Lima WWII vet shares memories of ‘Five Grand’


First Posted: 1/4/2015

LIMA — World War II veteran Robert Bohyer took in a screening of the new film, “Unbroken,” the story of a World War II soldier who ended up surviving the ordeal of a Japanese POW camp.

“I’ll admit, I caught myself flinching a couple of times,” he said. “It was very well-made.”

Bohyer, who turns 90 Tuesday, grew up in Lima’s south side, eventually graduating from South High School.

“I liked excitement, and right after high school, I went into the [Army] Air Force[s],” he said. “I was 18 years old. I thought I was going into the infantry, but they were looking for volunteers for the air force.”

After his training was complete, Bohyer found himself on the crew of what would become a rather famous aircraft. Bohyer became the tailgunner of a Boeing B-17 bomber nicknamed “Five Grand” because it was the 5,000th B-17 built.

“Because of that, all the laborers and mechanics signed the plane, putting their autograph on the outside,” he said. “By the time it came off the assembly line, there was hardly a spot on it that wasn’t signed.”

Soon Bohyer and Five Grand were sent to Europe, where Bohyer participated in 10 missions with the 8th Air Force. The third mission was the worst of all of them, with the plane flying over Mannheim, Germany, and losing two engines over enemy territory.

“We started down in a spin,” he said. “We got down to about 10,000 feet, and the pilot finally got that thing straightened out.”

The damaged plane did not have enough altitude to make it over the Alps to Switzerland, so the pilot was forced to try to get the plane back to England. The plane continued to slowly lose altitude before finally making it over the English channel and back to friendly territory.

“We were down to about 1,000 feet and couldn’t stay up much longer,” Bohyer said.

Bohyer would go on to also fly 25 missions in Italy before coming back to the United States for leave. On his way back to head to the Pacific, he got some monumental news.

“When we got to Memphis, I was waiting on another train, and suddenly they announced on a loudspeaker that the war had ended in the Pacific,” he said. “That place went crazy.”

Bohyer completed his military career as a staff sergeant with the Presidental Unit Citation, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and seven Battle Stars. Looking for excitement at the onset, Bohyer was glad to come back home.

“I wanted excitement, but not that much,” he said.

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