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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed B-24 Pilot McGovern Feels Lucky to Have Survived
George McGovern
Former 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, dangling out.

"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 bomb dropped.

"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."

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