I am in my nineties, now. A veteran of WWII. And one of the things I do best is fly airplanes, which I still do, by the way, when I get the chance. I live in a house owned by son, not too far from Albany, about an hour south from Albany. I have a few friends. And it's very nice here, we're in farm country. And I just do a lot of work at the gym, keeping myself fit, and I eat good food, and I'm self-sufficient and enjoying life for the moment. So that's about it for a current story.

Victoria's going to be helping me out today via phone.

My proof:

A photo of me with my squadron: http://imgur.com/V88pgMB

A photo of me, today: http://imgur.com/GDY3SY5


EDIT: I hope that the conversation that I've participated in does something to give anyone the choice of making a choice, and to put things in perspective. There are priorities. And you have things that are important, and things that are not important. And you just have to get your head squared away about what things that ARE important, and put the things that aren't important in their proper place. And I hope that does something to help out the people who are asking me questions, and who are listening to what i have to say.

Comments: 973 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

flyingmunkie594 karma

would it be alright if I interview you for a school project?

CarlEstersohn599 karma


Why not? I'd be happy to do that for you.

(VICTORIA NOTE: Please DM /u/chooter and I'll help set this up)

IKingJeremy383 karma

What would you like people today to know and remember about World War II?

CarlEstersohn733 karma

That's very difficult to say.

Because there will no more wars like that.

War, if ever fought again, will be different.

It'll be quicker. It'll be more devastating. And... in point of fact, the last real war, officially, that was declared by Congress was in 1941. And since then, the military skirmishes have been undeclared wars, all over the world.

dragonfly1993312 karma

what movies are the most accurate about your experences?

CarlEstersohn839 karma

Well, there was a movie called THE MEMPHIS BELLE - which was made, I dunno, 20-25 years ago, which was very accurate in its interpretation of what the average mission to Germany was all about. It showed the takeoffs, the landings, the bombs dropping, people getting hurt, and it was an all-purpose film that was very good.

It's available through Netflix, I think.

It's a very good film for those that want to know what happened during WWII over Germany.

IKingJeremy301 karma

How did you and your fellow airmen keep their spirits up during war?

CarlEstersohn710 karma

We drank a lot of beer, hahaha! We would go to London every 3-4 days... we'd go to the dance halls, dance with the pretty girls, and that's about all we could do, because London was at war, and they were being bombed, and it wasn't really that safe a place, but we managed to survive.

hurtsdonut_227 karma

That's amazing, dancing while being bombed.

CarlEstersohn457 karma

Yeah, well, we didn't have a choice! If we wanted to go to London to be entertained, that was the only place we could go. And everything wasn't really available, it was wartime, there were a lot of restrictions - there were no restaurants, there were taxis available but they were few & far between, difficult to get, there were a lot of Americans over there waiting for the invasion, and a lot of the guys that were flying were going - and that's what took up the limited stuff. They were very good to us. We were made to enjoy English beer, which was quite a feat! That's all there was. There was very little food. They had eating clubs, here and there throughout London. If you belonged to one, you could get some chicken or maybe steak - I think they were cooking horsemeat steaks at that time. They were pretty good, hahah!

The French still eat horsemeat. We don't over here, that's for sure.

So dancing - was all there was. I think there were some movies, but I don't remember too much about it. Mostly there were 2-3 dancehalls in London, and they would be free, sure.

jurgenwarmbrunn256 karma

Which have been your favourite airplanes to fly?

CarlEstersohn449 karma

It's called a Bonanza. It's made by the Beechcraft company. And I owned 4 of them in my lifetime, 3 of 'em in California and one of 'em here in the New York Area. And it's a single engine propeller-driven airplane that I like very much. It goes very fast for its size and for its power, and I just enjoy flying almost anything, but particularly the Beechcraft Bonanza. That's my favorite airplane.

Oberyn114243 karma

Have you ever met with any German or Imperial Japanese veteran pilots from the war and shared experiences and stories? Would you be open to such a meeting?

CarlEstersohn462 karma

I have not met with any of them.

And I sure would be open if they're still alive (which I doubt). I would be open, sure.

lucyness234 karma

Do pilots really wear aviators or is that just popularized in movies?

CarlEstersohn443 karma

We wore aviator glasses. It's pretty sunny up there, ya know. You need some kind of sunshades. Otherwise, you tend to get your eyes battered from the sun. So we did wear sunglasses.

We wore goggles when we flew open-cockpit planes for training, but not when you're inside of an enclosed unit - you didn't wear goggles for that.

kinglyryan227 karma

What was your worst experience in WWII, and what was your best?

