Waterloo man remembers WWII experiences

World War II veteran Howard Ludwig of Waterloo shows his 1946 honorable discharge papers from the Army Air Corps. A special point of pride for the former WHS baseball star is the weight listed on his discharge – 160 pounds – exactly what he weighs today. (Alan Dooley photo)

Howard Ludwig graduated from Waterloo High School as World War II raged in Europe during the summer of 1941.

“I worked for a year to save money, and then headed off to the University of Illinois,” he told.

But soon he would embark as one of the 16 million Americans who donned uniforms of the various services to fight in a global conflict.

“The University of Illinois offered a program in which we were enlisted in the Army and enrolled in what they called a ‘pre-meteorology” program,” he said.  “We were sent to the University of Chicago, and for two semesters were intensively schooled in physics and math. I did well in physics, but some of the math was a little beyond me.”

But as the program was completed, it was canceled.

“I was sent to Jefferson Barracks, right across the river,” he said, where he waited for two weeks.

It didn’t take long before he was on a follow-on journey that would take him back and forth across the U.S., then half way around the world.

“I was ordered to San Antonio and then San Marcos, Texas, for navigator training.  Navigation in those days was less automated than today – there was no GPS – but one academic discipline from the pre-meteorology program was very useful,” he said.  “That was vector analysis. It enabled me to easily compute cumulative effects such as a plane’s speed and course, with the effects of winds and other external factors.”

Because Ludwig did well in navigation training, he was sent to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he trained in using radar to find and attack targets.

By then, Ludwig was commissioned a second lieutenant, and was en route to Leavenworth, Kan., where he was assigned to a B-29 super fortress unit and ordered to Tinian, a tiny island in the western Pacific, for the war against Japan.  The B-29 was the largest bomber employed by the U.S. during the war.

Ludwig didn’t see combat, but he remembered two events vividly. In one incident, he slept through a morning wake-up and was left behind for a training flight.

“I never did that before or after,” he related.

As he ate breakfast waiting for his plane’s return, he learned it had crashed west of Albuquerque.

“Nobody was injured,” he said, “and I suffered no consequences.”

In another situation in the Pacific, while taking off, the B-29 experienced a runaway propeller.

“The pilot was unable to control the aircraft, but managed to come to a halt at the end of the runway, just as the plane pitched forward and stood on its nose at a cliff’s edge,” Ludwig remembered. “We were conducting two to three training missions a week on arrival in the Pacific. There was a mysterious squadron separated from the rest of us across the field there. Before we were sent to deliver our first bombs, heavily guarded B-29s from that unit delivered the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And quickly, the war was over.”

Ludwig did fly a mission over Japan as part of a show of force on the day the Japanese surrender was signed on the deck of the Battleship Missouri far below.

Ludwig, who starred in baseball at WHS, remembered off-duty ball in the western Pacific.

“We had a pick-up team at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and played a team called the Manila Bombers. They featured a player named Joe Garagiola. I played right field,” Ludwig reminisced.  “Garagiola hit a ball near me and tried to stretch it into a triple. But I threw him out at third!”

Ludwig treasures two items from his youth. He had the opportunity to show his skills between games of a doubleheader at old Sportsman’s Park, and later received a letter – which he still has – from Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Rogers Hornsby, commending him for his baseball skills at a young age. He also holds a baseball signed by Hornsby near to his heart.

Not long after the war, Ludwig went to work for the Internal Revenue Service. On retirement in 1978, he embarked on private tax work, which he continued until last year.

On Sept. 30, Ludwig’s wartime experiences were brought home again as he arrived at St. Louis Airport with his son Mark to take an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

“About 20 people were there to shake hands and send us off en route to Baltimore,” he related.

There, too, the veterans were met by a small group. They boarded a bus and headed for the monuments.

“We saw the World War II Monument, the Iwo Jima and Korean War Memorials, and the Vietnam Wall,” he related. “Our hosts anticipated and met every one of our needs,” he said.

But the big thrill was waiting back in St. Louis.

“On landing, we were asked to wait while other passengers left the airplane.  Then we were brought out and it was unbelievable. People were waiting – packed eight, 10 deep – cheering, reaching to touch us and shake our hands. Then there was 90 minutes of musical entertainment, interspersed with introductions and references to our service careers. We were the center of attention,” he said, tears forming in his eyes.  “We were introduced as part of the greatest generation. I could not believe something that happened 70 years ago was so important. I was flabbergasted.”

Ludwig headed home with a bundle of letters from a military-style mail call held in Washington, D.C.

“I got letters from friends and from kids I don’t know, thanking me for my service,” he said.

Staring out the door to his patio in West Lake Estates, Ludwig said quietly, “it was a day I will never, never forget.”

Veterans Day is Tuesday, Nov. 11. Ceremonies are planned for 11 a.m. at the Columbia American Legion and 6:30 p.m. at Waterloo High School.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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