A Finn Over The Third Reich

By KBJR News 1

A Finn Over The Third Reich

May 4, 2014 Updated May 9, 2014 at 12:47 PM CDT

Walt Marttila was born in 1917 into one of Tower-Soudan's most affluent families - his father, Konst, a Finnish American from the U.P., ran a confectionery store.

He never grew much more than 5 foot 2 but had big plans for life. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1939 with a degree in forestry.

When World War Two struck, Walt joined the Army infantry. He didn't stay there long, though, because men his size were sought to fill the cramped spaces of B-17 bombers.

Walt switched to the Air Corps and trained to be a bombardier. The airmen were cross trained in all the positions of a B-17 and he once said several cadets were killed during gunnery practice with the .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns the planes carried for defense.

After training, Walt was shipped to the Grafton Underwood airbase in England to serve in the 384th Bomb Group. He said that everyone always hears bomber crewman were allowed to go home if they survived 25 bombing missions.

However, he stated that few knew that first, a crewman had to go on several training missions as a fill in for other crews that had lost personnel before being assigned to one's own plane to begin the 25 mission countdown. Walt ended up flying eight "free" missions before beginning the official 25.

He says most missions were flown over the North Sea to avoid German anti-aircraft guns and then the flights did hard right turns to head into Germany to blast places like Berlin.

Walt said his plane "only" suffered two crewmen killed in action on their 25 missions but talking about those men always broke him into tears. The 25th mission happened in August, 1944 and Walt could indeed go home.

After the war, Walt went back to Tower with an English war bride. His father, Konst, died in 1946 so he went back to the University of Minnesota to get a degree in pharmacy.

He then turned the confectionery store into Marttila Drug Store and ran that with his sister Martha into the 1990's, making the place into a Tower icon with five cent cups of coffee and homemade ice cream. 1st LT Walt "Shorty" Marttila passed away in 2002 and was buried in Tower's cemetery with full military honors.

PHOTO CAPTION: Walt Martilla is the short officer in the back row.