ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Carl, Clinton, Clifford and Jack are old friends. They all served in World War II and flew in B-29s.

"I met all three of these men at reunions, but we all share a common thing, a bond you can't quite describe it's sort of family," Clinton Osborne said.

Carl Barthold enlisted in the Army Air Corps at 20-years-old. He, along with the others, flew in the 73rd Bomber Wing during the war in the Pacific.

They flew in the Mariana's Bombing Campaign against the Japanese from October 1944 until the end of the war in August 1945.

Before the war, Clifford Smith was studying engineering at Mizzou.

"Three of us mechanical engineers heard about Pearl Harbor and we got together and started talking, and the three of us came to St. Louis to enlist in the Army Air Force," Smith said.

He originally trained to be a mechanic fixing the bombers after missions, but that changed.

"At the end of training and graduating they came to us and said, 'How would you like to double your salary and be a B-29 flight engineer?' Well I was married at the time and I needed the money," Smith said.

Smith flew his 30 missions and was offered the chance to stay in the service or get out.

"Well, I had a little girl I had not seen. She was 6-months-old, I said I think I'll get out," he said.

Osborne was a gunner on a B-29. He survived not one, but two ditchings at sea.

"Seemed to me like once I saw a fighter plane or a burst of flak you knew it was time to go to work. You did not exactly relax, but the tension was not as severe," Osbourne recalled.

Jack Cannon joined the Army right after he graduated high school. His first mission was in Tokyo on Thanksgiving Day in 1944. He was the only one of his crew to survive when his plane was destroyed.

"You are too busy to be scared you are not going anywhere," Cannon said.

The four men never served on the same plane, but were all based on the Island of Saipan at the same time.

"When they were on Saipan they were all on the same quarter city on the south shore of the island," Roy Wall said.

Wall is a local researcher who helped bring the four men together.

"We have been doing it for three years, get together every two to three months," Wall said.

The reunions mean much more to the men than just time spent around a table.

All of them feel grateful to be a part of the Greatest Generation who gave so much to defend the land of the free.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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