Bomb Gp: 17th Bomb Squadron: 95th
“While on a mission to bomb the Rovereto railroad bridge, the B26 piloted by Capt Max Petrisek and crew was hit by a flak shell just behind the bomb bay. It did not explode on impact but exited above the rear gunners position and exploded there killing the tail gunner, Sgt Gunnels, and severely damaging the stabilizer controls. Capt Petrisek landed at a British airfield near Ancona. Sadly, this was Sgt. Gunnels last combat mission prior to returning to the USA.” Trevor Allen, historian B26.com
Captain Max’s response: “One engine out and flying by trim tabs, this seems unfeasible but we did it. We had to jettison everything we could throw out and get to a lower altitude to keep the plane air worthy. Everything we did worked our way but not that of saving a buddy.
The details are still vivid. The emergency field was the closest (and) our only hope to get out of enemy territory (and) get help for our dying tail gunner. It was tough to go 180 degree from home base. We had difficulty getting the rest of our flight to leave us and “GO HOME”. Our radio was also OUT.
It was a “long trip”, but we were low enough to see Germans scurrying around batteries of 88 mm AA guns in the swamp area. The flames spewing out the end of the guns was threatening, but we dropped lower to get below their detonation altitude.
It worked to save five of six of our crew. All 88 mm detonations were above us.
We made a miracle emergency landing near a mass of “action sightseeing” soldiers running to get of the way. A slow trip in an ambulance on a road clogged with refugees and their f — animals. On arrival at the medical base, interrogators questioned why we threw out all equipment and lost the tail gunner’s emergency kit with the emergency money.”
Related story from Bill Churchman, provided by Max Petrisek.
“Pete, Country-boy to Combat Pilot”
The term, Country Boy, really describes me as I left the farm to a military life to become “Pete”. Pete was
easier to say than Petrisek for my GI buddies. In my early military service and career in RCA engineering, I was impressed at the extensive knowledge and maturity of my peers. My buddies and co-workers were often from the larger cities, highly mobile and often educated families. They were graduates of top engineering and military schools. I felt limited by my experience, as a small-farm boy from the harsh coal mine area and small town high school and college. This would place me at the lower scale of wisdom and education, a maverick or bushman among the more interesting, worldly and talented peers. Thus, I was driven to work harder just to keep in contention.
I learned to listen, continue my studies and completely commit myself to compete with the “head start” group. I had the instinct of a survivor and to become an achiever. Of those beginning pilot training, approximately seventy five percent never made it to the finish line, and that was, to return home after a tour of combat. This I did, prior to my twenty-first birthday.
I do feel lucky now, to be normal and to have a wonderful family. I am over eighty, feeling worldly for the experiences in my work career and involvement in WWII.
The world of cyberspace technology and the Age of Information hold great excitement and enjoyment for me. I am privileged to live in a free country to partake in the pleasures of time spent with my large family. My family is in the fast track of instant gratification as to entertainment and achievement. They are very successful and thoroughly committed to the work ethic. Their lack of free time and being so involved is a concern for me as a parent. They may never have time to read all of my story and understandably so.
I have never, during my raising of my children, told them my experiences of the war, so now I am ready to tell my story. My satisfaction for writing this story comes from taking the time to acknowledge the contribution of my family and GI buddies who gave so much to win WWII. I could not write this story to impress others or build up my ego.
Yes, I did my job as did twelve million other American servicemen and women in WWII. My survival of combat was only possible because of the commitment to duty of all who served with me. For several years after the war ended, there was a healing period of visitation to lost buddies’ families, letter writing and funeral services for fallen comrades, and mostly silence regarding my war experiences. This withdrawal from war experience was not difficult, as I knew we did a great job, we gave it our all. We supported our buddies and got one hundred percent support without asking or pulling rank.
The happiness of returning home allowed the refreshing air of peace and joy to subdue the war memories. Yes, I saw the eyes of German fighter pilots barreling through our bomber formation and felt the pain of holding a dying comrade in my arms. I did lose sleep for a few nights, over such traumatic experiences of seeing the eyes of death. I saw the crews of German anti-aircraft artillery only a few thousand feet below. They were firing at our crippled planes as we searched for an emergency landing field. The fact that the enemy snuffed out the lives of three of the six original crew, will be forever, like an albatross in my life. This same feeling of needless loss of life is similar to the loss of my brothers, Bill and Adam, in the bowels of the coal mines. I do not believe that I could, or even wish to, ever achieve full closure from these losses. From an intense, sensitive young eager-beaver, I have developed a sense of gratification to recall the pleasant memories of knowing such wonderful people. I am unable to give full and proper recognition to them and the pleasure of having been a part of their unjustly shortened life.
I have strong opinions, but no comments about the complex circumstances leading to WWII, or the virtues of any “necessary” war. In my fantasy, I would wish for a better world or let the evil leaders settle matters in a personal duel. My wish is that my family, friends and others might better understand me and my small involvements in the greatest war of all times. My story is likely to have been influenced from viewing war documentaries on television. A young family member asked, “Were you frightened while on a mission?” Without hesitation, I answered, “NEVER!” Then I truthfully added, “I was never afraid, but I was concerned… I didn’t panic.”
All acknowledgement that the United States was helped in winning the war through the great forces of manpower, equipment and money, this does not diminish the credit to those who served, but it is to give credit to those who stayed home and waited and served in the wartime endeavors. My wife, Marge, was an inspector in a parachute manufacturing plant and also worked in an artillery shell plant. We, who left home were trained to kill or be killed. The fact that our enemies provoked the first acts of military aggression gave me the determination I needed to becoming a warrior.
The emotions or sufferings of combat are not the brief encounters with death. The preparation and involvement “for the duration” was a three year plus three months of rigorous assignments to disciplined military life with fifteen months of overseas duty. It was agonizing not to know how long the war would last or when you would make your last combat mission. I would have reservations of encouraging any youngster from volunteering as I had. I was deeply concerned when my oldest son, Ray, joined the Navy for four years during the Vietnam War. Yes, hearing President Roosevelt give his famous speech of Pearl Harbor attack will live in infamy, turned me on to serve. If I had to do it over again, I likely would have given it more thought. My aspiration is, to never have my offspring go off to war.
Writing my memoirs is a “mission accomplished.”