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Starkey - August 2018

Interview with Wencel "Chum" Bohr, WWII Veteran and B29 Gunner

Wencel Bohr

May 29, 2006
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Topic: B29 Bombers and Hearing Loss Due to Noise Exposure
Dybala: Today, I have the pleasure of talking with Wencel "Chum" Bohr, World War II veteran. I am here getting stories about people and their hearing losses. Thank you for talking with me today.

Bohr: Sure Paul, glad to be here.

Dybala: I would like to start out by asking if you would give a bit of information about your military service.

Bohr: Well, during World War II, I was a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army Air Corp and was the left gunner for the Boeing B29 Superfortress named "Sentimental Journey". We were a part of the 330th Bomber Group of the 20th Air Force out of Guam. During my service I was awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross, one Air Medal and four Oak Leaf clusters, and my bomber group was awarded two Presidential Citations and a Good Conduct medal. I remember before every mission that we went out on, our ground crew chief would come up and say, "Chum, don't worry about a thing, this plane one day is going to be famous" and turns out it is! My plane is one of the few restored B29s in existence today out of the 3900 that were manufactured during war time.


Chum, his wife Grace and Dr. Dybala

Sentimental Journey is a featured plane www.pimaair.org/Acftdatapics/boe_b29a.htm down at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona www.pimaair.org. A few years back they gathered the original crew together and had a really nice celebration to commemorate the restoration of the plane.


B29 - Sentimental Journey - Image courtesy of
the Pima Air and Space Museum - www.pimaair.org

Dybala: I just pulled an image of the plane from the Pima web site and yes it looks like they did a top notch job at restoring it. The B29 was the same type of aircraft that was used to drop the atomic bomb, right?

Bohr: Correct. The Enola Gay and then the Bockscar dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively in 1945. The B29 was created to take a large payload of bombs to a target that was very far away. The idea for a very-long-range bomber was first formulated during the early part of WWII. It was a strategic necessity, as if England fell to the Germans, then the US would need such a plane to cross the Atlantic and strike targets in Europe. The irony of that is that the B29 ended up being used in the war in the Pacific.

Dybala: As these were very-long-range bombers they were obviously pretty big, can you give us some perspective on the size?

Bohr: The B29 was 99 feet long from tip to tail and a little over 141 feet in wingspan. The length of a pair propeller blades measured tip to tip was over 16 feet. The propellers were driven by 2,200 horsepower engines. The B29 was made to carry about 20,000 pounds of bombs. At the time, it was one of the largest planes in the world. If you want to gain some perspective on the size of the plane, the propeller tips were about 3 feet off the ground and if I were to stand next to the propeller, I would only account for about 1/4 of the length from the ground to the top of the opposite blade tip.

Dybala: You are about 6 feet tall?

Bohr: Well, I was 5 foot, 11 and 3/4 inches, but I have shrunk and so I am only 5 foot 11 (laughs)

Dybala: (laughs) So, another way to think of this is that from the ground up to the top of a propeller blade on the B29 was approximately 2 times the height of a basketball goal - or about 20 feet!

Bohr: Yes, that's about right!

Dybala: Well that is a pretty big propeller for a pretty big plane! You mentioned this was a very-long-range bomber, what were lengths of your missions?

Bohr: The shortest mission we flew was 12 hours the longest was 17 hours and that was without refueling, we did not have in-flight refueling in those days. The B17 and the B24 each have a single set of bomb doors the B29 had two sets of bomb doors and therefore could carry 2 to 3 times the bomb capacity of the B17 and B24. What was interesting is that our B29 Sentimental Journey was extra fuel efficient compared to other B29s. When we first went to Japan we actually used one of the bomb bays for extra gas to extend our range, but when we got back we had plenty of fuel left in the wings. So after that, we were able to carry more bombs and rely only on the fuel in the wings. It was really an amazing plane; I flew 29 missions in total. We survived a mid-air collision and damaged engines and still managed to drop bombs on target.

Dybala: As this was a bomber, what type of defenses did you have against enemy planes?

Bohr: We had 5 twin-gun turrets with M2 .50 caliber machine guns. There were two on the top of the plane, two on the bottom and one on the tail. These guns were highly accurate as they included some of the first computer controlled targeting systems. We would sight the planes from our turrets and the computer would account for things like airspeed and altitude.

Dybala: I did some research on Sentimental Journey and noticed that it also had the name "Quaker City" painted on the side of it. What was the significance of those two names?

Bohr: The concept of putting the names of a city on a B29 was public relations idea, in the hope that the city would honor the plane and crew by adopting it. It was my understanding that originally the name of the plane was going to be the "City of Philadelphia", but this name was already taken. It was therefore named "Quaker City" which was another city in Pennsylvania.

Dybala: If at first you don't succeed!

Bohr: You keep trying! I actually came up with the name, Sentimental Journey. There was a song at the time that was written by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Home called Sentimental Journey. It was sung by Doris Day and the last stanza of the song was:

"Never thought my heart could be so yearny.
Why did I decide to roam?
Gotta take that Sentimental Journey,
Sentimental Journey home,
Sentimental Journey."

I thought the last couple of lines were really nice especially since we all wanted to get home safe. So, I lobbied the rest of the crew, the crew voted, and it won!

Dybala: That is a great story. If the reader is interested we have a sample of that stanza in MP3 format to listen to.















