By Jennifer Archibald
They were humble men who never bragged about what they had done or been through, loyal, patriotic and level headed. They were our greatest generation. Shaped by facing the hardships of the Great Depression and the challenges of World War II (WWII), these young men successfully rose to the occasion.
Neal Green, 94, is one of these great men. As a sophomore at Chadron State College he hitch hiked to Fort Meade in Sturgis, S.D. to join the Army Air Core in 1943.
“Instead of waiting to be drafted, I chose to enlist in the Army Air Force, as I had always wanted to fly a plane and thought just maybe I might fulfill a dream of mine,” said Green.
He was first stationed at Saint Louis, Mo., where he met his future wife, Gladys Gustafson.
“She was introduced to me by my best buddy, Kenneth Gustafson from Red Oak, Iowa. His name followed mine alphabetically and this led to his assignment in the upper bunk to my bunk. Gladys, this buddy’s sister, later became my wife. We were not married until I was discharged from the Air Force in the summer of 1946. She worked at the Ma Bell and we did quite a bit of calling and lots of writing during the time I was in the service,” said Green.
From Saint Louis, Green was then sent to Santa Anna, Calif. for further training, it was here where he was chosen to attend pilot school. He was then sent to Dos Palos, Calif. to learn to fly the PT-13 a primary training plane.
“I remember dad always said he hated it when they would turn him upside down and he’d hang by his seat belt. He was always afraid it might break. He said that’s when he decided he didn’t want to be a fighter pilot,” said his son Rick Green.
Neal then went to Taft, Calif. to learn to fly a basic B-17 plane before moving on to Douglas, Ariz. to learn to fly an AT-13 and advanced training plane. It was in Douglas where he graduated from flight school, receiving his wings and a commission as a second Lieutenant before being stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he learned to fly the B-17.
His next station of duty was at Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas, where his crew was formed. Green joined Gene Mulder as the other pilot; Mel Malin, navigator; and Bob Crosby, bombardier.
“Gene and Mel and I soon became close friends. We flew practice bombing missions. Crosby practiced his bombing and Mel got his experience at navigating. Gene and I got more experience as pilots too as we practiced the bombing runs there,” said Neal Green.
Before being sent overseas Green was sent back to his home state of Nebraska to pick up the new B-17 planes they would fly to England and he became engaged to Gladys.
The crew stopped in New Foundland, Greenland and Iceland on their way to join the 8th Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group in Podington, England, roughly 60 miles north of London. Once at Podington, Green was promoted to first Lieutenant.
The 92nd Bomb Group took part in the strategic bombing campaigns, supported D-Day invasions, Operation Market Garden, crossing the Rhine River and taking part in the Battle of the Bulge.
“We did fly bombing missions over Germany. One of these missions was on Ash Wednesday in 1945, which was on Valentine’s Day, which turned Dresden, Germany into ashes,” said Neal Green.
“It was scary flying some of the missions, as there were enemy fighter planes shooting at our bombers, there was flack all around our planes and there was ground fire when we flew low to drop our bombs,” Neal said.
“A piece of flack broke his windshield and he was hit in the face with it, but it never drew blood. He carried it throughout the war as a good luck charm,” said Rick.
“We had P-51’s for escort fighter planes, so it was much safer. We were sent to bomb refineries, ammunition manufacturing places, trains loaded with ammunitions that the Germans were sending to France. We were sent to bomb anything that would knock out the Germans’ ability to continue the war,” recalled Neal.
“He went on a volunteer mission to drop the first Disney bomb, which was a 4,500 pound bomb too big for the bomb doors. It was carried under the wings. He dropped the first bomb to destroy a Hitler submarine pen in the world,” said Rick.
The cartoon inspired bomb was designed to penetrate concrete up to 50 feet deep.
“They had to get the submarine pens because they were destroying the shipping on the Atlantic and there was no way to get supplies in. The U-boats were just annihilating the commerce,” Rick added.
Other adventures included having the Germans steal a B-17 and being sent to retrieve it, accidentally bombing the autobahn, bombing a nuclear development center in Norway, finding an extra silk parachute that he mailed home for Gladys to make her wedding dress out of, and running out of fuel in France and not knowing if they could successfully land on a fighter jet airstrip.
After the war ended, Green was sent to Istres, France, where he was part of the Army Occupation, flying troops to Algiers, Africa and displaced persons, mostly women and children, back to Europe. He was one of the last pilots to return home and received a letter from President Truman thanking him for his service returning refugees. He left LeHarve, France on June 12, 1946, and took a seven-day boat trip back to the United States.
“I seen a lot of country and I like this country the best,” said Neal Green.
After returning from the war, Green was discharged from the Army Air Core on August 18, 1946, but he had signed up for the Air Force Reserves. He and Gladys were married on September 15, 1946. The couple made their home in Gordon, where they farmed and raised three kids. In 1951, he was called to serve in the Korean War, but got deferred because the wheat crop was planted.
“To have a good life, one needs to be happy. To be rich is to have good health, a good family and a satisfying occupation. These are the things that have the most value in life. They had value before I went to the service and they had value that I looked for when I returned from service, and these are the things that I still value the most,” Neal concluded.