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Wisconsin WWII veteran shot down in Germany celebrates 93rd birthday

Posted at 7:03 PM, Dec 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-04 20:03:30-05

A local WWII veteran celebrated his 93rd birthday Tuesday by telling his harrowing tale of being shot down in Nazi-occupied Germany.

In South Milwaukee at the 128th Air Refueling Wing Airforce Base, Sergeant Robert Birmingham spoke to the 8th Air Force Historical Society Milwaukee Chapter about being an AF Nose Gunner in the 458 Bomb Group.  Since Dec. 4, is his 93rd birthday he reminded the group to go easy on him. 

"I ask you to cut me some slack if I have a few senior moments," Birmingham said. 

Birmingham admits it wasn't all smiles and laughs after the war. He says no one from the group would talk about their experience for 15 long years.

The men were on a mission to reach an oil field in Germany. He says once the plane was close to its targets shots were being fired. 

"Then, we heard boom! The plane went straight up in the air. I knew we were hit," said Birmingham.

Every airman on that plane was able to bail out and safely land on the ground. Birmingham says his pilot was able to aim the plane towards a farmer's field, which happened to be in Switzerland. Therefore, the group was able to seek refuge from enemy territory and fire.  

Even though every story isn't as positive as this one, Birmingham says after some time it's important that all veterans share their story. He says it's a part of the family history.  

Birmingham has five children, 15 grand children and 19 great-grandchildren. 

"That's 37 direct descendants and I almost got killed in the war. So, those people wouldn't be alive," said Birmingham. 

It was 75 years ago that Birmingham says he didn't wait to be drafted into the war. He signed up on his 18th birthday.

While he was told he'd be able to finish high school before going into war, about two months after signing up, he was on his way to training.

"I was a young kid, 18 years old. I was in love in the Air Force," said Birmingham. 

 While he says his time was short in WWII, he's happy his unit was able to find safety in Switzerland.

Not to mention, their crash-landed plane became a Swiss sensation, with newspapers, books, and even movies highlighting the story of their heroism. It's a story he happily shares at 93 years young.