WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Flak was very heavy the night a 19-year-old airman’s B-29 bomber was hit by flak above the Yalu River in enemy territory during the Korean War.
“When the plane got hit, two engines caught on fire,” said 90-year-old Al Lazzera, an electronic counter-measures operator, one of four ECMs who sat in a compartment near the tail of the SuperFortress.
“My job was radio and electronic countermeasures, which is mainly electronically jamming enemy radars and guns so they can’t lock onto his bomber,” said Lazazzera.
He thinks a Chinese anti-aircraft battery near a power transmission plant his plane was attacking that night locked onto his bomber before he could activate his counter-measures package.
A lot of targets for Lazazzera’s squadron were up north around the Yalu River. China, of course, was next door and its AAA fire could reach up to where B-29s were flying.
The Korean War lasted 1,176 days from 1950 to 1953 when an armistice ended the fighting, but not the war. B-29s like the one Lazazerra flew in were in the air all but 30 days of that time.
“Almost all of our missions were flown at night,” said Lazazzera.
The night Lazazerra’s plane got hit, the fireworks reminded him of the Fourth of July celebrations on the National Mall in Washington, D.C
“Once the flak began hitting our plane, it was like hail pounding the fuselage,” said Lazazzerra. He said that bursts of flak caused the big bomber to buck in the air and shudder.
One of three navigators who sat next to Lazazzera put a wooden box of maps and charts that he would need during a mission between him and the young airman. A piece of flak came through the right side of the aircraft where Airman Lazazzera was sitting. It hit the box and shattered it. Some of the splinters hit Lazazzera in the back.
“I’m hit, I’m hit,” shouted the young airman. However, when one of the plane’s three bombardiers left his position up front and crawled back to the ECM compartment, he reported Lazazzera wasn’t wounded, just scared.
With two engines on fire and losing altitude, the pilot of “Don’t Pick On Me,” the nickname that the crew of 23 gave the big bomber, alerted his crew to the possibility they might have to bail out over enemy territory.
“We were told to put on our parachutes, but the flight engineer was able to put out the flames with fire extinguishers in the engines,” said Lazazzera, who rode the lead sled down to an emergency landing at K-14, an airbase at Kimpo, west of Seoul, South Korea.
The airfield was blacked out. The only lights were in the wings of the B-29. The pilot turned them on as he glided down to a controlled landing on the darkened airstrip. Flak put big holes in the two engines.
“We came in on a wing and a prayer,” said Lazazzera who not only did a lot of praying on the way down but afterward as well.
“I also did a lot of drinking,” laughed Lazazzera who admitted that he shook for a week.
It was his second mission over North Korea and he didn’t think he could ever get back into a bomber again. But he summoned up the courage to climb aboard again.
“I knew I had to fly 30 missions before I could go home, but I worried about that last mission because I remember hearing some stories about guys getting knocked down on their last mission,” said Lazazzera.
After he came home from the Korean War, Al Lazazzera opened a barbershop in Winchester which he continues to operate.
Although he’s not getting any younger, you can find Al Lazazzera cutting hair from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Al’s Place in Winchester, Virginia.