Bob Lind, Published September 14 2013
Neighbors: 32 missions in a P-38 fighter
His job? Flying 32 combat missions as the pilot of a
P-38 fighter during World War II. And he was a guy who didn’t like to fly.
Ken, of Fergus Falls, Minn., and formerly of Twin Valley, Minn., was 86 when he died in 2009. To the end, he played down his role in the war. But his son, Steve Skauge, Fergus Falls, and his nephew, Jim Aadland, Moorhead, (who since, sad to report, has died) compiled information about him and sent it to Neighbors.
Ken’s unit, based near Foggia, Italy, flew on missions over Prague, Vienna, Munich and the Po Valley. His worst experience, he said, was flying through heavy flak over Vienna. But it was no fun being strapped in his plane for up to seven hours straight, either. Or running out of fuel and making an emergency landing.
Flak at six miles up
Ken was born in 1923 in Sacred Heart, Minn., where he attended high school and was captain of the football and basketball teams.
He attended Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, and the University of Minnesota, then joined the Army Air Corps because he was due to be drafted and didn’t want to be in the Army or Navy. Some of his pre-flight training was at Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State University Moorhead).
A story in the Twin Valley Times said that Ken’s unit in Italy primarily escorted bombers, but it also was called on to bomb and strafe such targets as railroads and airfields.
In an official report, Ken was credited with destroying at least one locomotive.
He also told of seeing enemy planes lined up on an airfield explode one by one as his unit strafed them.
Ken told the Times that the most frightening time was flying six miles up and having anti-aircraft flak bursting around him. He saw many bombers shot down, some of which carried his friends.
Once, while on a strafing mission over the Danube Valley, his plane ran out of fuel and he had to make a forced landing. But fortunately, it was on a landing strip in friendly territory in Yugoslavia.
Near the end of the war, Ken was shot at by the Germans in something that then was new: jet-propelled planes. They didn’t hit him. But he believed only the lack of fuel to put large numbers of jets into combat kept them from being a terrible menace.
Picking a college
Ken was one of four brothers serving in the military during the war. All of them made it home safely.
Ken was discharged in 1945. He wanted to return to college but, not sure which one to attend, he put the names of several schools into a hat and drew out the University of Wyoming. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree there.
He married LuCille Erickson in 1949 in Lovell, Wyo. Ken taught at Lovell High School for four years, one year at Belcourt (N.D.) High School and finally at Twin Valley High School for more than 30 years.
In Twin Valley, Ken was the American Legion post commander, was a member of many color guards during patriotic ceremonies, and played a key role in starting the local Legion baseball program.
He and LuCille had three children: Steve; Lynne Simonson, Winnipeg; and a child who died in infancy.
Steve, reporting that his father didn’t like to fly, believes the only time he flew after the war “was when we flew as a family to Disney World in 2008, and then he had to be talked into it.
“He said when he was flying (in the Air Corps),” Steve says, “he was always more concerned about mechanical failure than the enemy, because he knew all of the things that could go wrong, and apparently felt that those odds were greater than being hit by enemy fire.
“He was always appreciative of his airplane, the P-38, though,” Steve says, “not only because he felt it was a fine aircraft but because it had two engines.”
He had an experience to explain why he felt that way. Flak once took out one of those engines, but Ken brought the plane safely in on the one that remained.
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email firstname.lastname@example.org