“I was with the 90th Bomber Group,” said Herman Shanker last year when speaking before a group of sixth graders at V.F.W. Post 226. “We flew B-24s, which are heavy bombers, in the Pacific. I flew 27 missions. Coming back on a run, one of the crew reported one of the pins breaking, and once they break, the plane goes any which way. You can’t control it. We had to jump quick.”
They jumped out over New Guinea and landed in a field where they confronted by Japanese soldiers coming out of the jungle.
Shanker recalled the shootout that transpired and, finally, how he and his crew managed their escape.
“We got out of there fast and headed for our base,” he said.
On foot in the jungle, the half-hour trip by air turned into a hard three-day trek fighting through heavy overgrowth. Every time they came to a stream, they had to shoot the alligators to get through. Once back, they headed for the war room, reported their experiences, and then went to the mess hall.
“Boy, did we eat. We ate and ate, and then went to our tents and went to sleep,” he said.
Drafted on 19th birthday
Born in 1914, Shanker was a watch- and instrument-maker at Bendix before being drafted on his 19th birthday, June 18, 1943. He served in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946 in the Pacific Theater of operation. He was a member of the “Jolly Rogers” flying in and repairing B-24 Liberator bombers. He piloted a B24 Bomber and was a member of the 90th Bomb Group, 319th Squadron.
Shanker was shot down a second time, in even more hectic circumstances, landing in water with sharks that attacked and killed half of his crew.
“We floated around for three hours in the water,” he said, an incident he did not like to recall often, but thought he might not survive.
But he did survive, passing away on Nov. 6 this year at the ripe old age of 98. Except for the war years, he lived his entire life in Bayonne.
“I like helping people.” – Herman Shanker
Shanker served in New Guinea, the Philippines, at Okinawa, and finally Ie Shima, where the surrendering Japanese Imperial forces were flown for the formal surrender ceremony in August, 1945. He said that he was the last man to leave Ie Shima. He was held over until the last plane took off in case repairs were needed.
Upon his discharge at the rank of staff sergeant, he returned to watch-making. But in 1950, he took up employment as a sewing machine mechanic for Maidenform in Bayonne. He retired from the company in 1979. Thereafter, he and his wife Esther often traveled around the country, especially up to Rochester, N.Y.
In the early 1990s, he assisted his son Steve, who worked on flight line duty at the Wings of Eagles war plane air show, helping to direct taxiing aircraft.
In 1999, Shanker, then 94 years old, was honored by the Bayonne Marine Corps League with the Lance/Corporal Stanley J. Kopcinski Memorial Award. Shanker had also been the commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 18 of Bayonne since 1998. He served as junior vice commander of V.F.W. Post 226 of Bayonne and as chaplain of the Bayonne Memorial Day Parade Committee, which plans the annual Memorial Day Parade as well as the Flag Day ceremonies and other special events.
Shanker loved collecting at ShopRite on Avenue C for many causes and was as much a fixture there as the store manager, setting up his chair near the exit door where he greeted many of his friends in the community.
“I like helping people,” he told the Bayonne Community News at one such collection not long go.
Shanker was also an avid gardener who always shared his produce and pickles with neighbors and friends and continued to fix mechanical watches until a few years ago. He could play the piano and organ by ear and often did so at many WWII reunions.