“We had well over 75 holes in our plane. In a way this was a good one to quit on because it made me more thankful than ever that I had finished.”
George McGovern, the late senator and presidential nominee wrote this in his diary after his final combat mission as a B-24 Liberator pilot in the United States Army Air Corps’ 455th Bombardment Group (number 35) where he and his fellow aviators tried to take out the Linz central railway station in Austria.
World War II ended soon after this campaign, which meant the beginning of the South Dakota native’s long and celebrated career as a public servant. First, as a teacher and later as a politician, who would eventually (and famously) fall to Richard Nixon in the 1972 election.
Two items that survived wartime and the decades hence were McGovern’s Distinguished Flying Cross and his diary, which he kept updated quite religiously in Italy between 1944 and 1945.
It was published in a book titled My Life in the Service.
The following is an excerpt taken from the collection and published in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine. It was dated December 17, 1944:
Another oil refinery today—the one at Oswiecim and Odertal in the Blechhammer flak area. This makes nine missions for me. We really got this one the hard way. On our takeoff today we had a tire blow out—the right main gear tire, but it went out after we cleared the field or rather just as we left the field. We went on to the target knowing that we had a rough landing and perhaps a crack up waiting for us on our return. While going to the target we lost our manifold pressure on no. 2 engine but pulled enough power on the other three to go into the target and get back. The air force lost ten ships to fighters and several to flak but we came through without a scratch. When we got back to base I had everybody but the copilot, the engineer, and myself go back to the waist and brace themselves for the landing. We made sure that all the loose objects were tied down securely. As soon as we touched the runway I chopped the throttle on the side of the good wheel and advanced the throttle on the side of the blown tire at the same time holding down the left brake. We made the landing O.K. without damaging the plane in the least. Needless to say old terra firma felt plenty good. My copilot today was Lt. Brown and the bombardier was Lt. McGrahan. These two boys and Sam recommended me for the D.F.C. because of the landing but I don’t feel as though I deserve a medal as yet.
The future senator’s group flew over Germany, Italy, Poland and France, dropping their armaments on airfields and railroads and even oil refineries. They lost 118 aircraft over a time that would see them fly a total of 252 combat missions.