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What do the American people owe World War II veterans? Petaluman Arthur Cader has a simple answer: ?Their lives.?

As a bomber pilot in the Pacific during the war, Cader put his life on the line 44 times to fly into enemy territory to bomb Japanese targets.

Earlier this month, Cader was belatedly recognized for his heroism when he was presented with the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. The medal was awarded for a specific bombing run Cader and his crew made from Noemforr Island to Balikpapan, Borneo to bomb a strategic Japanese oil refinery.

Cader and other pilots from the 5th Bomb Group flew 1,080 miles unescorted by fighters to the target. It was the longest B-24 mission in World War II. The aircraft spent more than 15 hours in the air.

Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and attacks by Japanese fighters, they managed to place 60 percent of their bombs on target, heavily damaging one of Japan?s most important aviation gasoline distillation refineries.

When the lead bomber was shot down by an enemy plane, Cader dropped out of formation to provide help for crew members who parachuted from the doomed aircraft.

Cader?s own airplane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, but he still managed to bring the airplane and its crew back safely without any injuries.

While the medal was awarded for the specific mission, it was only one of 44 missions Cader made while serving in the Pacific. His record includes participation in the Phillippine Islands, Northern Solomons, Southern Philippines, Bismark Archipelago, Eastern Mandates, Luzon, Western Pacific and China campaigns.

By the he was discharged in 1945, he had risen to the rank of captain and was squadron operations officer.

After the war, he married Selma Fishman and together they owned and operated Cader Farms, one of the chicken ranches that earned for Petaluma the title ?Egg Basket of the World.? He later sold the farm, which is now the site of Cader Farms, a major residential housing development on Petaluma?s east side.

Cader was emotional during the medal-presentation ceremony held before family, friends and a contingent of high-ranking Air Force officers and enlisted men in the Air Museum at Travis Air Force Base.

?I was thinking of all the good friends that I had lost,? he explained.

?You don?t do this unless you have a crew with you and we had a great crew that responded very well,? he said at the ceremony. ?They were great.?

Although he lost many friends during the war, Cader said he holds no animosity toward the Japanese.

?I have no ill feelings,? he explained. ?But we need to learn. We have to always be well prepared to prevent anything like what happened in the past from happening in the future.?

He recalled that there were two American units comprised of Japanese soldiers who fought valiently for the Allies and were among the most decorated U.S. units of the war.

He also made it clear that the Allied forces did what they had to do to defeat a tenacious and determined enemy.

?The Japanese were cruel to any American pilots or ground personnel. That?s the truth. Those who were captured were lucky to get back alive.

?We had to drop the A-bombs. The Japanese knew we were going to invade and they had nine divisions, 8,000 aircraft and midget submarines ready. Their mission was to attack the troop ships. The results would have been the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives. Dropping the bombs saved those American soldiers.?

Not all pilots were thrilled with the B-24, but it was highly regarded by the Petaluman. ?I thought it was an excellent airplane,? he said. ?It worked very well for me. We had a 10-man crew and I had excellent crews.?

He said while it was important for the crew to function well together, it was also important for the crew to know who was in charge.

?We were friends, but not buddies,? he explained. ?The pilot has to be in command. If the pilot uses poor judgment or shows fear, it reflects back on the crew. When an order is given, you can?t have any argument or talk about it. It is imperative the pilot keep a little distance.?

After the war, the crew?s tail gunner, Sgt. Phillips, made it a point of calling each member of the crew on April 1. When he died eight years ago, Cader carried on the tradition, contacting the crew members or their families each April 1.

Despite flying all but one mission without fighter cover because of the distances flown, Cader never lost a man or an aircraft.

?For the first four or five missions, you don?t know what?s going on,? he said. ?You just follow along. After that, you become aware of everything that is going on around you. Experience comes in from there.?

Cader went on from the Air Force to a successful civilian career, working with Selma to build a business and raise four children, help raise eight grand children and now enjoy four great-grandchildren.

He enjoys his family and is proud of their accomplishments, especially of son Bruce, who was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor while serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Although retired, he remains active and is still a licensed pilot who flies his own plane out of the Petaluma Airport.

His flying these days is a lot less stressful and a whole lot less dangerous than it was 63 years ago.

(Contact John Jackson at acsports@arguscourier.com)