92-year-old Cal Erickson of Santa Clarita, CA appears on episode #414 of Hometown Heroes, debuting April 9, 2016. The youngest of 11 children growing up on a farm in Del Rey, CA, Erickson graduated from Sanger High School in 1941.
You’ll hear him remember how he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and how he became one of five brothers to serve in the military during World War II. Why was a set of pruning shears flying in the air above a field of Central California grapevines? He’ll explain that too, and detail how close he was to ending up in the infantry. Instead he became a pilot in the Army Air Corps, with a few bumps along the road (literally) as he trained in Colorado, North Dakota, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana. By May of 1944, he had earned his wings and was assigned, at the tender age of 20, to lead the six-man crew of a B-26 Marauder.
The B-26 had earned a few less-than-encouraging nicknames because of early challenges with the plane’s design. “They called it the Widowmaker, the Flying Coffin,” Erickson recalls. He wasn’t aware of the Marauder’s checkered past, but by the time he was flying B-26, some of the flaws with the wing design had been smoothed out. “Once you got up in the air it was very fast, and very controllable,” you’ll hear Cal say of the twin-engine bomber’s better attributes. Difficulty in getting off the ground in the first place would be counted among the plane’s drawbacks. “Sometimes you just got to the end of the runway and pulled the wheels up and hoped you got off,” Erickson remembers.
You’ll hear this nonagenarian get emotional when remembering his father, and an exchange he remembers vividly from a trip home during his pilot training. “He actually cried,” Cal explains. “I couldn’t believe it, because I’d never seen emotion from him.”
His first bombing mission brought him face to face with German anti-aircraft fire, and when the plane started shaking, he was sure they’d been hit. When his co-pilot took the stick, Cal quickly realized his own nerves were the culprit.
“My legs were shaking so bad, it was affecting the controls.”
You’ll hear about a mission in which they were hit, which led to an out of the ordinary landing. In all, he would complete 13 missions before Germany surrendered.
Listen to Hometown Heroes for more of Cal’s memories, including the time he got to take one of his brothers up in the air in his B-26, and the nickname bestowed on him by his Army Air Corps buddies. Not only did all five brothers who were serving make it home safely from the war, but three of them married a trio of Fresno State college roommates. Cal and his wife, Jean, just celebrated their 68th anniversary. “We’re both easygoing,” Cal says of their secret to matrimonial success. “When she says jump, I jump.”
92-year-old Cal Erickson was one of five brothers who served in World War II. He was the youngest of 11 children, and served as a B-26 Marauder pilot in Europe. We'll hear from Cal this weekend, then his older brother Grant next weekend.
Posted by Hometown Heroes Radio on Thursday, April 7, 2016
This video was recorded before Cal and Jean Erickson celebrated their 68th anniversary on April 8. If you missed Cal's interview on Hometown Heroes, you can listen to the podcast linked here: http://www.hometownheroesradio.com/youngest-of-11-flew-b-26s/
Posted by Hometown Heroes Radio on Monday, April 11, 2016