ohn Opeka enlisted in the Army Air Corps in February 1942, two weeks before turning 24 years old.  If he’d have waited two weeks, he would have been rejected for exceeding the age limit.  “I did not want to be a foot soldier,” he says.  “I made up my mind I wanted to be in the air.”

Like so many others, he wanted to be a pilot.  But John was smart, and the Air Corps tended to wash out some smart pilots because they needed navigators, an intellectually demanding job in the days before GPS and satellite communication.  John flew 51 missions in North African-Sicily-Corsica-Italy with the 310th Bomb Group.  He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross as lead navigator on a B-25 bomber.  He returned home unscathed.  In 1995, he was inducted into the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum’s Hall of Valor.  He looks back on his three years overseas as “hours of monotony sprinkled with moments of panic.”