Jack A. Gillis was born in February 1923 in Mound City, Missouri. He had no brothers or sisters. At age two, Gillis moved to France due to his father's employment as engineer. He moved back five years later and struggled in school. He was branded a foreigner because he spoke only French. His father and mother divorced and Gillis lived with his grandparents. When Pearl Harbor was attacked [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941], he was on a train on the way back from his mother's second wedding. They were shocked that a main United States facility would be attacked. Shortly after 7 December, Gillis was taken out of school to perform guard duty on the Golden Gate Bridge in bunkers at the ends of the bridge. He spent three months on that duty. He later returned to finish school. In 1943, at the age of 21, he was drafted.
Jack A. Gillis was drafted into the Army and went into the Army Air Corps. He was shipped to Los Angeles [Annotator's Note: Los Angeles, California] for boot camp. After completing boot camp, he was shipped out to Hawaii. As the ship headed into Pearl Harbor he noticed crews pulling bodies and equipment from one of the capsized battleships [Annotator's Note: resulting from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941]. It was nearly two years after the bombing but he was emotional and cried at the sight. That was the most gory thing he saw in the war. He arrived at Fort Shafter [Annotator's Note: in Honolulu, Hawaii] in Hawaii in February 1943. There were 271 men in his outfit. In charge were a Major, First Sergeant, and Sergeant Major. There were 17 observation posts with five men each to spot enemy aircraft if they flew over the island. The men were foreign aircraft identifiers.
Jack A. Gillis was a member of the Army Air Defense observation teams on Hawaii. He was a PFC [Annotator's Note: Private First Class]. Each observation post had a truck for supplies and personnel. Each man had one day rest and three days on duty. They never saw enemy aircraft in the three years he was there. Pearl Harbor and the Hawaiian Islands were very busy with personnel and supplies on ships passing through. Gillis was based at Fort Shafter [Annotator's Note: in Honolulu, Hawaii]. In 1945, he heard about Hiroshima [Annotator's Note: Hiroshima, Japan]. He was on duty when the first atomic bomb [Annotator's Note: nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 6 and 9 August 1945] dropped and it was announced over the radio. He recalls calling his buddies over to hear what was being broadcasted. It was one plane with one bomb and one pilot. If the United States would have invaded Japan, it would have been a slaughter. A few days later, Nagasaki was bombed. The fighting in Europe ended before that happened.
Jack A. Gillis returned home and used the G.I. Bill to go to college. He had problems with English in college [Annotator's Note: as a child, he had grown up in France and did not learn English until later than his peers]. He went to work for a railroad. He changed cars on the trains. He worked for them for a year then he reenlisted in the Army Air Corps. He had basic training in California. He went into the Air Force and retired as a Master Sergeant Air Traffic Controller in 1980. He reached his goal of making the rank he wanted to retire at with 33 years of service.
Jack A. Gillis' most memorable event of the war was an errant landing of a disabled aircraft that was nearly wrecked. The war changed his life because it was exciting. He was married but his wife passed on. He spent 33 years in the service. He saw no combat but supported the war effort. He saw the remnants of Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: he arrived two years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] and Fort Shafter which was his home base. He was on duty during the atomic bomb [Annotator's Note: a nuclear weapon was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 6 August 1945] attack on Hiroshima. The country better know what it is doing the next time conflict arises. Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr.] was a man to be admired. Gillis was almost a tank driver but wound up in the Hawaiian Islands instead. He spent much of his time after the war at Keesler Air Force Base [Annotator's Note: in Biloxi, Mississippi] in Mississippi. It is important for future generations to learn about World War 2 history. His wartime experience was very educational. It had good and bad points. He had a good life.
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