- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (AP) - Paul Calkin was greeted by a special guest during the weekend: the daughter of his World War II plane’s late navigator.

The Jonesboro Sun reports Anne Jasperson, the daughter of navigator Bob Nelson, made the 14-hour trip to meet her father’s friend and war companion and listen to his WWII stories at the Wings of Honor Museum in Walnut Ridge on Saturday.

“My father considered Paul a brother,” Jasperson said. “My father never told me his war stories. It was hard for him, but I loved getting to hear Paul’s stories today. It gave me pieces of my father’s past that I did not know until now. These men deserve to be honored, and I’m glad their stories are still being told.”

Calkin, now 93, entered WWII as an 18-year-old and soon became a waist-gunner on a B-17 bomber. While on the plane, Calkin said he unknowingly shot down a German ace pilot and made some rough landings.

On one such instance, on the way to bomb a German plane manufacturing station, an enemy plane took out one of the plane’s four engines. The plane still completed its mission of bombing the plant, but on its way out, another engine was hit by anti-aircraft artillery.

The plane turned around and made its way back toward England. While in the air, two German aircraft flanked the plane. Though both enemy planes were shot down, they managed to take out another engine. The ship was dangerously low on fuel, so the plane landed safely in the water just past the coast of France.

The men were taken to ally territory to a medical facility. Once he had taken his shirt off, Calkin said he noticed a piece of shrapnel in his arm. Calkin was awarded the Purple Heart medal 56 years later, although the plane crash gave him another medal, called the flying goldfish, for landing in the water.

The men were given a furlough after the crash, but they were kept on hold for another mission soon after: D-Day, though they were never sent.

The most important mission of Calkin and Nelson’s WWII career, Calkin said, was bombing a German research facility responsible for building an atomic bomb.

“We didn’t know what an atomic bomb was at the time,” Calkin said. “We did not know how important our mission was until years later. Thankfully, when we were done, there was nothing left of the facility or its research for the Germans to use.”

Calkin’s crew was reassigned after their first tour was over, and after a 60-day furlough and rehabilitation session, during which Calkin said he got front row seats to the Miss America pageant and a 1944 World Series game pitting the St. Louis Cardinals against the St. Louis Browns against each other at their shared home field for free.

Instead of going back to England after his furlough, Calkin was sent to North Africa and Italy, though it was not long until the war ended. Calkin was then recruited to transport troops from Naples to North Africa to be returned home.

After many transports, Calkin was discharged on Oct. 5, 1945, at 21 years old. When he returned to Arkansas, he began to search for his former crewmates. Calkin discovered his first pilot had died in a crash while he was training recruits before the war ended.

Eventually, he got connected with his pilot’s daughter and established a relationship with her family after she came down to visit.

“She was 4 years old when we were deployed,” Calkin said. “I was very glad to get connected with her and her husband. They still send me a Christmas card every year.”

Calkin is the last surviving member of his original crew, but he said he was happy to meet Jasperson and learn more about his life after the war.

“He was a flight instructor in Ireland before he moved back to Wisconsin,” Jasperson said. “He died in 1988 at the age of 65.”

After the war, Nelson stayed connected with the pilot’s family after their paths diverged, and Jasperson saw pictures of the pilot’s daughter as she was growing up, which she said was a special and unexpected connection to have with Calkin.

Jasperson got connected with Calkin’s family two years ago on social media after seeing an article about Calkin and Nelson’s crew. When she heard about Calkin’s speech, she decided it was time to drive down and meet him.

Upon meeting, she gave Calkin a blue hat with a “B-17” inscription on it because the hat had once belonged to her father.

“It’s amazing what brings strangers together,” Jasperson said. “It makes the world a smaller, more connected place. It is very humbling. … It is so important to learn more about these men and to honor them for the role they played in fighting for peace.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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