D-Day: ‘just another mission’
On June 6, 1944, Jackson Wells woke up sometime between two and three in the morning and prepared for his bombing run.
To him, it was a regular day. To history, the day witnessed one of warfare’s epic battles: D-Day, the day the Allies crossed the English Channel and swarmed onto the beaches of Normandy, beginning the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Wells, who is 86 years old, lives on Park Avenue and is on the board of directors of the Heber Valley Aero Museum, piloted bombers from a base about 60 miles north of London during World War II, completing 28 missions over occupied Europe, 22 as the pilot and six as co-pilot.
“Every minute was full of anxiety and stress, and you’re busy flying a few feet from other airplanes,” Wells says of the bombing runs, round-trip flights of between four and six hours at between 25,000 and 35,000 feet in altitude.
On D-Day, Wells piloted a B-17 bomber, the famous Flying Fortress. His mission: air support for the landing, strategically dropping a payload of between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds of bombs from high up to assist the Allied troops below.
The weather was bad that day, and the troop lines were difficult to define, he says. He completed the mission and returned to the base. There, long after dropping the payload, Wells learned of the importance of the day, that his mission was supporting the Normandy landing.
“D-Day is just another mission,” he says of his knowledge of the day when he took off in the predawn hours.
It was less than three years after the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, which spurred him and millions of others to sign up for the military. He had graduated from Beverly Hills High School in California in late 1940, and, despite never having been in an airplane, Wells enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force.
As the German Luftwaffe dominated the skies, Wells learned to fly. The Air Corps sent him to Europe in early 1944, eventually stationing him in Thurleigh, north of London. In the months before D-Day, Wells flew on bombing missions over Germany, hitting industrial targets in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and submarine bases along the Baltic Sea.
A year after the Normandy landing, he flew one more mission: from England home.
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