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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Captain Mathew Berger - World War II Hero

A Story Heard While Leaving the Automotive Leadership Roundtable Event in Miami Beach; Captain Mathew Berger - World War II Hero, and an Inspiration!

Sean Wolfington, Greg Noonan and Ralph Paglia all converged during a chance encounter in the lobby of the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach. As we exchanged greetings, and I asked Greg about his new plane, an older gentleman approached us... He asked Greg if he was a pilot, which he is.

During the conversation that ensued, we each learned that the gentleman's name is Matt Berger and he is a World War II Veteran who flew B24 bombers out of England on missions over Nazi Germany.

With some prompting on our parts, we were able to get Matt Berger to share some WWII stories with us... Turns out his last mission flying a B24 Liberator bomber over Nazi targets in Germany resulted in his plane losing 1 of 4 engines to Nazi antiaircraft flak. Although the Liberator flew well with 3 of its 4 engines, it could not fly as fast...

This was a MAJOR problem as Matt knew that if he fell out of formation with his bomber group, he and his crew would surely be picked off and killed by Nazi Fokker fighters that preyed upon any allied aircraft that became stragglers by falling out from the group, and the protection provided by the tight formation the Allied bombers flew in to provide cover for each other...

After dropping their load of bombs onto Nazi Military targets, Matt turned his B24 Liberator around to head back towards England with the rest of his bomber group... As he pushed the remaining 3 engines of his Liberator to protect the lives of his crew, as well as his own, by keeping up with the group, the engines starting to over-heat.

Knowing that if he could reach the safety of Allied held Belgium, he could crash land his Liberator where he and his crew would likely escape capture by Nazi forces, Matt coaxed the engines along at RPM's that exceeded their red line... Being only 19 years old and the pilot of a wounded B24 Liberator, the youngest member of an 8 man crew, Matt had the lives of all on board in his young hands, relying upon his skills as a pilot to get all of them to safety behind Allied lines...

Matt sacrificed a second engine to keep up with his formation long enough to reach Belgium... Being the savvy leader that he is, he chose the engine in the same position on the opposite side of the Liberator as the engine taken out by Nazi flak. By doing this, Matt knew he could bring the big limping bomber down in a level manner, increasing the survivability of a crash landing.

As his Liberator fell out of formation over Belgium, Matt spotted a dream come true... A freshly plowed and furroughed Belgian farm field that was long enough to land the big bomber without hitting trees or buildings. As he approached his crash landing field, he set the plane up for a belly landing without landing gear down, as he knew the gear would only plunge into the freshly plowed field, acting like an anchor and slamming his Crew violently, Matt brought the Liberator into the wind...

1,000 feet to 800 to 600 to 400 to 200 as he brought the airspeed down from 190 MPH to under 100 MpH... Just before the Liberator touched down on the smooth and soft Belgium soil, one of Matt's crew grabbs the landing gear lever and pulls the landing gear into position without Matt's permission!

Just as Matt had feared, the landing jammed into the ground creating enough G Force of braking to knock out several crew members. Despite his tight flight harness, Matt's skinny 19 year old frame was twisted and slammed into the steering yoke. All his ribs were broken and the steering handle had penetrated his chest cavity.

Matt's co-pilot was able to radio Allied ground forces and a search and rescue recovery team was dispatched to the Belgian farm... Every crew member sieves and despite the deformed ribs that still protrude from Matt Bergers back, which he showed us in the lobby of the Loews Miami Beach hotel, Matt was promoted to full Captain's rank and went back out on more missions over Germany several months later.

After the war, Matt Berger became a successful TWA pilot and years later retired with full military and civilian pilot's honor. Sean, Greg and I were moved by matt Berger's take and we want to thank him for sharing his story with us...

When I think about what Matt Berger did , enlisting in the Army Air Force at the age of 17... Flying many dozens of missions over Nazi Germany without fighter plane protection... Crash landing his plane in Belgium, then going back out on more missions, all before his 20th birthday... Well... I am simply humbled beyond description.

Thank you Captian Mathew Berger! Thank you for saving the world from a Nazi scourge that makes Al Quaida look like a bunch of street punks... Thank you for setting the stage that becomes the 50+ year post-WWII economic boon which has allowed MY generation of Baby Boomers to enjoy the greatest quality of life ever experienced in human history... Thank you Captain Mathew Berger for sacrificing your youth to free Europe and give me and my generation a life of Liberty and the Freedom to pursue Happiness!

We could never repay the debt we owe Matt Berger and his generation.
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