Wednesday, July 30, 2014

World War II vet Kronenberg treated to flight in Oshkosh

World War II veteran Harold “Diz” Kronenberg had nothing but superlatives in describing his flight Tuesday morning in a P-51 Mustang fighter jet.

 “The whole day was emotional, very emotional,” Kronenberg, 89, of Eau Claire said Tuesday night about his ride with pilot Cowden Ward of Burnet, Texas, part of the nonprofit Freedom Flyers group that offers free rides to veterans.

“The flight was fantastic,” he said about the 20-minute experience at the EAA AirVenture 2014 in Oshkosh. “My goodness, I thought I was a rock star. They were all so good to us.

“The airplane ride, well, it was a fantastic ride, and the pilot turned it up a bit at the end and did a few little tricks, which was fun. It was a really great time.”

After Kronenberg’s flight, WWII vet Doug Ward of Mondovi got a flight.

“Everything went just super,” added Kronenberg, who was a B-17 gunner in the war. “They had a B-17 at the air show, so I had to go over there and talk to the pilot and others. Let’s just say there were a lot of stories, a million questions and I got a chance to talk with people I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

When asked again about the P-51 flight in the near perfect weather conditions, Kronenberg said, “I think I could have flown it, it was so smooth. I think the pilot did a little dive and pulled out a little to get a little G-force just to satisfy me.”

Kronenberg, who played several weeks with the Eau Claire Bears in the Northern League in 1942, wore an Eau Claire baseball hat during the flight.

Chance to give back
Cowden Ward, in an interview Monday, said he bought a P-51 a few years ago “and just got on a mission to fly every one of the World War II vets that we can get our hands on. Everyone who wants a ride gets one.

“It’s just something we want to do to give back to the greatest generation,” added Ward, 69, who didn’t serve in the military. “It’s the only way I know I can provide them something that the guy next door couldn’t maybe do.”

Kronenberg was driven to Oshkosh early Tuesday by retired Eau Claire County Judge Ben Proctor.

“He was so excited. It seemed to mean a lot to him,” Proctor said after the flight. “It was fantastic to be a part of, in a small way. I’m so glad for Diz to get the chance to do this. I think there were a lot of memories brought back by the flight and seeing all the other planes there.”

Family aids effort

Kronenberg’s trip was organized by his niece and nephew, Deanna and Tom Horn of Austin, Texas.

“It all worked out well,” Tom Horn said Tuesday. “We are so thrilled that we could get Uncle Diz on that flight.”

Tom Horn, an 11-year Air Force veteran, is involved with Honor Flight Austin, which gets WWII veterans trips to Washington. He’d heard of the Freedom Flyers and started coordinating efforts to get Kronenberg a ride in the P-51.

“It was just a streak of good luck that all this fell in place,” Tom Horn said. “We are so glad for him. This is so great!”

Ball turret gunner

Kronenberg enlisted in the war effort upon turning 18 and eventually served as a ball turret gunner in the cramped space at the bottom of the plane where he operated 50-caliber machine guns capable of firing 1,100 rounds per minute.

Before that, he had one session in an advanced training fighter jet in Las Vegas, causing him to bring along a bag for Tuesday’s ride.

“In that first ride in Vegas, I vomited all over the generator,” Kronenberg said with a laugh. “I got airsick. You go out on a hot day and the turbulence and colder air over the mountains caused me some problems. When we got back down, I got sick all over again and later had to clean it all up.”

Kronenberg said he’d already flown two missions out of Tunisia, 19 out of Italy and 20 out of England before the P-51s entered the scene. His last mission was the day before D-Day — the war’s turning point on June 6, 1944, in which Allied forces stormed Normandy, France, and marched across Europe to defeat the Nazis and Adolf Hitler the following spring.

New book coming out

Kronenberg, a staff sergeant, earned the Distinguished Service Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross, two Presidential Unit Citations and an Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters. He went on to become a renowned and respected athlete, teacher and coach in Eau Claire, and his eighth book is soon to be released.

“When I got back, I wanted to sign up as a cadet and get in as a fighter pilot. I passed the written test but the war was coming to a close, so I never got the chance,” Kronenberg said.

“I have a lot of memories and have been fortunate to be involved in a lot of things over the years,” he said. “Tuesday was another one to remember.”

- Source:

Contributed photo 
Kronenberg honored for service World War II veteran Harold “Diz” Kronenberg of Eau Claire rides in the jump seat behind pilot Cowden Ward Tuesday morning for a flight in Ward’s WWII P-51 Mustang fighter at EAA AirVenture 2014 in Oshkosh. Ward, with the Texas-based Freedom Flyers, offers veterans free flights to acknowledge their service. Kronenberg, 89, was a B-17 gunner in the war.

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