P-51 pilot recalls flying days over Europe

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 Westsider Richard Krauss was a P-51 pilot during World War II.

Columbus is a long way in time and distance from the skies over World War II Berlin, but the recent Mustangs and Legends: The Final Round-Up air show transported Westsider Richard Krauss across the years to his days as a P-51 pilot.

Krauss, a retired Air Force Reserves Lt. Colonel, spent two days visiting and reminiscing with fellow pilots during the Sept. 27-30 run of the event at Rickenbacker, where over 100 vintage P-51 Mustangs shared the flight line with fellow WWII aircraft and jets faster than the speed of sound. 

The P-51 fighter flew its first combat missions 65 years ago and was designed and built in just over four months. It saw action primarily in World War II and . 1942 also saw the creation of Lockbourne Army Air Base, the forerunner of Rickenbacker Air Force Base named after WWI flying ace Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. 

"I grew up in Nebraska and was going to Nebraska Wesleyan when an Army Air Corp recruiter came on campus in October 1942," recalled Krauss. "I enlisted, along with another fellow I roomed with. We were told we could finish school and then go into the service, but only four months later, he called and said they couldn’t wait for us to graduate.

"I first trained in Missouri, and then went to Illinois. From there I went to the San Antonio Aviation Center before I was sent to Oklahoma. I went back to Texas and then started flying P-40s out of Ft. Myer, Fla. where I met my wife, Eloise."

The pair, who celebrated their 63 wedding anniversary this year, only knew each other six weeks before they were married. Six weeks later, Krauss was shipped overseas to Fowlmere, , where he served as a P-51 pilot with the 339th Fighter Group.

"I flew 47 missions while I was stationed overseas," continued Krauss. "One was to and a couple of the most memorable ones were to Berlin. They would park their planes on the Autobahn and leave them there because they didn’t have anyone to fly them. They were so low on pilots. They’d land on the Autobahn and park them behind the trees.

"The missions to Berlin stood out the most. One was an all-day pounding. B-17s and B-24s went in early in the morning and you could see the sunlight glistening off their wings for miles around. When we were going back, the British were starting to go over and pound Berlin after dark. It lasted for 12 to 14 hours and I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the ground."

Krauss served as a fighter pilot in Europe for approximately 11 months. He was due to return to the states for a 30-day leave and then ship back out to the Pacific. However, plans changed when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, as a First Lieutenant, Krauss was discharged from active duty in 1945, but not before he joined the Army Air Corp Reserves.

"I sent my wife a telegram and told her to go back to where we were married and get the same hotel room and I would meet her there when I came back," Krauss said. "I caught the bus to Tampa, went up to the ninth floor, and knocked on the door.

"After a month, we went back to Nebraska and I finished school in 1947. I taught math and science in my hometown for three years because there was a shortage of teachers."

His post-active duty career then took Krauss and his family from Nebraska to Wichita, Kansas, Denver, Alabama, and Florida before moving to Columbus in 1961 when his employer, Phillips Petroleum, expanded operations to the capitol city. He retired from the Air Force Reserves in the early 1970s and from Phillips in 1984 and periodically flew small aircraft after he left active duty service.

The Rickenbacker gathering brought back many memories for the 85-year-old former military officer as he joined fellow P-51 pilots from Youngstown, Oklahoma, and Washington. He fondly recalled his fighter – named  the "Sweet Eloise" in honor of his wife – that ferried him safely to ground throughout 47 missions over enemy skies.

"It was an outstanding plane. The P-40 handled nice, too, but the 51 did everything you wanted it to do. It had a lot of distance to it and it handled beautifully."

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