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WALLY'S WORLD: Blanusa among the ‘Greatest Generation’
World War II was the most awesome and heinous event in the whole of human history. Though it lasted only six years, the carnage slaughtered 50 to 60 million people, 20 million in Russia alone. It created and nursed atrocities so hideous it’s difficult to believe human beings were actually reduced to such vile depths.
The number of men who fought in this holocaust (at the time, women couldn’t serve on the front lines) is fading fast; that is, most are well into their 80s today. If you know any of these veterans and you’re at all interested in this era, it might behoove you to sit down and ask them about the experience in the near future.
John Blanusa is such a fellow. In 1943, he was drafted into the Army when he was 18 years old. He had little time for the foolishness teenagers usually enjoy because the military quickly slapped him into adulthood and, within 10 months, he was stationed at an air base in England and flying bombing raids over Europe.
He served as a tail-gunner on a B-17 – one plane in an armada of 800 to 1,000 similar planes – that flew from England to Germany and hopefully back again. During the course of three years, such bombing raids reduced Germany to a pile of rubble. Cruising at altitudes where temperatures routinely reached 50 to 70 degrees below zero and dressed in electric underwear, sheepskin coats and heated gloved, John helped protect his lumbering bomber – rather affectionately known as a “Flying Fortress” – from enemy fighter planes.
Be that as it may, enemy planes weren’t nearly as dangerous as the enemy artillery, which fired charged projectiles into the air that exploded with devastating showers of shrapnel, called flak, which would tear allied planes apart. At times the flak was so thick the bomber crews, particularly the bombardiers, couldn’t see through it. Then too, if they could see through the flak, they probably couldn’t see through the smoke kicked up by the fires and explosions on the ground.
The casualty rate was extremely high. One of John’s close friends was killed on his first mission and another of his pals was shot down on his fifth mission and spent considerable time as a German prisoner of war. No one who flew on these missions could expect to safely return to home base more than 25 times; that is, statistically speaking, within 25 flights you would be shot down and killed or captured in enemy territory. Based upon that statistic, 25 missions was initially the limit any particular crew member would have to endure; if he survived that long, he was relieved of duty and sent home. However, after John completed 25 missions, the limit was raised to 30. Then to 35. Eventually, against all the statistical odds of man, the cosmos and God, John flew and survived 35 missions. On more than one occasion, his plane was so damaged it barely made it back across the English Channel and had to make emergency landings.
Then he came home, got married, started his own logging company, raised four children, developed Buckley’s Meadow Mountain Circle and served as Buckley’s mayor from 1994 to 2006. Of course, such social adjustments weren’t that uncommon and this is one of the most astonishing things about WW II veterans. Their lives were pulled up from their moral roots, they were sent all over the world to fight and defeat fascism and the terrible holocaust it produced, then they came home, abruptly put that all behind them and carried on with the rest of their lives.
It’s not for trivial reasons that reporter Tom Brokaw labeled them “The Greatest Generation.”