Veteran bomber pilot returns to Rackheath airfield seven decades on from conflict

Jack Weyler, a WW2 USAF pilot, visiting Rackheath control tower for the first time since the war. Lo

Jack Weyler, a WW2 USAF pilot, visiting Rackheath control tower for the first time since the war. Looking out over what was the runway.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

It has been seven decades since Jack Weyler as a young man last set foot on the runway at Rackheath.

Jack Weyler, a WW2 USAF pilot, visiting Rackheath control tower for the first time since the war. Ja

Jack Weyler, a WW2 USAF pilot, visiting Rackheath control tower for the first time since the war. Jack, pictured back row 2nd from left, with his crew at Rackheath.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A pilot with the 467 Bomb Group, the American with German heritage flew 15 of the final missions of World War II after arriving at the base in early 1945.

And after retiring last year from a career in the oil industry, the 92-year-old Texan visited the old control tower - now restored as office space - for the first time since the war was won.

'This place was such an important part of my life,' said Mr Weyler. 'I was a young man when I was here with the whole bomb crew, and thought I was something special back then. I loved every moment of it.'

As a B-24 pilot, Mr Weyler held the lives of his crew of 10 in his hands every time he took to the sky.

'It was a big responsibility - when you get into a four engine you have crew members you are responsible for and you have to take care of them,' he said.

Despite the Germans on the retreat, the missions were still fraught with risk. On a bombing run over Regensburg at the northern end of the Danube, his aircraft lost two engines under heavy fire. 'My squadron commander at that time had never had any of his crews abort a mission, and we were not about to be the first,' he said.

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'Coming out another day one of the most dramatic things I saw was five B-17s going down at the same time just over the Ruhr Valley. I remember thinking - there goes 50 guys in just a few minutes.

'Brunswick was also a tough target. We had flown to 22,000 feet and it was overcast so there was a canopy of cloud beneath us. We were delighted because we thought there was no way the Germans could see us. I was in the lead group and when we went across the town the first burst of flak was exactly at our altitude - and they pummelled us. The Luftwaffe would measure our altitude exactly and they would track us by radar on the ground.

'One of the planes right in front of us got a flak burst, and exploded. Two guys got out, probably the gunners. One opened his parachute and floated down, but the other opened his and it caught fire. I will never forget seeing that, because he was a goner right then.'

While the thrill of flying into danger was evident for Mr Weyler, there was an affinity with the enemy that cut through the propaganda of the day, he said.

'There was always a feeling of excitement or thrill when you are going out on a mission - until you have left the target. Once you leave the target area if you are in pretty good shape you should be okay.

'We had a lot of respect for the German Luftwaffe. They were good about protecting American aircrews. If you got shot down you carried a .45 automatic pistol, and that was in case you got to ground and was captured by civilians or the SS. The .45 was to try to get ourselves in the hands of the Luftwaffe - then you might make it to a concentration camp instead of being killed. 'The Luftwaffe had the same respect for us as we did for them.' Mr Weyler's heritage also proved troublesome as his grandparents on his father's side were German.

'That was a real concern for me,' he said. 'My father never told me where they were from, and he didn't really talk about it. Everyone wanted to be so patriotic, you would not talk about being German. It was difficult because I would often wonder - what if I was bombing my own family?'

Visiting the old control tower, now occupied by Colleague Software, Mr Weyler was grateful care had been made to remember the 467 Bomb Group. 'I can't tell you how much I respect the people that have preserved this facility,' he said. 'It makes me so proud to think that people, particularly Brits, have carried on this remembrance and do so much to keep the memory alive.'