Veteran recalls those who served, sacrificed for ‘our cause’
“Our cause was independence, liberty and freedom. That cause prevails yet today.”
As Memorial Day approaches, Marion Hoffman recalls those who flew with him, survived POW camp with him, those who came back from war and all who made the supreme sacrifice throughout the years for “our cause.”
“We lost four good men that day,” says Hoffman, a resident in the Bethany Village retirement community in Centerville. He recalls Jan. 6, 1945, as if it were yesterday.
He was flying his 25th mission as a B-17 tail gunner when “we got a direct hit.” The plane caught fire, the crew bailed out. The co-pilot was hit by shrapnel and died a day later. The upper turret gunner couldn’t get out and went down with the plane. The bombardier and navigator were shot and killed by Germans after they reached the ground. Hoffman and five other crewmen were captured on the ground.
They were sent to a prisoner of war camp near Eilscheid, Germany. They underwent intense interrogation and were underfed – he went from 165 pounds to 115 pounds in three months. But he felt fortunate after hearing horror stories from other camps. By April 17, 1945, he and his crew were marched to Nuremberg and then to Moosberg, where 130,000 prisoners were liberated by General George Patton’s army on April 29.
When he had left his Indiana home in the summer of 1944, he advised his girlfriend, Bernita: “You go ahead and do your own thing. I might not come back from this war.” When he returned in June 1945, “she was waiting for me.” She had worked in war production, for the cause. “I asked her, would you like to continue on life’s journey where we left off?” They were married a month later and will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in July.
Hoffman never forgot those who served with him. When he retired from NCR in 1983, he said, “I needed a healing process and closure” on his war experiences. He finished writing and publishing a manuscript in 1989, and expanded it in 1999 as “A View from the Tail: The Last Mission.”
In the past few years, he has enjoyed meeting veterans and volunteers who visit and consult on the B-17 Flying Fortress Champaign Lady rebuilding project at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio.
He even got to crawl into the gunner’s turret of a restored B-17 that flew to the Champaign museum. “They said, ‘You’re an old man, you’re not going to climb into that thing.’ I told them, ‘You just watch me!’ I got in there, by God. I wasn’t gonna miss a chance like that!”
“We loved that plane,” Hoffman said. “It saved us.”
And every now and then he pulls out the box where he keeps mementoes of his service: his gunner’s wings, the pocket New Testament his church gave him to carry with him, the Stalag VIIA dog tags the Germans issued, the table knife he used for dining in prison camp, and the prison war record document he retrieved after the war.
On Memorial Day, he honors those who died for the cause of independence, liberty and freedom, the cause that “prevails yet today.”
“It’s good to take time to remember.”