Real People: WWII fighter pilot recalls how military bettered his life

Stone Mountain resident Nimrod McNair spent 30 years in the service, beginning in World War II and ending after Vietnam. His time in the service "changed my life," he said.
Caption
Stone Mountain resident Nimrod McNair spent 30 years in the service, beginning in World War II and ending after Vietnam. His time in the service "changed my life," he said.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, call 770-744-3042 or e-mail hm_cauley@yahoo.com.

The stretch between Memorial Day and June 6, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, holds special significance for Stone Mountain’s Nimrod McNair. The 90-year-old service veteran is remembering not only those he served with in World War II, but also his comrades from a 30-year military career that spanned Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam.

For years, McNair shared his experiences with civic and school groups, but these days, he offers tidbits only when prodded. He recalls growing up in Alabama where his life’s direction changed long before war broke out.

“I had never seen an airplane, but fell in love with what Lindbergh did,” McNair said. “So I always wanted to be a pilot.”

The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor drew him into the Army, where McNair kept his eyes on the sky, training to be a fighter pilot at just 18 years of age.

“I wound up in Europe and spent four years there,” he said. “I got to Normandy right after D-Day. I went thinking I’d fly escort missions for the bombers, but I was assigned to support General Patton’s army, and we flew close to support him, shooting up tanks and the like.”

McNair, who had squeezed in a training course at the Rolls Royce plant in Britain, also tested planes with Rolls Royce engines. It was one of many varied jobs he took on.

“I got assigned to do all sorts of crazy things,” he said with a laugh. “I got shot down twice, once during the Battle of the Bulge and even once by the British in Belgium in some friendly fire. After the war, we were in Germany, and I flew [Nazi official] Hermann Goring to the Nuremberg trials where we sat in on the trials.”

After the war, McNair went to the University of Alabama and from there to a Master’s program at Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio. He stuck with the Air Force, and by the end of Korea, he was looking for his next assignment beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

“At one time, I thought I’d like to go to the moon and even made out an application to become an astronaut but was turned down,” McNair said. “I think John Glenn got picked instead of me.”

After Vietnam, McNair hung up his wings and went into private consulting. He moved to Atlanta in 1978 and retired for a second time in 2002. His most recent personal travels have taken him back to Nuremberg and Normandy.

“It was weird to see again those places where Hitler was,” said the 12-time grandfather. “But what I remember most about the war is that it gave me the opportunity to go to college, which is something I wasn’t sure I could have done. It changed my life.”