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Painting war’s true colors

WWII veterans share war stories with Niskayuna eighth grade students

World War II veteran William Rochelle Jr. talks to eighth-grade students at Iroquois Middle School in Niskayuna on Thursday, April 19, during a panel talk with fellow veterans on their experiences during the war.

World War II veteran William Rochelle Jr. talks to eighth-grade students at Iroquois Middle School in Niskayuna on Thursday, April 19, during a panel talk with fellow veterans on their experiences during the war. Photo by John Purcell.

— John Moehle joined at an even younger age as a high school senior only three months from receiving his diploma. Moehle became a combat engineer and arrived in England four days before Christmas in 1944.

“One day I am a senior there and then a week later I’m on a crew training boat,” Moehle said. “I had a group of my friends that I had gone all through school with and they had been drafted … so I went over to the draft board and volunteered.”

Moehle, an 87-year-old Scotia resident, said even though he was “safe” until graduating from high school, he wanted to follow his longtime friends into service.

All four veterans speaking at the event had volunteered for service.

Richard Gibbons, an 87-year-old Scotia resident, logged more than 2,000 hours in a B-24 bomber, with much of his time spent on submarine patrol.

“You don’t know how much it means to us veterans to see the results of what we did years ago,” Gibbons said. “We did it mainly because we wanted to see this country continue.”

Flying out the other side

Rochelle, a bombardier with the 15th Air Force out of Italy, said in the early morning hours of Christmas in 1944 he realized what war really entailed.

The night before, on Christmas Eve, he said his crew were told there would be a “No-Fly Day” on Christmas, so immediately pilots and navigators started to celebrate “more than they should,” but at 4 a.m. he was told they were expected to leave in half an hour.

The crew flew over Brux, Germany, which was producing around 65 percent of gasoline for all German purposes, he said. Once flying over Brux the crew was faced with an antiaircraft defense they’d never seen before.

“They had a thousand flak guns in circles every half mile from the center of the target out about three miles,” he said. “They had positioned them so when you were over the target, no matter how you came in at it, all thousand guns were aimed at you and you had to fly through the box.”

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