He lay in the nose turret of his B-24 Liberator, his twin .50-caliber machine guns in front of him, a confined space in which he had to have help getting out.
Kerr didn’t realize that the 11th mission of his bomber group was his last or that the B-24 just behind his was shot down by Nazi 88 mm antiaircraft artillery.
“That bomber was the ‘Black Cat.’ It had a big panther painted on its nose,” Kerr said.
Kerr’s bomber group had been assigned to bomb Salzburg, Germany, close to Munich.
“The weather had us stopped there. They told us to bring all the bombs back to England,” he said.
The B-24 carried eight 1,000-pound bombs. With that much weight, the aircraft can attain a speed of 170 mph. If Kerr’s bomber had dropped the bombs, it could have reached speeds up to 250 mph.
Despite scrapping the mission, at least Kerr’s 787th Bomb Squadron of the 466th Bomber Group was credited for the mission.
Once before, Kerr was on a bombing mission to Tirstrop, Denmark, and the weather turned his squadron back, but his group did not get credit that time.
His 11th and last mission aboard his B-24, dubbed Earthquake McGoon after an Al Capp cartoon, made it back to Attlebridge Airfield in England.
The nose art on his B-24 featured Earthquake McGoon and Daisy Mae.
That was April 22, 1945.
“After we landed, we went back to the barracks at about 4 or 5 p.m. We needed to lie down and rest a bit,” he said.
Kerr’s missions ranged in duration from five to 10 hours.
But Kerr was not to fly anymore missions. The Germans surrendered and Victory in Europe Day was proclaimed on May 8.
Although threatened with antiaircraft fire, Kerr says his scariest mission was his first in March 1945.
“We hit a lot of railroads, marshalling yards, where the tracks all come together, and German airfields – all military targets,” Kerr said.
On his first mission, the target was a naval installation where submarine pens were in place in Wilhelmshaven, on the German coast.
“We dropped the whole load. We dropped them through the clouds. We dropped them by radar,” Kerr said.
“A reconnaissance plane took pictures after the bombs were dropped. We didn’t even learn how we did on the mission,” Kerr said.
Still, Kerr had achieved his wish to be in the Army Air Corps.
When he was 15, he tried to join the Royal Canadian Airforce. But about that time, the Canadians ceased to take citizens of the United States.
At the end of his junior year at Three River High School, Kerr and the late John Thomas Cunningham joined the Army together.
But they got separated.
“He became a flight engineer for B-24s,” Kerr said.
Kerr became an aviation cadet in San Antonio.
“I was barely 19, but I was not mature enough. I washed out. I didn’t make it through mathematics and navigation,” he said.
Kerr was sent to Lowry Field, Colo. to train as an armor aircraft gunner. Following that, he spent about three months at Tyndall Field in Panama City, Fla. for gunnery school.
“I became a corporal there when I finished,” he said. “Then they assigned us to a crew.”
Kerr traveled to Charleston, S.C. to train for overseas duty.
His crew was sent to Mitchell Field, N.Y. where they picked up a new aircraft.
His crew was to take the plane to Wales, Great Britain, he said. The plane was to be left there for modifications.
“We stopped in Iceland on the way. Wales was where we had to go first before going to England proper,” he said.
Finally, Kerr’s crew ended up in Norwich, England, near Attlebridge Airfield.
“That’s where we flew our missions from,” he said.
When the war in Europe ended, Kerr was ordered back to the United States for 30 days of rest and recuperation.
His crew dropped off the Earthquake McGoon at Bradley Field, Conn.
“We reported to the Sioux Falls Army Base where they had something like 45,000 men there. They were going to retrain us, but the war ended with Japan before that,” Kerr said.
“I came back to Three Rivers and went to work building Highway 72,” he said.
Kerr was a contractor with the Nacogdoches Contracting Company. He operated a bulldozer and scraper for them.
Some years ago, the Three Rivers school district superintendent awarded Kerr and Cunningham high school diplomas.
And Kerr, now 87, makes it a priority to visit the schools every year on or near Veterans Day to tell his story.
“Kids will sing to us ... and the band will play. We keep kids aware of what veterans went through,” he said.
He said adults like to hear veterans tell their stories, too. But he said not all of them understand.
“I think Vietnam veterans and Korean War veterans didn’t get much credit at all for fighting Uncle Sam’s battles,” he said.
“Back in our day, I think that patriotism is something we had – civilians, too,” he said.
“To veterans, I say congratulations in serving our country,” he added.
“I really mean that. Thank you, for it.”