Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Monday, October 16, 2000
by Mary PIEPER

The Mighty Eighth

MASON CITY - The United States Eighth Air Force paved the way for the invasion of occupied Europe that led to the Allied victory in World War II.

But local veterans of the "Mighty Eighth" - the largest military unit in the war and the biggest bombing force of all time - weren't fully aware of the significance of what they were doing at the time.

"I learned more about World War II by watching The History Channel than I knew then," said Carroll BOGARD of Mason City.

More than 350,000 men and women served in the Eighth Air Force during World War II. About 26,000 were killed in action - one-tenth of all the Americans killed in the war - and more than 28,000 were taken prisoner. The number of those wounded or missing in action has not been counted.

Oct. 8-14 was declared Mighty Eighth Air Force Week across the nation. It was during that week in 1943 that the unit lost more than 100 heavy bombers to enemy action over the skies of Europe. Despite the heavy losses, many historians feel this was the turning point for daytime strategic bombing.

The Eighth Air Force, which was stationed in England, bombed German factories and bridges. The ground crews were responsible for getting the bombs on the planes before they took off in the morning.

"Those guys hardly slept," BOGARD said.

Art PETERSEN of Mason City, who was on a ground crew, said he would set the bombs on delayed action so they would get down into a factory before exploding rather than just landing on top of it.

According to PETERSEN, the Germans never ran out of planes, but they did lose a lot of their experienced pilots. They also ran out of fuel toward the end of the war.

PETERSEN'S unit participated in D-Day. Just before the landing at Normandy each sailor, soldier and airman who was to take part received a copy of a letter from General EISENHOWER. PETERSEN still has his letter, which mentions how the Allied air offensive reduced the Germans' strength.

PETERSEN said the Air Force nearly put a stop to daytime flying because the losses were so great. He recalled how one plane from his unit got hit right where the navigator sat. When the plane came back, "There was no navigator, just a big hole," he said.

Joe BARNES of Mason City was a navigator with his bomber crew, which flew 35 missions up and down the Rhine.

"Our crew was pretty darn fortunate," he said. "None of us even got a scratch. We got the hell shot out of our aircraft, though."

The Eighth Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets as well as bombs. PETERSEN still has copies of those leaflets, printed in German, Dutch, French and other languages spoken in occupied Europe.

No Eighth Air Force mission was ever turned back due to enemy action, but the Germans did shoot down some of the American planes after they dropped their bombs. BOGARD was in one of those planes.

"It was the easiest mission we had," BOGARD said. "We never saw nothing."

Immediately after the B-24 bombed its target, one well-placed hit from a German fighter plane brought the craft down.

"Some guy was a pretty good shot," BOGARD said.

The Germans captured BOGARD after his plane went down. They forced him and other prisoners of war to march for 87 straight days. They slept in barns at night. As far as food, "the best thing we had was potatoes out of a manure pile," he said. "We would just rub them off a little and eat those suckers."

Jim BROWN of Mason City was also in a bomber who was shot down. He landed in Holland and hid with first the Dutch and then the Belgian underground for more than a month before the German secret police caught him in Antwerp - just 10 days before the Allies recaptured the city.

"Someone sold me out. I don't know who," BROWN said.

Both BOGARD and BROWN spent some time in POW camps. Toward the end of the war the camps they were in were liberated.

General PATTON'S Third Army freed the prisoners at the camp BROWN was in.

"We got to see PATTON with his pearl-handled pistols," he said.

PETERSEN, BOGARD and BARNES all visited Europe again years after the war ended.

"The British people were very appreciative of the Eighth Air Force," BARNES said. "We saved their necks."

Several of the Mason City veterans have attended Eighth Air Force reunions. BARNES said his crew used to have a reunion every year, but now only four members are still living. He still corresponds with the pilot, who lives in Texas, over the Internet once a month.

Those who served in the Eighth Air Force during World War II are now considered heroes, but BARNES said his crew simply focused on getting the job done.

"It was just like going to the office each day," he said.

