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"High-flying bravery: Airport founder was WWII fighter pilot"
Sunday, May 27, 2012
High-flying bravery: Airport founder was WWII fighter pilot
By JOHN I. CARNEY
The Shelbyville (TN) Times-Gazette
Bob Bomar of Shelbyville, founder and retired long-time operator of
Shelbyville Municipal Airport, is a World War II veteran who saw action in
the skies above both the European and Pacific theaters.
Bomar wanted to learn how to fly. He went to college at Cumberland
University in Lebanon so that he could take its very first flight course. He
earned his private pilot's license his first year in college.
"That's what I really wanted to do when I went to college was fly."
The next year, 1940, Bomar hitchhiked to the federal building in Nashville
to sign up for the Navy Air Corps. He got permission to finish out the
school year and then went to Atlanta Naval Air Station (now the DeKalb
Peachtree Airport) for a physical.
The physical trimmed his class of recruits from 35 to 15. He was still in
Atlanta when Pearl Harbor took place, and training of Navy pilots kicked
into high gear. He was sent to Jacksonville, where he was startled to be
asked to be head of cadets.
"I said, 'What's that?'
"They said, 'Well, we've got about 1,200 cadets here, and you have to know
where all the cadets are at any one time.'
"I said, 'I don't believe that's possible.'"
He recalled coming to the defense of a cadet who had been accused of buzzing
a nearby dock -- flying recklessly low over it. The cadet denied having done
any such thing or having been anywhere near the dock. The authorities then
produced a man who said he had been on the dock fishing at the time of the
"Well," objected the cadet, "there wasn't anybody on that dock."
Bomar, realizing the facts were against his fellow cadet, tried a somewhat
"All of you are pilots....," he said. "There isn't a one of you here that
hasn't done buzzing. I'm positive of that." He convinced the authorities
that pilots were badly needed and that they should let the cadet off with a
reprimand rather than discharge him.
Later, Bomar was sent to Opa Locka, Fla., near Miami. Competition was hot
among pilots for certain assignments.
"I was determined to try to get fighters," said Bomar. In one exercise,
pilots were supposed to aim at a windsock being pulled by another aircraft.
The standard way to do it was a diving turn, but Bomar tried rolling his
aircraft and approaching the target upside down, with good results.
He ended up graduating first in his class of pilots; the top three got their
choice of assignments, and Bomar, as he wanted, chose fighter planes. He
went to San Diego to train on Grumman Wildcats. He was sent to Seattle to
form a squadron, then back to San Diego to set out on an aircraft carrier,
the USS Core, ultimately headed for the Atlantic. The Core escorted troop
and cargo ships, protecting them from an Atlantic ocean riddled with German
Bomar was flying high fighter with a torpedo bomber when they found a German
U-boat. Bomar strafed the boat. The bomber went a little long with its
payload but damaged the sub badly enough that it could not submerge.
A "killer group" from the Core came out to finish the submarine off. About
15 survivors were picked up from the wrecked submarine, and ended up getting
sent back to Camp Forrest in Tullahoma, which housed German prisoners of
He also participated in the invasion of North Africa.
After that, he was sent back to the U.S. and was eligible for shore duty,
but he and another member of his squadron were restless to get back into
action. They were sent to the Pacific, arriving in Hilo, Hawaii, to train
new squadron members.
To the Pacific
After three weeks in the Philippines, he and his squadron headed for
Okinawa, where Bomar was part of the first strike on the beaches. Air forces
napalmed a 3,500-foot stretch of beach to make way for the troops.
"We hit the beach, and there was not a shot fired," said Bomar. The Navy
landed planes at Naha airport in Okinawa the next day. The invasion of
Okinawa, from April through June 1945, was the largest amphibious operation
of the Pacific campaign. The Allied forces hoped to use the island as a base
for the planned invasion of Japan.
In Okinawa, Bomar would make two flights a day -- one to protect the fleet
against kamikazes, another to do strikes against towns in Okinawa as the
conquest of it continued.
Once, Bomar intercepted a kamikaze above the overcast, at an altitude of
6,000 feet. The kamikaze ducked down into the overcast, and Bomar and his
fighter group followed him. They ducked into and out of the overcast four
times. Finally, the kamikaze pilot was able to evade them and hit a ship.
"I never did get a shot at him," said Bomar. But he later shot down a
On another occasion, Bomar encountered eight dynamite-laden kamikaze ships
on the southwest side of the island. Bomar and his fellow pilots were
carrying rockets under their wings.
One of the other pilots fired both of his rockets, but he hit a concrete
wall, and his plane was damaged by a flying piece of concrete.
Bomar escorted him back to the fleet -- but the pilot crash-landed on the
carrier, which meant Bomar, who was running low on gas, had to wait until
the deck had been cleared. Bomar said he learned to land first in such
Then, one night, Bomar was in the wardroom, eating a late-night breakfast
before his scheduled 1 a.m. flight.
"This boy came in and said, 'The war's over .... They dropped something
called the atom bomb."
After the war, Bomar interviewed with American Airlines. They offered him
$250 a month -- a third of what he'd been making flying for the Navy. He
turned AA down, and came back to Shelbyville.
Bomar bought three trainer planes on his way out of the Navy, and bought
some farmland north of Shelbyville from the family of Gov. Jim Nance McCord.
The State of Tennessee offered to bring students down to do the engineering.
"That's the way we got our airport here in Shelbyville," said Bomar. Bomar
ran the airport for 48 years, and at one time it was honored by the FAA as
the best small-town airport in the nation.
Later, Bomar became active in the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission. He went
to Gov. Frank Clement and insisted on more funding for community airports
across the state.
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