A fire raged in the rear of "old Glory", a huge B-24 bomber piloted by Eau Claire native Dallas O. Books, and the fuselage of the plane was full of flak holes.
When a squadron of German fighter planes pierced the horazon near Friedrichshafen in southwest Germany, young crew members on the riddled liberator bomber feared their mission of March 18, 1944 would be their last.
Already, three crew members were dead. Two turret gunners, who hung vulnerably below the plane were shot, and another man burned to death at his post.
But Lt. Books, who grew up on Platt Street and was a graduate of both high school and college in Eau Claire, didn't show his fear.
In fact, he apparently did all he could to soothe the nerves of the doomed 10 member crew. "Hold on a minute - we'll be all right." Books reportedly radioed to a neighboring plane that saw the flames shooting out of "Old Glory."
But they were far from all right.
When the American fighters that were supposed to guard the lumbering liberators didn't show, the German fighters tore through the bombing ranks and shot down 15 of 22 American planes on the daytime mission, killing 154 soldiers.
Books' plane blew up and crashed in flames near Lake Constance, a vast body of water near the joint borders of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Books and those who weren't burned beyond recognition were buried in a German cemetery, and his body was returned to the states in 1952.
He now rests in Eau Claire's Lakeview Cemetery, high above Half Moon Lake and Carson Park, the stomping grounds of Books' youth.
For decades the story of Books' last fight remained untold, known only to the German farmers who saw the plane crash into a woods and start a creek ablaze with burning fuel.
But an inquisitive Pennsylvania man has spent the past seven years and thousands of dollars to revive the legend of "Old Glory," a plane that carried his uncle and namesake - Sgt. Everett Morris - to his death in 1944.
Everett "Jim" Marsteller, a farm implement dealer and cattle rancher from Pennsylvania, has made researching the history of Books' crew his life's work.
It's a search, Marsteller said, that is driven by a passion for history and deep respect for soldiers who gave their lives in defense of American freedom.
"The reason we have the freedoms we have today is because these guys made the supreme sacrifice." Marsteller, 46, said during a recent phone interview from his home in New Park Pa.
Marsteller's greatest triumph came last March when he traveled to south west Germany and found the crash site, spoke to witnesses of the explosion and found a piece of the wreckage.
"It was almost like a dream," Marsteller said, noting that all the Germans he met were extremely helpful and friendly. "It's a beautiful spot where it went down."
But the springtime splendor of the Black Forest countryside where the plane crashed was lost on Books' family and friends in Eau Claire, who learned about his death four months later on July 31, 1944.
Dallas' wife, Gratia, a native of Durand who later had a long career as a teacher at Lincoln School in Eau Claire, realized she would have to raise their 2 year-old son, Robert Books, alone.
Dallas Books' father, Oliver T. Books, the Eau Claire Fire Chief at the time, mourned Dallas' death with his wife Georgia. Dallas was the second books son to die - another son, Robert Books, died from blood poisoning at age 9.
Georgia Books died in 1982, Oliver died in 1991 and Gratia (Owen) Books died last year.
Dallas' younger brother, Duane Books, who still lives on Wilson Drive in Eau Claire, was 16 when Dallas was killed at age 25.
Duane, now 65, admired his brother Dallas for working as grocery clerk to pay his way through the Eau Claire Teacher's College.
Duane still remembers Dallas' last visit to Eau Claire, a stopover Duane recounts with a chuckle. Dallas, who joined the Air Force before the draft, was training other pilots in Texas before the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941.
Instead of taking the train home like most soldiers, Dallas decided to fly a B-25 bomber into the Eau Claire airport, which at the time was near State Street.
Not knowing the dirt runway was wet, Dallas landed the heavy bomber on a sloppy strip.
"They got it stuck in the mud," Duane recalled. "It was humorous then, and it still in now."
During his visit Dallas left the plane bogged down in the mud. When it came time to leave, a crowd gathered to watch Dallas try to fly it out.
"He said, 'I'm either going to fly it out of here or ship it on a boxcar,'" Duane said. "They revved the engines, popped it out and got it up. It was exciting."
Like "typical brothers," Dallas and Duane had their fair share of scraps and scrapes, Duane said.
"He had this thing, and I had mine, but we got along real good," Said Duane, who had a 34-year career in the Eau Claire Fire Department. "But I guess I was the baby brother who got in the way when he took out a girlfriend"
Most people who remember Dallas talk about his good-natured attitude, his aptitude for mechanics, his ability to get things done and his skill as a pilot and leader.
The lone survivor of "Old Glory," Chet Strickler, no 80 and living in California, was blasted out of the plane and shot once he hit the ground.
Strickler once wrote that you had to be tough and "on the ball" if you wanted to be on Books' crew.
Another pilot who flew with Books told Marsteller that Books "was a damn good man and a damn good pilot." Books received a Presidential Citation after his first mission for landing a damaged plane without a nose wheel.
But one person who doesn't remember Dallas Books is his son, Robert Dallas Books, now 52 and living in Menomonee Falls.
"Bob," as he's called, never knew his father and only remembers the funeral ceremony held when Dallas' body was brought back to Eau Claire in 1952.
Bob Books apparently looks remarkably like his father Dallas, who was well-known in Eau Claire.
"In high school people actually would see the resemblance and tell me what a fine man he was," Bob said during a recent phone interview. "People said he as a gentleman and a very fun guy to be with."
When Bob Books first was asked about his father's death recently, be read some old letters Dallas sent home, and he began to cry. "in them, he asked my mother, "'How's little Bobby?'" Bob Books said.
Marsteller, who has dug up thousands of pages of government documents on Books' final bombing mission, is eager to talk to Duane and Bob Books.
Marsteller's long-term goal is to either write a book about the eight mission of the Books crew or to arrange a reunion of the crew members' descendants.
Until then it appears Marsteller's quest has become instilled in Bob Books, who now wants to learn more about his father's last fight and would like to meet Marsteller and Strickler.
"This has sort of rekindled my interest in him," Bob Books said of his father. "I've got a whole trunk full of materials that I've never really looked through."