Song Clip from the song "Sentimental Journey"



Sentimental Journey Crew circa 1945
Front Row, L to R: SGT Robert Washam (TG), SSGT Norman Whipple (RG), SSGT Wencel Bohr (LG), MSGT William Prim (FE), SSGT Joseph Le Bon (RO), MSGT Theodore Lewis Jr. (CFC) Back Row: 2LT Kenneth Hurley (N), 2LT Orley Van Dyke (B), 1LT Lester Gilbert (A/C), 2LT Jonas Carpenter (Rad Ob), FO Lawrence Bennet (P)

NOTE: Image courtesy of the 330th Bomb Group - www.rootsweb.com/~ny330bg/crews458.htm#k40

Dybala: Well, with a plane that big what was the noise level like?

Bohr: Now remember this was World War II, we didn't give anybody earplugs or hearing protection or anything like that.

We had 4 very powerful engines to carry us in addition to the multiple .50 caliber machine guns to protect us. Besides our own engines and guns we would have the flak (antiaircraft artillery) that would hit the plane or explode in mid air. The flak would get so thick that it sometimes looked like you could walk on the stuff! We had plenty of noise!

Just to give you some perspective on the noise levels of the engines I have to tell you a quick story. As I mentioned earlier, my plane Sentimental Journey, is currently housed at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. A few years ago the museum wanted to test the engines on the plane so they turned all four of them on. Tucson was flooded with calls in a radius of 40 miles due to the level of the noise, the engines were that loud.

Dybala: Wow!

Bohr: All of that said, from what I remember, it seemed to me that even with all of the engine and gun noise we "got used it" over time and the noise did not bother the crew as much.

Dybala: That is actually pretty common. What you probably did not realize is that when you are in noise and you notice that you are "getting used to it", what is actually happening is that the noise is causing a significant, but temporary hearing loss. The problem is that the hearing loss is not always temporary, especially after repeated noise exposure.

Bohr: I would have to agree with that, I think you are right on what was happening.

Dybala: When did you first notice that you had a hearing loss?

Bohr: I noticed when I first got out of the service. I would be at a table with a group of people talking and there would be noise in the background and I would miss everything with the conversation going back and forth. It was not that I could not hear, it was that I could not understand what was being said. As I got older it got worse, but it was kind of gradual. I was saying, "Huh?' a lot and that got embarrassing, really embarrassing!

Dybala: It sounds like your hearing loss may have been a combination of your noise exposure and the aging process. So, how long have you been wearing hearing aids?

Bohr: Ah, lets see, the first hearing aid I got was back in 1988 and it was just one hearing aid and about a year or two later I went to two hearing aids as I could hear better with two.

Dybala: So, you are now wearing a pair of Starkey hearing aids?

Bohr: That's right. I have been wearing Starkey hearing aids for several years now. Starkey spends a lot of money on hearing aid research and development and I think they make great devices. I was actually just fitted with the latest Starkey digital hearing aid yesterday.

Dybala: So, you have been wearing hearing aids for over 15 years, how does your new Starkey digital hearing aids compare to the old ones?

Bohr: I noticed an immediate improvement from my previous hearing aids that were about 3-4 years old. I was pretty impressed. I also know that my hearing had changed just a bit so it was a combination of improved technology with an adjustment to the way the hearing aids were programmed.

Dybala: Yes, the technology is improving so rapidly that even if someone was told a few years ago that they could not be helped, today they can be! You bring up another good point. Hearing loss tends to stay the same or get worse. I would normally recommend an annual or bi-annual check of your hearing. It is also good to come in about every 6 months so that you can get the hearing aids checked and cleaned. Kind of like changing the oil in your car and rotating your tires on a regular basis!

Bohr: Well, then you know what someone needs to do, right?

Dybala: What do you mean?

Bohr: Create a combination oil change and hearing aid service center! (laugh)

Dybala: (laugh) Well, you never know, but you heard the idea here first folks!

I have one more set of questions for you. I know you are involved with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. As you know, the goal of the foundation is to not only help children and adults with hearing loss, but bring greater awareness about hearing loss.

What advice would you have for someone who has a hearing loss but is not sure about getting hearing aids?

Bohr: I have a friend of mine that I was trying to get to come in to get help with hearing aids. He had been told that he had "nerve damage" and nothing could be done about it. Well, I know from personal experience that is not true! Something can be done about it with today's hearing aids.

Dybala: What would you say to someone who is a spouse or significant other of a person who has hearing loss?

Bohr: There are so many simple things you can do to help a person hear well. You can get my attention before talking to me, you can look at me when you talk and don't turn your back to me. Since hearing loss is invisible, people will often forget to do these things but they need to remember that they are very important when you communicate with a person who has a hearing loss.

They also have to remember to be patient with a person who has hearing loss. I know that communication is a two-way process, but I have had people get frustrated with me as they do not realize that I have a hearing loss and they think I am just not paying attention, etc.

Dybala: Well thank you for spending time with me today and thank you for your service to our country.

Bohr: Thank you!

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About the Starkey Hearing Foundation

Since 1973, Starkey has been giving the gift of hearing to the world's underprivileged—especially children—through its internationally recognized mission program and its domestic program, Hear Now. Since 2000, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has provided more than 130,000 hearing aids to those in need around the world. Visit www.sotheworldmayhear.org to learn more.

About Starkey Laboratories

Headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Starkey Laboratories, Inc. is a worldwide provider of comprehensive digital hearing systems, including custom and standard devices, protection products, instrumentation and unique business solutions. Founded in 1967, Starkey owns the Audibel, Micro-Tech, NuEar, Omni and Qualitone companies and operates facilities in 24 countries. Starkey is the recognized world leader in the design and development of innovative custom digital hearing instruments. For more information visit www.starkey.com

About Pima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum is the largest Air & Space Museum in the Western United States, funded by gate receipts, Gift Shop sales, memberships, donations and grants. Experience a century of aviation and explore over 250 aircraft on our grounds. For more information visit www.pimaair.org
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Wencel Bohr

WWII Veteran and B29 Gunner