Reunions

Firing in anger

Becoming a fighter pilot

Fighter planes

P47 or P51

Combat in the skies

Fighting German jets

Downing an Arado234

Five kills in one day

George Preddy and looking for Y29

Oops...

Enemy attack on Y29

Most memorable combat missions

We wanted to fly

Escorting bombing missions

German planes and pilots

Interview blocked upon donor’s request

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[Annotators Note: There is no content in this segment. During this segment the interviewer and Donald Bryan talk about postwar reunions.]

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When Donald Bryan was going to junior college the US was paying for pilot training [Annotator’s Note: the Civilian Pilot Training Program or CPTP]. He spent 39 hours flying a 65 horsepower airplane and got his pilot’s license. He then went to work for the US Geological Survey mapping the New Idria Mines [Annotator’s Note: New Idrea Mines in California] area. On 7 December 1941, Bryan heard on the radio in his uncle’s Plymouth about the battle in Hawaii. When he returned to work, he notified his boss that he wanted to go in. His boss was also a commissioned officer in the military. His boss asked him to hold off because they would be finished the map in just a few weeks. He did so and volunteered just after Christmas. His brother had been connected to the navy, so he tried to join the navy but was turned down for their military air program because he was too short at only five feet six inches. He left there and went into the army. The next day he was sent down to a place in mid California he was sent to talk to someone who sent him to King City, California when he learned that Bryan had a pilot’s license. During primary training in King City, Bryan flew the PT-17. It was a good airplane. Bryan knew all of the fancy maneuvers and as a result his instructors taught him things he was supposed to learn in basic training. He went to basic training and was taught things he was supposed to learn in advanced training. In advanced training, he was the hottest guy there. Six months and 20 days after he enlisted he was graduating from flight training. He had joined on 6 January and graduated on 20 June [Annotator’s Note: January to June of 1942].The 39 hours he had probably saved his life because that is how he ended up in fighters. In combat the safest place to be is in a fighter aircraft. On 13 August he soloed in the P-40 down in the Tampa area. He got over 200 hours in P-40s and was used as an instructor. From there he went up to Long Island, New York where he was assigned to the 328th Fighter Squadron as a junior flight leader of that unit. They were flying P-47s there. They went to England to Bodney Airfield and flew their first mission in September 1943.The day of his first mission he was the junior flight leader so he was back in the fourth flight. They were taking off four ships abreast. As he was taking off he heard a strange noise coming from the plane. He thought he was going to have to abort until he looked down and realized that the sound he was hearing was his knees knocking together. He was fine after that and it never happened again. He had more flight experience than anyone else in that section and it happened to him. Maybe it happened to others.

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Donald Bryan took off on 140 missions but only completed 138 of them. The bombers aborted on two of them because of weather. During all the time he flew, there was only one time he pulled the trigger in anger. The other times he was shooting because there were targets in front of him. In September 1944, Bryan was flying escort when he saw one of the “Goonies” [Annotator’s Note: nickname for the Douglass C-47 cargo aircraft] get shot down. When it went down, the gliders it was towing did not release and hit the ground vertically at 160 knots. There were maybe 30 people in each of the gliders. Bryan’s group looked for the anti-aircraft gun but could not find it. Then another Gooney was shot down with both of its gliders still attached. When a third Gooney was shot down, Bryan saw where the gun was located and went after it. He spent the rest of the mission shooting at anything he could find. That was firing in anger.

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The first real fighter airplane Donald Bryan flew was the P-40D with the Merlin engine, not the Allison engine. They would sometimes escort the photo reconnaissance planes which were P-38s with Allison engines in them. They called the Allison engines, “Allison time bombs.” The P-51s they flew had Merlin engines too. The P-40D was by far better than any of the P-40s being flown in Asia. All of the Merlin engines were going into the P-51s instead of going to the P-40s.While he was there they got some P-39s. Bryan flew about 28 or 30 hours in them. While taking off one day the bearings on the shaft fouled. He had just cleared the runway when it happened. He got the plane back on the ground and never flew another P-39 again. The P-39 had a bad center of gravity because the engine was located behind the pilot. They could get into flat spins that were difficult to get out of. The Russians loved them. They had a big gun. They were good at shooting at enemy targets. Bryan is glad the Americans did not use them. Bryan says his opinion of the P-47 depends on where they are and who the crew chief was. Above 30,000 feet the P-47 could out perform any German fighter. There were only two German fighters at that time, the Me109 and Fw190, until they got the jets. They could carry the fight down to about 1,800 feet, but had to watch out. The P-47 was the best ground support aircraft in the world until the A-10 Warthog came along to replace them.

