BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It is always an honor anytime I get to speak to one of our Mississippi WWII veterans. Thursday, I had a chance to talk with a gentleman by the name of Fred Koval. He is a wonderful reminder of why we call the WWII veterans, "Our Greatest Generation."
Mr. Koval was just 20 years old when he piloted B-17s during WWII. Despite the passage of all those years, he still has vivid memories of his time at war. He flew 50 bombing missions over Germany during the years 1943 and 44.
"When they killed my co-pilot, and wounded my gunners, I just felt like I wanted to go get even."
In those 50 missions, Fred had a lot of close calls. One particular incident is etched in his memory forever.
"A German fighter came behind and shot out my two left engines and my left landing gear. I put the power to it, and managed to get across the channel and slide into an open field," Koval said.
When Koval and the rest of his crew looked at their plane, they realized it was a miracle that it had been able to stay in the air. One of his crew members said that sooner or later, they would not be so lucky.
"He said, 'Fred, we don't stand a ghost of a chance of surviving this war.'"
Always one with a quip and a great sense of humor, Koval told his crew member, "You just named our next B-17, we will call it, 'Ghost of a Chance.'"
They would have a lot more close calls, but the worst was on August 3rd, 1944. It happened to be Fred's birthday. In his mind, he can still see the scene that played out in the skies over Germany on that fateful and horrible day.
"My left wing man, and a wing man from another division somehow ended up nose to nose. They crashed head on, and the bombs exploded," Koval said.
All 20 men in those two B-17s died. Through human error, there were more mid air collisions. It was a nightmare in the sky and when it was all over, 15 bombers were lost, and 150 American servicemen were dead.
"I saw so many airplanes being shot down," Koval told me with sadness in his voice.
"It was just that way. WWII, was a killer of a lot of people."
Koval came home from the war, with countless decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 Oak Leaf clusters.
The death toll from the war was 400,000. Those brave men are memorialized in Washington D.C., at the WWII Memorial.
I ended my conversation by asking Mr. Koval if he would consider going along on the final flight to that memorial, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight. The organization takes WWII veterans to see their memorial. It is free of charge to the veterans.
The memorial is a solemn place that honors the sacrifice of the 16 million Americans who served.
If you are a WWII veteran, or know someone who is, please tell them about the Honor Flight program. They will take their final flight on October 1st. I have been on three of those trips, and it is a day that members of our greatest generation, will never forget.
You can get more information about the Honor Flight by going to their website at http://www.mgchonorflight.org/.