James R. `Jim' Fink, 79, flew B-17 in Germany during World War II

October 13, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

James R. "Jim" Fink, who piloted a durable B-17 named Wee Willie across the skies of Germany during World War II, died Friday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Copper Ridge in Sykesville. He was 79.

"He had two passions in his life: his family and aviation," said a daughter, Frances Finnegan of Timonium.

Mr. Fink flew 35 bombing missions over Germany as an Army Air Forces lieutenant with the 322nd Squadron of the 91st Bombardment Group based in Bassingbourn, England. Those missions included historic raids over Schweinfurt's defense plants and Remagen, the heavily defended bridge that finally fell in 1945.

Normally, if a pilot or crew member of a bomber aircraft survived 25 missions, they were rotated home to serve as flight or gunner instructors. But later in the war, the number of forays was extended because of high combat and accident losses among their number.

Mr. Fink's craft was representative of those planes that often limped back to base full of holes and flying on fumes.

Carrying a different crew in April 1945, Wee Willie was hit by German flak and fighters and crashed on the plane's 128th mission, the next-to-last B-17 to be lost in the war from Mr. Fink's bomb group, historical records show.

Mr. Fink spoke little of his exploits in combat. Instead, "he talked about the sense of closeness of the crew ... of his obligation to being the absolute best for them," said Ms. Finnegan.

"He did mention sometimes of how he marveled at when his airplane made it back to England, once with huge holes in the floor of the fuselage," she said.

Born in Bellefonte, Pa., and raised in Tyrone, Pa., he graduated from Tyrone High School and immediately enlisted in the military at the start of the war.

He returned home from the war in 1945 and married his high school sweetheart, the former Mary Jane Haag of Memphis, Tenn. The couple were married 59 years.

In the late 1940s, he continued his flying career as a corporate pilot for the Danley Corp. and General Motors in Detroit. In 1958, he and his family moved to Timonium, and he flew for the former Martin-Marietta Corp. in Middle River.

He retired from that company in 1984 after being presented the Jefferson Cup for Excellence at Martin-Marietta.

After his retirement, Mr. Fink traveled the country with his wife and enjoyed home remodeling projects with his children.

His daughter said he was a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post No. 1, in Paris and of the Eighth Air Force Association.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. today at the Loyola Blakefield Chapel, 500 Chestnut Ave., Towson. Burial will be at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 E. Padonia Road, Timonium.

In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include three other children, J. Daniel Fink of Reston, Va., David Fink of Towson and Martha Turlik of Monrovia; and eight grandchildren.

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