Friday, November 06, 2015

TOP STORY >> Vet records memories of Second World War

Leader staff writer

Retired Lt. Col. Wilmer Plate of Jacksonville, a Second World War veteran, recorded on Tuesday his memories of war for future generations.

Retired Col. Anita Deason, military and veterans affairs liaison for U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), interviewed Plate at his Jacksonville home. The 90-minute recording is for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Plate, 96, was a B-24 bomber pilot. He flew 31 missions with the 489th Bomber Group. The crew of 10 men flew over Germany and France from May 30 to Sept. 27, 1944. Plate was awarded many service medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

Plate described one of his missions by asking viewers to imagine they were behind the pilot’s seat as he narrated. The mission was a July 31, 1944 flight to Ludwigshafen, Germany, to bomb a railroad complex. It was a seven-hour job, and Plate recalled the end of the bombing run.

“You look out the front and in the sky. Those black puffs, that is flak going off in the target area. We’ll be going through that. Look off to the left, you see the airplane. He took a shot in the wing and he blew up. Did you see any parachutes? I didn’t see any parachutes,” Plate said.

“Over here on the right, this guy took a shot in the right engine. Look at the fire,” the bombardier said.

He continued, “Bombs away! The airplane jumps up 3 to 5 feet. You feel the jump? BOOM!

“That flak went off right belowour bomb bay. If we had not jumped up, we’d be right in it,” Plate continued.

“The plane shutters from one end to the other. There is something wrong with the number three engine. I tell the co-pilot to shut that engine down. I check to see if all the crew is still alive. In the meantime, I adjust the power to the other engines,” he said.

“We are stable for the moment. The plane has a lot of holes. I know the bomb bay is hit. The engineer tells me the bomb bay is a mess. There are hydraulic lines, oxygen lines and fuel lines all leaking. There is a hole in the wing tank the size of a baseball. Fuel is flowing out like crazy,” Plate recalled.

“Engine two is now overheating. I have to reduce the power on that engine. I can’t stay in the formation anymore. We fall out and make a turn. I tell the navigator set us up for a course to England,” he continued.

“We set up for a three-hour flight home. We are on oxygen bottles. I don’t think we can make it. If we lose another engine, we are going to go in. If we have a spark, we’ll blow up. Now would be a good time if you want to bail out,” Plate told his invisible audience.

But, he said, the whole crew stayed with the airplane.

“We go on for two hours. We can see the land,” Plate recalled.

The engineer started to crank down the landing gear.

“We are now over the English Channel and lining up to the runway. I slow down the airplane and tell the tower to bring the fire trucks and ambulance because we’re going to do a crash landing,” Plate said.

“We’re coming in and boom! The tire held and we’re holding the nose off and then it drops down. Boom! It crashes and we skid down the runway on our nose in the grass and stop. We bail out,” the veteran remembered.

He said the doctor checked the crew out and they debriefed. Twelve hours later, they’re back in the bomber.

Deason said Boozman supports the work of the Veterans History Project because his father was a World War II veteran who died at age 69.

“(Boozman) was not able to ask these questions and collect and capture the story,” Deason said.

“I lost my father as a teenager. He was 65 and a WWII vet. This is a chance to honor and respect all our veterans. It gives them an opportunity to share their story and preserve it for their family and future generations,” she continued.

Deason said the Veterans History Project also has workshops to train volunteers on interviewing veterans of all wars and civilians who worked in the war industry. Locally, they have trained 115 people. Her work involves doing outreach with veterans service agencies.

Deason said veterans are interviewed when the project hears of them. She said there are 250,000 veterans of all wars in the state and 1,200 from Arkansas have been interviewed for the project since it was approved by Congress 15 years ago.