By Val Simon and John Patterson
Gil Mueller started getting draft notices while he was still in high school in Park Ridge, Illinois. He was still too young to serve in the military. But as they say, the third time is a charm, at least for the government that is, because in the fall of 1942, when he received his third draft notice, he was not deferred due to his young age since he was now eighteen years old. After taking the required entrance exams, he was put in the air force and applied for pilot training. He felt lucky, two other guys he knew were sent out and one had already come home injured, the other was killed in a tank in Italy.
Gil travelled around the country for basic and pre-flight training. Then he went overseas in the early part of 1944 where he learned all about the B-17 – ‘The Flying Fortress’. He was stationed at a base in Chelveston, England with the 305th Bomb Group. The 305thwas a notable group according to Gil. “They received citations from all the brass, but there were a lot of casualties, too.” The 305th flew 480 missions overall and 174 of the group’s aircraft were shot down or destroyed. Gil was in one of them…..
In all, Gil had completed fifteen missions. During the sixteenth mission, however, the B-17 had been flying in a diagonal pattern over Europe, from Chelveston to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. The problem was the mission had been announced days in advance. Skoda Ironworks was the target. The Germans were there, waiting for them. They got to the target and were hit in one engine. It started to flutter. Then the other engine started to flutter too.
The Chief Pilot was a man named, Sipes. He had flown twenty-five missions in Asia, and then volunteered to fly another twenty-five in Europe. “He was physically and morally a terrible man!” laments Gil. “He didn’t shave and every other word was cursing. He may’ve been a regular army man, but he was one excellent pilot.” Once hit, Sipes gave the crew an option: bailout or skid in. “The crew didn’t like the looks of what was below us. We had always been told we wouldn’t last five minutes in the English Channel. We voted to skid in,” states Gil. “The wheels were down, but the Flying Fortress had to stop on her own accord.” They landed in Dupree, France which was unoccupied at the time. Only one crew member hurt: Gil Mueller.
Gil was transferred to the 115th General Hospital in Liege, Belgium. “It was a horrible, horrible place,” says Gil. “It was an old, gloomy chateau that had been converted into a hospital. The Battle of Bulge was still going on and they were bringing in injured infantryman all hours of the day and night. I was pretty mobile because it was my shoulders that were hurt. Seeing these injured men coming in from battle was a horrendous sight. They finally dismissed me after about a month, but I will never forget that place or what I saw there.”
While in the hospital, the war ended. Gil traveled to rejoin his base, he presumed they’d still be wherethey had been and when he got there he found they’d gone! It was April 25, 1945. They were relocated to Augsurg, Germany. “I took a train to get to Augsburg. There were no beds, just a boxcar. I sat upright in a chair for three days. We had to stop here and there to fix rails that had been bombed out along the way. It took three days to get 100 miles.” The base in Germany was occupied for another three to four months to show a military presence. “I spoke a little German so I got along well with the locals, especially the girls!”
“Fifteen and a half missions and I never felt fearful or scared. Maybe just a little when shot down. I thought I was invincible! No one could hurt me. At eighteen to nineteen years old you just don’t realize the danger.”
Back at home, Gil recalls trying to take advantage of the G.I. bill by enrolling in college. “The hard part wasn’t getting into college, it was finding living quarters. The government paid for books, tuition and $60 a month for living expenses. My mother sent thirteen letters all around the country trying to get me into college. Finally, she found a little school in Alton, Illinois, a Baptist-oriented college. I got on the railroad and headed down, it was just north of St. Louis. I registered and went into my room, it was a terrible dilapidated place. I was up in this little room on the third floor. I remember waking up in the night and there was something on my chest, I brushed it off. It was a rat. I figured that was the end of my college education! In the morning I went over to ‘un’register the prior days’ registration. I met two guys standing in line: Clark Stein and Bill Hays. They suggested we all go uptown and have a beer. So we did and we spent the whole day together. By the time I got back, I figured I might as well stay since I had met such nice guys. I stayed for five years, met my wife Marion there, and got my degree.”
Returning to Chicago, Gil worked for R.H. Donnelly as a sales manager for eveven years. Eventually, he started a little pamphlet as a skiing guide suggested by a friend. It started out with four pages, then eight, then sixteen and so on. Gil sold this little side business seventeen years later at 218 pages! It ended up being his vocation until he retired at age sixty-five.
Gil and Marion bought property on Marco Island in 1970, but moved permanently here in 1985. “I was a bored, lost soul when I retired, so I went to work for Dick Haberlin in construction. He kept me busy for seven more years. I was also busy volunteering for the Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board, I set a service record of eighteen years! It’s a record that still stands! I remember converting Mackle Park from the little building it was to the expanded building still there now. I was involved in Tigertail Beach as well. There are plaques with my name in both places. I consider serving the community a responsibility. I’ve accomplished quite a bit!”