WWII vet, P.O.W. signs airplane wing memorial
by AMANDA WINTERS
When Howard Eklund signed up for the army at age 19 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he didn’t realize he would be a part of history.
He didn’t realize it when he trained to be a gunner in the top turret of a B-17 bomb aircraft, either.
Or when he was shot down over Germany, paraded through the village streets by his German captors and held in a prison camp for 13 months.
He didn’t realize it when he was liberated and returned home to his wife, Alice, to begin a long and difficult adjustment to civilian life.
But by the time a remaining member of the 384th Bombardment Group drove a piece of a B-17 airplane wing to Eklund’s Sequim home Oct. 15 for the 89-year-old vet to sign, he realized it.
“We never thought about what the future would be,” Eklund said, recalling how many men were lost every day during World War II. “We didn’t think we’d have a future.”
Planes would leave and return, or not, and most men volunteered for their missions knowing they might not come back, he said.
The 384th Bombardment Group flew 316 missions during the war, losing 159 B-17s and 1,625 men.
“You do things when you’re young,” he said. “You think you’re invincible. I did. They were a bunch of brave guys.”
Eklund was one bombing mission away from going home to his wife Alice when on April 11, 1944, his B-17 airplane was shot down over Germany.
Both engines were blown off and two men, the bombardier and the navigator, were killed before the rest were captured by German soldiers and paraded through town. It was his 24th and last mission as a shooter with the 384th Bombardment Group’s 747 Squadron.
The men spent 13 months in the Stalag 17-B prison camp before being liberated as the war came to an end.
Alice Eklund said she wrote every day but most of her letters didn’t reach her husband.
“Those were hard times,” she recalled.
When he returned, he didn’t care much about anything, she said. It took him close to five years to readjust to life after his experiences in the war.
He went on to be an optician and contact lens specialist in Seattle for nearly 60 years, living in a big house and raising his four daughters with his wife.
“I’ve been fortunate all my life,” he said.
In March 2010, a stress panel from the wing of a B-17 was donated by aero trader Carl Scholl for the purpose of honoring the bomb group, according to the 184th BG Veterans Signing Project. The project was started by Christopher Wilkinson, the son of a 384th Bombardment Group veteran.
Members are driving the wing around the country so those who can’t travel to a reunion will be able to make their mark.
After as many surviving members of the group as possible get the chance to sign the wing, it will be placed in a museum to mark their place in history, with their own signatures.
Eklund, choking back tears, said he is proud to be part of the group and a part of history.
“For all the guys that lost their lives in the war, I’m proud I was able to do what I did,” he said. “It made a difference in my whole life.”
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.