World War II vet raises 12th Man flag, recalls 50 air missions over Europe

Nov 17, 2018, 6:41 AM
flying fortress...
The B-17 Flying Fortress. (wikimedia commons)

Army Staff Sgt. Art Unruh of Arlington, WA was just 20 years old when he knowingly traveled directly into danger, the European theatre of war in World War II.

And 76 years later, the Seahawks honored the 96-year-old veteran by inviting him to raise the 12th Man flag at Thursday’s home game against the Green Bay Packers, designated as Salute to Service night.

“If I have to look up [at the flag], I’m going to fall over backward,” he laughed.

Still as sharp and jovial as ever, Unruh joked that he needed WD-40 on his joints to get up the stairs and that his “golden years have turned to aluminum” when speaking with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson during the Seahawks pregame show. Dori had what he called one of the “most touching interviews of my career.”

RELATED: Local World War II fighter pilot’s heart-racing story of survival

Unruh, who is the author of World War II memoir “The Shadow Casters,” recalled that after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, launching the U.S. into the war, the young Americans were eager to aid their country and “get into the fight” against the Axis Powers.

“This ugly situation had reared its ugly head over there with Mussolini and Hitler and of course the Japanese, but we went over there, took care of it, and we came home and grew up,” he said. “And for my buddies who did not get to come home and grow up like I did, my flag goes up every day. I will not forget them.”

The young soldier first flew six missions as a tail gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress, meaning that it was his task to patrol the back end of the plane.

Even more dangerous were the 44 missions that Unruh flew as waist gunner.

“There were more waist gunners who were killed and wounded than anybody on an airplane,” he said, the reason being that waist gunners must stand, making them more of a target.

To this day, Unruh does not know how he made it through 50 missions alive, but noted that he and his compatriots took each day at a time, giving thanks for the gift of life each time they touched back down.

“You’d go out in the morning, you’d say, ‘Uncle Sam, here is my life,’ you’d go up and do your mission, you’d come back and he gives it back to you,” he said. “Next day you go out — ‘here’s my life again.’ And you just would be very fortunate if you don’t get hit.”

The young soldiers were up against a nightmare of a scene, especially against the Nazis’ 88-millimeter Flak gun, which “throws a shell that weighs 22 pounds up to 30,000 feet, and it’s done with radar — 10 to 15 shells every minute that they fire out of each gun.”

“They have 200 guns on the ground, you’re in a curtain of steel up there,” Unruh recalled. “We brought back B-17s that were butchered, there was nothing left, but they got you home.”

It was a sense of love and pride for their country that propelled the men into those fiery skies; on the back of Unruh’s veteran’s hat are the words, “Served with pride.” This selfless passion for one’s homeland is missing among today’s youth, Unruh believes.

“That’s what we need in this country today, we need more pride,” he said. “Back in those days, it was ‘we’ and ‘us,’ and now it’s ‘I,’ ‘me’ and ‘my’ over here. Things have changed so drastically.”

And with 96 years of wisdom in his belt, Unruh certainly knows of which he speaks. He offers those who are younger four tips for living life to the fullest:

  1. “Stay well — because if you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.”
  2. “Be happy — don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder all the time, be happy and enjoy your life, enjoy every minute of it because it’s a lot shorter than you think it is.”
  3. “Enjoy your freedom because so many people have paid dearly for the freedom that we have.”
  4. “Take real good care of today because today is all that you’ve got. Yesterday’s gone and it never will be here again. Tomorrow’s not here yet and it might not ever get here. You just take care of today and everything is going to be fine.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dori monsonTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.

Dori Monson Show

Dori Monson

(Photo courtesy of Joe Kent's Twitter @joekent16jan19)...
Dori Monson Show

Dori: In a tight race, Congressional candidate Kent’s own ballot almost didn’t count

The incumbent led by 257 votes last Friday, but dropped behind Kent by 960 votes on Monday when new ballots were tallied.
3 days ago
MyNorthwest Staff

Dori says farewell to Olivia Newton-John, dead at 73 after battle with cancer: ‘She was a fighter’

Olivia Newton-John, a chart-topping pop icon of the 1970s and 1980s co-star of Grease, passed away Monday.
4 days ago
(Photo by Lewis Geyer/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images)...
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Port Townsend Woman, 80, banned from pool after dispute with biological male in women’s shower

“I saw a man in a woman’s bathing suit watching maybe four or five little girls pulling down their suits in order to use the toilet,” Jaman recalled.
7 days ago
Tim Eyman ballot initiative...
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Tim Eyman’s ‘ultimate revenge’ against WA AG ‘is my continued political activism’

Tim Eyman has been forced to sell his Mukilteo home as financial restitution for more than $5.6 million in penalties and legal fees.
7 days ago
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Man arrested for murder used sword, his mom calls WA State’s mental health system ‘a total mess’

“It’s like watching them die,” Bonnie Smith told Dori Monson Show listeners Tuesday. “The son I knew no longer hardly exists in that body.”
10 days ago
(Photo by Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images)...
Dori Monson Show

Dori: ‘Senseless’ Seattle road-rage incident leads to deadly shooting while victim’s friends grieve

What started as a routine mid-morning trip to Costco to get his morning coffee ended in death for a Seattle man 11 days ago, and now Bob Jensen’s friends are asking why the driver who shot him hasn’t been arrested.
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
World War II vet raises 12th Man flag, recalls 50 air missions over Europe