by Allen Olson
His apartment looks like an aviation museum. And why shouldn’t it? More than 40 years of flying, 26 of them on missions over Germany, the South Pacific, and Korea, followed by 15 more years of commercial airline service made him comfortable around airplanes and what they do.
Jet (his real name is Harold, but he doesn’t like it) Jetter will be 96 next month, but you’d think he’d been chasing submarines for the 29th Bomber Squadron from the Galapagos to Panama just yesterday. One of his walls is covered by a map showing the route he and his squadron followed across the South Pacific.
Familiar Air Force names roll off his tongue: Barksdale; Sculthorpe; Hickham; McClellan followed by Japan, Ecuador, Honduras, and “The Rock” (Galapagos) about which he showed me a report by Eleanor Roosevelt to those islands.
Jet is especially proud of an aviation museum he helped curate in Ottumwa, Iowa. (By the way, he keeps a notebook listing every aviation-related museum in the country.) Proudly, he and some of his WWII comrades created a 29th Bomber Squadron in the museum originally established for the 6th Air Force. On display there are two signed photographs of movie stars June Allyson and Gloria de Haven, both wishing good luck to the “Boys of the 29th.” And, oh yes, Jet boasts, “we even hung some pin up girl posters.”
He has already identified the museums where he wants his artifacts and military documents sent, and we are privileged to be among them. In recalling his 60 years of marriage to Alice, who died in 2012, he says family support for military members is vital. He is pleased that the Museum of the American Military Family is independent, tied to all branches of service, and that there will be a memorial dedicated to military families going up on the National Guard complex in Santa Fe.
Jet has lost none of his sense of humor and still laughs at a sign taken from The Rock to Ottumwa. It is a stack of arrows pointing the way to London – 6,402 miles; Chicago – 3,058 miles; Tokyo – 8,649 miles; Latrine – 1,240 steps. He has kept some of the navigation charts of his crew during their submarine pursuits, and can run his finger down each entry as if he was reporting for the first time.
Almost 70 years later, Jet can describe the differences between flying a B-24 and a C-47, what it’s like to fly a B-29, a B-52 and aircraft by Beechcraft and Boeing. His mother signed for him to enlist in the Army Air Corps at age 15, and he never looked back. After one successful mission, he was promoted on the spot from Captain to Major, and he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Today he pushes himself around in a wheelchair as if it’s a fighter jet, and the nursing home activities directors all go out of their way to give him hugs. He looks out of his third-floor apartment as if he’s selecting a landing site and admits that he’s ready for whatever comes next, which is why he is deciding where to send his vast collections of military memories.