The 89th Division was unique. It would become known as the Middle West Division, was formed in August 1917, and its members were trained at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas. Charles Bachmann was one of those men.
Bachmann was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1919 and was assigned to the 342nd machine gun battalion of the 89th Division. The division included men from Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and South Dakota. They deployed primarily in France and participated in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Charles’ son, Stuart, lives at Stone Hearth Estates with his wife, Janice, where he proudly displays a photo of his father dressed in his World War I uniform. Though he knows the division and battalion his dad served in, he knows little else of his father’s time in the Army.
“He just didn’t share much about that with us kids,” Stuart said.
It was never questioned whether Stuart would serve when he came of age. In 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
“I enlisted in the cadets. I was going to be a fighter pilot, but that didn’t prove out,” said Stuart. “I guess they didn’t need any more pilots, so they made a gunner out of me.”
His first stop in the Air Corps was in Mississippi, then on to Texas. He went from there to Pueblo, Colorado, where he received his overseas training. Stuart was shipped to Lavenham, England, located about 60 miles north of London, which would serve as his home base for the next year and a half.
Stuart was assigned to the 487th Bombardment Group as a tail gunner on B-17s. He flew 28 combat missions over Germany, Denmark and France. His first mission was to bomb the site where his dad had been stationed. He recalled watching the bombs drop and thinking about his dad.
“The average number of combat missions the gunners would fly is four,” said Stuart.
When asked if his plane ever drew enemy fire, Stuart laughed.
“We had 205 holes in our plane one time when we got back if you consider that getting shot at. One of the holes was about a foot over my head. We seldom came back from a mission when we didn’t have a few holes.”
He recalled one mission when a fuel gauge prompted an unscheduled stop in Brussels, Belgium.
“We were the first Americans to touch down there, and they weren’t looking for us. But they had fuel, and that’s all we were concerned about,” said Stuart.
The end of combat did not mean the end of flying missions, however.
“After the war ended, I flew a few mercy missions as an engineer picking up prisoners, mainly women from France. We picked them up in Warsaw, Poland, and dropped them off in Paris. They were always happy to see us.”
Stuart was discharged in December 1945. He and Janice were married in 1954, and they have three children.
He said he remained in contact with several of the men he served with after returning home, but Stuart believes he may be the only one still living. He and Janice have attended 33 487th reunions all over the U.S.
This past spring, his daughter arranged a special surprise to mark his military service.
“In May, my daughter took me back to England, to the old base, for the 75th reunion. I wasn’t too excited about going, but the royal treatment the English gave us was amazing,” Stuart said. “One lady there told us if it wasn’t for us boys, they wouldn’t be here. That felt good.”