FREDERICK, Md. (WDVM) — When Staff Sergeant Melvin Hurwitz was flying combat missions in a B-17 bomber over Europe he never dreamed that he would celebrate his 96th birthday, or for that matter his 20th birthday.
“Never,” said the former Staff Sergeant who lives in downtown Frederick near Colonial Watch and Jewelry on Patrick Street where he worked in the family business for 30 years after the war. “But you never know,” said Hurwitz, “Here I am.”
Hurwitz’s parents immigrated from Russia, met in Baltimore, and married before moving to Westminister, Maryland where his father, a watchmaker in Russia, opened the first of three watch and jewelry stores, one of which, Colonial Watch and Jewelry in downtown Frederick is where Hurwitz worked for 30 years after the war and is near the Francis Scott Key where Hurwitz lives in retirement.
All of the Hurwitz boys served in the armed services during World War Two.
Private Al Hurwitz was a combat artist who flew over Japanese-held islands in the South Pacific and sketched prospective landing sites for the Marine Corps.
Melvin’s older brother William was a Naval Ensign on USS Tregoning, an attack transport that supported Marine landings in the South Pacific.
Melvin’s youngest brother was a soldier in the U.S. Army, but was medically-discharged after basic training.
Before war broke out in Europe and the Pacific Melvin Hurwitz joined his brothers at Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee which later became Vanderbilt University. Knowing he would be drafted, Melvin joined the Army Air Corps, because his brother’s friends told him girls loved Silver Wings.
But Hurwitz washed out of flight training he threw up when his instructor pilot threw their Stearman trainer into a tailspin, but Melvin earned a set of Silver Wings when he “aced” an aptitude test and qualified as a radio operator and waist gunner on a B-17 bomber.
“I sat in the middle of the plane on the left side of the bomber rightbehind the bomb bay in the radio compartment,” said Hurwitz who had the only office on the Flying Fortress for enlisted personnel.
The navigator-bombardier, an officer, had office space in the nose of the B-17.
En route to enemy targets, SSgt Hurwitz manned a .50 caliber machinegun on the left side of the aircraft.
Hurwitz flew with the 863rd Bomb Squadron in the 493rd Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force.
SSgt Melvin Hurwitz got into the war as it was winding down, but he and his crew in “Organized Confusion,” the nickname they gave their B-17, flew four combat missions, two humanitarian missions, and six repatriation missions in which they flew captured German prisoners home from a prisoner of war camps in France.
Melvin and his brothers, William, Al and Jerry all came home safely.