Remembering The Liberators

Pilot joined Army at 15

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Jet Jetter was only 15 when he ran away from home to join the service. The U.S. was not even at war at the time, it was 1936, still he left home in Minnesota and enlisted.

In 1942 he went into the Army Air Corps and was trained at pilot school in Frederick, Okla., graduating from cadet status to the rank of second lieutenant in 1944.

"I put 26 years in the military and retired as a lieutenant colonel," Jetter said.

His first flying assignment was with the 29th Bomb Squadron of the Army Air Corps.

"I had a fabulous military career. The good assignments I had, you couldn't believe," he said.

When he started his pilot training, the air corps was still flying open-cockpit airplanes. By the time he retired, he was flying jets that went 600 mph.

During World War II, Jetter and his 29th Bomb Squadron were assigned to submarine patrol in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea. The squad was stationed on the Galapagos Islands, he said, charged with keeping the Panama Canal safe.

He flew a B24J Liberator on patrol and the squadron was credited with two sub sightings -- one in the Caribbean and the other in the eastern Pacific.

While his World War II action was limited, Jetter said, "I saw plenty of action in Korea."

He was stationed in Okinawa and assigned bombing missions. He flew 52 of them. It was a nine-hour round trip and the bombing runs were over in 40 to 45 minutes. Still, Jetter was clocking between 85 and 100 hours of combat time. By then, he was flying B29s.

Between his tours during World War II and the Korean War, Jetter had a three-year assignment on a military mission in Honduras and upon his return to the States, was assigned to the Strategic Air Command.

"I was one of the first people in air-to-air refueling," Jetter said. "I helped them develop it and iron out all the problems."

He volunteered to get into the B52 jet bomber program and was among the pilots in the airborne alert concept during the Cuban missile crisis.

"Most people don't know how close we came to war. We were flying 25- to 30-hour missions," he said.

Explaining the concept, Jetter said planes loaded with hydrogen bombs were kept flying -- the idea was that if so many were in the air, the Russians wouldn't know where they were.

After the airborne alert mission, Jetter said his work involved routine operations until he retired.

"I can't pick a favorite station," he said. "I was usually at them for only 14 months. You didn't fight the program. If you make up your mind to enjoy it, you enjoyed every station you were at."

He said his short stays were the result of the time it took to train the new flyers.

Jetter retired from being a military pilot, but he did not retire from flying. He went to work for the airlines and continued as a commercial pilot for 15 years.

All totaled, Jetter flew for 41 years and logged more than 20,000 hours of flight time.

It was while he was working as a commercial pilot he discovered the Rim country. His route between New Mexico and California took him over Payson.

He came to Payson 14 years ago. Jetter turned his energies to hiking and church work and keeping up with his five children and their children and traveling.

His work with his church led to another project -- a museum for the 29th Bomb Squadron in Ottumwa, Iowa.

"We were helping a lady in our church move and she had a bunch of boxes she wanted thrown out," he said.

He decided to check the contents before tossing them and came across a big collection of military materials, including manuals. Jetter said he couldn't throw the stuff away, some of the manuals were not being printed anymore. He took the collection and helped create a museum for his squad.

"The 6th Air Force was setting up a museum in Ottumwa," Jetter said.

The museum is in the old hangars at a grass field. The museum project took about 2-1/2 years to complete, Jetter said. There were materials sent from all over. Some of the squadron navigators even sent him their original flight logs.

Celebrating his 83rd birthday May 26, Jetter is a satisfied man.

"I don't regret any of it," he said. "The Lord's been good to me -- having a wife who's understanding. -- And I'm just so thankful to have had such an interesting life. My whole life I've tried to enjoy everything."

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