Sgt. Edward Stiffler
452nd Squadron, 322nd Bomb Group
|Veteran flew 70 missions in B-26 bomber during war
By Ron Simon
MANSFIELD -- Staff Sgt. Edward Stiffler had a ringside seat on D-Day.
Stiffler was the radio man/top gunner on a B-26 Marauder that flew two missions over the landing beaches.
"We flew low over the beaches as the landing craft were coming in,'' Stiffler said. "Our targets were the German shore batteries that were firing on our ships offshore.''
Those two combat flights over the historic beaches were among the 70 missions that Stiffler and his six-man crew flew from late autumn of 1943 to July 10, 1944.
"When we arrived in England they told us 25 to 35 missions were the norm. But replacements were hard to come by and we kept flying and flying,'' Stiffler said.
"Our last mission was at night and it was scary,'' he said. "Our target was a chateau in Northern France where a bunch of high-ranking Luftwaffe officers were meeting. We went in without fighter escort. We were in the darkness all alone. There were 30 bombers. We were hit by massive fighter attacks. We lost four planes going in and five coming out.''
Stiffler said the attack was to be resumed the next night but was called off by weather conditions at the last minute.
"Three days later they told us we were going home,'' he said.
Stiffler served with the 452nd Squadron of the 322nd Bomb Group, known as "Nye's Annihilators'' after their commanding officer, Col. Glenn C. Nye.
Stiffler's six-man crew included pilot L.C. Lubensky and co-pilot Ed Vollenweider, two men he remains in contact with to this day.
The B-26 was a medium bomber and Stiffler's unit pioneered low-level daylight raids, including the pair made over the D-Day beaches.
"We usually had fighter escorts including (British) Spitfires and (American) P-38s and P-47s. During a low-level raid, enemy fighters would make quick, deadly passes at the American bombers. Then our escorts would peel off and go after them,'' Stiffler said.
On his very first mission Stiffler found a piece of German shrapnel lodged in his flight jacket. A piece of Plexiglas zoomed between his nose and his gun sight during the flight. He kept both as souvenirs.
When he wasn't on the radio, Stiffler manned the top turret gun and fired it often. He has no idea if he ever brought down a German fighter because the action happened too fast.
He did see another B-26 break-in half in the air close by his own plane.
"I had to tell the families of men on that plane what happened,'' he said.
Stiffler has many photos of the B-26 unit in action.
"Everybody up there had a camera,'' he said.
The only one who didn't was the unit's pet dog, Nose Gear, a terrier who had his own parachute.
On one memorable occasion Stiffler's plane's landing gear had been shot away. While Stiffler and three other crewmen bailed out over England, Lubensky and Vollenweider brought the bomber in for a successful crash landing.
Stiffler came down in a plowed field, just missing a tree and then dealing with an English farmer brandishing a pitchfork.
"I remember the day very well. It was a leap year and the day was Feb. 29, 1944," he said. "We were back in the air in just a couple days.
"I liked the B-26. It got us back alive. What more could you ask for? It got the job done and it could take a lot of damage. We never had to turn back because of mechanical problems.''
Stiffler has photos of the flak damage to the wings and bodies of the various B-26 bombers on which he flew into combat.
He also came home with an Air Medal with 13 Bronze Clusters plus two battle stars on his European Theater Ribbon and a Presidential Unit Citation.
A Mansfield native who graduated from Mansfield Senior High with the class of January 1942, Stiffler was working in war industry when he joined the Army Air Force.
"I didn't want to spend my war walking,'' he said.
After taking basic training at Atlantic City, N.J., he attended mechanics school in North Carolina and a gunnery school in Florida.
His B-26 crew came together in Louisiana and flew their plane to Maine, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland to reach the war.
When they came home it was by ocean liner. They left their planes behind in the war zone. Only one crew member, the bombardier, was killed in combat.
"We were lucky,'' Stiffler said.
After a short stint as an instructor, Stiffler was discharged and started working the very next day for McKinley Roofing in Mansfield.
"I stayed for over 40 years and wound up as president and part owner,'' he said.
He married Doris Hughes of Mansfield in 1946 and the couple had two children, a son, Edwin Jr., and a daughter, Barbara Sangiacomo, who teaches school in Oberlin.
The Stifflers have attended several reunions of the 322nd Battle Group around the country.