A Tribute to Lt. Col. John J. Nolan

This week, we wanted to share a tribute to a member of the 345th Bomb Group by Nebraska senator Deb Fischer. After World War II ended, Lt. Col. John J. Nolan stayed in the air force, looking to make a positive impact on the lives of other pilots. He had his own brush with death on August 15, 1944  when a fellow pilot’s B-25 hit his own, nearly causing it to crash. As you will read below, Nolan led a productive and interesting life after returning to the States.

Senator Fischer’s tribute:
Mr. President, I rise to honor a Nebraskan who was recently interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Lt. Col. John J. Nolan of Lincoln, NE, was a U.S. Air Force pilot who deserves our respect and gratitude. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, he gave up a football scholarship at Temple University to enlist in the Army Air Corps in 1943.

During World War II, John was a B-25 aircraft commander with the heralded Air Apaches, 345th Bombardment Group, assigned to the Fifth Air Force operating in the Southwest Pacific.

In this capacity, he flew low-level strafing missions in specially configured B-25s with eight .50-caliber machine guns that were controlled by pilots. He flew in the Black Sunday raid on Hollandia, New Guinea, on April 16, 1944. This raid became the worst operational loss ever suffered by the Fifth Air Force in a single day. [IHRA note: read more about Black Sunday here.]

Following World War II, the Air Force realized more pilots had been lost on instruments than in actual combat. In response, the Instrument Pilot Instruction School was created. John was one of the initial cadre of pilots tasked with providing standardized instrument procedures, techniques, and training methods. These pilots were also required to test and evaluate flight instruments in adverse weather conditions. During this period, he became the B-25 high-time pilot for the entire U.S. Air Force.

John also wrote a substantial part of the instrument flying guidelines, known as Air Force Manual 51-37. Many pilots owe their lives to this manual. As a matter of fact, when his two sons went through pilot training in 1967 and 1973, respectively, his instructions were still in the manual.

John transitioned to F-86s as a part of the Air Force’s newly created All Weather Interceptors. He also served in Japan during the Korean war.

In the 1960s, when commercial aviation was converting to jet-powered aircraft and entering into military airspace at high altitudes, John was assigned to Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, known as Air Defense Command. He became the Air Force liaison to the FAA Central Region, and he was tasked with developing and coordinating procedures to ensure safe arrival and departures within this shared airspace. In this capacity, John was also responsible for maintaining military readiness and operational capabilities.

Upon his retirement in October 1963, John was chosen to serve as the Midwest recruiter for the Air Force Academy.

John dedicated his entire life to his beloved U.S. Air Force. Not only did he serve honorably, John was also an integral participant in so many of the milestones that are now a part of Air Force history.

John never lost his love of flight. He continued to fly well into his late eighties in his restored Fairchild PT 19/26, which is the same aircraft he initially learned to fly in as a cadet in the Army Air Corps.

Lt. Col. John Nolan’s entire life was for God and country. He married Marie Di Giambattista on January 6, 1944, before he was assigned overseas. Together, they raised four children. Marie sacrificed much, as so many of our military families experience today, moving 23 times in John’s 20-year career. They were married 71 years. Only 27 days after Marie passed, John died this past July 3, 2015, at the age of 94.

We owe a debt of gratitude to John Nolan and his family. He led an extraordinary life at a time when our country needed people like him the most. Through all of this, he remained humble. We will never forget his sacrifices and patriotism.

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