“Is anyone scared?” a commander barked at his men. “If not, there is something wrong with you. I’ll give you a little clue how to fight this war – make believe you’re dead already; the rest comes easy.”
This meat grinder, which lost two out of every three airmen, had 47,000 casualties and 26,000 fatalities, was to become home for Rochelle’s Charles Ludwig. The Eighth Air Force Bomber Group, England.
Charles joined the Army in 1940 at the age of 18. He first made the local paper when his parents received two telegrams on the same day. One from the war department, “Your son is missing in enemy action, December 7, 1941.” The second from Charles saying he was safe, regardless of what the war department said. For parents with a son stationed at Pearl Harbor, this must have been a very trying time.
In 1943, Charles started on a journey that was as daring and dangerous as any in the military. He trained and became an Army pilot. In 1943, the death and injury rate for bomber pilots was far greater than that of the ground troops.
Bombers were faster and could fly further than the fighter planes which protected them. This meant that for much of the time the bombers had only themselves to rely on when enemy fighters attacked. The eighth was the deadliest air group flying.
In 1944. Ludwig was co-pilot on the B17 Flying Fortress “Little Joe”. He was awarded the “Air Medal” for meritorious achievement during bombing attacks on Nazi Europe.
Returning from a bombing run in June of 1944 with three engines out, Charles and the other nine members of the crew had to “ditch” their plane. It crashed into the North Sea and sank in less than a minute. Charles “Lucky” Ludwig and crew were rescued by a British mine sweeper with no injuries. He was given seven days rest and sent back to a new plane and crew. Pilots were at a premium.
Ludwig moved to the pilot seat of “Hell’s Kitchen” toward the end of 1944. He continued an amazing career in the air. Charles flew missions on the French coast, Berlin, Paris, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Completing 35 flight missions in the European Theater, Charles was involved in several types of missions, demolitions and incendiaries on Germany, supply drops to French Underground, supplies to troops at St. Lo, and was in the first wave of bombers on D-Day.
After completing his 35 missions Charles became a flight instructor for “Shooting Star” or the P-80. This was the first jet fighter that saw common use in the Army Air Force. He also served on the seventh emergency squadron as a rescue pilot.
When the war reached its end, Charles volunteered to fly food supplies into Germany as food shortages were leading to starvation of the German people. He flew the first flight ever to land at Tegel Field in Germany.
With 99 flight missions, 35 during combat in the European Theater Charles brought home some impressive hardware. Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 4 Oak Clusters, American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with a Battle Star, European Theater Ribbon with three Battle Stars, and the American Service Defense Medal.
Ludwig survived some of the deadliest combat seen by American forces. He stayed with the Army through WW2, Korea and into Viet Nam. He rose through the ranks and reached Lt. Colonel. Charles was just one of many area warriors through the years that have stood up and fought for the freedoms enjoyed, not only in America but across the world.
Tom McDermott is a historian for the Flagg Township Museum and a Rochelle City Councilman.