LONG BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A 92-year-old Wold War II veteran from Long Beach endured one of the most harrowing assignments of the war.
“I am still living the war, and that was 70 years ago, right?” Erwin Salnick said.
He navigated his B17 bomber as an Army Air Corps lieutenant on a record 35 missions over Germany.
“Every time we went up, we had a one in three chance of coming back,” Salnick told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.
He was just 18 years old when he enlisted, dropping out of Columbia University and pledging to his first love that he would make it home to Dyckman Street in Manhattan to propose.
The nose of his plane bore the name of his sweatheart Joan.
Salnick and his crew became very close. Aware the he was the only Jew, their fears of concentration camps and the Gestapo mounted should their plane be shot down.
As for Adolph Hitler, Salnick said “I wanted to kill the SOB.”
His dreams of a free world kept up his courage.
“All of a sudden, you would see 50 or 60 German fighters coming after you with their guns blazing, and that scared the hell out of you too,” he said. “Flak bursting all around the airplane, thousands of shells exploding all over.”
Salnick had a makeshift desk in the nose of the aircraft where he poured over maps.
“This piece of flak came through the bottom of the plane and for some reason or other was heading right for me,” he recalled. “It ran out of power and stopped just eight inches from me.”
That shell from the ground became a symbol of life to Salnick. It was lost in Hurricane Sandy.
“I carried it in my pocket for 70 years, and I told them I don’t have anything to worry about anymore because I have the one with my name on it, right?” he said.
Like many veterans, Salnick has suffered some health setbacks, but he hopes that by next Veteran’s Day he will resume his job as a docent volunteer at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.
He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, and after the war he became a landscape architect. But he told McLogan his passion is keeping veterans’ memories alive.