We asked you to tell us about a veteran who continues to serve and inspire. From hundreds of compelling entries, we chose to tell the stories of eight veterans. The first-ever Veterans Community Showcase is presented in partnership with United Rentals.
“We got prepared for the mission, knowing there was a good possibility that we’d never return.” Meet Richard Baumgarten, WWII veteran, as he continues talking about an August day in 1945. “They gave us our four pills, two for pain, four for all – in case you went down in Japanese territory. We laid out there, after the preflight and waited.”
Richard joined the military at the end of the war. “That’s where the mistake was made,” according to Richard. You see, he wanted to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force.
“Don’t get in the infantry,” he said. “My brother-in-law said don’t go in the infantry, go Navy or Air Force.” Richard did the required tests to become a fighter pilot, qualified but was then told that Uncle Sam didn’t need fighter pilots anymore. The military needed bombardier personnel.
“We need to carry the war to them,” Richard explained the reason given at the time. He was given two options, B-24’s or B-17’s. He chose the B-24s and ended up becoming a crew chief.
There was a ten man crew on a B-24. “Every man had a job to do,” Richard said. As crew chief, it was Richard’s job to make sure everything was running correctly.
“They instilled in us – a bunch of kids – it was our responsibility if we wanted to get back. You had to learn your job, and we did.” The oldest person on Richard’s plane was the navigator, the most essential man in the plane. And he was only 22 years old.
Even for the young crew, the flights were grueling. “Our missions were ten times longer than in Europe,” Richard chuckled. “As a consequence we got a lot of air medals.”
Richard had three oak leaf clusters on his air medal. He explained that you got an oak leaf for every 100 hours. After 100 combat hours, you then were able to go on R&R in Australia for a few days. One mission to bomb an oil refinery sticks out in Richard’s mind. It was such a long flight that they only took one bomb, because “the other side of the bay was filled with gasoline!”
He was part of the 13th Air Force, but because they flew such long missions, they were called the Long Rangers. And the Long Rangers kept the enemy guessing, even by changing bases.
“We started off in New Guinea and ended in Okinawa. As we progressed, we continued to change bases,” Richard recalled. “They didn’t know where all these airplanes were coming from, that’s why they called us the secret air force.”
Back on the airfield in 1945, the night before they left for their mission, they received their briefing. Then the Chaplain came in to talk to Richard and his crew. He told the young men to look to their right, and then look to their left. There was a good chance that one of them wouldn’t be coming back.
“I lived with ten guys and we became like brothers,” the emotion in Richard’s voice is still strong more than 70 years later. “We stuck together like brothers, we were closer than brothers. And right now, I’m the only one left out of them.”
The brothers waited together on the tarmac for hours. Three hours later they found out that they weren’t going on a mission that day.
“There was another plane, it was Bockscar 29,” said Richard.
“It was supposed to drop a load on one target, but that was fogged in, so they went to our target, and bombed it. In the meantime, we were back on our base, waiting and sweating to go for this mission.” Three hours later they found out that they weren’t going on a mission that day.
The actual date Richard was talking about was August 9, 1945. The original target for “Bockscar 29” was the Japanese city of Kokura. The second target, the one that was supposed to have been Richard’s target was the city of Nagasaki. 16 days later, Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan had surrendered.
Richard tries to keep active today; he enjoys camping with his four kids and nine grandchildren.
“I’m pretty lucky with longevity,” says the 92-year-old veteran. “I haven’t become totally senile yet, but I’m working on it!”
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