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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Obit for Robert Rosenthal, WWII pilot and Nuremberg lawyer

An NY Times obituary today for Robert Rosenthal, Air Force pilot and Nuremberg lawyer:

Robert Rosenthal was born in Brooklyn on June 11, 1917, and went to school in the borough’s Flatbush neighborhood. He was captain of the football and baseball teams at Brooklyn College, from which he graduated in 1938. He graduated summa cum laude from Brooklyn Law School. He had a job at a law firm in Manhattan when World War II started.

After his flight training, Mr. Rosenthal was assigned to the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group, later known as “The Bloody Hundredth.” He was stationed at a base in East Anglia in England.

[Journalist Donald L.] Miller wrote that Mr. Rosenthal never talked about his passion to risk everything to fight Nazis. A rumor arose that he had relatives in German concentration camps. When asked directly, he replied, “That was a lot of hooey.”

He said: “I have no personal reasons. Everything I’ve done or hope to do is because I hate persecution. A human being has to look out for other human beings or there’s no civilization.”

His third mission was to bomb Münster on Oct. 10, 1943. After the American support fighters reached their range and returned home, the 13 bombers in the group were attacked by some 200 German fighters. The skies were filled with flak and flames, creating “an aerial junkyard,” according to a gunner.

Mr. Rosenthal’s plane dropped its bombs, but had two engines out, a gaping hole in one wing and three injured gunners. He put the 30-ton bomber through a harrowing series of evasive maneuvers and somehow made it back to England. None of the other 12 planes did.

In September 1944, Mr. Rosenthal’s plane was hit by flak over France and he made a forced landing, dulling his consciousness as well as breaking his arm and nose. He did not remember how, but the French resistance got him back to England.

On a February 1945 mission to bomb Berlin, he was shot down and rescued by Russians on the outskirts of the city. He was sent back to England on a circuitous route that wound through Poland, Moscow, Kiev, Tehran, Cairo, Greece and Naples.

That's an incredible story, though I imagine a fuller description of his--and any WWII pilot's--bombing campaigns would be troubling.