CarlEstersohn601 karma

My worst experience and my BEST experience?

Well, my worst experience was when I got shot down during one of my raids, and landed in Belgium, which fortunately was in Allied hands. The Allied armies had pushed their way up through France, and up into Belgium, on their way to Holland, so I was not made a prisoner of war. And myself and my crew got back to our base in England, and we managed to fly all together 35 missions.

My best experience during the war, that's kinda tough, I'd say my last mission was probably my best because that was knowing that I wasn't going to be subjected to enemy action anymore, and I took over somebody's job as a planning officer, to send missions out, and brief the other guys as to where they were going and where they were supposed to do.

I was still an officer. I didn't have a title, I was just Lieutenant Estersohn. And later I became a captain, and I went home on a troop ship, just about the same time as the armistice was declared in the German theater of war. First week in May 1945. And I got home, became a civilian, and went back to school.

And that's the story of my war efforts.

Boonaki172 karma

What is something about the B-17 only a crew member would know?

CarlEstersohn263 karma

Um... that's a good question.

Well, you'd have to know where the doors are, how to get in and out of it!

That's tough. I would say that there are things on the airplane that are known to the people who were responsible for making it operate - like the turrets, the turrets on the roof and on the belly, they required a lot of expertise. I know one thing, if I were to go up to try and man those turrets, I wouldn't have been able to do it! You know what you train for. And everybody has a job to do, and that's how we got along.

CarlEstersohn327 karma

We had heated suits when we flew them. You had a suit that was electrically - it had, how can I put it? It was wired like an electric blanket, and you plugged it into a place on the airplane, that activated the suit.

We were flying when it was -40 degrees outside. Yeah. So we had to have something.

We had heated suits. We were well taken-care-of. And we all had oxygen masks. If it's over 12,000 feet, you must have oxygen to function.

But no toilets.

MethMachine156 karma

Did the war change your outlook on life? If so, how?

Thanks for your service, and for doing this AMA!

CarlEstersohn357 karma

You're welcome!

And of course, absolutely. You come to realize that all the things you thought were so important are not really, because life is what's important, and without it, there's nothing. So you understand that... whatever problems you have are minuscule compared to having to go out and fight a war.

Which very people realize today. Very few people experience.

But that's about the story, your outlook on life, it sure does change.

Priorities change. Your values change.

lewd_operator150 karma

You look like one tough SOB in that picture.

What came first; your interest in flying, or your entering the service?

CarlEstersohn222 karma

I was always interested in airplanes. And when I had to go into service - because war broke out, I had to do something, I was 19 years old and I decided to go into the air corps because I liked airplanes and I liked the idea of becoming a pilot, so I made my choice.

I would've done what they told me to do in the war. When you're a soldier, you do what you're told. If you're trained to do something, you're left where you are. At least, that's the way it was in that war.

solidwhetstone137 karma

Thank you for coming on and doing this AMA sir! What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard that The Bomb had been dropped in Japan? Also where did your missions take you on the globe?

CarlEstersohn292 karma

I was very happy that the war was gonna be over. Because we saved probably a million lives by doing that.

That's estimates. And I agree.

And I think that no one who was not in uniform at that time could fault President Truman for giving that order. because in fact, if he had not done that, and we had to invade Japan, it would've cost the United States and its allies in the Pacific Theater close to a million lives - that was the estimate I heard at that particular time. So it was nice that the war was over.

All over Germany. Just Germany. The only place we ever went was Germany. We were focused on that. That was our job - to stop the Germans from making war on us.

notenoughspaceforthe126 karma

Hello, sir. Thanks for taking the time to do this! What is your opinion on young people in America today compared to back when you were a young man?

CarlEstersohn312 karma

Hahaha! I'm not sure I understand your question?

Well, they have a much tougher road to hoe, because going to college is VERY expensive.

Getting the correct job in the correct place is difficult. We had 100 million people when I was young in the US, and now there are 340 million, so you have that problem. The world is overpopulated. It's more difficult. But by and large, people in my family have done very well for themselves, economically and socially. They all have good jobs and nice homes. And my son has done very well, I'm very proud of him. I live in his house, and he doesn't charge me anything, which I'm very grateful for.

So I would say that young people today generally have it harder than when I was growing up, yeah.

notenoughspaceforthe83 karma

Thank you for your answer, sir. I was mainly curious how different life was for young people in the first half of the 20th century. Accordingly, how do you find the world today compared to what you imagined back then? For example, did you think there would be flying cars by now? Or has the change been gradual enough that nothing is shockingly different?

