World War II vet recalls the bombing of Berlin

November 11, 2011

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In honor of Veterans Day, we have this harrowing story from a local man who served in World War II.

Between 1942 to July 1945, Northbrook resident Bill Wagner was a B-17 radio operator and gunner with the "Mighty Eighth," the much lauded Eight Air Force division that suffered nearly half of all U.S. Air Force casualties during WWII.

Their casualty rates were so high because they conducted a daring daylight bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe, including missions deep into Germany; Wagner flew in 24 of those missions.

On his 24th combat mission, Wagner’s plane was shot down. He was taken captive and held as a POW.

But it was not the first time he had shot down during combat. On one particular mission on a cold February morning, he was on one of 2,000 planes sent to bomb the German capital; a mission from which, initially, his plane did not return.

In 2007, Wagner spoke at the Northbrook Public Library, and shared the story of this particular bombing campaign. It’s harrowing, and a good reminder of what the average solider can go through over the course of even one mission. As Wagner put it, these were “ordinary guys to whom extraordinary things happened.” You can listen in the audio above.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Bill Wagner spoke at an event presented by Northbrook Public Library in August of 2007. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.