Log in

Joe Spears honored as Patriot of the Month for 99th birthday


At the 99th birthday celebration of Norman “Joe” Spears, West Plains, Spears was awarded with the prestigious Missouri State Society Daughters of the American Revolution (MSSDAR) Patriot of the Month Certificate by the Ozark Spring, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in recognition of his “outstanding patriotic service and dedication to his country,” local Daughters shared. 

To many who grew up in West Plains or the surrounding community, Spears’ story is a familiar one of community service, business entrepreneurship and honorable military service commitment, said Daughters. He was born Nov. 23, 1924, in West Plains, the only child of Wayne and Bertie Spears. He graduated as a Zizzer from West Plains High School in 1941 with the Best Citizen Award. 

Spears entered the U. S. Army Air Force, which later became the U. S. Air Force, at Jefferson Barracks by “volunteering for induction” on Aug. 18, 1943. He completed his military training in Amarillo, Texas; Tempe, Ariz.; Las Vegas, Nev., and Avon, Fla. He received his wings in July 1944 and was deployed overseas in January 1945.

He was assigned to the Italy 15th Air Force, Foggia, Italy, as a B-17 waist gunner. The B-17 was a fast and high-flying plane for a bomber of its era. Spears said, “The plane would fly so high that the temperature could reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you did not wear silk gloves and you touched something at that temperature, your skin would stick to it.” His primary duty was defending the aircraft against the enemy with a .50 caliber machine gun, and he was credited with 20 “successful missions,” which is to say, missions during which a bomb was dropped — if a bomb was not dropped, it did not count.

On one of his missions, an enemy antiaircraft bomb went completely through one of the wings, and six of his plane’s 500-pound bombs did not respond to controls and release. As a result, Spears and another airman had to take their shoes off, as the space was too small to get into otherwise, to enter the bomb bay to manually release the bombs.

Spears was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Good Conduct Medal, five Medals showing different places where he had served in Europe, and the ETO (Eastern Theater Offensive) Ribbon. 

For his meritorious service, Norman J. Spears, Staff Sergeant 419th Bombardment Squadron 301st Bombardment Group, received an honorable discharge on Nov. 1, 1945, in Santa Ana, Calif.

Spears has always been proud of his military service, Daughters note. After his discharge, he returned to his hometown of West Plains, where he and his late wife Gwendolyn, aka Glyn, had one daughter and one son, both of whom became attorneys. They have twin granddaughters of which they are immensely proud.