Eugene J. Remmell, 79, aerial gunner in World War II

September 19, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Eugene J. Remmell, a highly decorated World War II gunner who earned the unusual distinction of flying in both the European and Pacific theaters, died in his sleep Tuesday at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary's County. He was 79.

As a turret gunner and flight engineer aboard the B-17 "Delta Rebel" of the 91st Bomb Group in the fabled 8th Army Air Force, Mr. Remmell participated in the first U.S. bombing missions over France and Germany in 1942.

The exploits of the "Delta Rebel" and the "Memphis Belle," also part of the 91st Bomb Group, were immortalized by Hollywood in films such as "12 O'Clock High" and "Memphis Belle."

In his first 25 missions over enemy territory, Mr. Remmell was credited with destroying four Nazi fighters.

"Those early missions were dangerous and exciting, but the most memorable to me was the mission to Hamm, Germany, when 16 planes from the 91st constituted the entire 8th Air Force attack," wrote Mr. Remmell in a veterans' newsletter. "It was my 13th mission and nearly my last."

Losing an engine while heading into the target and taking 20 mm shells from attacking fighters, the plane's pilot, George P. Birdsong, was wounded in the face and partially blinded by running blood. Mr. Birdsong flew with one eye. The co-pilot, also wounded, had to be removed from his seat.

"The rest of the crew kept at their guns and shot the fighters away from the ship while we fell out of formation and headed for England," said Mr. Remmell in an interview. "With two engines gone, it was impossible for us to reach our field again so the pilot made a perfect landing in a field of cabbages."

Remembering what it felt like going into combat, he said: "We were all bold as brass on our first mission because we didn't know what the score was. But after that we were always nervous starting out. Once we got in the air the fear would go away and during the flight we were too busy to be afraid."

Returning to the United States, he served as a military gunnery instructor but yearned to get back to airborne combat. Shipped to Italy, he joined the 15th Air Force, was shot down in a B-24 over Yugoslavia and flew 50 missions in all.

After completing his tour of duty, Mr. Remmell re-enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to the 20th Air Force in the Pacific, where he flew missions aboard B-29s until the war ended.

His World War II decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters, a Presidential Unit Citation, a Prisoner of War Medal and an Air Force Longevity Award with Four Oak Leaf Clusters.

Mr. Remmell retired from the Air Force in 1963 as a chief master sergeant. The former Northwood resident then worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service until retiring in the early 1980s.

"He seldom talked about his wartime experiences. He always said, `It was no big deal. The real heroes are dead,' " said his son, Harry M. Remmell of Freeland.

Born and reared on Hugo Ave. near Clifton Park, Mr. Remmell was a graduate of Baltimore public schools. He was married in 1953 to the former Ruth Osborn, who died last year.

An avid golfer, he played and taught the sport at area country clubs.

He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; the Escape and Evasion Society; the American Legion; Atomic Veterans' Association; the 15th Air Force Society; the 8th Air Force Historical Society; the Retired Enlisted Association and the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Services for Mr. Remmell will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow in the chapel at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery, 11501 Garrison Forest Road.

Other survivors include two daughters, Nancy Hanrahan of White Hall and Peggy Remmell of Hamilton, and nine grandchildren.

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