WWII Vet brings history to 173rd Fighter Wing

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd FW/PA
Mr. Joe Rolison, a World War II veteran, stepped onto the sidewalk surrounding the Lt. David R. Kingsley Memorial, a display that tells the story of Medal of Honor winner Lt. David Kingsley and his sacrifice during World War II, Aug. 31, 2016. The memorial itself is centered on a large metal piece of the B-52 aircraft that Kingsley met his heroic end. Rolison spoke about retrieving that very piece in Suhozem, Bulgaria in 2004 with his late wife, Phyllis Kingsley Rolison who passed in 2014, sister to Lt. Kingsley.

The couple accompanied the Oregon Air National Guard to Bulgaria to help dedicate a similar memorial there commemorating the fateful day when Kingsley's bomber, damaged too heavily to remain airborne from German fire, fell from the sky killing him and seven local children. In those final moments Kingsley made the decision to remove his parachute and place it on a wounded gunner's body thereby saving him and sacrificing his own life.

This visit to Kingsley Field was made possible by the Vital Life Foundation who works to enhance the lives of senior citizens. Rolison's visit was organized to give him a special, memorable experience. He survives his wife of more than 50 years and lives alone at 92 years old.

Although the visit was ostensibly for his benefit there was no question that it greatly benefitted the 173rd Fighter Wing. Rolison brought with him a suitcase full of memorabilia from Lt. Kingsley's time in World War II, including his hand-written journal, black and white photos of Lt. Kingsley, and stories of Kingsley's youth that illustrated the character that earned him the nation's highest honor. He donated that journal to the 173rd Fighter Wing for display.

David Kingsley was 16 years old when his mother passed, and having lost his father several years earlier he endeavored to raise his seven brothers and sisters, but for the intervention of social services, he probably would have. Instead, he visited them in their foster homes every day, one-by-one, checking on them and looking out for their welfare.

Rolison related these stories to a number of 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen who asked him questions of his own time in World War II, to which he quickly pointed out his stated aim to "find a place to hide." He said it with a big smile on his face and he made a few other jokes along the same lines. When asked how he was treated after returning home from the Pacific Theater in World War II, he said he'd never have to pay for a lunch again--but he might have to hang around for a while, again with the signature ear-to-ear grin.

At his age he still boasts 20/20 uncorrected vision and he was able to stand and visit with local reporters and Airmen for several hours. One person who he remembered very well was Col. Donna Prigmore, who traveled with him and his wife to Bulgaria.
The moment he saw her he quickly walked up to her arms outstretched, he hugged her and tears welled in his eyes. Prigmore's eyes weren't dry either and she mentioned that she thought about telling him she would be there but decided to surprise him.

"When I saw Joe for the first time since Phyllis's death, it not only took me back to the special trip we had, but also made me sad to think that his lifelong and loving wife, his soulmate, of 65 years, was no longer with him," said Prigmore. "They were the happiest couple I had ever met."

Anne Adrian, with the Vital Life Foundation, said he mentions her often after the visit where she escorted them during the visit to Bulgaria.

Certainly the visit was a success for providing a memorable occasion for Rolison. While answering questions over lunch he said, "I'm on cloud nine; this day for me is the second best day of my life," then noting that the best being the day he married Phyllis Kingsley. He carries a photo of his wife dressed in nun's habit, something she gave up in order to have children and raise a family.

After several hours Col. Jeff Smith, 173rd Fighter Wing commander, escorted him over to the hangar for group photos with the distinctly painted commemorative ORANG 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle. Rolison ended the day walking back to a waiting vehicle, and perhaps the only unanswered question being, "Who enjoyed the visit more--he or the Airmen of the 173rd Fighter Wing?"