99-year-old WWII Vet visits the Mighty Eighth
Captain Richard ‘Dick’ Nelms flew 35 bomber missions during the war
POOLER, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s a day nearly a century in the making.
“It’s been a big thrill to be here. I’ve been wanting to for some time,” said Richard ‘Dick’ Nelms Thursday.
99-year-old Nelms finally getting to visit The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
But Dick, or should I say Captain Nelms, isn’t your average tourist.
“I got through 35 missions and was one of the lucky thousands that got to come home and be proud of what we had done to Hitler’s war machine.”
Captain Nelms enlisted in the Army Air Force back in 1942 when he was just 19 and he would take his first ever ride in a plane shortly after.
“We’re up there, open cockpits you know, and he did the snap roll, and, in my mind, I said, ‘maybe I did the wrong thing. Maybe I should be driving a tank or something,’” joked Cpt. Nelms.
But he stuck with it, and two short years later he’d be flying bombing missions over Berlin for the 8th Air Force.
“Well, I was 21 and it made me, and thousands of other 20-year olds, grow up in a hurry.”
Of the 35 missions he flew, in 25 of them his B-17 sustained damage.
“Flack going off everywhere. You just say, ‘how can I possibly get through this?’ There was over 2-thousand anti-aircraft guns in the Berlin area, and I swear everyone was shooting at me,” recalled Cpt. Nelms.
And if you saw his plane afterwards, you might believe they were.
“We started counting and got tired at 300 holes in that airplane. They weren’t little tiny ones either. We didn’t even get underneath, must’ve been 400 all together.”
A consolation prize, but not much of one compared to the other losses Captain Nelms would endure.
“I had a good friend blow up right in front of me one day, I had breakfast with him that morning. But what was I to do? I moved up and took his number two spot in the formation, you always move forward.”
Now Captain Nelms continues to move forward, but not alone.
With him he carries the stories of those he fought beside, the nation he fought for, and the mission that for him, will never be complete.
“What I do now here, and at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, is to tell people what a wonderful outfit the 8th Air Force was. We didn’t win (us) the war but we made it a lot easier for our own troops. There is no greater career than that,” said Cpt. Nelms
Captain Nelms was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air medal with four oak leaf clusters, Presidential Unit Citation for accuracy in bombing and the European Theater Ribbon with four battle campaign stars.
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