UINTAH HIGHLANDS -- John Udy seems almost surprised to still be talking about his years as a B-17 bomber pilot in World War II.
After all, it's been almost 90 years since he became fascinated by the pioneering airplanes of his youth.
As a child, Udy always looked forward to the fair coming to town because that meant he could see the airplanes. He eventually went for a ride and loved it even more.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Udy wanted to get involved in the war, so he joined the Air Corps. One of his brothers joined the Army. The other brother joined the Navy. All three returned home safely after the war. During that time, he trained to be a pilot and ended up flying the B-17 Flying Fortress.
In August 1944, Udy's crew was assigned to the 615th Bombardment Squadron, 401st Bombardment Group, 94th combat wing, 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force, stationed at Deenethorpe, England. They lived in Quonset huts that were heated with a pot-bellied stove. Their first mission took place Aug. 16, 1944.
"We flew to Schkeuditz, Germany, to bomb a bomber assembly plant with six 1,000 pound general purpose bombs," Udy said. "Doesn't seem like much by today's standards but believe me, they did the trick. We managed to hit the plant pretty good, but the German flak was tremendous. My plane was hit with a lot of flak and the hydraulic system was knocked out, which included the brakes."
Udy said the aircraft started vibrating so badly the crew had a hard time controlling it. They later found out that some of the controls had been shot out. Udy was able to safely land the plane and was congratulated by the squadron commander for getting his crew back intact. The mission took more than eight hours of flying time. Of the 425 aircraft of the First Air Division flying that day, 10 were lost to flak and enemy fighters and 234 had battle damage.
Udy's most memorable mission took place on Christmas Eve 1944. The target was the marshalling yards and factory areas at Koblenz. The crew carried eight 500-pound bombs. The crew's plane was damaged heavily as it was hit by flak in the oil cooler of the No. 1 engine.
"The oil was rolling over the top of the wing in lumps due to the extreme cold at 30,000 feet," Udy said. "My co-pilot hit the feathering button to feather No. 1 engine and nothing happened. The engine kept rotating even though the fuel and ignition switch were turned off."
Without any oil, the engine soon became so hot it seized up, and the force of air on the propeller broke the crankshaft gear. The prop was turning without turning the engine, Udy said.
Before the crankshaft broke, the force on the prop caused the plane to vibrate so violently it broke some of the counterweights off the aileron controls, which were loose during the entire trip back to the base.
Sparks were flying out of the broken engine, and Udy had all crew members stand by to bail out.
"If the engine caught fire, we had about one minute to get out of the aircraft before it blew up," he said.
Udy kept the aircraft high in the sky to make sure it got across the English Channel.
If the crew had to jump, they later found out, they would have survived only about 45 minutes in the extremely cold water.
"When we got to England, the fog was rolling in so thick we could not get back to our base at Deenethorpe," he said.
"We flew over a field that turned out to be used by the Canadians and decided to land there. We actually had more fun at that base than our own."
The mission ended up being the prelude to the Battle of the Bulge, Udy said.
Udy was born March 20, 1921, in Plymouth. He grew up on a farm where he said he learned the meaning of hard work at an early age. He and his wife, Nadine, had five children together. Nadine died in 2002.
Udy said World War II veterans are dying quickly, at a rate around 1,000 each day.
He said his hope is the human race will find a different way to solve its problems.
"I thought World War II was the end of all wars. A lot of people did, but then we had Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan," Udy said. "It seems to me like the human race should find a better way of solving its problems. Killing young men solves no problems."