By TERRY BERKSON • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
SOUTH COLUMBIA – World War II veteran Jim Andrecheck, who lives just north of Richfield Springs, recently fell and broke his hip.
He’s almost 99 years old and I thought the injury would end his and his wife Mary’s independent life style.
Up until a year and a half ago, Jim was driving a pickup and tending his own vegetable garden. Miraculously, his hip has mended and the two (Mary will be 100 next week, on Oct. 6) are back in their home again with much assistance from their son Tim, who like his father was in the Air Force, but during the Vietnam era.
Tim’s cousin, Patty Lewis, a retired nurse practitioner, was there to help out at the time I was visiting. Also, Candy, a healthcare worker, stops at the house five days a week.
During recovery at a rehabilitation facility, Jim said the physical therapy he was getting wasn’t aggressive enough.
So, unlike the choice he made some 75 years ago, to stay in the air with his crippled B24 bomber, he bailed out of “recovery” and headed for home, which is why he feigned dissatisfaction and where he really wanted to be.
Obviously, you can’t keep down a survivor of more than 50 bombing missions, missions where many men and air ships were lost.
Andrecheck was a flight engineer but his diminutive size made him a perfect fit for the seat of a ball-turret gunner, so the 22-year-old filled that position as well.
Over Steyr, Austria, the German antiaircraft was very heavy. In a short time six of the seven planes in Jim’s squadron were knocked down. An engine on Jim’s plane was failing and the fuselage was riddled with holes.
The pilot ordered the crew to bail out, but they held fast to the crippled ship as smoke rose from their demolished target. Fortunately, they made it back to the base, skid landing on one nose wheel and one big wheel.
Bullets and flak had made the bomber look like a ravaged bee’s nest.
Not long after the Steyr bombing, Jim’s crew was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross, our nation’s highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement, but the paperwork fell through the cracks and despite efforts by several individuals in and out of the military, the deserved medal has not been awarded.
Nine years ago Jim traveled to West Point where he and 50 other men received the French Medal of Honor for participating in the bombing of German-occupied France in preparation for the landing at Normandy.
Andrecheck was looking forward to his 99th birthday on Sept. 26, while getting around with the use of a walker.
With some hard work he optimistically expects to eventually graduate to a cane, but he’s worried about the tremendous medical bills he’s incurred and is hoping that a government whose country he helped to defend will come to his aid.
On Labor Day, Jim and Mary celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary.
I’m hoping Jim recovers enough to once again pick cherries off my trees to take home to Mary who he says, “makes the best cherry pies in the world.”