It's a story of danger, romance, and heroism during World War II and at the center of it all is a plane with a very special name. Captain Arnold Nass married his wife before he left to fly 35 bombing missions over Europe including one mission on D-Day. And you could say his wife was with him the entire time.
"That shell went right past my face and exploded up here," Nass said as he described what happened as he was piloting a B-24 over France.
He was returning from a mission in Germany in a formation of bombers when he had a close call. The group was flying directly over Abbeyville, France where the Germans had a radar gunnery school. He said one of the students took the plastic nose off the plane with the shell, right above his head. But Nass made it and so did his plane: the Sweetest Rose of Texas. "Luck or someone looking after me," Nass said, "it just depends where you are in that line of traffic whether you're on a milk run and you're coming home ...or you're not coming home."
In 1941 the 21-year-old Wisconsin native volunteered to serve. He said, "I didn't want to get drafted into the army so I enlisted in the Army Air Corps."
After some training in Illinois Nass was bound for the Lone Star State. "I was sent to San Antonio and started my pilot training all here in Texas," Nass said.
By April 1944 he was headed overseas flying bombing missions from his base in England to Germany and France. One of those missions was on June 6th, 1944: D-Day. Nass said, "as a co-pilot I had a bird's eye view of the whole D-Day operation."
Nass' mission was to bomb targets in the town of Caen, France,"to bomb their bridges and their railroads so the Germans couldn't bring any more supplies in," Nass said.
Nass started as a co-pilot and then became a pilot flying 35 missions in all and taking gunfire from below every step of the way. He said, "you just hope they didn't hit anybody or hit an empty gas tank. If they did that airplane exploded."
And obliterated planes all around him became volatile shrapnel. "We're following another group of airplanes, 12 airplanes ahead of us. The Germans hit that 12 ship formation and just about tore it apart and we had to fly through all the debris," Nass said.
And his plane flew through it all. So what's the story behind that name? While Nass was still a co-pilot his pilot gave him the privilege of naming the plane. And Nass could only think of the alluring, brunette knockout from Palestine, Texas: Rosemary McDonald. Before he left for Europe he met her at a USO dance. Nass made Rosemary his wife before he shipped out overseas. And when he returned safely and Rosemary found out about her namesake, the Sweetest Rose of Texas, "well of course she liked it," Nass chuckled.
Nass doesn't know why he made it back without a scratch when so many others didn't. But this East Texas Hero loves his country. He hopes young people today will volunteer to serve like he did for a country that has given him so much. "You ought to love that country, you ought to understand what that country is and you ought to serve," he said.
The Sweetest Rose of Texas flew 118 missions between Nass and other pilots during World War II. Nass lost Rosemary in 2009 and he now lives in Tyler.