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Flying Out in the Blue Sharing Memories With Gil Klecak
photo providedWWII pilot Gil Klecak shares memories of his time as a navigator and his passion for flying.
Tuesday June 26, 2012
By Cookie Steponaitis
There is an intensity in Gil Klecak’s cerulean blue eyes that seems to match the deepest vaults of the sky and when he speaks of his time as a navigator on the B-24 bombers in World War II, they sparkle with an intensity that confirms for any listener that Gil’s passion for flight has not waned as time as passed. Born in New Jersey in 1919, Gil’s father was a plumber and his mom was a homemaker. Like many who lived through the Great Depression, Gil simply recollects that it, “hit everyone and no one escaped without their lives being changed.” New Jersey, Gil felt was hit no more or no less than other areas of America and things like a, “new pair of shoes,” became an event and were treasured.
While everyone worked hard during those years, Gil had a mission of his own and a dream. “I always wanted to join the Air Corp,” Gil reflected. “I wanted to fly and it was the best way to both serve my country and get into the air. When WWII presented itself, I enlisted, and even though I was already married, I was committed to going. As a member of the 7th Air Force I flew 31 missions during my years and was assigned to a squadron in the Pacific theater. We saw some action and flew both day and night missions. Most difficult were our missions near Guam.” When Gil’s tour of duty was up in 1946, the Air Force reclassified him and sent him and his family to Buffalo, New York,
where Lieutenant Klecak worked several years as a public relations officer at the Curtiss Technical School. Life had many interests and professions for Gil. He spoke at length about his time as a Motor Carrier salesman and the trucking service that he provided for the movement of merchandise across America through Pacific Intermountain Express Company. Gil saw the open road and this nation many times as he crossed it and also lived for several years in San Diego, California. During his long life, Gil has stayed close to his two boys Bob and Don, one daughter Pat and his passel of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Gil moved to the Green Mountain State a few years ago after finding the three thousand miles away from his children was too much and lives in Vergennes near his daughter Pat. At ninety-three years young, Gil delighted in explaining the types of skills he gained while in the AirForce and in particular the types of reckoning used to navigate a bomber. “All navigators were trained in celestial navigation and dead reckoning,” remarked Gil. “One relies on the positions of moon, stars and sun and the other relies on sighting actual places for location identification. When you are flying mostly missions over the Pacific Ocean that can be a bit tricky. Looking back now, I do not regret any of my decisions in my life and certainly not enlisting and serving. I had always wanted to fly and prior to the war I had a few lessons, but they were very expensive. The needs of the country gave me a way to follow my passion for flight.”
When looking back at his life and the changes in America that have occurred during the watch of his generation, Gil simply smiled and thought a moment before responding to which he felt impacted him and others the most. “I guess I would have to go with the landing of man on the moon,” commented Gil. “It opened up new horizons for people and gave new dreams to the young people. Everyone needs to be able to press limits and to dream.” Dreams indeed! For Gill Klecak, the sky still calls him and if given a chance today, he would still be up there flying and navigating planes. For now, he shares his stories with visitors like this reporter and pauses a minute to make all of us think about the Greatest Generation and all they did to bring America to a position of power and pride. “Some people just plain forget,” concluded Gil, and then smiled and added,” myself included I guess, but I think it is important for people to remember and to listen and to celebrate those who fought in WWII or any war. Their service gave us freedom.” Headed in for dinner at the residential home where he lives, Gil shook hands, smiled and with those intense blue eyes drawing you in, invited this reporter back to hear some more tales of the old days. Sounds like a wonderful way to spend any afternoon!
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