighth Air Force bombers over- head that Christmas Eve. One of them “said, ‘I had 11 holes in me.’

BY TODD VON KAMPEN todd.vonkampen@ GOTHENBURG — Like many a veteran of many a war, Charles Stuart Bachmann long kept his memories of his World War II com- bat to himself. Only in re- cent has the 93-year- old veteran of 28 bomb- ing missions over German targets begun to share his memo- ries. The longtime Bertrand-area farm- er now lives with his wife, Janice, at Stone Hearth Estates in Gothenburg. He’s hard of hear- Charles Bachmann years, family members say,

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Please see B-17, Page D3

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