322nd Bomb Group, 450th Bomb Squadron
|Carl Eckhardt enlisted in the Air Force in February of 1942 at the age of
33. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and
did his training in Tulare (California), Santa Ana, Albuquerque, and
Shreveport over the next 14 months. He initially requested flight school
training but was rejected apparently over physical limitations. His second
choice was to be a navigator/bombardier and wound up training for that
position. His training included celestial navigation, which apparently not
all candidates were qualified to take. He mentions the many different
training sessions that included practice as gunnery, flying the B-26,
navigating to various destinations, and of course, practicing dropping
payloads over pseudo targets.
He arrived in England in the spring of 1943. He mentions in his letters that his crew was shipped separately to England to allow for the transshipment of their B-26 without the excess crew’s weight. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in November of 1943. During one of his missions, he helped dislodge a stuck bomb in the bomb bay and was subsequently awarded the DFC medal. During the year, Carl completed 42 missions before being hospitalized for 6 weeks due to ‘operational exhaustion’. Upon leaving the hospital in March 1944, he was unable to pass the physical exam and was permanently grounded from military flight action. He was disappointed not to be able to complete the 50 missions that were required at the time.
Over his remaining time in the European Theatre, Carl was assigned to
intelligence operations and acted as an interpreter since he spoke fluent
German. He had many different residences in England, France, Belgium and
Germany during his post flight time in Europe. An attached photo shows him
at a residence that was a pump house. At one point he was stationed in
Merseburg where he presumably met his future wife to be, Hildegard.
He was discharged toward the end of 1945 and returned to his hometown of
Scottsbluff, Nebraska. After several attempts to bring his future wife
Hildegard (Gardi) to the United States (she was living in the Eastern Zone
of Germany), he was aided by a congressional act sponsored by Senator Carl
Curtis of Nebraska. Carl and Gardi were married in 1949.
Carl passed away due to a bout of pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 84. His
wife, Gardi, passed away in 2004. The balance of the estate was passed to
a relative, who lives in Germany. Presumably, that estate included the
many photographs and memorabilia that Carl had accumulated during the war
Scottsbluff Star Hearld