Lieutenant Harry Gehrt was killed in action in Germany on April 6, 1945. Harry was the pilot of a C-47 cargo plane, part of an aerial transport unit tasked with carrying supplies and men into dangerous battle zones. Despite being unarmed and unarmored the men in such units braved enemy fire from both the ground and the air, helping to ensure that the troops on the frontlines had what they needed to keep up the fight.
Harry was born on a small farm in the Flint Hills south of Manhattan. According to his family young Harry loved to hunt and fish, and sing and play “cowboy songs” on his guitar. Harry went to Manhattan High school as a teenager and, after graduation, went to work for the Santa Fe Company in Topeka. In 1943 nineteen year old Harry enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to Salt Lake for his training. Before he left, though, Harry proposed to his girlfriend, Gertrude Beckmann, whom he had met at his local Lutheran church. Gertie said yes, and they were engaged to be married after the war.
By the end of 1944 Harry was flying combat missions in Europe. Along with his ordinary duties of ferrying men and supplies into warzones, Harry and his unit took part in one of the most dangerous assignments a C-47 pilot could have – dropping paratroopers into battle. Harry and his unit took part in Operation Market Garden, the airborne invasion of Holland. Sometime during his support activities Harry’s plane was reportedly riddled with over 100 bullets. Harry was wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart, but soon he was back in the fight.
In April 1945 the end of the war was near and the Allies were making their final push into Germany. Harry and his unit were tasked with keeping George S. Patton’s Third Army supplied as it drove toward Berlin. It was on one such mission when Harry tragically lost his life. Harry was flying in formation with the rest of his unit in bad weather over Germany on April 6, 1945 when his plane crashed into a cow pasture near Hackenburg, Germany. It was only one month before the war in Europe was over. Harry was laid to rest in Sunset Cemetery in Manhattan.