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'Honor Flight' program gives Woodbury WWII vet 'fantastic' experience

Morris Bjornebo displays a book made for him after his trip last month to Washington, D.C. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

Morris Bjornebo took a ride back in history last month.

The Woodbury resident was chosen to participate in a trip to Washington, D.C., through the Honor Flight Network - a program that flies military veterans to the nation's capital to tour historic sites and memorials.

"It's something he dreamed of for a long time and finally got to go," his wife, Phyllis, said.

Bjornebo, a World War II veteran, was one of 100 veterans who flew out to Washington for the one-day trip. Once there, they toured sites including the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Women's Memorial, and memorials for veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

"That is a great thing that they're doing," Bjornebo said of the Honor Flight program.

Especially moving for Bjornebo - a pilot for the U.S. Army Air Force during the war - was the Air Force Memorial.

"It was fantastic to see," the 92-year-old said.

Bjornebo's family received attention during the war. A newspaper clipping's headline described the distinction: "Seven Bjornebo brothers have served country."

Indeed, Bjornebo,a Cottonwood, Minn., native, and his six brothers - Fritjof, Edwin, Arvid, Leif, Kenneth and Harold - all served during World War II. At the time, the number of brothers in service was a record in their native Lyon County.

"That's unusual," Phyllis Bjornebo said.

Fritjof, listed as a machine gunner in the news clipping, was the only brother killed in action.

'Nothing bothered me at all'

Bjornebo served in the 8th Air Force as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot.

He enlisted in the service - in which the Air Force was a creature of the army during World War II - on Jan. 3, 1942.

"I wanted to be a pilot," Bjornebo said. "I just wanted to fly since I was a little kid."

After kicking around different bases across the United States, Bjornebo wouldn't get that chance until he arrived at Fort Meade, Md. But first, he had to convince a commander there who had other plans for Bjornebo

He wanted him to be a tank mechanic.

"I said I didn't want to do that," Bjornebo said. "I still wanted to be in the Air Force."

The commander allowed him to interview for the Air Force. He was one of three candidates competing to get in.

The candidate with an eighth-grade education failed the written test. The candidate with a college degree failed the physical test.

Bjornebo, who possessed a high school diploma, made it through.

After receiving extensive training, Bjornebo was named a flight instructor - a position he would hold for more than a year. But when the airfield he worked at was closed, he asked to become a fighter pilot.

"They said no," Bjornebo said.

Instead, the Air Force offered him a choice: he could either continue training pilots or take heavy bombardment training.

Bjornebo chose the latter, and was sent to Europe in January 1945.

He flew 18 missions and was initiated into battle by piloting a plane that bombed Dresden, Germany.

Bjornebo later flew missions again over Germany, in addition to Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Despite the high-pressure flights over enemy territory through skies bursting with anti-aircraft fire, Bjornebo said he always remained a cool customer.

"Nothing ever bothered me," he said. "Flying, bombing and that over Europe - nothing bothered me at all."

Not that he didn't see danger around him.

Bjornebo saw planes blow up in mid-flight and watched comrades perish. The worst his plane ever got: some bullet holes.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he said.

In fact, the only time Bjornebo said he was ever scared as a pilot was when he was an instructor. A student pilot got a plane stuck in a downward spin. Bjornebo, the copilot, pulled the plan out - just in time to avoid colliding with a barn.

"That was a close one," he said.

Bjornebo was among the soldiers congratulated on VE Day by Lt. Gen. James Doolittle.

He returned to the United States in the summer of 1945.

He farmed for a while before going into the construction business. Bjornebo worked the balance of his life as a journeyman electrician before retiring.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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