'Just lucky I survived': Bombardier remembers World War II
Ralph Goldsticker doesn't consider himself a hero.
The 97-year-old World War II veteran says he was just a guy was doing his job like everyone else at the height of the war in 1944.
But his story, which he continues to share as Veterans' Day approaches, is the stuff of which heroes are made.
The Creve Coeur resident was flying bombing missions over Europe when he was 22. Goldsticker was the bombardier in a B-17 bomber. That's the person who sat in the plexiglass bubble in the nose of the plane, to get the best view of the targets.
He was part of a 10-member crew that flew 35 missions between May and October 1944, including two during D-Day on June 6 of that year.
"Took off at 2 in the morning and there were so many planes in the sky, we didn't drop our bombs 'til right before 7 o'clock on Sword Beach," Goldsticker recalled during a recent conversation at his Creve Coeur apartment.
"We got back around 9:30. Then they reloaded the planes and we got fed. And then we took off again," he said.
Goldsticker and the other crew members spent 14-and-a-half hours in the air during the invasion that was considered a key turning point in the war. But despite the importance of those missions, the most intense bombing run he experienced came weeks later, when the B-17 was hit by German anti-aircraft fire.
"Our co-pilot was injured and we had more than 70 holes in the plane and lost two engines over Munich," Goldsticker said.
The co-pilot was wounded and had a hole in his upper-thigh about the size of a softball. Luckily, the plane was flying at 27,000 feet, where it was minus-40 degrees.
"The blood froze," Goldsticker said. "So that saved him."
And this is where the hero stuff really comes into play because the temperature warmed up as the plane went into lower altitudes.
"I held my hand on his thigh the last three-and-a-half hours to keep him from bleeding."
Goldsticker said the copilot survived but needed 22 operations over four years.
It was the last flight for a crew that flew more than 30 bombing missions in less than 6 months. The military broke up the team and Goldsticker eventually became an instructor in Texas.
That's where he and hundreds of others celebrated when the war finally ended.
"And that night the whole town got drunk," he recalled. "We were happy ... wouldn't get shot at anymore."
Goldsticker grew up in University City. After the war, he came back to the St. Louis region and raised a family. He carved out a career in the clothing industry.
Today, he stays active by volunteering, playing cards with friends and speaking to students and community organizations throughout the area. But Goldsticker doesn't think sharing his experiences of more than 70 years ago is a big deal, especially for today's children.
He recalls how he would have felt at their age.
"I was in grade school 75 years after the Civil War. It was ancient history to me then."
But people keep asking him to speak, so he obliges. And his story resonates in several areas of the St. Louis community. He was recently honored at a St. Louis Blues game.
"I'm honored that I'm being honored," he joked. "Many of us went through the same thing in combat where it was on the ground or in the air. I'm just lucky I survived."
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans reports more than 400,000 members of the U.S. military were killed during WWII.
Goldsticker feels very fortunate that he’s among those who made it home.
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