Members of the Mighty Eighth Air Force reunite in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Courtesy Photo)
Once a member of the Mighty Eighth Air Force — a famous World War II air armada — Jack Chew is now a business owner who lives quietly in Roswell.
However, Chew enjoys reminiscing about his Mighty Eighth days with fellow veterans during annual reunions. Chew just returned from one such reunion at Colorado Springs, Colo. The reunion, which took place Aug. 10-14, was a chance for at least 40 former members of The Mighty Eighth Air Force to convene.
“We have (a reunion) every year,” Chew said. “This might be the last one, because there’s not too many of us left.”
Chew might be best known locally as the former restaurant owner of Chew Den and current owner of the gift shop Chew’s Oriental Gifts, but his time with the Mighty Eighth Air Force is legendary. He earned the Purple Heart, the European War Medal, the Air Medal and the U.S. Prisoner of War Medal.
It was on Aug. 17, 1943, that the then 23-year-old Chew was flying over Germany on a mission to bomb a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt. He was the tail gunner of a B-17 that was shot down by the Germans. When this happened, Chew exited the plane by parachute and soon succumbed to the effects of being 30,000 feet above ground.
“When I opened my parachute, I passed out,” he said. He regained consciousness in mid-air and vomited. He hoped to be rescued by Allied forces; instead, he was met by the Gestapo once he reached the ground.
Chew was captured and was a prisoner of war for 21 months. Locked away in a German camp, he said there were so many lice and bedbugs he would wake up bloody from the bites.
As a POW, Chew witnessed numerous atrocities, including the killing and dumping of the bodies of Jews on the side of a road.
“(The Nazis) have nothing here,” Chew said, pointing toward his heart.
Chew was eventually freed by Gen. George Patton’s Third Army and sent back to the U.S.
“When we saw the Statue of Liberty, we were so happy, like a newborn baby,” Chew said. He arrived in Roswell in 1945 and has lived here since.
It was Chew’s son, Douglas Chew, who flew down from California to take his father to this year’s Mighty Eighth reunion. The reunion takes place in a different city every year.
“We get together, talk about the old days,” Chew said.