Salida man twice survived the attacks of the Second World War

91 years old Fred Rasmussen from Salida, Colorado, U.S. talks about his experiences in the military service at the time of the Second World War. When he was 19 years old he worked for the Cadillac Motors where he built aircraft engines. Afterwards he left this job to serve in the Second World War. He said that before joining the war he did not know what was going all around the world. He knew only that the United States was in war. He heard from the people around him that he should be serving the country as a soldier. He says: “All I knew was people told me I should be a soldier.”

But he did not want to fight in mud and therefore he enrolled in the Army Air Corps. He says: “I had a choice: Be drafted or enlisted, so I enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I didn’t want to march in mud with a rifle. I wanted to be a pilot, although I didn’t know what a pilot was. Most people, when I was a kid, had never been in an airplane.”

Though he received his flying training in Louisiana it was then decided by the Air Corps that they did not require anymore pilots. Then he left for radio operator’s school. Then he was sent to Yuma, Ariz where he learnt to shoot machine guns from the inside of a bomber aircraft. He said: “I was going to be on the crew of a B-17 a Flying Fortress. It was 110 in Arizona and we were inside this ‘tin’ can shooting guns. I knew I was going to go to Europe and fight, and I wasn’t enjoying it.”

Later on he was joined by nine other men as his crew member on B-17. All of them together learned to work as a team. Then in 1944 after the crew joined the 301st Bomb Group in Fogia, Italy they started bombing in Germany. On their sixth bombing operation the two engines of the plane out of the four were shot down and it became difficult for the pilot to maintain the altitude. They didn’t want their plane to crash in the enemy occupied land and hence, the pilot flew the plane towards Poland with a hope of meeting Russian allies. He said: “We came to a hill that we couldn’t get over and had to jump out.” After this they were rescued by Polish peasants who took them to the Russian soldiers. After few weeks the crew was all set for their upcoming bombing missions.  After they completed their fourth mission successfully they started bombing railway tracks which were over Brenner Pass, the most important railway track from Italy to Germany. At that moment two engines of their plane was again shot down. However, during that time they were guided by two Swiss fighter planes whish helped them in their crash landing in Switzerland.

He said: “We got to stay in a Swiss mountain resort, where I learned the difference between light and dark beer. A Swiss guy told us the war was over for us. They didn’t take sides. They kept Germans and Americans both. About that time the war in Europe was over anyway.”

And finally they were moved to a camp in France and from there they returned back to the United States, The Mountain Mail reports.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE