I met Robert Kreider, World War II veteran with the Army Air Corps, through a mutual friend. Chris Jones had known him since she had been a child as the two families spent much time together.
He lived an hour away so we visited a couple of times when I was in the area. He was able to tell me much about his time as a pilot – training and in the jungles of the Pacific. It all sounded harrowing.
His story is in my book
We Defended Freedom: Adventures of World War II Veterans (Book 4, World War II Legacies)
While interviewing these vets who were in their late 80s/ 90s, I knew that they would eventually pass away. It is still a blow when they do because I consider them such great Americans. It is a loss to our country.
I’ll be posting my reading of this story to my Youtube Channel ‘Stories of American World War II Veterans.” Here is the first story in that series.
Subscribe for the weekly series and learn more about our amazing veterans! I hope your patriotism will grow by leaps and bounds.
It was always a privilege to interview our veterans. Thanks to each reading this for your service.
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Robert Kreider’s breath huffed out in rapid succession. Though outside the cockpit of his C-47 temperatures soared above 100 degrees — normal for the Philippines — chills raced through his body.
Earlier that day, Kreider’s crew with the 64th troop Carrier Squadron of the Eighth Air Force had taken off from northern Luzon. Since arriving in the South Pacific, the American crew of 10 had flown to war zones in the mountains where trucks could not go, dropping ammunition and supplies and carrying out wounded.
Their latest mission was to take ammunition to Allied troops dug into the mountains fighting Japanese forces. A native guide claimed to know where the troops were located. When the plane approached a dead end, Kreider realized the claim was exaggerated.
Ten-thousand-foot peaks filled his vision. Carefully Kreider reset the big plane, chomping his gum nervously. Were enemy forces below waiting for them to crash?
Suddenly, anti-aircraft fire split the air. Shells punctured the plane’s bottom, many flattened by one-half-inch pieces of steel crew members had placed under their seats.
Kreider maneuvered the plane out of the valley and away from the enemy, despite one wing receiving damage from ground fire, glad they were not transporting wounded.
Born in Liberty Mills, Indiana in 1924, Kreider attended Chester Township High School in Wabash County where he excelled in basketball and baseball.
After graduating in 1942, Kreider worked at a local factory making school furniture. His draft notice arrived in March 1943 and Kreider entered the Army Air Corps. This newest military branch had many slots needing to be filled, especially for pilots.
At the beginning of the war a pilot was required to have a college degree. By the time Kreider completed pilot training, the restriction had been lowered to two years of college.
After completing a physical exam at Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Kreider reported to Stout Army Air field (then Stout Field) in Indianapolis before being sent to Kesler Field in Mississippi. He completed months of pre-cadet college training before being sent to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
From December 1943 through February 1944 Kreider trained at Randolph Field at San Antonio, Texas, completing solo and cross-country flights. In April, during one phase of pilot training, he flew with an instructor in the open cockpit of a PT-19, both wearing winter flying suits. His instructor communicated using a funnel from the back seat.
When Kreider’s instructor began to demonstrate a slow roll, Kreider looked down, horrified to discover he had forgotten to fasten his safety belt. “My instructor really chewed me out,” he said.
A number of student pilots were killed in training. When one pilot’s plane got in a spin, he tried to recover but couldn’t. By the time he bailed out, he was too close to the ground.
In April 1944 at Garden City, Kansas, Kreider advanced to PT-13s with closed cockpits. During night flights, pilots used flight instruments and studied the stars for navigation.
At Pampa, Texas, the students got their first taste of bigger aircraft with B-25 bombers. The planes had a range of 1,200 miles carrying 5,000 pound bombs and 50-caliber guns.
Upon graduating with his wings in 1944, Kreider was assigned to a B-24 bomber crew, 64th Troop Carrier Squadron attached to the 403rd TC, Group, 13th Army Air Corps.
The squadron’s mission was to move personnel, equipment and cargo. They also supported ground troops by paradrops of supplies in tight areas.
The crew left for New Guinea, stopping in Hawaii to shower and refuel before journeying on to the South Pacific island.
In the tropics troops fought not only enemy forces, but disease and climate. While flying over the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea, Kreider’s crew encountered a storm cell. With peaks reaching 13,000 feet, he used all of his skills to avoid crashing.
In March 1945 the crew relocated at the island of Leyte in the Philippines. Dense foliage meant short runways. Crews were subject to ground fire. Kreider, who often slept under the wings of the plane, always kept a pistol at his side.
In winter troops were housed in tents and ate mostly C rations – canned foodstuffs. When rats scavenged for food, Kreider and others strung electric wire and a board with Spam (canned lunch meat) attached. “The rats got burned by the electric wires,” he said.
In early 1945 Kreider contracted jungle rot, a type of infected skin lesion. A purplish ointment applied to his back helped the sores disappear.
The war ended in August 1945 when the Japanese emperor agreed to an unconditional surrender. The Army Air Corps provided flyovers during the signing of the surrender at Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. “The Allies thought the Japanese military might try to get revenge, but nothing happened,” said Kreider.
He and other crew members immediately began to hope to be sent home. During a furlough in 1944, Kreider had become engaged to a young woman from his hometown.
The schedule to transport troops was staggered due to the enormous number overseas. Kreider bided his time while flying personnel to Japan for the occupation period.
In August 1946 First Lieutenant Kreider boarded a crowded troop ship in Manila for the United States. “We troops didn’t mind sleeping on the deck,” he said. “We were just glad to see the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Kreider returned to Liberty Mills where he worked in the auto industry. He married and he and his wife became parents to two daughters.
Among the 100 flights Bob Kreider flew was one over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was stunned at the devastation from the bombs dropped there in August 1945.
But Kreider had no regrets about President Harry S. Truman’s the decision. “If it had not been for those bombs, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
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