WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – In 1942, Congress voted to lower the age of those who could be drafted to 18.
Richard Gibbs was one of the first 18-year-olds to go to WWII.
He said once he got his orders, the love of his life, who was a parachute packer at Schilling Air Force Base, headed to California to marry him.
She would then give birth to their first child, a baby girl, Gibbs got to hold the newborn for about three hours, before he shipped overseas.
He said he didn’t know if he would ever see them again.
“Combat is rough,” WWII ball turret gunner Richard Gibbs said. “You had to go all the way across Germany, all the way across enemy fighters, almost all the way.”
Gibbs flew thirty-five missions.
“Scared, every one of them,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs explained what it was like to maneuver the turret.
“You take your hands and you move your levers and the turret would go around and around or it would go down,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs would stay crouched in the same position for eight hours and beyond.
“Hot shells would come in flying in on top of you and they would burn,” Gibbs said.
He said every B-17 mission was different, but the enemy knew they always followed the same path.
“So they would have the altitude and the sights in by the time you got there, lot of flack,” Gibbs said.
He said planes were going down, all around them.
“Sometimes you lose your urine and of course you can do even worse than that, cause when people shoot at you, it’s not good,” Gibbs said.
He also said you could only see some of those firing at you.
“Clouds, just looking at clouds you were kind of afraid there was some enemy aircraft, in those clouds,” Gibbs said.
He said very few know what it’s like to see combat.
“I’m liable to break up talking to you at anytime, it is still difficult, you never get over that crap,” Gibbs said.
That’s why he never talked about his time overseas.
“I finally decided I would put some of this down in writing,” Gibbs said.
He did so in a book titled ‘My Path to War’ which he said provided some healing.
He also said he enjoys talking to other combat veterans.
“You know what it is like to be shot at and if you have never been shot at, you don’t know what it is like,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs knows exactly what it’s like.
“I just blurted out over the intercom, aircraft coming in, dead head at 2 o’clock high,” Gibbs said.
That was on Gibbs’ final mission, the only one he flew as the spare gunner.
“He congratulated me cause he said I saved his life, well, I did, there was this airplane coming in like this, we were on direct, we were going to hit him,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said he will never forget crawling out of the tight confines of the turret for the final time.
“When I hit the ground, I just laid on the ground and bawled,” Gibbs said.
Mail was censored during WWII, so he was not allowed to tell his wife anything about their missions, but he figured out a way to tell her how many missions they had flown.
He used the pretend age of their infant daughter, so he would say things like baby girl is 10 months now.
That would translate to his wife as ten missions, so she knew how many more he had to fly, before he would return home.
They will celebrate 76 years of marriage in July.