Patriots Point volunteer Ernest “Larry” Melin recently celebrated his 90th birthday onboard USS Yorktown. Officially, our oldest living volunteer, Larry served in the Army Air Corp from 1942 to 1946. After his enlistment, his aptitude and high grades had the Army Air Corp pointing him towards pilot training, but just as quickly the need for bomber crews returned Larry on course for enlisted aircrew member duties in the B-17. He was sent to North Carolina State University to receive advanced radar operator training and more training as a radio operator and gunner in the B-17 Flying Fortress at Barksdale Field in Louisiana.
He arrived in England in December 1944 as part of the Eighth Air Force, 306th Bombardment Group know as “The Reich Wreckers,” read a detailed history on them here. The 306th had been the first bombardment group to fly into Germany in 1942.
Larry would end up in the group’s 369th Bombardment Squadron. As a radar/radio operator and gunner he would end up flying 12 combat missions over Europe and gain over 400 hours in the B-17. One of his duties as radio/radar operator was to deploy chaff, radar reflective strips to give German radar false targets. On one mission the tailgunner contacted Larry on the intercom and stated, “Larry, you put out more chaff than anybody else, why is that?” Larry replied to him, “Because I’m scared more than anybody else!”
On his almost last mission the 369th had briefed to attack the German sub pens at Kiel, Germany using Disney bombs. Disney bombs were 4500lb bombs designed for penetrating the thick concrete of U-boat shelters. The bomb would free-fall until 5,000 feet altitude when a rocket motor fired pushing the bomb to speeds of 2,400 feet per second upon impact. It could penetrate 20 feet in solid concrete before explosion! As Larry’s squadron was manning their aircraft, they received a message that the war was over!
Here’s a YouTube video showing a B-17 carrying a Disney bomb in 1945.
After the war ended, Larry’s squadron reconfigured their aircraft for passengers and were involved in carrying VIPs and other government officials in tours of war-torn Europe. During one of these trips, Larry got to see first hand a concentration camp. He said he saw what no person should ever have to see. His final duties involved overflights of Europe shooting aerial photos for a mapping database. Finally in March of 1946, he returned to the United States as a 19 year old Technical Sergeant and processed out of the Army Air Corp with a reserve ID card from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Larry has been a volunteer at Patriots Point since December 2010. His stories and demeanor have been enjoyed by many of our visitors and staff and we look forward to his 91st birthday next year!