Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

50 Years Later, Former Pilot Gets Thanked

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

50 Years Later, Former Pilot Gets Thanked

Article excerpt

FERNANDINA BEACH -- More than 50 years after he watched German

bombers destroy his aircraft and more than 60 others on a

Russian tarmac, former U.S. bomber pilot Vernon Ferguson has

received thanks from the Russian government for assisting its

country in World War II.

Ferguson, 74, received a bronze medal from the Russian Embassy

in Washington to recognize his work to rid Russia of German

soldiers, even though the mission ended in disaster.

"I was a little surprised," Ferguson said. "It [the medal] was

mailed so it would reach here on Veterans Day, but of course

they didn't deliver mail that day, so I got it the next day."

Ferguson participated in Operation Frantic, and for Ferguson

and the other pilots and crew members, frantic was the key word.

The June 21, 1944, mission started with a bombing run near

Berlin, then a flight to Poltava (in what now is Ukraine), where

the bombers were to perform raids throughout the Soviet Union.

German pilots had spotted the massive group of bombers, though,

then shelled them at 11 p.m.

"The Germans started bombing right after dark. They destroyed

most all of our airplanes, B-17s. Two members of our

organization were killed," said Ferguson, who flew for the 8th

Air Force of Army Air Corps, in the 8th Bomber Command.

For Ferguson, the trip was a voluntary one. Having earned his

wings in August 1943, Ferguson had participated in his required

28 missions and was scheduled to return to the United States.

But his wanderlust led him to sign up for Operation Frantic.

"I was barely 22 years old at the time. It was always a

challenge to me to try to survive. I wanted to do things and see

if I could survive," he said.

Ferguson said he had carefully followed the war in the Soviet

Union since the Germans invaded. This was his chance to see it

firsthand, he said.

As the aircraft flew from Berlin across Poland, Germans shot at

them, knocking two bombers from the sky. …

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