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Chance conversation leads to reunion of Korean War vets

A chance conversation between spouses led to a reunion recently between Korean Conflict and U.S. Air Force veterans Abner Lee Wilkerson and Roy Jacobs.

Jacobs, a South Boston resident, said the chance meeting came purely by coincidence.

“My wife and his wife are into quilting,” Jacobs recalled.

In the course of conversation between Ellie Jacobs and Dorothy Wilkerson, it was learned both husbands served with the Air Force during the Korean Conflict.

“My wife got on the telephone, and we met for coffee,” said Jacobs, who never got the opportunity to fly with Wilkerson, a pilot currently living in Virgilina.

Jacobs, a gunner, and Wilkerson both served in the 8th Bomb Squadron.

They both flew in the same type of aircraft, the B-26, also known as the Night Intruder, and both were stationed at Kunsan, South Korea, although at different times.

Wilkerson, who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel, was at Kunsan from August 1952 to January 1953, while Jacobs arrived two months later, in March.

Jacobs retired from the Air Force with the rank of Airman, First Class.

Wilkerson flew the B-26 bomber and strafed enemy targets in North Korea.

“I flew very little in the day. I tried to bomb trains/vehicles bringing supplies to North Korea at night,” recalled Wilkerson, writing to his granddaughter, who interviewed him as part of a school project.

Before going to South Korea, Wilkerson flew air evacuation aircraft moving patients injured in Korea between hospitals to the states.

The B-26 carried three-man crews, and as a gunner, Jacobs was isolated from the rest of the crew in a turret atop the plane.

“It was awful lonely up there,” recalled Jacobs, who like Wilkerson flew primarily night missions.

Both remember a particular type of low-level mission they had to fly during the war, known as Tadpole missions.

“We had spotters in the mountains to tell us where to go and when to open the bomb bay doors,” said Jacobs.

“It meant working with a ground controller in order to bomb and hopefully knock out gun sights that were firing on our ground forces along the front lines (37th parallel),” Wilkerson concurred.

Wilkerson told Jacobs during their meeting that he felt kind of nervous flying a low-level mission where you received gunfire from on top of you, rather than from below like you see in the movies.

“He kept talking about how he’d never forget receiving fire from above,” Jacobs recalled.

“You didn’t think much about it until later,” he added.

Jacobs added he actually preferred flying his missions at night, with a lot of moonlight.

Wilkerson also flew missions bombing military targets around seaports and occasionally in the vicinity of a city or town.

A combat tour was considered 50 missions, and Wilkerson flew 53 missions in Korea.

Wilkerson, who was on active duty during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, continued flying upon his return to the states.

He was assigned to a Troop Carrier unit under the Tactical Air Command, flying out of Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island.

After two years in Newfoundland supervising flying activities at Torbay Airport near St. Johns, Wilkerson was stationed at First Air Force Base headquarters supervising Air Reserve flying activities.

He received training in the B-47 and performed combat crew alert duty in an underground alert facility known as the “mole hole” during the Cold War period with the Strategic Air Command.

Wilkerson finished his service as the Base Operations Officer and Officer-In-Charge of non-tactical flying at Sawyer Air Force Base in Minnesota.

Jacobs, who flew 23 missions while stationed in Kunsan, served in Korea until the armistice was signed in 1954 before returning home.

Wilkerson and Jacobs were awarded numerous commendations and medals for their service in Korea, with both men receiving the Korean War Medal and Korean Air Medal, in addition to unit citations.