Over The Hague in Holland was one of the last missions of World War II that gunner Vernon Lykken flew.
The crew dropped cases of rations over a stadium and the “starving Dutch” rushed onto the field. Lykken recorded it all, making notes and sometimes snapping pictures from his turret beneath the plane with a camera he bought for $3 in London.
“I wanted to be able to look back,” said Lykken, who lives in Bismarck and just turned 96 this Christmas.
Lykken’s handwritten remarks tell his story from his time in the war. And some of the photos he snapped after dropping a bomb show the destruction, with smoke coming up from where they’d just hit, or another plane in his group going down.
“A lot who go to war don’t ever talk about it,” said Lykken’s daughter, Pam Miller. “He wanted everybody to know.”
That’s why Lykken donated his diary in 2000 and other memorabilia last year to the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Archives.
At 20 years old, Lykken fought in the war for a little over a year. Over the course of World War II, his group would fly more than 300 missions.
Lykken’s plane, a B-17 “Flying Fortress” called "Going My Way” flew under heavy flack as well as what he called “milk runs,” or an easy task. Targets included railroad depots or oil refineries. Flying high, it was often 40 degrees below zero in the plane, he wrote.
In a mission over Greenland, the plane was flying into a headwind and running low on fuel. The pilot told crew members to put on their parachutes in case they needed to eject from the plane.
“While digitizing items, I took (the diary) off the shelf and looked at it and I just thought it was so cool he wrote down what he did daily so people who weren’t there could read about later,” Jenks said.
The Archives has other military diaries in its collection, too, including one from a man who was an artist that recorded military life in drawings.
“I think the concern we have now is that people don’t write letters anymore,” she said. “What will we do in the future? Will there be anymore letters to see how things were?”
Returning home from the war, Lykken would go back to Grafton and work the family farm for a number of years before meeting his wife, Carol Hultner.
The two would spend a number of years traveling around the Midwest with a potato vine cutter, offering their services to various farmers. They often would camp on these trips, and Lykken laughs when telling the story of the time he and his wife accidentally parked for the night on the lawn of an insane asylum.
The couple also spent time selling Christmas trees to lots around the state.
And as their four children started coming along, Lykken found a new career selling heavy equipment, eventually going into business for himself as Vern Lykken Company. He says he loved visiting with his customers and talks extensively on the pros and cons of each piece of machinery. He enjoyed the work so much he only recently decided to sell the rest of his equipment and retire to Rapid City, S.D.