The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Larry Nelson
For The Sun-Telegraph 

Veteran's History Project - Rex V. Fuller

 

Rex V. Fuller

Major, U.S. Air Force

1943-1964

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Sidney, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

Rex Fuller was in California in late 1941 when Pearl Harbor was struck. Immediately, he wanted to go to war like the rest of his generation. He returned to his hometown area in Iowa. He soon went to Des Moines, Iowa, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He wanted to fly. Formerly, he hung out with five or six other guys, but he was the only one who selected the Army Air Corps.

After the physical exam, he was sent to the College Training Attachment at a small college in Emporia, Kan. The Army Air Corps didn't have room for new recruits at their usual training bases. At the college, they lived on campus. They did all the courses required of new recruits. Soon he was moved to several other bases where training in ground school, basic flying, advanced flying, and finally to Liberal, Kan, where he learned to fly the B-24. The B-24 was nicknamed the Liberator.

He was a young man, flying an airplane that was not easy to fly. The training was good and lengthy. They had sent him and a crew to the east coast. They trained at Savannah, Ga. He was to be the aircraft commander. The rest of the crew consisted of a co-pilot, a tail-gunner, belly-gunner, turret-gunner, two waist-gunners, a chin-gunner, a bombardier and a navigator. The crew made lots of practice bombing runs and learned to work together.

The first time he went overseas on a troop ship. It landed in Naples, Italy where he would be a part of the 450th Bomb Group situated south, on the "boot heel" of Italy. (They flew their combat missions from this location. His crew stayed as one crew until the war ended in May of 1945. That in itself was unusual, given the circumstances of the day.)

Upon arriving in Italy, it rained plenty. It was cold. The crew was young. On the first night there, young 1st Lt. Fuller was summoned to the guard house because the men he was responsible for were being detained there. First Lt. Fuller presented himself to the 2nd Lt. at the guard shack. The 2nd. Lt said that he was detaining Fuller's crew for theft of government property. Oh man...

First Lt. Fuller directed the 2nd Lt. to release the men to him. He wasn't in any mood for "monkey business." He said he would take appropriate action to straighten the men and situation out. It turned out that his men were cold. Being resourceful men that they were, they conspired to go to find firewood so they could get wood burning and stay warm. To do this, they began taking every other tent peg from each tent they came across. They had gathered some serious wood before being caught. First Lt. Fuller could hardly discipline them for that. In the end, they were still cold for a time.

First Lt. Fuller and crew had to get used to the planes again. Soon, their crew was a part of the bomb group that dropped ordinance on Ploesti, Poland. The group destroyed all gasoline production within its range in southern Europe; knocked out all the major aircraft factories in its sphere; and destroyed 6,282 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground. They received a Presidential Citation for that. His plane was named the Lucky Lady. He inherited this particular plane and kept the name on it. This plane was "good to go."

At one point, when returning to southern Italy, they encountered anti-aircraft fire. The flack from the spray of the shelling knocked out the No. 3 engine on the Lucky Lady. Soon the No. 2 engine was out. They were over the Adriatic Sea, heading to Italy. They were heading home. They were hit though. They couldn't go much further. The number four engine quit and now, the only engine still working was No. 1. He notified the crew (who already knew) that they had a choice: parachute out or stay with the Commander and ride it out. Fuller's navigator thought he had seen a small field and hopefully they could crash land there. There was a ten second pause...then the crew notified 1st Lt. Fuller that they were staying with him. He crashed-landed the plane on a British tank facility that had some Piper Cub planes on the ground. Whew!

During his time overseas, he kept in touch with his family by mail. His pay was just OK for a 1st Lt. He was in the company of other Officers. They had a houseboy to keep their tent squared away. They had a mess hall where they ate. The USO had an entertainment group to visit including the Andrews Sisters.

Fuller 's crew completed 25 bombing missions. When the war ended, he and his crew were in a replacement depot and ready to head for the US. They again got aboard a troop ship and made the trip. First Lt. Fuller was soon a Captain. He went to various installations including one yearlong tour in Greenland where he was an air-sea rescue commander.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s events in Korea became critical. Sometimes referred to as "625" (June 25, 1950), the U.S. involvement began. Rex became a pilot of a C-54. He and his group operated in/flew out of Tachikawa, Japan. The combat cargo mission was to deliver supplies including oil and fuel to U.S. Forces fighting in Korea. They made delivery to Pyongyang (now capitol of North Korea). He flew these missions for the duration of the conflict.

When returning to the U.S., he took over various positions as he was assigned. In good time, he was posted to the Air Refueling Wing in Lincoln. He flew the KC 97, which provided in-flight re-fueling service for a variety of aircraft. There was plenty of flying, often dangerous, taking place. There were many, many alerts where he would report for some classified mission. He and others stood ready to go, but seldom left the ready room. At least one of the flight crews was killed. Like all others, the loss of comrades, suffering of the families and the grieving was difficult.

As he and his wife left the church where one of the funerals had taken place, Mrs. Fuller took her husband's arm and softly encouraged him to leave his career in the U.S. Air Force. She didn't want the next funeral to be his. It went something like "as soon as you are eligible, I want you out of the service...dear". Being the thoughtful man that he is, he agreed. Twenty-one years was enough.

Major Fuller's accomplishments included his earning several significant medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Airman's Medal, the Defense Meritorious service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and many others. He traveled and trained and flew around the entire world.

Rex stayed in touch with many of his crewmembers. He said that he was fortunate because he had no combat- killed people under his command.

He was a member of the American Legion, Post No. 3, in Lincoln. You did more than your part, Major Fuller! Thank you for your service!

 

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