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November 12, 2012 — Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
Allan James Ewoldt was born on December 5, 1916, in Cleghorn, Iowa but grew up on a farm near Hartley in northwest Iowa, not far from the Iowa Great Lakes. He was third in a family of six children: Sylvan and Leonard older and Charles, Margery and Erma younger. The Ewoldt family farmed in Cherokee County and O'Brien County, Iowa. Allen attended rural schools through the sixth grade, leaving Center Township No.1 in O'Brien County for Hartley High School in 1931. An article in the Hartley Sentinel in December 1932 noted that Allan and Charles were "among a squad of twenty-six students that registered for declamatory work at the local high school" with Allan in the Humorous Category (probably a speech contest).
Duties on the farm during the Depression years likely kept Allen from participating in organized sports or music programs, though the family recalls the presence of a guitar that belonged to him. Allan's parents had to give up the farm southwest of Hartley in 1935, the year Allan graduated from high school. They moved to a small acreage on the edge of town. Allan continued to help his father with farming until he started at Iowa State College, and during the summers after that. His older two brothers left home before Allan graduated from high school. Leonard went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, graduating in 1937 as an aviator. It's possible that Leonard influenced Allan's interest in flying. Charles, Allan's younger brother, also enlisted in the Navy when he graduated from high school in 1936.
Allan attended Iowa State College from Winter Quarter 1939 through Fall Quarter 1941. He entered in Pre-Veterinary Medicine, changed his major to Science and then to Zoology. Allan registered for the Selective Service in 1940 while he was a student at Iowa State. Not a member of a fraternity or a dormitory floor, he lived off-campus at 2412 Lincoln Way. He was classified as a sophomore when he left school to join the military.
On Feb. 20, 1942, he enlisted at Ft. Des Moines. He was 25 1/2 years old and the enlistment paper indicates he was a person of "excellent character". He was tall and slender- 6 feet two-and-a-half inches, 160 pounds - had blue eyes, brown hair and medium complexion.
By July 27, 1942, he had completed primary training at Oxnard, CA, and his secondary at Taft Field, CA. He graduated on Sept. 29, 1942 with Army Air Corps Class number 42-1 as an aviation cadet at Roswell Army Flying School, Roswell, NM as a second lieutenant. He was stationed in North Africa with the 348th Squadron, 99th Bomb Group. The 99th came to be referred to as the "Diamondbacks" due to a diamond insignia on the vertical stabilizer of their B-17s.
In January 1943, the end of the North African Campaign in Tunisia was in sight and US and British political and military leaders met to discuss future strategy at the Casablanca Conference. The British Chiefs of Staff were in favor of an invasion of Sicily or Sardinia, arguing that it would force Germany to disperse its forces and might knock Italy out of the war and move Turkey to join the Allies. At first the Americans opposed the plan but were persuaded to agree to a Sicilian invasion because removal of Axis air and naval forces from the island would open the Mediterranean and save Allied shipping. The Allied invasion of Sicily, code named Operation Husky, was a major World War ll campaign in which the Allies took Sicily from Italy and Nazi Germany. It was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of land combat. The plan for Husky involved dispersed landings by brigade and diviaion-sized formations in the island's south-east, south and north-west areas, resulting in the rapid capture of key enemy airfields. It would also see the capture of the main ports on the island, denying their use to the Axis and facilitating a rapid Allied build-up of forces. Once Axis forces has been defeated in Tunisia, the strategic bomber force that Allan was part of began attacking the principal air fields of Sardinia, Sicily and southern Italy, industrial targets in southern Italy and the ports of Naples, Mesina, Palermo and Cagliari in Sardinia. The bomber attacks were distributed to maintain uncertainty about where the next move of the Allied land forces would be. Bombing was stepped up in northern Italy and Greece to distract from plans in Sicily.
In a June 17, 1943 letter from home, Allan's mother wrote that they had heard his name on the radio. She said, "Well, we needn't wonder for once what you were doing. We heard your name on the noon news in connection with the raid on Sicily.... The news said two hundred Flying Fortresses roared over Sicily and I suppose you were in one of them. You had better look out for me if you get reckless - a good day's work is all right but no tricks." During the month of June, Allan was recognized for bravery in those air raids. After July 3, 1943 bombing attacks were focused on Sicilian airfields and Axis communications centers with Italy.
