SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Decorated veteran, Captain Richard “Dick” Nelms was a special visitor Thursday at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
Captain Nelms flew 35 missions over Germany and Nazi Occupied Europe between May 13, 1944, and Sept. 8, 1944, at just the age of 21.
“I was 21. It made me and thousands of other 20-year old’s grow up in a hurry,” said Captain Nelms. “It did me an awful lot of good. I got a free education afterwards and you have a different perspective on everything, you’ve gone through life-threatening situations 35 times.”
His B-17 sustained battle damage on 25 of his 35 missions. When he returned from his third mission, a ten-hour trip to Berlin, there were more than 300 holes in his B-17.
“When asked my worst mission, I think my second mission to Berlin, it was a maximum effort by the 8th Air Force, I think all four of the groups went to the same area, greater Berlin area, hitting targets that were helping Hitler stay in the war,” Nelms said. “When we got going down the bomb run, it was almost like going into another dimension. We’d been shot at before, but this was only about my third or fourth mission, I wasn’t really seasoned.”
He continued, “Looking up ahead, I saw five of our planes going down. The whole thing was a very uneasy situation. We got through it, and we were under fire for almost a half hour.”
“When we got home, our radio man said, ‘Let’s count the holes, we’re tired, but let’s do that,'” Nelms said. “We started counting and got tired at 300 holes in it.”
Nelms was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Presidential Unit Citation for accuracy in bombing, and the European Theater ribbon with four battle campaign stars, among others for his efforts during the war.
When asked what he would say to the younger generation who may want to join a branch in the United States military and fly planes but are afraid Captain Nelms said, “Number one, love your country and take it from there.
He continued, “Young men and women who have chosen a career that protects this country, protects our freedom and keeps us safe, there is not greater career than that.”