Biography

Age: 89

Unit: Army Air Force 319th Bombardment Group, 439th Squadron

War front: Flew 40 missions over North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia and Salerno, Italy, between 1942 and 1943; recipient of the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

After war: As a rookie geologist in the early 1950s, Pedry discovered the Cottonwood Field for Stanolind Oil. He has four children and close to 20 grandkids. His wife, Frances, died in 2007.

His words: On Sept. 14, 1943, Major Holzapple briefed the airmen that they would bomb German roads in Salerno, Italy, to help the ground troops hold their position on the beach. They'd fly two missions a day. In his autobiography, Pedry explained what happened just one day later.

"On this last Salerno mission, a good buddy of mine was shot down by German fighters over the Mediterranean -- one engine on the plane was damaged over the target and with the loss of speed, couldn't keep up with the formation. The pilot dropped down close to the water for a better chance of defending himself, but several German fighter planes followed them like vultures and finally shot them into the water ...

"So now two of my best buddies, Pollard and Stanley, have been killed already -- neither one of their bodies have been recovered because they went down over the water."

On the web: For more veteran stories, go to www.trib.com/honor

John Pedry still lives in the white house on Valley Road, the house he bought for his wife just because she liked it. On walks down their Casper street, Frances Pedry used to point to the house and comment about how beautiful it was.

While his wife was on vacation in Florida, John saw a "For Sale" sign and called the Realtor.

Inside, underneath pictures of Frances and him, of their four children and of the Lincoln Zeffer the couple drove on their honeymoon, John writes his autobiography. Slowly, he records what he remembers: his pop's coal mine, working as a railroad brakeman before the war, flying those B-26s.

"It was just kind of adventure," he said, sitting at his dining room table, his papers splayed before him.

"I wanted to go."

Growing up in Uhrichsville, Ohio, Pedry worked in his dad's small, private coal mine. Between the ages of 6 and 9, he and his brother rolled newspaper around hollow wooden tubes. They put in fuses, long enough to sizzle for 6 to 7 minutes, stuffed them with TNT and put them in holes drilled into the walls. Pedry yelled "Fire in the hole!" and lit his fuse with the open-flame candle from his miner's helmet. "And then you had 6 to 7 minutes to get the heck out of there."

On Jan. 19, 1942, Pedry enlisted in the Army Air Force. He volunteered as a bombardier/navigator, who were in short supply as the U.S. geared up for the invasion of North Africa. He was assigned to the 319th Bomb Group, the first to fly the Martin B-26 Marauder -- a medium bomber, nicknamed the "Widowmaker," before pilots got used to its fast landings and take-offs.

Fog and ice were even more dangerous, the first enemy of any bombing crew.

Pedry waited on the weather for 39 days as he jumped from Goose Bay, Labrador, to Greenland, to Iceland, to Ireland and finally to Norwich, England. Pedry's autobiography is peppered with names of airmen lost in fog, their planes never heard from again.

The 319th was scheduled for the November 1942 invasion of North Africa -- Operation Torch. Fog had already delayed the mission, but Pedry's plane was one of 13 to take off on Nov. 12 anyway.

The fog broke the formations. Two planes returned. Three landed at other English airports. One plane crashed, killing all seven crew members. Germans shot down two others, all crew dead.

Over London, Pedry's crew encountered barrage balloons tethered by metal cables to protect against low-altitude German air attacks. Fog and ice meant they couldn't fly over. Van Lear, Pedry's pilot and as cool a cucumber as Pedry could remember, had only the beeps in his headphones to tell if he was flying too close. Pedry, who had climbed to the cockpit, saw sweat beaded on Van Lear's forehead.

"Flying blind in an open sky is not too bad, but even then you get a sense of being closed in because you can't see anything," Pedry wrote. "But this flying blind was different because you could feel all those cabled tailed balloons out there somewhere."

Eventually Pedry's crew made it to Land's End, England, the only one of the 13 to make it so far. Later, he landed in Algiers.

In the plexiglass nose of a B-26, Pedry had a front-seat view of the sky war raging in front of him. It was where the action was, what he volunteered for.

On his third mission, Jan. 30, 1943, flak from the German anti-aircraft guns whizzed up and passed. To his right, Pedry watched a bomber take a direct hit, smoke and tilt awkwardly in the sky before plummeting out of it.

And they weren't even to the target yet.

Suddenly, the pain. Flak pierced the plexiglass, cutting through his abdomen.

"I'm hit," Pedry shouted. The pilot told him to leave the nose for first aid. Instead, Pedry looked down and spotted a rail yard, a "target of opportunity."

The bombardier's sight controls consisted of two knobs. Turning the left one told the pilot to fly left a smidge. Turning the right meant veer right. The trick was to spend the shortest time possible over a target, where Germans bombarded the sky with anti-aircraft fire and Luftwaffe fighters picked off planes that fell out of formation.

Bleeding from the stomach, Pedry turned his knobs, sighting the rail yard. He shouted: "Bombs away!"

The pilot peeled off -- just as he, his brother and father used to do after lighting their dynamite. Pedry climbed to the cockpit before collapsing.

Flak the size of an arrowhead shot into the right side of Pedry's stomach, moved under his skin a few inches to the left and imbedded into his abdomen wall.

Pedry flew 37 more missions after he got out of the hospital, 40 all together. Major Gen. Jimmy Doolittle presented Pedry with his Silver Star.

When he finally came home, he came by boat. He transferred to Florida's Marianna Army Air Field to train other bombardier/navigators in overseas techniques.

A buddy asked if he wanted to go on a blind date, and the two airmen arrived at a large house to pick up the girls. From the top of the stairs, they listened as the girls argued over who got the tall one.

Pedry was the short one.

But when the girls came down, Frances Harkins looked at Pedry and walked straight for him. They went to the officers club dance that night.

"And we really got to like each other."

"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week through Veterans Day 2011.

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