KENEDY – Thousands of young men fought in the Second World War assigned to the 384th Bomber Group. One of the survivors lives in Kenedy.
Henry J. Kolinek Jr., 94 years young, was a member of that B-17 bomber group and flew his 35 missions.
“I was a tail gunner” said Kolinek. He flew 34 missions over France and Germany as a tail gunner, and one mission had him posted as a “waist gunner.”
“I did not like it though; it was too crowded, too boxed in.”
The last project for the bomber group began in 2010. A next generation member was at a convention and noticed a crew’s door was being signed by those veterans in attendance.
A plan formulated and a lower right wing panel was located and donated by the 384th Bomb Group Inc., out of Utah. Since 2010, the wing portion has visited every 384th reunion and has traveled to 29 different states along with the District of Columbia and the Dominican Republic gathering signatures of those veterans still living that flew with the Bomber Group.
The very last signature to go on the wing section before it gets placed in the group’s museum in Utah was to be Kolinek’s, the 154th signature.
The group of signatures includes all the surviving members who flew between January 1943 to February 1946. Total missions for the group numbered 300.
“We never ran into any German fighters, but we did encounter a lot of flak. One of our navigators was killed on one of our runs,” said Kolinek.
He was attending Texas A&M University when he signed up for the service.
“I came back to the states and returned to A&M and got my degree,” said Kolinek.
His degree was in agri-business, and he returned to a job with his family-owned bank in Kenedy, the Nichols Bank located at 125 W. Main St. The bank was owned by the Kolinek family for 100 years before being sold.
The signing took place at the bank building which has been renovated for his residence.
“I am really honored to sign the wing,” said Kolinek.
Several friends of the family and others were in attendance to witness the last signature of the veteran.
Kolinek is still active and moved to the displayed piece of wing as those gathered took photos and watched the proceedings. “HJ,” as he is known to family and friends, began by finding a spot he had previously located in the upper left side of the section.
“I see you’re still a lefty,” said one of the attendees. Indeed he is, and he spelled out his name in print and his “tail gunner” position and then his signature.
Those gathered broke out into a round of applause as he finished his signature. HJ will go down in history as the last signature of those surviving veterans who served their country onboard a B-17 bomber in World War II.
If any additional members of the bomber’s group are located, they too will be asked to sign the wing by either traveling to Utah or, if they are unable to travel, the wing section will take off again and travel to them.