Ellis McClintock had never seen an airplane before. When the 22-year-old joined the Army Air Corps, he didn’t envision himself as a navigator for a B-17 bomber. After all, the young man was just a farmer from Kansas. But like many others who were drafted overseas to fight in WWII, McClintock embraced the experience and did what he could to fight for his country.
That happened to be sitting at the helm of the cone-shaped nose of an airplane, helping navigate the path into Nazi-controlled territory. Seventy-eight years later, McClintock is celebrating his 100th birthday.
The veteran airman reflected on his time in Europe – and recalls details from one harrowing event where he literally had to crawl through a wall of fire to make it out alive. His experiences overseas never leave him. Yet McClintock, who retired from Offutt Air Force Base as a colonel, is grateful for his long life and what he did during the war.
A celebration for the veteran included a red, white and blue cake as well as generations of McClintock’s family.
“We were all lucky to be able to finish World War II,” McClintick said last week, “and (I was) lucky to have a 100-year life.”
Veteran Reflects on Being Drafted
When McClintock was drafted in September 1944, he had hopes of being a pilot. But he qualified for navigator school instead. However, the young airman still had hopes of being in the driver’s seat one day.
“They said, ‘Well, if you live through the war, you can volunteer as a pilot,’” he recalled.
After training in Texas, McClintock joined the 390th Bombardment Group at Framlingham, England. From there, it was in God’s hands. McClintock quickly learned the dangerous art of war. And he took his job very seriously.
“You learned a black puff of smoke was dangerous,” McClintick said. “They were trying to kill you.”
Sitting in the front of the aircraft, McClintock not only scoured maps and planned the navigation, but he was on the lookout for incoming threats such as German fighter pilots.
“The nose of the B-17 wasn’t exactly the safest place to be when they’re shooting at you,” he said. “You just tried not to think about (the risk). You had a job to do, and you did it.”
When the Mission Went Wrong
Flying into Nazi-controlled territories, McClintock made it safely through 25 missions. He was doing his job and he was proud of it. But his 26th mission was a different story. His team was assigned to bomb German enemies on the coast of France on June 4, 1944. We all know the famous events from two days later on D-Day.
However, an oxygen fire broke out at 21,000 feet. And McClintock’s plane, named “I’ll Be Around,” was headed downward. As the fiery flames overtook the plane, McClintock’s only escape route was to go through them. He bravely did this and then parachuted down to the ground, his flesh burning.
The veteran was rescued by a British team. He was given a shot of whiskey as he was being treated at a nearby hospital. His pilot never made it out.
Following the harrowing experience, McClintock made up his mind to continue with his men.
“I made up my mind I was going to finish 10 more missions and go home for pilot training,” he said. And he did.
Decades later, McClintock is proud of his life – and still remains an aviation enthusiast. After pilot training, he flew the B-17, B-57 and KC-135. He later married and had four children – who’ve blessed him with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
McClintock is one hell of a hero and all Outsiders wish him the happiest birthday!