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Carl Eckhardt
322nd Bomb Group, 450th Bomb Squadron

Carl Eckhardt enlisted in the Air Force in February of 1942 at the age of 33. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and did his training in Tulare (California), Santa Ana, Albuquerque, and Shreveport over the next 14 months. He initially requested flight school training but was rejected apparently over physical limitations. His second choice was to be a navigator/bombardier and wound up training for that position. His training included celestial navigation, which apparently not all candidates were qualified to take. He mentions the many different training sessions that included practice as gunnery, flying the B-26, navigating to various destinations, and of course, practicing dropping payloads over pseudo targets.

He arrived in England in the spring of 1943. He mentions in his letters that his crew was shipped separately to England to allow for the transshipment of their B-26 without the excess crew’s weight. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in November of 1943. During one of his missions, he helped dislodge a stuck bomb in the bomb bay and was subsequently awarded the DFC medal. During the year, Carl completed 42 missions before being hospitalized for 6 weeks due to ‘operational exhaustion’. Upon leaving the hospital in March 1944, he was unable to pass the physical exam and was permanently grounded from military flight action. He was disappointed not to be able to complete the 50 missions that were required at the time.

Over his remaining time in the European Theatre, Carl was assigned to intelligence operations and acted as an interpreter since he spoke fluent German. He had many different residences in England, France, Belgium and Germany during his post flight time in Europe. An attached photo shows him at a residence that was a pump house. At one point he was stationed in Merseburg where he presumably met his future wife to be, Hildegard.

After the war was over, he was assigned to further intelligence and security activities which included inspecting and neutralizing German factories that produced war goods for the German military.

He was discharged toward the end of 1945 and returned to his hometown of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. After several attempts to bring his future wife Hildegard (Gardi) to the United States (she was living in the Eastern Zone of Germany), he was aided by a congressional act sponsored by Senator Carl Curtis of Nebraska. Carl and Gardi were married in 1949.

Carl spent many years in the inactive reserve and enjoyed many years of meeting with his buddies with whom he had served in Europe.

Carl passed away due to a bout of pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 84. His wife, Gardi, passed away in 2004. The balance of the estate was passed to a relative, who lives in Germany. Presumably, that estate included the many photographs and memorabilia that Carl had accumulated during the war years.

Post Script
I reviewed nearly 100 letters that Carl Eckhardt sent to my parents, Adolph and Marie Eckhardt of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I also checked some official county records to get dates for certain activities.

Carl did not mention military activities in his letters owing to tight security and censorship that prevailed in the war time.

He did, however, mention his travels to the cities in Europe when he was off duty. He mentions meeting many of his buddies that he trained with in the States and occasionally talks of meeting celebrities like Clark Gable and baseball star Rogers Hornsby.

What was really notable was the tremendous support that he was getting from my parents. Each letter talked of receiving packages that contained sardines, cheese, cigars, pastries, etc. He always wondered how my mother could bake so many pastries since there was sugar and flour rationing in the States.

And there was always mention of missing my sisters and me.

The letters are extremely interesting. My niece is going to put the letters together somehow into book form and that should be interesting.

The sad part is that the many photographs and memorabilia that he had collected have disappeared. They may be part of the estate that was left to his wife’s relative.

I hope that you can use the material that I am sending you. The scans may be a different rate than what you suggested, but many of the items were terribly small.

Gary Eckhardt

Scottsbluff Star Hearld
Scottsbluff, NE
16 Jun 2004

Hildegard ‘Gardi’ Elizabeth Eckhardt
A memorial reception for Hildegard “Gardi” Elizabeth Eckhardt, nee Winnen, who died June 13, 2004, at The Residency, will be held Saturday, June 19, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Wicker Room of The Residency, 2100 Circle Drive in Scottsbluff. Inurnment will be at 3 p.m., Friday, June 18, at Fairview Cemetery with family in attendance. She was born in Bromberg, Germany, but she was raised and educated in Merseberg, Germany. She met her husband, Lt. Col. Carl Eckhardt, Ret., while he was serving in the European Theatre and with American occupying forces as a lieutenant in the Army Air Force. The couple married July 24, 1949, in Scottsbluff. She was an associate in the accounting department of the Scottsbluff National Bank and Trust Company from which she retired in 1993. Survivors include her nephew, Craig J. Eckhardt; sister, Elvi Koehlert of Merseburg; other surviving relatives, Rolf Eilenberger, his wife Eva-Maria, and son, Mathias, of Neresheim, Germany; Daniela, Alexander, Lara and Sophia Schreiber of Elchingen, Germany; and Guenter Waschkowski of Bueckeburg, Germany. Her husband and parents preceded her in death.

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