Thursday, November 10
Tifton-- The military produced lots of heroes, and during Veteran's Day, each one deserves recognition, including one who narrowly escaped being shot down during WW II. The Air Force veteran did what some might think of as impossible- flying his first and last bombing raid over Germany at the same time.
Old memories, especially wartime memories, remain alive and well regardless of the number of times the sun sets on them. "Like going back to the reality," says veteran pilot Warren Marchant.
The reality he referred to was in World War II when he flew a B-24 bomber. "This is the exact position I was in flying over Munich, Germany," says Warren, as he sits in the right seat of the airplane.
His airplane wasn't the only one on that particular raid. About 600 other bombers were on the mission to destroy a railroad complex known as Marshland Yard.
Warren had flown the five hour trip from an air base in Italy to the target where the other pilot would fly the bombing run. The Nazis were waiting on them with heavy, 88 millimeter anti-aircraft fire.
Flying at 22,000 feet, Warren saw something near the right wing that he would never forget. "A huge cloud of the blackest smoke I've ever seen, followed instantaneously with a ball of fire like I've never seen before," says Warren.
Seconds later, a piece of shrapnel, five inches long, weighing a-half pound with German markings blew through the cockpit window, cutting his left hand. He would lose a knuckle near his pinkie finger. One of his crew members found the piece of metal in the plane and made sure Warren got the souvenir.
The injury would end his flying career. "My first and only mission in any bomber," says Warren who felt disappointed at the time. Six days later, as Warren recuperated, the plane was shot down. Some of the 10 crew members where thrown from the plane to an instant death, several survived the blast, parachuting to safety, becoming prisoners of war.
That was 60 years ago, but Warren Marchant remembers his war effort as if it happened yesterday. "I thought I'd never have this opportunity again," says Warren. He had the opportunity to sit in another B-24, the only fully restored, flying B-24 in existence.
"It's just like the one I flew," says Warren as he looked at the instrument panel. "There were an awful lot of instruments in 1944 and still is," says Warren with his left hand on the throttles and his right hand on the control wheel.
It seemed as if he was flying again. Deep down he wished he could start the engines and fly around the airport. "Would be nice to try it again," says Warren, even though he acknowledges that he has forgotten a lot about how to fly a B-24.
He would like to see all those instruments come alive like his memories have. "It feels strange, but feels good. Knowing we had a good part in WW II. I feel like the Air Force very influential in winning that war," says Warren. While times change, his pride in his military service stays the same. "I was proud to be a part of it," says Warren.
A benefit of his war injury was getting to meet his future wife who was a nurse in a hospital where he recuperated. They dated for a month and got married, and have stayed married for 60 years.