CUSHING — There is a big difference between bailing out of an airplane and jumping out of one.
Ed Lamb, of Oklahoma City, avoided the former not once, but twice during his days as a tail gunner in World War II. On Saturday — with free will at play this time — the 88-year-old finally got to see what it was all about.
It took $195 and the death of two concerned wives to get him to do it, he said.
“I had a wife that would have said no — she died; I had another wife that would have said no, and she died,” Lamb said. “The green light was on so I said go.”
As a teenager during the war, Lamb flew 50 missions in the back of a B-24 bomber for the 825th Squadron, 484th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, primarily over the Balkans in Austria and southern Germany.
Twice, he and his crewmates were nearly out the aircraft door when the order to bail was rescinded.
“We were shot up — once, returning from a mission to Ploetsi, the other over Toulon harbor, France — and both times we received direct hits,” he said. “The first time was on the tail. The second time, over France, we got a direct hit from an 88 mm that did not explode; it just went through the cockpit.”
After 31 months in the U.S. Army Air Corp, the Okmulgee native returned home, got married, and worked for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. in Oklahoma City until retiring in 1987 as chief planning engineer.
Lamb is father to four, grandfather to 10 and great-grandfather to four more, with one on the way. On Saturday, his three boys and some of his grandchildren were in Cushing to watch him take his leap from an airplane.
He said he was inspired to finally jump after reading about another veteran's sky-dive in The Oklahoman in September.
Twice since then, Lamb attempted to sky-dive, but both times, weather conditions changed his plans.
Strapped onto an experienced instructor, he kept his cool as they stepped out of the door of the plane and began to free fall, he said.
“It was pretty chilly up there, but outside of the cold everything was perfect,” he said. “I wasn't even excited; just kind of a stroll in the park.”
Mark Lamb said his father is well known for keeping cool about things. It was his nature at work, as a father, and even when telling war stories. In fact, it was well after Mark grew up that he learned some of the details of his father's wartime experience.
“He never really talked about it unless you asked him questions, but later he started opening up about it more,” Mark Lamb said. “As his kids got older we were very fascinated with him and proud of what he did. They say it's the ‘greatest generation' and we definitely agree with that.”
Ed Lamb said his matter-of-fact approach to jumping Saturday was a stark difference from 60 years ago.
“Yeah, the adrenaline gets to pumping when you're being shot at,” he said, laughing. “Just something about that tends to turn on the juices.”