WHEELING - More than a year before 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day - June 6, 1944 - Wheeling native Jack W. Gamble already was performing heroic acts in the war against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.
Now, 70 years after he saved his B-17 bomber crew during a June 1943 mission, Gamble's actions have earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Living today in a nursing facility in Great Falls, Mont., the 90-year-old who attended Triadelphia High School also received an Oak Leaf Custer in December for "sustained flight in combat." He survived more than 50 missions against Italian and German forces in North Africa and Italy.
World War II veteran Jack W. Gamble views the inside of a B-17 bomber, similar to the one in which he served as flight engineer/top turret gunner.
"Typical of many WWII veterans, Dad grew up in the Great Depression, was thrown into a world war, came home, raised six kids and helped build a country," said Gamble's son, Jim Gamble.
Jack Gamble enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 and became a gunner. On May 3, 1943, he and the rest of his crew on the Evil Eye Egbert flew their first mission over Tunisia.
In June 1943, the squadron took part in an operation over the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, which was home to nearly 12,000 enemy troops. On the way to the island, Gamble left his position behind the pilots to head toward the back of the B-17. As he crossed a narrow catwalk suspended above the plane's bomb compartment, he noticed a 500-pound bomb had broken loose from its rack.
"I look down and see this bomb loose on there turning," Gamble recalled. "And I knew right then we were in big trouble. I opted to call the bombardier, who opened the bomb bay. We got over the ocean far enough, and I told them we can open the doors anytime. And they opened the doors and it went out."
Gamble never thought much about getting recognition. He said he just did his job because it was his duty.
"Things happen so fast you don't consider all of that. You just do it because you're there and you're in charge and you have to do it. I just did what I was supposed to do," he said.
But Jim Gamble took it upon himself to make sure his father got the recognition he deserved. He started researching the event in 1999; however, success was a long time coming.
"It really goes back to 1980. During a cross-country trip with my dad, I got him to talk about the war," Jim Gamble said. "I did a lot of research over the years."
With the help of Sheila Rath, a staff member for former Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., the search resumed in 2010. Rehberg then made the required congressional recommendation for the Distinguished Flying Cross. Gamble was properly honored when military officials presented him with his awards in his hospital room in Montana.
"It was important to me for my dad to be able to hold the medals he earned," Jim Gamble said. "It was the least I could do to see that he got his recognition."