Jack Gompf Profile
Dick Thomas

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92-Year-Old Shares His Stories of Service…

Metro Life Flight Visits Wooster World War II Veteran


In February, Metro Life Flight 2, carrying four crew members and a photographer, touched down at Wayne County Airport. The mission? Not to save a life, but to learn from a lifetime of memories.

          The group visited with Wooster resident Jack Gompf, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, who shared his wartime memories and photos. The meeting was arranged by Dick Thomas, Vice President of the Wayne County Airport Authority.

          “Jack served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and did he serve! His is a remarkable story that needs to be told, both to recognize Jack, and to remind people of the importance of aviation,” says Dick.

          Dick contacted Betty Kovach, MetroHealth’s Director of Ambulatory Nursing Service, who wholeheartedly agreed to arrange the visit. Jack’s story, as captured in an interview with Dick, follows…


An Experience He Never Expected

War Transforms Civilian Flyer into Fighter Pilot

From an interview by Dick Thomas, Vice President of the Wayne County Airport Authority; Victoria Welling, writer


When Cleveland Heights native Jack Gompf graduated from Shaw High School in 1935, going to war was the last thing on his mind. “I worked for four years, knocked around the country a little bit, and then decided I ought to go to college,” explains Jack, 92, of Wooster.

          He headed to Miami University, where he enrolled in the school’s civilian pilot training program. “I thought, ‘Boy, this is it,’” Jack recalls. So he left school to join the U.S. Army Air Corps.

          Stationed in Texas, Jack trained in AT-6 airplanes, earned his wings in 1941, and soon became a flight instructor. He also married his college sweetheart, Massillon native Jane Rider. “It looked like I was going to be an instructor forever, so Jane and I got married in San Antonio.”  

          Then came Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. With two other pilots, Jack joined a unit based in North Carolina. “We signed up for this outfit, sight unseen, and then we learned we were scheduled for overseas.”

          Jack spent six months in North Carolina, flying P-39s and P-40s. During one training exercise in a P-40, he had to bail out. “I was messing around, diving and doing rolls, and I did something wrong. The plane was about to blow up, so I got out of there,” explains Jack.

          That was Jack’s first brush with death. There would be many more to come.

Off to England

          It was early in the war when Jack and his North Carolina unit boarded the Queen Mary—along with some 15,000 other U.S. troops—and headed for England. They settled at a Royal Air Force base, where they trained in P-39s. Eventually, the unit got word of their first assignment.

          “We had been practicing long-distance flying, and so we were assigned to fly to North Africa in P-39s with 150-gallon belly tanks hanging underneath. The P-39 wasn’t a good-flying airplane anyway, even without the belly tank,” says Jack.

          When the group was ready to depart, Jack’s airplane was still being serviced, so he took off with the next group. Things went badly. “We had bad weather, and we were flying all wrong.” Unsure of their location, the group finally found a city with an airfield and landed. They had set down in Portugal—a fortunate error, considering that nearly half of the squadron that Jack was originally assigned to fly with was lost over North Africa.

          Jack’s group was greeted by a Jeep-load of Portuguese soldiers and transported to a town on the Spanish border, where they were interned in a hotel for six months. “We had the run of the place,” says Jack. He made several good friends, including his roommate, a 19-year-old pilot named Junior.

          Eventually, Jack’s unit was released and assigned to Casablanca, where they were given the choice of the outfit they wanted to sign up with. Says Jack: “I didn’t want any P-39, but I’d heard a lot about Spitfires, and there was an American Spitfire group.”

I’ll take Spitz”

          “I was about the only one of my group who took Spitz, and by the time I got assigned to the Spitfire unit, I had heard about what had happened to my previous associates. Most of them were already lost, including my friend Junior.”

          Jack and his fellow Spitfire pilots were sent to Italy, where they were based first just outside of Naples and then near Anzio. It was over Italy that Jack flew his career total of 94 missions. “Mostly I flew patrol, from dawn to dusk, weather permitting. Sometimes I escorted bombers and did a little strafing now and then,” he explains.


