Area veteran-engineer honored for bravery
December 20, 2002
GAINESVILLE - A war hero whose military honors came after a 50-year wait was honored tonight by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, during the commencement address for the University of Florida School of Engineering.
Nelson cited the veteran, Donald J. Gill, of The Villages, because Gill is an engineer whose contributions to our country were extraordinary, and Nelson hoped he would serve as a model for tonight's engineering graduates.
Air Force Airman First Class Gill earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as an airborne radio operator during the Korean War. Gill saved the lives of his ten crew members during a B-29 bombing mission over Korea when he voluntarily climbed into the open bay of his airplane to release a bomb that was stuck in its holder and threatening the lives of his fellow airmen.
When Gill saw that the 500-pound bomb hadn't dropped from the plane, he pried it loose. Without a parachute and while his plane countered turbulence some 25,000 feet above ground, Gill walked into the bay, climbed on top of the bomb rack and hung upside down to release the explosive. While he was trying to free the bomb, Gill suffered from a lack of oxygen and barely managed to return to the cabin. His actions prevented those on board from having to abandon the airplane.
Though the event took place in February 1953, his nomination for the Distinguished Flying Cross was lost after his commander was killed in a plane crash. It wasn't until earlier this year, when one of Gill's crew on that flight re-nominated him for the award, that Gill was approved to receive the medal. Nelson contacted the Air Force about the nomination and secured the medal for Gill this month.
Gill, accompanied by his family and the retired Lt. Colonel who wrote the nomination, received the medal from Nelson just before the commencement Friday.