by Kim Schneider
Photo by Kim Schneider
. WWII veteran Doug Ward recently spoke at WSU about his experiences as a ball turret gunner.
There are few left.
Doug Ward, World War II veteran, recently shared his experience as a ball turret gunner. He spoke during a Winona State University event, recalling how many of his comrades never shared their stories of this war. A retired Postal Service worker, Ward, 91, of Mondovi, remembered a coworker and WWII gunner, now gone, whose memories of the war were never shared. “It would have been cool to get his side,” he said. “These are the stories that are lost.”
Ward flew 37 missions as a member of the 15th Air Force, 301st Bomb Group in Italy, as well as the 8th Air Force, 305th Bomb Group in England.
Also at the event was Judie Ohm, author of "Turret Tales,” a book chronicling Ward’s experiences in the war. The two met at a social gathering in Eau Claire, Wis., many years ago.
Ward saved much of what he collected during the war, including letters to his mother, a diary, and even a letter from President Eisenhower, sent just before D-Day.
“I read it two or three times,” he said of the letter. “It means more each time I read it too.”
“I am frequently impressed with his agility and sense of humor,” Walt Kelly, President of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 919, said of Ward. The EEA hosted the event.
Ward and his hometown friend, Chris, took their first plane ride together when they were just teenagers. They barely made it over the treetops, said Ward.
Both men enlisted and later met up in England. They were to meet again for Chris’ 20th birthday, but when Ward got to London, Chris never showed up.
He later learned Chris had died during flying practice.
“They called Chris the bull because he was bullheaded,” said Ward with a smile.
Ward was sent to St. Petersburg, Fla., for basic training.
During training, the troops marched, practicing with gas masks on. Ward said he found a way to make it fun.
“I’d holler under that gas mask to that drill sergeant, ‘you son of a gun!'” he said chuckling, remembering how the drill sergeant made troops go double time after hearing the comment, never knowing who it came from. “I’d laugh and I was having a good time,” Ward said.
Ward’s training sent him to various areas around the U.S.
He traveled to Mississippi for airplane mechanic school, Michigan to work in a Ford plant where B-24 airplanes were made, and Utah for gunnery school. He also traveled through Idaho, Colorado, and flew out of Florida, landing in Brazil and Africa on his way to Europe.
Ward spoke of the night his crew spent outside of Casablanca, Morocco. He'd heard many wonderful things about the city, but they flipped a coin to decide who stayed with the plane.
Ward got the short end of the stick — or so he thought.
It turned out his crew members who went into town were jailed overnight. “They were sitting there shivering, and here I thought I was missing something,” said Ward.
From there he went to Italy, where he flew 15 missions.
“They had you so keyed up, you were just ready to go, ready to go,” he said of the fast paced operation. Before a mission, troops woke up at 3 a.m., ate breakfast, went to a briefing, picked up a parachute and waited for squads to assemble.
“One of the scariest things,” he said, “we took off sometimes and it was so foggy, you couldn’t see the end of the runway.”
Ward said there were many collisions and accidents between American airplanes.
Not surprising, considering nearly 1,500 planes flew together on each mission, said Ward.
Although Ward said he was lucky enough never to need his parachute, he remembers watching other planes out his window and counting the soldiers jumping out.
Since leaving the Air Force in 1945, Ward worked 30 years with the Postal Service and now owns and operates the Log Cabin Airport in Mondovi, Wis. He owns six airplanes and each year he runs a fly-in at his airport, a day when nearly every kind of airplane lands on his runway. In past years, the event has attracted 150 planes. This year the fly-in will be on August 31.
At the end of his talk, Ward mentioned a recent trip to a World War II museum in New Orleans.
A sixth-grade girl sat down beside him. She explained she was at the museum to learn about the war. Ohm told the girl that Ward served in World War II. The young girl leaned over, wrapped Ward in an embrace, and thanked him for what he did.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “[It] was the highlight of my trip.”