Area veterans recall their role in WWII

May 08, 2010|By DAN DEARTH
  • Chuck Albright then

Editor's note: Germany invaded Poland without warning on Sept. 1, 1939, a move that marked the beginning of World War II. Six years later, on May 8, 1945, the Allies declared victory in Europe. The following are the recollections of local veterans of that day.

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- First Lt. Chuck Albright flew his 35th and final mission over Europe fewer than two weeks before the end of World War II.

The B-24 bombardier/navigator said his 10-man crew rarely drank alcohol to excess, but veered from their normal behavior when they heard about the Allied victory.

"We did things we normally wouldn't do," said Albright, 87. "Everybody drank beer. They kicked up their heels. We knew the war was over."

Albright was stationed in southern Italy with the 15th Air Force. His crew primarily bombed German targets, including a submarine pen and oil depots, from Oct. 16, 1944, to April 23, 1945. It was on such a mission that Albright and his crew bailed out over friendly territory in northern Italy after being hit by flak.


"We were running on three engines instead of four," Albright said. "We were running out of fuel."

He said each mission was about 500 miles long. Although the flights lasted around six hours, only three to five minutes were spent over the target.

"That's where the flak was most intense," Albright said.

Albright planned to stay in the Army Air Corps after the war until a colonel advised him to go to college. He said he took the advice and enrolled at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where he earned a degree in chemistry, and later worked for Pratt & Whitney in Florida.

He said he moved to Hagerstown to live closer to his son.

Irvin Golden spent his war years in Florida repairing B-17s that were used to train pilots.

"You had a feeling that's one of them down," said Golden, now 89, as he reminisced about the German surrender. "We still had to fight the Japanese. I guess those guys in combat were more joyous."

Then-Pfc. Golden said he earned $75 a month, which included a $25 increase for flight pay.

"You had to learn how to stretch it," he said.

Irvin had the chance to go overseas after the war, but declined, saying he accepted an offer from the government to learn how to repair propellers in Champaign, Ill.

After being discharged from the Army Air Corps in October 1945, Irvin returned to Washington County and went to work at the Fairchild plant. He said he was laid off in 1963 a few years short of retirement and took a job as an inspector with the State Highway Administration.

Irvin said he accrued about 1,000 hours of flight time in B-17s.

"It was a good job," he said. "I liked it."

Robert Brechbiel was working as a precision grinder at Landis Tool Co. when the Army drafted him on Armistice Day in 1943.

He was assigned to the artillery and went to Fort Sill, Okla., for basic training.

"Our job was to locate the enemy and call in artillery," he said.

Then-Tech. Sgt. Brechbiel, now 88, never saw combat. He said he spent much of the war as an instructor at Fort Sill.

Brechbiel was transferred for a brief time to work in St. Louis at a Chevrolet plant that was converted for the manufacture of 105-mm artillery shells for the war effort.

"It was a defense plant," he said. "About 90 percent was ran by the military."

Brechbiel said he was at the plant when he heard the news of Germany's surrender.

"I was tickled," he said. "We got a 10-minute break."

Boonsboro resident Orlyn Oestereich said he never will forget the horrors that he saw after the Allies liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

Pvt. Oestereich was drafted by the Army in September 1945 after the war's end. He was shipped to Germany and assigned to an engineering unit charged with unearthing the corpses of Jewish prisoners for reinterment.

The 82-year-old Oestereich said he still remembers the stench of the decomposing bodies as they were pulled from the mass graves.

"It was a terrible place," he said. "I can still smell Dachau."

Oestereich, who was relieved when he heard that the Germans had surrendered, said he doesn't consider himself to be in the same category as the men who fought in the war.

Oestereich went on to spend 37 1/2 years in the Army, and participated in the Berlin Airlift and the Korean and Vietnam wars, attaining the rank of colonel. He currently serves as the Maryland state commander of the American Legion. As state commander, Oestereich is responsible for 149 posts and 70,000 members.

Julius Light said he was a senior at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School when the war ended in Europe, but that didn't keep him from serving in Germany.

On May 27, 1945, he was drafted into the Army. It was the same day he graduated from high school.

"A lot of guys already had quit school and joined the armed forces," he said.

The men in Light's basic training unit at Camp Gordon in Georgia were told they would be sent to fight the Japanese. But late in their training, they were told "special" bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war.

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