A look at people in our community

My Name Is ... Jerry Detwiler of Centennial

Korean War veteran, former Navy pilot grew up in Great Depression


Living through the Depression

I was born in Goshen, Indiana. I was born in 1929, so I'm a Great Depression baby.

I was the fifth child in my family, youngest and the last.

We actually were living in a home that had belonged to my grandmother on my mother's side, and just south of the little village of Waterford, Indiana. We then moved quite a few times: A couple of years were spent in an abandoned store building that was still in good enough shape to live in, but it had no inside plumbing. And it had a pump with a pump handle on it and a little kitchen that provided the water for the household. But no inside toilet.

It was kind of an interesting life. That was the early 1930s. I was too young (to be aware of the Depression at the time).

Father served in World War I

My father came from a Mennonite family. A conscientious objection to military service was an aspect to life as Mennonite families at the time, and there were just two of the brothers that served in World War I.

My dad and uncle had enough of an independent spirit. They wanted to serve. Dad was stationed in France in World War I.

Into the Navy

I put my first two years of high school in Constantine, Michigan.

My dad had a World War I buddy who had gone on to Tucson, Arizona, where he said you could work year-round without weather problems. So we moved from Constantine to Tucson in the summer of 1945.

The Navy at that time could not get young men interested in going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis or in the Naval aviation flight training. So they set up a program called the Naval aviation college program, and from (around) 1946 through 1950, they actually gave any senior in high school a chance to take a test that was nationwide, and if you could pass that test and pass all the other tests they had for flight training, they'd select candidates from all over the United States … and make it possible for us to be a career officer for the Navy.

Unexpected service

I received my “wings of gold,” my naval aviator's wings, in May 1950. It was actually one month before Korean War broke out.

I didn't expect to see combat, not at the time I was selected for the program.

I had two older brothers who both served in World War II. And my oldest brother, he also was in Naval aviation training and got his wings just at the end of the war. He came home to Tucson and became a flight instructor at one of the local airports, and he taught me how to fly when I was at the Navy program at the University of Arizona.

My brother was my mentor — he was kind of my hero at the time.

'Tough business'

I went active duty with two deployments to the Korean area for the entire length of the Korean conflict until they reached the armistice in 1953.

(Combat) was a unique problem for us in patrol bombers. We were out on patrols for 12 to 15 hours at a time.

The first thing that happened in our squadron was we had an aircraft assignment the first night we were there as a relief flight for an aircraft that had to come in because of some mechanical problems. The climb-out in bad weather was very heavy overcast … they couldn't climb through it that quickly, and the directions they were given flew it right into the side of a mountain. The whole crew perished — 14 servicemembers.

Not a lot of that sort of thing, but it gives you a sort of idea that we knew immediately that we were in pretty tough business.

(What combat patrol entailed) would depend upon what mission we were assigned to. Basically, we were patrolling up and down both coasts of Korea and providing information on shipping. We’d be checking electronic radar and providing information to the aircraft carriers.

Some forget

It is still not settled — the war still exists. They have never had a way to close it out and resolve all the issues that are so prevalent between North Korea and the rest of the world, so to speak.

I stayed in the Naval Air Reserve when I came back and got off active duty in 1953 ... I ended up being promoted to Navy captain ... My captaincy was given to me in 1971.

(Detwiler now lives at the Holly Creek Retirement Community in Centennial.)

If you would like to suggest someone for My Name Is ..., or if you would like to be interviewed for the segment, contact Ellis Arnold at earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com or 303-566-4109.


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