GREENSBURG — In August 1942, 21-year-old Joe Lecher got a chance to remain at home in Decatur County, working for a local dairy farmer, instead of heeding a call from Uncle Sam to join the fray in the theaters of World War II.
The owner of the dairy farm applied for Joe to receive a six-month deferment from military service; one of Joe’s brothers had received several six-month deferments before ultimately leaving for World War II. Upon reflection, though, Joe decided he had an obligation to answer the call from his country.
“After giving it some thought,” he said. “I decided it was my duty [to go]; it was time for me to serve my country.”
Lecher, now 92-years-old and living at Aspen Place Health Campus, looks back on those days with no regrets. He and his wife of 61 years – Elsie – sat for an interview with the Daily News Friday morning, on the cusp of Veterans Day Weekend.
After being drafted, Joe entered into the service of the US Air Force, a path that would ultimately take him into the thick of the war in the Pacific. After the young airman finished his training as a flight engineer, he ended up stationed on Tinian Island, working with an 11-man B-29 Superfortress bombing crew, conducting regular bombing missions on Japan.
Interestingly, his closest brush with death during numerous missions came in April 1945, when the B-29 in which he was working as part of an attack on the Hodagaya Chemical Plant in Koriyama, had an engine shot out.
“We lost four crew members on that run,” Joe recalled. “The engine caught fire and we had to dive/plunge from a 12,000-foot altitude to an altitude of approximately 5,000 feet.”
The attack plane started back for Tinian, but according to Joe’s calculations (part of his job as a flight engineer), there would be barely enough fuel to make it back to base.