Wilbur R. Jernigan WWII Veteran
Published 11:36 am Friday, October 4, 2019
Wilbur Roland Jernigan was born 1925, in Opp,Al to parents E. Ashley and Lena Jernigan. He joined the Air Corps June 25, 1943 and, in WWII, was a waist gunner aboard B-17s in the 15th Army Air Force, 99th Bomb Group, 347th Bomb Squadron, flying aircraft #44-6430 out of Tortorella, Italy, when he was shot down near Maribor, Yugoslavia on 7 November, 1944. Landing in a field, he fractured an ankle and was not able to escape capture; he folded his parachute and displayed his SERE chit as he was approached by a local who notified a German soldier who took Jernigan into custody. He spent the rest of the war in captivity in Stalag Luft 1 where LT Samuel Marlin Hamilton of Opp was also held. Food consisted of rotten potatoes, often with worms and insects imbedded. A piece of stale German bread was a rare treat. Potato soup was also on the menu a lot [often with insects and worms]. Roland had suffered from kidney stones before the war, and suffered another attack in the prison camp. He received nothing for the pain as all the medicine was reserved for German soldiers. In mid 1945, as the Russians were nearing Stalag Luft 1, the German guards abandoned the camp and the prisoners just walked out. Roland was liberated on May 13, 1945 and was sent to Camp Lucky Strike in France. His transition documents from POW status gave his address as West Railroad Ave., Opp, Al. His parents never knew he was free until he showed up on their doorstep back home in Opp.
After WWII, Jernigan also flew combat missions on B-25s in the Korean War. He continued his Air Force career until reaching a 20-year retirement in June 1, 1964, with the rank of Technical Sergeant. He then went to work with an aviation contractor at Fort Rucker, AL, where he worked on helicopters for another 20 years until his final retirement.
Jernigan passed away May 5, 2009, and is buried in New Brockton City Cemetery, AL. His surviving wife Mildred Jeanne (Sowell), originally of Red Level, is in a nursing home at present. They have one daughter, Sandi (Tim Windham) of Enterprise, as well as two sons, Dan Jernigan of Enterprise, and John Scott Jernigan of Elba, AL.
Author’s note: material provided by Tim Windham, Roland Jernigan’s son in law] John Vick