In 1940, Ralph Bates, of Port Charlotte, Fla. was 18 when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Before he completed flight training in Canada, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The young aviator requested a transfer to the U.S. Air Force.
NOTE: I received this story from Thelma Miller of Venice,Fla., widow of Al Miller Jr., who flew as a copilot aboard the B-24 “Liberator” bomber in the Pacific during World War II. He wrote the story before he died two years ago. Miller flew 30 combat missions including: the Marshall Islands, Maloelap Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Truk…
“We caught it on our third trip. All three of our flights were over Berlin,” James Estrep of Englewood recalled.
For almost three decades Ron Klein of Port Charlotte, Fla. was involved in some of this country’s major military actions. Too young for Vietnam, he joined the Air Force in 1977 as an 18-year-old bomb loader.
By D-Day, June 6, 1944, former 1st Lt. John Nemeth of Port Charlotte, Fla. had flown 40 combat mission over Nazi-occupied Europe in a Martin B-26 “Marauder” bomber named “Johnny Come Lately.” He would fly 27 more in his bomber dubbed “The Widowmaker” by some because of its propensity to crash during takeoffs and landings.
1st Lt. Wallace Spencer of Tangerine Woods in Englewood, Fla. was on his 28th and last combat mission on March 24, 1945 when the B-24 “Liberator” four-engine bomber he served as bombardier in was shot out of the sky at 20,000 feet by anti-aircraft flak while bombing a railroad marshaling yard in Münster, Germany.
Doug Danforth of Englewood, Fla. was a precocious kid. He graduated from high school at 15, joined the United States Air Force at 17 and went to war with the 27th Fighter Escort Wing, 8th Air Force in Korea on Dec. 7, 1950.
Bob Weiler was the left waist-gunner on a B-29 Superfortress dubbed “Sky Scrapper,” part of the 61th Bomb Squadron, 39th Bomb Group, 314h Bomb Wing of the 20th Air Force, based on Guam in the Mariana Islands bombing Japan late in World War II.
When Sgt. John Spatharos of Tangerine Woods, Englewood, Fla. climbed aboard an A-20, twin-engine attack bomber dubbed “Steak and Eggs” at Kila Airstrip on the island of New Guinea during World War II he had no idea what fate had in store for him.
It was dark and eerie when he climbed out of the sack at 4 a.m, shaved and ate a breakfast of powdered eggs, Spam and coffee. Then he and the rest of the 10-man crew of “Shack Happy,” a B-24 bomber, headed to the briefing room with scores of other B-24 crews to get the…
Larry Rhodes of Venice grew up in Far Rockaway, N.Y. Just out of high school in 1941 he went to work for Republic Aviation building P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter planes on Long Island, N.Y. for World War II.
Bob Burdick was a top turret gunner on a PV-1 Ventura patrol plane in the Pacific during World War II. The 88-year-old former gunner who now lives in Port Charlotte, Fla. with his wife, Maryan, saw combat at Tannin Island in the South Pacific, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese home islands before war’s end.
Ed Hutcheson of Burnt Store Marine, south of Punta Gorda, was an airman first class working for Air Force Intelligence. His job was to intercept secret messages sent by his Soviet counterpart about the Soviet’s military operations.
Chet Buckenmaier comes from a military family. His grandfather rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” in Cuba during the Spanish American War of 1898. His uncle was a Navy fighter pilot in World War II. He served for almost 20 years in the Air Force. His son is an Army doctor currently serving at Walter…
Tet was the big battle former Air Force Sgt. Jack Freeman of Port Charlotte, Fla recalls most vividly during his year-long deployment to Vietnam.
Dick Hughes of Paradise Park RV Resort south of Punta Gorda, Fla. flew a B-25, “Mitchell,” twin-engine bomber on 30 combat missions while serving in the 12th Air Force in Europe during World War II. He ended up in a “Mitchell” because a B-24 “Liberator” bomber was too big for him.
Airman 1st Class John Perdue of Punta Gorda, Fla. spent most of his four years in the U.S. Air Force decoding secret messages from the North Korean Air Force during the Korean War of the 1950s.
