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Letter brings back memories for Croner

Questions from relative of downed pilot make Croner search own past

February 22, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

When Howard Croner received a call and a letter earlier this month, it brought back memories.

Carol Wilcox, cousin of 1st Lt. Charles C. Young, Jr., who was killed in action while on a mission over Germany, wrote to Croner, wanting to know whether he remembered Young. Young's B-17G bomber was on a mission to attack airfields in Germany and aircraft factories in the Brunswick area. The plane which was redlined, or deemed not air worthy, was shot down by enemy fighters and crashed March 23, 1944 near Rodenbeck, Germany.

Seven crew members, including Young, were killed in action. Two were taken as prisoners of war and the 10th crew member died of his wounds in German captivity. Young and 2nd Lt. Charles Clark, co-pilot, were not identified and buried as unknown.

Article Photos

Lt. Charles Young who was killed in action when his B-17 was shot down near Rodenbeck, Germany March 23, 1944.
Photo submitted

Wilcox asked Croner if he knew why Charles had been ordered to fly a redlined plane. She sent Croner a copy of an interview that Jerry Penry did with Edward S. Wodicka, navigator and last survivor from the crew of the B-17.

Wilcox said some remains were returned to the U.S. and Young was buried in South Carolina. Many years later, a German woman appeared at Wilcox's aunt's door and returned Charles' high-school ring that she had found.

While Croner couldn't help provide any information about Lt. Young, he was in fact a member of the 452nd Bombardment Group, 728th Squadron, the same as Young's. Like Young, Croner was based at Deopham Green, Norfolk, England, three miles from Ingham.

Fact Box

On Tuesday

In Tuesday's Daily News, read the story of Edward S. Wodicka, navigator and last living survivor of a downed B-17 Flying Fortress.

"Ingham was just a tiny, little town in England," Croner recalled. The local pub had malts, bitters, ales and stouts - all warm, and "terrible" - as Croner recalled.

Croner was top turret gunner and flight engineer.

"I think about it every day," Croner said of his 34 missions - nine beyond the 25 required. "After my 34 missions, I was wore out."

On his return to the States, Croner spent six months in a Miami Beach, Fla. convalescent hospital, from September 1944 to February 1945 when he was discharged before he was old enough to buy a drink.

There were a lot of times on the B-17 when he could probably have used one.

He remembered one mission when the radio operator went berserk.

On another mission, shrapnel from enemy flak cut the waist gunner's hand off. The fact that it was fifty below at 30,000 feet was probably the only thing that kept him from bleeding to death. As flight engineer, Croner was in charge of the enlisted men so it was his responsibility to keep him alive.

But when he tried to give the man morphine it was frozen.

He put the bottle in his mouth to warm it up, and finally managed to give the waist gunner a shot. He survived and an ambulance met them at the airfield and took his waist gunner away.

Croner never heard from him again.



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