VAN WERT — Bob Wilson, 94, formerly of Lima and now living in Van Wert, wasn’t for sure what to expect after enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1941.
A Greyhound bus picked him up in Lima on June 30 and took him to Fort Hayes, Columbus, in the early afternoon. Wilson and about 500 other recruits spent the next day going through physical exams, written tests, and Army indoctrination films and lectures.
Just as he was about to take the oath of enlistment into the U.S. Army on July 3, 1941, a noncommissioned officer pulled Wilson and three others aside. The trio had done so well on the written exam, they were given the choice to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Immediately after swearing in the larger group, Wilson chose to join the Air Corps and was sworn in.
It began a long career for Wilson in the U.S. Air Force, as he retired after 30 years of service. He was reassigned to interior guard duty in Panama in November 1941 before events quickly changed. On Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked. Wilson was serving guard duty at the time and was unaware of the attack. Thinking he was about to be relieved, he was forced to stay on duty a little longer.
Stuck in Panama, Wilson said he received the big break of his career after taking the Aviation Cadet examination in August 1942. A receptionist at the desk the following day informed him he had failed after he inquired about his exam. As he turned to leave, a sergeant sitting at a nearby desk said two people with the last name of Wilson had taken the test. He found out he had passed.
After completing eight months of training, including B-17 flying training, Wilson flew 35 bombing missions in Germany. The surgical strikes included marshaling yards, refineries, factories, and supply buildings.
On one of his missions on Nov. 2, 1944, he was injured. He didn’t receive his Purple Heart initially because he did not report his injury.
“A piece of flak penetrated my rudder panel and tore of a toe on my right foot,” Wilson said. “I found the flak on the floor of the cockpit on our return to base. I still have the flak as a souvenir of my combat tour.”
Wilson said he chose not to report the injury because he wanted to finish his tour.
“I knew if they found out, they would have me stuck in a hospital for a couple of weeks,” Wilson said. “I wanted to get my missions in.”
Wilson flew his final combat mission on Feb. 25, 1945, targeting Munich, Germany. His squadron suffered very few hits. Wilson knew all he had to do was get his Barbara B (the name of his plane) back to base and his combat tour was finished.
Wilson and his wife, Coralie, married in St. Mark Lutheran Church on Dec. 3, 1946, and they had four children. Wilson retired from the Air Force in 1971.