Longtime Wilton resident Charles Evans stayed in Europe even after he had flown the 25 combat missions required of him during World War II.
“He was steadfast and true all the way. Thirty missions, he went above and beyond the call of duty,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson in a ceremony on Saturday for Evans, who was honored as the Friends of the New York State Military Museum 2012 Veteran of the Year.
Before presenting the 94-year-old with a flag and commemorative coin, Gibson, who is himself a military veteran, marveled at Evans’ first combat mission on June 5, 1944. Designed as a distraction the day before D-Day, Evans flew over Pas de Calais and felt the full brunt of the German defenses. “I can’t even imagine what it was like to be on that mission,” said Gibson, adding that it was a real pleasure to honor a great American hero.
Sitting before a crowd of about three dozen people, including family members and military veterans, Evans tried to stress the family environment cultivated in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He said the institution was willing to do anything for its members and that support made him and the other servicemen want to give so much of themselves. And the close ties of the servicemen made them function more smoothly.
“Many people contributed to the success,” he said.
Talking about his role in aiding the Allied cause, Evans said, “We didn’t do it with any anger or any desire to hurt anybody.”
He added that the outcome could have gone very differently, and they were very fortunate to emerge victorious, even though not all the memories were pleasant. “The whole experience was one that you wouldn’t want to pass up,” he added.
Evans made it through his missions flying the same 10-man B-24 Liberator and recounted how there weren’t any deaths in his crew during the war. There was one close call, with a crew member getting shrapnel in his lung, but he lived.
“We made some poor decisions, but we made more good ones than we did bad,” Evans said. “It turned out to be a successful effort that we can look back on and just hope we don’t have to do it again.”
Evans, who already had his civilian pilot’s license, enlisted into the military shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After his combat missions were over, Evans remained in Europe and trained pilots. Then in 1945 he was stationed in California and was preparing to join the Pacific front against the Japanese, but they conceded defeat before he was sent back into combat.
After the war he worked for American Airlines, flying anything from the DC-33 to the Boeing 707.
Once he finished his remarks and the ceremony concluded, Evans was again the focal point of attention, as a string of people lined up to take photographs with him or simply shake his hand.