It’s been about 25 years since Clarksville’s Linda Gregory stumbled upon her late father’s diary from World War II, which gave chilling insight to the many day-to-day bombing missions her father made overseas.
On July 15, Gregory visited the Clarksville Regional Airport and climbed aboard a large B-17 bomber, an aircraft just like the one her dad logged more than 253 combat hours in 1944.
James Campbell English Jr. was born in Giles County. After graduating from the University of Tennessee during World War II, English enlisted in the Army Air Corps and trained as a bombardier on the B-17.
Gregory said boarding the plane last week helped her to see what her father saw during his numerous missions during the war.
“I didn’t know where the bombardier sat,” Gregory said. “The navigator and the bombardier sat up in the clear nose of the plane in front of the pilots.”
Gregory said the first time she began to receive real insight to her father’s role in WWII was in 1991, when her daughter interviewed her father, her daughter’s grandfather, about his war experiences for a school project.
In addition to his diary, Gregory also has her father’s U.S. Army Air Force’s 1943 Big Spring Bombardier School yearbook and a detailed, typed listing of each mission he accomplished.
With information from his diary, English created a list of dates and details of the 50 missions the bombardier flew, bombing harbors, factories, oil refineries, beaches and railroad bridges in places like Italy, Austria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, France, Germany and Yugoslavia from May 17 to Aug. 30, 1944.
He listed several repeated attacks on the oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, in May, June, July and two more in August 1944.
In his diary, his personal handwriting briefly described events of each day, whether preparing for a mission, dropping bombs during a flight or his platoon receiving its daily rations.
In August 1944, he told about the bombing of the beaches in southern France.
“I was on the big invasion,” English said in his diary. “We have been expecting it and night flying for some time. Had one plane to explode on takeoff. Then saw one explode…on the way to the target. “
Gregory said when English told his granddaughter some of his experiences, he explained to her the danger involved.
“He said, and I had never heard that, they got hit one time,” Gregory said. “But they were able to make it back into their base.”
After the war, English returned to Clarksville but stayed in the Air Force Reserves until he retired as a lieutenant colonel at 61, according to the Kiwanis Club of Clarksville’s 100th Anniversary History.
He joined the Kiwanis Club of Clarksville in 1947 and served as its president in 1957.
English died March 4, 1995 and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery beside his wife, Rubye English, who died last year.