- Birth Date: August 26, 1925
- Place of Birth: Omaha Nebraska
- State of Residence: Arizona
- Years of Service: 7
- Branch of Military: Army Air Force
- Rank: Staff Sergeant
- Wars Involved In: WWII
- Theater(s) of Operation: The European Theater
In 1943 on his 17th birthday Mr. Nelson and his twin brother enlisted in the Army Air Force. He says that they did this because they wanted to get in and help. During WWII, he says, everyone wanted to get in the service and help with the war effort. He says that there were many factors that led to this eagerness to help out. These included the treatment of the Jews and the bombing of London. He became a member of the 8th air force. He and his brother were first assigned to Kessler Field, Mississippi for basic training. Then Mr. Nelson was sent to Lowery Air Force Base, Denver, Colorado. There he learned about armament, taking guns apart and putting them back together. He says that he got good enough at this to disassemble and reassemble machine guns blindfolded.
After Colorado, Mr. Nelson was sent to Kingman, Arizona, which, surprisingly, he says was one of the most dangerous places he was stationed. While there, he would get in a B-17 and fighter planes would come in with big canvas flags attached to them. The B-17 had paint on the bullets so that they could tell who hit what. He said that there were many accidents and mechanical failures and this led to many crashes and deaths. Then he was sent to Gulfport, Mississippi. There he was trained to shoot at targets on the ground and drop bombs on the islands in the Gulf. Then they flew in a B-17 up the east coast all the way to Bangor, Maine.
While they were flying from Maine to their base in England, they hit a storm over the Isle of Mann. The pilot called him and asked if he could see any ice on the wing, he told him that there was a foot of ice. The pilot lost control of the plane and accidentally hit the bailout button. Mr. Nelson saw the bailout signal and got the waist door open. As he was about to jump out, the tail gunner grabbed his foot because the plane was flying only 500 feet above the ground. The tail gunners name was Tom Heinz and he saved Mr. Nelson’s life. Then, lightning hit the rear antenna of the plane which was extended. The electronics and radio equipment went out. The plane was finally landed in an airfield in Wales.
During the war, he was in the waist of the bomber (The middle of the plane) and he also was in the ball turret. During combat, he was in the waist, but sometimes while he was not in combat he was flying in the ball turret. While the bombers were flying missions, it was his job to try and shoot down the enemy planes. This, he says, was very difficult. This became more difficult when, toward the end of the war, the Germans developed the Me-262 jet fighter. He says that the Germans could not produce enough of them so that did not make a big difference. He says that when the crew was being attacked, they were scared, but they tried to keep busy and tried to shoot at the enemy planes.
While he was stationed west of Biloxi, Mississippi, he received training on how to jump out of the bomb bay of the aircraft. He says that durring this training, he heard a noise. He looked down and he saw a finger on the tarmac. Someone’s wedding ring had gotten caught on a piece of metal and when he jumped, the finger came off.
One time he says that he and some fellow crew members from a B-17 went into London while they were on leave. It was the day when they were there because at night, there were no lights allowed in London so that the enemy could not see you. They walked up to the front door of the Ritz Carlton, but they were turned away because they were not officers. Years later on a trip to London with his son, they decided to go to the Ritz Carlton, but when they got there, the doorman again turned them away because there had just been a fire. Some years after this, Mr. Nelson and his son again tried to go to the Ritz, but they were again turned away because his son was wearing blue jeans. Many years later Mr. Nelson got a phone call and on the other end, his family was singing and saying that they had finally gotten into the Ritz for a drink.
Mr. Nelson says that being in the war matured him a lot. It also made him realize that life is very fragile.
After the war, Mr. Nelson went to college and became a music teacher. He taught 3 years in Colorado and 8 years in Scottsdale. He then went into the insurance business, but left it to go back and teach music. In 1953 he moved to Arizona.