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Dickman tells of his World War II flying days

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Dickman tells of his World War II flying days

Frank Dickman points to crushed tail on B-17 aircraft.

Photo contributed/

POSTED March 26, 2009 4:46 a.m.
Manteca native Frank Dickman, a member of the Greatest Generation that came of age in the Great Depression and fought in World War II, passed away this week. The Manteca Bulletin profiled Dickman’s war service on March 22, 1990. That story is being rerun here to remind us of the great debt we owe the men and women who served America in World War II as well as in other wars and in time of peace. His obituary appears on Page A2 of today’s Manteca Bulletin.

Over Frank “Bud” Dickman’s antique desk in the living room of his East Louise house is a frame with his war medals. It’s an ordinary looking wooden frame.

But if you take a closer look, it’s not an ordinary frame at all. Inside it are air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross with four oak leaf clusters he earned flying over Germany in B-17s during World War II.

They are mementos of bravery and flying skills maneuvering through a wall of flak. They are reminders of the first missions over Berlin that broke the will of the Nazi army — destroying war machine factories.

“I remember the morning that my bombing group got orders to bomb Germany,” said Dickman, 70, a life-long Mantecan who served with the 94th Bomber Group attached to the 8th Air Force in England. “On mission mornings we would get up to the sounds of a G.I. truck coming around 4 a.m. and go to breakfast. We were fed good because it was important to keep our strength up for the six to eight hour bombing raids.

“After breakfast we would go to a 6 a.m. briefing. The doors would be closed because of secrecy. Then the briefing officers would pull a canvas off the mission chart.

“It was routine stuff. But the morning we were told we were going over Berlin, you could hear a pin drop. There was complete silence.”

By then Lieutenant Dickman had flown many missions. He had become tough. He saw Americans collide head on. He would watch a buddy go down in flames. Atop his pilot’s seat he would watch bombers explode.

“We lost eight B-17s that day trying to go over Berlin,” said Dickman, who retired after 30 years with Southern Pacific. “We had to fly 26,000 to 30,000 feet because of dense clouds. We had to eventually abort the mission.

“But some bomber formations weren’t made aware of it and they collided head on with planes heading for home.”

Dickman said he broke out of formation for safety’s sake. His “flying fortress” would fly home 50 feet over water so they wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

“A lot of times we would return to an empty barracks,” said Dickman, who flew 26 missions overall. “At times we were the only crew in the barracks out of six. You become tough and calloused. I didn’t let things like that bother me. I guess it was because we didn’t get to see the blood.”

He couldn’t let a thing like that bother him. To lose one second of concentration when German fighter planes were trying to shoot a B-17 out of the sky meant sure death.

“The time we did go over Berlin it was a beautiful and clear day,” said Dickman, who lives with wife, Ruth, and has six children. “We flew straight to Berlin. The flak was horrendous and it was bouncing around the sky like a leaf in a windstorm. The bombadier sighted on the smoke.”

He said there were no losses that day. Prior to Berlin, the war never meant having to bomb German women, children, and civilians.

From that day forward, the infamous “flying fortresses” would drop its 500 and 1,000 pound bombs on Berlin. It would take 800 to 1,000 planes flying in 36 aircraft formations.

“It was important to fly a tight formation” Dickman said. “As long as we stayed in tight groups we were somewhat safe. I remember seeing planes shaking from the machine guns blasting at German planes.”

Dickman remembers the day his bomber group flew over Regansburg. It was late in his tour of duty and his crew had nicknamed their aircraft the “Wonga Wonga bird.”

Though experiencing many close calls with death, he had not been wounded, nor did he lose an aircraft to that point.

“On the mission over Regansburg,” said Dickman, “my plane had 180 holes in it when we returned. A piece of flak lodged under my seat and we had four wounded. A shell completely went through the tail of the engine but didn’t explode.”

He has that piece of flak in his frame to remind him of the brave men who turned the tide of war from the air. On one occasion his aircraft collided with another plane crumpling its tail.

“I asked one of the men in the back of the plane if we could make it,” said Dickman. “He said, ‘We’ll go anywhere you go.’ “

His crew accomplished their mission and returned home safely. Then it was time for “Bud” to come home to Manteca. That was in 1944 a couple of months before the Normandy Invasion — the final Allied offensive that defeated the Nazi army.

“Manteca was about 3,000 people then,” said Dickman. “All the boys were gone. Manteca was wiped out of local boys. I owned the town. People would say, ‘Buy Bud a beer.’ One family gave me a party.”

Now 45 years later, Dickman tends his East Louise Avenue ranch. He rarely talks about his flying heroics — unless it’s about the good times. Nevertheless, he doesn’t want younger generations to forget the gallant sacrifices American flyers performed over the skies of Europe.

“Airpower helped defeat the tyrant Hitler,” added Dickman. “People today should be thankful we helped rid the Earth of that tyrant. I don’t want people to forget the great sacrifices these men made during World War II. They were some of the bravest men in history.”
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