          Jack had what he terms “a ringside seat” for the battle of Cassino, covering allied bombers during the destruction of the ancient Abbey of Monte Cassino. From his position near Anzio, he flew repeatedly over enemy territory. “I encountered a little activity there,” he says.

          It was also in Italy that Jack survived a crash landing in his Spitfire. “My engine started acting up, so I turned around and headed home, hoping to get over friendly territory. It got to the point that I had to land, so I set it down and tumbled—really tore it up pretty good. I ended up in a ditch, right-side-up. I wasn’t hurt at all, but the airplane was destroyed.”

          Jack’s good fortune held. “Turned out I was within hollering distance of a little observation airfield, so they came and got me and flew me back to my base.”

100 or Home

          After about nine months in Italy, Jack and his group were sent back to Casablanca, where they traded their Spitfires for P-51s.

          Jack trained for awhile with the P-51, but then the Army made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “They said, ‘You’ve flown 94 missions. You can stay and make it 100, or you can go home.’” Jack chose the later. “That was an easy decision,” he says.

          But Jack’s luck was to be tested one more time.

          Along with six or seven other airmen, Jack boarded a U.S.-bound C-54 transport plane. Their route home was first down the coast of Africa, then across the Atlantic and up the coast of South America to the States. They were just a couple hours out, when they stopped to refuel. Shortly thereafter, somewhere along the African coast, they started having engine trouble, due most likely to bad gas.

          “We lost an engine, and we lost another engine, and by that time, we were losing altitude. So we started chopping machine guns loose—and anything else we could get rid of to lighten the airplane. We were standing in the open door, throwing things out.”

          With only about 200 feet of altitude remaining, the pilot made a water landing just off a beach. Moments after Jack and his fellow passengers had exited the plane, a giant wave came up, and “the whole bunch of us were pretty much washed ashore.” The crew camped on the beach under tents they made from parachutes.

          They had been sending May Day signals, and the next day, a U.S. airplane dropped a note. “It said, ‘there’s a little lagoon just inland from you, head for that, and we’ll pick you up,’” Jack recalls. The plane—most likely a C-47 equipped with pontoons—landed on the lake, and Jack and his companions piled in. They headed for a nearby airbase, from which they caught another flight for the States.

After Two Years, a Lifetime Ahead

          After two years in Europe, Jack arrived in Miami, and then—reunited with Jane—he finished his military career in Texas. “I didn’t want to fly anything anymore,” he says. Instead, he served as an intelligence officer until his discharge in 1943.

          Jack and Jane eventually settled in Wooster, where they raised three children. Always favoring self-employment, Jack built a successful insurance sales business and retired in 1980.

          He and Jane will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary this year.                                             






The Planes He Flew

P-39 Airacobra

Wingspan: 34 feet

Length: 30 feet 2 inches

Max speed:  376 mph

Manufacturer: Bell Aviation

Jack’s opinion: “Bad news; not a good-flying airplane.”

P-40 Warhawk

Wingspan: 37 feet

Length: 31 feet

Max speed: 360 mph

Manufacturer: Curtiss-Wright

Jack’s opinion: “Better that the P39----but not much.”

P-51 Mustang

Wingspan: 37 feet

Length: 32 feet

Max speed: 443 mph

Manufacturer: North American Aviation

Jack’s opinion: “A hell of a good airplane; easy to fly and fast.”



Wingspan: 36 feet 10 inches

Length: 29 feet 9 inches

Max speed: 354 mph

Manufacturer: Supermarine Aviation Works

Jack’s opinion: “Easy to handle; very responsive and very comfortable; a damn good airplane.”
Jack had his scrap book and they talked flying for an hour.  When it was time for the Life Flight people to leave I drove Jack around onto the ramp in my car and we stood beside the car as the aircraft launched with two on the flight deck and three on the medical deck.  As it hovered above the captain tilted the front down and threw Jack a big salute thru the windshield as they left.  I lost it.....and still do. 

     Gumpf14     Gumpf4Gumpf9







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