34 Missions Over Europe; My Uncle Grover on Veterans Day Weekend
During the hot summer of 1968, he hired me to help him on the construction site of a new home he was building for my aunt and him. It was hot grueling work for a kid between 5th and 6th grades, but I learned how to build a house and a lot of other things on our water and sandwich breaks.
My uncle, Grover A Mackenroth, Sr., was an Army Air Corps veteran of WWII flying in a B-17 on missions over France, Germany, Holland, Europe. He grew up a dairy farmer, became a warrior and worked alongside my dad after the war for the next forty years at the gigantic Texaco oil refinery in my hometown.
Along with millions of other young American men, uncle Grover got his draft notice from Uncle Sam and left the farm in Texas to go fight the Nazis in Europe.
On the surface, his story seems mundane, another of the millions who went and one of the fortunate ones that came back. But it's uncle Grovers backstory that fascinates me.
He was a first-generation American born German, from around Brenham, Texas. His family back in Germany were farmers, not city dwellers. From the early part of the 20th century when his parents immigrated they naturally kept in contact with their old home family in the fertile green farming valleys of Germany, via letters.
What must it be like when the country you strived and saved and dreamed of coming to, is forced into a shooting war with your country of origin, where would your loyalties lay? Uncle Grovers family were solidly Americans.
In Texas, they owned their own land, and sold and kept their profits from the milk their cows produced and happily paid the reasonable taxes the US and the State of Texas then had in place. It was still so much better than government confiscation the Kaisers of Germany had subjected them to for generations.
And, throughout the 1930s the family did indeed receive official requests from the German government to return to the Fatherland. And many many did. WWII history books are rife with captured German soldiers who spoke beautiful English because they'd grown up in Milwaukee, Chicago or on small Texas farms.
Uncle Grover went to war with the US Army Air Corps (now the US Air Force) and flew 34 missions over Europe in a B-17 well aware of the destruction his extended family below may be suffering.
Sometimes when we'd be eating our sandwiches while building his house, he'd speak a little about his Army life.
He had a first cousin who flew a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and survived the war, they wrote letters to each other until the cousin passed away in the 1950s. They deduced they had faced each other up there many times, Uncle Grover actually seemed to remember a 109 pilot over Schweinfurt who zoomed by the 17 so closely Uncle Grover swore he could see the pilots blue eyes looking right at him.
Was that 109'r the cousin? The cousin reported that he was in fact in the sky that day firing away at B-17s and the cousin said at one point he made a mistake, and found himself about to crash into a B-17s starboard side but fortunately missed. The starboard side? Uncle Grover was a right waist gunner.
Is it humanly possible that two long-lost cousins could meet at 35,000 feet over Germany shooting at each other? It is possible, but since neither man had a smartphone with a camera in 1944, and had they had one certainly there would have been only milliseconds to snap a selfie, it's possible but not provable.
The incident supposedly happened in July of 1944, post-D-Day at a time when the Americans had achieved almost total air superiority, but there were still a few left in the Luftwaffe. The smaller German fighter plane numbers by that time in the war, and the fact the German cousin survived the war do make it more highly plausible the two looked each other in the eye up there on 19 July 44. From the letters they exchanged after the war, they each realized they'd tried to kill the other many times.
My Uncle Grover passed away in 2001 quietly essentially of old age, in my aunt's arms after living a full life of a family man, steady provider and Jack of All Trades who could build or repair any kind of machinery or woodwork. An airborne warrior slipping the bindings of earthly life in the arms of the woman he loved for over fifty years, it doesn't get much better than that.
Happy Veterans Day.
Uncle Grover's war record of his 34 missions over Europe can be seen here.