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In 1944, they came out with water injection which added 200 horsepower. Bryan’s planes did not have it and he was a flight leader. One day he asked his crew chief Kirk Noyes when he was getting water injection on his plane and his chief replied that he would not get it because his plane was too old. He was flying a P-47D2 which was an older plane. The crew chief told him his only option was to find another airplane, but if he did he would not have the same crew chief. Bryan chose to stay with his crew chief. His crew chief told him that he removed the stops from the turbo supercharger. That would give him unlimited power for about 30 seconds then the engine would blow up. Having the stops removed saved his life twice. The first time he was going out on a mission and it was very cold with bright sunshine. His plane was sparkling in the sunshine. When he got to his plane he asked crew chief what he had done. The chief told him that instead of brushing the snow off the plane he hosed it off. The water on the plane was making it sparkle. Bryan got in the plane and got airborne, but quickly realized that it would not clear the trees in front of him. Bryan looked down and noticed that the manifold pressure had dropped. He managed to get the plane back on the ground. If he had been flying a newer plane with water injection he would not have made over the trees. On another mission Bryan was flying with a lieutenant colonel. When high ranking officer replacements arrived in theater they were sent to a squadron to get some combat experience before joining their new squadron or group. The officer Bryan was flying with had flown a mission or two before. Bryan was assigned as the number three man. They were on their way home after an escort mission when Bryan looked down and saw an Me110. He called it in, then dove on the plane. He shot the plane to pieces. His wingman and flight leader also got hits on it before it went down. They shared the kill. Bryan was down at about 1,000 feet and when he looked up he saw eight Fw190s above him. He did not want to bail out or get shot down so he gunned the engine and climbed up through the section of Fw190s. The Fw190s were shooting at him but not very effectively. Bryan rolled over and dove down through them. He was going so fast the German pilots did not have a chance to get him. He flew down into the clouds. While flying through the clouds his plane got about six inches of ice build up on it. It only built up on the guns because the rest of his plane was covered with oil from the Me110. Bryan had used up a lot of fuel and had to land short. When he finally got back to his own base his crew chief took the plane apart to check it out. He could not find anything wrong so Bryan flew the plane for another 16 combat mission before trading it in for a P-51B. Bryan hated the P-51B. On his P-47 he had eight 50-caliber machine guns and when he pulled the trigger those guns roared. When he pulled the trigger on the P-51B it just made popping sounds because it only had four guns. Another problem with the P-51B was if the pilot kicked the rudder over at a certain angle, the guns would jam, which was not a good thing to happen in combat. Bryan never had a gun fail on any of the missions he flew in any type of aircraft. The P-51B could out-perform the P-51D because it was faster and lighter. Another problem with the P-51B was that the heating system in the cockpit did not work properly. The P-51D was as smooth as can be. It was a wonderful airplane.

