BELLEVUE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Navigating a map at his home in Bellevue, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Jerry Neal recalls detailed missions serving with the 8th Air Force in WWII.

The 101-year-old narrates his initial flight piloting a B-24, at just 21 years old, joining the fight in Europe.

U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Jerry Neal

“All by ourselves, at night, crossing the Atlantic Ocean,” Neal recalls.

He faced immediate action. Death and danger were all around, even at 5,000 feet in the air.

“The Germans were firing from the ground,” Neal says.

The crew of 10 faced unimaginable conditions.

“The airplanes were open,” Neal explains. “They weren’t pressurized. It was -70 out. It was -70 inside.”

It was common for crew members to succumb to frostbite and lack of oxygen.

“I tried to revive him, but it was too late,” Neal says while remembering a crewmember. “He basically died right there in my arms.”

Missions stretched from dawn till dusk, but no battle compared to the 2 a.m. wake-up call by Neal’s commanding officer on June 6, 1944 while on base in East Anglia, England.

“We called him the old man,” Neal says with a chuckle, “He was a full bird Colonel at 25.”

For the first time, in history, the invasion of Normandy was revealed.

“They pulled back the curtains over this huge map,” Neal recalls, “and there it was.”

He still didn’t comprehend the significance until he approached the English Channel.

“I could see 5,000, 7,000, 9,000 boats, but I’m flying in formation. So I can’t just sit there and stare, or I’ll run into another plane,” Neal says. “But, think about that. You have a grandstand seat for the biggest invasion ever in the history of man.”

Neal circled his plane for hours. Visibility was too low to take shots. Heading back to refuel, as four 4,000-horsepower engines roar, the unimaginable happened.

“All these engines stop,” Neal recalls. “It’s dead silence.”

The B-24, out of gas, begins to fall from the sky. The crew bails. Neal, his co-pilot, and navigator remain on board.

“I look back over my shoulder, I still got my bombs. I’ve got ten 500-pound bombs sitting on racks, and I’m going fast. I’m diving,” Neal says.

He’s moving 300 to 400 miles per hour when he pulls the manual lever. The bombs plop into the ocean, mere feet from the moment he thought he’d die.

“I pulled up, and right in front of me was this big rock bar. You know I thought, God, put that right there,” Neal says.

The plane skidded to a stop.

“The only thing left is a wing and the cockpit. So, we kicked the windshield out and got out on the wing, it was beautiful and sunny by this time. Eventually, way out I can barely see the English shore,” Neal recalls. “There’s this guy rowing out in a boat. He comes out and picks us up.” Several crew members were not as lucky.

U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Jerry Neal

Neal went on to fly a variety of planes serving 17 years. He ended his career as an esteemed instructor pilot. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and received six Air Medals.

But in this chapter of life, he’s more focused on sharing something else.

“For me, being able to speak to young people. Think about why you’re here and what you’re purpose in life is,” Neal urges. “There’s been a lot of people over the years that have died, literally died, protecting this country to keep what we have today. I don’t think we have the respect we had. We’ve got to get that back. Otherwise, this country is not going to make it. If I can get that through, I think I’ve accomplished something.”