A man who flew bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe and piloted cargo planes into and out of East Germany during the year-long Berlin Airlift, received a long-overdue medal from the Air Force recently.
Retired Lt. Col. Seward M. Meintsma was belatedly awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Navy Reserve Cmdr. Seward Meintsma Jr. pinned the medal on his 90-year-old father’s jacket during the ceremony, which was held Monday in the 552nd Operations Group Auditorium at Tinker AFB.
The room was packed with Air Force officers and enlisted personnel who gave Colonel Meintsma a standing ovation and afterward stood in line to shake his hand and extend their congratulations.
“I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than what we’re doing today,” said Col. Greg Guillot, commander of the 552nd Air Control Wing. “Somehow this citation was lost in the system, but…”
Then-First Lieutenant Meintsma was the pilot of B-24 Liberators stationed in Suffolk, England, with the U.S. Army Air Forces (forerunner of the U.S. Air Force) when he “distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement” between July 5, 1944, and Feb. 16, 1945, his citation reads.
During that time, Lieutenant Meintsma flew 35 bombing missions over enemy-occupied central Europe. He “materially aided in the successful completion of each of these missions, and his actions are an inspiring example for his fellow flyers,” the citation continues. The award recognizes Mr. Meintsma for the “great courage and skill” and the “outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty” he exhibited during the war.
The young officer faced “constant peril” on his bombing runs, Colonel Guillot pointed out. Then-Lieutenant Meintsma was required to “fly through all kinds of terrible weather,” small-arms fire, swarms of fighter planes and anti-aircraft batteries while on his bombing missions, “and then he had to get back,” Colonel Guillot noted.
Colonel Meintsma said his B-24 sustained flak damage on most of his missions, and on at least one occasion his aircraft’s hydraulics failed when flak severed the lines. “My last mission in the war occurred 68 years ago this month,” the colonel recalled during his award ceremony.
Colonel Meintsma said that after the war ended in August 1945 he was stationed in Berlin with the European Air Transport Service; as a result, he was quickly tapped for pilot duty when the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on Allied-controlled sectors of Berlin on June 24, 1948. Colonel Meintsma flew C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters into and out of Tempelhof Airport throughout the blockade, which Soviet Premier Josef Stalin finally lifted on May 12, 1949.
“Our approach into Berlin was over a graveyard and between apartment complexes,” Colonel Meintsma remembers.
It was during his post-war time in Germany that Mr. Meintsma met and married his wife, Nellye Anne; she served as a pharmacist’s mate with the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and traveled to Germany after the war. The couple has been married more than 63 years.
Besides his service as a pilot in World War II and the Berlin Airlift, he also was an adviser to the Vietnamese Air Force during the Vietnam War. Colonel Meintsma’s career in the Air Force continued for 30 years, until his retirement in 1972.