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'It was do or die': Hoosier Air Force veteran recalls World War II

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Posted at 4:27 PM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-06 19:19:21-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Monday marks 79 years since 2,403 U.S. military members and civilians were killed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

That chaotic and tragic event in 1941 marked the beginning of the U.S. involvement in World War II.

Robert Pedigo, now 97, was a teen and the youngest member of his bomber crew. He's the only living survivor among his other Air Force brethren.

"It was a gigantic accomplishment and gigantic sacrifices," Pedigo said. "But we succeeded. We had no choice. It was do or die."

Pedigo remembers the day of the Allied Forces' invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day, on June 6, 1944.

The day before, his squad commander, Jimmy Stewart, gave him and the other airmen a pep talk before lights out.

"The afternoon before D-Day, Jimmy called a squadron at a time, four squadron, he called us a squadron at a time, out in the middle of a wheat field, away from all buildings to brief us about the next morning," Pedigo said. "And even then he didn't say what it was, but we had been anticipating it and surmised what it was. And we were right. And I can pretty much remember his words. He was very brief. He said 'Fellas, we got a big mission in the morning. Get to bed early. Nobody come along on account of a red alert. The base is locked down. Nobody is coming or going. So we'll be getting up early, so get your rest.'"

At 2:30 a.m. the next day, Pedigo was one of the first up in the air, part of an air assault over the German forces.

"It was my easiest mission, but we lost 12,000 men that day on the beaches," Pedigo said. "Had it not been for all the bombing we did, we had Germany bombed to smithereens on the ground before the invasion. So D-Day was ready for a mop-up."

The U.S. resisted entering the war, but it was inevitable after the death and destruction at Pearl Harbor.

"Well how great the sacrifices were to stop it, end it, win it," Pedigo said. "The Air Force I was in had the highest percentage of losses of any military unit in World War II. It was like flying into hell."