DENHAM SPRINGS — It was quiet in Paul Cannedy’s room last week at La Maison Leisure Living Inc. — a stark contrast to his role in World War II.
As Cannedy flipped through a flight log book, which detailed the events of 53 bombing missions he flew with the 15th Army Air Corps’ 99th Bomber Group over Germany, Italy, France and Russia during World War II, he pointed out some of the most harrowing missions.
The book, with pages that have now slightly yellowed, details a heroic history of a young pilot who aided American forces by flying a B-17 Flying Fortress, and bombing enemy forces in an effort to win the war.
But for Cannedy, the book is simply a tale of job that needed to be done.
“We just had a job to do,” said Cannedy, who joined the military in January 1942. “I guess we were young and didn’t think of the dangers.”
Now 94, Cannedy was among the 17 WWII veterans in Louisiana honored with the French Legion of Honor award presented June 6 at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans as part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
“This anniversary carries immense meaning for these men, as it does for all who recognize the importance of what they did,” said Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, president and CEO of The National WWII Museum. “Very few will be with us still at the 80th anniversary. One of the museum’s most important missions is to honor these vets while they are still with us, and we are so proud to be able to do that in both Normandy and New Orleans this year.”
“It was a surprise to me,” Cannedy said about receiving the award. “But, it’s kind of exciting now that I know about it.”
“I’m very proud of him,” said his son, Art Cannedy. “He fought in a face-to-face war.”
“I’m glad he made it because I wouldn’t be here,” he said smiling.
La Maison owner Linda A’quin said she’s proud to have someone at the facility “so cognisant to tell us stories.”
The award is well-deserved for a pilot whose plane carried a crew of 10, a dozen 50-caliber machine guns and a full complement of 12,500-pound bombs to drop on railheads and railroad repair terminals in Sofia, Bulgaria, that were controlled by Nazi Germany.
And that was only Mission No. 19 in the life of the WWII pilot.
Cannedy, of Mountain Home, Arkansas, flew the 808-mile trip in six hours and 30 minutes on Jan. 24, 1944, with more than 300 other bombers and every P-47 or P-38 the 15th AAC could scramble — about 72.
Cannedy’s first mission was Nov. 16, 1943, when 150 Fortresses, flying without fighter escort, rained 500-pound bombs on the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base in France. The mission encountered opposition in the air, including a mix of 15 fighters in Messerschmitt 109 or the Focke-Wulf 190 pursuit planes. Two of those were shot down by B-17 gunners, Cannedy said. One B-17 was shot down also.
The most frightening mission, however, came on Feb. 14, 1944, on the way to Regensburg, Germany, for a bombing run on a Messerschmitt factory, Cannedy said. He was flying the new B-17G and Tokyo fuel tanks in the tips of each wing had increased the plane’s fuel capacity by 500 gallons. The weight of the extra fuel created problems during the flight that began at 26,000 feet and ended in a matter of seconds at 13,000 feet.
Somewhere between 13,000 feet and the ground, the plane’s engines revved hard enough to pull out of the stall.
“The group (three planes ahead of him) was long gone,” Cannedy said. “There was no chance of catching up. We flew alone at an altitude of 150 feet for 350 miles back to base.”
Cannedy and his crew never made it to their mission from Italy to Germany to bomb a German airport.
The saddest raid was Jan. 14, 1944, on Mostar, Yugoslavia, Cannedy said. Bombs from 110 B-17s fell on the city. The B-17 Cannedy flew carried 24 fragmentation-cluster bombs.
“It was a terrible time for all of us because we knew the bombing would kill civilians,” Cannedy said. The pilot said the mission was believed to persuade Yugoslavia to abandon its alliance with Nazi Germany.
After completing 53 missions — three more than intended — Cannedy earned the right to less hazardous duty in the war. Cannedy said he wanted to make a career in the military, and volunteered for B-29 training. But his dreams came to an abrupt halt. Cannedy said he was rendered medically unfit for service after suffering from sarcoma, or cancer, of the tonsils. The condition disqualified him from flying B-29s and his chance of continuing his service in the war in the Pacific Theater against Japan.
In 1945, Cannedy returned to the United States and worked as a station manager for Eastern Airlines for 32 years. He was also a driving instructor for the AARP for almost a decade, he said.
As Cannedy prepared for his trip to New Orleans Thursday evening, the WWII veteran reflected on his days in the military, and eyed a map that detailed all of the places he had flown. He still called his time in the Army “routine work.”
“It just didn’t bother me,” Cannedy said about the missions he flew. Even though “every mission we flew we were subject to enemy attack.”
“We always had to be aware of enemy aircraft,” Cannedy said. “Sometimes, we had 25 to 30 enemy planes following us.”