Lt. Robert F. Pelzman, Pilot, 514th Squadron
by Stuart Young
(San Antonio, Texas)
My father, Alfred W. "Brigham" Young, Jr. was a radio operator in the 514th Squadron. His pilot, Flight Officer McGlynn, and the rest of the crew nicknamed him "Brigham" while in Combat Crew Training back in the states. He first stepped ashore in Italy on Christmas Eve 1944, and arrived in San Pancrazio five days later. He flew his first combat mission on January 19, 1945, and flew his second one with Lt. Pelzman as pilot on February 1st. On February 3, 1945, he learned his best friend was MIA. Four days later my dad's whole crew went missing over Yugoslavia. It was tough for him to lose ten good friends so quickly. Fortunately for my dad, Lt. Pelzman stepped in and on February 12, 1945, offered to take him on a sightseeing trip up and down the east Italian coast. My dad had not been flying since his crew had been declared missing, but Pelzman's tour settled him down and convinced him to get back to flying and to complete his missions. My dad was so touched by Lt. Pelzman's thoughtfulness, in 1965 he wrote a paper about Lt. Pelzman in his English 102 class titled, "My Most Unforgetable Character." Here it is in a shortened version:
"As for Lt. Pelzman, he became one of my favorite pilots. I’d rank him right up there with Mac McGlynn and Marv Ehrenberg. One sunny day all available aircraft in the Group were flying training flights, half in the morning and the remainder in the afternoon. Lt. Pelzman and his crew flew in the afternoon, were more than an hour overdue, and were the only ones yet to return. The afternoon flight was timed for 3.5 hours, giving Pelzman only a half an hour worth of fuel left since each ship carried 5 hours of fuel. There was cause for concern and the Group Operations Staff searched the horizon for Lt. Pelzman and his overdue B-24. Colonel Taylor, our squadron commander in the 514th, was just leaving our squadron area in his jeep for Group Ops when somebody yelled, “Here he comes!” I and a few others caught a glimpse of Lt. Pelzman’s B-24 seemingly silently suspended just over the treetops on the far horizon. Then just as suddenly he quietly disappeared from view. Everyone who missed the sighting doubted we actually saw Lt. Pelzman because the direction of his approach was not the normal approach route to the base. Seconds later and with a deafening roar Lt. Pelzman piloted his B-24 up out of grove of olive trees just behind our squadron area. The big Lib scattered men in all directions and headed right for our Squadron Operations building. When we heard the crash we hit the dirt, but when I looked up I could see the Lib climbing over the base to make a normal landing approach. What the?!! But I wasn’t puzzled for too long. The top five feet of the Squadron Ops smoke stack was lying in a tangled mass of sheet metal and wire. All that was left on the roof top was a crumpled, twisted dwarfed stove pipe. Pelzman had knocked the top off Squadron Ops!
Lt. Pelzman had to pay and was officially grounded indefinitely and sent off to the Isle of Capri rest camp for two weeks. His crew joined him.
It wasn’t long after Pelzman’s crew had returned to the base that I had an opportunity to go on a local test-hop. Much to my surprise Lt. Pelzman was now a captain. Lee Wright, his flight engineer, assured me Pelzman was almost fully restored to full flying status. The test-hop, with Captain Hart as pilot in the left seat, was the final check ride before Captain Pelzman could fly with his crew again. Old Ship #76 took to the air like a good bird should. A full power test was completed satisfactorily by overtaking and easily passing a group of B-17s. Captain Pelzman then conducted a maneuverability check and almost successfully evaded two Mustangs through a series of tricky turns, but the P-51 fighters finally held us down, one on each wing.
The next series of checks was the most hair-raising flight I have ever been on. Captain Pelzman convinced Captain Hart, who we believed to be older and more mature, to trade seats. Captain Pelzman wanted to get back in the pilot’s seat after almost a month since his chimney clipping. After a check of the trim and instruments he looked back at Lee and me and motioned us to fasten our seat belts. As soon as Lee and I belted in Pelzman went into a sharp bank to the left and almost straight down. We leveled off at tree top level skimming the olive and orange trees and scattered farm wagons, cattle, horses, and farmers. Pelzman then made a shallow bank to the right which took us out to the Adriatic Sea. Next were a sharp bank to the left and a dip to the deck on full throttle. This was the first and only time I have flown in an aircraft 25 feet below sea level and pegged the red marker on the airspeed indicator. Normal speed was 175 knots and we were exceeding 225 knots. Directly ahead of us was the coastal town of San Cesario. Pelzman seemed to descend lower as if he wanted to give the old Lib a wash job. The airspeed increased to 230 and the altimeter dropped another 10 feet to minus 35. The docks and fishing boats of San Cesario were directly ahead. Thankfully, a small fishing boat saved the day and forced Pelzman to pull back on the controls before coming too close to the docks. As we climbed up over the town I could see the villagers scatter and shake their fists at us.
Back over San Pancrazio Captain Pelzman made a smooth landing and a clever bit of high speed ground taxi time and fancy parking maneuvers. The hectic flight proved two things. For one, old number 76 was a damn good airplane. And number two, the newly rested Captain Pelzman was the same hot-shot pilot the 514th Bomb Squadron and I will never forget."