Bismarck Tribune March 7,2002 by Virginia Grantier

A Mandan man, in his early 20s,woke up one long-ago spring day, and got
into his airplane, like always, and accepted, like always, that he would
probably die that day.
“Every mission, you figured it was probably your last,” said Del Skjod,
now in his 80s, but then a U.S. bomber pilot during World War II who was
well aware of the high risk of getting shot down.
Many pilots had been or soon would be.  Sometimes the black flak from
German anti-aircraft guns was so thick that the aviators joked you could
probably get out of the plane and walk on it, said Skjod’s best friend,
Dick Baron, a fighter pilot in the war.
But on that spring day in 1944, not only did Skjod get through the day
unscathed, he experienced a memorable moment in the air that made life a
little easier for the Mandan man, who was a million-billion miles away, it
seemed, from everything that was dear to him.
That moment was recently captured in the best way that local artist Scott
Nelson knows how.  He’s trying to paint as many of these memorable moments
of local World War II vets as fast as he can before the aging vets are
Skjod’s and Baron’s moment in oil shows blue skies, a few clouds and
Skjod’s B-17 in the foreground, four P-47’s fighter planes protecting it
and other planes farther away.  Just another day at war, it might appear
for anyone else looking at it.
Skjod, looking at the painting, explained that he was above France
somewhere when he noticed that the fighter planes protecting his B-17 were
P-47s.  And so he wondered …
Just that day, he’d received a letter from mom telling him that Baron, his
best friend, childhood through college, was stationed in England, too, and
he flew a P-47.  Could it be?  Could Baron be flying just several hundred
yards away from him?  He soon would find out he was.
Dick and Del, quite a pair.  They grew up in Mandan and apparently kept
themselves quite busy.  Skjod was always into mischief, Baron said.  He
didn’t elaborate on his own history of practical pranks.
“We did a lot of hunting,” Skjod said of their Mandan High School days.
Not much time for organized sports—someone had to watch over the girls,
give them rides to those games, Baron said, and smiled.
And the pair participated in the state’s Civil Air Patrol together.
Skjod, a tumbling instructor, remembers quashing an instructor’s fear that
he didn’t have the coordination to fly by doing a back flip without
further ado-his feet landing where his feet had been.
The two friends attended college together in Fargo, where during kitchen
duty they tried a new recipe-one can of about everything in the college
larder went into a pot.  They were found out.  Punishment: Eating it.
And then adulthood hit with a bang.  Baron was married when World War II’s
obligations came along.  Skjod went one way training for bomber duty, and
Baron went another, to Florida.
They both had decided awile back that they wanted to spend their military
stint flying.
“We diden’t mind going into the service.  But we didn’t want to walk, we
wanted to sit down during it,” Baron said, and laughed.
So on that long-ago spring day, Skjod wondered, in this place, in these
skies filled with hundreds of bombers and fighter planes as far as you
could see, if Baron could be that close, in one of those P-47s.
He got on the radio and in a not-standard, not-by-the-book way, asked the
“Calling Dick Baron, Dick Baron, over”
“Who is this?” Baron answered back.
“It’s Skejy.”
Skjod told Baron to waggle his wings so he knew for sure which plane he
was talking to.  It was the nearby P-47 indeed, and a dinner with his best
buddy wasn’t far behind.  Baron, based near Cambridge, at the Duxford Air
Base, was a quick trip via P-47 from where Skjod was based.
After the war, they went into the clothing store business together in
Mandan-started Mens Mart Inc.  Now retired, they still live in Mandan.
The friendship is intact and so is a sense of humor, even though Skjod is
batting cancer.
Nelson, 38, a rancher and book illustrator, has painted four of these
moments so far.
He’s not sure what to do with them.  Someday he might donate the lot of
them to a museum or the like.  But the important thing right now, is that
it be done.