|Ben Sofka reflects on 66-year military connection
Blackanthem Military News, HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., May 06, 2006
Mr. Sofka volunteers his time distributing prescriptions at the Hanscom Pharmacy each Tuesday. Mr. Sofka will celebrate his 90th birthday May 10. (Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Lisa Spilinek)
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was the president, Europe was fighting World War I, the U.S. military was pursuing Pancho Villa and the "Saturday Evening Post" published its first cover featuring a Norman Rockwell painting.
It was into this world that Ben Sofka was born in Maynard, Mass., on May 10, 1916.
On Wednesday, Mr. Sofka will celebrate his 90th birthday, but the day before, Mr. Sofka will be doing what he has done every Tuesday for the past 10 years -- volunteering at the Hanscom Pharmacy.
While handing out prescriptions to Hanscom patrons with a friendly smile or chatting with the pharmacy staff, Mr. Sofka remains active both mentally and physically.
In addition to volunteering at the pharmacy through the American Red Cross, Mr. Sofka supports the blood drives held here every eight weeks.
"He's dedicated, multilingual and in great shape," said Capt. Anna Wojas, 66th Medical Support Squadron Pharmacy Services chief, of Mr. Sofka's many abilities.
Mr. Sofka's connection to the military extends back to 1940 when he was among the first volunteers to join.
"The draft was coming in 1940, so they had the one year draft if you wanted to volunteer," he explained. "Before the year was up you had to make an application to get out. So, I put in an application because my year was going to be up in November. Then December 7 [the attack on Pearl Harbor] came and my one year that I volunteered for turned into almost five years."
Following his attendance at Airplane Mechanic School and Gunnery School, Mr. Sofka spent the years of World War II as a member of the 387th Bomb Group living in tents in France and Holland, while serving as an Army Air Corps top turret engineer gunner in the B-26 Marauder [B, C and G models] flying missions over Germany.
He flew 18 missions during World War II. The most memorable took place on Feb. 14, 1945. On that day, 203 of the Allies' aircraft flying over Koblensk, Germany were shot down.
"Every time we went on a mission, we got a Milky Way chocolate bar and every time we got to 12,000 feet it was frozen," he said. "When we got back, we got a shot of whiskey for regular missions. We were given the whole bottle and sent back to our tents after rough missions."
In addition to flying missions, Mr. Sofka met his future wife, Rini, while in Holland. Following an 18-month courtship via letters, he proposed and her father agreed to let her go to America.
The couple married in November of 1946. They have a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.
Ben Sofka; fourth from left; poses with his fellow B-26 Marauder crewmembers at Lake Charles Army Air Field; La.; in October 1944. Mr. Sofka was the top turret engineer gunner for the aircraft. (Courtesy photo)
After the war, Mr. Sofka left the service in 1945, but re-enlisted in the Army in 1948. At the time, the newly formed Air Force would not accept married individuals. His assignment upon his return to the service was delivering casualty notifications to families.
Mr. Sofka went on to serve tours in Taiwan, Panama and various locations across the U.S. He retired from the Army in 1963 as a sergeant first class.
But retirement from the military didn't slow Mr. Sofka down. During the next 19 years, he continued working, first as a civil servant at Natick Laboratory Army Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., and then at the Digital Equipment Corporation in Maynard, Mass.
These days, while he may not be working every day, he stays busy.
Staff Sgt. Tamika Cross, who works at the Hanscom Pharmacy and has known Mr. Sofka for the past three years, has nothing but praise for her colleague.
"He's great," she said. "He works best under pressure."
Mr. Sofka credits moderation and exercise with his ability to stay active - including working out on the treadmill and stationary bike.
"I go to the gym every chance I get," he said.
As Mr. Sofka looks forward to beginning his tenth decade Wednesday surrounded by his family and friends, he has no plans of slowing down.
He plans to continue his Tuesday volunteer work with the Hanscom Pharmacy. He and Rini also eagerly await celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in November.
By 2nd Lt. Lisa Spilinek
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs