P-47 Thunderbolt pilots gather in Millville for reunion
By SABA ALI Staff Writer, (856) 237-9020
Staff photos by Dominick J. Rebeck Jr.
Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The 412th Fighter Squadron reunites once a year, and this is the first time it held its reunion in Millville
Norbert Polanski was one of about 40 World War II veterans and family members to attend a reunion of the 412th Fighter Squadron in Millville. He also was the only member of the group to train in Millville.
MILLVILLE - On the morning of Jan. 20, 1944, two children were walking to school when they heard rapid-fire bullets whizzing through the air, reported an old newspaper clipping on display at the Millville Army Airfield Museum.
"When those guns were going off, people were leaping all over the place, in the bunkers, onto the ground. It was so loud," Norbert Polanski, 82, said.
Polanski, a pilot, was one of about 40 World War II veterans and family members of the 412th Fighter Squadron who attended a reunion at the museum Tuesday.
He could still recall the deafening sounds the guns made when a grounded plane on the airfield misfired, due to a mechanical error, lobbing about 300 rounds of ammunition in the direction of the town.
No one was hurt, but the bullets were found lodged into houses as far away as Hogbin Road, said Joe Bush, a volunteer taking the group on a tour of the museum.
Polanski came from Wisconsin with his wife to attend the reunion. He was the only pilot in the group who had trained at the airfield, for only three months, before heading to Europe to fight.
The squadron was activated Aug. 15, 1943, at Westover Field, Mass., and trained at the Norfolk Army Air Base in Virginia.
While Polanski does not talk about his experiences in battle, he can take you back to what it was like training at the airfield.
The wire-mesh on the wall was used for target practice over the Atlantic Ocean, he said.
The wire-mesh was towed behind a B-26 plane as four P-47 planes fired at it from behind. The net was then dropped when they returned to the airfield and the different color bullet holes would mark how many hits were made.
"Sometimes the B-26 pilots got a little nervous and dropped the target while still in the air," he said with a grin, adding that this would really irritate the P-47 pilots.
The squadron reunites once every year to keep track of what everyone is up to. This was the first time it held the reunion in Millville.
Paul Dehart and his wife, Mary, said taking a tour of the museum was wonderful and brought back memories of flying the planes.
"I never realized how heavy those guns were," he said after lifting one that was on display.
Dehart, keeping up with the latest Air Force technology, said it will not be long before the planes no longer need pilots.
The men, along with their wives and children, toured the airfield museum and had lunch. During their visit, a P-47 Thunderbolt landed at the airfield.
Polanski and his fellow pilots flew the P-47 Thunderbolts and were part of the 9th Army Air Corps, 373rd Fighter Group that served in Europe during WWII in Holland, England and Belgium, said Bob Colangelo.
The squadron provided bomber escort, dive bombing and straffing missions and took park in several major battles, including providing air cover during the D-Day invasion over the Normandy Beaches, he stated.
Colangelo, who is now living in New York, was part of the ground crew at the time and has been helping to organize events such as the reunion for squadron members since 1996.
"It has developed into such a brotherhood," Colangelo said, about why they meet every year. While the numbers of members are dwindling off as time passes, the bond these men share are still strong.
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