presidential candidate and South Dakota senator George McGovern visited AirVenture in 2007.
Photo by Dave Higdon
The article below originally was published in AirVenture Today on Sunday, July 29, 2007.
By Barbara A. Schmitz
George McGovern may be
best known for his political career as a senator and 1972 presidential
candidate. But his military career in World War II really helped to form
his belief that not all wars are good.
McGovern, who was at EAA
AirVenture on Thursday, flew 35 combat missions in B-24 bombers over
Germany, Austria, Romania, and Yugoslavia during World War II. He won
the Distinguished Flying Cross in his plane, the Dakota Queen, named
after his bride, Eleanor.
"I was very lucky to
get out," said McGovern, "and I have a keen appreciation that
I am still alive. I survived at a time when half of the B-24 crews in
that theater did not make it."
But McGovern, 85, said he
was also lucky because World War II was a war people believed in.
"I still have no regrets that I helped to smash Adolph Hitler's
war regime," he said.
World War II gave him an
appreciation of what it takes to prevail in a huge military conflict.
When the B-24 came out with its long, narrow wing, many engineers said
it wouldn't fly.
"But the engineer
who designed it knew what he was doing. It may have been ugly, but it
carried more bombs further without running out of gas and faster than
any other bomber."
McGovern recalled one
flight where they were returning from a bombing mission when a crew
member called on the intercom and said one bomb was stuck on the rack,
"I said, 'Get rid
of it.' I wouldn't land until it was off."
As the crew attempted to
dislodge it, McGovern flew the bomber lower so they could work without
their oxygen masks on. Then, in the middle of an Austrian farmyard, the
"It blew the
farmyard to smithereens," McGovern said. "I felt terrible
knowing that farmers eat lunch around noon and that we had probably
blown up a family. That bothered me for a long time."
But 40 years later,
McGovern was a guest professor at a university of Austria and was on
television one night. He repeated that story, and before the night was
over, a farmer called the television station with a message for the
South Dakota politician.
The man said: "Tell
him it was my farm. We saw the bomber coming and knew it wasn't in
formation. So I got my wife and three children, and we hid in a ditch
and no one got hurt. Tell him if bombing my farm made this war one
minute closer to ending, it was fine with us."
McGovern, experiencing EAA AirVenture for
the first time, was impressed. "It's the granddaddy of all air
shows; it's obviously gigantic and well run."