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Friends Remembered Home | Friends Detail

Russ Minks (WA0VEE)

May 22, 2012

Bomber flies back in time - Vet recalls war from the sky - B-17 tours, flights Omaha World-Herald (NE) - Friday, July 1, 2005 Author: Henry J. Cordes The B-17 bomber will always hold a special place in Russell Minks' heart. "It got me home every time,'' the 81-year-old Omahan said. "What more can you ask?'' Forty-five times during World War II, Minks took his post as a gunner aboard a B-17 and took off for perilous bombing runs over Germany. And 45 times, the "Flying Fortress'': although almost always battered: got Minks and his crewmates home safely. Minks' love for the bomber was rekindled Thursday in Omaha. The Experimental Aircraft Association brought a restored B-17 to town for public tours and flights this weekend. And Minks, almost 60 years after his last B-17 mission, got the chance to go up in the old war bird once again. "Terrific,'' Minks proclaimed after his nostalgic, 25-minute flight aboard one of the most celebrated warplanes in aviation history. Minks, a 1942 South High graduate, had volunteered for that dangerous bomber duty six decades ago. The 6-foot-1 Omahan had to stoop slightly during his physical to stay within height limits. But he says they probably would have taken him anyway. The 15th Air Force in Europe was losing 500 bombers a month to thick flak that darkened the skies and the strafing fighters. At the time a fearless 20-year-old, Minks remembers the feeling of excitement before each mission aboard his B-17 , dubbed "Naughty Narda.'' "I never dreaded them,'' he said. "That's why I was there.'' Narda almost always had holes in her when they returned to their base in Italy. An anti-aircraft burst once sent flak through the floor by Minks' foot. One time, the plane lost an engine and began shuddering, forcing it to leave formation because it posed a hazard to other planes. But the crew was able to ease it home. Three times they crash landed. And they saw countless other U.S. planes go down. But amazingly, all 10 crew members came through their six-month tour of duty without a scratch. "At the time, I never thought much about it. But when I look back, man, oh, man, were we lucky,'' Minks said. Minks long ago assumed he had taken his last B-17 flight. That's why he jumped at the chance to go up one more time. He arrived for Thursday's flight with photographs he had taken during bombing runs and shots of his old crew. "I'm the one with his eyes closed,'' he said of one faded photo. Minks struggled a little to get his aging body through the B-17 's rear door. "The airplanes we flew were bigger,'' he joked. He went to the radio room and took a seat: a bit of a luxury for him. As a "waist gunner'' manning a 50-caliber machine gun in the middle of the plane, he always stood during the long daylight missions. He smelled the familiar aroma of gas and oil and smiled as the four big engines roared to life. "Run smooth, don't they?'' he said as the propellers shook the whole plane. Once off the ground, he walked back to his old right-side waist gunner position. He put his hand on the gun and peered out the window, as if again scanning the skies for enemy fighters. After the plane landed and pulled to a stop, crew chief Nick Hirsch walked by on his way to the rear. "Another mission accomplished,'' Hirsch said. Minks smiled, licked his finger and made a big downward swipe. He showed a glint of emotion, only for a moment, when he said, "I'll probably never do that again.'' When it was over, he was asked how that final landing went. "We didn't crack up. When you don't, it's always a good one.''

Contributed by: Frank R. Vondra (WB0QQK)

I worked Russ a number of times as a young Novice (WN0WWM) on 40M. A great guy to talk to and his QSL card from that period is still one of my favorites.

Contributed by: Tom Delano (W1CC)

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