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Bryan’s preference for aircraft depended on where he was. The P-47 was a great aircraft at low level. The P-51 was a great high altitude plane. Below 30,000 feet the P-51 could outperform the P-47. Bryan did not like to go below 10,000 feet because his P-51 was easier to shoot down. During the Korean War, Bryan was with a training command in Kansas when he was offered a squadron. He asked what they were flying and when he was told that they were flying P-51s he declined. They had P-47s but they used too much fuel. The P-51s were used for ground support and they were not a ground support aircraft. They had a lot of P-51s shot down in Korea. Bryan’s first kill was a shared one. He was on a mission when he saw a 109 [Annotator’s Note: German Messerschmitt Me109 fighter aircraft] swing in to him. In the P-47 Bryan had a strong piece of iron armor behind him and the armor protection of the engine in front of him. As they got close to each other, Bryan opened fire and scored good hits on the plane. The plane dove down and Bryan’s element leader got some hits on it. The enemy pilot pulled up and bailed out. The next day, Bryan got onto an Fw190 and fired on it. The enemy plane was burning when Bryan flew past it. He looked into the cockpit and it appeared that the enemy pilot was dead. Bryan had four and a half kills in the P-47 before turning it in and switching to the P-51. He had four and half when he went for his second tour, but two of them were shared. He does not recall firing on anything flying the P-51B. He had gotten the P-51B during the last part of his first tour. He only flew eight or ten missions in them. Bryan was shipped back to the United States after his first tour for rest and recuperation. He arrived in Tampa on 4 June [Annotator’s Note: 4 June 1944] where his bride-to-be lived and married her ten days later. He missed D-Day. He did not go back until August. Bryan volunteered for a second combat tour. He never discussed going back his wife and she never thought anything of it until 50 years later. They were having dinner with friends and one of them commented that Bryan had volunteered for his second tour. His wife told him that if he had told her, she would not have married him. She was real ticked off with him, but he was a fighter pilot. There was a 100 percent difference between what they were doing and the bombers were doing. There was also a 100 percent difference in the kill ratio. Until they got the P-51 and could cover them for the entire mission they were getting slaughtered at a horrible rate. Bryan flew a lot of escort missions but does not recall ever seeing a bomber being shot down by a German until the 262s [Annotator’s Note: German Messerschmitt Me262 jet fighter aircraft] came along. They had very powerful guns and some good pilots shooting them. They could kill the 262s if they caught them taking off or landing or if the jet tried to fight them.

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When Donald Bryan went back to Europe for his second combat tour, he returned to the same squadron. He was the senior flight leader in the group until one day in December 1944. The day George Preddy was killed by friendly fire [Annotator’s Note: George Preddy was shot down on 25 December 1944] Bryan took over as squadron operations officer. Earl Abbott was senior to him and took over the squadron after Preddy’s death. When Abbott was killed in early February of 1945, Bryan commanded the squadron until about five days before the end of the European war. He was a major at the time, so a lieutenant colonel took over the squadron. Bryan was on the ship returning when he found out that the European war had ended the day he left. By the time he left all he was doing was escorting things. Bryan ended up with 13 plus victories. During his second tour he did not share kills. He made sure he shot the planes down. Bryan’s crew chief and the gunners zeroed all of his guns in at 300 yards. Bryan was also more skilled in how to shoot and was able to knock down more airplanes on his second combat tour. The rule on sharing a kill was that any pilot who got a hit on an enemy plane that went down shared in the kill. When Bryan got into the P-51 he did not like the thought of sharing. Now he got them all himself. One day Bryan was leading a section and he saw an A-26. A-26s had only been in Europe for about a month. Bryan called the plane in and continued to on. As the A-26 passed over his number four man, Bryan heard his number four man say something over his radio. When they landed Bryan called his number four out for breaking radio silence. The other pilot told him that the A-26 they had flown under had crosses painted on it. Thinking back on it, Bryan had not seen any props on it. It turned out to be an Arado234 jet. At eight o’clock that night, he got a call from 8th Air Force Headquarters asking what he had seen. Later during his tour, Bryan saw another Arado234 and made an attack on it, but was not able to get a shot. He attacked two more later but the planes were too fast. The fourth Arado234 Bryan came across he knew that it was going to the Remagen Bridge. Bryan knew that there were some B-17s, so he swung around and headed back for Germany. The enemy plane came back and passed by him. Bryan shot the plane up. He did not want to share this kill. The rest of his section was behind him as were other sections and the P-47s he had seen earlier. Bryan knew he was going down, so he followed the plane all the way down. When he pulled up to avoid hitting the ground, he was pulling just short of eight Gs [Annotator’s Note: G-force] and he was not even wearing a G-suit. Later when he was with training command, he went to the University of Southern California on a mission to study aircraft damages. A professor there stated that if a pilot pulled more than four Gs without a G-suit, he would black out. Bryan disagreed. They went to Oxnard to test what Bryan had said. Bryan proved that he was wrong. Bryan never used G-suit. He did not want to pull too many Gs to keep the wings on his Mustang from tearing off.

