Veterans History Project: Hunter Gates - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

09/04/08

Veterans History Project: Hunter Gates

By Jennifer Martin
jennifer@wlbt.net

Hunter Gates was a student at Ole Miss when he enlisted in the Air Force during World War II. 

"I had a lot of ROTC and it was all infantry, and I got to thinking about fighting a war in the infantry and I thought the Air Force was a little more dangerous, but a heck of a lot more comfortable. We got to fly missions (for) 8, 10 hours a day, but we came home, got a shot of whiskey and a good hot shower and a place to sleep."

He served in Europe, mostly in bombing missions over Germany. He loved flying, but knew the danger was real.

"From the time you took off until the time you landed, you were scared. When you got over the target area, all your fighter protection left. And you were flying into this area of flack and the sky would be absolutely black with it. And you knew that these bits of hot steel were flying around through the air and they were more than likely to hit your airplane."

His most fateful mission was bombing Dresden. 

"They'd bring these loads of troops into Dresden. So the marshalling yard there was full of troops, and the factories there were producing some very high tech material that was essential to the war effort, and that's what made Dresden a target."

They hit their target but were shot down on their way back.

"Our plane (had) three direct hits. We got a fire in the wing. The pilot said 'bailout' and that I did."

He had never parachuted before. He hurt his shoulder when he hit the ground. 

"I landed right in the middle of the Siegfried line.  That was the fortification line that the Germans had built along the border between Germany, Belgium, and France.  If the wind had been blowing the other way, I would have landed in friendly territory."

The Germans were waiting. He became a POW. There was little food and conditions were terrible. 

"We liked to starve to death. It like to kill me physically. I caught diptheria, gum disease; I caught intestinal parasites. I lost several of my teeth, and mentally you don't ever get over it."

"It was the longest two months of my life. It seemed like 10 years."

After he was liberated by other Allied troops, he went to a hospital in Paris before returning home. He went back to Ole Miss and got his degree in economics and later pharmacy.

He has great respect for the volunteer soldiers of today.

"A person who would volunteer and go into a combat situation and put his life on the line for the protection of his country, I think he deserves all the respect that the country can give him."

 

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