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By Frank Molitor
The following is a tribute to Jack’s 90th birthday and deals with his military history.
On Dec. 7, 1941 Jack was attending an Albany, GA high school and, along with most teenagers, at that time, wanted to be in the service - specifically the U. S. Army Air Corp. But to get there he had to first have two years of college to qualify for officer candidacy.
When he graduated from high school with good marks, he was accepted at Georgia Tech where he selected engineering as his major.
With two years behind him, the way looked clear for his acceptance into the Army Air Force. However, an unexpected event occurred during his physical examination. He was declared unacceptable due to the fact that he was underweight at 118 lbs. versus the 120 lbs. minimum. This setback was minimized when the doctor advised Jack to pick up and eat enough bananas to make up the two pounds - which he did and he passed.
Interestingly, his size and weight was usually looked upon as candidacy for fighter pilot training but at this time bomber pilots were needed badly. In any event, Jack’s first stop was basic training at Turner Field, GA. Then on to Maxwell Field in Alabama, thence to MacDill AFB, Florida where he was introduced to bomber flight training on the B-26 medium bomber built by the Martin Aircraft Co. Jack quickly found the B-26 to be a “hot ship” with two Pratt and Whitney 2000 HP engines which were needed to get this aircraft off the ground with 4,000 lb. bomb load which is identical to what the B-17 carried at that time but at a higher altitude. The B-26 was flown at an altitude of 12,000 feet.
Due to the short wing span (high wing loading) it therefore required longer runways for both take offs as well as landings.
As a result, there were many crashes and deaths that occurred. But Jack was undeterred and at the age of 20, a pair of golden second Lieutenant bars were pinned on his shoulders and Jack was attached to the 322 Bomber Group and on his way overseas.
The group’s first stop was Puerto Rico then on to Racil, Brazil and from there onto North Africa. Finally, the group was heading to Casablanca but couldn’t proceed since poor visibility had deteriorated and only the mountain tops were visible. The group was forced to land in the Sahara Desert where they had only their blankets for warmth and slept under the bomber wings for eight days. The weather cleared and they were able to clear the mountains and fly on to Casablanca. When they arrived, Jack and his crew were put in a fine hotel in the city and were there at the time of the world renown Casablanca Conference attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
The 322nd group then took off for England and his actual combat career began.
An interesting occurrence while in England was when, by some stroke of luck, he and fellow officers were invited to have tea with King George and daughter Princess Elizabeth (a teenager then). While “tee-ing”, Jack was made a bit uncomfortable and sympathetic to the King’s stuttering. (A recent movie, “The King’s Speech” depicted this).
The balance of this story covers Jack’s combat experiences over Europe where Jack’s 65 missions were recorded.
On D-Day, Jack had a distinguished honor when he was selected to lead the first bombing mission to cover the Allied landings in Normandy. From then on, he flew missions in support of the event. The 322nd attacks were tactical targets such as Nazi munition depots, transportation centers, troop concentrations plus strikes against V1 rocket launch sites (a high priority due to the difficulty in defending these attacks on England once they were launched).
But of all the missions, Jack’s most devastating was the strike on a suspected heavy water plant in Holland. The target and the route there was “socked” in with heavy fog, making visibility nil and the target invisible. Jack’s ship was in the lead and to avoid the flak which was bracketing the formation he took a sharp turn to avoid being hit and witnessed his wingman (his best friend Patrick Ryan) blown to bits. Without that turn, it would have been Jack who died. When the squadron returned to base there were only three survivors, including himself. He and his wingman, Patrick Ryan, were very close friends and had made a pact that their first son would be named after the other. Thus, Jack’s son is named Patrick Ryan Tyson.
A final event occurred that could have changed everything. Jack’s commander concluded the mission a failure and brought charges against him. A court marshal was arranged and Jack faced a dark future. Unknown to him, an unexpected guest was among the attendees, the Allied Commander, Eisenhower, who asked Jack “what happened, Lieutenant?” “Sir, I just got lost, he replied.” Ike then stated, “These charges are dismissed.” After this, Jack was promoted to Captain and upon discharge he returned to Georgia Tech and emerged with an engineering degree.
In closing, Jack received the Distinguished Flying Cross with two clusters, the Air Medal, the Purple Heart (wounds in the face from shrapnel) plus the European Theatre Ribbon.
Cedar Key is fortunate and proud to be where Jack decided to spend his retirement years and we salute you.