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Nov 28 2017

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A Tail Gunner Looks Back

Gilbert (Gil) Rhode

Gilbert (Gil) Rhode has been fascinated by airplanes since age 12, when after spotting an airplane in a nearby field, he followed it nearly 10 miles from home, all the way to the county fairgrounds of Wautoma, WI and was treated to a test flight with then unknown air-racer and aircraft designer, Steve Wittman.

Having poor eyesight, Gil memorized the eye chart in order to pass the exam and enlist in the Air Force in 1942. Training for roughly one year at Keesler Field in Biloxi, MS before being assigned to the B-24 unit.

As a staff sergeant, during WWII he was initially slated to become the crew engineer but was instead assigned the job of Tail Gunner, a position which according to Rhode entailed, “sitting in the back and crossing your fingers.”

Black and white photos of planes and his 10-man crew cover the walls of Gil’s suite at Beatrice Hover Assisted Living as he recalls a girl who used to write to him during the war. “She was younger maybe 15 or 16, and I was bashful but we kept writing.” “Eventually she asked me to visit, so I took the train to Ohio and spent the week there sailing and visiting her family.”

Still passionate about planes, Gil would return to Chicago to continue his education and work as an aircraft mechanic meeting his future wife in a tavern he frequented. “Her aunt would bring her by” he remembers, “she was from West Virginia and had an older sister who had moved to Chicago also.”

Later becoming licensed to work for the airlines, Gil continued his career as an aircraft mechanic and had three children. For his service and bravery, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and has been honored at several Veteran’s Reunions.

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