It was during an attack by twenty-seven US bombers on the Sicilian airfield at Gerbini on July 5, 1943 that Second Lieutenant Allan Ewoldt played a key role as co-pilot of the B-17 Flying Fortress nick-named "Dee Zip Zip". The mission was Allan's 33rd, all of them focused on the Sicily and Italian campaign.
The story of the July 5 mission was told in the Army newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, by two of the plane's gunners, Technical Sargent David Fleming and First Sargent Allen Huckabee. The two revealed the story of the battle of a single damaged Flying Fortress against a swarm of at least 35 Messerschmitt 109s and Macchi 202s. Allen's bomber and two others were the last three planes in the second wave of the formation, flying at the lowest altitude and more vulnerable to enemy fire. Their B-17 was 10 minutes from its target, the Gerbini airfield, when the first enemy fighters appeared but they were just a nuisance until anti-aircraft fire knocked out the #4 engine. That cut down the plane's speed but the whole formation cut its speed to match and sheltered the Dee Zip Zip as it regained altitude after the bombing run. Then the #1 engine went out and the Fort was making hardly more than stalling speed. There was nothing else then for the formation to do but abandon the crippled aircraft. Immediately, Italian and German fighters swarmed in for the kill. "It sounded like rice on a tin roof," said Fleming, "when bullets began to hit us. The radio went out, then the oxygen, then the men. The first man to go was the tail gunner. Wounded, he crawled back into the waist and helped load another gun until he died. The ball turret gunner was next, crumpling from a 20mm explosive shell. The number 2 gunner was killed almost instantly by the raking crossfire of the two fighters. But the Fortress continued to fly and fly, though there were holes in the wings and fuselage big enough to crawl through. The pilot, A.E. Davis, was struggling to save the plane. The co-pilot was slumped against the pilot. Fleming went forward to help him. He found the co-pilot, Allan Ewoldt, had died. The belly turret gunner died when a shell struck his gun, curling the barrel up like a withered flower. "Things were getting black," Fleming said. "We were losing altitude fast. The pilot gave the order to abandon ship. We struggled into our chutes - there was a rip in mine from shrapnel - but I had no time to fear that it might not open. The engineer was the first man to jump. He went through the shot out window. About then, a shell exploded the ammunition box and the lead began popping all over the place. An army photographer went next. The bombardier and the navigator jumped. The pilot thought he was the last to clear the ship but the bomb bay door through which Huckabee and Fleming intended to jump slammed shut as they stood on the edge. The ship lurched and flung them to the floor. The two recovered and fell oudt the other bomb bay opening. As the two floated down, they watched the Dee Zip Zip. "It didn't want to die," said Fleming. "The grand old ship didn't stop. It seemed to pilot itself, first going into a spin, then coming out of it, then going into another spin, finally catching fire."
The seven survivors and the damaged plane came down about 12 miles from Ragusa, Sicily, near Cosimo. Allan and the other casualties in the B-17 went down with the plane. Fleming and Huckabee were separated from the other five and hospitalized in Ragusa, but were liberated in a few days when Americans captured the city.
For their bravery in this dangerous but successful mission, the Dee Zip Zip and the 99th Bombardment Group received a Citation from the Major General of the 15th Air Force. During this raid, the 99th lost three of its own B-17s but destroyed seventy enemy fighter planes on the ground and in the air and severely damaged hangars, fuel supplies and ammunition dumps - a serious blow to the defenses of Sicily. When Operation Husky started four days later on July 9, only two airfields in Sicily remained fully serviceable and over half the Axis aircraft had been forced to leave the island.
Allan's courageous last effort helped to secure the Allied victory. By the time Operation Husky ended on August 17, it had achieved the goals set out for it. The Allies drove Axis air, land and naval forces fron the island; the Mediterranean's sea lanes were opened and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was toppled from power. It opened the way to the Allied invasion of Italy - and ultimately - the end of the war.
Allan and the other casualties from his crew were buried in Scicli, near Ragusa, Sicily and then re-interred in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis in 1949. Allan James Ewoldt received four ribbons for distinguished sevice and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest medal awarded to servicemen after the Medal of Honor.