CarlEstersohn187 karma

It has changed, gradually, and nothing is shockingly different, that's true, but there is change in every year and every phase of life.

I was brought up as a teenager in the worst depression that this country has ever faced.

I still pick up pennies off the street today.

My allowance was 25 cents a week, when I was a teenager. And I could go to the movies, and see 2 films, for that 25 cents with my friends.

Now, it's... we move on. Maybe in different ways, but we move on. What the future will be, I don't know.

I think that - my grandson is 11 years old, and I think he realizes that he has a lot of responsibility in his station in life, as well as an idea of where he wants to go to and how he wants to get there. So hopefully he'll be able to make his contribution.

sexrockandroll98 karma

How has flying airplanes changed the most over the years?

CarlEstersohn182 karma

Well, the airplanes haven't changed at all. It's the technology that's changed. And navigation available to pilots and in airplanes has changed, dramatically, by the addition of new ways of navigating through the air, electronically.

And that's about the biggest changes. And jets. Jets came in the 1950's, and that, of course, was a boon to the airlines, 'cuz they could go from here to there, ten times more quickly than they did with the piston-driven engines.

So I'd say it was the coming of jets, and also the coming of new technologies that has changed dramatically.

Back in World War II, all the observations made a pilot were from their own observations or someone on the ground, pretty much. And nowadays we have SO many navigational tools. It's really been very interesting, how the technology has changed. I can't be very specific, because you have to be technically knowledgeable to know what I'm saying, but we have better ways of navigating from here to there.

doubbg93 karma

What is your favourite book?

How were you with the ladies back in your day?

CarlEstersohn310 karma

My favorite book?

And how was I with the ladies?

I was very shy.

But I did alright. I had girlfriends. And my favorite book... that's tough to say. There's one book I've read three times, it's called THE GREAT GATSBY, and it's a terrific book. I'll probably read it again, before I leave this mortal coil.

PumpkinSmashing89 karma

Did you ever encounter any Me-262s during the closing months of the war?

CarlEstersohn165 karma

No, I didn't. We never saw any of those, no. During the close of the war, Germany was pretty much out of gasoline, and they could not do a very good job of contesting whatever we decided to do. So we didn't see too many enemy aircraft. What we did see was a lot of what we called "flack" - guns shooting from the ground up to where we were bombing, and they could be very accurate, very deadly, but no, we did not see those airplanes. I'm sure somebody did, but we didn't.

piratse87 karma

Everyone likes to pretend like America was soooooo much better "back then" what is your opinion?

CarlEstersohn290 karma

I don't think it was better or worse. I think that we had a great president, Franklin Roosevelt, who probably made this country what it is today.

And people like him don't exist anymore.

The quality of his service - I don't think it's any different today than it was back then. But our leaders can't get done what Roosevelt got done, let me put it that way. When he spoke, his word was law. And he got what he wanted out of the Congressional leaders.

Today that doesn't seem to go very well.

upstateduck86 karma

Do you keep in contact with any of your fellow pilots etc from WWII?

CarlEstersohn342 karma

Last year I saw someone from the air force in Italy, but he didn't have the same experience that I did, he was in a different zone of war.

In past years, I would get together with crew mates. The guys who flew with me. I had 7 men and myself on the airplane. There were 8 of us in the crew. And we did have reunions. We had 2-3 reunions. But I think they're all gone now.

I think I'm the only one left. I'm not sure.

geo333dru68 karma

Where was the most intense air defense that you ever faced? And thank you for your service.

CarlEstersohn193 karma

Probably... in the area of Frankfurt and Stuttgart, I flew a couple of raids to Frankfurt and one to Stuttgart, and they had the heaviest anti-aircraft stuff in my 35 missions. It was pretty scary. We lost a lot of airplanes over those targets. I would see planes being shot down. And I knew there were certain of them that never came back, and that's what happened to them.

When you're back on the ground, you know if 13 planes went out, only 10 came back - you lost 3 on that raid.

There was no radio contact at all. We were forbidden to do that, because that gave away our position.

So we had to decide everything in advance of being up in the air.

The defense would start to kick in pretty much when we got there. And how did we find where we were going? We had navigators, who told us where we could fly - and when you could see the ground, you could tell simply by looking around and by checking the cities that you passed through, the amount of time that you took at the speed you were going... that was the easy part.

The tough part was sitting there and watching all the anti-aircraft explosions all around you and being thankful none of 'em hit you.

