CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — The Battle of the Bulge and D-Day are landmarks of World War II, but less well remembered is the disastrous Kassel Mission of Sept. 27, 1944, one of the great tragedies in U.S. military history.
Ira Weinstein survived the mission, in which 25 B-24 "Liberators" of the 445th Bomb Group were shot down near Kassel, Germany, in a matter of minutes. Of the more than 230 aboard those planes, 115 were killed or died of their injuries and the rest, including Weinstein, a bombardier/navigator, became prisoners of war.
Weinstein, who went on to run his own Chicago advertising agency, wanted to make sure people knew of his comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice as well as those who bore the scars of the experience.
"These men wanted the world to know that this happened, that it was a tragedy of great proportions, and that the world had a right to know," said Linda Alice Dewey, president of what is now known as the Kassel Mission Historical Society, which her father and Weinstein helped found in 1989.
"It was the worst loss for a single group flying from one airfield in a single day's battle — ever. No other group lost more men and machines in one day than they did. And that's what hurt — nobody knew."
Weinstein, 96, who owned Schram Advertising for more than 40 years, died Jan. 24, at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, of natural causes. He had been living at the Vi at The Glen, an assisted living facility in Glenview, for the past year. He was a longtime resident of Glencoe.
"He had a colorful career in advertising, but always made the 5:45 train home in time to have dinner with his family," said his son-in-law, Steve Temkin.
Born and raised in Chicago, Weinstein graduated from Crane Technical High School and began his advertising career at Goldblatt's discount stores before joining the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Weinstein had already flown two dozen missions before the Kassel Mission. Four planes had to abort the mission. Of the planes that participated, 25 crashed in Germany, two crash-landed in occupied France, one crashed in Belgium, two made it back across the English Channel but made forced landings on an emergency strip, one crashed near the base and four made it back to the base.
Anti-aircraft fire forced Weinstein to bail out of his plane, and on the way down he saw his pilot being killed with a pitchfork by irate German farmers, Weinstein told the Tribune in 1988. He was taken into custody but survived because of the kindness of the village mayor, who heard Weinstein speak Yiddish and realized he would be killed if turned over to the Nazi's secret police.
"I'll have to deliver you to a Luftwaffe base before the SS discovers you are here," the mayor said, Weinstein told the Tribune. "Those SS men do not take Jews prisoner. They kill them."
Weinstein was taken to Stalag Luft I, manned by members of the German air force who were too old for battlefield duty. Those Germans felt a kinship with American airmen, and conditions were far more livable than in most camps.
After being liberated by the Soviet army at the end of the war, Weinstein returned home and traveled the country visiting families of the crew members of his B-24 who didn't survive.
"After the war, his experience never let go of him," Dewey said. "He had terrible survivor's guilt and would often break into tears when he spoke of it to small parties or even to large audiences."
Weinstein was decorated with honors, including the Purple Heart and the distinguished French Croix de Guerre, for his wartime service, his family said.
After the war, he went to work for Schram Advertising, then bought the company in 1945. Considered a pioneer in direct mail and business-to-business fields, Weinstein sold the business to his son-in-law in 1990, and it was eventually renamed Temkin & Temkin.
He designed the logo for the Kassel Mission Historical Society (originally named the Kassel Mission Memorial Association) and sat on its board for 20 years, stepping down this past fall. Some veterans of the mission, including Dewey's father, the late William R. Dewey, returned to Germany and organized projects with their former enemies. Weinstein was reluctant to do so.
"Ira overcame that disinclination in the mid-90s, went to Germany to see the memorial near Bad Hersfeld and came back cheering," Dewey said. "He was dumbfounded over the welcome he received from Walter Hassenpflug, a boy who witnessed the falling planes and men that day, and other Germans he met when he was there. Their open-hearted friendliness amazed him."
In late 2013, Weinstein published "The Watch That Went to War," recounting his many experiences, including his return to Germany.
"When friends of mine found out he was a POW, they'd ask me questions about it," Temkin said. "I'd say, 'OK, I'll tell you some details, but you run the risk of feeling like a total wuss.'"
Weinstein is survived by his wife, Marilyn; daughters, Terri Weinstein and Laura Temkin; and two grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Norma.
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