Al Antonowitz spent three years in the U.S Army Air Corps during World War II, much of it at Kimbolton Field, about 50 miles north of London, as a member of a B-17 bomber ground crew.
A native of East Chicago, Ind., Antonowitz was drafted in 1942 and shipped out to England in 1943 or 1944 after the 379th Bomb Group arrived at Kimbolton (the airfield still exists, though it’s used as a go-kart course).
The 379th Bomb Group compiled a very distinguished record of service, flying bombing missions throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, including missions in support of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.
As a member of the ground crew, Antonowitz didn’t face the Nazi flak and fighters, but he was on hand on July 6, 1944 when the Kimbolton Field received some very important visitors.
“We were told the Royal Family was going to make a visit,” said Antonowitz, a client of Cantata Adult Life and Senior Care Service in Brookfield, who showed off memorabilia from his service in the Army Air Corps at the Cantata campus on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“It surprised everyone.”
The Royal Family — King George VI; his wife Elizabeth, then known as the queen consort; and Princess Elizabeth, who would become queen in 1952 — earlier that day had visited the airfield at Thurleigh, not too far from Kimbolton, to christen a bomber named after the then-teenage princess, the Rose of York.
After lunch, the Royal Family drove to Kimbolton to meet the crew of another bomber — Four of a Kind — the very plane for which Antonowitz served as a member of the ground crew.
“Out of the 40 planes on the field, they picked mine,” said Antonowitz, who will turn 95 on Thanksgiving Day.
The King and queen consort, accompanied by no less than Lt. Gen James A. Doolittle (who was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading the carrier-launched bomber raid on Tokyo in early 1942), chatted with the crew for about 10 or 15 minutes before leaving.
Antonowitz was allowed to take photos of the visit, which he has kept throughout the years. He displayed the photos on Monday at Cantata.
Toward the end of the war, Antonowitz got to take a ride on the B-17 he worked on.
“We flew over Germany, sight-seeing up and down the Rhine,” said Antonowitz.
After the war, Antonowitz figured he’d use the skills he acquired during the war and get a job as an airplane mechanic. But with thousands of other air crewmen thinking the same thing, Antonowitz ended up getting work at a foundry in Indiana before landing a job as an analyst for U.S. Steel’s South Works on Chicago’s Southeast Side, where he worked for 30 years.