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WWII vet, pilot from Willmar, Minn., honored for his service with tour of museum that is no less than an aviator’s dream

Maurice Turner looks on Thursday as he tours the Fagen Fighters World War II Museum south of Granite Falls. Turner served with the 42nd Bomber Group in World War II and was accompanied on the tour by his wife and museum director Greg Gibson, top, who describes the workings of a training plane. Tribune photos by Tom Cherveny

GRANITE FALLS — His country called, and Maurice Turner answered by serving as a radioman with the U.S. Air Force in New Guinea during World War II.

He came home counting himself lucky to have done so, but also with a lifelong passion for aeronautics and electronics.

Now it was time for others to answer: Staff and volunteers with the Rice Hospice program, Willmar Ambulance, Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Office, and Turner’s family commemorated his contributions in a way that could not have been more fitting.

“Tremendous,’’ is how Turner, 93, of Willmar, described his personal tour Thursday of the Fagen Fighters World War II Museum south of Granite Falls.

Neuropathy limits Turner’s ability to get around, but he had plenty of help to make up for it.  The Willmar Ambulance and Rice Hospice jointly offer a “sentimental journey’’ to allow those in hospice to enjoy a special trip of their choosing. Air Force veteran John Tradup of Willmar knew just the trip for Turner.

Greg Gibson, director of the Fagen Fighters World War II Museum, was just the guy to throw open the doors and escort Turner around.

It was one pilot talking to another, as they went from one plane to the next, a PT-19 trainer all the way to the P-51 Mustang “Sweet Revenge.’’

Turner said he had wanted to serve as a pilot in World War II, but the Air Force made him a radioman to fill a need. He was disappointed, but Turner said after the tour that he knew better than to let it stop him.

“You’d like to have everything just the way you want it, but get that idea out of your head and you are going to live a lot better; you won’t be so frustrated,’’ he said.

There was also a silver lining in his assignment to be a radioman. “I found out that I had a like for electronics, it was fascinating,’’ said Turner.

After the war, he opened Turner’s TV & Appliance in Cosmos and operated the business for 40 years.

He also was a civilian pilot, and when he wasn’t flying, he was dragging his children along to visit airports and kick the tires on airplanes, said his daughter Maureen Schneider.

“That’s how it was for us,’’ said Schneider.

Thurday’s tour allowed Turner to tell a little bit about how it was for him while serving his country. One of his escapes from death during World War II included bailing out of the hatch door as the tires on the B-25 burst into flames during an emergency landing. “I jumped out and slid along the runway,’’ said Turner.

His ability to remain calm under fire saved others too, including a bomber group he was able to direct back to safety on the radio during one tense morning.

After the war, Turner was piloting a small plane east of East Grand Forks when he heard the panic in the voice of a student pilot on the radio. The student was not instrument rated but had gotten himself well above the clouds.  He was warned that low fog waited for him below. Turner gave him the bearings and led him to a safe landing under sunny skies in Crookston.

Schneider said her father, after having survived many combat missions, was never afraid to take on any of the challenges that life gave him. “These guys were a different breed of brave, OK,’’ she said.

Schneider said her father didn’t talk a lot about his war experiences until more recent years. His spouse, Pat, has been devoted to collecting those memories and putting together a scrapbook surrounding his service with the 42nd Bomber Group of the 13th Air Force, known as the “Jungle Air Force’’ for its mission in the tropics.

At tour’s end, the Turners let Gibson know they would like to donate their collection to the museum.

The Fagen Fighters World War II Museum is all about honoring those who have served, said Gibson. All he asked of Turner was his autograph, so that it could be included in a book kept of the museum’s most distinguished visitors.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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