Editors note: The following narrative is from a telephone interview that Jerry Penry had with Edward S. Wodicka, navigator and survivor of the B-17 Flying Fortress 1st Lt. Charles Young was flying. The aircraft was shot down over Rodenbeck, Germany.
Howard Croner of Estherville, himself a crew member of a B-17, received the information in the mail earlier this month from Carol Wilcox of Lenoir, N.C. who was inquiring about Young who was killed in the crash. Croner had served in the same squadron and bomb group.
Edward S. Wodicka of Stanardsville, Va., is the only living crew member of a B-17 Flying Fortress that was shot down over Germany on the March 23, 1944 mission to Brunswick, Germany. He was the navigator and belonged to the 728th Squadron of the 452nd Bomb Group stationed at Deopham Green, England. He and waist gunner Fred Buckingham, who has now died, were the only surviving crew members from their plane after it was shot down. The following story was told to Jerry Penry by Edward S. Wodicka through telephone conversations on Dec. 20, 1998 and Jan. 2, 1999.
On the day of the mission we started to board our usual plane when our pilot, Charles Young, was ordered by Captain Oxrider to fly a different plane that was sitting alone on the tarmac. Our usual plane named "Star Eyes" was given to another crew. When we boarded the battle-damaged plane, we noticed that it had been "redlined" but Oxrider ordered us to fly it anyway. Our pilot had previously been in trouble with Captain Oxrider back on the States for making an unscheduled landing in Kansas to see his brother one last time before leaving for England. This unscheduled trip caused us to later fly into a very bad electrical storm and make a landing that caused damage to our plane and made us a week late. Charles Young and Captain Oxrider were not on good terms as a result of that incident. Young complained about having to fly this different plane that was redlined, but we were ordered to fly it, and it was time to get into the air.
After takeoff we noticed right away why the plane had been redlined since oil was spraying all over the wing. We should have turned back, but we kept up with the rest of the crew anyway, since we were ordered to fly that plane. German fighters noticed our plane, which was a mess from all of the oil, and attacked us. We were carrying both incendiary bombs and fragmentation bombs that day. The fighters went right after the wing which caught fire, and the incendiary bombs were also hit. I had continuously practiced turning from the navigator's seat, then reaching for my chest pack parachute, and hooking it on during every mission. I had practiced it so much that it soon became second nature to me. I remember that the bombardier, Sherman Farr, often laughed at me saying that it was a waste of time for me to do this, since there would be plenty of time if we needed to grab our parachutes.
During the attack, a wing came off of the plane; it immediately went into a downward spin. The centrifugal force of gravity pinned us all inside the walls of the plane, but I had already instinctively put on my parachute. Just as I was reaching for the latch to open the hatch, I noted the bombardier frantically trying to find his parachute. This was the last thing I remember from the plane.
At the same instant that I tried to kick open the door, the intense heat from the incendiary bombs exploded the fragmentation bombs, either killing crew members or blowing them out of the plane. The plane just blew up into a huge fireball. Pieces of the plane struck me everywhere in the air, and as I was falling toward the ground it felt like an arm and leg had been blown off. I tried to reach for the ring to pull my chute, but my right arm was broken. I then quickly pulled the ring with my left hand, which was just soon enough for the parachute to break my fall before I struck a freshly plowed field near Rodenbeck, Germany.
To be continued . . .