Augie Friedrich was a tail gunner in the Army Air Corp during WWII. He completed thirty-five missions, but his third mission was one of the most memorable. They had taken some gunfire on the mission and it was rough going—an engine was out, the intercom was out, the oxygen system was damaged, and there was a dangerous fuel leak.
But the crew managed to get back over the Alps, and as they were flying down the Adriatic coast the pilot managed to get the engine started, despite the fuel gauges reading zero. The situation was hopeless.
Flying down the coastline, the pilot considered giving the order to bail out, and then the bombardier accidently opened his parachute, rendering the crumbled heap of silk fabric nearly useless. Plan B was to ditch the plane in the Adriatic Sea instead. No place on shore looked suitable to land a big bomber. However, just before splashdown with all four engines failing, an airfield suddenly appeared underneath them. The crew somehow managed to put the landing gear down and the pilot they landed safely on land, saving the men and the ship.
After this incident, it took Augie and his crew a week to get back to their base on the other eastern side of Italy. Yet, after that ordeal Augie went on to fly many more missions! When asked if he ever thought he might die, he stated, “You didn’t think you were going to die – that was the attitude – we were so young. It was exciting, to be honest.”