Bronko Smilanich Oral History
Bronko Smilanich was born July 21, 1921, in Chisholm, Minnesota, to Louis and Kate (Rapaich) Smilanich. He volunteered for service in the Air Force in October 1942 and sent to Europe in November 1943. He was honorably discharged after his recovery as a prisoner of German war camp for thirteen months. Smilanich received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service as well. He then worked as a master bricklayer until retirement. Smilanich married Bessie Konstad on January 30, 1943 and they had three daughters – Patricia, Lynda and Gail. Smilanich died on April 20, 2001, and buried at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Bronko Smilanich described his experience as a tail gunner in the Air Force during World War II. He trained at Tyndall and Buckley Field, in Miami, Florida. Here he trained as an airplane gunner. In November 1943, Smilanich was deployed to the European theater. Smilanich recounted the “twenty or so” missions that he took part in. He recalled being shot down in April 1944, and having to “abandon ship.” Smilanich landed in the middle of a German training camp, directly on top of two German soldiers. He described in great detail his life as a POW in a German prison camp near Krems, Austria. Smilanich remembered the harsh conditions of the camp, as well as his extreme weight loss. Smilanich expressed his feelings while being marched toward France by the Germans when the Russians took Vienna. He concluded the interview by describing his time recovering from the harsh environment of the German prisoner of war camp at a hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, after the war.
Interview by David Overy
St. Cloud State University, "Bronko Smilanich Oral History" (1989). World War II Veterans. 39.