WWII pilot survived crash in Germany

Captain Robert G. Reeder was one of the many local men who were inducted into the military during World War II.

Reeder, an employee of the Packer Studebaker dealership here in town, was one of the first Packer employees to join the service, following the lead of dealership owner, Donald H. Packer, who, in 1940, enlisted in the coast artillery corps. (Packer had also served in that capacity during World War I.)

Reeder was a member of the 8th Air Force, a United States Army Air Forces team that conducted aerial bombardment missions against Nazi-occupied Europe and became the greatest air armada in history, according to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum website. “By mid-1944, the 8th AF had reached a total strength of more than 200,000 people. At its peak, it could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single mission. For these reasons, the 8th AF became known as the ‘Mighty Eighth.’”

As the pilot of a B-17, Reeder saw action during 25 missions over Germany, then came back to the states for a short furlough late in 1944.

He returned for another tour of duty in December of that year. In March, 1945, on the 10th mission of his second tour, he was shot down near Wittenberg, Germany. He survived the crash and was taken to a local hospital before being transferred to a hospital in Berlin.

By April of that year, Russian troops were outside Berlin, building up their resources before beginning an attack against the Germans which lasted several days.

Russian forces soon surrounded the city. Nazi Germany’s leader, Adolph Hitler, killed himself on April 30 and city leaders surrendered on May 2. When Soviet soldiers entered the city, ransacking and looting were widespread, according to the World War II Multimedia Database.

Reeder was still hospitalized when the Russians entered Berlin. The Russians released him in early May and he received treatment from American medics. He returned home on furlough to visit his friends and family in Burbank, saying that, after 41/2 years of Army life, he welcomed his return to civilian status, as noted in an unidentified newspaper on file in Special Collections.

While here, he was honored by Packer employees at a dinner at the Kopper Kettle. Reeder related his experiences after he was shot down and of his two months in German hospitals.

The Packer employees presented him with a watch to replace the one that had been “appropriated” while he was a prisoner of war in Berlin. Reeder said that when he was shot down, the Germans allowed him to keep his watch, only to have it taken away later by the Russians when they took over the city.

Another serviceman affiliated with Packer Motors was Don Packer’s son, Jerry. He was a member of ROTC for more than 21/2 years at Hoover High before joining the army in February, 1943, in the middle of his senior year. He took part in the Normandy invasion, the battles of Aachen, Roer Valley and the Rhine.

Readers Write:

I enjoyed the double issue of the Jack Lawson story! I was shocked to see the picture of Jack getting a haircut in the second installment, because the “unnamed” man cutting Jack's hair was “Frenchie,” a barber in the Maryland Hotel Barber shop. Jack owned the building, and I believe it's still in the family, because nothing's been done to it all these years. The barbershop was in the back of the ground floor and, though owned by someone else, “Frenchie” seemed like he owned the place. Yes, he had a French accent, and I remember sitting in the chair so many times during my youth and looking at that barber’s certificate, noting his real first name was Charles, but I can't think for the life of me his last (it was a long French name beginning with “La”). Anyway, to all of us, he will always be remembered as Frenchie.

Regards, Peter Rusch

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