Korean War vet reflects on B-29 bombing missions
When Lonnie Adkins Jr. graduated from high school in 1949, there weren't any jobs in his hometown of Sandy Hook, Ky. So he joined the Air Force in February 1950 - only four months before the United States began its involvement in the Korean War. Adkins was soon in Biloxi, Miss., where he learned Morse code and how to become a radio operator on a B-29 Super Fortress. His 11-man crew flew 31 bombing missions (two coming with a different crew) over North Korea - flying about nine-and-half hours on roundtrip flights from Okinawa to North Korea. "Our gunners estimate we were shot at a hundred times . on 20 of our 31 missions," wrote Adkins in an album filled with his wartime memories. The Midway resident and his B-29 crew bombed runways, bridges and other infrastructure to cripple North Korean military forces being supplied by the Soviet Union. One of their most frightening moments came on Nov. 8, 1951. A night mission, with the typical 20,000 pounds of bombs aboard, had them flying in complete darkness "awful close to Russia," said Adkins. A few seconds away from "bombs away," recalled Adkins, "we got hit real, real hard." "It looked like the Fourth of July fireworks going off," he added. His B-29 crew was able to "get out of there" soon after dropping their bomb payload without getting hit again. But when they got back to Okinawa, Adkins and his crewmates saw where an enemy projectile had gone completely through the cast iron covering on the right inboard engine of their bomber. "One of the gunners said if (we'd been hit) four inches in either direction - we'd be hurting bad," said Adkins. It was his B-29 crew's closest call, and "that's why my hair started to turn gray," he added. The lead bomber on that Nov. 8, 1951, mission was never heard from again, which Adkins said, "You don't forget it." Everyone in his B-29 group based in Okinawa lived in tents so they became very close to one another on the ground and in the air. One of his fondest memories came during a night mission on Oct. 18, 1951, when his crew sang "Happy Birthday" on his 21st birthday while flying 20,000 feet over North Korea. Adkins, who was discharged from the United States Air Force in August 1953, said he was the youngest (at age 20) and smallest member of his 11-man crew. He reunited with three of them on two occasions after their military service, but now says he's the only surviving member of his B-29 crew. Asked to share his age during an interview, while seated on a lawn chair under a shade tree, outside his Midway home, Adkins said, "I'm just 85," laughter echoing his words. Adkins will join two World War II veterans from Woodford County who are taking an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., on Aug. 27. They will see war memorials dedicated to their military service and sacrifices before returning to Blue Grass Airport at about 9 p.m. for a homecoming that many wartime veterans, including those who served during the Korean War, never received. "It was the forgotten war," said Adkins. "The majority of the people (in the United States) ignored the Korean War . That's the reason why it was called the forgotten war." He received an Air Medal (in 1952) and Korean War Service Medal (in 2003) for his service.