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Donald Bryan got five kills in one day. They had to new K14 sights and it was the first time he had ever fired with one. He was escorting and they came into a thing and there was a mess of German planes. This was on 2 November 1944. There was a mob of Me109s coming in on them. Bryan jumped on them, but did not know how to use the sight properly, so he only damaged two planes. He snap rolled and headed back and in doing so he lost most of the guys he was with. After that it was a madhouse. During the melee, he knocked down three planes. When it cleared out he saw an Me109 coming at him. When Bryan hit the throttles, he pulled out ahead of the rest of his section. He went after the 109. At that time they considered the 109s to be easy meat, but this German pilot was able to get his guns on Bryan. When Bryan was flying P-47s he was instructing dogfighting with one of his students. When he got his guns on the student, the student disappeared. He lined up again and the student disappeared again. When they landed, Bryan asked him what he had done and when the student told him they went back up and tried it again. They named the maneuver the “inverted vertical reverse.” Bryan used this maneuver when the German 109 pilot got his guns on him and escaped. This plane surprised Bryan. The P-51 could outperform the 109 but this plane outperformed Bryan. Once things cleared up, Bryan joined up with one of the pilots from the squadron. He was looking around and saw two Me109s. By that time he only had two guns firing, but he went after them anyway. He attacked the first plane and shot it down. When he went after the other one, he only had one gun firing, but managed to shoot it down too. It was on 2 November 1944. Bryan was now out of ammo, so he headed home. That time the 328th Fighter Squadron shot down more than 20 aircraft on that mission. The squadron celebrated that day.

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In 1943, the 328th was stationed at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York. The 47th was stationed down near the coast. They were flying P-47s and on one flight they encountered P-47s from the 47th and they started a mock dogfight. George Preddy got on Bryan and pulled his trigger. He did not realize that he had not turned off his guns. When they fired it stopped the dogfight. Bryan chewed him out for it. Later when Bryan shared a kill and shot down a second aircraft, George Preddy interrogated him. That was the first time he met Preddy. Preddy was very good. He shot well and he was lucky. He was in a position where he could pick and choose his missions and he did well. Bryan does not know if Preddy got any kills with the 328th. Preddy had taken over the 328th shortly before they went into Y29 [Annotator’s Note: Y29 was an American airfield in Asch, Belgium]. They moved from Bodney to Y29 as a result of the Battle of the Bulge. When the Germans started the battle on 16 December [Annotator’s Note: 16 December 1944] the clouds were so bad that nobody could find them. The 9th Air Force was stuck on the ground. On 22 December they were told that the 487th and 328th Fighter Squadrons were to go to Y29. They were told to call the German radar people and they would lead them to Y29. They were told that they would not get any support and that there would be few crews. They were also told that their aircraft needed to be loaded with all of their clothes and that they were to wear their Class A uniforms when they flew in instead of flight uniforms. That way they could introduce themselves when they got on the ground or they would not be able to get around. They took off in two sections. The 487th took off with 12 or 16 P-51s of the 328th. Then Earl Abbott took off and led the 487th and 328th and Bryan was “Yellow” flight. They went out and started their engines but before they could take off they were told to shut down. They had been preparing for a ferry mission, but were told that they would be going on a combat mission. During the flight the mission was aborted. They never did find Y29. Bryan got a call from his “Blue” that two Fw190s were coming in at him. He knew they were behind him, but he could not see them. He was told that he would call him a break when the planes got close. He called break and he and Bryan swung around. Bryan scored hits on the first and watched the enemy pilot jump out of the airplane. Then he called asking about the other one, but another guy had gotten it. They looked around and finally found some P-47s on the ground. They landed and taxied up next to one of them that was covered with grease. There were two guys standing next to it that were staring at Bryan. Their P-51s were clean and waxed. Bryan exited his aircraft and walked up to the two guys and asked them where he was. Eventually they were able to get to Y29.

