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Memorial Day Salute  

Not many get shot out of the sky and live to tell about it.

Even fewer reach the age of 100.

Freelin Carlton has done both. 

The World War 2 vet was captain of a B-24 bomber, notoriously tricky to fly.  The “Liberator’s” controls were stiff and heavy.  No cabin pressurization, no heater, no windshield wipers—and no washroom.  Worse, the plane had only one exit—in the tail—which was challenging to access in an emergency evacuation.  Hence, the bomber enjoyed the dubious title, “The Flying Coffin.”  Between 1940 and 1945, the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation built more than 18,000 of the massive planes, more than any other aircraft in the war.

On February 24, 1944, Captain Carlton, nosed his bomber over the Netherlands in an Allied Air offensive known as “Big Week,” when anti-aircraft fire hit his plane.  But the crew managed to limp into Germany until intercepted by Luftwaffe fighters that killed three of the plane’s gunners before delivering a death blow to the aircraft itself. 

All of the remaining seven crew members parachuted, with Captain Carlton—bleeding from a shrapnel wound in his right foot—landing between two trees.  Two hours later, Germans hauled him off to Stalag Luft 1 where he spent the balance of the war as a prisoner.

Fast forward 75 years later.  In Carmel Valley, California, Captain Carlton received an unusual 100th birthday gift: a package that came all the way from Germany.  Aviation History Magazine reports that inside the box were fragments of his ill-fated bomber.  Eberhard Haelbig, a member of a non-profit group that tracks and researches air war relics, had verified the pieces as part of Carlton’s doomed aircraft.

Along with parts of the plane, Haelbig included a note which said, in part, “Thank you, Captain Carlton, and thank you to the Greatest Generation for your fight against evil and for liberating my country.  I’m a German by birth, but an American at heart.”

Consider this blog a Memorial Day salute to  Captain Carlton—along with a nod of appreciation to Eberhard Haelbig, whose comment takes me to Philippians 3:20-21.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to himself.


SOURCE: Aviation History Magazine, July 2019

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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