WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — During World War II (WWII), the Air Force had yet to become its own unique branch of the military. That didn’t happen until 1947, but in the interim, the Army Air Forces paved the way for aviation to become one of the most crucial parts of modern warfare.

“Our crew was really nice. I mean, we had a really good crew,” WWII-era veteran Floyd Bockelman said.

Bockelman was born and raised on a farm outside Gerard, Kansas. As a young man, he worked for Boeing and knew many other young men who volunteered to join the Army Air Forces.

After being drafted into the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in 1944, Bockelman was assigned to a B-24 crew and took cross-country flights in anticipation of deploying overseas.

“I was the assistant engineer and a waist gunner,” Bockelman said.

As a waist gunner, Bockelman would shoot a 50-caliber machine gun from the sides of B-24s.

“The airplane would tow a target, and … each one of the crew had a different colored ammunition, bullets, you know, so they could tell who hit the target and who didn’t hit the target,” Bockelman said.

Despite no formal training as a pilot, Bockelman says he would take turns piloting the plane with other crew members during cross-country flights.

“I pretty much knew how to fly the airplanes, so, in case of an emergency, I think I probably could have landed the airplane, but I … didn’t take any training as far as the pilot is concerned,” Bockelman said.

Despite being in the safety of the U.S. mainland, Bockelman says, at times, training could lead to tragedy.

Bockelman says he could recall one incident he and his crew witnessed another plane attempt to take off during a maximum bomb load simulation.

“The first airplane that took off, the co-pilot accidentally got ahold of the wrong lever and raised the flaps off instead of the wheels, and of course, they crashed into the sea bay,” Bockelman said.

On Sept. 2, 1945, after months of cross-country flights, Bockelman and his crew received the news the world had been waiting to hear.

“We were flying over … the state of Washington (over the desert) when they announced the war was over, so we were all really excited,” Bockelman said. “About everything that wasn’t tied down in the airplane went out the window, so, we, we threw a lot of 50-caliber ammunition, we threw it out the window because we figured we didn’t need it anymore.”

Bockelman says his squad would have been the next to go to the Pacific, adding he’s grateful he was spared.

“They were in the first raids in Germany … and a lot of them were shot down and killed, so I was very fortunate,” Bockelman said. “A lot of those guys that was killed that I knew … which was real sad.”

Bockelman would remain in the Army Air Forces until 1946. He would go back to work at Boeing for 47 years. Nowadays, he spends much of his time golfing, and recently, he celebrated his 100th birthday.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.