As vet remembers WWII, Korea service, 'It wasn't all bad'
The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
For 95-year-old Gilbert Fann, the rush of being shot at is not just something indescribable; it is something he still misses decades after leaving war behind him.
“I was drafted in 1942,” said Fann of Swansboro. “I went to boot camp at Fort Bragg. It was definitely something I wasn’t used to. Frankly, I was tickled to death that I was going into the military. There wasn’t anything really that hard for me.”
After basic training, Fann attended Army infantry training in Georgia and learned to use a variety of weapons such as the Thompson sub-machine gun and the M1A1 30 caliber rifle — weapons he would use during his tour in the Pacific during the New Guinea campaign.
While many of his fellow soldiers spent their days puking aboard the cruise ship because of sea sickness, Fann said he had the time of his life exploring everything new to him on the ship despite the impending danger that became closer every day.
“I knew I was heading for combat so it wasn’t like being on a pleasure cruise,” he said. “I wasn’t fearful because we weren’t in danger yet. But I knew it was coming whether I liked it or not.”
Almost immediately after arriving to New Guinea, Fann was sent on an island-hopping campaign of intense fighting, he said.
“You never know what’s going to happen next and you always wonder if you were going home,” he said. “I was pretty sure I was coming home to see my family and old friends. That’s what kept me going over there.”
After months abroad, Fann came home. His return was “truly wonderful” because he was reunited with loved ones he missed overseas — loved ones who were overjoyed to see him.
But something was missing.
“When I came home, I missed getting shot at just like everyone else,” Fann said. “Getting shot at was scary. Every time I heard a bullet I remember thinking I was lucky I hadn’t been hit. It’s fun getting shot at until someone gets hit. That takes all the fun out of it.”
After his homecoming, Fann was discharged from the Army, but after speaking with a friend about the Army Air Corps, he decided to switch branches and reenlist, he said.
“I saw some wonderful things while I was in the Army and I saw some truly horrible things and I saw some things were worse than horrible,” Fann said. “The Air Corps sounded so good; I figured I would give it a try.”
And thus began a 16-year Army Air Corps career that would send him to the Korean War shortly before his retirement in 1962.
“The language barrier made things very difficult,” Fann said. “We had to rely on hand signals until we learned each other’s language enough to get by. The only thing worse was the weather. It was so cold in the winter and beyond hot during the summer.”
His job in aircraft maintenance and flying on aircrafts was rewarding and fulfilling, he said. And he was happy to be away from the front lines, he said.
“It was hard delivering young men to war — knowing some would die,” Fann said. “I spent my time at war so I knew what they were walking into.”