That's the hard part.

lewd_operator61 karma

Did you strictly fly the bomber? Or did your fellow squadmates ever rotate?

CarlEstersohn162 karma

No, I never did that, no. It was too dangerous to switch roles. War is a very dangerous thing, particularly when you're flying bombers with people shooting at you. I was only the pilot. And that was MY job, and my crew had their jobs, and they did theirs.

dragonfly199361 karma

what happened if you had to go to the bathroom suddenly while flying?

CarlEstersohn124 karma

We, uh... we made sure that we took care of those tendencies before we left. We just didn't do it. It was not an option.

If you're flying for 8 hours, we somehow managed without doing anything. There were no bathrooms on those planes. You just had to tough it out. If you weren't up to it, if you weren't ready for it, if you were ill or didn't feel right, you just didn't go. Somebody else had to go.

Sercos56 karma

How did your experiences during the war change you as a human being? Would you say that overall it was for better or for worse?

CarlEstersohn116 karma

I would say, overall, it was for the better.

It gave me a chance to get my priorities straight.

It gave me a chance to look at so-called "crises" with a different outlook, different expectation and different way of handling it.

I don't mean to say that war is a good thing, in ANY respect.

But it does affect you. I think that any person that's been at war, or any kind of skirmishes, can say the same thing. It changes your values.

privycouncil53 karma

Can you describe what you felt as you left the runway on your very first mission?

CarlEstersohn127 karma

Well, I was interested in flying an airplane with 3-4 tons of bombs, and full tanks of gasoline, and I had to keep the plane going, keep it in motion, put it up in the air. Emotionally, I don't thinK i had time for that really. I was too busy being a pilot. That required just an awful lot of concentration. Anxiety, fear? I don't think so, no.

beernerd51 karma

What are you flying these days?

CarlEstersohn117 karma

I don't know. I answered before that as soon as the weather warms up a little bit, I'm going to go across the river to Kingstone, NY, and that's what I'll fly - whatever they are renting out! I wanna take my grandson up and show him how to fly. So whatever it is, he'll come along with me.

beernerd66 karma

It's a shame they don't rent out B-17s.

CarlEstersohn221 karma

I think there are still 4 of them that are still flying. Last i heard. Very expensive to fly those airplanes. They use 60 gallons of gasoline per engine, per hour, so if you do your math, you see it costs a FORTUNE to put those things in the air.

The gas was free during WW II!

Stu201350 karma

What thoughts were running through your head when you got shot down?

CarlEstersohn133 karma

I was very happy to get myself and my crew on the ground safely, so we could walk away from the airplane.

I'd lost 2 engines on one side, and I had to land on this little tiny fire strip the RAF had created, and I managed to land on that tiny bit of land.

And nobody got hurt. We all walked away from it, and we were safe.

That was the best.

It took probably 45 minutes before I found someplace to go. So the plane was crippled, and I didn't want to try and make it back to the base, because there was the North Sea and I didn't feel like drowning myself and my crew if I didn't make it. So I managed to get the plane down in friendly territory, safely, and everybody was happy about it.

Stu201329 karma

Thank you for the reply. Did anyone from the crew aknowledge that you saved their life or was it just sort of unspoken?

CarlEstersohn167 karma

I can't really remember anyone thanking me, personally.

You're taking me back 70 years, and my mind is still pretty sharp with certain things, but I can't really remember exactly what happened, except that I'm sure they were pleased to be on the ground & safe. There was not a lot of hoopla about it. They expected me to do my job, and I did it.

Jaden9649 karma

How far into your tour did you realize that this war would be something that would change the entire world?

CarlEstersohn111 karma

Well, I knew that the good guys - the Allied Forces - were triumphant both in the European theater and in the Pacific theater, and I knew that we weren't going to be dominated by some sadistic ruler that killed people without half thinking about it.

It was good to know that we could go on living our lives normally.

That's about the best I can say for it.

Papers04145 karma

What was your opinion on the Soviets when you were in action? My grandfather fought in Belgium and he always told me other soldiers talked poorly about them.

CarlEstersohn139 karma

I had no opinion, about the Soviets. I didn't know anything 'bout them, and frankly, it wasn't my field of interest at that point. My job was to be a bomber pilot and that's what I did and that's what I concentrated on. And to get some rest when I could.

We were out of bed at 3 AM on the morning of a mission. We were taking off just about sunrise, on most of our flights, so you had to take care of yourself- get fed, do your body business, whatever it was. I didn't think too much about the Russians, really. I was 20 years old, doing this. You have to remember. 20 years old is ... not a very educated age, so to speak.

