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CNN Today

Last Combat Pilots of WWII Finally Receive Recognition

Aired December 26, 2000 - 4:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Finally for this hour, the story of the men who flew the last U.S. combat mission of World War II. When the war finally ended, they all were too excited to ask for the medals they so richly deserved.

CNN's Ed Garsten picks up the story in Grosse Ile, Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after an atomic bomb was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, the crew of the 11th Bombardment Group circled over Kamumoto, 50 miles away. They were in their B-24 bomber, a plane they named Sweet Routine.

Ervin Molzan was a tailgunner and remembers the sight.

ERVIN MOLZAN, U.S. ARMY AIR CORPS (RET.): You knew that there were major, major catastrophes because the skies were just indescribably horrible -- greens and blues and blacks and, I mean, every color of the rainbow.

GARSTEN: In all, the 10 men flew 11 combat missions over the Pacific without suffering even one casualty.

MOLZAN: We had a lot of close calls, a lot of shakes and shimmies, but nothing that bothered us.

GARSTEN: The last mission they flew was the last mission anyone flew in World War II.

MOLZAN: The last mission we flew was August the 26th, 1945. The war technically was over on August 16th, but they didn't sign the documents until September 2nd, 1945 because they figured kamikazes were still out there.

GARSTEN: Their 11 successful combat missions earned the crew of Sweet Routine the Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster. But As Ervin Molzan tells it, in the confusion of a frenetic homecoming, none of the men stuck around to update their records, and so the medals never came.

Then, 18 months ago, the old tailgunner began his quest to make sure he and his buddies got their well-earned due and enlisted the help of Michigan Congressman John Dingell. REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: He came to me and he said he wanted to see to it that his entire crew of Sweet Routine got the medals to which they were entitled based on service.

GARSTEN: Dingell came through and finally, more than half a century after earning them, Ervin Molzan accepted his medals and those of his crewmates, five of whom have passed away.

MOLZAN: All I want to say is, God bless this fabulous country. I love it with all my heart. It was an honor and privilege to serve our country.

GARSTEN: Ed Garsten, CNN, Grosse Ile, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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