461st plaque

461st Bombardment Group (H)

Vahl Aaron Vladyka

Vahl Aaron Vladyka was born in Marshalltown, Iowa on January 29, 1923, the youngest of his mother's seven children, but the only child of his father, a WWI American Expeditionary Force veteran and later a locomotive engineer.

Vahl sang Irving Berlin songs on local radio at age 8, passed 6th and 7th grades in one school year, caddied during the summer from age 12 to 16 at a starting pay of 50 cents for 18 holes.

After graduating from high school in 1940, Vahl worked at farm stoop labor, stevedore in a warehouse, and movie theater ticket taker ($10 a week plus free movies for self, dates, parents) until he enlisted in the mechanized cavalry in July of 1942.

Movies such as "The Fighting 69th" and "Sergeant York" motivated him to leave "show business" in mid-1942 and enlist in army as a private in the motorized cavalry.  Vahl became an acting sergeant at age 19 at Fort Riley KS, in charge of a platoon of new recruits.  He graduated from Armored Force OCS and was commissioned in the infantry at age 20 years and five weeks, the youngest in a class of 264.

Vahl was assigned to the 785th Tank Battalion at Fort Knox.  After a free ride in the nose of a B-25, flying above the Ohio River at 50 feet, he decided to apply for pilot training.

Vahl went through pilot training in Eastern Flying Training Command; B-24 transition at Smyrna, TN; RTU at Westover, Field MA.  He placed second among 350 student officers, in "Burma Road" cross-country run in pre-flight, and second place in formation flying in 44-D class in Basic.

Vahl flew a new B-24L from Mitchell Field, NY to Gioia, Italy in December, 1944, via, Bangor, ME, Gander, the Azores, Marrakech, Tunis.  He was assigned to the 765th Bombardment Squadron.  After 19 combat missions, a POW supply drop, and VE-Day, he flew the aircraft named "You Bet" via Brazil to Savannah, GA in June of 1945.

After separation from the Army Air Corps in October, 1945, Vahl entered college and received a law degree in 1950.  In 1946 Vahl married Merijane Smith, who was one of three first female Norden bombsight technicians in the U.S.  Vahl worked briefly in Kansas City, where he happened upon 765th Squadron Executive Officer, Major Rainen, in a deli restaurant; then spent two years in Guam as an assistant attorney general in the newly formed territorial government.

Upon his return to the States, Vahl practiced law briefly in his hometown.  In 1956 he then took a job with Humble Oil & Refining Company, later becoming part of Exxon.  He worked for 30 years in the Exploration and Production Departments, with responsibility for forming and negotiating unitization and joint operations agreements offshore and onshore in California and Alaska.  Vahl retired as a Senior Land Adviser.

Vahl then worked in California for 16 years and while there was invited to a Dodger baseball game and was seated between two Academy Award directors.  He also was invited to the home of movie start Edward G. Robinson.

After retirement, Vahl and Merijane moved to Austin, TX where he designed and had built a home where they currently reside.

Vahl has three sons and five grandchildren.  He played basketball with sons until age 47, then went back to golf, having caddied through five teenage years.  Vahl and Merijane retired to Austin, Texas in 1986.  His hobby in retirement is writing about life experiences.