'Jack' of all trades

Fultz fondly recalls
his World War II years

Behind his storytelling is a
veteran serious about service

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (July 2004) – Listening to Jack Fultz reminisce, it’s easy to imagine the sound of roaring airplane engines that must have enveloped the veteran during his stint as a top turret gunner and radar assistant during World War II. The memories he shares are as vivid as though they happened just yesterday, rather than nearly six decades ago.

Jack Fultz squadron

Photo provided

Jack Fultz (far right kneeling) of Kent, Ind., served during World War II in an Army Air Corps squadron based on the South Pacific island of Ie Shima. This photo was taken April 18, 1944, on the island, the same island where journalist Ernie Pyle was killed.

While memories of war leave many jaded, Fultz, 81, refuses to let his experience produce despair. He chooses instead to reflect on the positive. “This sounds funny, but my stint was like a vacation,” he said.
A native of Canton, Ind., Fultz entered the Naval Air Corps in 1942, shortly after graduating from high school. He later transferred to the Army Air Corps when an attempt at becoming a pilot was foiled by his inability to interpret a series of long and short beeps representing the military code language. “For some reason or another, when it came time to take those tests, I could not get code,” said Fultz, who recalled his disappointment.
In the AAC, Fultz was stationed in 1945 on Ie Shima, a tiny island in the Southwest Pacific near Okinawa. The island, captured and controlled by U.S. forces by the time Fultz arrived, was the place where renowned Indiana journalist Ernie Pyle had been killed. “Ernie Pyle was one of my boyhood heroes. He was a writer, and I wanted to be a writer,” Fultz said.
From Ie Shima, Fultz flew missions on board B-24 “Liberator” Bombers. He was a member of “The Sea Hawks,” 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bombardment Group, 5th AAC (a.k.a. Ken’s Men), whose missions were conducted against airfields and railways in Japan and against the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan.
For the most part, the missions on which Fultz flew were completed without incident. Once however, after taking off with four missing gas caps, Fultz’s plane became engulfed in flames.

Jack Fultz, others

Photo by Ruth Wright

Jack Fultz (far right) with his war veteran friends (from left) Bob Gaffney and Bob Hill.

The gasoline looked like a rain storm. The fumes were nauseating,” Fultz recalled. Thanks to quick action and skillful piloting, the plane made it safely back to ground.
“We just happened to be lucky, nothing happened to us,” Fultz said.
Fultz recalled the missions he flew shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “They told us to be careful about fallout. We didn’t know what fallout was.”
Soon after, Fultz flew his last mission – one that he looks back upon with a sense of regret. Because of a dangerous gas leak, his pilot decided to abort the mission. The crew jettisoned its bombs and headed home for what Fultz said was the last mission of the war.
To this day, Fultz regrets being unable to complete the mission.
When the war was declared over, Fultz was more than ready to return home. He was instead held back by a number of illnesses, including jungle rot in his ears, jaundice and infectious hepatitis, which had reduced him to just 110 pounds. It took a few months of recovery before he could return stateside.
After returning from the war and being discharged from the Army in 1946, Fultz finished the education he had started before leaving Indiana. He received, thanks to the G.I. Bill of Rights, a degree in journalism from Butler University.
Newspaper editor, salesman, race car driver, radio station manager, talk show host and substitute teacher were some of the positions Fultz occupied in the years after hanging up his Army fatigues. He once worked in Niles, Ill., for entrepreneur and pre-eminent golf promoter George S. May at his Tam O’Shanter Country Club. The club boasted a world-class golf course frequented by celebrities like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
In the 1950s he raced sports cars at Indianapolis and other tracks around the country.
Fultz keeps a scrapbook of his adventures. In it are pictures of several celebrities with whom he has brushed shoulders over the years. One he took himself is of a young and beautiful Jane Mansfield posing with one of his acquaintances.
Also in the scrapbook are pictures of Fultz during his military service, including one taken in Hawaii of him and his brother and fellow soldier, Robert, shortly before Fultz shipped out. Robert Fultz owned for many years the Fiesta restaurant in downtown Madison.
Retired, Fultz lives in Kent, Ind., with his wife, Phyllis. The couple have one son, Rob.
Fultz spends some of his time working with the local Disabled American Veterans group. Through it he has met Madison residents Bob Gaffney and Bob Hill. Like Fultz, both men also served on Ie Shima – Gaffney as a B-24 Bomber pilot and Hill as a medic. The men’s paths never crossed at the time.
“He’s a worker,” Gaffney said of Fultz, with whom he has become good friends.

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