By Jenna Blount – Clinton Herald
As Vernon Truempr of Camanche heads toward his 100th birthday Dec. 6, he clearly recalls the time he spent as a World War II fighter pilot eight decades ago.
“I flew 35 missions and 36 missions was the average life of a fighter pilot,” Truempr says with his rough voice but with the smile he so often has.
Truempr was born in St. Louis, and grew up in a small town in Arkansas. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, just days after Truempr turned 19, he enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Air Force.
It was about a six-month wait before he was able to get into training. He began the first of three training sequences in Texas. The second took place in Garden City, Kansas, and advanced training took him to Panama. There, in a P-40 Warhawk aircraft, Truempr would intercept any incoming planes and clear them for landing.
After a few months, orders came in to return to the States to learn to fly a P-47 fighter plane with its 2,000-horsepower engine.
In 1943, Truempr got his wings and received orders to head overseas.
It took five days for the Queen Elizabeth to carry troops over to Scotland. Known to be fast enough to need not worry about submarine torpedos, the ship traveled without the protection of a convoy.
Truempr’s squadron joined the 367th Fighter Group in France, which would become known as the “Dynamite Gang.”
“We would receive calls from the front line to tell us they need help,” Truempr recalls. “We would be already loaded with bombs or whatever we needed.”
Flying P-47 aircrafts, they’d clear the ground below for the 4th Armoured Division of U.S. Army General George S. Patton’s Third Army to quickly advance.
Providing this kind of air support wasn’t without enemy retaliation.
Germany’s 88 mm cannon was the country’s main heavy anti-aircraft, or “flak,” weapon during the war. Its projectile would explode at a certain altitude, sending jagged metal and steel fragments tearing through any nearby aircraft but hidden from visibility by the black cloud of smoke known to accompany them.
During one mission, a piece of flak came through the canopy of Truempr’s plane and grazed the side of his head as it shot past him.
The next orders for the squadron sent it to Okinawa, Japan.
Carried again by ship, the men crossed the Mediterranean Sea, through the channel flanked by Europe and Africa, and traveled down Africa’s banks. They were only two or three days of travel away from their destination when the ship’s captain received word that the war in Japan had ended.
“In other words, while we were on that trip, that’s when the atomic bomb was dropped,” Truempr says. “I went there with feeling that I would never make it back.”
The ship turned around and returned to the States.
A buddy he’d talked to while they’d started for Okinawa was from Ames. Truempr had expressed to him a desire for a college education, to which his buddy responded by telling him that Iowa State University was a great school he should attend. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law in June 1944, nearly a year prior, so soon as Truempr was back on American soil, he made his way to Iowa.
He wasn’t sure, however, what exactly he wanted to study. The decision was made when the man in front of Truempr at registration named chemical engineering as his focus. Truempr was next, and when asked what he wanted to register for, he thought he’d give chemical engineering a try, too.
Truempr married his wife, Deloris, a year before he graduated. A clipping out of the Des Moines Register that her father sent led to their decision to move to Camanche in the 1950s. The clipping was an employment ad for DuPont, a new plant in Camanche that was hiring.
Thirty years later, Truempr retired from DuPont at the age of 60.
Truempr’s wife of 57 years, with whom he’d raised three sons, Gerald, Steven, and Craig, died in 2005 at 81 years old.
During Truempr’s retirement, he devoted 19 years to Clinton’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, through which he helped elderly or impoverished residents with their taxes free of charge. He also spent a significant number of years as president of the Camanche School Board.
For his 100th birthday, Truempr’s sons plan to take him out to dinner at Candlelight Inn. They often come to visit and take him out since he stopped driving three years ago.
His pilot’s license, however, is still valid.
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Source: American Military News