It was April 15, 1944 and a cocky twenty-year old named Joy Howard Dunlap had just received his pilot’s wings.

Lt. Col. Joy Dunlap has served his country in three wars—WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Born in Ohio, he has since lived in almost every state and over a twenty-eight year career, in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, England, Spain, Germany, Italy and North Africa and has flown forty-seven different aircraft.

It was April 15, 1944 and a cocky twenty-year old named Joy Howard Dunlap had just received his pilot’s wings. Training continued through fall, then he sailed on the Queen Elizabeth from Boston on December 12 arriving near Christmas at the bomber base in Suffolk, England to join the last big push of the war, the Battle of the Bulge.

By the wars end the following year, Joy Dunlap and his 385th Bomb Group (Heavy), 550th Squadron had flown thirty-five missions total—twenty-one in ‘The Stork Club’, his primary B-17 aircraft.     

“We shot at most; we hit a good few; and we got home safe every time,” he summarizes. “They called the B-17 the ‘Flying Fortress’—in my opinion, the best plane ever built.”

Beginning January 5, ’45, Dunlap flew eighty-eight days of combat missions, including one period of sixteen days straight.

 “Those were long and grueling days—there were 800 to 1000 planes going out in formation. We reported at 7:00 am to warm up the planes—that took 4 to 5 hours. It was around -60 degrees inside the plane at 30,000 feet. We had no protection for our ears, so exposure to supersonic sound damaged everyone’s hearing.”

“I had on a dress uniform, a flying suit, leather coveralls, sheepskin lined-suspenders that were wired with heat (like an electric blanket) plus parachute and a steel-plated flight jacket.”

“I wore an oxygen mask—it tended to freeze to the skin around the mouth. Under heated gloves I wore silk gloves so when I adjusted the mask by hand my hands wouldn’t freeze to the metal on the mask. Over those went sheepskin gloves. Still, there were plenty of frozen toes and hands.”

“We taxied up the runways, 36 to 48 planes from each base, and took off thirty seconds apart, rising 500 feet per minute up to the bomber stream. Had to reach altitude before entering enemy territory or we would be vulnerable to ground fire. We would drop the bombs and head for home back across the English Channel. By 5:00 pm we were back—had a shot of scotch and went to bed to do it all over again the next day.”

“If a plane sustained damage, the crew would bail in the water. You had about five minutes to live in the icy water; the English had a pretty good rescue system,” Dunlap said.

Today, Dunlap still keeps in touch with two of his crewmembers—his radio operator in Pennsylvania and his belly gunner, who lives in Mobile.

He was aboard the third Honor Flight to view the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. in September 2007.

“That was a very emotional experience. The Honor Flights are a great service to the Vets of that era,” he said.

Dunlap and wife, Jackie, have 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren between them. His nickname, ‘Papa Dunlap’, acquired when was a Red Cross swimming instructor and coached tennis in England, is the moniker on his license plate.

While living in England, he enjoyed racing cars—driving an Austin Healy and a Mini-Cooper. Dunlap retired from military duty in 1968 and for over thirty years ran a charter boat out of Ft. Walton Beach and built custom-made fishing rods.

“I have done things men never dream of and I am grateful,” he says simply.

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