Milo Oakland never talked a lot about his harrowing experiences as a bomber pilot in the final months of World War II, according to his son David of Charlottesville, Va. “But,” he said, “I’m sure he thought about them all the time.
“They were very intense, and for a 20-year-old having that responsibility thrust upon him, they were formative.”
On one especially dangerous mission over southern Germany, his B-24 Liberator bomber. nicknamed the “Silver Sturgeon,” was badly damaged by antiaircraft fire, knocking out two of its four engines. Still he managed to fly his crippled plane to a pre-arranged rescue site on the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea.
“With typical modesty,” his son David said, “Dad gave all the credit to his navigator for finding the island.” The navigator’s name was Clayton Erb.
But another Silver Sturgeon crewman gave Oakland a lot of credit, too.
“Piloting the plane back through the Alps with only two working engines was a real feat,” said Charles Lamb of McGaheysville, Va., who was the nose gunner on the mission. “Those of us in the crew always thought we were in good hands with Milo at the wheel.”
Liberators were unwieldy aircraft and required a lot of muscle at the controls. “We were kind of surprised Milo could pull it off since he wasn’t very big, but he managed to do it,” Lamb said.
Years later Milo Oakland read the book “The Wild Blue,” by Steven Ambrose, which chronicled the exploits of Liberator airmen, especially one George McGovern, who later became a U.S. senator and presidential candidate.
“Dad was struck by how his experience resembled McGovern’s. Both were called to duty out of college; both got their pilot training at the same Texas base; both flew combat missions from the same San Giovanni airfield in southern Italy, and both had to make emergency landings on Vis,” his son said.
“Dad wrote on the book’s flyleaf, ‘This is my story, too.’”
There’s one other similarity: Both Oakland and McGovern were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their heroism and aviator skill.
Oakland, 87, died Sept. 19 at his Dunwoody home of complications from a stroke and Parkinson’s disease. His memorial service will be at 2 p.m. today (Saturday, Oct. 3) at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church. A reception will follow at the family home. His body was donated to the Emory University Medical School.
After military service, Oakland resumed his college work, graduating from the University of Illinois in 1946. He moved upward in the wire and cable industry, building and operating manufacturing plants, one of them in Tucker. Toward the end of his career in his capacity as executive vice president for Alcan Cable, he was stationed at its offices in southern France and Switzerland while studying the feasibility of establishing wire and cable plants in Saudi Arabia.
“Dad didn’t care for that assignment,” his son said. “Living in Europe brought back wartime memories. He considered doing his duty for his company was like taking one for the team.”
Upon retirement in 1984, Oakland was able to give fuller attention to a lifelong passion for golf. “Dad was a remarkable player,” his son said. “In his prime, he had a minus-one handicap, and for most of his life, he kept it in single digits.”
He and his wife Sue made numerous trips to Britain so he could play on some famous courses there, including St. Andrews in Scotland, but golf wasn’t the only attraction. “We went sightseeing all over southern England and often went to the theater while we were in London,” she said.
Survivors also include a daughter, Amy Oakland, of Berkeley, Calif., and five grandchildren.
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