(Bob Holeman conducted this series of interviews with local World War II veterans as a lead-up to Veterans Day 2011. Interviews continued into 2012 with any veteran he could find who, in turn, was willing to talk. Not all were interested. Virturally all of these American heroes have passed away during the decade following these interviews).
The son of a Catahoula Parish logger-turned-farmer, Harrisonburg High School student Jack Evans had no chance at college due to poverty and the Depression. So he joined the military in 1939 in hopes of receiving training and that higher education “at their expense.”
He was learning the plumbing trade in a raked-out WWI naval base when the single radio in the non-air conditioned barracks crackled out the news announcement that England and France were soon meeting to consider an alliance against Germany and Hitler. “All 300 of us were of the same opinion,” Evans said some 70 years later. “If they would ally, the U.S. would follow suit, just like in the previous war. Word came out just before daylight the next day that this had happened and we all went down and signed up with everyone…Army, Navy, Marines, Air Corps. There wasn’t an Air Force at that time.”
Evans, known best for his 40 “serious years” of dentistry here in Winnfield, was selected by the Air Corps and further picked among an elite group of 63 as bombardiers to test and train in new bomb site technology. They operated out of an abandoned dirigible hangar at Fort Dix, N.J., defending New York. The reminder that a German threat to the continental United States was very real was constantly in front of them. “At that time, we were never out of sight of sunken American freighters along our own coastline.
To get his commission as an officer, Evans signed up for all available formal training programs…pilot, bombardier and navigator…and qualified for Pilot School. “But I kept my bombardier training up my sleeve, just in case.” He qualified for multi-engine flying, trained as a unit leader. The heavy bomber B-17 was his first assignment.
Evans was flying one of his many missions over France when a visiting commanding officer bumped him from the cockpit to the rear of the bomber. There he caught some flack from an exploding shell near the plane and was seriously injured. At the hospital in England, “it took a bunch of them to hold me down when they treated me with this new, experimental drug called penicillin…it was tremendously painful. But I’m sure it saved my life…it wasn’t available anywhere else in the world. That’s where it was developed.”
It would take some time but eventually Evans received his Purple Heart recognition for his wartime injuries, with documentation signed by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Barely tipping the scales at 118 pounds, the recovering Evans managed to buffalo his was back into the cockpit (although 137 pounds was the minimum required). “But I was flying again, always stationed about 90 miles north of London.” When the war ended in Europe, our pilot returned to Texas as war continued in the Pacific.
Once again, Evans found himself in a training and educational position as the Air Force developed new technologies. They were upgrading to the B-29 (the bomber that would eventually deliver atomic bombs to two Japanese sites). “At the area that is now Texas A&M, I went to instrument-flying school, then they kept me on as instructor. Can you imagine? I was a graduate of a little old school in Harrisonburg, then I was an instructor for the U.S. Air Force.”
Born in 1919, Jack Evans married his childhood sweetheart, Helen, in 1943 and they have one daughter, Ann. He did allow the GI Bill to pay for his education, after all. He hung out a shingle as a dentist in Winnsboro for one year, then Dr. Evans moved to Winnfield in 1953 where he put in a “serious” 40-year career before staying home for good. He said he was “literally worn out,” but never too worn out for his vegetable garden. During his work years and ever since, he’s been an avid gardener.