Mr. Thune, 94 years old and the gentleman I photographed yesterday, preparing to board an MTSU Hero Flight. I understand you were shot down multiple times. Tell me about that. “Well, the first time we were in trouble, we were attacked by enemy fighters. We got shot up pretty badly and being the navigator, I have a lot to see about where we land. But the pilot said with the whole tail session all shot up, ‘I don’t want to crash land in a crash landing area. That’s just mud.’ So, I said ok. I said ‘I’ve got you all plotted for a crash landing in a field, you know, and he said ‘oh, I think I can make it just fine.’ So, we start coming in and I’d spotted him at the right place. He started coming down and as he slowed down, he lost control of the plane, so we overshot the runway. What they do in England, there, is they plant trees on either side, decorative I guess, and we had two or three of them at the end of the field. He couldn’t do anything and I couldn’t help him, so he came in and we cut off some trees, they took the wings off. We plowed right into it (ditch). That was a mess. I got hurt pretty badly in that one and we lost some people.
Second time, we came in, we were over Germany and got shot up pretty badly again. Our wing was on fire, one of the engines was acting up and the wing started burning. All at once, the propeller broke loose. Another words, we lost so much hydraulic fluid, so he couldn’t do anything with the propellers, so that broke loose too. We came down and crash landed there, too.
The third time we crash landed, we came down but made it back to England.”
How did you keep your cool during those experiences? “Well, I’ll tell ya. Being a navigator, you’re so busy you don’t have time to get worried. That’s really what happens. And the thing is, probably the worst part of being a navigator is…in England, that winter we were there, it was the worst winter they ever had. It was always either foggy, cloudy, raining or something. As the navigator, you don’t have anything to assist you. There’s no radio, there’s no nothing. You’ve got to get your plane at the right spot, at the right height, facing the right direction and being on either side of the runway…and that’s a tough one.”
How did those experiences change your life? “Well, I don’t think the flying part was it, but what really bothered me was when I first got over there, we didn’t have a decent bomb site. We couldn’t see through rain or fog or smoke or anything like that. On the first missions, we were told ‘If you can’t see your target, fly over to the biggest city and just let ‘er go.’ That…cut me to bits. On the last mission, they said ‘We’re pretty sure it’s a communication center…wipe the town out.’ That didn’t go well with me.”
I would think all these experiences would give you great perspective, when dealing with problems you’ve had through your life? “Oh, yeah. Yeah. But, I don’t think it changed me too much. I had a job to do…I did it. I wasn’t happy about it, but I don’t think it really affected me that much.”
Happiest time of your life? “Oh, I had a wife and three children. I really had a wonderful life…raising a family.”
Toughest time of your life? “Well, really, I can’t say I’ve had tough times. I’ve got a son who’s 70 and an executive with Minnesota Mining Manufacturing Company…he’s still working! (laughs)
He’d got his dads work ethic? “Definitely, yeah. They didn’t want to let him go.”
Advice for my boys for life? “Live a good, clean life. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink…I’m a Christian and I think living a life like that is about the best life you can live.”