Army Air Corps veteran, now 100, reflects on time as recon pilot in WWII

PENFIELD, N.Y. – Tuesday marks 79 years since American, British and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy during what is known as D-day.

News10NBC’s Bekka Fifield got a chance to sit down and talk with an Army Air Forces/Corps veteran about his time in WWII.

There are few WWII veterans remaining, but I got the opportunity to speak with Elmer Pankratz about his experience in the war. Pankratz volunteered to join WWII at 19 and trained as a fighter pilot.

However, by the time he needed to go overseas, they needed tactical reconnaissance pilots, and he was told that was a suicide mission.

“But, they guaranteed the Mustang and that was my dream airplane, and that’s all I had to hear,” Elmer said.

Elmer’s job, he says, was basically to snoop on the Germans, and then bring that information back and debrief. His first station was in Germany, and that’s where he stayed for the remainder of the war. But before that was over, he had a couple close calls.

“The only German airplane I saw in the air was their German jet, they call it the ME-262, and we ended up making a head-on pass with each other,” Elmer said.

Elmer says he didn’t recognize the plane as belonging to the German’s. At first he thought it was an American C-47.

“I look back and whoa! Boy that was no C-47. There’s this thing coming in, I knew what it was when I saw that ME-262 in the air. Our closing speed was probably 700 MPH between my speed and his. And when we went by each other, we looked at each other. And that was a blip!” Elmer said.

Elmer was fortunate enough to not have to engage in any air combat, although he says he had lots of flak shot at him, he was never injured. Overall, he was overseas fighting for a little less than a year.

“I only had 43 missions. 75 was our magic number. You got to 75 and you went home. When the war ended and anyone who has 60 or 62 or 63 or over, they went home,” Elmer said.

There were tentative plans for Elmer and a few others to be sent to China to continue to fight, but that was called off.

“I’ve been called a hero so many times late in life, and I never felt I was a hero. The guys under the crosses are the real heros to me. There’s no way you can give more than your life,” Elmer said.

Elmer is 100 years old and turns 101 this year.

See the full interview below: