Wednesday, August 31, 2011



Pottsville Bombardier Earns Oak Leaf Cluster to The Distinguished Flying Cross.

1st Lieutenant Charles Zalonka
April 21, 1945

“Target time in two minutes,” came over the interphone. A shower of steel peppered against the wing and fuselage of the Flying Fortress that was leading the mission. The weather was hazy and the smoke pots set up a screen that further obscured the target. First Lt. Charles C. Zalonka of Pottsville, took a final look at his target chart and bent over the bombsight. His skilled hands set meters, turned knobs, last minute corrections were made. A dozen 500 pound bombs tumbled from the belly of the 15th Air Force B-17 Flying Fort. Crewman’s eyes strained as they followed the course of the explosives. Someone laughed and yelled, “Mr. Hitler, recount your oil refineries”. Smoke and flame billowed heavenward. The planes came off the target, rallied and headed home. Tail gunners watched the smoke and flame grow to 20, 000 feet and could still see it a distance of 250 miles. It was the last gas producing target within the operating area of the 15th Air force in Italy. Following this mission Charlie added one more oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Citation read in Part.” On this and many other occasions, Lt. Zalonka has displayed superb skill and inspired leadership.” The man who wrote that citation has seen Zalonka records. There was Schwartsheide Synthetic Oil Refinery, 15th March, 1945 “good Results” Sopron Hungary, railroad Yards, “Very well hit” Linz Austria, railroad Yards “well Hit” in Italy. Zalonka has flown 23 missions; Five times he has lead his squadron as lead bombardier.

On March 25, 1945 1st Lt. Zalonka was promoted to Captain.

Captain Zalonka is known as the "The Silent Success-O-Meter", Officers who know him insist that he is a born bombardier. When a flight is in the preparation he studies the maps, target charts and photographs, memorizing all identifiable buildings, landmarks and approaches within several miles of the target.And on the bomb runs he watches for these points. That is why he is considered one of the outstanding egg droppers in the Mediterranean theatre and is credited with hitting the target point blank out of 22 times.

Captain Zalonka is flying from a 15th Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress base in Italy, and has led his squadron many times over oi refineries, rail yards and such important targets many times. He says he prefers not to wear a flak suit because it is so bulky and a touch of it against the adjustments of the bomb sight throws it out of calibration. This he thinks has some bearing in his success. His citation reads: "On this and many other occasions Lt. Zalonka has displayed superb skill and inspired leadership"


Tragically in 1955, then Captain Charles Zalonka was killed in an accident while flying as a navigator on board the B-36 Bomber.
A B-36J-5-CF Tail Number 52 2818A assigned to Walker AFB New Mexico, crashed on a training flight. They encountered sever turbulence and weather over Texas while flying at 25,000 feet.

The Aircraft began to disintegrate in flight resulting in the loss of control and went into a flat spin, and struck the ground at high impact resulting in the aircraft exploding. This made location of the bodies and identification very difficult.
Zalonka was the 2nd Navigator on board the aircraft.
One theory stated that the Fifteen airmen died in the flaming crash of the B-36 bomber in rugged territory 60 miles from San Angelo, Texas. Air Force spokesmen said apparently the big craft was snapped up by a howling tornado skipping high above the ground.

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