Army Air Corps veteran talks about war experience

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
  • Air Force News Agency
The 81-year-old World War II veteran was a liar.

Robert McNally shared his story at the Pease Air National Guard Base's air show Aug. 19, one of the main attractions of Air Force Week New England. 

Mr. McNally's military journey preceded the Air Force and started in the era of the Army Air Corps. After hearing about the events of the attack at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. McNally was determined to do his part and serve his country. 

He had an obstacle in his way though; at 15 years old he was under the required age of 18 for military service.

The native of Worcester, Mass., was not going to let a few years deter him from his patriotism. Shortly after turning 16, Dec. 23, 1941, Mr. McNally traveled to Boston for inprocessing into the Army Air Corps. He was ready for an interrogation and planned out what to say when questions about his age would come up.

"I had rehearsed this for so long, that it didn't matter what they asked," he said. "I had an answer for it that fit."

The doctors suspected that he was lying about his age but could not prove it, Mr. McNally said. He then went to basic and technical training for his new job as an aircraft radio operator.

Mr. McNally was not able to keep his secret for his entire military career.

Following training, the 16 year old who was now a sergeant stationed at Morrison Field in West Palm Beach, Fla., volunteered to serve overseas. He finally decided to call his mother and reveal he had left home and was heading to war.

His mother didn't take the news well and made a few calls to military leaders about her son. Soon after, Sergeant McNally found himself in his commander's office. The youth pleaded to his commander that he wanted to continue his career. His words were so eloquent that his commander worked with Sergeant McNally's mother to see if a compromise could be reached.

It turns out that his mother had one task she wanted her son to complete. She was adamant that he earn his last two credits so he could graduate from high school.

An agreement was made with the local school district and the sergeant caught a bus to school every day from right outside the gates of Morrison Field.

"I had to get on that bus and go to school every day until I got my two credits," he said "When I was done I had to bring my report card back to my commanding officer."

Having completed his high school education, the sergeant was free to go overseas and fight in the war. He was assigned to a group that used minimum manned crews to deliver the planes to war theaters across the world. He flew aboard an assortment of different planes, but spent the most time in B-25 Mitchell bombers, because they were suited for so many different missions.

Mr. McNally served more than four years in the service before getting out at the age of 20. 

He said he never lost his love for the military though. He is a member of his local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, and enjoys talking to his son, Terry, about his military experiences.

Attending air shows to view aircraft is an activity both father and son enjoy.

"My son has taken me to many of these shows, and we have gone through a lot of these planes that are so familiar to me," Mr. McNally said. "He really enjoys reading about aircraft and he talks to me about planes I never heard about."

History is something Terry McNally said he thinks about often.

"It is interesting to see these old birds and think about how far technology has come," he said. "You think about what those guys went through with .50-caliber machine guns that would rip through the paper-thin aluminum of their aircrafts."

Robert McNally, who now lives in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, said he is inspired by today's Airmen. He said he sees many parallels between those who served their country because of Pearl Harbor in his generation and those that serve today because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I am proud of everybody who is in the service," he said. "There is nothing more important than serving your country in its time of need." 

Air Force Week is the service's effort to highlight the Air Force's role in today's military operations as the service approaches its 60th anniversary.

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