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