Dr. John Gilbreath, retired Oklahoma State University poultry science professor and World War II veteran, was visited by Sarah Wheatley, Quilt of Valor Foundation representative and members of Hanner-Sharp American Legion Post 129, Stillwater, Okla,. on his 104th birthday at his home in Stillwater. Wheatley presented Gilbreath a Quilt of Valor and a Quilt of Valor Certificate during the visit.
Gilbreath was in the Army Air Corps and served as an air traffic controller on the island on Tinian in World War II. He told stories of some of the experiences of his time on the island to Wheatley and the Legion members. Tinian was a base that housed the B-29 bombers that flew bombing missions to Tokyo. The Air Corps had miscalculated the weight of bombs, fuel and the hot humid conditions in the South Pacific; the result was that many planes crashed into to sea on take-off. Gilbreath says it still is in his memory of the many pilots and crew members lost, and was very hard to watch from the control tower. He stated that once a pilot radioed the tower having returned from a bombing run over Tokyo, that he had lost an engine and needed to land at once, John had to tell him there were 3 more planes in front of his with the same problem. One time a plane coming in was in trouble, clipped a telephone pole that sliced the wing in two, and the radial engine came off heading for the control tower. The lucky pilot was not killed, and the engine missed the control tower.
One day in early August, Gilbreath heard about a B-29 at the other airstrip, North Field. The plane was called Enola Gay. An entire area of North Field was blocked off for it, Gilbreath said, and nobody seemed to know what kind of cargo Enola Gay was carrying. On Aug. 6, 1945, Enola Gay became the first plane ever to drop an atomic bomb as a weapon of war. The bomb, code named “Little Boy,” caused massive destruction to the city of Hiroshima, Japan. At that point, Gilbreath understood the level of secrecy surrounding Enola Gay and its mission. Just days before, he said, he had no idea that kind of destruction was possible. “We had no idea what it was,” he said. “We didn’t know there was such a thing as an atomic bomb.” “We all felt, “Well, this is going to get us home,” he said.
Post 129 appreciated all the work and travel Wheatley has done as Quilts of Valor Foundation representative, presenting over 200 Quilts of Valor in Oklahoma. Not only did she provide the beautiful quilt to John, but also a beautiful certificate that said: “John Gilbreath, Army Air Corps, on behalf of the Quilts of Valor Foundation in recognition of your service and sacrifice for this nation, it is a privilege to serve, honor and comfort you through the Award of this Quilt of Valor. Though we may never know the depth of your sacrifice to protect and defend the United States of America. As a gesture of gratitude from a grateful nation, we Award you this Quilt of Valor.”