Mobile, Alabama – In a recent ceremony, retired Major George Cramer, part of the 384th Bombardment Group and flew 25 missions during WWII, added his signature on a B-17 Bomber wing panel that has been making its way across United States in a bid to remember WWII’s forgotten heroes, the soldiers who fought in it.
The signing ceremony was noted with a press coverage wand was witnessed by Cramer’s loved ones and church friends. However, the retired soldier and WWII vet was not looking for publicity for himself when he signed on the B-17 bomber’s wing panel or when he granted interviews with the press.
“I’m doing this for the forgotten vets. People tend to forget those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” he stated.
Retired Major Cramer’s first reason why signed up for the Army Air Force on November 5, 1942 was because he thought “something had to be done”. He went on to serve as a physical training and boxing instructor before he went to gunnery school and became a ball turret gunner.
Cramer then went to war sitting cramped in a sphere under the belly of a B-17 bomber. He couldn’t even take an oxygen bottle or wear a parachute with him while in place. He also recounted that most of his problems had encountered difficulties but the most defying one happened on March 22, 1945.
“The target was Westerholt, Germany, in the Ruhr Valley. It was the most heavily fortified place in the world at that time. When we turned on our bomb run, we could see clouds ahead bursting of flak shells. We started on the bomb run, had the bomb bay doors open and the switches set and all of a sudden, we lost number two engine. We started racing and I heard a scream, ‘I’m hit!'” the retired major recounted.
However, in spite of the critical situation they were in, bailing out was not an option.
“The bomb group has three squadrons and each group has 12 planes. You’ve got 36 planes flying in formation and there’s no deviation once you start that bomb run,” he explained.
The crew then released their bombs and were moving back towards England when the number three engine of the B-17 bomber they were in caught fire they had to crash land in Knokke Route, Belgium.
As what Cramer recalled, their pilot chose a large field and made a wheels-up landing. The B-17 bomber ran into a clump of trees, spun around before stopping. The danger they were subjected to didn’t end there though. They heard a band of Belgian civilians yelling “mines!” which made them realized they landed right on a minefield.
“We didn’t know what to do, but the pilot said, ‘Follow me and step where I step.’ He led the way and we all got out,” he said.
However, the waist gunner who retained a shot while they were at flight did not survive and they had to turn his body over to Belgium authorities.
“Any time you fly a mission, you’re gonna get shot at and you may or may not get hit. But our crew had no significant problems after that,” he finished up.
After WWII ended, Cramer went on to get a college education and proceeded to law school before returning to the military in 1950. His served in the Korean War and even “wound up in the Pentagon” before he retired after 20 years in military service.
“I’ve had a nice, good life,” Cramer declared. “The Lord’s been good.”
Currently, there are 78 signatures inscribed on the wing panel of the B-17 bomber; it is scheduled to fly to Florida and Georgia with Utah’s Hill Air Force Base as its ultimate destination but it will be brought there only after all the possible signatures have been made.
“As long as we still have veterans who have not signed and we are able locate them, the wing panel will keep on moving around the country,” states Keith Ellefson of the 384th Bomber Group Next Generation Association. “If any other 384th veterans are in the Mobile area, I will bring the panel to them for signing.”
The 384th last scheduled reunion is set in October at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.