Captain Gilbert G. Vogt (pilot),
1st Lt John Reardon (copilot),
1st Lt Harold Nemerofsky (navigator), Sgt Bill Elmendorf (radio operator) and
T/Sgt Gus Brown (crew chief).
Following is the story about Bill Elmendorf, radio operator in the 80th Squadron, 436th Troop Carrier Group and his airplane, nicknamed “Blondie”. Meeting his “Blondie”.
In 1996 Bill Elmendorf left for Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, where Rutaca Airlines has its base. A year long search for his World War II transport plane was finally successful. Through the “Air Force Assn Magazine” Bill managed to contact his buddies. One of the first men, who contacted Bill, was John Reardon. Both men belonged to the 80th Troop Carrier Squadron, 436th Troop Carrier Group and both men had flown on the same plane, Bill was looking for it in South-America. The plane, nicknamed “Blondie” had serial number 42-100537.
Bill started his search in Savannah, Georgia, where the crew had “dropped off” their airplane in 1945. Bill found out that the plane was sold to the government of Venezuela. The government then sold the airplane to Rutaca Airlines.Rutaca is an airline carrier, flying with seventeen DC-3s. Bill called the airline company and asked for construction numbers. A staff member answered and she mentioned that one of the planes had construction number 19000. Bill then knew enough and informed the lady that he would be on his way shortly to see the airplane.
Bill arrived in Ciudad Bolivar on the south bank of the Orinoco River on 7 September 1996. A staff member showed Bill the airplane. Now the plane had registration number YV-227C. Bill walked directly to the tail section and bent over and felt the aluminum skin. Only Bill, his crew members and the ground crews, who made the repair, knew that the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Normandy. Clearly he could feel the repair, where once was the damage. Bill knew enough, this was HIS plane. He was the radio operator on this airplane during World War II.
The Executive Officer of the airline company, Molina Anaya, offered Bill a ride in the plane. Molina grabbed the stick and soon the airplane rolled to the runway. The crew consisted of Molina Anaya, Pablo Mares and Juan Serrana. Bill stood behind the pilots. It became emotional for Bill and he fought his tears. He wondered how often he had been standing behind the pilots during the war. Then Molina offered Bill his seat and Bill flew the airplane for some fifteen minutes. Communications between the men was poor. Bill did not speak any Spanish, the men only a few words of English. The flight went on all right. Before landing Bill handed the stick to Molina. After the landing Bill was asked to sign the plane’s logbook .The airplane had flown some 14,052 hours, about three million miles. How many engines, how many gallons of gasoline and oil the plane had been used since, Bill wondered. Bill is still in contact with Rutaca. The company still owes the airplane for more than twenty years.
World War II
The 436th Troop Carrier Group was activated in 1943. During training in the United States each of the four squadrons (79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd Troop Carrier Squadron) had lost one airplane. Eleven crew members were killed in these crashes. On 26 December 1943 the Group flew via South-America to Ascension, halfway the Atlantic Ocean, where the Group arrived on 1 January 1944. Bill was present and was a crew member of the 537. The name “Blondie” was painted on the nose. “Blondie” was the nickname for the pilot’s wife. The following morning the airplanes took off for North Africa and then on to England, where they landed on 7 January 1944. A flight of some 11,000 miles had been flown.4 June 1944. Bill Elmendorf was briefed on the Group’s base, Membury (Berkshire) – also known as USAAF Station 466 – on the forthcoming mission. It would be Bill’s first operational mission over German occupied territory. The ground crew was painting three white and two black stripes on every airplane. The graffiti was painted near the tail section and on the top- and lower sides of both wings. D-Day, the invasion of Normandy would begin the following day. The mission, however, was postponed by 24 hours due to poor weather. On 5 June 1944 at approximately 2100 hrs the crews went to their planes. The crew members for “Blondie” were:
Captain Gilbert G. Vogt (pilot), 1st Lt John Reardon (copilot), 1st Lt Harold Nemerofsky (navigator), Sgt Bill Elmendorf (radio operator) and T/Sgt Gus Brown (crew chief). Captain Vogt had secretly taught each man how to fly the airplane, this in the event both pilots were wounded or killed and not able to bring the airplane back to England.
Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division climbed on board and the plane took off. “Blondie” took her position in the serial and flew in southern direction to Normandy, passing between Jersey and Guernsey. They were heading for the fields near Carentan. Over Normandy the pilots could clearly see the signals the Pathfinders had used to mark the drop- and landing zones. It was 6 June 1944, approximately 0100 hrs. The 537 dropped the paratroopers and headed back to England.
During the debriefing the airplanes were refueled for the next mission. Twelve C-47s and twelve Horsa gliders with supplies for the 82nd Airborne Division took off that same day. After releasing the gliders over the landing zone, the 537 was hit in the tail section. Finally the Allies had landed in Western Europe. The invasion was successful.
The planes flew to Italy to participate in an operation near St Tropez on the Cote D’Azur in Southern France via Gibraltar and Africa the planes returned to England. Time of arrival was 24 August at 1515 hrs.
The 436th participated in Operation Market Garden in Holland on Sunday 17 September 1944. “Blondie” dropped paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division on DZ H, north of Eindhoven.
The next mission was to drop supplies for the encircled paratroopers of the 101st at Bastogne and she towed two CG-4A Waco gliders to Hammiklen/Wesel on 24 March 1945.
Every day the planes flew supplies to the front lines and returned with wounded.
In 1945 the crews flew their planes back to the United States. The 537 was turned over at Hunter Field near Savannah. The plane was then flown to Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona.
Permission to run this article received by Jan Bos