Ross M. Pascall Sr. of Hilton Head Island could be considered a typical World War II veteran, if there were anything typical about surviving 35 missions in a B-17 bomber shot up like a sieve from the ground and air.
He was a typical Maplewood, N.J., kid when he signed up with the New Jersey National Guard Air Corps to get his year of service over with in August 1940.
He had met the girl of his dreams on a blind date in a borrowed 1931 Ford convertible.
"We were sitting in the rumble seat and that's when I fell in love," said Pascall.
Pearl Harbor changed everything for his entire generation.
Pascall and both his brothers -- so close to being a year apart their mother threw one birthday party each year -- all went on active duty at the same time. And they all got home as first lieutenants.
Next month, Pascall will turn 94. It will also mark a year since he lost his dream girl.
Pascall and Viola had a wartime wedding, and she got to visit as he was transferred from one training base to another. Their son, Ross Jr., was born while his father flew in a freezing Flying Fortress called the "Bomboogie" in mission after mission to drop 5,000 pounds of bombs over Germany.
He jotted down a brief note on every mission. On Oct. 15, 1944 he wrote: "Cologne, western Germany in the middle of 'Happy Valley.' Target: Railroad marshaling yards in eastern part of town. In flak for 25 minutes. Almost got us for good with incendiary shells they sent up. Sure scared the hell out of me! A very rough mission. Three did not come back in our squadron. Flak heavy."
'IT WAS MURDER'
Pascall flew in the 390th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Army Air Force out of Framlingham, England. From there, it took the nine- or 10-man crew six hours to reach their target. "We were always worried about the gas," he said.
He logged 892 hours of flying, 300 hours in combat. The Bomboogie survived it all -- more than 100 missions -- but during Pascall's tour "we had 18 engine changes and 15 wing changes, they were so full of holes."
He was one of the lucky ones.
"You get back and you look around the barracks and it's half filled and you realize it's because they're dead," he said. "They're already dead."
His crew thought they were going to die every day they went up. They saw plenty of "ships" go down right in front of them.
"It was murder, I'll tell you that," Pascall said. "It was murder."
He wonders if it was worth it ... "away from home for five years, bombing people, always around noon in the center of town, killing a lot of people."
How did he deal with it?
"You didn't deal with it," he said. "You suffered with it. It was a different state. You were a different person. It wasn't good. It was bad. Sure, they give you medals, but what good are medals if you're dead?"
Pascall earned a cherished medal long after the war.
He flew one of the 110 bombers to drop supplies to the Polish resistance fighting Nazi occupation.
His journal entry on Sept. 18, 1944 reads: " 'Shuttle Raid.' Warsaw, central Poland. Target: Patriots in southern part of city. Flak the worse I've seen -- terrific! The roughest target yet. ... (Dropped) 12 250-pound cylinders containing supplies for patriots. Chutes looked pretty as hell going down. White, black and red mixed with flak was really something."
Fifty years later, Polish officials awarded their country's Warsaw Uprising Cross to Pascall and about 30 other American veterans in a ceremony in a museum aboard the USS Intrepid in New York City.
'BEST WE COULD'
When Pascall got home after the war, he was hired by Eddie Rickenbacker to fly for Eastern Air Lines. But Viola, who they called Vi, stayed up all night crying. "She didn't want me flying anymore," Pascall said. He turned down the job.
He and a brother bought a two-family house in Millburn, N.J., on the GI Bill. Ross and Vi and their son and daughter, Susan, lived there for 13 years before moving into a picturesque English Tudor house on Pine Street.
Pascall was a career salesman. He sold paint for eight years and then got into precast concrete products for large construction projects.
The secret to success in sales, he said, is "knowledge of your product, know how to present it and just be a regular guy."
Pascall retired at 72. He sold real estate part-time, but finally had time to take up golf.
"I got down to a 17 handicap," he said. "Now, oh boy."
He still plays at the Oyster Reef Golf Club in Hilton Head Plantation. But after battling a staph infection, he can't hit the ball like he used to and he doesn't have the stamina to go more than nine holes.
He laughs that he lives alone in a three-bedroom villa, but his son, Ross Jr., lives nearby in The Preserve at Indigo Run. He enjoys his two granddaughters, and he just got back home from celebrating his brother's 96th birthday.
Pascall said he has no profound words for veterans on this Veterans Day.
"We were the same as veterans today," he said. "We got out and didn't know what we were going to do. We just got along the best we could, all of us."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.
http://www.390th.org/" target="_blank">390th Memorial Museum
http://cmtk3.webring.org/l/rd?ring=ww2av;id=1;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.parhamairfieldmuseum.co.uk%2F" target="_blank">Parham Airfield Museum in Framlingham, Great Britain