Fred Czerwionka, an Oak Park Arms resident, told Elmhurst College students Ian Penrose and Melissa Allen about his service on the British Air Force in World War II. Here are some excerpts from his memoir.

“One thing that I always enjoyed was words. I loved them. When I was 12 years old I had a better vocabulary than the average adult. Poetry always fascinated me and to this day, memorizing poems is a great hobby in my life. I could recite them for hours. Unfortunately it wasn’t Keats and Shelly I was enjoying in England. I had become accustomed to a different pastime. …

“I was on a B24 Liberator bomber crew. During February of 1944 our squadron flew a total of 152 missions. We flew seven planes to a formation with 500-pound bombs. Our first few missions went off with relative ease. Flak was always a problem, but for the most part, we flew our missions and went home safe. Our crew was broken up because of lack of numbers and our navigator was sent to fly with other squads on various missions. This really didn’t spell out disaster by any means, but the man was superb at what he did and not having him with us put our crew at a slight disadvantage.

“Still we flew our missions and everyone came home safe and sound-that is until our ninth mission. We were flying over Cercaola. The anti-aircraft guns the Germans had were spot on because of our low altitude. The flak was so intense it felt like trying to navigate a canoe down a rocky river. The Liberator lurched and bucked with every hit. You could feel the vibrations from the bullets on the underbelly. To say it was intense does no justice-it was downright terrifying. Then we saw the three fighter planes coming at us. We lost one of our prop engines and blew an oil line. It was evident we were going down and the crew bailed from the plane. Most of us were lucky enough to survive, even if injured, (a parachute won’t save your legs from the impact), but our co-pilot, God rest his brave and honorable soul, was not so fortunate. We landed in the Danube River and immediately did what we were trained to do. We set up a cover and located allied forces to get us back to a base. …

“I loved playing with kids, especially my own. After the war, my wife and I had seven children, five boys and two little girls, and I played with them every morning. One thing we liked to do was roller-skate on the local tennis courts after Sunday Mass; I’ll never forget it. My father was not what I would really ever call a father. He was too dependent on the drink, and spent more time and money with liquor than his own kids. Instead of following in his footsteps, I never touch alcohol. No wine, no beer. When I go out, it’s water or lemonade for me. To think, I came from such a poor family and he spent what little money we had on drinks instead of us! I hate to talk poorly of him, but the truth is the truth. I wanted to be a good father; I wanted my children to have me and love me for it, and they did. …

“All in all my life has been full up to this point. I am a proud grandfather and father, and try to be there for my children through good times and bad. Above all, I aim to grow, not to grow old, and it has been working just fine thus far. Life has had its twists and turns, but I have learned to appreciate kindness, have faith in man and in the Lord and to be the good man that He wishes me to be. It’s all worked out so far, and as far as I’m concerned, as long as I follow that formula, it will all work out in the end.”

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