Flag, Burial, 48 stars – Albert Bergerhofer, Jr – (301st Bombardment Group, 353rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)

Albert Bergerhofer Jr joined the US Army on September 16 1942 and recieved his personal service number: 17059667. When enlisting at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas he was only 19 years of age. After completing basic training he got assigned to the 301st Bombardment Group, 353rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) and sent to England in August 1942 with the VIII Bomber Command. Later the unit was attached to the 12th Air Force to be reassigned to Algeria and Tunesia. Later during the war reassigned to Italy for the Sicily invasion and ending up with the 15th Air Force while making bombing runs on Germany and neighbouring countries in 1944-1945. From the beginning in 1942 to the end in 1945, they flew the same type of aircraft: a B-17 Flying Fortress. On his last mission Tail Gunner Albert flew with bomber callsign 44-6363 on a bombing mission to Vienna, Austria.

That day several B17s flew at a level of 31,500 feet. A level that only could be achieved when flying with a reduced  bomb load. While approching their designated target the haze was so dence that the ground was obscured. The flight leader decided to make a second run at a lower altitude (25,000 feet). Another group of B’24s just completed a run at that same altitude while under heavy Flak 88 fire. The German Flak batteries kept on firing and hit Albert’ B-17 real good. A loud explosion was heard in front of the plane. Albert replied calmly to the intercom reporting he had been hit. The plane kept on flying, but surviving crewman later stated it was no longer a smooth ride. The number 2 engine had been blown off entirely and numbers 3 and 4 were out. Pilot Irving Shapiro was knocked out by the explosion and co-pilot David Shumaker, bombardier George Bear, navigator Thomas McElligott and engineer Francis Debski jumped out of the B-17 with their parachutes thinking the pilot was dead. -They were all taken prisoner- Shortly after pilot Shapiro regained consciousness and told the remaing crewmen to lighten the aircraft. At that time it became kwown Albert was hit by a piece of flak in his left knee when exploding from beneath the airplane. Due to the extreme cold temperatures the wound did not bleed. He got evacuated from the tail gunners position to a center location in the airplane, helping his friends throwing unnecessary weight off the plane. Before the flight some officer reminded them no to damage the new $300 machine guns with electronic sights. They smiled and thrown them overboard anyway.

The pilot informed his remaining crewmen the aircraft was no longer air worthy despite the lightened load. The aircraft was not able to gain altitude to fly over the mountains back to Italy. He informed over the com they had two options: bailing out or crash landing. They concluded Albert could not possibly survive a bail out, so crash landing was their only option. They managed to find some fields and prepared themselves for a crash landing sitting in the radio room with their backs against the bulkhead (Pilot Shapiro remained in his pilot seat). Fortunately, the crash landing went with out incident. However the .50s looked like pretzelfs after the landing.

Friday, 13 October 1944 the day they got shot down and crash landed onto a Hungarian feld. The pilot did an amazing job putting the battered aircraft on the ground. The remaining crew on board survived without new injuries. They carried Albert to the edge of a field. They saw a local farmer busy working and pretending he did not see the American flyers or crashed plane. A short time later they got surrounded by armed Hungarian soldiers pointing their weapons at them. Realizing they had a language problem explaining a medic was needed for Albert. His knee wound started to bleed after coming down from the freezing atmosphere. Sulfanilamide was applied from Aircrafts Aid Kit to the wound and the Hungarians took Albert on cart to a very small village. Once there, they took the tail gunner to a broken down shack with a red cross on it. That was the last time the remaining crew saw Albert. Albert had joked before he wanted a little scratch so he would get a Purple Heart. Unfortunately Albert died and got burried in Hungary. Only to be discovered where many years after the war. His mother recieved message, just before her death, that a priest discovered the exact location of the grave. Not soon after that, Albert had been relocated to a US cemetery in Kansas City, MI.

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