1sr Lt. James P. Lilligren
Autobiography of James P. LILLIGREN
15 AF, 301st BG (H), 419 Bomb Sqdn.
I was a B-17 Pilot in the 15th Air Force, 301st Bomb Group (H), 419 Bomb Squadron. I was flying my 18th mission on July 26, 1944. We were the last group in the entire 15th Air Force. Our target was the Engine Assembly Plant, Weiner Neudorf, Austria, just south of Vienna. Shortly after entering the Austrian border we were attacked by 100 enemy FW-190s, ME-109s and ME-210s, lined up in waves behind us firing 20MM Canons and 50 Caliber Machine Guns. Our P-51 escorts did not meet our formation as planned. Our B-17 was hit by many 20MM and 50 caliber shells setting the nose section on fire as well as the left wing. It seemed the entire aircraft was on fire. I later learned from the Pilot of another B-17 that the entire tail section was shot off of our plane. Of the ten members of the crew, only four survived. In addition to the Engineer, who bailed out immediately, my Radio Operator bailed out but was badly burned, one Waist Gunner made it and me. I was badly burned, losing all my hair and injuring my ankles badly upon landing. My Co-Pilot left his seat and went back through the bomb bay toward the rear. One Waist Gunner refused to jump and the efforts of the Radio Operator and the other Waist Gunner to get him to jump were futile. Apparently my Co-Pilot was able to get him out of the aircraft by hanging on to him but was unable to pull the ripcord on his chest chute. My Co-Pilot was found dead on the ground with a person, presumably the Waist Gunner, wrapped around him. As I was coming down in my parachute, an FW-190 began circling me. I was sure he was going to shoot me as that is what they had been doing. As the FW-190 was circling me a P-51 took after the FW-190. I heard an explosion and the P-51 came by wagging his wings to let me know all was well. I believe I owe my life to him. The P-51 was from Squadron 332 of the Tuskegee Airmen who came to our aid after our escort did not arrive.
I spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany. The Russian Army liberated us and we were flown out by B-17s to Camp Lucky Strike, France for our return to the U.S.A. It took several weeks for the Russians to release us and we recently learned that the Russians wanted to send us to Russia to help rebuild their country.
On August 10, 1945 Lois Erickson and I were married. We had been engaged before I went overseas. We have had a wonderful marriage. We have two daughters, a son, a foster daughter and eight grandchildren. We lived in Manhattan Beach, CA for 32 years, moving to Fresno, CA in 1979. We are both retired, enjoying our grandchildren and traveling each summer in our motorhome.
James P. LILLIGREN Fresno CA firstname.lastname@example.org