Page 1 of 2By Adam Jerome, I-O Reporter
As Frank Paliga sits in his favorite recliner at the Pondera Medical Center Extended Care unit he reads a book on World War II. With his wife Joan sitting comfortably at his side he has the look of a man at peace with the world. At 88 years old he has a lifetime of memories to look back on and be proud of.
What makes Paliga’s reading material all the more interesting to him is the fact that he shares a common bond with the people and places he reads about. Paliga is by all accounts a war hero, even if you would never hear it from him.
Like many other young men who grew up during the depression and the Second World War, Paliga joined the armed forces as soon as he could. As Paliga pointed out, “I just felt like it was my duty to sign up and go over there.”
After attending Aerial Gunnery School in Texas he joined the Army Air Force 44th Bomber Group. He became an engineer and top-turret gunner on a B-24. He eventually rose to the position of Staff Sergeant and in September of 1942 was stationed to overseas duty in England.
His service was dangerous from the get go as he and 23 other bomber groups got set to fly to England from St. Johns, Newfoundland. Before take off the cockpit crew noticed sparks coming from all four engines. Upon inspection it seemed that someone had loosened the sparkplugs on the planes.
It was determined later that some crews did not make it across the Atlantic, due to the sabotage at St. Johns. From that point on no American bomber was left on an apron in England without a guard around each bomber day and night for the rest of the war.
Paliga’s first bombing raid was over the French coast. After encountering enemy fire on the way to their target his plane finally made it and did the job. Paliga adds, “I think we lost a total of six planes from the group of 24 that went on the raid. There were a lot of B-24s shot up with wounded and killed soldiers in the planes that made it back to our base. We usually got back to our base, empty of ammunition and bombs, with lots of casualties.”
After his first 15 raids, Paliga was sent on a low-level bombing raid to the oil fields of Ploesti. For their bravery and valor during the mission the whole air crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the highest honors an airman could receive.
Air Raids were so tough in 1942-43 that an airman who completed 25 raids was sent back to the United States to sell bonds or teach for the rest of their service. All airmen just counted down until that special number when they could go home.
Paliga had finally made it. He completed his 24th raid and had one left. He packed his bags in anticipation of making that last raid. What happened next sounds like a script for a movie, but in Paliga’s case it was the truth.
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