Bomber pilot Herman Pawlicki served in the U.S. Army Air Force, where he flew 23 bombing missions on factories, rail stations and airfields in Austria and southern Germany – including a strike on “The Berghof,” Adolf Hitler’s vacation retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
Pawlicki fought in World War II much the same way he led his life – with common sense, determination and a razor-sharp sense of knowing right from wrong.
Pawlicki, 97, is a widower after 72 years of marriage. He and his wife lived in Elma, where they raised two daughters.
He was born and raised in Sherrill, a small town between Syracuse and Utica that is the headquarters for Oneida Limited, the silverware giant founded in 1880 as Oneida Community Silverware.
After he graduated from Sherrill High School in 1939, Pawlicki worked at Oneida with his father and brother, but he was determined not to be there very long. He met his future wife during one of his weekend trips to Buffalo to visit another brother who attended Canisius College.
With gas costing 19 cents a gallon, Pawlicki recalled making many trips in his 1938 Chevrolet – until one event would guide his future.
“The Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor,” Pawlicki said. “Someone heard it on the radio. We knew ships were hit and soldiers were dying. My buddy and I decided we’d leave the next day for Syracuse, the nearest recruiting station.”
A long line of like-minded young men greeted Pawlicki at the Syracuse post office on Dec. 8, 1941.
Three months later, Pawlicki began flight training with the U.S. Army Air Force. When he finished, he married longtime girlfriend and nursing student Frances Falkowicz of Buffalo.
“When I graduated from flying school, they made me a flying instructor, but when I saw there were openings for B-24 pilots, I decided to get in on the war work,” he recalled.
Name: Herman Pawlicki
Hometown: Sherrill, N.Y.
Branch: U.S. Army Air Force, 762nd Squadron, 460 group, 15th Air Force
Rank: First lieutenant
Years of Service: Enlisted December 1941 to June 1945
Most prominent honors: Air Medal
Specialty: 1st Pilot
After three months of additional training in the mountain conditions of Idaho, Pawlicki was assigned a plane and crew in Topeka, Kansas, where he began the trans-Atlantic journey to Spinazzola in southern Italy. He flew 23 missions. Mountain headwinds often slowed the eight- to 10-hour missions over the Alps. His missions took him into Austria and southern Germany.
On each mission, his plane came under fire from enemy fighter planes and mountain snipers, he recalled.
When stationed in Spinazzola, Pawlicki recalled being assigned to guard duty after his commanding officer found a photo of his first child mounted on the fireplace that heated the sandstone huts that served as barracks.
“He didn’t want any photos. ... If I can’t show a picture of my baby, one of the reasons we’re over there, I thought the heck with him,” Pawlicki said.
After the war, Pawlicki worked 27 years as a tool and die maker at Trico. He was active in the union until he retired and moved briefly to Arizona.
“It was so darned hot out there, we couldn’t take it so we came back and I got a job for 10 more years at Fisher-Price,” he said. “I’ve been retired since 1982.”
He outlived three brothers and much of his family. His wife was 92 when she died in 2015.
Other than some bad cartilage in his knee, Pawlicki’s health is good, he said. He bakes pies, makes golabki and drives a 2004 Ford Explorer with only 25,000 miles on it. Photos of his granddaughter fill his dining room where a sewing machine shares space with a wall of wartime memorabilia. Pawlicki sews uniforms for VFW Post 5861 for Elma, Marilla and Wales, where he is a member. He also is a member of East Aurora Post 362 – The American Legion.
Pawlicki is fiercely loyal to the country and the American flag. He has more than one flag flying at his home, and he expects others to do the same.
“If professional football players have something that bothers them, let them find another form of protest,” Pawlicki said. “Don’t kneel during the anthem or when the American flag is flying. Honor it.”