Honoring our veterans: Kelly determined to serve his country

Published 4:53pm Monday, October 7, 2013

Gil was off to basic training, which was not the highlight of his life. “But it was great getting to flight training,” he enthused. “It was tough. I feel blessed to have gotten through. The wash out rate was 70 percent.”

That was before the advanced training took place, when the size of the engines increased up to 600 HP and the night flights began. “We called that the power wash-out. We lost more guys then. About 10 percent of the class actually made it all the way through.” Gil smiled. “They used to tell us:  ‘Remember, you’re the cream of the crop!’”

Once the training was over and Gil received his Silver Wings, the missions began. Between missions, he was transferred from base to base as new planes came out and more training took place. “It was a little frustrating,” Gil remarked. “Just when you’d get into more missions they’d yank you out for more training.  I just wanted to fly.”

Gil remembers flying out of Norfolk, looking for enemy submarines on overcast nights. “We had a 165’ altitude limit, no moon, no headlights, of course.  No radio conversation, ‘radio silence,’ it was called. We’d look for the periscopes. We’d leave as a group, then separate, going to our own area of coverage. After four hours, we’d head back.”

After a minute of silence, he continued.“Sometimes, especially when we were flying from out west in the mountainous areas, we’d come back and notice not everyone was there for the debriefing. Their names were never mentioned among us.  They just never showed up again.  Their families were notified, of course.” He was quiet, reflective for a moment, then spoke again.

“It was for morale, you see.  We just didn’t talk about it.  The planes we used were planes that had come from combat missions. They were checked, of course. Fixed. It was thought that there were no problems with the planes, but that wasn’t always the case.  They just didn’t know.  The planes were checked more thoroughly but, unless you were there, you never heard about them.”

Throughout his time in the Army Air Corps, Gil flew a variety of planes, including the B-24s and the B-32s, which came out near the end of the war. Only three of them ever saw combat. The B-32s were special because they were not pressurized, in order to keep the plane as lightweight as possible. Pressurized aircrafts needed heavier metal.  His favorite, though, was the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft.

“They weren’t the easiest to land,” he remembers. “The engine was so heavy; you had to put the wheels down first, with the nose way up. If you didn’t keep that nose way up, well, guys had problems.”

As with any group, superstition and Corps rituals for luck abound, but Gil’s good luck charm was a pocket-sized copy of the New Testament, with a copper cover.  On the cover is a cross, and the words “May this comfort and protect you.”  Inside is a message, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States.

Throughout the centuries, men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a foundation of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.”

“It was standard issue,” he says. “All the guys got one. I carried it in the inside pocket of my flight jacket, over my heart.  Some of the guys’ lives were saved by that metal cover.”

“I remember one time, my engine stalled, started to conk out.  I was out of the cockpit, ready to jump. I was in a T-6. It was a trainer, but we flew it on night missions, too. I was over land. Suddenly the engine just came back on. I got back in and kept on going. I always remember that, because of what could have been.”

Gil attended one 20-year reunion, but says there were so few people there that he remembered. His fondest “reunion” was the Honor Air Flight that he participated in on May 15, 2010. Paging through his scrapbook of the event, and looking at letters they received from a local Boy Scout troop, Gil became very emotional. “It was an amazing day. It meant so much to us, and the people who came out to greet us at the airport when we returned. We were just stunned at the crowd. It was the most wonderful day, and I’m so thankful for that opportunity. We were treated so well.”

As, indeed, they should be.  Our veterans deserve the utmost honor and respect, and we are forever grateful to them for the freedoms they have kept, and continue to keep, safe for us.

“I’m very proud of my son,” Gil shared.  “He just retired, as a Major in the Air Force, after 27 years of service.”

God bless our veterans.

- article submitted by Julie Threlfall


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