Dr. Paul J. Vega – “We Did Some Crazy Things”

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Captain Paul J. Vega

Bombardier/Navigator

United States Army Air Force – 15th Air Force

376th Heavy Bombardment Group – 514th Squadron

WWII – Mediterranean Theater

Dr. Vega passed away on December 30, 2015 at the age of 92. Thank you for your service, Dr. Vega.

“Oh, we did some crazy things.  You don’t realize what you have to be.”

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Dr. Paul Vega, who has retired as a successful surgeon, was part of one of the most decorated bomber groups in World War II — the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group.  He flew forty-one combat sorties in ten months into Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, and France. Dr. Vega was navigator and bombardier as part of a B-24 Liberator bomber crew.

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Captain Paul J. Vega

Dr. Vega first flew as a bombardier out of North Africa and later as a navigator/bombardier out of sites north in Italy. 

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The bottom, or rear plane is a B-24 painted “pink” so it would be camouflaged in the sands of north Africa.
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Navitator/Bombardier Paul Vega (R) with a crew mate at their new “incomplete” base in Italy after moving from the sands of their base in North Africa
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Paul Vega (L) standing outside his winter tent at their new base in Italy. He said it was COLD there!

 

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Missions flown by Dr. Paul Vega

In the list of missions above, the notations denoting targets are:

M/Y – Marshaling yard or railroad yard

A/C FCTY – Aircraft factory

A/D – Aerodrome or airfield

RR – Railroad

Many of the missions that have no definite target listed, the crews still bombed similar targets “of opportunity.”

Missions of note are:

February, 10, 1944 – Anzio Beachead – the bombardment was part of an effort to regain land that had been lost after the landing at Anzio, Italy by the Allies.

April 2, 1944 – Steyr, Austria – On this date 530+ B-24s and B-17s attack targets in Austria and Yugoslavia — B-24s in Austria attack an aircraft factory, depot and ball bearing factory

The April 5, 1944 Ploeski, Romania mission completed by Dr. Vega’s crew was flown in the B-24 Liberando Boomerang which set a new Mediterranean Theater record for missions flown for heavy bombardment aircraft — 132 sorties (flights).

April 29, 1944 – one of a group of 573 B-24s and B-17s that bombed the naval base at Toulon Harbor, France.

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A damaged B-24 on bombing mission over Europe.

 

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Captain Vega participating in a Group intelligence meeting for the 376th Bomber Group on August 9, 1944. (Dr. Vega is second from right.)

Dr. Vega shares a shocking story of the fate of a fellow crew member, “…eventually [our] pilot got killed. [He was flying a plane in] — cool level – right down on the deck, then [Dr. Vega motions hands to mimic the plane doing a loop before landing] came back.  [When] he did that [he] knocked the whole tail off his plane and he was killed.

Recalling a harrowing return flight after a combat mission when their plane had been heavily damaged, Dr. Vega recounts:

“We were throwing [things out of the plane] saying, ‘We can make it, we can make it!  Go, go!’

“And another [crew member] said, ‘Alright, damn it!’ [Dr. Vega chuckles]

“And we just went [motions an abrupt landing].  [There were] a lotta holes in my plane.  A lotta holes — fifteen or sixteen.

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Propaganda leaflets that were dropped by Dr. Vega’s crew as they flew over enemy territory.

“We had other crews [who] used to go with us. Albanians [Yugoslavians also flew aircraft with our bomber groups].  They were pilots and they would fly with us.

I didn’t know that.

“Nobody knew about that.  People didn’t know about that.  There were seven that would fly with us over the Alps.

DSC00408.ARWI’ll bet that was something – flying over the Alps.

“Whew…!  It was frozen!  And you know, there were no suits.  We didn’t have any suits.  The gunners had [some covering], but the officers didn’t. You’d put on the jackets and straps – I’ve got some pictures of all that.  You almost couldn’t move, you were so encumbered.”

After the war, Dr. Vega entered medical school and eventually became not only a successful surgeon, but he was highly instrumental in turning a small, 60-bed country hospital into a full-service state of the art 300-bed facility in Hammond, Louisiana.

Thank you, Dr. Vega for your heroic military service and your extraordinary community service.

Dr. Paul Vega
Portrait of Dr. Paul Vega, M.D. that hangs in the main lobby of North Oaks Hospital, Hammond, LA.

 

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Nancy Vega says:

    Dr. Vega really was so excited to see this. It is excellent to look upon & send to our relatives out of state. Thank you!!

    1. You are quite welcome! I enjoyed meeting and learning so much about Dr. Vega. I’m very appreciative of all of his military and civil contributions. He is quite a man!

  2. Georgina Powell says:

    I think my Dad flew with Dr. Paul Vega. He was with the 376th, 514th squadron. He was a B24 pilot and flew the Boomerang and the Constant Menance. I have my fathers pilots log, pics and journal detailing his missions. I think Dr. Vega is in some of the Italy base pics. I would love to share with him.

    1. What a wonderful connection that you have! I will let his family know. I would like to see it all, too!

    2. Nancy Vega says:

      I’m sure Dr Vega would be so pleased to speak with you. I am Nancy Vega, his daughter in law. My email is 4pens@att.net. He lives in Hammond, La, and I’m in Ponchatoula, La

      1. Nancy Vega says:

        In response to Georgina Powells
        Comment. I’m sure he love to speak to you.

  3. Karen Bates says:

    I always knew you were GREAT. Now we have evidence. Thank you Dr Vega for everything that you have done for your patients me included and our nation. Sincerely KarenBates

  4. Lindsay Reed says:

    Dr. Vega was a neighbor in Hammond. He saw me working in the yard and asked how things were going. I told him about a minor complaint, and he said, Meet me at the office in 20 minutes. I did, and he performed a minor bit of surgery which fixed the problem! He would not accept any payment. Wonderful man, we miss him and his wife, Jeanette.

    1. Nancy Vega says:

      I agree with you. I worked in his office and he was so kind and caring but extremely professional. We were always overbooked and he never once complained. They were the dearest in laws. Nancy Vega

      1. Lindsay Reed says:

        I miss him and Jeanette – class acts both.

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