The number of World War II veterans still alive to share their stories dwindles every day. 

It’s estimated that of the 16 million service members that fought in World War II, less than 2% remain alive. It’s why it is imperative to hear what they experienced in their own words. 

The battles fought by the brave may have been decades ago, but the memories of what happened and the people lost are not soon forgotten.

Sharing his story with WGN News, Wayne Daniels, an Air Force pilot in the second World War recalls his experience.

Wayne Daniels

“I was in front of the lead airplane, and we were meant to divert the Luftwaffe,” he said.

“We moved out, and, of course, the Germans were all around us,” said Edwin Beck. “We were cut off.”

Co-piloting B-17 bomber with 10 onboard, Daniels says not all of them made it out alive. 

“Everything was just fine, then suddenly there were flashes of red in front of us,” Daniels shared. “A little bit below us, and off to one side and the other.”

Soon, the flashes of red were directed right in the windshield. 

“My co-pilot said, ‘my God, they’re going to kill us all.’ And he was pretty nearly right. He was half-right. They killed half of us because all the gunners in the back, just three, were killed and burned by the fire that the airplane sustained when we were hit,” Daniels revealed.

Those three men were the first Daniels served with, who he says, he lost.

“I just did what I could at the time as rapidly as I could,” he said.

“I can look back and so many of my men are gone,” Beck said.

Edwin Beck was on the ground and in the Army in World War II when he was captured by Nazis in Europe. 

Edwin Beck

“The Germans were sitting their with a bazooka and that took care of the captain there, that blew up the captain,” he said.

Edwin revealed that he was locked up in a prison with his fellow soldiers, with the Nazis telling them the war was over. 

“Some of these guys that are killing themselves, suicides you know, I say it never goes away,” Beck said. “It was 77 years ago when I got captured.

“You see all these young guys that are barely 18 years old. Its just too much.” 

The memory of the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives carries on through memorials and in the minds and hearts of living veterans.

“Each one of these memorials are real people, and they died in the service of their country probably by combat or by injury,” Daniels said. “They had families, and those of us who were survivors appreciate them, and we honor them.”