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Veteran Feature: Ed Jurkens

Untitled Design - Veteran Feature: Ed Jurkens
World War II Army Air Force Colonel Ed Jurkens

World War II veteran, aviator, and avid volunteer are just a few words to describe Army Air Force Colonel, Ret. Ed Jurkens. Jurkens, at 103 years old, is a fascinating man full of stories and tales of his life in the air. We had a chance to sit down with veteran and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum volunteer, Ed Jurkens to talk story and honor his great service and sacrifice this Veterans Day.

Flying across the world
Ed Jurkens with the Museum's B-25, a type of aircraft he has flown many times Ed Jurkens with the Museum’s B-25, a type of aircraft he has flown many times

Jurkens’ flew across the country and across the world during his inspiring aviation career. While in service he was stationed throughout the country and abroad in both England and Korea. When stationed in England, he flew with the exchange Royal Air Force (RAF), logging hours all over Europe and throughout the Middle East. Most of his flying in Europe and England was during times of peace, prior to WWII. In Korea, he had missions to Japan, Hong Kong, and many surrounding islands. Logging flight hours in both theaters, he has seen more of the world from the sky than most will see in their travels. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, most of his flights took place in the Pacific Theater.

Arriving in Hawaii After the attack on Pearl Harbor
Historic Hangar 37 during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1942, Jurkens was stationed in Hawaii as part of the 13th Army Air Force shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. When Jurkens arrived, he helped train and lead sea search mission to ensure the island would never be attacked again. His squadron was stationed at Kipapa airfield on Oahu. While in Hawaii, Jurkens can remember him and his fellow servicemen heading down to Waikiki beaches for some must needed rest and relaxation. Although there are many fond memories, Jurkens also remembers that there were also many hard times while being stationed in Hawaii and as he stated, “many never came back,” as they lost men during their sea search missions.

B-24 Bomber in Guadalcanal - National Achives image B-24 Bomber in Guadalcanal – National Achives image

In February or March of 1943, Jurkens left Hawaii for Guadalcanal. He led many missions, losing many of his men, but stated he was lucky. Jurkens’ missions in Guadalcanal began with nights of bombing and flying, with an occasional encounter with a Zero. Once stronger in numbers, Jurkens and the B-24 bombers he flew were able to fly during the day, encountering antiaircraft fire and Zeros while bombing airfields, Navy ships and interisland supply ships. Jurkens participated in many other missions in the Pacific, including time spent at Midway, Guadalcanal, Wake Island, the Solomon Islands, and many more.

B-24 Heavy Bomber
B-24 Bomber - National Achives image B-24 Bomber – National Achives image

Throughout all of his combat missions, the B-24 was was where Jurkens felt most comfortable. Jurkens remembers and reminisces on the stories of his many years in the cockpit of the four engine heavy bomber with his nine crew mates. He vividly recalls the long night missions looking at the spectacular stars, as well as the vast ocean of day missions where, as Jurkens described, all you would see was, “an occasional Navy ship, but mostly just a lot of water.” Jurkens said he and his crew, “were on our own with a very primitive radar that could barely tell the difference between land and water” because of the lack of radio and beams.

Jurkens had the opportunity to hop into the cockpit of numerous types of planes during the course of his career, from the PT-17 bi-wing open cockpit airplane he flew in flight school to the B-24, four engine bomber that he flew during his combat missions. Although Jurkens has piloted many planes through his years, his favorite plane to fly was the Stearman, similar to the one at the Museum. Jurkens loved the acrobatics the Stearman was capable of and holds many dear memories in the cockpit. Before WWII, if the weather was right, he remembers going for a flight in one on the weekends to visit friends across the country and being able to be back by dark!

Volunteer Docent at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Ed Jurkens with one of his favorite aircraft, the Stearman Ed Jurkens with one of his favorite aircraft, the Stearman

Ed Jurkens was a longtime volunteer at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, who first came to the Museum as a visitor. As Ed talked story with one of the Museum’s volunteer docents, the volunteer’s eyes opened and he said “Whoa, well why don’t you come and volunteer here too?”

Jurkens surely had the experience, background, and charisma to share his stories with the world. Jurkens says he “didn’t mind reminiscing with people.”

As a volunteer docent at the Museum, Ed gave tours and talked story with visitors as he shared his experiences with our amazing planes from inside the cockpit. Some of his favorite stories to share are his fond memories in a Stearman, the stories behind the missions of the B-25, and the floor to ceiling map of the Pacific Islands including Midway, Guadalcanal, and other islands that he himself had flown to during the war. Although Jurkens is no longer leading tours as a volunteer docent at the Museum, he still – at 103 years old – visits the Museum often and loves sharing his stories with the world – capturing the attention and ears of all that are near!

Jurkens, a member of our nation’s Greatest Generation wants to leave a legacy to the next generation.

“Lessons I learned during the Great Depression and WWII – being frugal, coming together, getting along, making the best you can with what you have – I think we all learned a lot about living together.”

He hopes that the new generations can learn from the experiences of the past and remember the sacrifices and service of the nation.

Thank you to Ed Jurkens and all of our brave veterans. We remember your service.

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