LEGACIES OF WWII: Bluffton resident Paul Young piloted 57 missions during World War II

Bluffton resident Paul Young piloted 57 missions during World War II. (Photo by Kayleen Reusser for The News-Sentinel)

As a chief pilot of a B-25 during World War II, Paul Young of Bluffton flew 57 missions as part of the 12th Air Force. Some of his most treacherous missions were over the Brenner Pass in Italy. “The Germans had placed guns on the mountains to shoot at us,” he said.

Young was born on a farm in Jay County in 1921. As his father, Fred Young, was a Methodist minister, the family moved often. Paul graduated from Central High School in Evansville in 1940. He attended college in that city until enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1942. “I chose the Army Air Corps because I didn’t want to go into the Army,” he said.

It turned out Young had an affinity for aviation. After training, he was commissioned as a pilot in 1944. His crew consisted of a co-pilot, bombardier/navigator, tail gunner, engineer who also served as top turret gunner and a radio operator who also served as a gunner.

Young and his crew were sent to Western Europe for bombing missions in October. They were assigned to the 445th Bomb Squad of the 321st Bomb Group in the 57th Bomb Wing. “We flew over Rome, the Po Valley in northern Italy and Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy,” he said. “We often flew two missions a day.”

At Brenner Pass, the Allies encountered some of their fiercest struggles. This 60-mile stretch was the only way to cross the Alps. The Germans had built 22 tunnels and 60 bridges into the pass to funnel supplies down from Austria for ground troops.

Destroying enemy access through Brenner Pass was a primary concern for the Allies, but it was tricky with the Germans dug in so well. “It was common for our plane to be shot at during a mission,” said Young. “If we needed medical help, we radioed back. A doctor would be at the airfield when we returned.”

Although Young’s crew was in danger several times, they were never shot down or injured. His crew also flew over Austria and Yugoslavia.

At the beginning of the war, B-25 pilots had been told they would only fly 25 missions before being sent home. As the war dragged on, a pilot shortage developed. The number of required missions increased to 50. By spring 1945, Young reached 57 missions. He flew his last mission in April 1945.

He and other crew members with the required number of points to be discharged took off for home.

They flew across Africa, then the Ascension Island in the middle of the Pacific. Finally, they reached the U.S. and landed at Columbia, SC.

During the war, Young earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. A bombardier in his wing was a New Yorker named Joseph Heller, who wrote about his experiences in the classic 1961 war novel, Catch-22.

Young enjoyed aviation so much that he re-enlisted in the Air Force Reserves, retiring after 29 years at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. As a civilian, Young worked for McCray Refrigeration in Kendallville. He also sold school supplies for a company in Indianapolis. He retired in 1986.

Young met his wife, Ruby, during childhood in Winchester, IN. The couple dated before he left for the war. They married in 1947 and became parents to two children.

“I think being in the military was a wonderful opportunity for me,” he said. “If a person likes that type of living, it can be a rewarding career.”