BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Albert Gill was only three days past his ninth birthday when he got the dreaded news. His father had passed away. Suddenly, he and his mother found themselves alone and facing the beginning of the Great Depression. The events forced them to move hours from his childhood home in Charleston, S.C. to live with his grandmother in Columbia.
But the tragedy of losing his father and the jolt of relocating from the only home he’d ever known were watershed moments, starting a chain of events that would lead to Gill leaving an enduring legacy with the 307th Bomb Wing.
From tragedy to wonder
Albert Gill’s new home in Columbia was only two miles from Owens Field, the only airport in the city at the time. The aircraft coming and going captured his imagination and soon the young boy found himself completely enamored with them.
“I would go over there all the time, just watching everything that was happening. The whole thing fascinated me,” said Gill.
His love of aircraft only grew deeper. By 1938, with the clouds of war gathering across Europe, the U.S. Army brought a squadron of P-39 Airacobras to Owens Field, deepening his fascination with flight.
Pursuing the dream
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Gill saw an opportunity to pursue his dream of flying by joining the Army Air Corps. However, there was a major obstacle in the way: Mrs. Gill.
“I wasn’t old enough to join without my mother’s consent, which she wouldn’t give,” said Gill. “So, I simply registered for the draft.”
With his twenty-first birthday quickly approaching and draft eligible, Gill’s mother finally gave her permission and he quickly applied for the Aviation Cadet Program. Gill quickly found himself in a whirlwind of training as he pursued his dream of becoming a pilot.
One of those stops was at the University of Tennessee where he met a local beauty named Joan Perrin on a blind date. The two dated until Gill received orders to pre-flight training in Alabama, but continued to exchange letters.
In the Pacific
Gill made it to pilot training, but a series of illnesses set him back until he finally washed out. In spite of the setback, Gill was determined to fly and was reclassified as a navigator.
After completing all his required training, Gill found himself in the Pacific Theater, serving with the 307th Bomb Group, the famed Long Rangers.
By the time he arrived, the Japanese Air Force was weakened, but missions were still very dangerous. He recalled one relatively simple mission that nearly cost him his life.
“We went to the east coast of Borneo to destroy some enemy fuel tanks with delayed action bombs at 200 feet,” said Gill. “But when we released our bombs, the delay didn’t work and that huge fuel tank blew up right beneath us.”
The explosion created a large hole in the right wing and fuselage, nearly forcing the plane down. When the crippled plane finally landed, Gill went to inspect the damage. Recalling the incident, he laughed at what he found.
“There was a big piece of metal from the tanks sticking in one of the engines, so I pulled it out and the writing on it read ‘Shell Oil’!,” he said.
Gill went on to fly 43 missions during his time in the Pacific, part of a force that destroyed the enemy’s ability to re-supply itself and hastened the end of the war. But even after war’s end, Gill’s love for flight would continue to provide a legacy that even he could not foresee.
A lasting legacy
After Japan surrendered, Gill left the Army and married, Joan Perrin, the belle he’d met back in Tennessee during his training. Years went by and they found themselves welcoming grandchildren into the world. He wrote a letter to one of them, Jacob Gill, at his birth. The letter was not to be opened until Jacob’s twenty-first birthday.
“I wrote a list of wishes I had for him and one of those was that he would go to the Air Force Academy,” said Albert Gill.
Though Jacob could not possibly know his grandfather’s wish in the unopened letter, he did wind up graduating from the AFA. Now, 1st Lt. Jacob Gill, he is working toward becoming a B-52 pilot. He is assigned to the 93rd Bomb Squadron’s Formal Training Unit, which is part of the 307th Bomb Wing.
When he was first assigned to the FTU, Lt. Gill didn’t fully understand the unit’s connection his grandfather’s aviation heritage. It was during his first days at the unit that he noticed an instructor wearing the Long Rangers patch.
“I grew up seeing that patch at my grandfather’s house, so I immediately went to tell him that I was now serving in his old unit,” said Gill. “He was so excited!”
Adding to the family heritage is Lt. Gill’s wife, 1st Lt. Hansena Gill, who serves as a navigator for the B-52 Stratofortress. Despite the advancements in bomber navigation since World War II, she and Albert Gill share a special bond.
“He’s definitely had an influence on me and we talk about all the differences in navigation between now and his flying days,” she said.
It’s been decades since Albert Gill has served as a navigator with the 307th Bomb Group. But his special legacy endures.