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Y29 was a wonderful set up. They got there on 24 December [Annotator’s Note: 24 December 1944]. For the first time they were flying without wing tanks and they were flying two or three missions a day. When Bryan took over the Ops office [Annotator’s Note: Donald Bryan was promoted to squadron operations officer in January 1945 after George Preddy was killed by friendly anti-aircraft fire] he checked the records of the pilots. Some of them were new boys. They newest had 110 hours of combat and then next had 120 and they were still calling them “new boys.” The pilots flying with Bryan knew exactly what to do. No matter how Bryan flew the pilots could keep up with him. To Bryan there was no other outfit in the world that was as good as the 487th and 328th at that time. Bryan recalls that it took a long time for him to get 100 hours. On New Year’s Day, Bryan was stuck on the ground. They were next to the Ops tent or the Intelligence tent. They were not flying that day. Colonel Meyer took off with three flights instead of the normal four. Shortly afterward Bryan and the others could see German anti- aircraft fire off in the distance. As soon as the flight took off the field was attacked by Me109s. The flight leader shot down an Me109 before he even pulled his landing gear up. If they had know that the German planes were coming they could have gotten into ditches for cover. That was the first time Bryan ever saw a dogfight from the ground. Every time a P-51 got onto a German fighter they were doing the shooting. They shot down 23 or 24 enemy aircraft. Most of them were shot down right over the airfield. During the battle Bryan’s aircraft was destroyed on the ground. It was the only plane in the 352nd [Annotator’s Note: 352nd Fighter Group] to be destroyed on the ground by enemy aircraft during the entire war. A German pilot had strafed it. That ticked Bryan off. Someone told Bryan that his plane was on fire so he ran toward it. When he saw a plane heading at his he pulled his pistol and started shooting at it. One of the ground crew guys yelled at him to get down. At the time Bryan was the Ops officer so he never went without a plane. He would just go to Kirk Noyes [Annotator’s Note: Kirk Noyes was Donald Bryan’s crew chief] and ask him which planes were the good ones. He knew which planes were the good ones and which crew chiefs were the good ones. A new plane came in just after the lieutenant colonel took over the squadron that had Bryan’s letters on it but he never flew it. It was a P-51D25 or 26. It had a radar in the tail. All of the planes Bryan flew were nicknamed “Little One.” There was a “Little One,” a “Little One II,” and a “Little One III.” He nicknamed a nurse at the local hospital “Little One IV.”

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Donald Bryan’s last kill was an Arado234. Years later it was discovered that the German pilot flying that plane was on his first and last mission. Bryan’s most memorable mission was the Arado234. He also remembers the one in September 1944 when he shot down two and damaged a third. On another mission he shot down an Me110 while flying a P-47. He shot down an Fw190 then had to land [Annotator’s Note: Bryan had used up so much fuel during this mission that he was forced to land at an airfield belonging to another fighter group]. Lastly there was the Arado. They were very impressive. Bryan had seen four of them. He thought the first one was an A-26. Bryan should have been more concerned on 2 November, but he was too busy to be worried. After all, he was the one doing the attacking. One of the most memorable post dogfight moments was after he shot down the Me110. After the fight he flew up into the clouds. When he came out he clouds not see any planes. He dove down on the deck and continued flying. It was easy to see where the cities were in Belgium because of the churches. That was how he navigated. This was the only time he ever flew under electrical wires. He also flew between trees and buildings. He did not want to get off the deck. When he flew down streets the sound of the exhaust from his plane would echo off the buildings scaring people. He landed at the first airfield he could find. Everybody else had landed about an hour before him and thought he had gone down. The guys were happy to see him, especially his crew chief Kirk Noyes.

