Twelve original members of the 452nd Bombardment Group travelled from all over the U.S. to meet at March Field, Calif., for their annual reunion, Sep. 8. This was an occasion for old friends to share stories of their time in WWII and in this particular case, for some of them to be awarded a citation that was more than 60 years overdue.
They piled out of the white tour bus at the March Field Air Museum, headed on a journey back in time to revisit good and bad memories of their time spent together during the war. Some walked with canes and others rode scooters, however, all had the same smile stretched across their face as they watched the doors of a display B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft swing open for them to enter. After touring the historic aircraft and the remaining museum attractions, the group headed to the March Air Reserve Base flight line for a tour of the KC-135 Stratotanker and the C-17 Globemaster III.
Retired Lt. Charles Mueller, a B-17 navigator during WWII, was amazed to hear how the C-17 can fly using named waypoints to anywhere in the world with an accuracy of about 27 feet. The difference in the technology used in WWII compared to today’s Air Force, was very apparent.
“We used an octant to shoot at least three stars in order to get a triangulated position of where we thought we were. If you could be within three miles, you were a pretty good navigator, if it was within a mile, you were the best,” said Mueller. “Our radar compasses sometimes weren’t very accurate because of solar radiation and on pond crossings from Canada to England, the magnetic compass wouldn’t work very well either, so it was up to the navigator to get us close enough to the airfield so the pilots could land the airplane.”
The long awaited citation recognition ceremony was based on the events that transpired on April 7, 1945. High over the skies of Kaltenkirchen, Germany, 38 B-17’s assigned to the 452d BG took off from their base in England and delivered a damaging blow to one of Germany’s most ferocious airfields. The group, comprised of members from the 728th, 729th, 730th and 731st Bomb Squadrons, dropped more than 176,000 pounds of bombs, crippling the runway and making it impossible for the Germans to launch their ME 262 fighter aircraft out of that airfield for weeks. Their efforts are remembered as a defining moment in the air war of WWII.
For their service, members of the 452d BG were awarded the Distinguished Service Award, later known as the Presidential Unit Citation. Unfortunately, many of the men were shot down, captured, or returned home having never received the actual award.
Lt. Col. Paul Blenz, commander of the 729th Airlift Squadron wanted to right that wrong. “It is important for our members to understand and know the heritage of our unit, but more importantly, it is crucial for us to recognize the men and women that came before us and gave us that heritage,” said Blenz. “I also wanted the past members of the 452d Bombardment Group to know that we have not forgotten them, and never will.”
In a ceremony held at the 729th AS building, Blenz presented Presidential Unit Citations, along with the original general orders to nine surviving members that had never received the award. In addition, he pinned each with a Presidential Unit Citation ribbon after reading the General Orders from that day.
More than 16,596,000 Americans served during WWII. By 2020, it is estimated that we will only have 17,000 members from that era alive, which equates to the passing away of almost one every two minutes. The 452nd Bombardment Group lost more than 30 original members last year.