“Puff the Magic Dragon” was a big hit in the early ’60’s for Peter, Paul and Mary. It was also a big hit about the same time in a different sort of way for Airman 1st Class Bill Grant who now lives in Burnt Store Isles, south of Punta Gorda, Fla.
Jim Laurent’s 24 years of service in the U.S. Air Force was shrouded in secrecy. He was a high frequency radio communication expert who spied on the Russians, kept the radio equipment running in the SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane and spent more than five years working in White House Communications for three presidents.
Leon Gumley died in John Wayne’s arms as they fought their way up Mount Suribachi in the closing minutes of the 1949 World War II movie “Sands of Iwo Jima.” He played Marine Pvt. Sid Stein and Wayne was Sgt. John Striker, the hero, who was also killed by a Japanese sniper’s bullet during the…
Giff Stowell of La Casa mobile home park in North Port, Fla. was a gunner on an A-20 Havoc twin-engine bomber in the Pacific during his first nine months of combat in World War II. The rest of the war he flew as the nose gunner in “Lucky Strike,” a B-24 “Liberator” in the 380th…
When Bill Bingham bailed out of “Lemon Squirts,” his doomed B-24 “Liberator” bomber over northern Italy on Mar. 4, 1945, he never considered the possibility the silk parachute that saved his life would become a family heirloom.
Mary Chalifour of Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Air Force Nursing Corps on a whim for three years in 1958. She and a friend she graduated with from nursing college in North Carolina decided to give the service a try. Twenty years later she retired as a lieutenant colonel in charge of all the nurses…
Bill Cunningham of Viscaya Lakes Mobile Home Park in El Jobean, Fla. was in his early 20s when he signed up for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in July 1942. He was sent to Siena College in Loudernville, N.Y. were he received 40 hours of civilian flight training.
It was Capt. Harold Keathley’s 33rd combat mission flying “Skookum,” a B-29 “Superfortress” over Japan loaded with incendiary bombs. The target: Aomori, located along the coast of Honshu, the northernmost main island. What made this bombing mission special was that the crew flew from Tinian Island in the Pacific to Aomori and back, a distance…
Carter Endsley of Punta Gorda Isles kept the F-100 “Super Sabre” jet fighter planes of the 48th Tactical Fighter-Bomber Wing in the air during the “Cold War” in Europe in the 1950s and ’60s. For four years he served as a jet engine mechanic in the U.S. Air Force.
Five days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, 2nd Lt. John Pickering graduated from the U.S. Army Aviation Cadet Program. He had his wings, but he wasn’t qualified to fly anything but an AT-6 trainer.
Vern Greenwood of Punta Gorda, Fla. signed up for the Aviation Cadet Program on Dec. 1, 1942, almost a year after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor dragging the United States into World War II.
Hugh Bennett of Englewood, Fla. was a radio operator on a B-24 “Liberator” bomber dubbed “The Hard Way.” They were part of the 854th Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, 14th Wing of the 8th Air Force flying out of a base 90 miles north of London at Mayfield, England.
When Japanese Imperial Army soldiers marched into Semarang, where Robert Rienstra lived, on the island of Java in what was then the Dutch East Indies, he was almost 10 years old. It was March 1942, and the Emperor’s forces were in their zenith, sweeping everything in the Far East before them.
Before he completed his 30-plus years in the Army, Bob Dickinson was a an artillery officer, a fixed-wing airplane pilot, a helicopter pilot, a military intelligence officer, a transportation officer and a colonel serving as an assistant commander of the New Jersey National Guard’s 50th Armored Division.
Joe Brower of Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Air Force to become a pilot, at the end of his senior year in high school late in World War II. Because they had more pilots than they needed, he ended up a staff sergeant and engineer aboard a “Flying Fortress” used for rescue in the Pacific…
Jim Heskett got his mother to sign him into the Air Force in 1958 when he was 17. It was the start of a military career that lasted more than two decades and took him across the country and around the world performing a variety of jobs for Uncle Sam.
Chief Master Sgt. Terry Keene’s primary duty during his 30 years in the military was keeping some of the most deadly airplanes in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal ready for war.
