Charles Duvall poses for a portrait on Friday May 05, 2017 at Brookdale Senior Living. Photo by McKenzie Lange/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | As United States soldiers continue to be stationed abroad and armed conflict remains an ever-present reality, Aurora resident Charles Duvall wishes for peace. More than seven decades has allowed for plenty of perspective on the horrors of war.

“I don’t think we should go to war,” he said. “Ever … because if we have a war again a lot of people will get killed.”

Duvall was just 17 years old in 1943, more than halfway through World War II, when he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the Army Air Corps. On a recent day at Brookdale Senior Living in Aurora, the 92-year-old veteran recounted his earliest missions and most humbling memories, along with his daughter, Barbara Duvall, who helped him reminisce.

“I’ve heard his stories hundreds of times and every once in awhile he has a new one,” she said.

The elder Duvall was at Kansas State University when, sure he’d be drafted for the war anyway, he decided to enlist. Duvall had made up his mind he wanted to fly after hearing his father’s stories of land combat in the previous World War.

“Foxholes didn’t appeal to me,” Duvall said. “I flew just once before, (but) I had fallen in love with flying.”

But Duvall was unable to become a pilot because of a hernia. Instead, he volunteered for gunnery school and he became a rear gunner on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Because gunners had to sit facing backward on the plane, Duvall said they had to learn everything in reverse.

After a brief training, in what would turn out to be the final weeks of the war, Duvall and about 10 crewmates took to the sky for a long flight to West Field military airfield on Tinian, part of the North Mariana Islands, far out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean close to 1,000 miles off the shores of Japan and the Philippines. Duvall said it was an assignment filled with peril, even though his time serving in the war would be short and missions few.

“We were told half of us would get killed,” he said. “But it didn’t happen.”

Mishaps endangered the crew in ways even the Japanese could not. On his first combat mission, the entire wing had to make a U-turn because the bombs never released from the bay — the safety was on. On the way back around, Duvall yelled out “Look out, Skipper!” as their plane almost collided with another, a collision that would have likely taken the life of Duvall and about 30 others.

The second mission wasn’t much better. Duvall said the tail almost broke off the plane.

And on his third mission, Duvall would nearly witness history. It was the same day the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

“That’s the first time I ever heard that word, ‘atomic,’” Duvall said. “I didn’t know that one bomb could destroy a city. While I was involved in a wing (unit of command), it took a whole wing to destroy a city.”

But for Duvall, the danger of that mission came before they even left the ground. Before takeoff, Duvall said he wanted to get some fresh air, and opened the hatch beneath his feet, at the tail of the plane. Suddenly, the pilot announced they were taking off. With the window still open, the plane was heading down the runway. Duvall tried to close it, but the pressure was too great. So, he wedged himself with his back on the door and his feet on the wall to finally push it shut.

“I didn’t tell anybody … until our 50th anniversary,” he said. “If I had, I would have gotten fired and we would have had to abort.”

Even his fourth, and last war mission, had an element of drama, after the B-29 came in close behind another plane on landing, bouncing its way to safety.

“Our skipper was one of these guys that liked to come in fast and early,” he said. “We went down the runway bouncing. Again, we didn’t tell anybody.”

Duvall would go on two more missions after the war ended: One to drop food into a Korean POW camp; the final mission was during the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, when he was part of a more than 2,000-plane flyover signaling victory and the official end of the war.

The veteran would wind up awarded a total of three medals for his six missions, including a Good Conduct medal for “not getting in trouble with the ladies,” he said.

Duvall returned and finished his architecture degree at KSU, where he also met his future wife.

“‘I think I’ll come home and start the baby boomers,’” Duvall’s daughter, Barbara, speculated with a giggle. Barbara said she was one of four children, with five living generations, making Duvall a great-great-grandfather.

Duvall would later accept a reserve commission in the Army Air Corps and move to Aurora, where joined the summer camp at Lowry Field and lived close enough to go home for lunch.

He would later be recalled as an officer in the Korean War and stationed in London to do “technical work,” but after that war ended he turned down an offer to serve any more. He wanted to be with his family, instead.

“I came back to Aurora,” he said. “I had a home here, you know?”

Duvall eventually went to work for an oil company, Colorado Oil Company, which later became California Oil Company and then Chevron. He retired where he started, and seemed content on where he’d landed for his final destination.

“I fell in love with Colorado,” he said.