This article appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette
, July 4, 2009. Enjoy. BTW, my father worked at Bomber Modification Center #12, Holman Field, St. Paul, MN, during WWII. He was a riveter and installed escape hatches and radar dishes for the highly-classified H2X radar for the Nordon Radar Bombsight. He is 99 years old and in excellent mental health. He and Adrich "Ozzie" Drahos live in the same assisted living complex in Marion, Iowa. They eat together in the dining room.
World War II bombing run ended in Sweden: Marion man shares stories from B-24, wife’s role in war
By Dick Hogan, Freelance writer
MARION — Aldrich “Ozzie” Drahos was flying a B-24 on bombing raids over Germany during World War II
before he ended up sitting out part of the war
in neutral Sweden.
He also ended up marrying a Cedar Rapids woman who’d served as the model for a series of Coca-Cola ads and who took wartime dictation from Gen. Dwight D.
Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Drahos’ time in Sweden began June 22, 1944, when his plane, the Carol Marie, was damaged by anti-aircraft fire while on a bombing run over a synthetic oil plant in Politz, Germany.
The 22-year-old second lieutenant from Cedar Rapids was the pilot, on his sixth mission of World War II
. (His first had been bombing ahead of Allied lines during the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France, earlier that month.) The B-24 started into a tailspin, but Drahos and his co-pilot leveled it off while the rest of the crew tossed out all they could to lighten the plane. Only one of the plane’s four engines was working, recalled Drahos, now 87 and living in Marion.
They had a choice: Bail out, go down in Germany or try to fly across the Baltic Sea and land in neutral Sweden.
The effort to get to Sweden was going well when three German fighters approached. The guns on Drahos’ B-24 were out of ammunition. Drahos told his crew that if the fighters attacked, he would drop the landing gear as a signal to bail out.
But fate smiled. The three fighter planes roared by without firing a shot.
“That was the only time I got really worried, when I saw those three German fighters,” he said. “I think they didn’t have enough fuel to attack or had no ammunition.” He also thinks that “when God looked at us, I think he said, ‘You are not good enough to come to heaven and not bad enough to go to hell. I’m letting you stay on Earth for you to decide where you want to go.’” The bomber — with 200 bullet holes in it — sputtered across the Baltic Sea and landed on a grass field at Malmo, Sweden, one of 40 Allied planes landing there that day. Three crashed, losing their crews. No one on the Carol Marie was hurt. “We were treated as heroes,” Drahos said. “It was a neutral country.” The war
was over for them.
“We were called interned POWs,” he said.
“We were treated unbelievably well.” After five months, he said, “it was our turn to escape,” Drahos said.
An unarmed, stripped-down B-24 flew into Stockholm’s airport in bad weather and took the crew to England, where they were told they would go home. The Nazis, they were told, had their pictures and names, and if they returned to combat and were captured, they could be shot as escaped POWs.
Drahos, who was born in Czechoslovakia but came to the United States when he was a year old, was a military transport pilot for the rest of the war
, flying all types of aircraft across the United States. He stayed in the reserves until the 1970s, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Drahos and his fiancée, Miriam Stehlik, joined the service in December 1941, right after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. She went to the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps while he waited to train as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, an opportunity that came in 1943.
Meanwhile, Miriam went to Africa, where her command of shorthand put her in demand to record information from highly secret meetings.
She was on Eisenhower’s staff and worked with top British brass, Drahos said.
He recalled that Miriam was once summoned to take dictation from Churchill. She “borrowed” a cigar from Gen.
Mark Clark’s desk and gave it to Churchill. He gave her one of his, which she kept as a souvenir.
Before they got down to the business of dictation, Churchill asked if Miriam could sew a button on his pants, which she did.
She returned to Cedar Rapids from Africa to marry Drahos on Nov. 3, 1943
Before the war
, Drahos said, Miriam modeled for the national Powers Modeling company and was featured in national Coca-Cola ads and on billboards. For some reason, he said, they never used her natural hair color, auburn. Some of those ads still hang on his apartment wall more than 10 years after Miriam’s death.
It was movie star Joan Crawford who persuaded Miriam that modeling was not what she should be doing. Miriam was at a party that the Powers’ models were hired to attend, and sometimes the men at those events got big ideas, Drahos said.
Crawford thought the young Iowan seemed uncomfortable and told her “modeling was not her thing. This is not the life for you.” Miriam agreed and came home.
After the war
, the Drahoses hosted then-President Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, when they visited Cedar Rapids in 1958.