After enlisting in February 1941, Erling L. Arnson completed his basic training at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama. He remained in Alabama and started as a crew chief on an AT-6 Advanced Trainer in the 82nd School Squadron. He quickly made his way up through the ranks, being promoted to corporal on January 1, 1942; sergeant on February 1, 1942; and staff sergeant on August 1, 1942.
After hearing his brother’s ship, the S.S. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, was torpedoed by a German UBoat in the North Atlantic, Erling volunteered for combat. He was then assigned to a crew on a B-24 Heavy Bomber for phase training in Wendover, Utah. Upon completion, he reported to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia for final training. Erling and his B-24 Bomber crew made their way to Italy in February 1943 after spending time in North Africa waiting for their base to be ready.
On May 18, 1944, Erling and the crew of the Boomerang Betsy, named after the pilot’s wife, were shot down in Bulgaria on the way to Ploesti Oil Field and Rail Yards in Romania. He was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp where there were other captured Americans on the same mission as Erling. Not too long after, they were all moved to a camp in Shumen, Bulgaria where there were almost 400 POWs from 37 different countries.
According to Erling’s memoir, it was there that a squadron commander negotiated the release of the prisoners when word of advancing Soviet forces reached the camp. On September 8, 1944, the POWs were given Russian uniforms and got on a Russian train that went from Bulgaria to Turkey. On September 14, 1944, they arrived in Syria and met up with American forces that took them to Egypt. He then flew to Italy on September 17 and returned to the 743 Bomb Squadron. After returning to the United States in October 1944, Erling was assigned to Mitchel Field, New York, to be close to his family. After 10 months, he was discharged on August 19, 1945.
Erling passed away on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012. We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Editor: Agnes Song
Writer: Jessica Flores