DID THE FUTURE POPE BENEDICT XVI TRY TO SHOOT DOWN THE FUTURE FIFTH BISHOP OF CORPUS CHRISTI IN 1945?
WELL, THAT IS NOT EXACTLY THE RIGHT QUESTION!
The question really should be: “Did the young Joseph Ratzinger assist in the attempt to shoot down the young Rene Henry Gracida as he, Gracida, bombed the railroad marshaling yards of central Germany in the Spring of 1945?
The question first entered my mind when I learned, upon Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s election as Pope Benedict XVI, that he had served as a Hitler Youth helper at anti-aircraft batteries in Germany during the Second World War.
During the Spring of 1945 I had served as a Flight Engineer on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in the 303rd Bomb Group (H) of the Eighth Air Force flying out of England. I flew 32 combat missions over Germany between February 14, 1945 and April 25, 1945, some of which were in the vicinity of Munich.
Here is the Wikipedia article describing Joseph Ratzinger’s military career:
“Following his 14th birthday in 1941, Ratzinger was conscripted in the Hitler Youth, as membership was required for all 14-year old German boys after December 1939, but was an unenthusiastic member and refused to attend meetings. (His father was a bitter enemy of Nazism, believing it conflicted with the Catholic faith. In 1941, one of Ratzinger’s cousins, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was taken away by the Nazi regime and killed during the Aktion T4 campaign of Nazi eugenics.) In 1943, while still in seminary, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps. Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigours of military duty. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he deserted back to his family’s home in Traunstein after his unit had ceased to exist, just as American troops established their headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was put in a POW camp, but was released a few months later at the end of the war in the summer of 1945. He reentered the seminary, along with his brother Georg, in November of that year.
Luftwaffenhelfer (commonly: Flakhelfer) are terms commonly used for German students deployed as child soldiers during World War II.
The Luftwaffenhelfer (“Luftwaffe support personnel”) program was the implementation of the “Kriegshilfseinsatz der Jugend bei der Luftwaffe” (“Deployment of the youth to support the war effort with the air force”) order issued on January 22nd, 1943. The order called for drafting whole school classes with male students born in 1926 and 1927 into a military corps, supervised by Hitler Youth and Luftwaffe personnel. The draft was later extended to include the 1928 and 1929 births. Deployment included ideological indoctrination by the Hitler Youth, military duties and limited continuation of the normal school curriculum, often by the original teachers.
While the official term was “Luftwaffenhelfer (HJ)”, the term more commonly used is “Flakhelfer” (Anti-Aircraft-support or AA gun assistant) referred to as the “Flakhelfer-Generation”. In German ears the phrase associates with the collective and incisive experience of being torn out of conventional adolescent life (though under circumstances of total war) and being thrown into strict military service and extreme peril, when in the final phase of the war, the AA-batteries themselves became preferred targets of allied strafers.”
Only God knows whether or not young Joseph Ratzinger was assisting at some of the 88 millimeter anti-aircraft batteries shooting at my B-17 as I flew overhead. If true, how ironic that the future B-16 was shooting at the B-17 in which the future Fifth Bishop of Corpus Christi was flying. If only I had asked him when I, along with the other bishops of Texas, enjoyed a protracted supper with the then Cardinal Ratzinger 20 years ago when we were in Rome for our ad-limina visit to the Holy See.
Now, it is too late!