Berkeley WWII vet relives flying days in B-17 bomber

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HAYWARD (KTVU) -- It has been over 70 years since World War II officially ended and thousands of B-17 bombers were built to help the U.S. win the conflict.

Fewer than a dozen of the aircraft remain in flying condition but one of the iconic planes is flying this week at Hayward Executive Airport and WWII veteran Bill Hermann, 92, got a chance to climb into the cockpit again.

"It was like Deja vu all over again," he said.

Hermann allowed KTVU FOX 2 News to fly with him after he returned to his seat in the bombardier's position inside the nose of the Flying Fortress.

"I remember now why I'm hard of hearing," he said. "A thousand hours of those engines grinding in my ears probably didn't help.

Hermann was a fresh pilot and bombardier attached to the 8th Army Air Force flying out of England and conducting bombing runs in Germany in 1945. He had enormous responsibility while he was just 20 years old.

"In a sense the 120 lives in the planes in the squadron were in my command," he said. "If I didn't make the right course corrections they were in jeopardy."

Hermann not only pulled the trigger that would drop bombs from his B-17, but his move launched bombs from other planes.

"I had a radio release connected to my bomb sight so that when my bombs dropped out of our plane it also sent a signal to the other 11 planes and we could get some good bomb strikes," he said.

Hermann says he's most proud that he was able to hit targets on every mission, including airports and railyards in Munich and Berlin and submarine bases in Hamburg.

"Jimmy Doolittle was our commanding officer," he said. "Jimmy Doolittle insisted our targets be military targets."

The missions could last 10 hours or more, and even when they weren't bombing conditions were extreme.

"Well it was cold. We were at 25,000 (and) 30,000 feet," he said. "It was 60 below zero. Your oxygen mask was freezing to your face."

Hermann won a flying crosses and several air medals.

After the war he went back to school, worked for the state department and then became the chief economist at Chevron.

He lives in Berkeley and at the age of 92 still teaches an economics class at Golden Gate University.

"It's only recently that I find people coming up to me and thanking me for my service in World War II," he said.

Hermann says he was just one of 16 million Americans who wore military uniforms during the war. But now there are fewer and fewer of them to thank.

"I'm proud to have been part of it," he said. "Proud to still be alive."

The public is invited to take tours and even go on a flight on the B-17 at Hayward Executive Airport. The tours are by donation and the flights cost $450.

>>>>>For more info about the B-17 tour: Click here

By KTVU anchor/reporter Ken Wayne.