Burbank veteran played a key role in shortening World War II

BURBANK, Calif. (KABC) -- World War II was in its third year but 20-year-old Ivan Cregger was just joining the fight.

Landing in Egypt with the Ninth Air Force, the realities of war set in immediately.

When leaving New York, the ship he should've been on was hit by a torpedo, but because of an error, Cregger was on a different vessel.

His mother was told he was missing in action.

"Naturally, I thought, 'that's awful lucky.' And I'm glad they got mixed up on the assignment," said Cregger.

After fighting the infamous Nazi General Erwin Rommel in Egypt, Cregger was part of the Ploesti Air Raid in 1943. It was one of the deadliest air runs of World War II.

The goal was to knock out Romanian oil fields that supplied much of the Axis war machine's fuel.

To avoid the radar, the bombers had to fly in at palm-tree level.

"If the plane didn't have any problems and all four engines kept running, you could make it," said Cregger. "A lot of the planes didn't come home because they ran out of fuel."

There were 50 bombers in Ivan's squadron but only three came home.

Historians believe the Ploesti Raid likely shortened the war by about six months.

Later, an assault just off the Italian coast bombed Cregger's ship.

On shore, a group of nuns took in the American soldiers. One of them sent his mother a note saying he was OK.

Today, Ivan Cregger looks back at all he survived with pride.

"I did all I could do, and I don't regret any one minute of it," he said. "And just thankful that it all worked out like it did."
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.