"I grew up on a farm and maybe we'd see an airplane fly by once a month." he said
Such sights marked the extent of Cliff Saari's knowledge of aviation in 1943. When he enlisted in the military during World War Two, Saari chose the U.S. Army Air Corps. That took him to Europe with the 362nd Fighter Group and within four weeks he saw action against German troops and supply trains.
"Our tanks were covered with a white canvass so we wouldn't strafe them. We strafed the tanks and we strafed the troops," Saari said. "We'd strafe the locomotive and steam would rise out of it after you'd go. And then we'd strafe the box cars after that."
But one strafing run made for a very close call for Saari.
"The mission was almost over and there were still two more box cars on the track," Saari remembered. "So I asked if I could go down and strafe it. So I strafed it. I got on top of it and it exploded. I know there were holes in the wings and every place else."
But Saari would go on to fly 80 missions, far more than the average 50 flights That would include providing air support during the massive German assault on Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. After a surprise German air attack on his airfield, Saari would fly despite a severe ear infection that would later leave him hard of hearing. Still, Cliff Saari is proud of his service and supports young people considering the military. But he urges them to consider his experiences.
"You don't know the next day if you're going to be there or not anymore," Saari said. "Because we had so many guy and planes that never came back from a mission all the time."
But at 92, Cliff Saari would have no problem answering the call to duty, again.
"Well I went through and nothing really happened to me. So I could go do it again."
Local 5's Terry Kovarik has the story.
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