- — EDITOR’S NOTE: Gwen Albers-Freson was a Herald staff writer when this story appeared June 5, 1994, in a special section published in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Patricia Rieg-King vividly remembers her father talking about how he navigated the 8th Air Force’s lead plane during the bombing of France’s beaches on June 6, 1944.
But it wasn’t until before her father’s death in December 1991 that the Lake Latonka woman learned how he felt about the D-Day mission that earned him an Air Medal and four oakleaf clusters for guiding the bombers to their targets.
“He was never one to share his feelings,” Mrs. Rieg-King said of her father, the late Capt. Roy H. Uhlinger Jr., who lived most of his life in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon.
When Uhlinger’s health began to fail, Mrs. Rieg-King said she encouraged him to write a journal of his life in hopes of keeping him busy. He suffered from vascular problems, cancer and Parkinson’s disease before he died at age 72, the Coolspring Township woman said.
Uhlinger, a graduate of Allegheny College in Meadville, began hand writing his 60-page journal in September 1985, but as his condition worsened, his granddaughter took over the writing while he dictated.
Sworn in as an aviation cadet in 1942, Uhlinger wanted to be either a pilot, navigator or bombardier, according to his journal. Training in biplane Stearman P17s in Lafayette, La., Uhlinger wrote about how he flew in too low and clipped some telephone wires.
“It’s funny how he had problems at first,” Mrs. Rieg-King said of his training, particularly since he later directed the fleet of planes to the bomb sites.
After flying 10 missions, the 8th Air Force wanted to train some navigators to use radar.
“Don’t know if our crew got this assignment because we were good or because we were goofoffs,” Uhlinger joked in his journal.
Using the radar, he learned to navigate planes over the clouds and bomb through clouds. By D-Day, his crew was chosen to lead the entire 8th Air Force.
“It was not announced before we took off that this was D-Day. However, we sensed that this was the big day when we took off a couple of hours earlier than usual,” Uhlinger wrote.
He explained that at 3 a.m. that day, thousands of planes had two hours to get into formation over England and then bomb the French beaches.
“Just five minutes before our troops were to storm the beaches, a one-way traffic route had been set up for all the planes involved in the invasion,” Uhlinger wrote.
“After we bombed around Caen and St. Lo, we flew west and around a French island before we returned north and headed for England.”
They returned for a second mission.
Mrs. Rieg-King said she was amazed at the details he remembered for this journal.
“I was always excited and proud because my dad was so important,” she said.