Amherst veteran put his life on the line in the sky over his birthplace - The Buffalo News

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Amherst veteran put his life on the line in the sky over his birthplace

Heinz A. ‘Dutch’ Wolf, 90

Hometown: Aulendorf, Germany

Residence: Amherst

Branch: Army Air Forces

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1943-45

Rank: Staff sergeant

Most prominent honors: Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters

Specialty: Waist gunner on B-17 bomber

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

Even though he will turn 91 on Tuesday, Heinz A. “Dutch” Wolf still counts his blessings that his father and mother moved the family from Germany to Buffalo in 1927, avoiding the possibility of him one day becoming a Nazi under Adolf Hitler.

“My dad had fought four years in the German army in World War I. He served on the Eastern Front against the Russians and then on the Western Front, where his malaria recurred,” Wolf says. “They sent him back by train to a nursing facility, and bombs were dropped out of airplanes by hand, and he was struck with shrapnel at a railroad station.”

That proved lucky for Otto Wolf, who recuperated for an extended period in a hospital in Reutlingen, Germany.

“My dad told me that saved him from getting sent back up to the front lines – no-man’s-land – because almost all the men in his regiment died there,” he hays. “That was when the Americans had come into the war.”

Otto Wolf’s luck continued at the nursing facility.

“He met my mom, who was working there as a volunteer,” Wolf says.

Their marriage brought son Heinz and daughter Lore, who at ages 5 and 8, respectively, made the journey with their parents on a freight and passenger steamer from Germany to the United States, where Otto had brothers living in Buffalo.

“My dad was a Social Democrat, and he really had to get out of Germany. Hitler and his gang hated the Social Democrats,” Wolf says.

But at 19, Wolf would begin his journey back to Germany as an American airman, fighting against his native land, where grandparents and other relatives still lived.

After being drafted, he volunteered for the Army Air Forces and served in the 8th Air Force as a waist gunner in a B-17 bomber, also known as a Flying Fortress, in the 350th Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, which had its own nickname – “The Bloody 100th.”

Wolf and his fellow crew member flew 30 successful daylight bombing missions from England to Germany, often encountering anti-aircraft fire.

“There weren’t many German fighter planes because their air force was pretty much decimated at that point,” Wolf says, “but the flak – that was our problem. On one flight, we lost our tail gunner on one of the toughest targets in Germany, a synthetic oil plant that was still going.”

An 88 mm artillery round had exploded into the rear horizontal stabilizer of the B-17 and killed the tail gunner, Wolf said.

“We couldn’t keep up with the rest of formation, and we were all alone flying home from Germany,” Wolf says. “The pilot had a hell of a time. We were lucky. We had a good pilot.”

Another time, returning from a bombing run above Munich, one of the four engines quit, and again their aircraft was unable to remain in the formation. And if that wasn’t enough, the plane also ran out of fuel in the home stretch.

“We were trying to land in Rochester, England, and had circled around the city, trying to get to the landing strip when we ran out of fuel and crash landed between two rows of apartments on a hillside,” Wolf says. “There was just enough room. That was really luck.”

Emerging from the wreckage, the crew was greeted by Britons, who took them to a pub for a celebration that lasted three days, with temporary housing provided in an apartment above the watering hole.

“We had a ball there,” Wolf says. “We gave our parachutes to the women, who used the material to make clothing.”

After the war, Wolf returned to Buffalo grateful to be alive and began an apprenticeship as a plumber, following a family tradition of learning a trade. His father had been locksmith.

But Wolf was ambitious and took a civil service test that opened the door for him to join the Buffalo Fire Department, working for 23 years as a firefighter and, on the side, operating his own plumbing business.

He married Rita Heaney, and they raised two daughters.

Throughout his long life, he says, his passion and hobby has been skiing, including service in the ski patrol at Holiday Valley, which continued up until two years ago.

“Skiing is the best sport in the world,” he says of the thrills of swooshing down a slope with fresh powder.

Intense as that experience may be, he says, it doesn’t begin to compare with what it was like to fly over enemy territory and stare death in the face.

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