Age: 90

Unit: 457th Bomb Group, 751st Bomb Squad, 8th Airforce, 1st Division, 94th Combat Wing

War fronts: Served 1941 to 1945, flying 30 missions over Germany in the European Front.

Family: Married from 1948 to 1996. After his first wife died, he married again in 1999. Has three sons, six grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

His words: “When we flew, we figured we were invincible. We thought, 'It's going to be somebody else.'"

On the Web: Watch more of Raymond's story and see profiles of more veterans at www.trib.com/honor.

Next week’s profile: At a camp in France, high-ranking officials went without electricity for weeks, unable to figure out how to get a generator going. It took Robert Kope 30 minutes.

In the air, looking outside a bomber's windows, airmen faced a different kind of battlefield: dozens of planes outlined against the clouds and sky, clusters of bombs falling from their bellies. Flak, anti-aircraft fire from the ground, peppered the spaces in between.

George K. Raymond saw planes shot down and fall from formation. "We'd always try to count parachutes, to see who came out," Raymond said.

"Sometimes, there'd be five, four, six. Sometimes none."

Today, Raymond's Gunners Wings, Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and Distinguished Flying Cross hang from his living room wall. He earned the cross after his 26th mission, at a time when the Army Air Corps required only 25. The ensign said they were sending him home. Instead, Raymond volunteered to stay.

"Like a damn fool, I told him, 'I came over here to fly.'"

Raymond grew up around Sheridan, born in a nearby mining town called Dietz No. 7. He was hunting elk on Dec. 7, 1941, but enlisted after hearing the news. He grew restless in training, wanting to fly, to get in on the action.

In 1944, he was stationed in Petersborough, England. Between missions, his crew went to London to "chase girls and drink beer." He remembers hearing his first German buzz bombs, pilotless planes that became flying missiles when the engines cut out. One night, Raymond and his buddies listened to them from the top floor of a hotel at Piccadilly Circus.

"Your gunners are kind of a strange breed," Raymond said. "Everybody would be running to the shelters, and we'd sit and listen to them."

Missions then were usually short, 30-minute runs straight to the target. Planes did not deviate. In the sky, strength came in numbers.

When daylight bombing started in Europe, Raymond heard the chance of succeeding a mission was near 30 percent. Flak blasted two of three planes from the air. A plane out of formation was a sitting duck for the Luftwaffe, Germany's fierce and feared air force.

If the Germans get us now, we're dead, a crewmen said once when Raymond's plane had been knocked out of formation.

We could fly to Switzerland if we have to, said another.

No, let's fly home.

The pilot hid in the clouds as best he could. Part way home, they passed a P-47 Thunderbolt, an American fighter plane.

Little buddy, said a voice on the radio. Are you in trouble?

The pilot, Billy Welch from North Carolina, offered to escort the bomber as long as his gas allowed. Years later, Raymond connected with Welch, and the two reminisced about the encounter.

"The almost four years I spent in the service were good years for me. The camaraderie, the loyalty guys had for one another, you don't find that in civilian life. Everyone depended on everyone else. They'd give their life for you," Raymond said.

"I think the bomber groups were just special."

In all of his 30 missions, Raymond wore his flak jacket only one time. It weighed nearly 30 to 40 pounds, too restrictive for leaning over a turret's guns.

But on July 20, 1944, flying into Leipzig, Germany, the bombardier said something that made Raymond reach for his: Boys, we're going to get lit up today.

Raymond remembers hearing that the Germans had women manning the 88 mm guns shooting like hell fire from the ground. He doesn't know if it was true, but whoever was down there sure could shoot. The flak filled the sky, shooting holes in the aluminum, camouflaged bombers.

The piece that got Raymond hit his shoulder blade, knocking him forward.

"I'm hit!" he called, and the radio operator grabbed the portable oxygen so he could help. But he didn't make it to Raymond. Flak hit the operator's foot, ending his flying for the rest of the war.

"We were just shot all to pieces," Raymond said.

Somehow, the plane made it back. Inspectors found a twisted hunk of metal about two inches long embedded in Raymond's flak jacket. The impact left a bruise on Raymond's shoulder instead of a hole. The jacket saved his life.

After his 30th mission, a commander approached Raymond again. That's it, he'd said. You're going home.

Then he pinned the cross to Raymond's jacket. You've earned it.

In later years, Raymond hooked up with some of his crew and other airmen at reunions around the country. Only a couple of Raymond's crew are alive now, he says, and every year fewer and fewer airmen make the trip. It reminds him that he's getting older, that the glory days are gone.

Before the war, the German Luftwaffe was the most modern and most feared flying force in the world. Then the United States Army's 8th Air Force arrived, defeating the Germans by will and sheer numbers.

"We came in and whipped 'em. That's what I'm proud of. We whipped 'em to a frazzle."

They Served With Honor

Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.

"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, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.

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