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War stories

By Staff | May 15, 2010

A faded clipping of Harvey Lundy and his fellow officers rests on the coffee table. Beside it rests a list of the missions he flew. Across the room on the shelf is a model of the B-24 Lundy flew.

They’re all connected.

Deeply connected.

“I read my diary from five years ago today and I had just put in to get out,” Lundy said Wednesday. Today, he lives in a comfortable home with his wife on the west side of Estherville. It’s spring, and birds sing as droplets from one rain trickle down the window and clouds gather overhead for the next.

His eyes reflect the raindrops as Lundy thinks of a past that still haunts him. He’ll never forget … never, never forget … them.

Born in Belleville, Wis., 20 miles south of Madison, Lundy moved to Emmet County with his parents in 1924 when he was three. His father rented a farm in 12 Mile Lake Township. In the fall of 1927 Harvey started school, just about the same time his father bought a farm in Estherville Township.

Lundy graduated from Estherville High School in 1939 and attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota for a year. Then in the summer of 1940 he got his pilot’s license through the Civilian Pilots Training Program in Estherville. He took his second year of college at Estherville Junior College so he could qualify for the Air Corps, graduating May 1941. Harry Coffie, area lawyer and former Navy Air Corps pilot, was the lead instructor and Werner Kirlin, who taught at the junior college, ran the ground school that was at the current site of the Emmet County Fairgrounds.

Harvey worked on his dad’s farm for a time, then took the exam for the Navy Air Corps.

“They said I had a visual acuity,” Lundy said. So, he decided to stick it out on the farm, handpicking his dad’s corn crop entirely by hand the fall of 1941.

Then Dec. 7, 1941 came.

Within a week of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lundy went to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minn., to see if he could get into the Army Air Corps. They were glad to have him. January 1942 he went to Bakersfield, Calif., for drill and marching training. Then it was on to Tulare, Calif. where he trained on the Stearman PT-17, an open cockpit biplane with 220-horse engine.

After 60 hours of training on the Stearman, Lundy went to Merced, Calif., where he had basic training for two months. There he cut his teeth for another 60 hours on a BT-13 Vultee single wing with a beefy 450-horse engine.

Lundy went on to Phoenix, Ariz., to Luke Field where he trained for two months on the AT-6 with 600-horse engine. July 1942 he graduated from flight school with his wings and second lieutenant commission.

At Luke Field Lundy graduated with Dick Chapman, also from Estherville, who was killed in action in North Africa. That was the first of several personal tragedies Lundy would experience during the war.

At the end of August Lundy was put on a troop transport bound for San Francisco. From there he shipped out to Hawaii.

In Hawaii he joined a P-39 fighter squadron. The Belle Airacobra carried a 20 mm cannon in the nose with four 50s on the wing. “It was not a great combat plane,” Lundy lamented. “It couldn’t keep up with the zeroes.”

After Lundy put in 80 hours on the Airacobra, his new commanding officer said he thought he would do better in another branch. So in January 1943 Lundy went to a B-24 Liberator bomber squadron at Mokuleiau Air Base on Oahu’s northwest corner.

The squadron was charged with search missions north of Oahu – 600 miles out, 100 miles across, 600 miles back. They carried an extra 500 gallons of fuel in the forward bomb bay with bombs in the rear bay if they should be lucky enough to find any Japanese subs.

“We went through some terrible weather,” Lundy said. Sometimes, they dropped down to just 20 feet above the water for visibility.

Sometimes, planes were lost.

On just his second mission, Lundy ran into 15 zeroes. “I couldn’t figure why they didn’t hit us,” said Lundy, counting a second close call.

In February 1943 he was sent to Guadalcanal and the 424th Squadron 307th bomb group. Then, March 1943 pilot I.M. Osborne asked him to be his copilot.

In April they bombed Nauru, taking out the phosphate plants so necessary for Japan’s bomb production. As fire control officer, Lundy was waist gunner.

He still remembers vividly when the zeroes attacked.

A man just a foot from him was riddled by bullets. Lundy took three shrapnel shards, for which he later received the Purple Heart. Before the firefight was over, the guy just ahead of him keeled over as well. They made it back to Oahu where they counted over 900 bullet holes in the plane.

A third close call.

On their second mission over Wake Island July 25, 1943, they faced zeroes again. Three shells that went through the lead plane just ahead of Lundy’s failed to go off because they had adjusted their altitude.

In mid-October 1943 Lundy got his own crew – a promotion that would save his life.

It was on a Dec. 28, 1943 mission over Taroa, when Lundy was flying on Osborne’s wing. Osborne’s plane had been shot up very badly. Lundy radioed the base and was told there were two islands where Osborne could land and a PBY rescue aircraft would be sent for rescue.

As Osborne’s plane lowered into the Pacific, two zeroes came right at him. Lundy headed straight for the zeroes and his gunners dusted them off. With the zeroes gone, and Osborne’s B-24 in shallow water, Lundy and his crew felt it was safe to return to base.

“To me the most important thing was to get the word radioed out so the PBY would come out,” said Lundy.

When they returned to base the first thing Lundy did was open his window and ask whether the PBY had been dispatched. He was reassured that it had.

The next day, he found that it had not. The excuse was that if a PBY had been sent out, the Japs would have been waiting for it like a sitting duck.

The crew revolted. They would have willingly flown escort.

“I thought we would see my old crew again,” Lundy said.

They never did.

In 1991, the nephew of Lt. V. Tramelli, a crew member on Osborne’s downed B-24, saw a photograph the Japanese had taken of eight of 10 of the crew members. Osborne and his copilot were not in the photo. Lundy said he had pictures taken 15 years ago of the plane still resting in the shallow, blue Pacific.

Natives on the island said Osborne had survived. While his exact fate remains unknown, the eight crew members in the photo were executed, including Tramelli.

Lundy still has a New York Times clipping from Aug. 1, 1943, a photo of himself and his old crew, Lt. Tramelli, Lt. M.G. Deer, Osborne and Sgt. Warren Hill taken after Hill shot down his first zero. Had he not been given command of his own aircraft, Lundy would have met the same fate as the rest of them.

Lundy finished his magical 30th mission April 1944 and was granted leave to return to the States. It was the first time he had seen his parents since January 1942. The raw-boned Iowa farm boy returned to a family and neighbors that could never understand what he had gone through. Explaining it was impossible. Not even his Air Medal, Oak Leaf Cluster, AFC or Purple Heart could say it for him.

Lundy finished out his service ordinance officer at Hickham Field gunnery school. One day another lanky fellow Iowan came by – brother Donald, who had flown combat missions over Europe. They went to a baseball game and saw the immortal Joe DiMaggio hit one out of the park.

And so, 65 years ago to the day from when we sat down to talk, Lundy started his process to get out. One phase of his life ended, and another began.

He returned to college, graduating from St. Olaf in 1947. He went on to get his master’s in physics from the University of Wisconsin and to teach in the physics lab at Wisconsin for two years. From there he taught at Iowa State Teachers College – now UNI – and finally at both Estherville High School and Estherville Junior College.

His physics career included presentations at National Science Foundation institutes in Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, Walla Walla, Iowa State, the University of Kansas and the University of Wyoming.

At 89, Lundy looks back on his life just as he looked down at the ocean from a B-24. Both give a perspective, whether from age and experience or from the altitude of the aircraft as if drones over the emerald ocean.

From both perspectives the image of his former crew remains as indelibly etched as the bomber that still rests, gently washed by the Pacific, halfway around the world.