“Very exciting experience, I’m delighted to be here,” World War II veteran, Al Axtell says.
Even at a hundred, Al Axtell is as sharp as he is spry.
“Feels just like the 99th [birthday],” Axtell laughs, “and the 75th.”
The World War II veteran served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He trained all over Texas, and then trained other pilots in Louisiana. During the war, he put in for combat.
“I think everyone knows what that was like.”
In April of 1945, he got it.
“I remember the first time that I was flying with my own crew,” Axtell says, “and I looked up ahead of me and the sky was black with anti-aircraft missiles and I thought ‘this is my first mission and I’m never gonna go through with it, I’m gonna be shot down on my first mission’, but somehow or other we got through it.”
Flying out of Italy, Al would participate in missions in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and Austria, as well as Germany, bombing their oil refineries and transportation facilities to deprive the enemy of gas. He had more than one close call.
“In front of me about 800 feet was an explosion, then 600 feet, then 400 feet, then 200 feet, and the next one would have blown me to hell and it never came.”
Even now, Al is humble about his role in the war. He was doing his part.
“When World War was declared everybody was involved. They trained 60,000 pilots. I was one of them. They had 16,000,000 in the services and I was one of them.”
One of the ones, willing to put their life on the line. So that his son Tom, and so many others, could be here enjoying something like this, 73 years later.
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