The Christmas after my Dad’s passing in 1998, greeting cards from his former comrades began coming in. I felt obligated to notify them of his passing and I received several letters back. I was surprised to hear facts or recollections unknown to me about my Father, MSgt. Wendell A. Kratz.
I knew my Dad had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) but I do not know the details. I have copies of his citations but they only state “For Meritorious Action in Flight” and did not list any specific actions or details other than the dates.
The Distinguished Flying Cross.
One of the letters sent to me was from Roland Cadoret, a former B-17 Pilot. I am assuming the mission outlined by Roland was one of those actions. Well enough said, I will let Roland’s eloquence speak for itself.
I really appreciated your letter although it saddened me greatly to learn your Dad’s demise. My deepest sympathy to you, your mother and other family members. I am comforted by the thought the “Old Sarge” (as he called himself ) died peacefully in his sleep.
Yes, it is disheartening that I get this type of news about my old buddies more and more each year. But, on the other hand, they lived to have families and enjoyed mutual love they richly deserved. Far too many died at 18 or thereabouts during WWII. They lost so much to safeguard the freedom we all enjoy. Letters such as yours strengthens my hope that future generations will value and preserve the unique opportunities this free nation offers everyone.
Mark, I want you to know how admired your Dad was by other members of our aircrew. I was the co-pilot. And, I kept a diary during the days I was flying combat missions. Here is what I wrote on Saturday, May 27, 1944. Today, our Squadron “Had it!”. Target was a marshalling yard in Ludwigshaven, Germany. All went well until we were well within sight of the Alps. In fact, I was admiring the snow-covered ranges when, “Attack at 12 o’clock, low.” came over the VHF. I turned just in time to see at least 12 ME-109s come right through our (351st) Group formation. As usual, they concentrated on the Low Squadron. We were #2 in Low. (right side of lead plane). A 20mm shell hit in the waist and (George) Eichamer dropped, sharpnel in the neck and face. George Miles (Radio Operator/Gunner) was firing away when an armor-piercing bullet hit him in the head. Our ball turret was half wrecked but Paul (Zubatch) miraculously was uninjured.
Our Squadron Leader lost #3 engine and good old “Happy” (Hopkins) got blown out of the sky. We stuck with our Squadron Leader, but on 2 badly damaged engines, he couldn’t keep up with the Group (formation). Now alone (5 ships) the ME’s made another pass and really blasted us. Sq. Leader Peters dropped out and we other 4 ships poured the coal and reached (mingled with) another group of B-17s. Peters got shot to pieces five minutes later when he headed for Switzerland. Obviously, we’re back but it was one hell of a fight. George is in bad shape and “Ike” is dying in the hospital. The 351st lost 6 ships out of 18.
FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 1944
Today our crew, what’s left of it, visited Miles and Eichamer in a hospital 20 miles from here. Miles’ right side of his face is completely paralyzed and he, by far, isn’t the handsome boy he used to be. A very courageous lad, Literary half smiling as we chatted. He is O.K. other than a very swollen right side of his neck where the bullet entered. Incidentally, George (Miles) actually had a .50 caliber, armor-piercing slug in his head! It’s a miracle that he lived through it. In all our eyes, Wendell Kratz (Right Waist) is our hero. He saved those two boys.
The above is taken verbatim from my diary. (I merely added those italic words in parenthesis for clarity). I rarely singled anyone as heroic….there were so many events. This one was special. Think of the difficulty in giving first aid in below zero temperatures…frozen blood….need to keep all on oxygen….all while being shot at. My last sentence said it all.
I’m very sorry I didn’t get to know your Dad a great deal on a personal basis. It was a time factor. First, he was assigned to our crew around April 28th, 1944. Secondly, I was shot down on June 14th, 1944. It was my 15th combat mission and I was assigned Plane Commander with a “green” crew….their very first mission….and I was the only experience crew member. It turned out to be a disaster and I was a P.O.W. until May 29th, 1945. But that’s another story for another time. LOL.
Well, I’d better get this off before I have to send it via UPS.
Thanks again, and feel free to keep in touch. Best wishes to you and yours for 2000!