It seems as though the recent presentation given by Eolia resident John Hood at the Elsberry Nutrition Center has opened the floodgates and given local veterans a desire to share their war experiences with the public.
Due to the fact that the nation’s World War II veterans are rapidly dwindling in number, the majority of the veterans who have come forward are those who fought in the Korean War.
One of those heroes is local resident Maurice Illy.
Illy was 24 years old when he enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1952.
He had turned 18 in time to receive his draft notice for WWII but the war ended before he was able to serve.
After the war began in Korea, Illy and a friend both received their draft notices at the same time.
They were both told to expect to be called up at any minute, but any minute turned into six months.
Tired of waiting, both men decided to enlist in the Air Force and cut right to the chase.
They hoped this would allow them to complete basic training together and then serve shoulder to shoulder in the war effort.
As it turned out, Illy was sent to basic training in San Antonio, Texas and his friend was sent to Rome, New York.
Illy entered the Air force at the same time that the concept of mid-air refueling was hitting its stride.
“Our bombers could fly probably 1,000 miles round trip,” said Illy.
That wasn’t enough, however, due to the fact that America and its allies were fighting a cold war with the Soviet Union and a bombing mission directed at Russia, should it prove necessary, would require a distance of far more than 1,000 miles round trip.
The obvious answer to this potential problem was mid-air refueling and that’s what Illy found himself doing during the final year of the war.
“I was a boom operator on a KC-97,” said Illy. “The recruits that came into the Air force when I did were a pretty good sized bunch. Almost the entire class went into mid-air refueling at one time. We were some of the very first boom operators.”
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