HATFIELD — This year marks 75 years since the end of World War II with Japan formally surrendering Sept. 2, 1945 on the USS Missouri about four months after the German surrender in Europe.
More than 16 million American men and women served during the war, according to the National WWII Museum.
One of them was James “Pop” Waldspurger, now 100, who was born at home in Lansdale on Jan. 14, 1920.
He was the ninth of 10 children in his family, all of whom were boys except his younger sister, Waldspurger, who lives in Hatfield with his daughter and son-in-law, Agnes “Aggie” and Paul Spotts, said during a telephone interview that included Aggie Spotts.
After attending St. Stanislaus Elementary School, Waldspurger graduated from Lansdale High School in 1938 and went to work at Hanson Textile in Hatfield before being drafted in 1942.
Following his return home in 1945 after the end of the war, he returned to Hanson and continued working there until retiring in 1982, Waldspurger said.
During the war, Waldspurger was sent to England as an airplane mechanic in 1943 and spent the majority of his time repairing B-17 bombers, also known as Flying Fortresses, after the planes returned from battle, Waldspurger and Spotts said.
The trip to England, following about a year of training, was on a French merchant vessel, Charles Morshead Jr., of New Hampshire, a family friend, wrote in information he compiled about Waldspurger's time in the military.
“This vessel actually sunk prior to its maiden voyage before picking up James and his shipmates. The skinny vessel was retrofitted with a long keel and redeployed successfully,” Morshead wrote. “The seven day voyage to Liverpool navigated through terrible weather. People continued to be sick the entire trip. Iron stomach Waldspurger made [it] through the trip without tossing his cookies.”
Along with his later work on the B-17s, Waldspurger also spent some time in England working on planes to carry bombs that were being designed to be radio guided and as a waiter in an officer's mess hall, Morshead wrote.
The B-17 mechanics worked in crews of four, he wrote.
“The planes would come back from the bombing missions all shot up. Sometimes with only two of the four engines running. They would paint a bomb on the planes after each time they returned to keep track of how many missions they went on. After 25 missions the crew would be able to go home. This was later changed to 35 missions. One B17 made it back after 75 missions,” Morshead wrote.
Waldspurger, who was smaller than the other mechanics, was able to crawl inside the airplane's wing to make repairs, Morshead said.
“I remember him saying he was one of the smaller guys, so he was the one that went in,” Spotts said.
Waldspurger said crawling inside the wing wasn't an everyday thing, but he did it when necessary to repair the plane's supercharger.
One time a plane returned with only one engine still working and had to crash land, Morshead wrote.
“Pop saw two of the men eject but they did not survive. The others made it out of the plane which had caught fire during the landing. One of the guys was a real big guy but he managed to escape through one of the windows. Later on after the crash landing the airman climbed back into the bomber and tried to climb out the same window again but was not able,” Morshead wrote. “Amazing what you can do when your life is on the line.”
Waldspurger said his brother, Joseph, who was serving in the infantry in Germany, was wounded and sent to a hospital in England near the end of the war. He was visiting his brother in the hospital when it was announced that the war had ended, he said.
Waldspurger, who married Agnes Lowande in 1946, was married for 55 years. The couple had five children with the family growing to include 17 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and six great great-grandchildren.
When Waldspurger was growing up in Lansdale, the family had their own tennis court on the property, Spotts said. He also played, with his brother, Frank, in tennis tournaments for the Lansdale Tennis Club.
Waldspurger and his wife also teamed up in roller skating competitions, Spotts said.
“As a matter of fact, our whole family roller skated back then,” she said. “Him and my mom, they did dance and roller skating and they competed.”