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Bryan and Kirk Noyes had a very good relationship. Bryan was flying a P-51D10 out of an airfield south of London testing radios. He made three or four flights a day for a week. Bryan had over 100 hours of flight time on the plane without an inspection. He was not allowed to fly it in a max effort mission because Noyes would not let him. It was his airplane. Bryan only got to fly it. Bryan went and found two war weary planes. He asked the commander if he could fly one, but was told no unless he could find two more. He needed a total of four planes to make up a section. He called the 487th Fighter Squadron and spoke to Bill Wisner. Finally they got the planes they needed. Bill Wisner was an ace in two wars. This was the mission in September 1944 when they were strafing during Operation Market Garden. Wisner flew as Bryan’s Element Lead. On 15 August 1942, Bryan turned 21. He was 22, 23, and 24 when he was flying combat. Bryan had a lot of experience. It was one of the best airplanes flying at that time and he had the best crew chief. Flying in combat was not fun, but it did create a good relationship between Bryan and his crew chief Noyes. Bryan was always leading. He flew 138 combat missions and with one exception was always at least an element leader. It was not a matter of you have to fly. It was a matter of no, you cannot fly. When they were not flying they would ride bicycles, hunt doves and quail, and in the evenings they had the clubs. The clubs were good if they were not flying the next day. Sometimes they would go into London. They would also go into other towns. Bryan did not much care for London. While he was in London one day, he was propositioned by a prostitute. When he declined, the prostitute burned him with her cigarette. London did have some pretty good clubs but Bryan never did like warm beer.

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For the first several months they were flying out of Bodney, they did not live on base. They lived in a hotel and were packed in very tightly there. Bryan was reading a book there and one of his friends kept bugging him to hurry up and finish it so he could read it. When Bryan finished he walked over to his friends and smacked him right across the butt with the book. Then he stared in shock when J.C. Meyer [Annotator's Note: John C. Meyer] stood up. Bryan had smacked the commanding officer of the 487th Fighter Squadron. Bryan begged for forgiveness. After several months, the 487th and 328th moved into Nissen huts at Bodney. Bryan decided when he moved in that he would not have any pilots living with him. Up to that time every pilot who had stayed with him had been shot down. For escort missions they got up before it was light but not long before. Bryan does not recall any of the bombers taking off in the dark. He never took off in the dark. Once the bombers formed up they headed in. When flying the P-47s they would either escort the bombers to an area or back from it. In the P-51s they would pick up the bombers when they penetrated and would escort them all the way until they dropped their bombs. Then another unit would take over. It was a relay system. When they were only flying the P-47s the bombers were getting torn up. They had at least six units of fire coming from all of them [Annotator's Note: Bryan is talking about the armament on the bombers]. If they had used tracers every five rounds no fighter pilot would have gotten within a mile of them. During a fight with Fw190s the German pilots were firing tracers at him and every one of them looked like they were going to smack him in the cheek. If the bombers had used them he is convinced things would have been different. It scared the devil out of him seeing the tracers being fired at him. He decided that if his engine exploded he was going to bail out. At one point during this dogfight, Bryan heard a thumping sound coming from one of his wings. He looked over and realized that the noise he heard was actually rounds for him machine guns cooking off from the heat of him firing them so much.

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To Donald Bryan, the best German fighter plane of the war was the Fw190 until they got the 262 [Annotator’s Note: Messerschmitt Me262 jet fighter aircraft]. The plane that outperformed Bryan looked like a Me109 but it may have been a Fw190 with an inline engine. During the dogfight the German pilot was able to get on Bryan’s tail. The German pilot was definitely a leader. He had a wingman and Bryan does not believe that the Germans would have allowed a junior pilot to fly an airplane with that kind of performance. It had to be one of the group leaders. On 1 January [Annotator's Note: 1 January 1945] the 487th had trouble shooting down some of the German aircraft. A number of the German pilots were good ones. After 1 January 1945, Bryan does not recall seeing any 109s or 190s attacking bombers. The 262s did. Bryan was returning home from a mission one day when he looked down and saw something taking off. The thing shot straight up and passed between Bryan and his element. It was a rocket aircraft. That was the only time he ever saw one. He did see the V-1 and V-2 rockets. They stayed at Y29 until late February. After moving over to Y29 from Bodney they flew all of their missions from Belgium. Bryan went back to Bodney many years after the war and nothing was the same. The radio tower and two or three buildings were still there but other than that things were totally changed.
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