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World War II bomber crew members reunite to share stories, memories

Monday, November 30, 2009

Homer Schnurbusch, left, of Cape Girardeau and Sandy Austin of Jackson, Tenn. reunited recently and shared memories as crew members of a B-24 Liberator bomber during World War II.
(Bob Miller)
In the summer of 1944, two men, Homer Schnurbusch from Perryville, Mo., and Sandy Austin from Vermont met when Austin joined the crew of the "Ditney Hill," a B-24 Liberator bomber based in Spinazolia, Italy.

For 32 missions, flight engineer Schnurbusch, nose gunner Austin and eight other crew members flew bombing runs together against oil fields, ball bearing factories and aircraft plants of Nazi Germany. On Dec. 2, 1944, they were shot down when the 460th Bombardment Group attacked a synthetic oil plant in what today is western Poland.

As Wednesday's 65th anniversary of that mission approached, Schnurbusch, now 89, and Austin, 86, recently got together in Cape Girardeau, Schnurbusch's home now. They had reunited only once before, when they had dinner with their wives in Florida in the 1980s.

Austin, now of Jackson, Tenn., said he found Schnurbusch's address while sorting mementos. "I wondered if he was still living, and since it is only 160 miles from here, I decided to come up."

During their visit the two men talked about their memories, exchanged copies of items related to their service days and caught up. Austin, who stayed in the Air Force until 1964, spent almost 40 years as a police officer -- he was a deputy sheriff until 2001 -- and now runs a headstone restoration company. Schnurbusch, who returned to Southeast Missouri after the war, worked with a CPA firm.

When he boarded the bomber 65 years ago, Schnurbusch had flown 45 missions, earning a Purple Heart on one. According to the rules, he needed 47 missions to earn a safer assignment. Even that late in his tour, the odds were against him. Some daylight raids lost as many as 15 to 20 percent of the bombers dispatched. The 15th Air Force, which included the 460th Bombardment Group, lost 3,364 aircraft, with 21,671 listed as casualties.

Austin joined the Ditney Hill crew as a replacement for a nose gunner killed on an earlier mission.

For his actions Dec. 2, 1944, Schnurbusch earned his second Purple Heart for his wounds as well as a Silver Star. Wounded in both legs and his right hand, he put out the fire on board the airplane before the crew parachuted. He was found by Poles and turned over to Soviet troops. After convincing them he was an American, which took two days, he received treatment. It took 55 days to return to his base, and Schnurbusch did not fly in combat again.

Austin hid for four days, but was taken prisoner. He escaped six days later and was picked up by Soviet troops as well. He, too, did not fly again in combat against the Germans.

Both men know they are living links to an era when the fate of the world was being decided. "I want people to remember that this actually did happen and it still can happen," Austin said.



Pertinent addresses:

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Jackson, Tenn.

Spinazolia, Italy

Przemsyl, Poland

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It is great to read stories like this congrates to Mr. Schnurbusch and Mr. Austin on there accomplishments and being able to meet again.

-- Posted by justmetwo on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 8:06 AM

Amazing story, thank you to all of our vets from the "Greatest Generation". Today's generation can learn a lot from these brave men.

-- Posted by TheArmySarge on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 9:05 AM

I have nothing to say that would do them and all of the others who served in that war justice. I WOULD like to tell them though that I have the utmost respect and admiriation for them and their comrades, without whose sacrifice our freedom would not be possible! Gentlemen, from one soldier to another.....I salute you!

-- Posted by mercury89 on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 9:36 AM

My hand is over my heart to you. My father was a member of a bomber ground crew in India. I took him to see "Memphis Belle," a film w/young actors playing the parts of the members of the Memphis Belle. I could not recall seeing him weep before. He said "we were just 19 - and so many did not come back." Thank you is not enough but all I can say.

-- Posted by silverwalk on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 10:22 AM

Both gents are true heroes of a simpler time. My utmost gratitude goes out to you both.

-- Posted by Rocket_Surgeon on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 11:03 AM

Ah-ten-hut! Hand Salute! Thank you both.

-- Posted by Hawker on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 11:27 AM

Thanks guys. You are real heroes!

-- Posted by Wiff on Mon, Nov 30, 2009, at 8:51 PM

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