News-Sun photo by LARRY LEVEY Charles J. Price of Lake Placid displays a map of the British Isles (his air base in World War II was in central England) and a partial map of Europe. On the left is a listing of all the missions flown by the B-17 he served on as a tail gunner.
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published: Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Price: I was good soldier
By LARRY LEVEY
LAKE PLACID - Yes, war is hell. But it can also be a time of accomplishment, a time of creating memories that years later you look back on with a feeling of pride.
That sums up the stories of many veterans, including Charles J. Price of Lake Placid, now a lively 89.
From 1943-1945, while America was deep in the bloody horrors of World War II, Price was doing his part as a tail gunner on a B-17 - a "Flying Fortress" - over the skies of Europe as part of the 350th Bomb Squadron, of the 100th High Altitude Heavy Bomb Group (known as the "Bloody 100th"), Third Division of the Eighth Air Force, and based in central England.
He completed some 35 or 36 missions, all as a tail gunner, with the same plane ("Happy Go Lucky") and the same crew. "No one wanted to trade places with me," he recalls. "It's been said you get about 50 percent of the attacks as a tail gunner. And you ride backwards all the time you're airborne. You can't stretch out; you're kneeling most of the time - and you wear out your knees."
Even today at times he has to wear a support strap on one knee or the other. "So far, both knees haven't been hurting at the same time."
Looking back on his combat missions, Price, then a staff sergeant in his early 20s, says, "It scares me more now than when I went through it. We'd go through a flak field of anti-aircraft fire for some 10-15 minutes, with hundreds, maybe thousands of flak bursts. When we came out of it, German fighters would attack us - but our own fighters were there trying to protect us. We didn't have time to be afraid; we were too busy doing our job."
In what seems like a miracle, Price says that out of 55 crews in the bomb group, "Happy Go Lucky" survived without any casualties. "One out of 55 - that's pretty rare."
He reports he is the last known living crew member from his B-17 - and, coincidentally, the last of his own family of 10. "Seems like I'm always bringing up the rear," he quips.
Sometimes you get a better picture of someone through their records rather than an interview. For example, Price has been awarded a number of awards and decorations, including The Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded "to any person ... who distinguished himself or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight."
Price earned the award for "serving as tail gunner on many high altitude heavy bombardment missions against the enemy over Continental Europe ... Sergeant Price repelled numerous hostile fighter attacks by his excellent marksmanship, thereby assuring the safety of the crew and aircraft. This courage, presence of mind and devotion to duty while engaged in aerial combat on all these occasions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Air Forces."
He also has received Silver Wings, three Air Medals, two Presidential Citations and the Good Conduct Medal.
One other certificate was also awarded to Price, perhaps with the same serious message as his official awards but in a jovial fashion and in the most proper "Olde English" language possible. The event was his admission to the "Brotherhoode of the Luckye Bastardes Club - A gatherynge of G.I.s assembled in Grayte Brytagne."
The certificate proclaims that Charles J. Price "hath acheyved to eminence by reasone of having sallied forthe no lesse than 34 tymes ande also bye Godde's Grace having returned in saftie frome eache ande everye sallye - transporting for ande unto ye German Reich full manye a tonne of petards, mines, balles of fire ande othere greyvous burthens for ye discomfiting of ye manne Hitler ande all his eville companye unto ye Glorie of Godde ...."
And there's an unfinished story about another medal - a story with a twist of today. As Price tells it, "On Sept. 18, 1944, my squadron went on a mission to drop supplies to the Polish underground in Warsaw. But we had no idea of what was in our bomb bay at the time. We thought they were bombs.
"Then, this past April, I had a physical at the Sebring VA clinic from a female doctor with a foreign accent. I asked her where she was from and when she said Warsaw, I said, 'Well, I was kinda there' and I told her about the September 1944 mission.
"She said, 'My father and his brother picked up those supplies,' - and she thanked me for what I did.
"We were promised a medal from the Polish government," Price says, "but we still haven't received it."
There's yet another current event with roots in World War II. Price was one of a number of World War II vets living in Florida who participated on Oct. 29, 2011, in a day-long mission as guests of the Honor Flight of West Central Florida, part of a national volunteer operation designed to reach as many vets as possible. The purpose of each mission is to thank the vets for their service to their country with a tour of the war memorials in Washington, D.C. Each vet is assigned a self-paid, volunteer "Guardian" (or escort) for the day, but Price still remains in contact with the woman who served as his "Guardian."
Looking back on that day, he says, "They treated us better than we've ever been treated before."
As Price searches through his World War II memorabilia, and as he tells his World War II stories, including his Honor Flight to Washington, you can see - and hear and feel - how proud he still is for what the military did for him ("I enjoyed the service. The Air Force made a man out of me," he says.)
But he downplays his own contributions.
"I did my duties as I'm supposed to," he said, adding, "I was a good soldier."
Charlie Price (by: Helen Todd - 8/16/2012)
Thank you Charlie for our service to our country. We in Tropical Harbor Estates are very proud of you.
Appreciation (by: Blindman - 8/16/2012)
Thank You Mr. Price.
WW 2 service (by: Joe Watson - 8/15/2012)
Thank you, Charlie, for the service.
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