The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 8, 2011

'The Germans were throwing rocks'

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

— On Dec. 8, 1941 — the day after Japan launched its infamous attack on Pearl Harbor — Ed Sutter went to Stillwater to join the Army Air Corps.

At the time, Sutter was a 20-year-old college student at Alva. He admits his mind was not tuned to the things preoccupying his classmates.

“When everybody was trying to find girls, I was trying to find somebody to talk to me about flying,” Sutter said.

Not long afterward, one of his professors told him the government was offering flight training in a program Sutter could take to earn college credit.

“He gave me the keys to his car and said, ‘Don’t let anyone else drive,’” Sutter recalled.

The flight training took place in a grass field northwest of Alva.

“It was easy to get it off the ground, but it was hard to get it back on the ground, because the wind was very strong,” Sutter said.

Perhaps the adverse conditions of his training outside Alva were good for Sutter. On flight-training graduation day, despite high winds, he landed in the 50-foot target circle three times.

“The instructor said, ‘Sir, you did a very dangerous thing. You could have crashed that airplane and killed yourself, but you must know what you’re doing,’” Sutter said.

Sutter then transferred to Stillwater for additional flight training, in the hope of being called to the Army Air Forces.

The call finally came in February 1943, and Sutter went to Altus for basic training. From there, it was San Marcus, Texas, for additional training. After that, he returned to Oklahoma and was assigned to Enid Army Air Field, now called Vance Air Force Base.

“The day I took my test at Enid, I got the worst instructor they had,” Sutter said. “He cussed, saying everything I did was wrong. When I stepped out of the airplane, he shook my hand and said, ‘That’s the best ride I’ve had in a long time.’”

Then it was back to Altus, where Sutter graduated as a second lieutenant.

His girlfriend was at his graduation to pin on his wings, but he had bad news for her.

“On the way home, I said I’m not going to get married until I come back from the war,” Sutter said. “One month later, she married someone else.”

Sutter was assigned to a B-26 bomber.

On the overseas flight toward Brazil, Sutter and his crew had a close call. Sutter accidentally opened the escape hatch in midair, and they could not get it to close.

“I said, ‘Boys, it looks like we are going into the sea,’” Sutter recalled. “Then I saw the runway on the rock. I landed and both engines died.”

It wasn’t the only close call he had. Flying down the coast of Africa, he had to put down at a small landing strip poised at the edge of a cliff.

“I got the landing runway, and went off the cliff,” Sutter said. “Just before I hit the ocean, she started flying.”

Ultimately, Sutter found himself stationed at a small airfield shared with France. About 60 planes were stationed there.

He then began flying bombing missions over Germany.

On one such run, the plane ahead of him had an engine failure while in flight and Sutter followed it back to the base, flying low over the landscape.

“When we got to the Mosel River, the Germans were throwing rocks and shooting BB guns at us,” Sutter said.

Sutter continued on his bombing runs. Toward the end of the war in Europe, he was assigned to a new airfield to fly to the coast of France and drop bombs on the Germans who remained there.

One morning, he flew out through a bank of dense fog. He had to ascend to 15,000 feet to clear the fog, and at that altitude, oxygen is thin and he had to fight to stay awake.

“I knew if I went to sleep, we all would die,” Sutter said. “So I stayed awake.”

But he paid a price.

“On VE day, when everybody was out having a good time, I lay in bed spitting blood,” Sutter said.

All together, Sutter flew 33 bombing missions over Germany. When it was time to go home, most of the other pilots returned on Liberty ships, but Sutter was on a German-made ship.

Most of the Liberty ships that left about the time Sutter left sank in the Atlantic — a fact reported on the news and heard by his parents back in Oklahoma.

Consequently, when he reached New York and phoned his parents, they thought someone was trying to play a trick on them.

“My dad answered and told my mother, ‘Don’t even answer the phone — somebody’s making a fool out of us,’” Sutter recalled.

Sutter left the Air Force on Feb. 8, 1946. During the service years, he garnered an Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, European African Middle Eastern Ribbon with four bronze stars, an American Theater Ribbon, the Tactical Air Force Ribbon and a Distinguished Unit Badge.