As the B-17 bomber lumbered toward the west coast of France, Jim Wilschke crouched in the plane’s plexiglass nose, preparing to drop a 5,000-pound payload on a pen of Nazi U-boats — including one that would become a star attraction at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Flying Fortress was at the rear of the U.S. air squadron. It was a precarious position to be in even in the best of times because it made it an easy target for German fighter planes.
Then, one of the aircraft’s four engines died. The plane began to lag behind.
Like jackals pouncing on a wounded antelope, the Germans swooped in. Machine-gun fire and cannon shells tore through the fuselage, the plane filled with smoke, and soon the bailout alarm sounded.
Wilschke, a native South Sider, grabbed his parachute. He squeezed through an escape hatch. And he jumped.
The story of what happened during the next six months — of Wilschke’s and another American airman’s life on the run in Nazi-occupied France — was one that almost no one heard. These were Wilschke’s secrets, tucked away in a “big mystery box” and rarely spoken of, maybe for the same reason it took him nearly 40 years to board another plane.
Now, that long-secret story has been turned into a book, “Bud’s Jacket,” written by his niece Barbara Wojcik, originally from Hinsdale and now living in Minnesota.