Minden Air Force veteran celebrates 74 years of flying
For 74 years, flying and airplanes have always been a part of Jack Hill’s world — with 41 of those years soaring in and out of the Minden-Tahoe airport.
The Carson Valley local turned 95 last Wednesday and sold his last owned plane a few months ago, but that doesn’t discourage him from riding with pilots in the Reno Air Races in September, followed by the Minden-Tahoe Aviation Roundup Oct. 7-8.
“I can still legally fly, but I like to fly with friends now,” he said. “I built my own Kitfox aircraft, but it was time to let it go.”
Although his home is in California’s Bay Area, the World War II bomber pilot made quite the journey to Carson Valley, before settling in the area 43 years ago.
It all began at the age of 10 in his hometown, Piedmont, near Oakland.
“My neighbor, Bud Rose, who lived across the street, became my best friend,” he said. “His father operated Varney Airlines and gave me my first airplane ride in a Sikorsky amphibious aircraft.”
Many flights after that, both boys became pilots. When Hill turned 19, he got a job as a civilian mechanic at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, and enlisted into the U.S. Air Force pilot program in 1942.
Hill’s official flight training then began when he was transferred to Ryan Field in Tucson, Ariz., followed by Lemoore Army Air Field in California.
From there, he went to Advanced Pilot School in La Junta, Colo. After, he met his crew at Morris Field in Charlotte, N.C., to train in combat air flight.
But out of all the planes, — from the Ryan PT-22 to the B-24 — the aircraft that will always hold a place in Hill’s heart is the Douglas A-20 Havoc, when he was stationed in Grosetto, Italy, during World War II.
He flew more than 25 night intruder missions in the aircraft, as part of the 47th Bomb Group, 85th Squadron.
“Flying in night vision as a pilot in the cockpit was the best experience,” he said.
But another memorable outing was flying the Douglas A-26 Invader after the war, when he was assigned to fly back to the United States. The crew was headed toward the Pacific but soon after they arrived in the U.S., the Japan surrendered and they were released from service.
As he was required to do a test flight on the aircraft for five hours, Hill took the opportunity to fly over Paris, circling the Eiffel Tower.
“They never knew I went to Paris, either,” he said. “Nobody believed me and the war was freshly over.”
But during those years of war, Hill had a wife waiting for him at home – Margie.
The couple met when Hill attended the University of Minnesota for aviation, before he trained for flying. He even named an aircraft after her.
After his return to the Bay Area, he served in the Reserves at Travis Air Force Base — as well as a battalion chief at the Contra Costa Consolidated Fire Department in Walnut Creek — he retired as a major.
“My contribution to the war was minimal,” Hill said. “We did an important job preventing the Germans with good retreat in difficult formations, but it wasn’t a big deal.”
He and Margie then decided it was time for a move, in which they found their home in Carson Valley in 1975.
“We drove through Kingsbury Grade to the valley on my motorcycle,” he said. “We spotted some land for sale on Johnson Lane. We purchased 10 acres.”
After the couple had built their home on Johnson Lane, they noticed something was missing in their neighborhood – a fire station.
With his background in firefighting and alarm system management, Hill and his community collaborated to establish a volunteer fire station.
Today, it’s known as the East Fork Fire Protection District Station 6.
“I was involved for about a decade,” he said. “We had feeds and fundraisers until the county decided to rebuild a modern station in the area.”
For years, Hill towed gliders at the Minden-Tahoe Airport. After 64 years of marriage, Margie passed away in 2008.
As for his childhood friend, Bud, he lived up to his dream of being a pilot, too. Hill said Bud shot down a few German fighter planes and became an ace. He died about four years ago and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Now at 95, Hill appreciates visiting an A-26 model at the Carson City Airport, as it serves as a reminder to one special takeaway from his experiences.
He accidentally took the key of the A-26 home with him after the war, left in his pocket.
“The actual plane I flew is on display at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma,” he said. “But I have the key to it. It still has the serial number engraved.”