MINEOLA, TX (KLTV) - "That's a big responsibility for the pilot isn't it," I asked Charley Duecker.
"Well, I realize now what a responsibility it was," he replied.
Charley Duecker was barely out of high school when he joined the Army Air Corps in 1941. Before he had reached voting age, Duecker was piloting a B-24 with a crew of ten on bombing missions over Italy, Germany, the Balkan states and southern France
"Now it frightens me to think that we were just kids going over there defending our country, flying airplanes but I think the age of pilots has advanced with the age of technology," he said.
Duecker said his first mission was a failure.
"I had to turn back to base on account of an overheated engine," he said.
But Duecker would get other chances, 49 more, to bomb enemy installations.
"Bridges, factories, oil refineries, manufacturing plants, ball bearing plants. That purple heart I got over Proeste, Italy which is a refining center," he said.
Duecker had already dropped his load of bombs over the refining center and had headed for home base, when he noticed a friend's plane dropping behind.
"I dropped back to escort him, a single bomber by itself is a sitting duck for enemy aircraft and so I escorted ben and let his navigator decide on the route home because it was easier for me to just fly on his wing."
"He took us over a very heavily fortified little town. He didn't have any way of knowing that but they threw some flak up at us and a piece of it came through my windshield, went into my shoulder."
Upon arrival at base, Duecker was immediately taken to the medic tent while the rest of the crew was debriefed.
"Each man is given a porcelain cup of rye whiskey, WWII's way of handling mental disturbance."
Several crewmen shared their whiskey with Duecker to make up for the lack of anesthesia.
"I got off the table and walked over to the mess tent and walked into the mess tent and pulled back the flap and said hello fellers, hello everybody."
Duecker laughs about the incident now, but he was back flying within a week on seven hour missions at 20,000 feet plus, in forty below zero temperatures
"I would almost cry my feet would be so cold for such a long time. You made it through but a lot of those crews didn't make it, right. After I got to about my 35th mission I realized that I was one, four of us out of eighteen crews that initially went over that were still there, four out of eighteen."
Duecker returned home to marry his former fiancee, who had earlier jilted him to marry someone else. Her first husband was killed in action only six months into their marriage. Charley and Nancy Duecker were married 68 years until her death four years ago.
"This is the distinguished flying cross," said Duecker, showing me his medal.
The distinguished flying cross, the purple heart, and other medals attest to Charley Duecker's bravery and devotion to our country.
If you or someone you know served our country in combat, we want to hear from you. Just write us at "Freedom fighters", P.O. Box 957, Tyler TX 75710.