By USO and Google Staff
It was the war that changed the world forever. From Europe to North America and beyond, millions of people across the globe were directly impacted by the events leading up to, during and after World War II. While 75 years have passed since the end of WWII, the stories of those who lived through the historic global conflict live on in the photos, words and memories they shared with their loved ones.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the USO has been collecting stories and photographs from veterans, military family members and USO supporters to add to our archives and share with our community. We believe that these stories matter, and that they should be remembered.
While many of these WWII stories have come from military supporters like you, some have also come from our corporate partners, including Google. This summer, the USO partnered with a group of Google staffers – many of them veterans themselves – and asked them to tap into their network of military-connected Google employees in the hopes of collecting memories from the WWII era.
Here are three of the stories they found:
Paul Edward Neumann, a Daring Pilot Over the Skies of the North Pacific
Paul E. Neumann always said he couldn’t make the lightning-fast decisions some pilots could. He had to think through his options.
Neumann, a native of Michigan, was a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps (which would later become the Air Force in 1947) during WWII. He served as a combat pilot in the Pacific, specifically in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
When Neumann was relatively new to bombing missions, he lost an engine on his plane, “L’il De-Icer,” which was an early B-24 Model “D” Bomber. When this happened, he did not realize he was supposed to land in Siberia if his plane was crippled. So, he kept on flying home. He landed on his base in the Aleutian Islands with ten minutes of fuel left after a nine-hour flight. To his knowledge, no prior plane had crossed the North Pacific on three engines.
He decided to go for it again when he lost an engine while flying the B-24 “H” Model – he made it back home then, too.
Despite these early engine troubles, Neumann’s son, Paul Neumann Jr., said his father had an excellent overall flying record during the war, so he had little trouble scrounging up a crew on short notice. Neumann Jr. said that if his father had a bombing mission and an assigned crew member was sick and couldn’t fly, his father would open the door of his hut and find men waiting for a chance to take the sick crew member’s place on the mission.
It also helped that there was little else to keep men busy on the Aleutian Islands between missions.
Shemya Air Force Base, Alaska, in January 1945. The base was later renamed Eareckson Air Station before closing in 1994.
Paul Neumann (right) in Morrow, Alaska, during World War II.
Paul Neumann during World War II at his desk in Alaska.
Paul Neumann’s plane drops bombs during World War II.
Shemnya Air Force Base, Alaska - where Paul Neumann was stationed - circa World War II.
Shemnya Air Force Base, Alaska - where Paul Neumann was stationed - circa World War II.
Paul Neumann (left) in 2012 with his family.
In addition to his reputation for bringing his men home, Neumann was also known for his reputation to do so safely. On Neumann’s flights, two waist-gunners stood in open windows, sandwiched between their machine guns and a heavy metal shield that protected them from a fighter attack from behind.
During one flight, Neumann had one close call where enemy fire hit nearby, peppering the outside of the plane. The gunner could hear the flak rattle off the shield and the outside of the plane. There was some damage to the plane, but the gunner was untouched.
For his many missions during his three years of service during WWII, Neumann was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, two Air Medals and a Presidential Citation.
After the war, Neumann remained in the Air Force Reserve and was called to active duty during the Korean War, where he served as an Air Defense Command Staff officer. As a civilian, Neumann worked in the insurance industry for over 50 years. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 90.
This story was shared by Navy veteran and current Google employee, Aron Foster, and his family.
Lives of Service: Donald P. Wise and His Rosie the Riveter Wife, Ruth
Donald P. Wise enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII. Coming from a small, rural midwestern town, the chance to serve as a patriot, along with the benefits of the military, was a dream come true. During the war, Wise served in various locations as part of classified missions.
Wise’s wife, Ruth Wise, also served – but as a Rosie the Riveter helping the war effort from the U.S. Known for her grit and work ethic, she helped build many of the 10,000 P-38 Lightning Fighter Aircraft that would go on to fly over 130,000 missions during the war.
After the end of WWII, Donald Wise went on to serve for 23 and a half years and retired from the Air Force. During his career, Wise’s service took him to the United Kingdom, Greenland, Germany and multiple stateside locations.
Wise’s grandson, Jason Wise, continued the family’s tradition of service and was a member of the U.S. Air Force from 1999 to 2003. During this time, Jason was deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
This story was shared by Air Force veteran Jason Wise, who is a close friend of current Google employee and Air Force veteran David Mills.
Richard T. Breidenbach’s Joyous and Somber Memories of Service
Richard T. Breidenbach served in the Army from 1941-1945 during WWII. After many days of sustained combat, Breidenbach was severely wounded by enemy fire and remained in a coma for many weeks, from which he awoke on a hospital train that carried him to convalesce in England.
While on the hospital train, he met the famous leading lady of Alfred Hitchcock’s film “39 Steps,” Madeleine Carroll, who was overseas volunteering. At the time, she was one of the world’s highest paid actresses.
Due to his inability to hold a pen, Carroll offered to hand-write a letter to his wife, Jane Breidenbach, back in the U.S. Richard took her up on the offer.
Richard, along with the 45th Infantry Division, saw 511 days of sustained combat in Italy, France and Germany. After years of struggle, they eventually liberated the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau in April 1945.
The division was composed of men from Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. According to a 2018 story by the editors of the American Indian Magazine, the 45th was particularly diverse for the time and “its ranks included many American Indians, as well as cowboys, and the division was always conscious of its Native heritage.”
Richard only told his grandson, Matt Breidenbach, about Dachau one time before he died. While Matt was very young, he remembers his grandfather using the word “skeletons” to describe what he saw in Dachau, referring to both the liberated and the deceased.
“While the memory of such horrors cannot ever be replicated, and I’ll likely never see anything as terrible, what he and his fellow soldiers endured in the name of liberty has inspired me, and continues to inspire me to this day, to be a better man, citizen and service member to our nation,” Matt said.
“When he passed away in 2013, I knew that I had to serve my country to somewhat live up to his legacy and honor the ground that generation laid before us.”
Matt went on to serve in the U.S. Navy and is still serving as a Navy reservist today.
This story was shared by Navy reservist and current Google employee, Matt Breidenbach, and his family.
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