Legend has it that when the American blimp was present in World War II the Americans never lost a single ship that was being convoyed.
This is one memory two Brainerd lakes area men share about the war. The men, Yibby Knudsen, 85, Brainerd, and Chet Snyder, 87, Baxter, both fought the war in the "Lighter than Air" division -- the blimp.
The men did not know each other at the time. They had children and grandchildren before meeting. A few years ago they met in Brainerd through friends and found out that they had a common history with the aircraft.
Knudsen was a non-commissioned officer in the war and was the crew chief on the blimp and Snyder was a lieutenant and flew the blimp. They were not on the same crew and never crossed paths.
Sitting at the kitchen table today, Knudsen takes out one of his three journals he had in war. He calls off all the names of his crew and Snyder responded to more than half of the names with, "Yep I knew him."
Knudsen joined the Navy in 1942 and was stationed in Great Lakes, Ill., as an aviation metal man. He then was assigned to a training base in Lakehurst, N.J., where he became a third class airship rigger in 1943.
"They just assigned me," said Knudsen on working on the aircraft. "It didn't matter to me."
Six months later he flew to Hitchcock, Texas, where he was put on active duty. He served for two years and was sent to another eight air bases, including two in Panama.
The aircraft used in the war was 253 feet long and was powered by two engines. A 40 foot long by eight foot wide car was connected to the blimp where a nine-person crew worked. There were three pilots and six non-commissioned officers on board.
The mission of the crew was to be visible so the Germans in the submarines would see them and be scared off. If the Americans spotted a submarine they would contact the Air Corps base by radio.
Knudsen said they never once had to fire. On board there was a 50-caliber machine gun and four 400 pound depth charges, or underwater bombs.
However, Knudsen recalls one time when the blimp was over the Gulf of Mexico and he spotted a light bobbing in the ocean.
"I thought this was my chance to sink a sub," said Knudsen. "I got into position. It was my job to drop the bomb. When we were just about ready to drop the bomb I noticed that is was a whale bank tanker, an American ship. It was out of position and we had no records of this tanker.
"If I would have never recognized what it was we would have bombed it. I recognized the tankers from seeing them at Lake Superior Harbor."
Knudsen said one of his duties on the blimp was preparing meals. He said he only had a two-burner hot plate to cook for nine people which made it a challenge.
When Knudsen wasn't making meals he was on the lookout for submarines.
"It was very boring," said Knudsen. "The average flight was between 12 to 16 hours. My longest flight was 20 hours."
Knudsen said they would fly the blimp every three days. The other two days they would be on watch at the air base or would have the day off.
Snyder, a 1934 Crosby-Ironton High School graduate, joined the Navy in 1941. He wanted to be a pilot and said it paid good money. He trained as a pilot at air bases in Minneapolis, Corpus Christi, Texas, and Lakehurst, N.J.
Snyder, who had 3,000 hours of flight on the helium-filled aircraft, said he had a lot of different crews who were magnificent people.
"My coffee was always ready," he said. "It was always hot."
Snyder said he remembers a few times when he was flying the aircraft with his crew of nine in terrible weather conditions. He said he flew the aircraft in the rain, snow and the fog.
Flying the aircraft was a challenge and it took two pilots, said Snyder. He said one pilot had to run the rudders and a second had to run the aileron, which are used to balance the blimp.
Snyder recalls that during one of the flights the whole crew, but him got sick.
Knudsen and Snyder said only one blimp was shot down during their time and it was off of the Florida coast. One man died and the others escaped with no injuries.
They both recall the Hindenburg crash, the German airship, which was filled with hydrogen. The Hindenburg crashed in 1937 into the ground in New Jersey.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.