George Meshko

Staff Sergeant George Meshko was a B-17 waist gunner flying for the 339th Squadron of the 96th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force.  I met George and Nancy Meshko at an 8th Air Force Historical Society Reunion held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2009.  They welcomed me into their hospitality suite and I soon became an honorary member of the 96th Bomb Group.  What a wonderful couple!  I explained my desire to add individual histories of the WWII heroes, who I have been fortunate enough to meet, to my web site.

 Nancy kindly sent me an article “The Air War As  Seen Through One Waist Gunner’s Eyes”, which was based on a diary that George had kept of his 25 missions.  I am listing some of the painful incidents that this young man had witnessed. 

George writes of an occurrence in his first mission where he witnessed a P-47 direct hit, disappearing in a puff of black smoke.  He comments on seeing three B-17s shot from the sky over the target with no visible parachutes causing him an anxiety attack that evening.  He observed another unsettling incident of a B-17 ditching in the North Sea.  George goes on to tell how anxious he was to shoot at the enemy but adds that the only problem with that is that they shoot back! 

The young sergeant had also suffered frostbite from the extreme temperatures when his electrically heated gloves and boots failed.  He knows what it’s like flying through a blanket of flak and praying that they will make it back home to England after they are hit. 

In his diary, George has written that he saw a B-17 hit causing an engine fire and another B-17 going into a violent spin with only one crew member escaping; however, he did not see the parachute open.  He has seen a ME-109 fighter shoot down a B-17 and witnessed a collision of two B-17s with no visible survivors.  George comments on the emptiness in his barrack, in just a few days’ time, with so many air crewmen missing.

George makes a riveting statement of the loss of sixty planes from the Eighth Air Force on January 11, 1944, and observing one aircraft explode with no survivors and another going down in the North Sea.  He tells of having terrible dreams.  How could one possibly block the upsetting thoughts after witnessing such disturbing events and then try to sleep?  On what he considers his worst mission S/Sgt. Meshko sees five B-17s go down and three blow up due to enemy fighters.  He also witnessed an enemy FW-190 blow up with the pilot  bailing out.  He tells about the accurate flak and almost being hit when they had hits in the windshield and one whizzed past his head.

On George’s 25th and last mission, the target was Berlin and one that he and his crew members were very lucky to complete as many B-17s were shot down or blown up around them with dozens of parachutes seen in the air.

One of the amazing facts of George Meshko’s service is the fact that he was not yet 19 years of age when he finished his combat duty of 25 missions having earned the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and devotion.  He began his missions on November 3, 1943, and flew his last mission on March 6, 1944, at a mere 18 years of age having witnessed and experienced the most horrifying and frightening encounters of his young life!  When you think of the thousands of boys, like George, climbing into their positions time after time having previously watched in horror as other planes were blown from the sky, you realize their tremendous courage!