WWII Pilot Recalls Bailout Over Croatia
One more thrill for WWII's flyboys
The following appeared in today's Los Angeles Daily News. Scores of Allied pilots bailed out over Croatia during WWII. Many had been on bombing runs to the important oil fields of Polesti in Romania. As the article notes about one of these men, those who landed in Partisan controlled territory were transported behind enemy lines to the various islands held by the Partisans following Italy's capitulation, especially Vis. I recently came across a similar story concerning some American pilots who were bailed out over Krk Island. The local Partisan underground group arranged transport by boat all the way to Vis - in the 1990s, the son of one of the survivors visited Krk to thank his rescuers.
Other stories involve damaged planes which were able to limp their way back to Vis - some didn't quite make it and the remains of some planes can be visited offshore in the Adriatic as was noted in a story in the Croatian magazine Nacional last summer.
Some pilots off course did not get to the Partisans. The forces of the Independent State of Croatia treated these POWs very well (Serbian propaganda during and following the War claimed that such captured pilots were killed). Author Michael McAdams in his work, "Croatia: Myth and Reality," includes a very interesting chapter concerning these POWs and how they were kindly looked after by a number of people in war-time Zagreb.
One must also recall the bad side of Allied bombing runs - unfortunately many Croatian cities and civilians fell victim to bombings; anecdotally, it appears that some of these raids may have happened when the planes did not reach their targets - they would just drop their bombs over some city. A particularly fierce airraid in Zagreb drew the criticism of Archbishop Stepinac. A recent article in the Croatian magazine Golbus or Nacional drew attention to such raids in Bjelovar. Other Croatian cities which were hit by Allied bombs included Rijeka and Zadar (which were part of Italian territory since after World War I) and Senj.
Los Angeles Daily News
One more thrill for WWII's flyboys
By Dennis McCarthy
Monday, May 03, 2004 - The last time Steve Politis went up in a B-17 bomber, he came down in a parachute. That was 60 years ago this month when his plane was shot down during World War II over Croatia.
"John Wayne bails out and lands in the arms of a beautiful woman," says the 87-year-old ex-radar man who lives in Tarzana. "I bail out and land in a tree, bleeding.
"The local underground hid us for four days, then took us in a fishing boat to a little island offshore where we were reunited with our troops at a landing strip we had there."
Thursday, Politis gets a chance to rewrite the ending of his last B-17 flight when he and a handful of other Army Air Forces servicemen who flew missions in the historic bomber during wartime will be going up one more time.
A vintage B-17 bomber traveling the country on a Salute to Veterans national tour will be stopping at Van Nuys Airport this weekend for the public to tour. Flights will also be available.
Before it's opened to the public, though, some of the men who were members of B-17 crews during wartime will get a chance to fly in it Thursday.
"It's going to bring back a lot of memories," says 80-year-old Dan Holland of Woodland Hills, who was a navigator on more than 35 missions over Germany during World War II.
"There was nothing more thrilling than rolling down the runway in one of those babies fully loaded down with bombs and fuel, wondering if it was ever going to get off the ground."
Both men had laid their B-17 memories to rest in scrapbooks for the past five decades until Ruth Mutti walked into Wendy's restaurant in West Hills a few weeks ago.
Mutti's a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Van Nuys chapter, which is hosting the local B-17 visit. She was looking for a group of ex-military pilots and flight crews who call themselves "Wings Over Wendy's." Every week, about 40 members meet at the restaurant for lunch and comradeship.
"I wanted to let them know the B-17 was coming into town for one of its rare visits, and they were welcome to come and see it," Mutti said.
"After the meeting, I met Dan and Steve, and they told me about their experiences flying in the B-17's during World War II. They were both so humble and sweet."
How about giving it one more try, Ruth asked them? Without the bombs, this time.
Both men looked at each other and said "why not?" How many guys in their 80s get to relive some of the most exciting times of their 20s? Not many, they figured.
This is one of the great things about these traveling military history tours. They're unique opportunities for the families of World War II vets -- who are dying off at an average 1,200 a day -- a chance to provide a loved one with some priceless memories of when they were young, and went off to war to serve and help save this country 60 years ago.
But it's a tough financial fight for EAA to keep these vintage aircraft flying because of high maintenance and fuel costs. So it's important for communities all over the country to support them when they visit now, or lose them in the future.
Flights take place every 45 minutes beginning at 10:15 a.m. Friday with the event running through Sunday. For more information on purchasing a flight, visit www.b17.org or call toll-free (800) 359-6217.
Ground tours are available each day when the plane is not flying, and in midafternoon after the final flight of the day. Tours are $10 for a family, $6 for adults and $5 for students, with no charge for accompanied children under 8. World War II vets are free.
Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 firstname.lastname@example.org