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Be grateful for 9/11 compensation

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On Aug. 1, 1943, I flew as deputy lead on the wing of Lt. Col. Addison E. Baker, Van Nuys, Calif., and Maj. John Jerstad, Racine, Wis., on the great low-level bombing raid on the Ploesti, Romania, oil refineries. As we approached the target, it was discovered that the bomb group leading the mission had made a wrong turn and we were approaching Bucharest and would not be able to bomb the target. Baker made the serious decision to break formation and turn 90 degrees to head directly to a refinery. This would take us over most heavily defended area in southeast Europe. On the bomb run, we encountered devastating fire.

Nearing the target, Baker and Jerstad's ship caught fire. They could have belly landed or climbed to bail out, but they held and held until we were nearly there when they jettisoned their bombs and crashed in a ball of fire. Even though our ship was seriously hit, we were able to drop bombs on the target, and, with the help of the Almighty, we returned to our base in North Africa. Fifty-four B-24s went down on this mission. Some 300 men were killed, and 200 became prisoners of war for nearly two years.

For these supreme acts of bravery, Congress awarded Baker and Jerstad Medals of Honor, posthumously, and the rest of us received high medals for bravery in action. During World War II, 20,000 men were killed and 26,000 were prisoners of war from the Eighth Air Force alone.

The widows, parents, and loved ones at home received letters from a grateful nation for service beyond the call of duty. This made us very proud and quite pleased to have had the opportunity to serve the country we love.

On Sept. 11, the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (not unlike the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor) also ignited a war. Many were killed, to the regret and horror of all of us. Congress has initiated an offer to help widows, parents and others who lost someone in that disaster. This offer far exceeds anything available in World War II.

As a veteran who lost many of my buddies and thousands of others in that war, it really hurts to hear of some of those who lost someone on Sept. 11 make demands and strong complaints about the inequality of the offer. Some of them even go so far as to threaten court action to get their awards.

Mrs. Addison Baker and Mr. and Mrs. Jerstad rested in the great pride, which was theirs to have offered such a great sacrifice to help save their country. They received no more.


Walter T. Stewart, who resides in Benjamin, Utah County, is a veteran of World War II.