by Karin L. Nauber

When Tom Wottreng—formerly of Chicago and now of Browerville—was 18 and a half years old, his life changed forever.

It was May of 1943 and he had just been drafted as more men were needed for the fight in World War II.

Wottreng laughs about it now at age 94, but when he was 18 it was a little bit different.

“My dad had a tear in his eye when he took me to the station to ship out,” said Wottreng, whose brother was also in the service and flew in over 80 air raids.

He didn’t know where he would end up, though.

“I had just gone through my physical—I weighed 124 pounds and was 5’9”. When I walked out of the [exam] room I was still in my shorts and the Marine [recruiter] saw me and said, ‘No.’ The Navy guy said the same thing! So it was the Army for me,” he said with a laugh.

After it was determined which branch he would be in, it was off to the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri for his basic training.

“After basic, we had to take a test. Mine showed I should go to ASTP—Army Specialized Training Program. I thought, ‘I’m in the Army. If I had wanted to go to college, I would have went to college. I washed out in the first month. There were several of us who washed out,” he said.

So, it was back to basic training again. This time it was in Lincoln, Nebraska.

This time after basic training, he became a permanent part of the office because he had typing skills.

“There were a lot of WACs (Women’s Army Corps) there, but we were busy so we didn’t get acquainted,” he said.

At this time, the military was reorganizing the 6th Bomb Group. Many of the soldiers were recruited from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but a few were selected from Lincoln, too. Wottreng was one of those few.

“We went to Dalhart, Texas. It was like a desert with nothing to see but flat ground. This was on May 7, 1944,” recalled Wottreng.

Then he was sent to Grinell, Iowa for six months.

It was in Iowa that he learned he would be going overseas.

There were 900 men that would be heading out, some by ship for the ground crew and some by plane in the air echelon. . . .

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