S/Sgt. Thurman Andrew Via - 353rd Squadron
Name: Thurman Andrew Via
Entered service: July 29, 1942
Discharged: : October 2, 1945
Branch of service: : U.S. Army 353rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy); 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy)
Highest rank: : Staff Sergeant
Medals or special service awards: : The Air Medal, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Oak Leaf Clusters, African European Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon, The Italian Battle Star and 3 Bronze Stars. The 301st was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation (two Oak Leaf Clusters) for its performance in the European Theater of Operations.
Training: : Following boot camp, sent to Sioux Falls, S.D. for 20 weeks of training at the Army Air Force Technical School as an aircraft Radio Operator/ Mechanic. Upon graduation from radio school, sent to Las Vegas, Nev. to attend the AAF Gunnery School. Training as an aerial gunner included such things as practice over the Nevada desert in aircraft firing at towed targets and recognition of friendly and enemy aircraft. Trainees were required to disassemble and re-assemble the .50 Caliber Browning machine gun. This ultimately involved a blindfold, and sometimes flight gloves, as the B-17 Flying Fortress in which he would be flying had a crew area open to the 60 degree below zero-temperatures at the operational altitude around 30,000 feet.
In September 1943, began accruing stateside flight time as a trained aerial gunner. Because of his 5 7" frame he volunteered for duty as the lower turret (ball turret) gunner (despite his extensive training as a radio operator, he never flew that position in combat). The lower turret was, as were the tail gunner upper turret positions, equipped with dual .50 caliber Browning Machine Guns.
On the war front: On December 15, 1943, he and his crew left the United States in a B-17 for deployment in Italy, attached to the 15th Air Force, 301st Bombardment Squadron, 353rd Bombardment Group. The flight included Brazil, Dakar, Senegal, Casablanca, and Algiers to Foggia, in Southeast Italy.
Close call: : Additional pre-combat flight time was gained in-country and during one of these flights, on January 11, 1944, Sgt. Via was involved in a mid-air collision which destroyed seven B-17s. The ship in which he was flying entered a spin that, at the last instant was recovered only a few thousand feet from the ground. Via was seen by the group's flight surgeon who determined that, though shaken up, would be able to continue flying.
Missions: : On February 12, 1944 Via flew Mission Number One. The target was an enemy troop concentration near Albano, Italy. This was intended to help secure the beachhead for the allied forces at Anzio. Other missions and targets included a railroad marshaling yard at Pontedero, Italy (the next day was the raid on Casino Abbey. Because of its lofty position, the Allies believed the enemy was using the facility as an observation post. The raid laid to ruins the ancient Abbey).
The longest mission was into the heart of Germany to Regensburg. This mission lasted 8 ½ hours. Because of the extended time over hostile territory, any sortie lasting more than 7 hours was generally credited to the crew as two missions. The next several missions were over Italy, Austria and one over the coast of France, the German submarine pens at Toulon; several sorties crossing the Adriatic Sea into Hungary and Romania targeting petroleum refineries, extremely critical to the enemy s operations in Eastern Europe and into Russia. Other 1944 missions included a Messerschmitt aircraft factory in Austria (where the dreaded ME109 fighters were built), four raids into Romania, as well as Hungary and Italy. His final mission (#50) was June 11, 1944, as S/Sgt, targeting the locomotive repair shops at Smederevo, Yugoslavia.
Missions: : The Air Medal, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Oak Leaf Clusters, African European Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon, The Italian Battle Star and 3 Bronze Stars. The 301st was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation (two Oak Leaf Clusters) for its performance in the European Theater of Operations.
Returning home : : After returning stateside, Via was assigned to the 3216th Engineer Fire-Fighting Company and sent to the Pacific Northwest to fight wildfires in Washington State.
Post-war: : Returned to the textile industry before becoming a city letter carrier in Burlington. He retired after 25 years with the U.S. Postal Service in 1975. He passed away on June 1, 1994 at age 73.