WW II veteran Sol Gins of Littleton, who reportedly flew more heavy bomber missions than any other Army Air Corps crewmember in the European theater, passed away Jan. 24, 2018. He was 93.
Funeral services took place Jan. 31 at Fort Logan National Cemetery, where Brad Levin said Kaddish, Mark Samuelson delivered the eulogy and Jim Juliana of the Forgotten Heroes Foundation spoke. Feldman Mortuary made the arrangements.
Mr. Gins was born in the Bronx, NY in 1925 and spent much of his life in New Jersey, working mostly in manufacturing and sales. He moved to Colorado in 1970 with his wife Paula, whom he married in 1944.
As an avid mountaineer he was a longtime member of the Colorado Mountain Club. He manufactured mountaineering equipment in Colorado for a period and retired several years ago. He attended services at Temple Emanuel.
Turning down a scholarship for agricultural study while in boarding school, Mr. Gins worked briefly on a farm in Michigan before he enlisted in the Army in 1942, with the guarantee that his training would be as an aerial gunner.
Surviving the crash of his B-17 bomber while on a training mission in South Dakota, Mr. Gins joined the 15th Air Force in North Africa and Europe where he was assigned the dual duty of radio operator and gunner.
His military record credits him with 54 combat missions during 1943 and 1944, beyond the 50 missions allowed to crewmen on heavy bombers flying from the southern European theater, and twice the limit allowed bomber crews flying from British bases. To date, no record has been located of any other bomber crewman with more accredited missions.
Flying from North Africa and later from Italy, Gins exceeded the total missions allowed, he recalled, by volunteering to fly with other crews on days his crew was grounded.
Mr. Gins received a certificate from his commander and a standard air medal following the war, plus two belated medals in 2016 recognizing extraordinary service. However, he never collected the Distinguished Flying Cross his commander believed he should have received for one particularly heroic action.
As related in a 2016 interview with the Intermountain Jewish News, Mr. Gins’ station in the B-17 was directly behind the bomb bay. On one mission, 30,000 feet over an enemy target, an armed fragmentation bomb jammed in the rack as it was being released, threatening to obliterate the 10-man crew and perhaps other B-17s flying close by in the tight formation.
Removing his parachute to fit into the tight space, Gins climbed onto a foot-wide catwalk over the open bomb bay, clipped tangled wires with a pair of pliers, and then wrested the 100-pound bomb carefully over the doors and dropped it into the void.
During his combat missions, Gins flew to Italian and German military targets in Italy and southern France, and later from an advance base in Italy, over Germany and the Ploesti oil fields in Romania.
In 1944 his crew flew to the Ukraine in Soviet territory, where they operated against German targets in a joint US-Russian operation code-named Frantic Joe. In 2016, by then the only surviving member of his crew, Gins received a war medal from the Russian charge d’affaires in Washington, expressing belated thanks.
Asked once whether he ever saw enemy fighter planes on his missions over Nazi targets, Gins raised his eyebrows and replied, “Every time.”
“The fighters would fly behind us, out of our range,” Gins told the IJN, “fire their rockets at us and then come in behind the rockets, close enough to hit us. And of course that was the only time that we could possibly get to them.”
“Sol Gins was a genuine American war hero and epitomized all of the finest qualities of the members of the Greatest Generation,” said Jim Juliana of the Forgotten Heroes Campaign, a veteran organization that acquires medals for veterans who earned but never received them. In 2016, Forgotten Heroes awarded Sol a Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon for his action in saving his plane and crew.
Mr. Gins was preceded in death by his wife Paula on Nov. 17, 2017, after they had celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary. He was also predeceased by his son, Stuart Gins, and daughter Jill Gins.
He is survived by his brother, Arthur Gins, and sister Millie Turk, both of New Jersey; grandson Richard Levin of Denver; and nephews Michael Gins and Scott Gins, of New Jersey.
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