WWII pilot turns 100, recalls plane crash on D-Day


FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — Turning 100 is often headline-worthy, but for Jerry Neal, it’s merely a footnote in a life well-lived. 

“I love the Lord, have a good wife, good genes, and drink one glass of wine every day,” Neal said.

The Nashville man is a devoted husband, dad, and “Gramps.” Mr. Neal has retired four times, each endeavor a successful adventure focused on giving back.

“You should always take time for service. Help your fellow man,” he said.

His devotion to selfless services started in WWII when CPT Neal served as a pilot in the Army Air Corp flying B17s and B24s in the 8th Air Force, 490th bomb group.

He survived one of the most storied missions in our nation’s history — Operation Overlord, commonly known as D-Day.

Tasked with disrupting the enemy’s movement, armed with his crew and ten 500-pound bombs, he circled for several hours but couldn’t get a clear shot due to weather. 

“My flight engineer said you’re low on fuel. And just then, all of those four big huge engines stopped. It was eerily quiet,” recalls Neal.

As he plummeted to the English Channel, his crew bailed. 

“Just as I flared out, it was just like God put it there. It was a big rock wall out in the middle of the Channel. I pull back and hit that rock bar. We broke a window and walked out on the wing and sat there and checked ourselves,” Neal said while patting over his body.

CPT Neal, his co-pilot, navigator, along with one crew member were the only ones to survive. Six men died.

He went on to fly roughly 100 more missions during WWII and continued to lose dear friends along the way.

Neal was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. He’s also a recipient of the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters, each representing acts of heroism. He’s thankful for that time of his life, but says now he’s in his prime. 

“I know I don’t have many more years. You know God is going to determine that, but I’ll enjoy it until he takes me to a better place,” Neal said with a smile.


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