2017-11-09 / Front Page

World War II vet signs B-17 wing

Plane hit, limps home
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


TED LANHAM Friday joined the more than 145 military servicemen who have signed this wing section as part of the 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project. TED LANHAM Friday joined the more than 145 military servicemen who have signed this wing section as part of the 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project. Ted Lanham was a fresh-faced, 19-year-old man — not even old enough to drink — when he faced the biggest challenge of his life.

Lanham served as a turret gunner in a B-17 bomber in the 384th Bomb Group and flew 30 combat missions over Europe during World War II.

“I had never been so scared in my life — not before or since,” he said.

Lanham was visited Friday by Rick Probasco of Lancaster, Mo., a volunteer with the 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project whose purpose is to recognize veterans for their service. Probasco is asking veterans, who are now in their 90s, to sign a 10-foot section of wing from a B-17 airplane that will permanently be displayed at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.


TED LANHAM of Cedar stands next to a 10-foot section of wing from a B-17 bomber that flew during World War II with the 384th Bomb Group in Europe. TED LANHAM of Cedar stands next to a 10-foot section of wing from a B-17 bomber that flew during World War II with the 384th Bomb Group in Europe. The B-17, also called the “Flying Fortress,” was the fastest and most heavily armed plane of its day. It had a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches and measured about 75 feet in length.

Although B-17s were flown all over during World War II, they were primarily employed by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets.

The 384th was based in Grafton Underwood, England.

“It was a very small town, so small that it didn’t even have a pub,” Lanham recalled. “It didn’t matter much to me though because I wasn’t 21 yet.”

Lanham’s crew of nine included himself, two pilots, a bombardier, a radio operator and four other gunners. The night before a mission they’d receive notice and would rise at 4 a.m. the following day to dress and eat breakfast before a 30-minute briefing where they’d receive instructions for the mission.

“They’d tell us where we were going, how much flak to expect and how much to expect from the enemy,” recalled Lanham, now 92.

After suiting up in flying gear, the crew would head to the armory to get weapons for anywhere from 10 to 13 machine guns on the airplane that also had a bomb load of 9,600 pounds.

The B-17s would queue up and prepare for liftoff in three-minute intervals. Once in the air, pilots would look for a flare to signal what form the squadron would take.

“There was a lead plane with sometimes more than 1,000 planes following him,” Lanham said.

Lanham flew 30 missions with his B-17 crew between February and April 1945 with attacks on strategic sites in Germany, France and Czechoslovakia.

Targets in Germany between Feb. 19 and April 11 included a coke plant, tank engine submarine-making plants, tank factories, railroad stations and marshaling yards; ordinance depots and armament works, and an underground oil storage depot.

In France, Lanham’s plane was part of a squadron that took out German flak guns at Pointe de Suzac along the Atlantic in western France on April 15.

Ten days later, the 384th recorded the last strategic bombing mission in Europe. The target: the Skoda Armament Works in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.

“It was our deepest penetration into enemy territory,” Lanham said. “The Americans had alerted the civilians not to go to work that day because we were going to bomb the factory,”

However, the initial attackers had been called off because of overcast skies and it would take several more passes before the warplanes could drop the bombs.

“It was very stressful,” Lanham said.

During that final mission, the gunner’s plane was hit with by enemy fire that cut the oil line on one of the plane’s four engines.

Lanham’s crew limped to an abandoned airfield in the damaged aircraft in France where a British soldier patched things up.

Lanham’s home in Centerville Township was the third stop in a three-day trip for Probasco, a retired police officer, who brought with him a 10-foot section of a wing on the starboard side of a B-17.

As of last month, more than 145 veterans had signed the wing since it began making the rounds in October 2010.

Probasco became involved in the signing program through his father-in-law who was a radio operator in the 384th. His other signers last week included veterans in Deerfield, Ill. and Mayville, Wisc. Both were in their 90s.

“They’re very happy to sign the wing. There aren’t many of them left,” he said.

Within a week after his military discharge, Lanham was enrolled at Purdue University. He was born and raised in Indianapolis.

“I went from being in the Army to being in the classroom,” he said.

Looking back on his military service, Lanham said he often wondered how he got through the war, when so many others didn’t.

“Why? How come us,” he said, pausing for a moment before changing the subject. “It must have been a lucky rabbit's foot.”

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Amazing story! My Dad served

Amazing story! My Dad served at Iwo Jima in WWII. Thank you for your service Mr. Lanham!!