DONNA — He was terrified of airplanes. So what was he doing sitting in the front glass enclosure of a B-17 during WWII, his hand on the trigger, ready to let loose a barrage of bombs on hand picked sites lying far below in Germany?
“I wanted to be an officer so I joined the Army Air Corps. I didn’t want to be a pilot so I decided to be a bombardier,” said Retired Major Doug Eden.
Graduating as a bombardier in Class 446 at Kirkland Field, N.M., Doug was sent to England to join the 8th Air Force, Bloody 100th Bomb Group. Flying on the lead crew he was promoted to Squadron Bombardier and went from flight officer to Captain by the age of 21 in a record three and a half months.
When it was his turn to go home the corps promised him a promotion if he’d stay.
“No,” he told them. “ I want to go back to college.”
Born in Medford, Ore., Doug was a city boy. Becoming the editor of the high school paper, words were a big part of his life. But it could be painful.
“Attending a meeting on the second floor before school started, I got locked in. So I went out the window and climbed on the ledge. Down I went. It was coming down on the second bounce that broke my arm,” he said, laughing.
In charge of the college newspaper while at Ashland Junior College, he had entered the University of Oregon to finish his journalism degree when he was called into active service.
Landing in England, he began the first of 28 missions on September 25, 1944, heading for Ludwigshaven, Germany. Over the next eight months he would help destroy aircraft plants, oil fields, tank factories, airfields, engine and tank factories, chemical plants, and railroad bridges. His air ships had unusual nicknames such as The Reluctant Dragon, Super Rabbit and Miss Chief.
Less than two months into the missions, Doug and his fellow navigator were trained to become the lead crew of the missions.
“I had a good instructor when I went to bombing school. He told me, ‘When you take over than airplane, get the target lined up quickly.’”
Yes, Doug, for a short time each mission, became the pilot he never wanted to be, as he maneuvered the plane quickly and efficiently over the target.
“When I took over I made the big swing as close as I could to where I’d want to be. From then on it was little corrections, little corrections so when we dropped the bombs I knew exactly where I was. I always hit them every damn time,” he said.
His nine fellow crewmen would breath a sigh of relief when they heard those two words - “Bombs away!” Turning the plane back over to the pilot, the pilot would turn it around and head for home, away from the flak pelting the smoked filled skies.
“Sometimes we couldn’t get back to the base and we landed in an English base because we couldn’t fly it anymore,” he said as his mind went back over the years. “I feel so grateful I wasn’t harmed because so many people died.”
His service to his country left it’s mark on Doug.
“When I’d go home my parents would be proud and want me to meet people,” he said, somberly. “I felt so badly about it all because of those people I know were killed. I just couldn’t feel like I was a hero. I just couldn’t feel like I was happy. How was it that I lived and they died? That bothered me for a long, long time. Still does. There must have been a reason.”
When he sometimes wakes up remembering those times he says to himself “I don’t want to think about this again,” and, thankfully, he would forget again. Then maybe fifteen days later he’ll wake up, remembering again, “Oh, I forgot about that one.”
The question that haunts him almost always,
“Why . . . not . . . me?”
Never getting over his dislike of flying, he simply did what he had to do.
“When you’re up there, you have a job to do. I worried about that. When I’d get through I was awfully glad we were ok and I could rest. You can’t worry about things like dying because you can’t do your work.”
A saving grace for Doug was his last four missions. The people of German-occupied Holland were starving, as were the Germans controlling the country. An agreed upon truce was struck - no flak during drops. Doug used his skills as lead bombardier to make four food drops to the famished people, a proud participant of Operation Chowhound. After so much destruction, he became a life saver, bringing hope and sustenance to thousands.
“There were places marked to drop the food but I dropped mine on the German airplanes,” said Doug, remembering those special drops. Below him, the people gathered at the drop zones looked up and could see the men waving from the planes. So low flying were they, in fact, they blew a man waving a sheet at them off the top of a roof.
His tour done, Doug went back and finally finished his journalism degree, married and had four children. However, he wasn’t through with the service. After a stint with an advertising agency and a newspaper in Washington state, the Korean War caused him to be recalled. It wasn’t the same.
“We trained to go over to Japan and one of our crew members, who had never flown before, said he wasn’t going to go. He went on strike!” said Doug, still stunned at the memory. “Can you imagine that?”
As a result of an explosive decompression high over Africa during a training mission, causing him loss of part of a lung, he made a decision. That was it. No more flying. Finally grounded, he and his family spent the last four of his over 21 year stint in the military in Japan and loved it.
“The Japanese were absolutely delightful people,” he said. “They treated me like a friend. I love that place.”
Back in the states, Doug worked for the State of Oregon as a speech writer for 13 years. Years later, meeting his second wife at a collection agency - there had been a misunderstanding with his landlord - he asked her out.
“She has a shift of wit!” he said of his blue-eyed love, his way with words still obvious, though his mind is slowing down. She, on the other hand, has another story.
“I collected him!” said Marlene, talking of that day 35 years ago. “I’ve never been sorry.”
Since he had spent a part of his military time in Texas, one year when they were traveling in their trailer and hit bad weather, he said, “I know this place…” And to the Valley they came.
Calling Palm Shadows their winter home for 26 years, last year they made it their official home with a sign - Garden of Eden - welcoming visitors to their house.
Today, Doug and Marlene are still settling into their new home, with their dog and mementos surrounding them. They help Doug remember, even though at times it’s painful. But not being able to remember is worse.
“There’s certain periods in your lifetime you know everything,” he said. “Then there’s nothing. Then you know some of this. Then it’s, ‘What’s your name?’ It’s terrible. Absolutely terrible.”
Military decorations adorn his chest when he makes his visits to Holland, commemorating Operation Chowhound - the Distinguished Flying Cross, five air medals, four battle stars and the French Croix de Guerre.
But for Doug, give him the peace of the Valley, his love by his side and his own Garden of Eden and his life is complete.