WWII Snapshots by Joel Jellison - 2008

John Lindholm, Army Air Force

World War II gave John Lindholm the chance to experience many new things. But the story could have played out a lot differently than it did for the boy from Cheney, Kan. who would become a B-17 pilot.

When Lindholm enlisted in 1942 for the Army Air Force at Fort Riley, his brother Alfred, also enlisting at the time, made sure to measure him at a certain height so he would be able to fly.

"There was a whole bunch of us in the fort so it was a jam packed place," he said. "There were too many guys enlisting compared to the personnel doing the physicals so they had us weigh and measure each other and things like that. We both met the height limit when we measured each other. I was 6'5" and the limit is 6'4", so I just crouched down a little bit."

Lindholm said he chose to go the way of the Army Air Force because he loved the idea of flying. His first experience had been when he was in Boy Scouts flying in his scout leader's single engine plane. While in the air, Lindholm said he was allowed to fly the plane.

That love translated into him choosing to fly a B-17. The B-17 wasn't his first choice of flying, however.

"What I would have liked to fly is a P-38, but at my size I would not be able to get into them very easily," he said.

Training to be a B-17 pilot was extensive and when Lindholm finally got the call. He trained at various locations throughout the United States, sometimes spending up to three months at a location. The training sites included Kerns, Utah for boot camp and Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. for college training detachment and Thunderbird No. 1 near Phoenix, Ariz. and Roswell, N. M. for B-17 training.

After finishing crew training in Dyersburg, Tenn., Lindholm and his group left for England on a boat from the Newark Harbor. Once in England, his crew was assigned to the 457th Bomb Group.

According to 457thbombgroup.org, a Web site with information about the history of the group and its members, the group was formed in the United States on July 1, 1943. On Jan. 17, 1944, individual aircraft flew to the British Isles, eventually coming together in Glatton, England between Jan. 21 and Feb. 14. The first mission was flown Feb. 21.

All the traveling was an interesting change for Lindholm. Before entering the military, he had traveled to only two different spots out of Kansas.

"When I went into the service I had only been to Kansas City and, on my senior sneak, we went down to Oklahoma from Cheney," he said.

Lindholm's crew of 10 entered the 457th along with five other groups as wing position planes. After five or six missions, Lindholm said he was recognized for his flying skill with what he called an "unpaid" promotion - an assignment to be a lead plane pilot.

While the other groups would go on to fly around 35 missions, the additional training needed for Lindholm's crew to become a lead plane cut the number of their eventual missions down to 17.

As a B-17 pilot, Lindholm's job was to fly missions in Europe, bombing rail yards, factories, airfields and submarine bases. Bombing, in the fashion of the B-17, was still a pretty new technology in World War II. In the previous world war, Lindholm said, pilots had to reach out and drop bombs by hand.

His time in the war did not come without close calls. Flak was a constant threat to the B-17 and its crew. Flug Abwehr Kannons - air defense cannons - fired shells from the ground at the aircraft. When the shell exploded, pieces of shrapnel were sent in all directions. During one mission, a piece struck Lindholm in the helmet, rendering him unconscious. On another mission, an exploding Flak shell killed his waist gunner.

After the war in Europe had ended, Lindholm returned home for a month of rest before he was to begin training for service in the Pacific. But before he was to ship out, the atomic bombs ended the war with Japan. In 1945, after three years of service, Lindholm received his service separation papers.

Lindholm started classes at Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (now Kansas State University) and received degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration in 1949.

After completing school, he began working for General Electric in Fort Wayne, Ind. But when he was asked to transfer to New Jersey, he opted instead to take a job with Midwest Energy in Kansas City.

When the University of Kansas began a graduate degree program, Lindholm went back to school to finish a master's degree in education. After deciding he wanted to teach, Lindholm continued at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where he earned a doctorate. He became a member of the Kansas State University faculty in the mechanical engineering department in 1960. He retired in January 1989. He is now professor emeritus in mechanical engineering.

After participating in a series of interviews with Kansas World War II veterans in Topeka, Lindholm helped form a Veterans Oral History project in June 2003 in association with the Riley County Historical Museum. Through the project, 192 interviews were recorded. Lindholm also helped fund the program through donations from him and his wife, Mildred.

Currently Lindholm is assisting the financial campaign for a World War II memorial on the K-State campus. The memorial will be located north of McCain Auditorium, between Fairchild Hall and the Danforth/All Faiths Chapel.

But Lindholm's war experiences had another long-term effect on him; it gave rise to a love of travel. In 1962, he went to the University of Asyut in Egypt, where he provided help to a new engineering school. Before arriving there, he spent time in England and Rome.

Two years later, when he left Egypt, he returned to Europe and rented a car. He drove to Florence, Italy and then went to Frankfort, Germany. There he bought a VW bus and drove it around the country to places like Munich, an area he had bombed during the war, and Auschwitz, Poland. He eventually brought the vehicle back to the U. S. with him on the Queen Mary. Lindholm said he put between 4,500 and 5,000 miles on the bus while in Europe.

Since then, the boy from Cheney, Kan., who had only been out of the state twice before he entered the service, has traveled to all 50 states and about 50 foreign countries.

Left: Lindholm next to the central figure - a set of "dog tags" - in the Kansas State University WWII memorial. Lindholm's actual tags were used as the model for the work; top-right: Lindholm as a B-17 pilot; lower-right: Lindholm dancing with a woman at the 457th's 2007 reunion in Pensacola, Florida.

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