Above: Louis Stamatakos and a B-17 Flying Fortress.

ON THIS DATE IN 1945, nineteen-year-old Louis Stamatakos risked his life dislodging bombs that failed to drop during World War II. As his B-17 Flying Fortress approached Kassel, Germany, two live, 250-pound bombs refused to disengage, putting the plane and its 10 occupants in peril. If someone didn’t free the bombs, “it was either bailing out or blowing up,” crew member Richard Rainoldi recalled.

Then someone yelled, “Get Stamatakos. He went to armament school.” The teenage tail gunner lowered himself into the bomb bay and began striking the shackles that held one of the bombs with a short-handled fire ax. Stamatakos knew “that if the bombs were accidentally struck or detonated in any way it would most likely take out our plane right there.” Twenty-thousand feet above German soil, he nudged one of the bombs free, then worked another 10 minutes to dislodge the second bomb. Climbing back into the tail section of the plane, he was “shaking all over.”

Six decades later, Louis joked that his act of bravery occurred “back when I was young and dumb.” The retired Michigan State University professor received a Silver Star for his World War II actions on Feb. 17, 2010.

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