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The Suburbanite
  • Youngest B-26 Marauder pilot at Maps Pancake Day

  • Like thousands of other young men, Don Block flew the Martin B-26 Marauder in the war-torn skies over Europe. But Don had a unique distinction. According to the Marauder Historical Society based in Tuscon, Ariz. Don, who flew his first mission when he was 19, was the youngest Marauder pilot in World War II.

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  • Like thousands of other young men, Don Block flew the Martin B-26 Marauder in the war-torn skies over Europe. But Don had a unique distinction. According to the Marauder Historical Society based in Tuscon, Ariz. Don, who flew his first mission when he was 19, was the youngest Marauder pilot in World War II.
    Don enlisted out of high school in the Chicago area right after graduation in July 1942. He was placed in the stand-by reserves and wasn't called up until January 1943. His took his early pre-flight training at Southeast Training Command at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama before he was sent to Camden, South Carolina. There, he received his initial flight training on the Stearman PT-17 biplane. He then went to Bush Field, in Agusta, Georgia, where he trained on the Vultee Valiant BT-13 and BT-15 monoplane. Don then was assigned to advanced flight training at Albany, Georgia, where he flew the twin engines Beech AT-10 and Curtis AT-9. As it turned out, the pilots who trained on the AT-9, according to Don, eventually were assigned to the B-26 flight program. After completing his basic flight training,
    Don was sent to Dodge City, Kansas, for B-26 training. This was the first time he learned he would be flying the Marauder. Prior to that, he had indicated he wanted to fly the multi-engine aircraft. His preferences were the Northrop P-61 Night Fighter and the Lockheed P-38 fighter. He never thought about flying the B-26.
    “The early B-26's had a bad history,” said Don.
    “The saying, ‘one a day into Tampa Bay,’ was a common phrase used to describe the B-26. We didn't believe it, but it was still something that was in the back of your mind. But I thought it was a great airplane as long as you flew it and didn't let it fly you.”
    After training at Dodge, he moved to Hunter, Georgia. There, he picked up a brand new B-26 and crew for the flight to England.
    I got a copilot, radioman, flight engineer, and a navigator who was only assigned to me for the ferry flight. We flew the Southern Route via Homestead, Florida, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, British Guiana, Belem and Natal, Brazil, Accession Islands, Liberia and Dakar, Africa, Marakech, French Morocco and then on to England.”
     Don said the trip was interesting, because there were some unusual events along the way. According to Don, he was supposed to fly with other planes, but ended up flying alone. The flight to England was the longest, taking almost eight hours, Don said. Overall, it took nearly two and a half weeks to make the journey, totaling 65 hours of flying, Don said.
    Once in England, Don was assigned a different airplane and assigned to the 558th Bomb Squadron, 387th Bomb Group. “I never saw that plane again but it did survive the war,” he recalled.
    Page 2 of 3 - While in England, Don was sent to Northern Ireland for intense formation and gunnery training before being assigned to the bomb group.
    Don, still 19, flew his first mission on June 20th, 1944, just two weeks after D-Day. “I turned 20 on June 22. For a birthday present, I got to fly two missions that day,” he joked.
    Flying first out of Chippingonga, then Stoney Cross in England, the unit eventually moved to Maupertu, France near Cherbough in the fall of 1944. For the rest of the war he flew missions from French fields. Near the end of the war, the group moved to Holland but by then the war was winding down and no missions were flown from Holland.
    “Normally we flew in formations of 36 B-26's, six to a section, and bombed from an altitude of 9,000-11,000 feet. Occasionally we flew at 8,000 feet but we didn't like that altitude as the Germans could throw everything but the kitchen sink at us. We always flew level bombing missions and dropped our bomb loads in flights of six.”
    “At first, we had fighter escorts and were occasionally jumped by German fighters, but after 30 or 40 missions, they realized that the Germans weren't attacking us and the fighters were assigned to low level missions and we flew unescorted.”
    Don said he was jumped by a new Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter. “It was different, there was no warning, he came out of the sun, it was so quick there was no return fire from my plane, at least. We were in a flight of only five, and the end of the formation, which was why he picked us. He shot down one plane with the loss of the entire crew and damaged another one so badly it crashed upon returning, but the crew survived.”
    The worst mission Don had was when they were hit with flak. It cut the control cables and injured Don’s bombardier, he said. “Fragments went through the fuselage and tore off two of our side pack .50 caliber machine guns. But that was the only mission I ever had a crewman wounded on,” he said.
    When the war ended in May1945. Don flew home on a B-24 bomber crammed with other returning veterans. Originally assigned to Frederick Oklahoma, he was declared surplus, and flew only a few flights in the North American T-6 Texan trainer and the Douglas A-26 Invader attack aircraft before being released into the inactive reserves.
    His family had moved from Chicago to Michigan, but he returned to the Chicago Aeronautical University where he received a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He took a job with Goodyear and moved to Akron, where he worked in the lighter-than-air program until he retired in 1989. He stayed on for a few years as a consultant with the GG-22 airship program. Don got married in 1947 and he and his wife had three girls and one boy. Today, he has 10 grandchildren.
    Page 3 of 3 - He got together with several of his crew members over the years after the war, though his radio operator died shortly after the war. Today, he thinks he is the only member of his crew who is still alive. Don began working as a volunteer at MAPS about six years ago. He was instrumental in getting the blimp gondola for the museum. He works on Tuesdays and one Saturday a month.
    If you would like to meet Don, who epitomizes America's “Greatest Generation,” come to the May 1 MAPS Pancake Day for some great all-you-can eat pancakes and sausage. The cost of the breakfast is $8 for adults and $5 for children. This also include admittance to the museum. Don will be there to sign prints of his B-26, “Barrell Lass.” The prints are 11 x 14 and cost $20. Come out to MAPS for a great time, great food and meet a true hero from World War II.

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