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History takes center stage at Oak Creek Fall Festival

Sept. 5, 2012

Oak Creek - The Oak Creek Fall Festival is slated to bring a slice of local and world history to visitors. Those attending will be able to meet living history groups and World War II veterans, and historical artifacts will be on display.

"I'm the only B-29er left that can still dance," said Henry Ratenski, who flew in the last mission of WWII. "I go and dance with the best of them."

Ratenski was a radar operator and navigator.

"People ask me if I was afraid when I did bombing runs and I tell them, 'no.' We were never afraid. We were only afraid that we maybe (would) not hit the target. The idea up there is that you have 10 men on an airplane; you had 132 airplanes in total. You're traveling over 3,500 miles and jeopardizing all these lives. The one purpose was that you had to hit that target," he said.

The last mission of WWII took place after both nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan.

Ratenski said: "The last mission was flown on the night of the 14th and 15th. Everybody was waiting for Japan's surrender. The second bomb was dropped on the 9th. Most people think we dropped the bomb and it was over with. We actually flew, after Hiroshima, 1,560 bomb-loads on Japan from the 7th through the 15th. We had, on the last day of the war, something like 800 airplanes in the air. Nobody knows that."

Ratenski's mission is the subject of the book "The Last Mission: The Secret History of WWII's Final Battle " by Jim Smith and a History Channel documentary.

"That was a big question mark. Why would we go to Japan on the last day of the war? If someone is reminding Emperor Hirohito to speed it up, we could have just bombed any place in Japan. That's what the other planes did. They just bombed someplace to maintain the pressure on the military in Japan," he said.

Ratenski's mission was to bomb an oil field in northern Japan. The bombers flew over Tokyo on the day of a would-be coup against the emperor by the military. The resulting blackout helped prevent Japan's military from stopping the recorded surrender.

"The big thing was that the Russians were coming in," he said. "Japan was our enemy, and Japan was gone. The real danger was Russia coming in. If they got in there, they'd have the oil refinery. It was the beginnings of the cold war. I could tell you the mechanics of what I did, but that's the rest of the story."

Ratenski is one of many who will do presentations at the festival, which will showcase WWII veterans, spinners, weavers and blacksmiths. Seven historical structures, including a town hall that was built in 1874, will be on display.

Diane Schumacher, a Fall Festival chairwoman, said, "We want the community to engage in dialog so they walk away with an educational experience."

The festival doubles as a fundraiser for the Oak Creek Historical Society.

There will be a raffle with prizes including a quilt and autographed Packers football.

Schumacher said, "I think it's inspiring for people to know what kind of lives our pioneers in Oak Creek had. I think it's important for people to know why we are where we are. You have to know your past."

If you go

WHAT: Fall Festival

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Historical Society, 15th and Forest Hill avenues

CONTACT: Diane Schumacher at pdschu@sbcglobal.net

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