Credix39 karma

First of all, thank you for your service, sir, you are one of the living legends in this world. For the question part, was the B-17 the only airplane you've flown in the war? If not, which one was your favourite and why? And what did the B-17 have, in your opinion, that made it one of the best bombers in WWII? Thank you!

CarlEstersohn65 karma

It was the only airplane I flew in combat. I flew a lot of trainers in the United States. And the best thing about the B-17 was that it was a very easy airplane to fly (I thought it was). It was very well-built, and yes, I think it was.

rosiethereader32 karma

Did you keep in contact with the guys in your squardon after the war?

CarlEstersohn46 karma

As I said before, we had 2 or 3 reunions somewhere in the United States where everybody showed up, we had dinner, saw how everyone was doing, and sorta touched base with each other. Otherwise, I had no steady contact with any of them. We lived in different parts of the world, different parts of the United States. I can't remember how we set up the reunions - there were yearly reunions of the group that we flew with in England, they would have a yearly reunion, and we would coordinate it with those reunions to the best of my memory.

mopeds_moproblems32 karma

It has been my dream since a child to take a ride in a "Flying Fortress"! How often did you fly after the war, and if so, what has been your favorite aircraft to fly?

CarlEstersohn81 karma

Well, it just so happened that this past year, there was a "Flying fortress" that came around the town of Poughkeepsie, NY, and I managed to get a ride in it with my son and my grandson! And we went up and down the Hudson river, and back up to the Poughkeepsie airport! And that was the first time I'd been in one since I'd done a mission. So that was very interesting, we all enjoyed it. Kinda expensive, but we enjoyed it.

And after the war, i was a frequent pilot, but all for fun. I didn't do any commercial stuff. And my favorite aircraft to fly is the Beechcraft Bonanza.

mopeds_moproblems21 karma

Thanks for the answer! I haven't had any come close by, but if one does I'm totally going to take advantage of it. Even if it is a little pricey.

CarlEstersohn48 karma

I think the ride was around $400 a person to ride in the Flying Fortress.

can_dry25 karma

You probably don't like this tag... but "living legend" really does fit! Congratulations on a wonderfully long life. You work out... how about other things you think keep you young?? Mental stimulation? Wine with dinner? Sex once a day? :D

CarlEstersohn65 karma

I watch a lot of sports. Baseball, basketball and football. That keeps me going. And my grandson, when he comes up, we play Monopoly, board games, and chess. And we go out and have dinner. And that's what keeps me young.

ElricTheEmperor24 karma

What is your opinion on our modern day foreign policy on how we handle Russia?

CarlEstersohn92 karma

I think we're doing the best we can, with a guy who... plays fast and loose with the truth. But we're friendly with the Russians. I think the Russians can be handled.

indigo_prime16 karma

I'm guessing that you were stationed in the UK. Where were you stationed and is there anything or anywhere in particular that you remember or that brings back a vivid memory of your time overseas?

Although I've seen the name of the plane you flew, can you also give details of the squadron that you flew with and during which time periods?

I live just outside of Cambridge and there were lots of airfields around here that hosted American forces. For many that didn't make it home, Madingley Military Cemetery became their final resting place, that's about 15 minutes from where I live.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial

CarlEstersohn62 karma

Yeah, I was stationed about an hour outside of London. North and east of London, in a little town called Sudbury.

Well, it's hard to find British beer in the United States at this point, haha! When I do go back to England, i drink their beer, but it's cold. It used to be lukewarm, room temperature, and that was pretty tough.

I have nice memories of the people and the countryside. They were nice to us. As nice as they could be, considering they were under attack all the time.

I was with a group called 486. That was my group. I flew with them from June 24th 1944 through May of 1945, and the squadron I flew with was called the 833.

Yes. There is a cemetery somewhere in that area. We had an airbase every 5 miles. There were a lot of 'em.

Every 5 miles, there was another American air base. We had a lot of airplanes. We could put out 1,000 airplanes a day, and more if we needed to.

CarlEstersohn83 karma

You can imagine how the Germans felt about that.

nave50cal12 karma

What kinds of planes do you fly now?

CarlEstersohn70 karma

Well, right now, I haven't flown in a couple years, but as soon as the weather warms up a little bit, I'm going to go to the Kingston Airport and see what they have to rent. And I'lll let you know what they have to rent, and rent what they've got and see if I can keep my touch - in my 92nd year!