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BOMBER WAS LUCKY - UNTIL 13TH MISSION

Prior to a fateful, snowy day more than 47 years ago, Don Dixon had flown 12 successful missions with the crew of

his B-24, dropping a deadly cargo of bombs on cities such as Vienna and Munich during the final months of World War II.A gunner in the glass-bubbled front of the plane, he generally had the best view of any of the 10 crew members. Ostensibly, his job was to watch for and destroy enemy aircraft.

But this was the end of the war. The enemy had little left. Dixon describes raids where skies were thick with U.S. aircraft, as high and far as the eye could see. Each had its own, separate target. He remembers shooting only once - at a German jet, one of the first ever used in war. But the jet moved too fast.

Still, the raids were tense and exciting. As the planes approached their targets, particularly in large cities, anti-aircraft fire created clouds so thick Dixon said it looked like the plane could land on them.

"If you've ever heard gravel hitting on a tin roof, that's what it sounded like," he said, describing fragments from the shots that hit the aircraft.

But the guns always missed Dixon's plane - until the 13th mission.

"There was a gloom over the whole crew that day," he said, describing the almost eerie premonition he and his companions felt as they boarded during a snowstorm on March 4, 1945. Part of the 15th Air Force, Dixon was stationed in Italy. His crew's mission that day was a bombing raid over Yugoslavia.

Dixon's plane reached the most dangerous part of its mission when trouble started. Closing in on the target, the pilot turned controls over to the bombardier, whose job was to keep a steady course to the destination. But the procedure, which generally lasted only a few minutes, made the plane predictable and left it vulnerable to attack.

It was during these tense minutes that anti-aircraft fire struck. The impact ripped apart the engine closest to the cabin on the right side, leaving a hole in the wing. Flak also penetrated the area where Dixon sat, grazing his head and breaking his skull.

Dixon, now a retired University of Utah professor, can joke about that day.

"The one good thing was that we didn't have to carry the weight of that engine around with us anymore," he said.

The bad news, however, was that the plane was dropping 1,800 feet per minute. The crew's spirits dampened even more when the farthest engine on the right quit working and another engine on the left overheated.

Beneath the plane, which by now had turned for home, rolled the icy winter waters of the Adriatic Sea.

"We didn't want to bail out over the Adriatic. It was too cold," Dixon said. "The airplane was falling faster than a parachute would. I was scared, but it was scarier to think you'd stay with the plane.

"Finally, I looked through a hole in the clouds and saw land. The pilot hit the bailout button."

By now, the B-24 was only about 2,000 feet in the air. The pilot, James E. Lemon, held the aircraft steady while Dixon and the others jumped. By then, Lemon was out of time. He died in the wreckage.

"He was a brave man," Dixon said. "The pilot was the only one of us who was married. He had a little girl."

Dixon was unconscious from the time he landed in the snow until two weeks later, waking in a hospital in Italy. He soon was transferred to a hospital in South Carolina, then another in Brigham City. Finally, he was discharged and decorated with a Purple Heart and an Air Medal.

"They gave me an Air Medal for letting them shoot at me and a Purple Heart for letting them hit me," he jokes.

Doctors predicted Dixon would be disabled for life. But, although he still suffers headaches and partial paralysis on his right side, Dixon defied the experts. He pursued a successful academic career, heading the U.'s meteorological program.

"They weren't going to let me go to college," he said. "But I was too ornery."

He still keeps contact with other crew members, and with Lemon's wife and daughter.