FREDERICK, MD. — (WDVM) When Army Air Corps Staff Sergeant Melvin Hurwitz flew his final combat mission as an aerial gunner in 1945. The war in Europe was winding down, but the skies over Nazi Germany were still a dangerous place to be.
“I saw a plane go down; the only combat experience I had,” said Hurwitz who is 96. “I was right next to it,” said Hurwitz who was a radio operator/waist gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress.
Hurwitz didn’t see any parachutes as the bomber rolled onto its back before plunging nose-first toward the Fatherland below the open window on the left side of the bomber where he manned a .50 caliber heavy machinegun when he wasn’t in the radio compartment.
More than 13,00 American airmen in the Eighth Air Force fell to their deaths in ‘flaming coffins’ when they were shot down by German fighters and flak.
Hurwitz said hewas lucky. By April 1945, the Luftwaffe was no longer a factor. ME-109 Messerschmitts and FW-190 Focke-Wolf fighters were shot down by American P-51s before they could penetrate bomber streams that sometimes stretched for 100 miles.
Hurwitz liked to see “Little Friends,” the name bomber crews gave to P-51 pilots, who escorted them deep into enemy territory and stayed with them until they returned safely to bases in England.
“At the end of the war, the Germans had no more fighter planes to put up in the air,” said Hurwitz, “We controlled the skies virtually for the last 6 to 8 months of the war.”
Germany wasn’t defenseless in the closing months of the war. They had plenty of AAA, Anti-Aircraft-Artillery that filled the sky with flak, puffs of black smoke, and shrapnel when 88-millimeter proximity shells exploded in and around bomber formations.
“They became pretty good at it,” said Hurwitz, who watched in horror as B-17s beside him took hits, caught fire, and exploded; killing the ten-man crews.
“It was frightening to see a bomber next to you get hit by flak and explode,” said Hurwitz, “I had never seen anything like that in my life. I wondered if I was next.”
Staff Sergeant Melvin Hurwitz flew four combat missions; two over Germany and two over Czechoslovakia. But he says the most satisfying ones were “Chowhound Missions” when they dropped tons of food to starving Dutch men, women, and children.
“Organized Confusion,” the nickname of the B-17 that Hurwitz flew in, was cannabalized after the war.
Usable parts were removed and the airframe was shredded. The only thing Hurwitz saved was his uniform and A-2 leather flight jacket which he donated to a British Air Museum at Debach, England where he lived in a Quonset hut with other enlisted men in the 493rd Bomb Group; a heavy bombardment group in the Eighth Air Force that dropped bombs behind Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
When Germany surrendered in May, Sgt Hurwitz was sent back to the United States to be retrained as a crew member on a B-29. But the war in the Pacific ended before he finished his training.
After the war, Hurwitz and his brothers entered the family business in Maryland. His mother and father who emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union owned and operated several jewelry stores in Maryland.
Hurwitz managed Colonial Jewelry in Frederick, Maryland for 35 years before retiring.
Hurwitz has been invited to join other WWII veterans at the 80th Anniversary Observance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th.