Mighty Eighth veterans

The following living North Iowa World War II veterans served in the Eighth Air Force, according to Chuck TAYLOR, president of the Iowa Chapter of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society:

  • from Mason City:

       Robert Abernathy

      Joseph Barnes

      James Brown

      Arthur Petersen

      Carroll Bogard

       Vernon Nyhus

  • from Clear Lake:

      William Rich

  • from Eagle Grove:

       Loren Schipull

  • from Meservey:

      Robert Raecker

  • from Rockford:

       Lloyd Koehler

  • from Sheffield:

      Bruce Rust

    Timeline of the 8th Air Force of the Army Air Force, World War II

  • January 28, 1942 ~ The Eighth Air Force is activated in Savannah George at the Chatham Armory.

  • February of 1942 ~ General Ira C. EAKER took the headquarters component to High Wycombe, United Kingdom.

  • July 2, 1942 ~ Eighth Army Air Corps flies the first European mission of the USAAC (United States Army Air Corps). Six USA crews borrowed RAF A-20 Havocs from the British, painted USA markings on the planes, then conducted a low-level bombing run against a series of small German air bases located in the Netherlands. Only three of the six crews returned. Off-site Article about this mission.

  • August 17, 1942 ~ Eighth Army Air Corps launched a mission against German marshalling areas in the Rouen, France railyard using B-17s. All 12 craft and crews returned safely.

  • August 1, 1943 ~ Bombers from the Eighth (Army) Air Force join with the Ninth in Operation Tidal Wave, a second attempt to destroy the oil refineries at Ploesti. Considered to be a disaster (54 out of 177 planes lost), the mission did significantly reduce oil production at the facility for months.

  • August 17, 1943 ~ In simultaneous attacks on Regensburg and Schweinfurt, the Eighth (Army) Air Force conducts raids on a Messerschmitt factory (Regensburg) and ball-bearing plants (Schweinfurt) from its secret base in England. Of 376 mission aircraft 60 are lost.

  • September 27, 1943 ~ Using new "belly tanks" to dramatically extend the distance they can fly, P-47 bombers raid Emden, then return to the secret Eight Army Air Force in England.

  • October 14, 1943 ~ In a second raid on the ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt, Germany, the Eighth Air Force effectively destroys the target. 60 of 291 planes do not return.

  • February 20, 1944 ~ Start of "Big Week", six days of missions designed to destroy German aircraft production. The Eighth Air Force (England) and the Ninth Air Force (Italy) participate.

  • March 4, 1944 Lt. Chuck YEAGER shoots down his first German fighter while serving in the Eighth (Army) Air Force.

  • March 6, 1944 Berlin

  • May 21, 1944 ~ Eighth Air Force begins Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo, systematic raids in Germany and France designed to destroy the Nazi's ability to move munitions and supplies by railroad. It is specifically designed to soften up German lines in advance of D-Day.

  • June 6, 1944 ~ D-Day, Normandy, France. More than 15,000 sorties are flown over France and Germany, led by the Eighth Air Force.

  • June 9, 1944 ~ Eighth Air Force establishes a base in Allied-occupied France

  • August 24, 1944 ~ Eighth Air Force's 78th Fighter Group shoots down the experimental Me-262, a German jet-powered fighter. It is the first jet fighter to be shot down.

  • January 1, 1945 ~ Fierce air battles over western front, with 188 out of 800 Luftwaffe planes reported shot down during their last major attack of the war.

  • February 3, 1945 ~ Eighth Air Force participates in a massive B-17 raid against Berlin, Germany.

  • February 16, 1945 ~ The US 8th Air Force launches a massive attack (675 bombers) against the HQ complex of the OKH at Zossen 20 miles south of Berlin.

  • March 19, 1945 ~ The US 8th Air Force carries out another heavy attack (200 bombers and 700 fighters) against Berlin.

  • March 21, 1945 ~ The US 8th Air Force launches a major attack (650 bombers) against Hamburg.

  • April 4, 1945 ~ The US 8th Air Force launches its heaviest raid to date (700 bombers) against Kiel on the Baltic.

  • May 4, 1945 ~ The US 8th Air Force carries out another heavy attack (450 bombers) against Kiel.

    Additional information sources:



    Transcription and Mighty Eighth Timeline by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011


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