Carl Matherly


Shortly after high school, Forest City resident Carl Matherly found himself headed to war.

In 1942, Matherly, a World War II veteran, served his country in the 8th Air Division of the U.S. Air Force, while stationed in England.

Although, now at the age of 94, he may not be able to clearly remember his dates of service, the details of being shot down, while operating as a turret ball gunner, on a B-17, during WW II, remain vivid.

“I was young and excited,” Matherly said, about his pride of being able to serve. “I flew on 36 missions over Germany, bombing. On our 18th mission, flying over Munich, Germany, we were shot down.

"We had to make a very difficult landing in France. Our plane was in real bad shape. A B-17 has four engines and by the time we got back, we had lost three engines to enemy gunfire. So, we only had one engine left. We were flying extremely low, just barely above the tree-tops.”

Matherly said, “I was in the turret and couldn’t get out of it. So the guys above me used an emergency crank to get me out. I would have died without them doing so. Those men were super friends to help.”

Matherly said the ball turret is on the bottom of the plane and probably the most dangerous place to be during WW II.

“Fatalities were a little over 90 percent,” he said. “Usually, because you couldn’t get out and if the plane landed, it landed on you.”

Once Matherly was out of the turret, he said he noticed the gunner had been shot and his arm was barely hanging on.

“I immediately started trying to take care of him with tourniquets. The only goal was maybe I could save his arm.

"As I said he was shot in the leg too and I didn’t know how bad that was. He survived that day, but once you survive a situation like that, the Air Force doesn’t keep you posted on the other guys, as to what happened to them.”

Matherly said the experience itself did not bother him because he saw it as something that had to be done.

“When we were going down after we got shot, to stay in the air, we had to get rid of all the weight we could in order to stay in the airplane," he said. "We still had the bombs on there when we got hit, so we lost a lot of altitude before the pilot got the plane straightened out and we could dump the bombs off.”

Although the crew on that B-17 seemed to be in a dire situation, they continued to meet the challenges straight on, according to Matherly.

“We were very, very low,” Matherly said. “Flying above the tree tops, down in sort of a ravine. Too low to bail out, just hoping we’d be able to make it out. We’d thrown away our guns, ammunition, shoes, thrown away all that we could to be able to stay up in the air.”

The crew was left to make a challenging landing, with only one engine. The emergency landing was on a mere airstrip in France.

“Our plane was so torn up, the wheels, lack of air and things like that,” Matherly said. “We really tore up their airstrip. The French people were very, very, angry we wrecked their field.

"Even though, we were saving our lives, they showed no remorse at all. There were only four of us left at that point."

Matherly said they were taken to a hospital in Paris for about a week and then transferred to England.

Matherly completed 36 missions over enemy territory and received a medal for every six of those missions. Having received all six also qualified him to be able to go home.

“After I had returned home, I was sent to Santa Anna, California, to be reprocessed to go to war in Japan,” Matherly said. “During a doctor’s appointment, for some health issues, the war in Japan ended and I was given an honorable medical discharge.”

After getting out of the service, Matherly became employed at Winnebago Industries in December of 1958, working until 1981.

“I became the number two man at Winnebago, which means a vice–president,” Matherly said. “I enjoyed my work very much. It was thrilling and exciting and I enjoyed working with the people up here very, very, much. I now have hundreds of friends in Forest City.”

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Jesusa Christians is the Community Editor of the Forest City/Britt Summit-Tribune.


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