After graduating from Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1951, Ensign Bob Thomas served as a navigator aboard a Navy P-2V, twin-engine “Neptune” bomber. He flew intelligence missions with the “Blue Goose Squadron,” VP-22, part of the “Formosa Straits Patrol Force” that surveilled the China coast.
When I wrote this column in 2004 for the Charlotte Sun daily newspaper I was trying to make the point: Don’t do what I did and fail to interview your father about his military service and what he did in life after his time in the military. Unfortunately, I didn’t wake up to the fact…
It was the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. Maj. Nick Firda was flying a secret Strategic Air Command mission in a B-52 bomber loaded with atomic bombs across the Atlantic Ocean to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina when an oil pressure problem caused him to shut his first engine…
The six missions Lt. Fred Hocker flew over Berlin with the crew of a B-17 bomber called “Fightin’-Bitin” were the very worst of the 23 combat missions he made as a navigator in the 306 Bomb Group, 8th Air Force during World War II.
For most of his 24 years of service in the Air Force Sgt. Norman Page kept C-130 “Hercules,’ four-engine transport planes flying as a senior aviation mechanic and flight engineer or crew chief. After graduating from aviation mechanics training his first assignment, a Strategic Air Command mechanic at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa in the…
Carl Driver of Alligator Mobile Home Park on Taylor Road south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was the tail gunner in a B-24 “Liberator” four-engine, heavy bomber dubbed “Passionate Witch.” They were part of the 13 Air Force, 50th Bomb Group, 23 Bomb Squadron that flew from captured island air bases built by the Japanese in…
On an overcast April night in 1943 a lone B-17 bomber dubbed “Hotfoot Two” flew from Newfoundland to Greenland on its way to Scotland, Ireland, England and the war zone in Europe. The “Flying Fortress” was destined for the 8th Air Force to became one of the thousands of American, four-engine, heavy bombers to wield…
Their target: A road intersection near Schonberg, Germany, at the close of the Battle of the Bulge. It was Hitler’s last and largest offensive on the western front during World War II, aimed at blunting the allied advance into the “Fatherland.”
Almost 63 years after a bombing raid in a B-24 “Liberator” over German oil refineries in Romania, former Tech. Sgt. Jay T. Fish of Englewood, Fla. received the Distinguished Flying Cross in an elaborate award ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 24, 2007 along with the other eight members of the bomber’s crew.
Buried in a box of old pictures and military records tucked away in a chest of drawers in Vincent Durand’s Port Charlotte, Fla. home is a medal from long ago. The bronze medal with its four-bladed airplane propeller was attached to a red, white and blue ribbon — The Distinguished Flying Cross.
Second Lt. Art Folaros of Port Charlotte, Fla. went to Europe in 1944 and trained to fly a B-26 twin-engine Marauder attack-bomber nicknamed the “Widowmaker” to provide tactical air support for Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.
Ed Jaworek was a co-pilot who flew a Mitchell B-25 twin-engine attack bomber on low-level combat missions for the 8th Air Force in Europe during World War II. He took part in the Berlin Air Lift, in 1949 and piloted a C-46 twin-engine “Commando” transport in and out of Berlin. When the Korean war rolled…
First Lt. Adam Kubinciak was the pilot of a B-24 “Liberator” bomber named “Miss Liberty,” part of the 706th Bomb Squadron, 446 Bomb Group, 8th Air Force stationed at Bungay, in southwestern England, during World War II.
Joe McKenney of Arcadia, Fla. had just graduated from aviation training at Manhattan High School in New York City in 1943 when he enrolled in the Emergency Defense Training Program to become an aviation mechanic.
It wasn’t the brightest move on his part, former Sgt. Pete Chisholm admitted more than 60 years later in the comfort of his Southwest Fla. apartment. “I volunteered to help some of Merrill’s Marauders out. At the time I was an engineer on a C-47 (twin-engine transport) flying out of Dum-Dum Air Base just outside…
Retired Maj. Gen. Richard Carr of Burnt Store Isles was among the U.S. Air Force Academy’s first graduates in 1959. He spent much of his 35-year military career preparing to fight a war with the Soviet Union that never happened. In 1962, he was involved in the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”